Monthly Archives: December 2013

Christmas in Africa

This post was originally published on Beacon Reader, an experiment in crowdsourced publishing that has subsequently ceased to exist. RIP Beacon Reader.

Overview: While you make a last-minute dash for the crowded shopping center and elbow your way through hordes of people scrambling to buy whatever useless goods manufactured in China are left on the shelves so that someone you barely know won’t have leverage to complain about you because they didn’t get to rip apart some paper on a package and store its contents in the bottom of their closet until next year when they pretend they wear it every day, I’m in Africa working on my Arabic, and my tan. Suckers.

I’m spending Christmas in North Africa this year. I decided this while waiting to check into a hostel in Geneva with as much consideration as I gave to deciding what I’d have lunch that day. Maybe less. This is how I live these days.

Sometimes, during long conversations with soul-mate strangers in dark bars or freezing beaches, the conversation turns to why I choose to live a life in perpetual motion. If I want to be dismissive, I say it’s because I can. Why wouldn’t I? But the real answer is that I’m a huntress by nature. I’m always looking for something, even if I don’t know what. But whatever it was I needed, I knew it was something I couldn’t find in New York City.

One thing I’ve found through a life on the road is the ability to make fast decisions. Just about every single day for the past seven years, I would glance at a sign given to me by my academic adviser in college, tacked to the wall of my living space. Declaring to me, in at least 74 point font, it read:

It’s one thing to exercise foresight; it’s another to belabour counterfactuals to the point of torpidity. (AKA the paralysis of analysis) -Chalmers Knight

When you travel and you don’t know what roof will be over your head the following night, there is no time to belabour counterfactuals; you must simply decide.

So as I was sitting there at 9am, mind finally run down enough from traveling for the previous 10 hours to be peaceful, I decided that, for once in my life, I wanted to spend Christmas in a place where Christmas wasn’t celebrated. I wanted to get away from the holiday jingles forcing their way into helpless psyches and external pressure to give. I enjoy giving because I am able and because I am considerate, but Christmas cheapens the process. I don’t want to be rushed into giving simply because it is an arbitrary day of the year.

So here I am in Morocco, brushing up my Arabic language skills and hanging out with other expats. The only commercialism I’m exposed to is from the charmingly aggressive street merchants, but I’m finding all kinds of things that I couldn’t buy if I tried. Like appreciation for my knowledge of the English language and understanding the true value of a smile. I can’t complain.

Casual Predation: Postscript

A week ago I published an essay on LadyBits called Casual Predation, about the ways in which women are made to feel hunted by random passersby. You can find that essay here:

View story at Medium.com

Since publishing, I have received quite a bit of feedback, both rewarding and distressing.  The best was the overwhelming response of acknowledgement from women I respect, such as Cindy Gallop, Kelly Bourdet, Nilofer Merchant, etc. Part of the reason I wrote this is that when I’ve spoken with women about the incidents I’ve experienced in the past, they always have some kind of story about being alone and freaked out because they were being hunted in some way—every single one.

The other part of why I wrote this is because I’ve noticed a major lack of understanding from guys about this very real, very common occurrence—even from the most awesome guys who I adore to pieces. And so another facet of rewarding feedback has come from guys who were finally able to have some sort of revelation through this essay about what it feels like to be a woman. One man emailed me so say: “Thank you for writing that. As I seek to reflect on making more positive contributions to the world (and at least quit being a jerk, to quote Marshall Goldsmith), I find writing like yours to be very useful.  I’m sure you catch all sorts of troll crap, and I wanted to provide a voice of thank you.”

You are welcome.

On the flip side, I’ve gotten some very bizarre feedback from a handful of guys who have read my story and been very defensive. Their line of reasoning seems to go something like: “I enjoy looking at women and having sex with them, and it’s offensive to me that you’re calling me a predator for doing this and trying to mate.” First of all, no. The whole point of the essay was to describe a very specific behavior that women notice that sets off defensive alarm bells in our bodies. While some people are certainly more sensitive than others, we can usually tell the difference between a look from someone who is a potential predator, and anything else. It isn’t hard to do if you are paying attention (provided you don’t have a condition that prevents you from detecting human emotion such as autism).

I used to have a parrot and sometimes he would bite me. Eventually, via observing his behavior prior to the bite, I learned to recognize his intent to bite me before he would lunge. He would get very attentive to the part of my body he was preparing to attack and his pupils would dilate. I learned to move just in time before he would fly into a monstrous rage, lashing his beak in every direction, and would put him in his cage to chill out.

If we can detect these warning signals in our animal companions, we can certainly detect them in other humans.

A Tourist In A Dream

This post was originally published on Beacon Reader, an experiment in crowdsourced publishing that has subsequently ceased to exist. RIP Beacon Reader. 

For the first time in six months of traveling around the world, I’m not sure I should be leaving the place where I am. There’s usually some gentle force in the environment pushing or pulling me to my next destination, outweighing the static force that holds me still. But here I am, leaving the Netherlands tomorrow, and all I want is to do is stay.

I arrived at the decision to travel here in a seemingly random manner. But there’s actually a methodology to my plan that goes back to the most stable activity I engaged in in New York: going to my favorite bar in Brooklyn on Tuesday nights. I never went to bed at the same time, woke up at the same time, or went to any place in the city with any kind of routine—except for the Larry Lawrence. That’s where I met Tom Smith, chatting across a tea light and drinking away the burden of knowing too much.

We barely got to know each other before I was at his going away party. He was moving to Austria to work for a company that figures out how to keep us all from annihilating ourselves with nuclear weapons. I went to his going away party at our old wagon wheel bar and ate one of his Star Wars cupcakes. We messaged each other intermittently over the years, and then all of a sudden I was being propelled from Berlin to Amsterdam and I messaged him to see if he was still in Vienna. “Come to Amsterdam, I have a place to stay in The Hague.” And so I did.

When I saw him, he was greyer than I remembered, but it may have been a reflection of his suit. His eyes drooped with sleeplessness and pure exhaustion. He told me his work had been killing him, and I assured him I was a low-maintenance guest as we traversed the wavy Dutch cobblestone paths through the city center. We ascended the two elevators to reach his penthouse apartment in the fourth-tallest building in the city. He apologized for the place being a mess, as he hadn’t had time to unpack since he’d moved in. There were boxes, papers, tools scattered over every available surface, from kitchen counter to coffee table. I told him I’d help him get settled.

We went to dinner in China Town that evening and regained some semblance of our past selves. We talked about the guys in our lives, and gossiped a bit about our mutual friends back at the Larry Lawrence. I told him I was digging the lifestyle in Amsterdam, and he told me I should go to a place called “Kramers” that was a coffee shop on one side and a bar on the other.

The following day, I walked all around town and ended my trip at Kramers. I tried to buy weed but they wouldn’t let me because I didn’t have a Dutch ID. New law as of a few months ago says they can’t sell to foreigners. I looked around the smoke-filled bar at all the grungy hippies and middle aged men, wondering which of them would be the one to offer their spliff to me. I sat drinking a Leffe at the bar, returning emails from a mid-day New York City on my smartphone when I caught a burst of blonde hair out of the corner of my eye. I turned my head to glance at him, and he looked at me and smiled a smirkish, cocky smile. I turned my head back to my phone before I smirked back.

A minute later, an arm reached past me on the left and grabbed a jar off the table filled with dried green leaves.

“Hey what is that?” I asked the arm, following it up to glimpse the face framed by two asymmetrical swathes of blonde.

“You don’t know?” he asked, piqued by my naivete. I shook my head. “It’s like an herb. You mix it with weed instead of tobacco,”  He started to walk away and then turned back to me. “You can come try it if you want.”

And that was how it started: the most insane fling of my life. Inside the little glass room meant for smoking cigarettes, which we occupied against its purpose to smoke this novel concoction, Nicholaas and I blazed and he asked me how old I was.

“How old do you think I am?” I asked.

“23,” he replied.

“I’m 27. How old are you?”

“23.”

“Wishful thinking.”

“What?”

“Nothing.” I smiled smugly and he stared at me intently with his wild blue eyes.

His English was good but not perfect, but still he spoke it effortlessly. I didn’t plan what would happen at that point, I simply opened myself to the possibility of it by conducting myself as someone who had made up her mind that it wasn’t a good idea. He was too young, too cocky, and he ran out of Kramers to meet a friend at the train station and left me standing there holding the burning spliff. Flaky.

Three days later, we were fucking on LSD on an island North of Amsterdam while everyone back home was eating Thanksgiving dinner.

I have been living the dream here, existing in domestic bliss with an awesome gay man and having some of the best sex of my life with a 23-year-old Dutch god; managing my publication online and organizing the apartment while Tom does his part to save the world. Tonight when I was packing, he told me I was like Mary Poppins for him, and that this was the first time he wasn’t lonely since he’d moved here. His eyes welled up, and I realized that he looked vibrant and rested and healthy, a different person from when I arrived. And I’m packing, and packing, and I can’t bring myself to finish packing. But I guess I should go and preserve this memory forever, carrying it with me as I traverse the other side of the world as a new standard for what life can be if I follow my impulses.