Will the Real Love Please Stand Up?

What self-respecting writer blabs about love anytime in the month of February?  Who wants to write about love after the confirmation of two arsenic laced, stinky-cheese, cabinet members?  Who wants to hear about love at all from someone over thirty?

Me, that’s who!

I have growing disdain for the prescribed holidays the older I get, but I had reason to get curious lately about the list.  You know the list–the file drawer full (or somewhat full) of perfect love moments.  We tend to think of them as belonging solely to romantic partnerships, and there are no doubt some good ones there to be mined, but they can happen just as easily with friends or by yourself (although admittedly, that took me a while to figure out).  They can be mere seconds or whole days.  These are the moments when you feel so perfectly loved that there is simply nothing else more to do or say.  You are completely relaxed, sated even, yet curiously engaged, without the bother of your standard fears and other narratives exploding in your mind like popcorn.  These moments help us understand the word ‘good’ as more than just a bland adjective.  It is GOOD when you have been loved.

Monday night, my usual night of study and joy on the Open Floor, was straight up fugly.  Less than 24 hours after resigning from the district, I realized quite pointedly, being on leave of absence and having resigned are two WAY DIFFERENT things emotionally.  I proceeded to a weird mixture of grief and panic, called myself all variety of names, and ended up crying all over my friend Andrew.  A word about standing solo and learning from your own difficult emotions: I have read about it, done it in small protected spurts, but nonetheless there is something infinitely satisfying about leaning into a tall man and absolutely ruining his shirt with snot and tears (this is a real thing gentlemen, please take it seriously).  We headed off to talk, and all the child self in me came tumbling out in my pronouncements of ‘not fair’ and ‘what now.’  My friend sat close to me and just listened till the steam died down and we could converse without me running a Shakespearean monologue.

As I got home that night, still held by the echoes of care, I started to wonder: what is the anatomy of these perfect moments, these times you know you are loved?  For some this might be obvious, but I realized that I have never stopped to consider it.  And I know others might say they can’t be dissected, which may very well be true, but is entirely unhelpful for an Aspie’esque gal like myself.  Thus, I started to think about the moments on the list, pulling them out of the drawer as I lie in bed and listened to the rain.  I would imagine there are some characteristics that are universal, and some that apply just to me and my list.

If you would, indulge me in thinking of the last time you felt truly and deeply loved.  With that moment in mind, how does this list sound to you?

First off, I think the involved parties have to arrive at these moments together.  This is more than just the proverbial timing, but some combination of timing, availability, and love of the question.  There are so many configurations we can mess around in that give the appearance of love without the deep flavor.  One person can sit behind the drive through window and hand out heaps of love without ever coming outside.  I’ve had two men in my life that would, on the surface, do anything for me, but would not tell me simple things like where they went to school or who their favorite author was.  Two people can also engage in love themed activities with zero connection–I once had a boyfriend who took us on a “romantic” Valentine’s Day excursion, horseback riding with a group and champagne picnic.  He spent much of the time way up the trail from me or on his phone.  When I later signaled my underwhelmption–he was shocked.  He reminded me of the hearts and crepes paper on the stable, along with how much the afternoon had cost him.  In addition, one or more parties can be distracted, speaking the wrong language, or trying to change the moment into how they pictured it should go.  No wonder it is shocking when we show up together, both ready to participate in the love that is always present.

A big part of this magical showing up seems to be in how you listen or are listened to.  Communication was created to get needs met, and yet when someone shifts into the role of listener instead of listening, it feels very much like he or she is going away.  Back in my Bible toting days, one of my all-time favorite, short and obscure passages, is about Job’s friends.  After traveling to be with him, they don’t jump into fix it mode, but rather sit with him sans yakkity yak for THREE DAYS.  How immense.  To listen as if this story could be your story too, thus you could read it in the breathing and gaze in the one in front of you.  Now, they go on to fuck it up and get all helper-y, but Job was kind of screwed at that point, so he probably needed that too.  My friend Monday didn’t listen to me because he was acting the role of a friend, he just listened.

Once you arrive together, all of my perfect love moments also share the element of no expectations.  There is no way it should be going, there is no way it should end.  You don’t need an answer to a question or a piece of advice you haven’t thought of yet.  I often walk away from conversations with my dear friends Kristy and Julie, feeling I have received a master class in expectation-less relating, and maybe because of it our conversations always surprise and intrigue me.  How can it be that two people, or me-myself-and I, can come into an encounter with enough of our own provisions that we have no needs?  I really can’t answer that, but I know that it has happened to me.  I walked into a restaurant sometime last year after an emotionally gut-wrenching day.  I didn’t want to go home.  I felt totally spent.  As I greeted the hostess I answered her question with, “Just one.”  “One is enough,” she said with a smile on her face, not missing a beat.  I teared up as I sat down.  “That is the most human thing anyone has said to me all day,” I replied.  She patted my shoulder and said she’d be back in a second with the menu.  It was a perfect love moment.  Expectation-less, abundant.

When you can let go of expectations, it is so much easier to see and show yourself to someone.  In my last major relationship, my boyfriend went to Paris.  When he came back and did the ceremonial unpacking of gifts, they were lovely, but lacking in much personality.  Always the true showman, he went to his pocket where he said “he’d saved the best for last.”  Out came a tiny spoon!!!  It may be helpful for you at this point to know that I have a lifelong obsession with tiny things–silverware, vegetables, animals, etc.  You name it, I find it ridiculously funny and fascinating when it is tiny.  Not only had he been sitting and having his own perfect love moment with a Paris streetside café, but he had thought of me, committed petty theft in a foreign country, and brought me home a tiny spoon full of perfect love.  I felt seen and appreciated for all my geeky awkwardness, just as I have always eyed the geek and the weirdo in others with such tender love.  I once watched my local cute, funny barista whom I was on a date with (I just picked him up that day I should mention–and I never miss a chance to mention it) struggle for an hour to find a way to nonchalantly come sit next to me, instead of across from me, in the bar booth.  Sure I could have helped him, but the look of sheer boyish glee on his face when he finally figured it out will be with me for a million years.  Many men wear their awkward adolescent self closer to the sleeve than women, but my friend Claire is a brilliant exception.  After a profound day at our last dance intensive, she tells me I must come with her right now.  I scurry across the floor thinking something must be wrong, but she finally stopped and positioned me by a window.  She told me where to look to see a tree that looked like it had an eyeball.  Now I had seen, and talked to, many eyeball trees before, but the fact that she brought me in to geek out with her so hard, and we totally did, was once again, perfect love.  To be seen and show yourself unpolished is not easy, even if you’ve never been hurt.  But it’s one of the best ways I know to find your true tribe and multiply your moments of perfect love.

As I continued to stare at the glow in the dark stars on my ceiling and listen to the rain, I could think of only one more common denominator in the moments that now lay scattered in my head: they were all physical in some degree.  For as much as I love to hug, squeeze, high five, rub shoulders, rub scalps, stand next to, and curl up in the crook of–I don’t do nearly enough of it.  I know I am not alone in this.  Partly it is because we live in a culture where touch is sexualized and so I tend to worry about messages I might give off, but partly it is because I don’t always know who is receptive.  I’ve had some people very dear to me who were absolutely not touchy-feely, and that’s okay.  But as I toggled between these moments to double check, all of them were physical, and that physical connection created a broader base, deeper roots, from which to slow down.  Crying on and then sitting with Andrew Monday night, his very nearness made me exhale.  I forget that I need that in order to translate love, to entertain the fact that the current of someone else’s blood may be as safe to me as my own.

So, which of these characteristics do your perfect love moments have?  Which would you add?  Take away?  If we understand these moments even a little better, might subtle impostors be easier to spot?  I wonder how long it has been since some in our law making bodies have identified love impostors in their own lives?  If they could spot them for themselves might they be able to spot them as they go after cabinet positions?  It’s by no means a simple business in a world where the impostors, both subtle and blatant, are trumpeted more loudly than the real.  I know I could use some more practice discerning.



“To dance the song until it ends…”

I wanted to start this post with something witty; namely, my private running joke that ex-teachers need a version of Alcoholics Anonymous to help us detox(someone more serious than me should really look into this) .  I’ve cracked myself up over the months with different ideas about what the twelve steps should look like, but in each draft, I am only on step three or four.  Thus, I figured it was better to start this post with something else, a plain fact that I used to know, left, and have recently come back to:

I am slow.

I’m not referencing my intelligence here or that of anyone with developmental challenges, but rather the pace at which I feel best about my life.  I have always felt like I was being swept away by the speed which others seem to adopt with little to no problems.  Maybe I have only started articulating it recently, but I have come up with so many ingenious and ill-fated ways to try and make more time, put the brakes on the current zip and zoom, and pretend that I fit in with the rushers throughout the years, that I know this has always been true for me.  I had no real plan to deal with this mismatch, until I started conscious dance in the Open Floor a few years ago.  Unintentionally, blessedly, I started to give and receive permission to come back to that original state, churning deep and slow, with no need to apologize.  It was and is freeing in a way I can never express in words.  Since this return I have learned at least two things:

  1. Unless I want to join my conspiracist father in his dream of making a compound in the wilderness for the end of days, I have to keep living in the delirious speed we are born into.  This means sometimes, I am going to have to make final decisions before they feel final.
  2. I WILL NOT GO BACK TO IGNORING MYSELF.  Everything has a beginning, middle, and end if you are listening.  I want to be there for all of it.

Enter Thursday.  I came home to a letter from my school district which basically said, “Knock, knock, know that leave of absence we so nicely gave you?  You’ve got about a month to let us know what you’re doing with that.  Hope this didn’t fuck up your day!  Love, Bureaucracy.”  I knew it would be here eventually, but it still came as a shock.

The day leading up to it couldn’t have been a better expression of how unprepared for decision making I am.  My first month’s book revenues were withheld because I misread the copy regarding tax information and disbursement periods—aka…I realized it is likely my rent check will bounce in February.  I felt not only disappointment at my mistake, but the creeping panic and shame that comes with thinking I won’t be able to take care of myself.  A salary looked pretty tempting after reading this letter Thursday night.  I also worked my third eight hour day of a nanny fill-in position I’m currently muddling through.  More than just hating the stay-at-home dad’s mansplaining and hovering, I realized again that I do not want to be anywhere for eight straight hours a day.  Coming home from that day I felt that sense of stagnation that used to be so familiar to me.  I wanted to take the few hours left to myself at the end of that evening and just not feel anything, especially my desire to not go back.

There continue to be both reasons to return and reasons to stay gone.

But the bottom line is, this Chelsea-not-Miss-Delaney-dance, is not finished yet.  Whatever this is that I am doing, I am somewhere in the middle of it.  Historically, my first year of anything has never been a good predictor of its reality.  My first year teaching, every hour came with a joy so extreme I wanted to cry and a fear so extreme I wanted to hide.  My first year living without roommates I almost poisoned my family with a gangrenous turkey at Thanksgiving.  I thought I loved my first boyfriend after our first date.  However, as time wore on the joys and terrors of school became more manageable, I read directions more carefully when I cooked, and I realized that love grows slowly, in proportion to action.  As much as I would like there to always be a win-win, sometimes there isn’t because ripening takes time.

About six weeks ago, when teaching was far from my mind, I piped in with this little gem: “You can change all you want Chelsea, but the system is not changing.”  This weighty little truth bomb continues to send shrapnel into old resistance and work into the blood.  I can’t make the process go any faster than it’s going to go, and so today I will tender my resignation.  I will write something clear, succinct, and meaningless, but first, what I wish I could say:

Dear Assistant Superintendent,

You want to know what my plans are?  First off, let me say that I don’t think you deserve to know.  No one is owed the heart just because they pay for the time, the mind, and the body that carries them.  And if I have no plans, if I am following an intuition and embracing the uncertainty of a journey, well you don’t deserve to know that either.  But, I know contracts are a thing, and I wish only beautiful things for my school, so here goes.  I plan to have a school shaped scar on my heart, right next to my god shaped scar.  Don’t worry, I’m not afraid of scars, at least not mine which are laced with both sweetness and regret, pride and shame.  They are holy, and as I age, I consider them a mark of risks taken, life lived.

Public education takes too–the hopes of hundreds of thousands of people, young and old, and does them little honor.  You have asked children and young people to disconnect from play, from intuition, from their hearts, from their everyday lives, in order to present you with an empty container to fill.  That filling may lead to money and prestige, and in the best of schools, a sense of responsibility to the greater world and an ongoing love for learning, but they ache for the parts they left behind.  They ache until the feeling is too strong and they stop feeling.  I have seen it.  It is chilling. 

You’ve taken millions of hours and dollars and tears from teachers, and still not given them some of the things that were actually in your power to give.  You’ve taken their health and their relationships when you could as well.  Do you feel the weight of that?  Or have you too, as an institution, dissolved your own bones and stopped feeling?  For all but a very small group, we have been lied to.  Yet we’re expected to keep, ‘focusing on the positive,’ ‘worrying only about what we can control,’ ‘stop putting yourself so far out for them,’ and ‘getting so worked up, it’s a marathon not a sprint.’  They all kind of sound like synonyms for ‘shut up.’  So my plan is to stop eating my integrity.  My plan is to meet young people, all people, where they are at.  Maybe this will bring me back to the classroom, maybe it won’t.  Part of me knows it would be the easier answer and longs for it, but would you be able to handle it if I came back?  I wouldn’t be sweet and compliant anymore.  In fact, I would probably be a huge pain in your ass.  And I’ve seen how you treat your pains in the ass–your Sharons, your Carmens, your Cathys, your Phoebes, your Teresas, your Anthonys.  You don’t honor the fucking immense brilliance it takes to scrape up resistance to the system when you have already given each drop of you in the classroom. 

My plan is to slow down; to create and support things simply because I love them and they meet my standards alone.  I really tried to do that in the classroom, and the better I got at presenting the obedient teacher façade, the more you left me alone to do it.  But we could never expand far enough.  Even when we were flying, we had to keep one fingernail looped to the window ledge of the school building.  They had to sit and click test bubbles, and I had to sit and understand my complicity in the system that was hurting them.  My plan is to let go.  I started to dream it when you gave me Creative Writing for the first time, so really the fault is yours if I have become unruly and confusing.  Watching them build their worlds and display their intelligence with no holds barred was revolutionary.  I couldn’t pretend anymore.  I couldn’t push and lift and bend them into things they didn’t want or weren’t ready for anymore.  They were fierce, connected, and powerful.  They already had the tools they needed to do the communication that was important to them.  When they didn’t, they were gathering tools around them, things we usually didn’t consider worthy or academic.  We missed it.

My plan is to follow myself and see what happens, to cheer for and participate with people who are making a new world.  I still want you to be part of it, badly in fact.  I have a child’s disappointment in you that I am ready to turn back into love if I could only find the slightest incentive, the slightest loophole, a way of being and responding that could make the disparities, conundrums, and WTF moments, “okay enough.”  My plan is to laugh enough, sleep enough, and create enough while I am away.  And I’ll do something for money, that’s a given, but for now I’ve untwined money and meaning.  The jury is out on whether or not I will retwine them.

Thank you for the gifts: strength, sadness, joy, heartbreak, rage, mirth, inspiration, regret, shame, intrigue, expectation, and disbelief, just to name a few.  If I never return, I will pay you back for these things off campus.

I’m done.

With Mixed Mind and Strong Heart,

Chelsea Delaney