Creating intimacy can be something of an art, whatever the nature of the relationship.

One of the most important parts of my job as a voice teacher was to create a safe space for my students to be vulnerable and experiment with their voices. An important part of the teacher-student working relationship was establishing trust: that I wouldn’t mock them; that I genuinely believed experimentation was key to the learning process, even when that meant messing up; that I believed in them as individuals and as musicians; that I had been where they were and so could understand; that I would be constructive but kind.

It was a part of my job that I was damn good at. And I think it was a large part of why I was in demand as a teacher.

Everyone’s been talking about the piece in the New York Times about Dr. Aron’s study on falling in love that resulted in a marriage between two of the subjects. The big takeaway from this study seems to be that falling in love is not so much a random happenstance as it is a choice: the choice to be vulnerable with another person, the choice to cultivate intimacy, the choice to give another person the opportunity to see you. Share enough personal information, stare deep into each other’s eyes, and off you go!

My first thought was, this is something people don’t know?

Look at one of the favorite fictional romantic couples, Elizabeth and Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth can’t stand Darcy at the beginning. His first proposal is disastrous because even in the process of making himself vulnerable, he is hiding behind his pride (and failing on the kindness front, as well). He makes himself truly vulnerable only when he takes her admonishments to heart and seriously attempts to address them. And it is when Elizabeth makes herself vulnerable to him in return by revealing the true nature of her family scandal that she begins to actively reciprocate his feelings. It is his reaction to this vulnerability, of continued regard and attempted assistance instead of judgment and reprimand, that seals the deal.

Photo Credit: °]° via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: °]° via Compfight cc

Vulnerability can create intimacy in all sorts of relationships, but romantic relationships can be more complicated because they require a reflection of some kind. As a teacher, I expected my students to treat me with respect and to honor our business arrangement, but beyond that, it was my job to create an effective learning environment for them, not vice versa. Whereas in romantic relationships, at least the ones I’m interested in, trust has to go both ways. Both people have to ultimately choose to be vulnerable. Both people are involved in creating an environment conducive to love and partnership.

Dr. Aron’s experiment simulates, to a certain extent, the process of creating intimacy. After all, what do two people dating often do? Spend time together and talk together. Stare into each other’s eyes and give each other goofy grins. Affirm appreciation of each other. The common wisdom about not going to a movie on the first date (interaction at a movie is minimal) is given for a reason.

But the lab experiment also simplifies things. It gives each person a script, and it demands a certain level of reciprocity. (Both people have to answer each question, so the focus never freezes on only one of the couple.) And because it isn’t presented in the context of dating, there are fewer expectations going along with it, and perhaps less anxiety as well.

In real life, it’s less clean, and the opportunities for intimacy are less well-defined. When we confide in someone and ask for support, we are asking for something, yes, but we are also presenting the other person with an opportunity. And that opportunity will not always be accepted or handled well. But once you’ve ascertained a certain amount of chemistry and interest in another person, one of the big next steps is giving these opportunities, because how somebody responds is very revealing, and can either deepen the relationship or hasten its ending.

Because really, many of us want what I gave my students as a teacher. We want a safe space to be ourselves and share our stories without judgment. We want room to experiment and mess up. We want to be appreciated. We want someone who will listen and do their best to understand. We want someone who is both kind and helpful in a constructive way.

We want to choose to love because an intimacy has been established that is worth the fall.

This weekend at ConFusion I found myself crying in a public bathroom.

Now, if you have never cried in a public bathroom before, there’s some stuff you should know. You’d think from the way characters cry in bathrooms in novels and on TV that this is a decent option. But it is actually fraught with difficulty!

First of all, is the bathroom empty? Because if it’s not, you have to cry very, very quietly. Or you might be interrupted mid-cry. Luckily I didn’t have this problem. It was late enough that no one else was there, and I made my way to the big handicapped stall at the back and locked the door. But then came another issue. Where was I supposed to sit? I didn’t want to sit on the floor (ick) or on the toilet seat that had no lid (ick), so I ended up leaning against the wall. And then all that’s available for tear-catching is low-grade toilet paper, and there’s glasses to keep track of, and I kept thinking about the fact I was wearing mascara, and was it running down my face in long black streaks, and if so, would I be able to remove all evidence of it with rough paper towels before going back out into public?

Also, everything just seems worse when you’re crying about it in a public bathroom. Because in the back of your head is the awareness that you’re so upset you couldn’t keep your shit together long enough to decamp to a more private location. And that just sucks.

Photo Credit: madamepsychosis via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: madamepsychosis via Compfight cc

So, why was I in that bathroom in the first place?

Well. Someone said some not-very-nice things to me. Some personally judgmental things. And I let it get to me. I tried to recover, but these not-very-nice things hit me on a tender spot, and I was exhausted from traveling all day, and I hadn’t seen it coming, and and and…. I let it get to me. I cared when there was absolutely no reason to do so.

This also sucks.

Then my brain saw an opportunity to take my emotionally vulnerable state as an excuse to stage a fun little field trip into the Land of Impostor Syndrome. “Why are you even here?” I asked myself. “You’ve been working so hard at being a writer, and all people know you as is the person who knows everyone. You don’t belong here.”

Other people who have gone on this mind trip will not be surprised to learn that shortly thereafter I was on the phone with a friend back home (yay time zones!) insisting that I was failing at everything that was important to me in my life. EVERYTHING. FAILURE. DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL. YES I CAN BE DRAMATIC, I’M A WRITER, WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?

I hate telling you about this. I want you to think that I’m always together, that even when life is hard, I always bounce back instantly with my silver lining generator and my recap of lessons I have learned. That as I write a novel, and then revise it, and then write another novel, and meanwhile collect a lot of rejections, I am always just fine.

But this simply isn’t true. No one is together one hundred percent of the time. No one. If they say they are, they are lying. If they look like they are, you don’t know them well enough yet.

And reaching for things that are difficult to achieve–going full-out–is really fucking difficult, emotionally speaking. Not settling for what you know you could have, and instead pushing for what you want to have? Can be completely brutal because success is not a guarantee. It’s not even always particularly likely. Trying to make art out of absolutely nothing, and knowing you’ll be heaped with criticism for even trying? Artists are insane. People with ambitions are insane. We are all freaking insane.

And into this turmoil creeps impostor syndrome. It slips into our behavior in both subtle and embarrassingly apparent ways. It makes it harder to put our full effort behind something. It blinds us to opportunities. We worry that if we talk about it, it could damage our careers. It could make people think they shouldn’t bet on us. It makes us afraid.

Well, forget that. I’m supposed to be working on caring less about what people think? Fine. I had rampant impostor syndrome this weekend. I had to take more alone time than I usually do, and I needed to talk about it with friends, and I needed a few pep talks, and I still feel a little shaky, and my brain is being less kind than usual. I also participated on all my panels as planned, and visited with my friends, and talked business.

I am speaking about my experience with impostor syndrome because it is something that is true, and those are the things most worth talking about. I know that like me, many of my readers are reaching for the stars instead of settling for a sure thing. As a result, many of us face impostor syndrome repeatedly. And having this experience does not mean we are any less capable or reliable or skilled. It’s just part of the territory of having vision and doing big and splendid things.

This weekend I ended up crying in a bathroom. Today I sat down and wrote. Tomorrow I will sit down and write some more. This is what matters: to stare our doubts in the face and acknowledge them and then, in spite of them, choose to go for it with everything we have.

I’ve long harbored a suspicion that, were I to write about dating here on the blog, it would prove to be quite popular. And it looks like I was right. I don’t know what, if anything, I’m going to do with this information, but I was very pleased at the high quality of the comments on my dating post, both here and over on Facebook. Thank you for being thoughtful and interesting commenters.

My friend Ferrett read the same post by Rahul I did, and he had a different response that is worth checking out.


I saw the movie Another Earth last weekend. In spite of its plot holes, I liked it as a metaphor. Also it was pretty. Also I had my first cream soda float while watching it, and it was delicious.

I kind of want to see the new time travel movie Predestination, but it’s only playing at one theater in my area, so whether I’ll have time to check it out is up in the air. If you’ve seen it, let me know what you think


My friend shared this amazing photography series by Sacha Goldberger. Entitled Super Flemish, it is a mash-up of superheroes (and other fictional characters from Star Wars and Alice in Wonderland amongst others), Flemish painting, and Elizabethan fashion. I wish I could go see an exhibition of this, but happily all the photos are available for perusal on the web.


Any excuse to use a Stormtrooper photo is a great excuse! Photo Credit: Kalexanderson via Compfight cc

Any excuse to use a Stormtrooper photo is a great excuse! Photo Credit: Kalexanderson via Compfight cc


In other news, I’m off to my favorite regional science fiction convention this weekend, ConFusion, in Dearborn, Michigan. Here is my panel schedule for the weekend:

Friday 6pm: What We’re Reading Now Southfield

Writers are almost always avid readers, and being in the business sometimes allows more insight into new and exciting authors, series, or just ideas that different people are playing with. If you’ve looked around and wondered what’s good that’s out now and in the near future, this panel may give you a new slew of books to track down.

Saturday 10am: How to like problematic things Erie

Lord of the Rings. A Song of Ice & Fire. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Many of us like things that are deeply problematic! Liking these works doesn’t (necessarily) make you a jerk. How can we like problematic things and not only be decent people, but good allies and activists? How does one’s background matter? How does one address the problems? This panel will discuss how to own up to the problematic things in the media you like, particularly when you feel strongly about them.

Saturday 1pm: Romancing the Vulcan Southfield

Emotionally restrained heroes were popular in the age of reason; after Romanticism swept Europe, Jane Austen’s Darcys and Knightleys were the only emotionally Vulcan-esque heroes left in media for quite some time. From Darcy/Lizzie on the page, to Spock/Uhura on the screen and Spock/Kirk in our fanfic, we love human passion rubbing up against Vulcan reason. What are other models of this dynamic? What’s so appealing about loving a Vulcan… or being one?

Saturday 5pm: Effective Role Playing (TEEN FUSION) Windsor

How do you stay in character during a RPG so that the game progresses and you have fun at the same time?

ConFusion is always a very busy convention for me, but please feel free to come up and say hi!

My mind is a very busy place.

It’s always busy, and right now it is especially active, which, given its normal state, is…saying something. And my outside life is also busy, which I think is probably why, when I stop long enough to pay attention, I feel a bit tired. Really mostly what I want to do is sit in silence, or with some chill music playing, and have someone rub my head. For hours. That sounds really amazing.

But since that’s not going to happen, I want to talk about something I’ve been doing for the last several months that, while not as relaxing as a prolonged head rub, is still pretty useful for staying grounded and coping with feelings of stress and uncertainty.

Yes, I have started meditating. I know. What has the world come to?

But lest you become too shocked by this news, let me reassure you that I am just as bad at meditating as I have always professed. I have no regular schedule. I have no regular duration. My mind wanders all over the place. Nala likes to jump up on me and try to lick me while I’m doing it, which is pretty much the most distracting thing ever. I have no real discipline. The idea of me talking to you about meditating is ludicrous, and I’d say I have impostor syndrome except in this case I genuinely am an impostor. In short, I am a complete disaster of a meditator.

It is so glorious to allow ourselves to be bad at something, and then do it anyway.

Yoda, on the other hand, is kick ass at meditating.

Yoda, on the other hand, is kick ass at meditating.

The type of meditation I do is called metta meditation. I learned how to do it in my early 20s from this book to which I still refer to this day: Lovingkindness, by Sharon Salzberg. I don’t remember how or why I have this book, but it’s maybe the most helpful nonfiction book I’ve ever read.

So here’s what I do. I meditate for one of two reasons: either I’m feeling kind of frazzled at some point during the day and I remember that meditating will probably make me feel better, or I’m in bed with the lights out and I’m not asleep yet. The second happens a lot more frequently than the first.

I get comfortable. I close my eyes and focus on my breathing. And then I begin to repeat these metta phrases to myself, suggested by Sharon Salzberg:

“May I be free from danger.”

“May I have physical happiness.”

“May I have mental happiness.”

“May I have ease of well-being.”

I tend to stick to one phrase at a time and really dig into it before switching to another one, but I don’t think it matters much how you do it. My favorite one is the first one, so I end up spending the most time on it. Sometimes I only do that one phrase, and then I’m done. A few times, when I’m having particular difficulty with concentrating, I’ve even repeated the phrases out loud

In the last month or two, I’ve added one more phrase that’s helpful for me personally: “Remember who you are.” That phrase focuses me like nothing else. It reminds me to pay attention to my priorities, to what I think is important, and to be true to a deep part of myself. It also reminds me of how capable and resilient I am, which comes in handy when there’s a lot going on.

Metta meditation is also adaptable. I tend to do the self metta practice because that’s where I feel I’m the weakest and need the most assistance. But you can substitute “the world” or “everyone” or “all beings” for “I,” which is a great practice for feeling empathy and compassion for others. Or you can direct each phrase at a specific person. It can be particularly exciting to direct the phrases towards someone with whom you’re feeling angry, as one tool for moving towards forgiveness. (Which reminds me that I’ve been wanting to write a post about forgiveness for a long time too. Soon! I hope.)

My mind is still a very busy place. And I am still terrible at meditating. But this haphazard practice of mine has been very valuable. And I’ve carved out a little piece of quiet in the noise, just for me.

I don’t write about dating or romantic relationships here on the blog. That is a deliberate choice. I once had someone tell me they thought I must be anti-romantic relationship since I never talk about it here, which I thought was hilarious, and also a good illustration of how much people can read into this blog that simply isn’t true. (Yes, sometimes people read a lot into this blog. It is unfortunate. I’ve also decided it’s probably inevitable.)

Anyway, today is different! Today I’m going to talk about dating! And it’s because of my friend Rahul, who wrote this fascinating blog post about the novel Ready Player One, among other things, called “Why do all sci-fi novels assume that if a person likes the same stuff as you, then they’re your soulmate.” I suggest you go over and read the whole thing so you have context, but this is the paragraph of particular interest to me:

“What we forget, though, is that friendship and love aren’t about shared interests. They involve a sense of connection and understanding that goes deeper than that. They’re about…a…a…a sense of fascination with each other. And that loving the same geeky shit really does nothing to provoke or prolong that sense of fascination. All it does is give you something to talk about once in a while.”

Many of my friends and I spend a lot of time talking about dating and relationships. And over time, I’ve developed a few pet theories. One of them is about just what Rahul is talking about here, the idea of the importance of having interests in common. Because we hear about this so much! The online dating sites are set up to highlight common interests, and when people talk about their ideal dates, they often bring up interests they would like to share.

But I agree with Rahul. I think common interests aren’t actually all that important. I’m not saying it’s great if you have absolutely nothing in common. And I think shared interests can be pleasant, like a nice bonus. They can smooth out beginnings, in both romantic and friend relationships. Shared interests give you an excuse to hang out, basically, and they give you something to talk about when you’re not sure what to talk about because you don’t know each other very well yet.

But in my experience, not sharing a particular interest hasn’t usually been a big downside in a relationship. I haven’t dated a serious musician since right after college, and music has certainly been important to me since then. I think I’ve dated more people who didn’t care about board games than people who really liked them. Certainly I’ve never dated somebody who shared all my interests. And I never felt like I had some big void in my life as a result. Plus sometimes I’ve picked up new interests and learned new things because of someone I’ve dated (or someone I’ve been friends with, for that matter), and that’s pretty cool.

I’m not saying that sharing particular interests can’t be important. For example, it gives me pause to consider the idea of dating someone who doesn’t read. The written word has become so intrinsic to my life, and I think I probably talk about it all the time, or at least I’d want to, and it would maybe be a little weird to talk about it with someone who never actually reads. Or even worse, someone who doesn’t even have an appreciation for the art form that is the novel. That being said, I have many friends who don’t read, and that’s fine. I just don’t talk with them about that part of my life. But with a partner? Yeah, I think it might be weird.

And of course, it’s great to spend time around people with whom we can have interesting conversations. But I’m not convinced shared interests are the key to having interesting conversations. They help, certainly, but equally important can be some combination of knowing how to ask good questions, knowing how to listen, having a lively sense of curiosity, having compatible senses of humor, being a good storyteller, having things in our lives that we are passionate about, and using empathy.

Photo Credit: Shawn Lavery via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Shawn Lavery via Compfight cc

Overall, Rahul’s idea about fascination seems more important. Fascination causes us to enter the realm of something deeper, of something not simply based on a shared interest for an activity, but instead on a shared interest in each other. It is at this stage in a relationship that we can talk about the things that shape us, the truths that are more personal, the vision of who we truly are or want to be or are afraid to become. Fascination causes us to be interested in someone else’s history, in their opinions, in their emotions, in all the components that added together equal themselves. And of course, fascination can be related to chemistry, whether we’re talking about physical chemistry or conversational chemistry (for example, the friend you can talk to for hours without effort in a satisfying back-and-forth).

Where does this fascination come from? I’m not really sure. From some magical combination of chemistry and curiosity and expression and appreciation and paying attention and who knows what else.

Shared interests are fine and good. But fascination, I think, has the potential to make a relationship truly extraordinary.


I just looked at all the posts I published here on the blog in 2014. I didn’t actually read them all because a.) I don’t have that kind of time today, and b.) I can usually remember the jist of them from the headline anyway. And I also took a look at a list of viewer stats. And using all of this information, I’ve compiled a list of noteworthy posts from last year.

Some of the posts I chose were popular with you, the readers. Some of them are ones I feel are important. I’m including several posts about grief that I wrote in the wake of Jay’s death in June because I hope they might be helpful for other people in the future.

You might also notice that I’ve finally updated my photo here on the blog. I hadn’t changed it since I started the blog back in 2010, so I figured it was time!

Without further ado, here are the 14 Greatest Hits of 2014:

GISHWHES, Harassment, and Ask vs. Guess Culture

Thoughts on Being Professional

On Entitlement and the Friend Zone

A Woman of a Certain Age

If Not Me, Who?

Why I Love Selfies

Where is Our Compassion?

Hope as Fuel

On Filters and Walking Away

Remember the Stars


Posts about Death and Grief:

There Will Never Be Enough Time

Here Lies My Grief

The Beauty Remains

Grief Does Not Fit Into Small Boxes


Thank you for joining me for another year at The Practical Free Spirit. I’m looking forward to finding out where we’ll go next!

Today I was going to write about my hopes for 2015, maybe talk about some goals, a little bit of what I anticipated.

And then Tuesday happened.

And so this post is going to be completely different from if I had written it on Monday.

At the beginning of November, I went to a big party. One of my closest friends was there, and I sat next to him by the fire pit in an attempt to not freeze to death (outdoor parties in November are a thing here in Northern California, but they possibly shouldn’t be), and we were chatting, and all of a sudden I blurted out, “I’m really unhappy.”

And he said, “Yes, I know,” not in a dismissive way but in an “I understand where you’re coming from” way. And we talked about why I was unhappy, and how I wanted to be anywhere but where I was, and then he said to me, “You know, Amy, wherever you go, you’ll take yourself with you.”

And because I trust my friend, and because he was totally right, I took his words to heart, and I kept doing what I had already been doing, which was trying to figure out some filters and make new friends and find a way to be happy where I was right then. I had been feeling so frustrated, but the simple act of stating my unhappiness and being heard with compassion healed something I didn’t even know needed healing, and I began to feel better. Literally that night.

Then I went to World Fantasy, and spending time with my friends there helped too, and I started being able to see the progress I was making, which is always heartening. And at a certain point, I decided I’d most likely stay in my apartment another year when my lease was up, as long as the rent didn’t go up too high. I didn’t want to move for the third time in a two-year period, I really like my apartment, and I was okay with the way my life here was going. Happy, even.

And then on Tuesday I got the notice about how much my rent will be increasing. It is a significant increase. Much higher than I was hoping. The local rents did another upwards spike sometime in the few months since I last checked. So the decision of whether to stay or to go is no longer an easy one. And the landscape of 2015 has suddenly become less certain.

I was stressing out about this, and I asked another friend of mine, “Why do I have to keep solving the same problem over and over?” And he said, “Conventional wisdom suggests you haven’t solved it if it keeps returning.” And that is exactly it. I have tried to solve the issue of my living situation, but so far, I’ve only succeeded in finding short-term solutions. And at some point, I’d really like to find a more sustainable solution.

(By the by, I have to take a moment to appreciate how incredible it is to have these friends who say wise and helpful and insightful things. It makes such a big difference. So there is one of my wishes for 2015, that I can be a friend like that too.)

In some ways, I don’t even want to talk about this because I’ve had this new information for two days, and I have no idea what I’m going to do. I don’t want anyone who lives local to me to start feeling sad prematurely, and I don’t want anyone who lives in Seattle or LA to get excited for no reason. I’m back in the liminal space again, and when I think of the future, it branches off in several directions, and I don’t know which direction I’m going to take. I don’t know if I’ll choose another short-term solution or if I’ll try something new.

But I am talking about it because I don’t know to such an extent that I can’t toss off a post about what I think 2015 will be as if I don’t have this decision on my mind. And honestly, 2015 has already been defying definition. I spent the last two months going from book idea to book idea, having my travel plans for next year morph and change, waiting to hear back about things, getting a lot of maybes and I’ll know soons.

Here are the predictions I can make about 2015: I will write. I will blog. I will query. I will read. I will sing. Nala will be adorable. I will go to Detroit in a couple of weeks, and I will go to the Rainforest Writers Retreat at the end of February. I will probably take a trip out of the country. I will hopefully keep strengthening my ankle. I will spend time with my friends.

By the time I leave for my writing retreat, I will have made a decision about where I’m going to live. I don’t know what that decision will be, but I know I’ll make it.

I guess my biggest wish for myself for 2015 is this: that I stay centered and keep moving forward. Forward in my writing, forward in my health, forward in my relationships, and forward in becoming more and more fully me.

I wish the same to all of you. May you continue moving forward. And may we all have a very happy New Year!

Holding the sun. Photo by Alexa Rubinov.

Holding the sun. Photo by Alexa Rubinov.


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