The Intimacy Edition

The Authenticity Experiment, the intimacy edition. The North Dakota Music Teacher arrived in Portland recently and almost immediately we began talking about how people build relationships.  We dated briefly last fall and became emotionally intimate quickly.  Partly, we are wired this way and partly we took a big breath and jumped into the deep end of the emotional pool.  Texts, phone calls, and emails.  Ten minute cups of coffee because often that was all the time our competing schedules afforded us.  And letters—lots and lots of handwritten letters to each other.  This remained even when we knew dating wasn’t right for us.

The night she got here, we talked for five-and-a-half hours.  Ceaselessly, barely breathing between sentences.  Stopping and interrupting each other to make a point and then always circling back around to the story at hand.  We sat at the quarter-sawn oak table in my dining room, and we kept slapping it for emphasis, and saying with each new story about our families of origin, each new disclosure about the trials and tribulations we’d faced in our separate cities these past four months, “I mean, how else do you build intimacy except like this, right?”  And the other would reply, “Right.”

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Last fall when I was driving up and down I-5 reading in Washington, Oregon, and California, and trying to balance book tour with my dwindling resources and my day job, I woke up very early—in the house of an acquaintance who’d put me up after a reading—with an incredibly sore bicep.  I’d forgotten that before I’d left Portland, I’d repeatedly lifted my couch with one arm in order to arrange a new blue and burgundy Persian rug with the other arm.  But, it is also true that I felt deeply weary and alone—emotionally, existentially.  When this angst occurs, I often revert to my childhood fear: weird diseases that can kill or maim. At those times, I need someone to both take me seriously by listening and not interrupting, and to make me laugh at my anxiety, at myself.  So, I texted the North Dakota Music Teacher even though we’d only begun dating.  Because, as I said, we started by grabbing hands and jumping into the deep end together, so why not.

It’s funny now.  Even then I laughed, maybe, after I finished crying hard—alone, in the house of someone I hardly knew, in a freezing cold bedroom, under a pile of blankets that weighed so much they bent my feet back until my arches cramped.  I texted the North Dakota Music Teacher that I thought I might have rhabdomyolysis.  Exceedingly rare.  Highly unlikely. But that’s where my brain went.

She replied kindly, I hold your vulnerabilities, your sharing, and your arm in my heart. No mocking—although when I read her this post, we both laughed loudly when I got to the line, “It’s funny now.”  Because it is.  All the drama of artists—or maybe this artist in particular.  All the ways my brain holds me hostage.

Still, it felt risky, confiding this secret fear of weird diseases so early in our relationship, but I had to trust she would like my most uncurated self—the self we often don’t show on first or second or thirtieth dates.  Now, we know so much more about each other and, during her recent visit, she gently chided me about not writing new Authenticity Experiment posts.  She asked if it was tiredness, depression, or hiding out that kept me from this task.  She said, “What if you were just out there? Vulnerable, I mean really vulnerable, showing all your questions and fears?”

I basically said that would not happen.

Honestly, what isn’t curated now that social media is even more pervasive than when I started this experiment three years ago?  For Christ’s sake, even my own pictures are curated.  The Grief-Stricken Writer asked once, “Do you ever take a bad picture?”  I told her that I did, but I don’t post them.  Because, come on, darlings, how much authenticity should one really share over our digital back fence? Or rather, how intimate shall I be?  Should I post the picture where my eyes are closed or the camera captured a weird look?  Should I show you the one where my fly was down?  Or the photo where my gut hangs out?  How much authenticity do you want from me? How much am I willing to give you?

Do I tell you that I continually fight depression?  That I’m so so scared to write this new book which is—hallelujah—not about Alzheimer’s?  Do I tell you that I long for the days when I thought I was avoiding the Alzheimer’s book because that seems easy compared to what I’m trying to do now?  How about that I’ve gained six pounds because I seem constitutionally incapable of avoiding gluten free coffee cake?

Does authenticity really lie in telling everything on the Internet?  No, of course it doesn’t.

I think it lies where it always has—in the real world, in moment to moment connections.  Away from the screen.  It lies in the nonstop conversation between two friends who haven’t seen each other in four months; in the manner in which we truly see another and let them know this; in the willingness to be emotionally vulnerable because that’s what it means to be human.

I think that’s why these posts resonate, right? Because they have a thread of the universal and you recognize yourself, or maybe you understand that I see you.  We’re all curated and wondering what parts to show, aren’t we? We are all full of questions.  We all have some secret shame that will burn less toxic if we only share it with another.  If we trust and open.  If we say, Can you tell me I’m okay? That I’m not going to lose my arm to rhabdomyolysis?  If we say, Is it okay to just rest with you in this feeling of authentic intimacy? If we realize, indeed, that this feeling is more than enough.

#DarkAndLight

#AuthenticityExperiment

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18 Comments

  1. Merideth said:

    Thank you, Kate. I always find out a little more about myself when I read your words…

    September 4, 2018
    Reply
    • KateCarroll said:

      Thanks for that vote of confidence, Merideth.

      September 4, 2018
      Reply
  2. Heidi Sell said:

    “We all have some secret shame that will burn less toxic if we only share it with another.”
    Kate, thank the North Dakota Music Teacher for nudging you to write this post. I’ve missed your voice answering, calming my own frantic inner ramblings.

    September 4, 2018
    Reply
    • KateCarroll said:

      Here’s the reply from the NDMT: “Oh BLESS this human and bless our 5.5 hour conversation and intimacy and vulnerability and creativity and coffee cake and and and.”

      And from me: Thank you for commenting, Heidi. It helps to know people are out there reading and that sometimes our words help each other.

      September 4, 2018
      Reply
  3. Theresa B said:

    This certainly resonated with me on all sorts of levels 😉 Still remembering our whirlwind three (or was it four? five?) hours of conversation. And trying to love all the “bad photos” of myself out there. Thank you for sharing your gifts. For putting these words down. Love ya, KCDG

    September 4, 2018
    Reply
    • KateCarroll said:

      Right? We talked incessantly, too. That’s the hallmark of a good friendship, I think. Love you and so happy for your new job!

      September 4, 2018
      Reply
  4. Once again you speak with depth Kate. How often I edit a post or a photo because of how other’s opinions of me might change–fearing rejection. Not that I need to lay myself bare to everyone, but masking becomes the norm and soon I can forget I am wearing a covering. To live an authentic life is an invitation. To RSVP is a daily response.

    I think teaching the Art of Deep listening should be taught in kindergarten, like sharing. This world could use more of both. We all need people in our lives who simply listen to us, gently hold our worlds and being present. Thank your for the reminder.

    September 4, 2018
    Reply
    • KateCarroll said:

      To RSVP is a daily response–yes!

      September 4, 2018
      Reply
  5. Love this meditation on intimacy, on the true refuge of simple conversation with the right person. Traveling as much as I have over the past year or so, I’ve only recently come to realize just how much code-switching I’m involved in, constantly, with people, how accustomed I’ve become to it. And, for better or worse, why I miss the West–for me, there seems to be a much higher probability of making a real connection with a stranger, of just spontaneously deciding, yes, you’re my people, we’re going to be friends, and I’ll tell you everything.

    September 4, 2018
    Reply
    • KateCarroll said:

      Right? Cone of silence, oh secret weapon of mine! Come back soon.

      September 4, 2018
      Reply
  6. BJ Andersen said:

    All this. Yes. Thank you for writing. Thank you even more for posting. Brave and vulnerable and introspective…my favorite qualities in a person and a story.

    September 4, 2018
    Reply
  7. Jenna said:

    Of course you can be authentic and not post the bad photos. I take so many bad photos but I believe in person folks don’t freeze frame me when my eyes are half closed or they don’t look at my from below (since almost no one is shorter than me). People remember your charming laugh and smile. They recall your sparkling eyes. At least I do and we’ve only met in person a few times.

    As for the rest, I appreciate your vulnerability. I share your tendency to dive into the deep end in any sort of relationship because that is where the magic happens, the real connection with others occurs, in both sexual and non sexual relationships. Life is too full of artifice.

    Please keep sharing the great photos and the real, raw, depressed, hypochondriacal you. Or the happy, joyous, proud you. The point is please keep sharing the real you. You are right, it does make the rest of us feel good about our own idiosyncrasies. In our increasingly plugged in society it is nice to have a glimpse beneath the surface. Thank you for that.

    September 4, 2018
    Reply
  8. Rita said:

    I’m not quite sure what to make of this, though I’m sure your questions will rattle around in my head for a bit. And need to. Just shared a post that felt hard to share. Included photos from a journal I kept nearly 30 years ago, which was less than flattering. As well as things about myself right now that are less than flattering. That certainly don’t fit the mythical narratives of teachers we all like to believe. And response to it has been different from what is more typical. I (of course) don’t really know why. But my response to that has been to want to run and hide my words, my truth, my self.

    It’s hard enough to be vulnerable face to face. Not sure if it’s harder still to share this way, through this medium, but I think it’s equally hard, perhaps. Just in different ways.

    Always appreciate the food for thought.

    September 4, 2018
    Reply
  9. Ruth Holland said:

    Kate, your book “The Authenticity Experiment” was awesome. I quaffed it neat in one shot, no ice, and it was wholesome. That was four weeks ago and I’m still charmed and buzzed. Your post, which I received today for the very first time, was delightful. Thanks for your humor, courage, and generosity in sharing the raw stuff that resonates with so many of us and voices our truths. Please keep singing Our Song in your unique and gorgeous way. I will listen and savor the words.

    September 5, 2018
    Reply
  10. Norzom L said:

    Thank you for sharing your story, Kate. I love your writing and honesty. You inspire me to start write even though it is super hard for me.

    September 5, 2018
    Reply
  11. Christine Muenz said:

    I wish you knew how often I quote you in my teaching. I work with women at the most vulnerable time of their adult lives, and I often use your words to talk about their vulnerability in postpartum. And about how the experiences of our lives are both/and. And tomorrow at work when someone is crying about her postpartum anxiety and fears I will say, “My wise friend Kate says sometimes our brains ‘hold us hostage.'” Your turn of phrase is impeccable, and I love you.

    September 5, 2018
    Reply
  12. Stacye A. said:

    How can one really be a friend of any sort without authenticity and growing intimacy on some level? There seems to be so little of either in the world today. I am afraid the prevalence of curating one’s life on social media is leading to the same in relationships, especially for young people. Their expectations for themselves and of others are not sustainable which leads to disappointment. They struggle to have intimate relationships. Thanks for sharing over your “digital back fence” Kate!

    September 6, 2018
    Reply
  13. Miranda said:

    You rock. Really.

    September 9, 2018
    Reply

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