Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Live Each Day

Dropped in on Facebook this morning to find a lot of my younger friends were wishing their lives away:  "How I wish this day were over;" "If only this day would end;" "Pray for this day to be over."  I thought, how sad this is.  When you get to my age time moves so swiftly...reminds me of a song lyric from Eric Anderson in the 1970's "Time like a freight train..." Days, weeks, months, even years are gone before I realize it.

Whether one is faced with the problem of moments that drag or moments that vanish to quickly the solution is the same: work on being in the moment, noticing and experiencing life as it is happening to you. Not that this is at all easy. But it does not mean working all the time or being "on" all the time. Some times the best way to be in the moment is to relax, practice deep breathing, a quiet moment of reflection, a brief walk to the window or door, even take a nap (albeit few people have the luxury to nap at work).

{time out for a stroll to the mail box and a lawn mowing break and the sweet, sweet smell of morning grass, mixed with the pungent odor of gasoline from the mower; unaccustomed muscle use, sweat, and heart rate elevation!}

 I wanted to extend this thought to several people I know in a gentle non-judgmental way. I know their work is not always full-filling, their days often tiresome. I've noticed that people often respond to what I call "bumper stickers" on Facebook--images with meaningful statements on them--much more readily than direct advice. So I crafted the message above and floated it out into Facebook land.  I'm happy that it seemed to reverberate with a number of people, and has been "shared" repeatedly. I know I've going to post it prominently somewhere to remind myself of one of my better thoughts and try to put it into practice more often.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Musings on the Changing Nature of Friendship in My Life

This evening the Facebook page Humans of New York (HONY) had a picture of a man about my age, sitting on a stoop and the quote was the following:
"Back in Greece, your circle of friends grows larger and larger as you go through life. In America, the circle mostly shrinks or stays the same size."
"Why do you think that is?"
"Time. Nobody has time here. It seems that every time you make a new friend, another friend has grown too busy or moved away."
I always like HONY's pictures and quotes (if you haven't discovered this young man's incredible portraits in photo and words, you really should); all of them speak to me in some way, but this particular quote hit very close to home. I know that I am ultimately responsible for the lack of friends in my daily life, but I'm not entirely sure how to change the situation after all these years.

When I was a teenager I spent my time outside of school alone. I had good friends at school, some of whom I am still in touch with today (especially thanks to tools like Facebook). In high school most of my friends lived miles away; I had no car, neither did they, so our interactions generally ended with the school day. I was lonely, but also liked having space and time to read, write, draw and paint, dream and sing on my own.

College was amazing to me. There were people to talk to, to do things with any time of the day or night. People with whom to sit and listen to music, to go to a movie, have a meal or drink, to discuss the nature of reality or plan the revolution. Graduate school was more of the same: there was always someone with whom to talk, to share things, to laugh or cry. Even my first college teaching job involved intense friendship networks. The college faculty was mostly very young, and mostly a long ways from their family and kin networks, so there were Wednesday "seminars" at local watering holes where intellectual and political ideas could be debated, frequent potluck parties, and other singles with whom to have meals, go to movies, shopping, or just hanging out.  

During those decades from college to first teaching job I tried very hard to make and keep friends. I reached out to others, gave parties, made an effort, because as much as I loved the intensity and the wide ranging nature of the friendships of those years, I am at heart an introvert who loves people, not an extrovert. I still needed plenty of alone time for recharging.

When I failed to get tenure at my first teaching job, and had to leave that intense friendship network, I found it difficult to put energy into a whole new set of friendship ties. The whole process was made so much more difficult because my second job (like my current one) was at a school where almost everyone on the faculty and staff was local and most were older; they all ready had extensive networks of family, kin and friends.  They were friendly and pleasant, but few people invited me to their home, or had social events at which I could get to know my colleagues the way I had known those at my first job. What I should have done was make more of an effort, not less of one. But as the new person I didn't know how to reach out to those already in place.

A few years later when a large new crop of faculty were hired at one time, I saw it as an opportunity.  I volunteered to be on the welcoming committee. I reached out in dozens of ways: providing both  a young married couple and a single mom with a large family with temporary beds, bedding and other furnishings while they waited for their own to arrive, doing the apartment hunting for another incoming colleague, and even offering my guest room to one new faculty who was having difficulty finding a place to live. I did my best to mentor the new people in a way that I had not been mentored. Well you know what they say, "no good deed goes unpunished." A new female faculty member decided that I was a controlling, dominating bitch that had to go if she was going to rise in power and position (she literally said that if I got tenure she would be forced to leave...I didn't get tenure and she left anyway). A new male faculty member decided that my offers of assistance (as part of an official new faculty welcoming committee) were sexual harassment and that I was responsible for all his difficulties with students in the classroom.

I made a couple of friends among colleagues, one of them my husband, John.  Getting married changed the dynamics of my life and provided for the first time a best friend who was available all the time.

Failing to get tenure again, I found a new job at a community college, where people were even more tightly integrated into family, kin and community networks. They were kind and welcoming, but had their own lives, and I was afraid to invest too much energy into building friendships - my last efforts having backfired so badly.  There are people here that I care very much about, whose parents I've met and whose children I know (many of whom end up in my classroom). But our friendships end at the edge of the campus (with the exception of Facebook in recent years).  I have only once been to the home of some one from work and that meant so much to me to be invited. 

I know that I'm responsible for my lack of friendship ties.  I have not invited anyone to my home (while I love my cats and dogs I am somewhat embarrassed by the constant chaos and smell). I have not made a point of issuing any invitations of my own, to dinner or movies or a "night out with the girls." First blogging and then Facebook have come along to fill some of the spaces and needs that local friendships used to meet.  The Internet has introduced me to some wonderful new people, especially women my age who are talented and interested in similar issues (thank you, Deb, Chris, Beth, Geraldine, and Mimi) and to some young women who've helped me understand the next generation (thanks, Susan and Gwen); the Internet has also brought me back in daily touch with the friends of my adolescence and childhood, and the occasional friend from college, grad school and earlier jobs. My life seems overwhelmingly busy between work, house work, caring for animals, Facebook, writing, and I don't even seem to have enough time to spend with my wonderful husband...yet I miss the face-to-face and voice-to-voice friendships of colleagues - women especially. 

So I wonder how do I go about changing things, and do I still have the energy to do so?

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Fictional Drama and Real Life

Over the last six months, I have heard several different friends make similar comments to me about no longer being interested in reading or viewing certain types of fictional drama, because of the drama in their own lives. Each of these friends had very different types of drama playing out in their own lives and different types of fiction that they eschewed (while continuing to embrace other forms of fictional entertainment).

 It is important that people act in ways that are true to their values  and when some form of entertainment is counter to their values, or causes distress in their lives, they should remove it from their lives. I commend my friends for excising things from their lives that were not contributing to their well-being.

 The problem I have with these pronouncements is that whether consciously intended as such or not they have come across to me as a form of condescension, not to me so much as to other people generally. It seemed to me that  these friends were saying  that anyone who witnessed or knew real tragedy, death, pain, drama would not wish to immerse themselves in the fictional kind whether it be movies, TV or books;  the corollary of that (never spoken but implicit) was that people who did immerse themselves in fictional drama did not really know real tragedy, death, pain or drama--something not only condescending, but demonstrably false.