Research and Reconnection

There’s a saying about people being in your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. I’m not sure if I’m completely sold on that idea, but I do know there is a small handful of people who will be in my life forever, even if we only see each other once every few years. One of those people is my friend Sam (I’ve changed her name out of respect for her privacy). We met in high school on the bus to a soccer game. She was a sophomore, I was one of only three freshman on the team. While I can’t remember what we talked about that first day, I do remember that I knew right away we would be friends. She was funny and sweet, and she spoke her mind. My kind of person. Together we navigated the tumultuous teenage sea, had plenty of adventures and misadventures, and became die hard Monty Python fans.

Fast forward several years. Sam moved to North Carolina after college. We had remained friends, and I went down to visit her a few times. But then life happened. We kept in touch, but the time between phone calls stretched larger and larger, and I worried that she no longer considered me a friend. It was no one’s fault really, it happens to most of us. And now social media makes it easy to check the box of, “I posted on so and so’s wall for their birthday and commented on a picture of their kid – we’re caught up.” But there is something to be said about seeing a good friend in person. Giving them a hug. Seeing their space. Knowing that they will be in your life a little longer.

Sam’s brother lives in town, and last summer he told me that she was getting married. I knew I needed be there, no matter what. And I was. Plane tickets were too expensive, so I got in the car at 4am and drove twelve hours to see my friend. Totally worth it.

On the way down, I decided to take a quick detour to the 14th Quartermaster Detachment Memorial in Greensburg, Pennsylvania.

Part of my current project was inspired by an Army Reserve unit that suffered the greatest causalities during Desert Storm. I wanted to see the memorial, for research purposes, and also to pay my respects to the soldiers who were killed or injured. I want so much from my writing, and one of the things I hope to accomplish is to give a voice to untold stories, to remember the sacrifices of not only the men and women who fight, but also the family and friends who love them. Sam’s dad was deployed during Desert Storm, and while he survived the war, he did not survive the cancer that followed. We cannot forget that war does not end on the battlefield, especially now when battlefields are not clearly defined.

I didn’t make it to his funeral. Work, life… excuses… and it is something I deeply regret. I wasn’t there for my friend when I should have been. Maybe that’s why I needed to go down for her wedding. But it’s more than that. Friendship isn’t easy for me. I can be insensitive without meaning to, and I don’t like to be vulnerable (translation: you need a lot of explosives to knock down my walls). There are a handful of people in this world that I truly, deeply love. That will be my friends for a lifetime. Time passes, but that feeling doesn’t change. So I’m taking some time this week to try and reach out to people who have shaped me, changed me, loved me back despite my myriad of faults. And I encourage you, my beautiful readers, to do the same.

Because in the end, we need people who know us. Truly know us. Who will be there in tragedy and celebration. But we should also continue to expand our circle, to reach out to someone who may be lonely or hurting, to ask for help if we’re the ones lonely or hurting. Let’s travel on this road together.

 

Living in Infamy

One way my social anxiety manifests its ugly self is the fear of small talk. That whole – what to say, how long to stay in the conversation, is my face doing something ridiculous right now that makes it seem like I have no idea what the other person is talking about – thing regularly sends me into a tailspin of panic. And no matter how many times I plead with my brain to not say anything stupid, it regularly does. The problem is, unless I run away to live in a secluded cabin in the woods (ah, someday…), small talk is a life necessity. And my new job requires that I be somewhat good at it. So I persevere. Take baby steps to being a better communicator and remind my face and brain to behave themselves.

I’m attempting to overcome this aspect of anxiety by making small talk with strangers. That way, if I say something stupid it won’t matter. Much. Maybe they’ll share it with their partner over dinner and laugh at my word diarrhea. But chances are we’ll all go about our day and everything will be grand and maybe eventually it won’t scare me as much to talk about life’s insignificant details. Sometimes it works out well. I made a joke! The cashier laughed! I did not make an ass of myself! Sometimes, I’m recognized. And then I panic.

I taught for four years as a long term substitute at a local high school, and many of my lovely former students are out in the community working and doing productive things with their lives. And me? I disappeared. Okay, not exactly. But leaving the school was a difficult transition for me, one that I did not choose but eventually led to new opportunities in both my writing journey and career. It took a while to fully accept that transition, to give myself time to wallow in regret and what-ifs before I accepted life’s new path. So when I come across someone from that former life, I’m always a little thrown. Last night I was having a lovely conversation with a cashier about the trials of being petite (why oh why can’t they make maxi dresses for people under 5’5″?) and I was so proud of my brain for not messing it up. I used an ID for a discount and when she saw my name asked if I used to teach. Turns out she was in one of my co-taught freshman classes, but I didn’t recognize her until she said her full name.

Then, the panic. No, how have you been since then, what are you up to? (Working at this store, obviously.) No memory of something interesting she had done way back then. My brain just turned off. Wandered into the black hole of that time period and refused to come out. Insert embarrassing exit and that feeling of, why can’t I interact like a normal human? How are we supposed to work past our fears and anxiety when they constantly battle for our submission? I want to be the sort of person who can face my past head-on and not be afraid. This girl had no idea what happened to me after our year together. I’m the one who wears the stone around my neck. But I’m tired of it weighing me down.

Normally I’m not one to give advice about letting go. But I am getting better about facing demons. Gradually. Old me would avoid the store for all of eternity for fear of seeing my former student again. New me says, that chapter is over. Go forth and continue your quest to be friendly. Reality says, wow, what you said this morning to the other parent at camp drop off was really stupid. Try harder next time not to sound like a complete dork.

It’s a never ending struggle.

Life’s little detours

writingHello old friends and new followers. Welcome to Caravan of Composition!

For nine years I chronicled stories about my boys, their birthday cakes, and the transition from teacher to counselor/writer. My oldest son is on the verge of puberty, and despite the fact that he told me last night he was perfectly okay with me telling the Internet all about his life, I decided it would be best to switch gears. Focus on the writing journey. Where I’ve been, where I’d like to go, and how I plan to get there. Help others on the path. Writing is a solitary activity, which is part of why I love it. I’m an introvert with social anxiety who occasionally makes a fool of herself in public. But there is an amazing community of writers out there, and I’ve learned a thing or two about networking in the past few years. It is possible.

The new blog, for example? It exists because of people I’ve met along the way.

Life never seems to go exactly as planned. It shuts down roads and forces you to find a new route. The children I love more than cilantro-jalapeno hummus came into my life in a completely different manner than I had expected. (Check out my old blog, The Family Van, if you want to know more.) My teaching career suffered multiple derailments which, while devastating at the time, ultimately allowed me to write more and worry less. And now I’m here. With grand plans of overcoming chronic procrastination and sharing my wit and wisdom with anyone who cares to join me on the next leg of the journey.