Awesome Friend, Meet Awesome Friend!

Recently two of my oldest friends met each other for the very first time. And it was good. But as is usually the case in these situations, it wasn’t as epic as I thought it would be.

I don’t know why I build these encounters up so much. I always expect it to be… not the clash of two titans, but more like the meeting of two titans who then bond and turn into this gigantic… what’s more gigantic than a titan?

I forget that, for them, the event is much like meeting any other person. Yeah, they’ve probably heard stories about one another from me, but they don’t have the actual history. They don’t realize just how much they have in common. They haven’t participated in the imaginary get togethers that I’ve held with the two of them in my mind for decades.

Somehow their two awesome essences don’t magically swirl together and turn into, I don’t know, some delicious awesome stew. Instead, they continue to be awesome individuals who now feel awkward and don’t quite know what to say. And that is something I’m not used to seeing in either of them, so it distresses me greatly.

Often what happens next is the two people shift their focus to the one thing they have in common: me. And that, of course, makes me squirm. I don’t really like being the center of attention. And I suddenly realize that each of them brings out a different facet of my personality, and therefore my old friends are now both seeing bits of me that they’ve never seen before. Then I start feeling the “What the hell has gotten into you?” vibe.

And of course, you can’t fall back on your inside jokes. That would make one or the other feel left out, and you’ve never experienced the feeling of making your good friend feel left out before. That’s disconcerting for everyone involved.

Even worse is when your two friends meet and they don’t like each other. Not at all. Then you get to hear, later on, “What on earth do you see in that person?” And you’re left feeling like you need to defend your friendship choices.

The ultimate nightmare, of course, would be that they like each other so much that you are the one who begins to feel left out. That has yet to happen to me, but I have heard stories. No thank you.

When two well-established parts of your life collide, the results can be unpredictable. I generally start off excited about the prospect, but inevitably walk away feeling slightly saddened. Maybe it’s better to keep all your plates spinning in different regions of your world. Then they’re less likely to crash into one another and cover you in jagged shards of disappointment.

Spinning plates

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It’s Okay to Talk About Death

During the most profound parts of my grief over the loss of my boyfriend, I remember thinking, “I wonder how long it will be before I can talk about Chuck without making people uncomfortable.” I wanted to talk about him. I really did. Both good stuff and bad stuff. I wanted to process what I was feeling and why. But I found it really hard to discuss it with people because I felt as if I were making them squirm, and they didn’t know what to say.

How could I explain to them that it was okay to talk about Chuck? How could I tactfully make the point that death, as a general rule, is not contagious after the fact? How could I reassure them that they couldn’t possibly cause me any more pain than I was already in, and that, by talking about him, they were actually helping me? My energy was at an all-time low, so I wasn’t in the mood to school people.

Then the other day I came across the following in a book by Barbara Kingsolver, and as per usual, she really knows what to say:

“People who are grieving walk with death, every waking moment. When the rest of us dread that we’ll somehow remind them of death’s existence, we are missing their reality.”

This couldn’t be more true! It’s not like we’re taking a vacation from grief and by bringing the subject up you’re thrusting us back into that awful place. You’re not reminding us of something we’ve forgotten. We’re already there, people. And it’s okay. We’re going to survive. It’s just that it would be so comforting to talk about it, so nice to feel less isolated. So make the effort, even if it’s just to ask if we’d like to talk. It would mean more than you know.

I’m happy to say I’ve gotten past the worst of my grief (although it will never go away completely), but if anything could have made the experience easier, it would have been the general sense that I didn’t have to censor myself to avoid making everyone feel awkward. Please try to give that gift to the people you love who are grieving.

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Ending Sentences with Prepositions

Time and time and time again I have seen people who want very much to be perceived as grammatically superior harp on the fact that someone has ended a sentence with a preposition. Even spell check does it. The very sad thing about this behavior is that in fact there’s nothing wrong with doing so in most cases. Any expert in grammar will tell you so. Here’s a quick and dirty rule of thumb:

If restructuring a sentence to avoid ending it with a preposition makes it sound awkward or as if it had been written in the Middle Ages, don’t do it. For example, “Welcome aboard” is perfectly fine. You could also say, “Aboard you are welcome”, but you’d sound like Yoda or a total pompous ass.

On the other hand, there are a few cases where ending a sentence with a preposition will make you sound ignorant. If you can simply leave a preposition off and the sentence still makes sense, by all means, leave it off. (Off you should leave it? Ick. No.) For example, “I don’t know where it’s at.” Drop the “at” and what you get is, “I don’t know where it is.” Simple. Elegant.

So the next time someone arrogantly points out that you’ve just ended a sentence with a preposition, make sure your sentence passed the two tests above, and if it has, tell them that off is where they should f***.

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[Image credit: quickmeme.com]

Come Out of Your Closet

I just saw the most amazing TED talk called Coming Out of Your Closet by Ash Beckham. It’s only 11 minutes long, but it’s really profound, so I hope you’ll take the time to watch it.

In it, she talks about the closets in which we all occasionally find ourselves. Closets are not just for people who are afraid to admit they’re gay. We all have them. If you are carrying around a secret that’s eating you up inside, or if you are avoiding having a really hard conversation with someone, then you are in a closet, too.

You don’t have to be struggling with your orientation to feel as if you are alone in the dark. You might not want to admit that you want a divorce. Or you may have to tell someone you have a terminal illness, or you have to confess that you’ve just lost your job and may therefore lose your house. We all have our hard truths that need to be spoken.

Recently I had to come clean to my family and friends that I had lost my entire life savings, what little of it there was, in a really stupid investment. I had been carrying around that stress and anxiety for a couple of years. I didn’t want to tell anyone because I felt like such a complete and utter fool. I didn’t want the people I love to think less of me, or get angry at me for going against their advice. But one day I woke up and I couldn’t carry the burden alone anymore. And you know what? Each confessional phone call was easier than the last, because every single person I spoke to was supportive. And just like that, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. It was such a relief that I almost became nauseous from the abrupt halt of the adrenaline that had been impacting my health for years. It was honestly the best thing I have done in a long time.

Closets seem safe and quiet and cozy, but as Ash Beckham says, they’re no place for you to live. I encourage you to come out and play.

closet

On Collecting Misfits

All my life I have surrounded myself with people who don’t quite fit in. My best friend calls it my propensity for adopting three-legged dogs. I suspect that it started out because of my low self-esteem in childhood. I didn’t think I could possibly be liked by the popular crowd, whom I perceived to be vastly superior to me. But over time I learned that the truly quality people, the interesting ones, the ones with back stories to overcome, were the misfits. Adversity builds character, after all.

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If I noticed someone being picked on by the in-crowd simply for being different, or because, like the sharks that they were, they smelled blood in the water, I was drawn to that person. The socially awkward, the physically deformed, the out of style, the desperately poor, or the just plain odd…those were my kind of people.

Those of us who zig when we should be zagging, I suspect, value friendship most of all. We know that making the extra effort reaps great rewards. Misfits don’t pressure you to be anything other than who you are. They aren’t judging you, or expecting you to fit into some rigidly defined box. It must be exhausting to be popular and spend so much of your time and energy trying to remain so. I’ve come to realize that it’s the popular people who are really the ones who are desperate to fit in. By not fitting in, I’ve made some friends for life, and I’ll always be grateful for that.

Conformity is the worst kind of insult to one’s spirit. I learned that the hard way. Someone whose opinion I valued greatly once told me I was going to go to hell because my religious beliefs were not identical to hers. That really devastated me for a while. But then one day I finally grasped the fact that I wouldn’t want to go to her version of heaven. Any place where none of my friends would be welcome, and where everyone has to be exactly the same, would be a boring place indeed, and no place I would want to be.

So let your freak flag fly. Bask in your bizarreness. No doubt I’ll like you all the more for it. And so will all the best people.