The Physics of Friendship

In my freshman year of college, I was scared to death. I was away from home and family for the first time in my life. I was being exposed to new ideas. I was working toward my future. I was adulting with no instruction manual.

Fortunately I made an amazing friend, and we became practically inseparable. She was my lifeline. We were like binary stars. No pressure there, right?

She was from a different country, with a much more reserved culture. So when she occasionally acted rather cold, I cut her some slack. I’m a loyal friend, and that’s what loyal friends do.

And then one time she cut me out entirely. She avoided me and didn’t speak to me for about two weeks. I have no idea why. I didn’t have a clue then, either. That was the worst part about it. I had no idea what I had done to deserve such treatment. And since she was the only close friend I had made there, it felt like someone had scooped out my heart with a rusty grapefruit spoon.

Finally, her roommate couldn’t stand to see me so distraught, and forced her to talk to me. I was so relieved that I didn’t even question anything. I don’t even recall there being any awkwardness to our friendship after that. We just picked up where we left off. So be it.

During one of our breaks, she came to Florida with me and stayed with my family. Two years later, when I was studying abroad and she was bicycling across the United States, she left her bike in the garage of a total stranger in Texas, hopped a bus, and came to visit me in Mexico. In a time before internet, we would exchange 30-page letters with each other. I loved those letters.

I considered her my best friend. She never said the same to me. (That’s happened a lot in my life. A whole lot. It’s hurtful.)

Over time, we’ve drifted apart. Thirty-page letters are no longer feasible for either of us. Still, I continued to reach out, despite the oceans and continents between us.

She’s never been very comfortable with the internet. She doesn’t have a Facebook Page. She stopped answering e-mails at least a decade and a half ago. My attempts to connect have been ignored.

I still think of her often, but I’m no longer the girl I was at 17. I’m no longer willing to be the only one who makes an effort to sustain a friendship. I realize that I deserve more than I’ve gotten in recent decades. I know I’m a good friend to have. But I can’t force anyone to care.

In recent years, I’ve taken the Physics of Friendship much more seriously. Newton says that an object that is in motion will not change its velocity unless a force acts upon it. The same applies to friends. We are all objects in motion. If friends drift away, I used to try to be that force that slowed them down. Now my energy is much more limited.

Maybe I should stop viewing it as her pushing me away, and start looking at it as her pushing herself from me. Because I don’t need to go anywhere. I’m in a good place.

So when you feel that gap starting to widen with someone you care about, let ‘em drift, I say. You are not responsible for their motion. Don’t cling. Nothing ought to be that hard.

And then, too, letting go is sometimes all it takes for someone to want to return to your orbit. But mostly not, truth be told. Mostly not.

And that’s okay. As Max Ehrmann wrote, “No doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”

Drifting Apart

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The Limit of My Tolerance

We have reached a point of such divisiveness in this country that it’s really hard to even get through a day without disagreeing with someone. That’s fine. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. In fact, I’d find this world rather boring if everyone did.

But what is even more tragic is that we are losing the ability to maintain a respectful discourse. I blame social media for this. We are now, more than ever, able to interact with total strangers and yet remain virtually anonymous to them. For some reason, that seems to allow the more crass amongst us to be outright hostile.

My whole life, I have put up with a mountain of crap from people who make these Facebook trolls seem like punters. Because of that, rightly or wrongly, my threshold for abuse is rather high. But I do have a hair trigger when someone attacks one of my friends or loved ones. You do that, and you have then entered the no-fly zone.

I will warn you once. But if you don’t correct your course to a more courteous trajectory, I will shoot you right out of my airspace. And I’ll have absolutely no regrets about it. Because life is just too freakin’ short to put up with hostility.

This isn’t the same as unfriending someone whose posts are irritating to you. A cousin did that to me, and I was shocked by that. It’s something I’d never do. This isn’t about ruffling feathers. It’s about basic decency.

I have very little control over the direction in which this country is going, but I sure as heck can control the tone of my Facebook page. Believe that. So agree or disagree with the people that I care about. That’s your business. But do it with courtesy, or we’re done.

No Trespassing

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A Telephonic Cultural Shift

When I was little, I went through a period where I’d try to listen in on my big sisters’ conversations on the upstairs telephone. “I can hear you breathing, you little brat! Hang up that phone!”

What can I say? The teen-aged world intrigued me. Not that I learned much from it, if I’m honest.

I have no idea why I was thinking about that today, but from there I remembered how I used to run across the house to pick up the phone when it rang, often shouting “I’m coming! I’m coming!” as if the caller could hear. In those days before cordless phones or answering machines, I never wanted to miss a call, even if it meant twisting my ankle.

Phone calls used to seem so important to me. Now, in this day of cell phones and private messages and all forms of social media, I rarely pick up the phone when it rings. I’m not even sure if my voice mail is set up correctly. And 90 percent of my phone calls are spam. My friends have so many other ways of contacting me that I know that if it’s truly important, they’ll do so.

I no longer heed the siren song of my phone, especially when I’m driving or napping. I just can’t be bothered, unless the caller ID is someone close. 40 years ago, I’d have considered that unspeakably rude. Now it’s status quo.

Funny how culture shifts over time, isn’t it?

Vintage Rotary Phone

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Put Up or Shut Up

We are a country divided. We all know that much. Some of us don’t care. Some of us encourage it. Some of us aren’t quite so willing to let go of those who are on “the other side”.

I’d like to think I was in that third group. I really would. But I admit that I struggle. My opinions and beliefs are as strong as the next person’s. I don’t really understand people who don’t think the way I do.

I want to believe that my views could be swayed by hard evidence. But I wonder. Because I don’t think I’ve ever persuaded anyone else by presenting facts.

I don’t usually stop liking or loving people just because we don’t agree. I do my best to judge people on the content of their character. Are they kind? Do they mean well? Are they trying to be their best selves? These things are vitally important.

But every once in a while someone I care about will voice an opinion that horrifies me to the very marrow of my bones. It’s usually related to racism or intolerance or cruelty. And this leaves me in an awkward place.

I hate, hate, hate confrontation. I really do. So in these situations I can either a) ignore the comment and secretly lose respect for that person, b) wash that person right out of my hair, or c) speak up and risk losing that friendship, but maintain my integrity.

Well, I can’t choose option a. I’d develop ulcers. It’s just not in me to pretend something I don’t feel. Option b would certainly be the easiest route. Unfriending a person is so simple now that most of us only interact via social media. God knows people have done it to me. Even relatives. It doesn’t feel right to me. If I ever cared about someone, I kind of feel like I owe them more than just disappearing without explanation, without at least trying to understand why they feel the way they do. So that kind of forces me into option c.

Ugh. I loathe option c. It ties my stomach into knots. It makes me stew over what to say for hours. It makes me feel sick. It’s just so important. It’s a pivotal moment. I don’t want to screw it up. I try to do it in a decent one-on-one kind of way, rather than in a public forum. But it’s still hard.

I’ve had mixed results with option c. Sometimes we agree to disagree. But I feel better, at least, for having spoken up. Sometimes I’ve experienced blowback of epic proportions. That’s never fun. And it tends to result in the severing of the relationship. But as a wise man recently told me, “A true friend should be able to have a respectful conversation.”

As this country becomes ever more divided, those respectful conversations seem to be becoming fewer and farther between. They aren’t easy. But if we ever reach a point when they become impossible, I think we’ll have lost one of our most important qualities. We’ll have taken a really ugly step back from what it means to be human.

Locked Horns

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Random Thots

Sometimes I’ll post the weird detritus of my mind on Facebook, but I rarely blog about these things, because there’s not enough meat on the bone, so to speak, to make an entire blog post. So here are some thoughts, in no particular order, and absolutely unrelated to each other, just to give you something to think about.

  • Why does the word “thought” have “ugh” in the middle?

  • I just figured out why dogs are so afraid of vacuums. They see that most of the stuff in the bag used to be attached to them.

  • Just saw a live National Geographic broadcast. While I’m freezing my butt off in Seattle, 4 lionesses are hunting warthogs on the Masai Mara. Somehow that makes me feel better. But not for the warthogs.

  • Does anyone remember that old ad campaign from the 60’s? “Kruppenheimer suits everybody!” It’s stuck in my head. They apparently don’t suit anybody anymore.

  • You know that Blue Buffalo dog food commercial that says dogs have the spirit of wolves inside, and shows them running with wolves? Wouldn’t it be more fun if the dog they used was a dachshund?

  • I just bought Quagmire a rubber wiener dog that squeaks. He absolutely loves it. Give me strength.

  • You know you’ve got a lot of bat guano in your attic when even the professionals you hire to clean it up are saying, “Ewww, gross.”

  • Oatmeal for dinner. Because sometimes you just want oatmeal for dinner.

  • I vaguely remember, before internet, JUST watching TV, without doing other things at the same time. It’s a distant memory…

  • There’s something inherently cruel and unusual about having to get up before the sun does.

  • I just got some spam that said, “Guess what I’m not wearing?” Uh… your thinking cap?

  • I’m always kind of amused when an obnoxious person thinks that not speaking to someone is a form of punishment.

  • I love opening my drawbridge in the rain. How many people can say they make waterfalls for a living?

    Smile often, dear reader.

    thots

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Who’s the Animal in This Scenario?

One of the most distressing features of social media is that it really highlights the more despicable aspects of humanity. If I’m not reading about some sick $&*@(% who buried a dog alive, leaving only its snout exposed, causing its eventual death, then I’m seeing pictures of men cheering as roosters slice each other to ribbons. If I’m not hearing about people who get off on torturing black cats at Halloween, then I’m learning that the Amish (whom you would expect to have a moral compass), are some of the worst perpetrators of puppy mills, because they see dogs as livestock to be exploited. And how does one hunt not for food, but for fun, Trump Junior?

And then there are all those animal rescue videos. It warms your heart that all these animals are saved, rehabilitated, and given forever homes, yes, but it’s horrifying that they were abandoned in the first place. Seriously, how hard is it to spay or neuter your pets, or, here’s a thought, not take the responsibility of owning one if you don’t have the maturity to follow through?

And don’t even get me started about people who tie their dogs up in the back yard, all alone, even in the worst weather imaginable. Because I’ll cut a b****, if I have to, to prevent that. I really will.

There is nothing lower than someone who abuses, neglects, abandons, or tortures a helpless creature. How do people who do that carry on with the rest of their lives? How do you send out for pizza while you have dozens of animals starving in their own filth in a shed somewhere? How do you read your kid a bedtime story after having reveled in the painful death of a creature that you’ve forced to fight for its life? How do you decorate your Christmas tree after dumping kittens on the side of the road like so much garbage? How does that work?

Trump Junior

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A National Case of Foie Gras Syndrome

Being force fed has to be the most horrible, helpless feeling on earth. I can’t believe Foie Gras isn’t outlawed. I mean, they stick these ducks in cages and then violently stuff corn down their throats to fatten their livers. It’s unimaginable to me that I’d be able to enjoy eating something that comes from such a ghoulish origin.

But force feeding isn’t just for ducks anymore. It seems we humans are getting quite accustomed to it ourselves. This most recent election campaign was the stuff of nightmares, regardless of whether the person you voted for was the one who was elected. It was nasty, brutish and looooooong. I haven’t talked to a single person who wasn’t stressed out by the entire process. And yet we sat there and took it.

We also allow the media to stir us up about crises that don’t really exist, while they fail to report on things that we really need to know. And we’ve become so addicted to our social media that taking away someone’s device can send that person into a panic attack. (When I tell a millennial that I don’t use my cell phone while driving, that I simply wait until I get home, and that in fact I can’t access the internet on my phone, they look at me in horror.) It always amuses me when people think they can’t live without something that humanity has been living without for centuries.

Is this just me getting older and more intolerant? Or is it all becoming a bit too much? Am I alone in this? I’d go live in a cave somewhere, but then I wouldn’t have internet access even at home. We can’t have that, now, can we?

Oh, and if you eat foie gras, shame on you.

mulard_duck_being_force_fed_corn_in_order_to_fatten_its_liver_for_foie_gras_production

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I’m Tweeting

I have been Twitter-resistant for years. I just didn’t see the point. Between this blog and Facebook and e-mail and Second Life, I already felt as if my social media world was rich and nuanced. I also worried that if I added one more thing, my introverted little self would be crushed under the sheer weight of the stimulation.

In addition, in case you hadn’t noticed, I tend to be rather verbose. How could I possibly restrict my thoughts to a mere 140 characters? And then a funny thing happened. I decided to publish a book.

One of the mistakes many writers make is thinking that once their books have been written, their job is done. Au contraire. That’s when you’re just getting started. Many a book has died aborning because the feeble promotional effort has left it moldering on some dusty shelf.

As my first book approaches its final edit, it became obvious to me that I’d have to have courage to take flight in the Twitter-verse, or I’d be missing a vast potential audience. Thank goodness I have a dear friend who was able to answer all my silly, nervous questions.

Now, instead of thinking of each little tweet as a restriction of my words, I’ve come to think of it as a sort of haiku. I have to get creative to force my thoughts into the restrictions imposed, but what that has done is oblige me to get innovative.

But, having leapt off the twitter cliff, I seem to have plunged into the wallflower abyss. I’ve only managed so far to get 8 followers. And some mornings I’ll wake up and find I have lost one. Heartbreaking. It’s reminding me of all the times I got picked last in gym class.

I really need to put this in perspective. It took me years to build up a following on my blog. It’s ridiculous to think I’d get a million twitter followers in a few days. Slow and steady wins the race, right?

And along the way, go figure, I’m starting to like it. Tentatively. Hesitantly. Perhaps that had been my fear all along–that I’d like it too much. That I would turn into one of those constantly twittering people that I’ve made fun of for years.

Well, be that as it may, I am now a tweeter. Follow me here if you so desire!

Twitter Bird

Little Brother is Watching You

While social media may be sucking the life force out of us in many ways, it also has its advantages. I am convinced the holocaust could never have happened in 2016. Those of us who legitimately didn’t know what was going on back then would know now, and those of us who were pretending not to know would have no excuse. And holocaust deniers would look even more idiotic than they already look, if that’s possible.

Everyone who has a cell phone or any internet device is now a potential reporter. That’s why the bad cops among the good ones are getting so much attention. Like cockroaches, they don’t do well in the light.

The Arab Spring would not have spread to so many countries a half century ago. There was no easy way to pass the word. There was no way to let others know that you felt the same way about things as they did.

Before police jurisdictions could share information about unsolved cases, it was easier to be a serial criminal. And while the rich and powerful still seem to be able to do their dirty deeds with impunity, the power of public opinion gets stronger with time. Little Brother is watching you.

The thing that countries that like to censor their citizens don’t seem to realize is that sharing information is always a good idea. Unless, of course, your motives aren’t pure. But censorship is a lot harder when the number of avenues of communication are increasing by the day.

I genuinely believe that the reason we as a society seem more cynical and dissatisfied and put upon than ever isn’t that things have gotten worse. It’s that it’s more obvious now. Even if it has been forever thus, one of the things we’re more readily able to share these days is that we’re pissed off.

RecordingPhone
[Image credit: swtnlaw.com]

That Rage Place

Maybe it’s because we can now hide behind the relative anonymity of social media, maybe it’s because we find less and less need to look one another in the eye, but it seems to me that more and more people are going to that rage place with relatively little provocation these days.

A typical Facebook scenario: Someone posts something political. Someone responds from that rage place. “I am so sick of you people saying…” And the original poster calmly says, “Well, this is why I feel this way,” and posts links to informative research. Rage person responds, “I don’t care about your links and I won’t read them! You’re just stupid!”

I don’t get it. Why the hostility? And why is rage person behaving as if he or she has been personally attacked when no one forced his or her participation in the conversation in the first place? And why would you not want to read informative links? Why would you want to cut yourself off from available evidence? Even if you disagree, why would you not want to avail yourself of every possible detail if you feel so strongly about a subject?

Personally, I find people who are unwilling to be challenged to be highly suspect. It seems that these types of people tend to get their information from only one source, and that is always a bad idea. It’s lazy and irresponsible. And maybe that’s why they get so angry when you try to show them other sources of information. They don’t like to be prodded out of their lethargy. It’s comfortable there. “Don’t make me think! Just tell me what to think!”

Yes, it’s probably much easier to be fed intravenously, but I prefer to shop for my ingredients and cook my meal myself.

And if you disagree with me, well… you’re just stupid.

fury