On Friendship and Time

As I was driving to Augusta yesterday on my birthday, I found myself reflecting on what’s changed in my life over the years. Specifically, I was thinking back on all the birthdays I’ve spent with my family, both when I was growing up and after I’d married Denisa. There’s been a lot of change over the years, and that led me to thinking about the friendships I’ve made over time, and how they’ve changed as well.

I’ve had a few “best friends” in my life. Of the ones I had growing up and in college, I no longer have much chance to communicate with any of them. Now and then I’ll get an email or a Facebook message or a Like on a post, but for the most part, those friendships are no longer a functioning part of my life.

I remember the summer before I left on my mission, my best friend from college, Sue, came out to stay at my house in Pennsylvania for about a week. We had an absolute blast. Went into New York City to see The King and I on Broadway. Drove to Amish country to check things out over there. Just hung out and spent time together. But over all of it was this pallor, because I knew it would come to an end.

At last I had to take her to the airport. This was back in the days when you actually walked out with the passengers to the terminals, and you sat together waiting for their plane to board. In many ways, I prefer the modern approach. I’m terrible at long goodbyes, and those old airport goodbyes were the pits. I remember sitting there just feeling sick to my stomach, because this was it. The End.

I already had enough experience with friendships to realize that they can drastically change as your circumstances shift. My friends from high school had all gone different ways. We still saw each other now and then, but life moved on. We weren’t as close anymore, and I knew we would never be. And here I was in an airport, saying goodbye to yet another stage of my life.

Sue and I kept in touch while I was on my mission. She was gone to Honduras on a mission of her own when I returned. Honduran postal service leaves much to be desired, speaking from experience. By the time she was home, I was engaged (secretly) to Denisa. (Though I told Sue about the engagement. Not many people knew. Less than a handful. Sue was one.)

Close friendships like that have a real rough time lasting through one of the friends getting married. Which is as it should be, honestly. Denisa is my best friend now, and there’s only so much room in a person’s life.

One of the things I’ve always valued and prided myself in was loyalty. I don’t necessarily make really good friends that often. I am a friendly person, and I’ll happily talk with many many acquaintances, but close friends take a while for me to develop, typically. Once someone’s in that “close friend” circle, though, it’s generally for life, as far as I’m concerned. If one of my close friends from high school or college were to reach out to me for help, I would try to do whatever I could to help them. Not necessarily for the person they are now, but for the friend they used to be, if that makes sense.

And generally, I’ve found those old friendships have deep roots. They go into hibernation, and when I have the opportunity to see old friends and interact with them, I’m often so relieved and happy to see everything is still there, and it’s like we never stopped being friends at all.

And now this post has gotten far too reflective for a Friday. I’m not even really sure where it was heading. It was more this package of thoughts that occurred to me on a drive home from Augusta, and I wanted to somehow give voice to it. I’m not tragically sad about old friendships that are no longer thriving. My personal feeling is that they will one day be resumed, each one of them. Of course, that gets us onto theological ground, and I think I’ve wandered far enough afield in today’s post to stop short of going there.

But I’ll end with a final thought. I used to actually write poems. True story. My favorite to write were classical Elizabethan sonnets. I loved the constraints the poem’s form put on me. Trying to pack as much meaning into such a structure was a fun word game.

And while I was on my mission in Germany, still reflecting on the aftermath of that goodbye in the Philadelphia airport, I wrote this one on friendship. I can still recite it from memory, and I still feel it sums up my feelings very well on the subject. And so I present it to you.

Have a pleasant Friday, and here’s hoping I’m back to my normal peppy self by Monday. Thanks for reading.

On Friendship

Is friendship’s flame so soundly smothered out
By hushed good-byes that slip through silent lips?
Can certainty be made to mimic doubt?
Does anchor chain the ocean or the ship?
Toy boat that burst and bubbled down the brook
Abruptly stopped. Caught. Tangled by the twigs
That lurk beneath the sunny surface. Shook,
Then merrily resumed its zags and zigs.
Great Neptune never changes for a chain,
And knowledge never dawdles doubtingly.
The silence of goodbye is mute in vain,
For friendship’s fire shouts out eternally.
The current rest may last three beats or four,
But rest assured: the song will play once more.

It’s My Birthday: Level Up!

I know that as some people get older, they begin to dread birthdays. One more sign of the body breaking down, or whatever. But why not view it differently? What if, instead of saying “I’m now 39 years old,” you said, “I’m level 39″?

In video games, we celebrate when we reach a new level. It means your character is able to do things it wasn’t before. It got smarter. Added abilities. Mastered new skills. And isn’t that pretty much what life is?

At 39, I definitely can do much more than I could when I was 19 or 9. Sure, some things have changed. I’m no longer able to pull an all nighter and not feel the effects, but I’m also smarter than I was. I no longer *want* to pull an all nighter, because I know its effects.

I’ve racked up a whole slew of achievements. Two masters degrees. Three children that I’ve successfully raised to level 13, level 9, and level 4. First house. Fourth car. And on and on.

Getting older isn’t a liability. It’s an accomplishment. It’s hard work, getting through life in one piece. Making it around the sun one more time. The fact that someone managed to do it so many times is something that should be admired, right?

Right.

In any case, thanks for all the great birthday wishes. As always, anyone wanting to get me something special could review one of my books on Amazon or Goodreads. MEMORY THIEF is sitting with just 6 reviews on Amazon at the moment, and I’m sure those reviews would love some friends. Especially that 1 star review. That person needs lots of friends to cheer up some. The Goodreads reviews are a bit more robust, at 41, but they could always use some more too.

Have a good one!

Home Renovations Update

Here we are at another September. The time of year most of the renovations around my home seem to occur. And this September is no different, although once again, I shall not be performing the majority of these renovations. I’ve learned over the years that, while I *can* do the renovations, the end result is rarely anywhere near as good as it would be if I simply hired someone to do them, and the amount of time it saves me more than makes up for the amount of money I would have saved.

So what’s on the agenda this year?

  • A garden shed/screened porch combination. First off, our garage is big, but it has a tendency to get cluttered, especially with a lawn tractor, lawn mower, bikes, snow blower, and all those garden tools that accumulate. So the initial plan was to build a small shed to house all that separately. But at the same time, I’ve really wanted a place where we could enjoy the outside without needing to get attacked by mosquitoes constantly. At first the thought had been to screen in the farmer’s porch, but it’s a small area, and not quite big enough for what we wanted. What if we were to combine the shed with the screened patio idea? Not like we see many (or any) of these elsewhere, but it made sense to me, so . . . It’s going to be a 24 foot by 16 foot shed/patio combination, built in the spot where the house used to have a barn in Ye Olden Days of Yore. We’ll declutter our garage and have a place to eat outside in the spring, summer, and fall. I’m excited.
  • Tearing down the front porch. I’ve never been in love with our front porch. It runs the length of our house and is too thin in most places to serve much use, and too exposed to really be a place you want to spend much time anyway. We’re tearing the whole thing down. We’ll put in some stone or brick front steps, and the rest we’ll landscape to cover up anything too exposed. Not sure what that’ll be like just yet, honestly. We’ll have to see what we have when we get in there. But I’ll be very happy to no longer have to shovel off that porch every winter.
  • Building a second bathroom. This will happen in November. The last piece of the home renovation project in the upstairs of the garage will finally(!) fall into place. I for one am very excited, as it will mean I no longer need to trek through the entire house to go to the bathroom at night. There will be much rejoicing.
  • Taking out the old staircase in the garage. It now leads quite literally to nowhere and is just taking up space. We’ll also insulate the floor where it used to lead to, so that our new movie room can be a bit better insulated. Because insulation. In conjunction with this, we might work on framing out a mudroom in our garage. We’ll have the additional space we need, and it would help us set things up so that we can renovate the kitchen next year or the year after. We want to have our current mudroom become part of the kitchen, and it would be much easier (and cleaner) to still have a place for people to take off shoes, store skis, etc.
  • Build a garden fence. Not sure if we’ll get to this. It depends how fast the other projects go. But Denisa wants a groundhog-proof fence so she can once more garden in peace. We’ll see how it goes.

I think that should keep us busy enough for this time around, don’t you? I’m excited to get these projects finished. A lot of them have been on my “Want Done” list for years and years.

Hooray for progress!

Thoughts on the Fair

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It’s my birthday week again, and that must mean it’s time for another Farmington Fair. Hard to believe this was the 11th one my family has attended, but there you have it. It’s developed into quite the tradition for us, even though it inevitably falls at a very hectic time of year.

This time, we had the chance to introduce the fair to some friends who have moved into the area. It was fun being on the opposite end of that, since I still remember clearly being introduced to the fair myself ten years ago. (I worry that I didn’t do quite as good of a job at it as the friends who introduced us years ago, but it wasn’t for the lack of trying,)

As we were going around with our kids, it gave me time to reflect a bit on what things were like for Denisa and me back then and what they’re like now. A great slice of that was seen by just observing how each of my kids were interacting with the fair. Tomas was zooming around with his friends from ride to ride, as “spending time with his parents” at the fair has taken a bit of a backseat. DC was still walking around with us and happy to hang out with Denisa or me. MC was, of course, attached to us at the hip. (It’s a really busy fair. Losing track of your little ones would be bad.)

The rides themselves age up with the kids. Our friends’ daughter was small enough that some of the kiddie rides really intimidated her. MC had no problem with those, but some of the big kid rides were too much for her. DC couldn’t even fit on the kiddie rides anymore, and there were yet more rides she just wanted to avoid. Tomas just wanted to do the daring rides and that was it. There’s a life lesson in there somewhere, I’m sure. About how we each handle challenges that are generally matched to what we’re capable of (hopefully). And how as we grow older and better at handling challenges, life seems to have a way of finding new, harder ones for us to tackle.

In any case, it was a fun time. Got some maple cotton candy, mini donuts, french fries, and a new thing (to me): maple cream. Somehow if you boil maple syrup just right, it magically turns into this butter-like spread, but is still 100% maple syrup. I have a feeling demons are involved in its construction at some point, because it tastes absolutely amazing. I bought a pound of it on the spot, and I haven’t had to sign away my soul yet, so I think I made out okay on the transaction.

And of course for me there’s now the permanent connection the fair has to THE MEMORY THIEF, since a good portion of the book takes place there. It’s always fun to walk around and picture the different events of the novel happening in different spots. As if I could see Benji running through the crowd, trying to get away from the bullies, or breaking into the grounds late at night after everyone’s gone home. Good times.

Another one in the history books now. It’s running through Saturday, if you’re in the area. I highly recommend it.

A Visit from an Apostle

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to go listen to an Apostle speak. Elder David Bednar, to be exact. (For those of you who don’t know, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS/Mormon) is organized around the same leadership structure that existed in the church Christ originally set up. So there are Apostles at the head of it. Fifteen, to be exact. Three of them constitute the “First Presidency” (the leader of the church (Prophet) and his two counselors) and the other twelve make up the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.)

In a church with something like 16 million members, the chance for Apostles to make personal visits to any one area are becoming more and more remote. If you live in Utah, it’s more commonplace (or at least it used to be), but this meeting this past Sunday was the first time I’ve ever been to hear an Apostle speak on the east coast, in my entire life. (They’ve visited, but never where I was living, when I was living there.)

That isn’t to say I haven’t heard them speak. Every six months, we have what’s called General Conference. It’s a series of six, two hour meetings over the course of a week (a women’s conference on Saturday, and then the rest of the meetings the next Saturday and Sunday). All of the Apostles and the First Presidency speak at each General Conference. But, as I discovered on Sunday, there is a big difference between sitting and watching a talk given remotely, thousands of miles away from you, and sitting in the same room as the actual person giving the talk, especially when the crowd size is smaller. (I’d guess there were around . . . 600-800 people in attendance? Not sure on that one.)

Elder Bednar spoke for a full hour. No written remarks. No notes except for the ones he made to himself to remark on things said during the hour of the meeting before he spoke. (It was a two hour meeting. His wife spoke, another general church leader and his wife spoke, and some local leaders spoke, as well.)

I was completely blown away by how excellent his remarks were. Inspiring, immediately applicable to my life, relatable, and profound. He spoke about a few topics: the importance of the message of the church to those who have not heard it, the importance of listening to local leaders and their inspiration, and then the bulk of his remarks were on rising above ourselves and our tendencies to want to satisfy our immediate wants. There’s no possible way for me to capture everything he said and do it justice. I have neither the time nor the ability. In essence, he used his personal life and examples from the scriptures to illustrate how the natural man is Cookie Monster. (Not making this up.) It’s an excellent analogy. Cookie Monster wants one thing: cookies. He wants them all, and he wants them now. It’s all about himself. He doesn’t want to share them. He wants to devour them. Likewise, the natural man (our natural inclinations) are to want things for ourselves. To do things that satisfy our immediate wants. It’s a drive we need to rise above if we’re to hope to become more Christlike and Godlike.

But like I said: you needed to be there.

And I’m very glad I was. Denisa and I had driven up to Bangor the night before, and we stayed the night in the city so we could attend the meeting bright and early the next day. A friend was preparing lunch for Elder Bednar and others immediately after the meeting, so I was over there at 7am to help her put the finishing touches on preparations. I was in my seat at 7:30, and the meeting started at 9. I told Denisa afterward that, having now been to it, it felt to me like an Event. A thing people should have prepped for. Cleared their calendars for as far ahead as they could have. The most recent Event that I could compare it to was the eclipse. You had to be there firsthand to experience it, and people traveled hundreds of miles to have that experience.

I will say this: I have written many articles on my church over the years. Some of them have been critical at times, as I find events and decisions made by local, regional, or even church headquarters disturbing or confusing. But when you sit through a meeting like that, it’s a perfect example of why I keep going, and why I still truly believe it. Elder Bednar was open about the struggles he feels in his role in the church. Many members, he said, believe (mistakenly) that an angel appears to the Apostles each night or once a week and goes over what they need to do. In actuality, they are led by the same personal inspiration and prayer that the rest of us use.

Church leaders will make mistakes. Sometimes that’s on them. Sometimes they do things we don’t understand, because that’s what God asks them to do. It’s hard to tell which is which. But they truly do want to do what’s best for the church and humanity in general. No part of that meeting was about how we had to all start paying money to the church. Nothing about hellfire and damnation waiting for sinners who resist church direction. It was 100% about lifting up the listeners and inspiring them to do better. It was a truly sacred experience, and I’ll never forget it.

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