Monday, January 26, 2015

Meeting Old Friends

It was a year ago to the day that I survived The Earthquake. It’s true, it took me some time to extract myself from the rubble and brace myself against the aftershocks. But in the immortal words of Gloria Gaynor…  Anybody Wanna Party?

Oh wait. Wrong song.

Regardless, there is really only one reason to bother to recognize this preposterous anniversary. It’s not like it is circled in black on my calendar, adorned with my tiny doodles of daggers and broken hearts. I truly was not thinking about it at all. Until I got a brunch date. It felt like something much more than serendipity that today—of all days—I had a helluva date.

Today, I finally got to meet a person that I have only virtually known. And one that I count among my good friends, despite us never been in the same room together.

Melanie and I met over email because of an act of bravery. Her bravery, to be clear. She contacted me after she received some anonymous posts on her blog. She and I had something in common, you see. The Earthquake. And he was right about to shake up her world too. She was feeling the first tremors. She emailed me to ask me if I was the person leaving the nameless comments and to ask if I had anything I wanted to tell her directly.

O.M.G. I had so, so much I wanted to tell her. But I didn’t. Not then.

Aside—For the record, it was not me leaving anonymous vitriol. However, after she asked about it, I did look at the posts. And I agreed with everything Ms. Jane Doe had written. I was glad someone had tried to warn Melanie about what she was getting into.

But as things began to tremble for her back east, she and I began to communicate more. I got to know her better. And that really pissed me off a little, because I found out that I didn’t hate her. I actually really liked her.

And now, after our brunch involving her layover in Salt Lake and my early lunch hour break, I have to say, I adore her. And it wasn’t just how much she appreciated my flask filled with vanilla vodka. It was that we had a strangely common history that is the foundation of many friendships. But it was also that we both understood that—while that foundation existed—there was no need to bolster it. We could go ahead and build on it. We could share stories of kids and growing up and jobs. The Earthquake was merely the reason we knew each other. Not the reason we want to continue to know each other.

I received many gifts post-Earthquake. Because of the Earthquake.  In the few months after things crumbled, I was writing at a level that I only rarely have achieved before. I have strengthened many of my muscles, most importantly my heart. And I have found new friends. Friends that share with me the experience of survival.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Deflating Your Balls

Ugh. I’m not quite sure how football has crept into my once sports-free life. Actually, that’s not true. I know exactly how it happened. I have an 11-year-old boy who is obsessed with football.

And maybe a little bit because of roller derby, and learning the art of a good block. And how to recognize a concussion or deal with seeing a compound fracture. And learning that being very tough can be very cool.

Regardless, there is only one more football game to watch this season, and it is the Big One. Kidlet is so excited. I’m moderately excited. Primarily due to the spicy chili and wonderfully-tasty deviled eggs I only get once a year. No, seriously. They are really good eggs decorated to resemble footballs.

Then Deflategate happened. Creating nothing but headaches for the NFL, Vegas book makers, and for me.

Here is my problem now: How do I talk to my Kidlet about cheating? Because, as it turns out (she says, feigning surprise), his heroes cheat.

I think he already knows that athletes cheat. He has watched enough of the 30 for 30 documentaries to see the drugs, the scandals, the falls from grace. These athletes featured in these shows get taken down because they eventually get caught cheating.  At some point, all cheaters get caught. Cheaters cheat not because they are smart. They do it because they think they are special. Too special. Too special to get caught. Too special for consequences. These people believe that the rules of both the game and the society do not apply to them.

But there is always a karmic price for cheating. I heard an interesting thought on a podcast the other day. One of the podcasters voiced his opinion that the reason the Southern United States is still battling the devastating effects of poverty, racism, and inequality was that—up until the Civil War—the South was cheating. They were building a robust and stable economy by cheating with slavery. While the Northern States were developing industry and a foundation of sustainability, the South was cheating. And they are still paying for it. That is an interesting notion, isn’t it?

My little nephew cheats at UNO. Every time I play with him. I know he does it, but I play with him anyway. Because, sometimes, I cheat too. If I get stuck in a video game, I don’t hesitate to Google the solution or cheat code. I’ve done that both with and for the Kidlet. I’ve cheated on one or two school tests. I’ve cheated at pub trivia once or twice. And I won’t lie. Those instances of cheating didn’t really detract from the experience of earning trivia points or that B+. I’m pretty sure cheating actually enhances the thrill of UNO for my nephew. He gets a Cheater’s High.

I’ve been cheated on in relationships. Quite a bit, really.  I have to wonder if these men who have cheated on me cheated at UNO when they were nine. Actually, I don’t have to wonder. I know that they did. I know that they still do. They cheat on taxes. They cheat at poker. They cheat and cheat and cheat. Is all cheating created equal? Maybe. Probably.

So what do I say to Kidlet about cheating?

I need to tell him that sometimes people cheat because expectations are too high. And I need to let him know that I will never get mad about a bad grade on a test if he can promise me that he tried his best. And that if he didn’t try his best, my disappointment at the bad grade will not last nearly as long as my being upset that he cheated. But I do need to tell him that if I ever learn he cheated on someone he was in a relationship with, the boot print I will leave on his ass will never quite go away.

I need to tell him that being honest doesn’t always feel good. Sometimes, it downright sucks.  And that it often easier for people to pretend to be someone they are not, which is absolutely a form of cheating. Or they pretend they can do something they really cannot do, whether it is winning the Tour de France or passing that AP French test.

And I need to tell him that people make mistakes. All of us do. But that one mistake can change your life forever. And fast. So when you are faced with the Kobayashi Maru, chose not to cheat. Even if you know that means you won’t win. Because both the size and scope of any mistakes you are making is mitigated if the truth is on your side.

I guess what I ultimately need to say to Kidlet is that cheating never results in anything but a hollow victory. Even the most morally loose, dead-inside people eventually recognize that whatever victory or gain they have received by cheating will be stained by the knowledge that the only reason they won was because they let some of the air out.

I understand the urge to deflate your ball a little in order to be able to catch it. I have that thought every time I touch my beach ball, once again shooting it across the pool. Letting a little air out of it will make it easier for my hand to grab that slippery sphere.

But… Letting the air out, even just a little bit, means that I am releasing pieces of my dreams. My wants. My desires.

And my truth.

Letting some air out of balls changes the very nature of that ball, if only just a bit.
Some people will always take the opportunity to cheat if it is presented to them. And yes, sometimes these guys will make it all the way to the Super Bowl. But we can all see them. We see them how they really are. Standing next to the real winners, holding their droopy balls.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Losing and Winning

I lost a friend last week.

I first met John when I was 17 years old. On my first day of the best job I would ever have. And the most rare and special thing about that job was that I knew--as it was happening--that it would be the best time of my life. How many things can we really say that about?

To me, one of the reasons that job was so amazing was the people I was working with. And one of those people was John.

As I was standing among the hundreds of people who came out to celebrate John’s life and share memories of this amazing man, I realized that my own sadness extended beyond just having to say goodbye to him. I felt so sad. I also felt a real and palpable sadness because some of these people—these friends of mine—were people I never really saw anymore. That felt like an additional loss.
Why does it take the death of a good friend to put me in the same room as people I genuinely love and care about? No one—not one person—is too busy to make time for an old friend. We all can sure as hell find time to attend a friend’s funeral.

But I realized something else that cold night we were saying goodbye to John. There are honestly some things I don’t have time for. I don’t have time for people who don’t make me happy. Don’t add value to my life. Cost more than I can afford. It is always sad to let go of someone you care about. That too feels like a loss. Sigh. So many losses.

“Life is a zero-sum game,” I heard a stranger say.

My first thought was, yes it certainly is. But then. Wait, what? No. No it isn't.

In economics, there is a lot of math. I’m not good at math, which I think is primarily due to the difficulty my brain has with absolutes. Because I am not good at math, I’m not especially good at economic theories. But some theories involve cake. I am good at those.

For example, imagine I have a cake. (Something with cream cheese frosting, please.) And imagine I am choosing to share this delicious confection with my friends. I know, that doesn’t sound like me. But stay with me for a minute.

If I take a larger share of cake (OK, that does sound more like me…), it will leave less for my friends. Because there is only one cake. I can only have more cake if I leave less for others. This is what is referred to as a zero-sum game. I know. Math is hard.

But here is why friendship is even better than cake. Friendships aren’t a zero-sum game. With real friends, there is always enough cake. And life cannot be a zero-sum game because there isn’t a finite amount of happiness out there.

I know that the feeling of loss was overwhelming most people in the room that night.  But life is never a zero-sum game. I know it can feel like we lost when we are burying a friend.  As I looked around that room packed with people that loved John, I realized that we all won. Yes, we all lost him, but each one of us was better for having known him.

I realized I was standing with, embracing, reminiscing with people to whom I would happily give all my cake. And that was also a win.

To my friend John, you are a huge win for all of us. Thank you.