The Venn Diagram Theory, or, A Word About Loneliness

I recently rediscovered an e-mail from 2007 in which I list what scared me at the time.  They are as follows: “spiders, being in open water and not being able to see the shore, failing, loneliness, betrayal, letting people down.”  Not much has changed.  All of that would still be on my list of fear.  Today I want to explore the subject of loneliness, and, on a related note, friendship.

I approach friendship in a different way than a lot of people, I think.  I heard on the radio one morning that statistically, women get a new best friend about every fourteen years.  I have never found that to be the case.  I rarely have a best friend in the sense of a true confidant…someone who knows everything about me.  When I do, it usually doesn’t last more than a couple of years.  I’m not sure why this is.  Maybe it’s me, or them, or circumstances change, or we change, or some combination of all of the above.  There has been a lot of pain associated with all of these friendship break-ups, which is why I rarely even go there to begin with.  I tend to have wide-sweeping friendships rather than invest everything in one person; in Junior High, my friend Katie compared me to the center portion of a Venn Diagram because I was the common thread between so many groups of friends (go ahead and chuckle and a bunch of 10 year olds having a serious conversation involving Venn Diagrams).  Still today, I find myself still investing in my high school friends, sorority friends, Oregon friends, writer friends, friends from certain dorms, work friends, and even friends of friends, and ex-boyfriends and their girlfriends.  Parties at our apartment are always an odd mix of people, to say the least.

On a good day, this theory towards friendship is awesome.  I feel like the luckiest person in the world because I have friends all over the country–the world, even–and friends in every walk of life.  It’s safe, too.  If someone decides they don’t want me as a friend, that’s okay because they only know a small portion of who I am.  They’re not rejecting my whole self.  On a bad day, the emphasis falls on the multidimensionality.  I start to feel like I don’t have anyone out there who truly knows me in full, but rather only the parts we have in common.  I realize just how good I am at being exactly what people want me to be instead of letting them see me for myself.  I start to envy those people who have the incredibly tight-knit group that has been the same for years, and I envy that majority of women who can hang on to a best friend for fourteen years.

I’m writing about this today because I just spent the whole day alone.  Aside from a brief phone conversation with my mom and a few texts, the person I’ve interacted with the most was with the barista at my local coffee shop, or maybe with the guy who asked me if there was free WiFi available.

Now, I’ve always prided myself on my ability to be alone–my joy in it, even.  It’s a key component to reading, to journaling and writing, to being introspective, all of which I really enjoy.  It’s been a lot of alone time lately, though, and I think the lonely feeling is linked to the change between living near so many of my friends in college, to all of a sudden being scattered all over the place after graduation.  Today, that was very raw for me.  It’s amazing that we can be surrounded by people at coffee shops, at stores–at Christmastime for goodness sakes!–and still feel like we are completely alone.

At work yesterday, I asked a woman if she was ready for Christmas.  She told me she was, but mentioned she was a therapist, so she was going to be very busy.  “It’s a hard time of year for a lot of people,” she told me.

I’d like to close with a link to a great video I found on a friend’s Facebook called “How to Be Alone.”  Thanks, all!

How To Be Alone

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Moving forward from here…

Well, I’ve been a little lax on the blog updates lately.  Life has been a little crazy lately, and in the spirit of my last update’s question, I would like to let you guys know exactly what I did about my bad day(s).  This might also answer the question of where exactly I have been and why I haven’t been updating my blog in the last, oh I don’t know, month or so…

  1. I got a new job. True to my word, I applied and interviewed twice at a big coffee chain last week and by Wednesday, I had a new job.  On Thursday I gave my two weeks notice at my current job.  So, in a matter of about a week, I will be making my transition into what I hope might be a more life-giving job.  Now, I know on paper it might look like I took a bit of a step backwards, but I think it’s actually going to help me a lot in the long run.  I’ll have more flexible hours which will give me more time to research grad schools or teach myself SEO or take more classes at the local community college.  Either way, I’ll have more time to do something that will get me closer to my goals.  I won’t just be sitting in a cubicle, staring at a computer monitor all day long.  I’ll be interacting with people and engaging in things outside of work that are interesting to me.
  2. I’ve been traveling a lot to see friends–this topic could be an entire week of entries by itself.  In junior high, a friend of mine referred to be as being like the center of a Venn Diagram (yeah, we were kind of nerds).  I have always had multiple groups of friends that never really overlap except through me.  Even now, I have my sorority friends, my creative writing friends, my friends who lived in a certain dorm in college, my high school friends (this group is split into several sub-groups), my Oregon friends, etc.  This has been both a good and bad thing, especially since graduating.  The bad news is that they are all spread out all over the country.  The good news is that I get to go to a lot of cool and fun places to see them all.  This weekend I went to Bloomington, Indiana where a creative writing friend is in law school now.  Last weekend I went back to my college town where I got to spend a lot of time with my sorority friends as well as a smattering from some other groups.  Each group of these friends knows a different part of me, and when I’m having bad days like I described in my last post, it’s easy to just keep to myself.  But after spending two weekends in a row with really great people who know me in such different ways, it’s like I’m able to rediscover those parts of myself that they love.  I’m able to come home feeling refreshed and ready for whatever comes next.  I am so appreciative of the people in my life.  I just want to say thank you to all of you out there.  Everyone I’ve talked to has been so supportive of me, especially recently with this blog and the job change.
  3. A brief grad school update–kind of. Going along with my last point, when I was in Bloomington with my creative writing friend it just felt so good to be on a college campus again.  She also pulled a bunch of old projects off of her bookshelf and we spent a couple of minutes going through them and reading old poetry from our peers and each other.  It was just so good to be with someone who knows me as a writer because people around where I live now don’t really know me like that.  Likewise, she was surprised to find out that I was a singer in high school, which is mostly only how people know me here.  I digress, but the point I’m trying to make is that it was nice to rediscover some projects that I don’t even have copies of anymore and to be with someone who knows my writing and is so encouraging about it.

I had every intention of making this a tighter and all-round better written blog entry, but the traveling and interviewing and giving two weeks notice has all taken its toll on me when it comes to stress and sleep deprivation.  But at least I wrote something and at least I’m making positive steps with my life.  So in the interest of keeping my health and sanity in tact, I’m saying goodnight for now.


Bad Days and What To Do About Them

Sometimes I have these bad days.

Today was one of them.  It wasn’t that everything seemed to go wrong, as is the case with most bad days.  It was that I just started to feel so overwhelmed with my beige job, my lack of nearby and available friends, and my uncertainty about the future.  Before I knew it, what started off as a beautiful October morning ended up with me in my car at lunch, tears dripping down my face in despair.

Let me explain.

I like to believe I was created with certain gifts and skills, a uniqueness that I’m supposed to use in order to leave this world a better place that when I started.  I love to write, I love to read and engage intellectually, I love to be organized (though you wouldn’t know this if you saw my room right now), I love to find out what makes people tick, I love to sing and draw and dance and, basically, do anything creative.  I feel alive when I’m doing these things.

At my job, I sit in a cubicle across the room from a window that looks out onto a highway.  My desk is covered in various piles of papers, and I spend about 90% of my day staring at a computer screen and typing in names and numbers.  The other 10% I spend on the phone, most of the time getting yelled at by someone.  Today was different–maybe 70% data entry, 10% yelling telephone people, and 20% removing staples from another stack of paper and separating pages into like piles.  I don’t have much of anything in common with any of my fellow employees (I am the youngest by approximately 10 years), so there are days I speak so infrequently that when I go to ask a question, my voice is hoarse from the lack of use.

Perhaps you can see the problem here.  Simply put, I am doing absolutely nothing all day that excites, interests, or invigorates me.  On these bad days, I am so miserably aware of how dull I’ve become.  I become a shadow of myself, a mere shade of who I want to be.

So here’s the deal.

I can complain about this all I want, but it all boils down to what I am going to do about it.  I’ve spent far too long wallowing in self-pity.  One of the reasons I started this blog was as a form of accountability for what I say I’m going to do, so if I say I’m going to apply to grad school, I’ll actually have to do it because you all will be asking me about it.  I really hope you will help me in this way.

Here’s what I’m going to do:

  1. Apply to grad schools.  MFA Creative Writing programs.  I have put this off for a long time now because I don’t want a repeat of two years ago (aka getting rejected nine times).  But back then I think I applied because I didn’t know what else to do.  Now I realize I really want it–no, more than that, I need it (see my previous entry on the importance of writing).  This community college class just isn’t cutting it for me.
  2. Get out of this life-sucking job and into a life-giving job.  Even if I just get a job at Starbucks, I will at least have some human interaction.  I really want to work somewhere that inspires me and that taps into at least one of the skills I list above.
  3. Cultivate relationships by…
    1. Keeping in touch with old friends.  My friend Christine and I just established a weekly phone call night because we’re so bad at keeping in touch with each other.  She is also a great listener and will do a lot to ground me.  Hopefully I will have some sort of positive impact on her too.
    2. Getting more involved at church.  I realize I may be alienating some readers by dropping the c-word, but the church I just grew up in just relaunched their 20-somethings ministry.  They’re really big on the whole concept of “belonging” right now, and that sounds pretty good to me.

    So today was a bad day.  That sucks.  What are you going to do about it?

    The Art of Living in the Moment

    out our cabin window at sunrise

    In the fall of 2008 I spent a semester studying at the Oregon Extension in Ashland, Oregon.  Eighteen strangers gathered there to live on a mountain and exist in community with one another.  I lived in a cabin with three other girls.  Needless to say, we didn’t remain strangers for very long.

    The amazing thing about this semester is that we didn’t have internet, cell phones, or television for the entirety of the three months we spent there.  That may sound like torture to some, especially since technology dictates so much of our everyday lives as modern Americans.  It was, however, a beautiful experience that allowed us to be fully present in our relationships with each other and our experience together.  We spent most of the hours of the day reading and studying.  I learned how to camp and how to cook, and I rediscovered how much I absolutely love learning.  We invested so much into ourselves and each other without technology there to distract us.  We learned how to be, and it was holy.

    me and my dear cabinmates

    I feel like most people never understand what it is to be living in the moment except for a spark of perfection and joy and space here and there.  I was allowed the opportunity of creating a lifestyle, for three months, in which I got to be fully present in everything I did, every word I spoke, every moment I shared, every book I poured over.

    Our professors spent a day right before we left talking about our reentry into the “real world.”  Many students, they told us, had an incredibly difficult time with their transition.  All the space to think and be is replaced by cell phones, by e-mail, by jobs.  All the genuine relationships are scattered around the country and replaced by a thousand surface conversations.  All the joy in learning is dampened by students who just want to make it to graduation and never look back.  All the interaction with nature is limited to avoiding the raccoon roadkill on my way to work–so sad, but far too true.

    backpacking

    Needless to say, I have missed my time at the OE to an infinite degree.  I wish everyone could experience it, but I’m sure some people would go loco with nothing but time and silence.  My question tonight is how can I bring the art of “living in the moment” to the real world? It’s a question I’ve been struggling with since my return.  I just seem to be so busy all the time.  It’s rare when I have a moment to stop, to breathe, and to notice how lovely the sky is at twilight.

    How do you create space in your life for quietness and reflection?  What type of OE moments have you experienced?