A Little Bit of Wonder is where I journal about the somewhat roundabout way that I have been working to establish a career and a strong sense of self--I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about "direction" and "identity." I have a Master's Degree in Literature, but I'm no longer working as an English Professor; I'm starting the next step in my life as I work to establish a career as a writer in the non-profit sector.

At my companion blog, Little Wonder's Recommended Reading, you will find reviews for both books and other blogs that I enjoy. The two blogs are inter-linked, so you can access my reviews and reading challenges from the sidebar on the left.


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Solitary

This post is dedicated to my closest and dearest friends, who are now not only located in Michigan and Washington D.C., but spread as far as Seattle and Amsterdam. I’d also like to extend a special welcome to those participating in the blog hop from SheWrites.

Sometimes the mornings seem bright, the sunshine reflecting off the Hudson River and rebounding off the nearby cliffs, massive rock outcroppings that are draped with giant white icicles right now. The sunlight dazzles my eyes as I drive to work, but I don’t mind – I feel a little bit more alive because of the warmth, the brightness.



On those mornings, I feel excited about ideas that I am generating for different projects at my new job. I feel empowered because despite the set-backs with my career in the academic world, I haven’t given up – I’ve successfully changed my course and even become excited about the things that I can do as a professional in the non-profit sector. I daydream about art projects, blog tours, and unique donation appeals that we could set up on behalf of our organization. After driving through the sunshine and running through ideas in my head, I even feel excited to begin working on grants once I get in to my office – and grants are not generally exciting things to write.

And then sometimes I feel exactly the opposite of excited and optimistic. On those mornings, the sunlight seems to burn in my eyes, causing them to water and making it nearly impossible to see well enough to negotiate traffic. I feel discouraged at the amount of effort everything takes – and I’m not even thinking about all the projects that I am beginning to accumulate at work, now that I’ve been employed for a month. When I feel discouraged, it’s because I’m thinking about all the effort that I really should be putting in to the rest of my life. The relationships. With other people.

I work for a non-profit organization – don’t I do that because I love people? Because I want to help others?

Well, yes. But.

When my husband and I lived in Michigan, I was a social butterfly. I loved being around people – all kinds of people, all the time. During high school and college, I had quite the full social calendar.

More than that, though, I valued truthful relationships. I built and maintained close, strong friendships with my best friends from elementary school and high school, my college roommates, bible study friends, and my husband (then boyfriend). I was lucky to accumulate, in a few short years, perhaps more honest-to-goodness friends than some people ever have in an entire lifetime. The kind of friends who will take care of you when you have a fever and you’re throwing up, or will get up at six o’clock in the morning to help you clean up the bathroom after the toilet has flooded. The kind of friends who will tell you when you’re being a jerk, have it out with you and then share a box of chocolates and a bottle of cheap wine with you afterward.

Then we moved to Washington D.C., the capital city of temporary internships and fast-track positions. There are a ton of young professionals who come to D.C. to get a degree or take a good starting position, and then move on to another geographic location – a place that feels more like home. At the very least, a lot of those young professionals eventually move out into the suburbs of Maryland and Virginia. I’m not even sure what type of person actually ends up living long-term in Washington D.C., other than politicians, diplomats and other government employees.

To the point: Jeremy and I went to D.C. to earn our graduate degrees as well, but we arrived with a Midwestern mentality and were disappointed by the region’s aloof attitude. We went there to make friends and settle down, but we discovered that in the over-crowded urban sprawl of the outskirts of D.C., there weren’t too many people that were our age, shared our interests and had time for new/more friends. And as we became more and more absorbed in our own academic and career goals, we likewise felt like we lost the time and interest to “be social.”

It is important to note the difference between having real friends and being “social.” Friendship involves being comfortable with other people, to the point that you can openly say what you think, have the confidence in your ability to resolve conflicts with that person, and dismiss the need for a polite, “grown-up” fa├žade when you are around them. Friendship takes a lot of time and effort.



In contrast, being social is attending various events with other people, enjoying more shallow conversations and jokes, sharing interests without sharing emotions. Each fulfills a need, but in my mind, friendship is far more valuable.

After I started graduate school, I decided I didn’t really have the time, patience or desire to be “social” with random people. It often ended up being more effort than entertainment, and I didn’t have a whole lot of free time to burn. If I really wanted to have either an honest conversation or a deep, belly-shaking laugh, I talked to my husband or I called up someone in Michigan. These are the people who I know I can trust. These are the people with whom I can laugh.

With time, Jeremy and I met a few people through work and school that became good friends and our lives in D.C. were richer because of those relationships.

Then, when we moved to New York, we had to say goodbye. Again.

We have lived in Nyack for eight months now, and I can honestly say that I haven’t made a single new friend. I know one or two of the neighbors and the apartment manager well enough to say hello. Sometimes I talk to the librarians as they are checking out my books. On the positive side, my new co-workers look like promising candidates. But the closet thing that Jeremy and I have to an actual relationship in our new location is one good friend from graduate school that lives right in New York City. While we try to hang out with him as often as we can, though, he’s currently earning his Ph.D., so he doesn’t really have time to get together more than once a month or so. (No hard feelings – I know exactly how that goes. The workload is brutal.)

So in contrast to the extremely social disposition I had throughout my undergraduate career, I’ve become a hermit – and even after emerging out from under the unending responsibilities of graduate school, I haven’t wanted to make the effort to get to know people. I just keep thinking about all the good friends that, despite my best intentions and efforts, have faded from my life. I think about my grandma and grandpa, who have now passed away. I think about the way that before my grandparents died, they lost so many of their friends, one by one.

Then I think about my closest friends, with whom I have managed to actually stay close, despite time and distance. Sometimes I can call Seattle and pour out my heart to my friend just as easily as I could have done when we lived just a few blocks away from each other. But yet miscommunications and misunderstandings can develop between the closest of friends, even those that you’ve known for ten years or more. And what might have been a little miscommunication becomes a lot more awkward and harder to resolve over a distance of five hundred or so miles. I’ve had several long-distance misunderstandings recently that have really shaken me – they’ve made me realize how fragile even the strongest of my relationships truly could be. When you’re main modes of communication are written – emails, Facebook, texting – you have to be even more careful with what words you choose.

So people fade from your life. Do I really want to begin to make friends again, just to watch even more people fade away?

I guess it boils down to a choice, and it’s really a choice about what kind of person that I want to be. Do I want to be solitary, isolated, withdrawn? Solitary doesn’t sound so bad – I’ve got my husband, I’ve got my books. I’ve got a fulfilling job and my goal to write a novel or a memoir some day. But “withdrawn” is a much more ugly word. It makes me pause. I don’t think that my grandma would want me to withdraw from the world – so from somewhere deep inside of me, I’m going to have to dig up some energy, go out and “be social.” Thankfully, I don’t have to do it today – but I better do it soon because in the meantime, circumstances are shaping the person that I become, even in ways that I don’t realize.

2 comments:

Tara said...

I felt like a hermit the first two years I lived here in Seattle (so I completely relate.) Eventually I had to make the choice to stick my neck out more and stop watching my watch at social gatherings. Somewhere in that time, I forgot about not having a good time and actually did.

One idea--join a book club. It'll put you in touch with like-minded people AND allow you to do what you love most.

Stacey Johnson said...

Hi - I am finding you via SheWrites.com. This is a wonderful blog! I like the way that you explore ideas thoroughly, and also admire your courageous career change. As someone who tends naturally towards solitude, I found your last post quite interesting and full of insights. I'll be back!

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