The Antidote To Loneliness

Every day, the Good Wife loads her car with buckets of garden tools and drives 8 miles to the church garden. Where she picks weeds, waters, and harvests the veggies and fruit of her labor. Beforehand, some days, she kayaks north along the edge of the Salish Sea before dipping into Gull Harbor to watch birds, admire sand dollars and other underwater life, and occasionally swim.

Newish neighbors with deep pockets recently clear-cutted their lot to build a very large sport court where I’ve never seen them or their children play tennis, basketball, or anything else.

Compared to the private Sport Courters, the Gal Pal is living life in public. Which means she meets people. And talks to them. From a safe distance these days.

Yesterday it was a school-aged boy on a bike. Well, she’s pretty sure it was a boy. Hair halfway down his back, his opening line was, “Cool garden.” They were off and running from there. A few weeks ago it was a random neighbor who left with some healthy food. 

The other night, at dusk, she cajoled me into dipping into the Salish with her. “WHY IS THERE SO MUCH STUFF IN THE WATER?!” She yelled at her native fishing friend who, because he’s native, is permitted to use large nets. When kayaking, she’s taken her time to get to know him. “I’M NOT SURE. THERE’S NO CURRENT EITHER AND THERE SHOULD BE!” Tonight’s salmon dinner will be compliments of him.

The church garden is what Eric Klinenberg calls “social infrastructure”, public places where people talk to one another. Same with our beach. The Gal Pal’s conversations with long-haired boys on bikes and fishermen is church. If church is about social connection.

If you’re lonely, know many others are too. Instead of a radical transformation, put a mask on, and at least once a day, leave the comfort of your private world and talk to someone, no matter how briefly. They’ll be a touch less lonely and so will you.   

Being Twenty Something

A few months ago I wrote about all the challenges with “Being Twenty Right Now“. Fast forward to today, and I could add to the list.

Since writing that, I’ve heard lots of people talk about how miserable they were in their 20’s. So much so, it sounds as if people are writing off the decade. “If you can just hang on until 30,” their moto seems to be, “it gets much better.”

This idea is unfortunate. Life is way too short to write off any decade.

Being twenty something doesn’t have to be miserable. Why wait to make friends, do socially redeeming work, and build healthy habits?

The Lonely Majority

How loneliness could be changing your brain and body.

“A  2018 study. . . found that 54% of 20,000 Americans surveyed reported feeling lonely. In the span of a bit more than a year, the number rose to 61%. Generation Z adults 18-22 years old are supposedly the loneliest generation, outpacing Boomers, Gen X and Millennials, despite being more connected than ever.”

Wowza. The silent, underreported epidemic.

“Loneliness might conjure images of being apart from friends and family, but the feeling runs much deeper than not having plans on a Friday night or than going stag to a wedding. Evolutionarily, being part of a group has meant protection, sharing the workload and increased odds of survival. After all, humans take a long time to mature. We need our tribes.

‘It’s very distressing when we are not a part of a group,’ said Julianne Holt-Lundstad, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University. ‘We have to deal with our environment entirely on our own, without the help of others, which puts our brain in a state of alert, but that also signals the rest of our body to be in a state of alert.’

Staying in that state of alert, that high state of stress, means wear and tear on the body. Stress hormones like cortisol and norepinephrine can contribute to sleeplessness, weight gain and anxiety over extended periods of exposure, according to the Mayo Clinic.”

What to do? Doug Nemecek, chief medical officer at Cigna:

“‘We need to reach out to some friends and make sure we maintain those connections and have meaningful conversations. It’s important for all of us to be comfortable asking other people how they feel.”

And for the lonely majority to risk being vulnerable when asked.

Pressing Pause

This blog was born out of a desire to step off the treadmill of life long enough to think about meaning and purpose in life.

Since our collective treadmill has been rendered inoperable by the coronavirus, we have an unprecedented opportunity to think more deeply about how to live.

But how do we do that when we’re like sedentary people trying to create exercise routines, how do we start being introspective and reflective, of thinking conceptually about what we want for ourselves, our neighbors, the world? How to reimagine our post-coronavirus lives?

One way is to rethink what’s most important. For example, many people are being more thankful for the non-materialistic joys in their lives, whether that’s a daily walk, deeper appreciation for nature, shared meals with family, or renewed conversations with lapsed friends. Similarly, many people are rethinking their consumer habits, realizing how little most material things adds to their lives. Many, of course, will have to spend less post-pandemic, others will choose to.

And yet, this isn’t such a golden opportunity to press pause or do much of anything for the 90.1% of people who are deeply worried about how they’ll meet their basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, and healthcare. Many, many people can’t get past the most basic of questions, “How will I/we meet our basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, medical care?”

As a member of the New American Aristocracy, I have the luxury of reinvigorating my inner life; meanwhile, hundreds of millions of poor, working class, and middle class people around the world wonder how they’ll feed, house, and cloth themselves without steady work that pays livable wages.

Gideon Litchfield, in an essay titled “Where not going back to normal,” points this out:

“As usual. . . the true cost will be borne by the poorest and weakest. People with less access to health care, or who live in more disease-prone areas, will now also be more frequently shut out of places and opportunities open to everyone else. Gig workers—from drivers to plumbers to freelance yoga instructors—will see their jobs become even more precarious. Immigrants, refugees, the undocumented, and ex-convicts will face yet another obstacle to gaining a foothold in society.”

He concludes:

“But as with all change, there will be some who lose more than most, and they will be the ones who have lost far too much already. The best we can hope for is that the depth of this crisis will finally force countries—the US, in particular—to fix the yawning social inequities that make large swaths of their populations so intensely vulnerable.”

The cynic in me thinks it’s more likely that heightened scarcity—especially of decent jobs—will cause people to be even more self-centered. The negative critiques of globalization add to my skepticism, if not cynicism. The worst case scenario is every person and every country for themselves in an increasingly cutthroat survival of the fittest competition. I hope I’m way off.

If the “New American” or “World Aristocracy” are smart, they’ll realize it’s in their own enlightened self-interest to think about how to assist and empower the “ones who have lost far too much already”. Ultimately, we will all sink or swim together.

In the end, it’s a question of time and perspective. Like any uber-lucky ten-percenter, at age 58, I can “circle my wagons” and save, invest, and spend with only my family and me in mind. I would live very comfortably, but my daughters’ children and their children would inherit an even less hospitable world.

Instead, I intend on taking the long view by focusing less on my comfort and more on the common good, or as stated in the humble blog’s byline, small steps toward thriving families, schools, and communities.

I’m Thankful

  • For people, near and far, who make time for the humble blog.
  • For late November sunlight.
  • For my family’s and my health.
  • For friends near and far.
  • For my daughter inviting me to run the Oly Trot with her. Her first “organized” run. We ran conservatively for the first 3.5 and then did our best East African impersonations for the last .5.

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Such A Happy Ending

Even better than your fave romantic comedy.

The coolest things about being a famous blogger are annoying your friends with tongue-in-check hyperbole, having readers from lots of other countries, and having people tell you they enjoyed a particular post.

But the coolest may be what happened after I posted “Looking for Love—Introducing The Romantic Love Score” four years ago.

I ended that post this way.

“My friend’s RL score? Currently hovering in the high teens, but she’s committed to changing that. Hope I get invited to the wedding.”

The friend, actually a former student, the one who inspired the post, really took it to heart.* She made lots of changes to her life, some I assisted her with, like what used car to buy, and she committed to updating me on the results every six months. I awaited each update with great anticipation.

Then she went silent. For a year. Last I had heard she was dating someone she liked a lot, but I did not know what to make of the delay. Turns out, she was busy falling deeply in love. And planning her wedding.

Here’s part of what she just wrote:

“The wedding was held in my hometown Lutheran church. We kept the wedding invite list very short. To be honest, we felt uncomfortable asking people to travel to PA knowing that it was a significant cost (in more ways than one) with limited time with the person(s) you are celebrating. We had about 50 people in attendance and it was perfect for us.”

Typically considerate of her, but I sure would’ve loved being there, but maybe it was best I wasn’t since the two pics she included in her recent message nearly brought me to tears.

Her crediting my post and subsequent encouragement with helping her make more friends and meeting her husband moved me.

If you know someone like my friend pictured below, full of life, but wanting to share it with someone special, consider forwarding the aforementioned link to them. The more weddings, the better my daughter’s photog business.

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*Ironically, I never had my “former student” in a single class. We met while making S’mores one night at a First Year student retreat. We hit it off and she ditched her small group for mine. Following the retreat, we talked off and on during her remaining three and half undergraduate years. She gets the credit for staying in sporadic touch since then via email.

 

 

A Friendship You’ve Had That Would Surprise

Last week’s Demo debate ended with this set up and question from Anderson Cooper:

“Last week, Ellen DeGeneres was criticized after she and former president George W. Bush were seen laughing together at a football game. Ellen defended their friendship, saying, ‘We’re all different, and I think that we’ve forgotten that that’s okay.’ So in that spirit, we’d like you to tell us about a friendship that you’ve had that would surprise us and what impact it’s had on you and your beliefs.”

I thought it was great, in part because no one could’ve prepared for it. Poor Julián Castro for having to bat lead off. He kept swinging wildly, and missing badly, seemingly thinking, “If I just keep talking, maybe I’ll eventually utter something coherent.” But it wasn’t to be, he couldn’t come up with a single name.

Andrew Wang talked about a trucker he spent a few hours with as a part of a recent political event. Not someone he’d ever talked to before or is likely to ever talk to again, thus failing to earn even partial credit.

Amazing, not one true friend markedly different than them.

Buttigieg ran circles around those two and most of the others. He noted that the people he’d learned the most from were friends he’d made in the military:

“People who were radically different from me—different generation, different race, different politics—and we learned to trust each other with our lives.”

Then Buttigieg pivoted and called for national service, a worthwhile proposal deserving of discussion. One argument in support of it? The probability that future candidates’ answers to a “surprising friend” like question will be far more compelling.

 

Everything From This Point Is Extra Credit

I’ve made a lot of bad decisions in my life.

  • Angel Flight pants paired with a silk shirt. Really a two-fer.
  • At age 16, getting shit-faced and hurling in the Disneyland parking lot after trying to sneak in through the employees’ exit. While wearing Angel Flight pants and a silk shirt. Can all of a person’s bad decisions coalesce in a single night?
  • Last Monday at Tumwater Valley golf course, repeatedly hitting gap wedge instead of pitching wedge and coming up short.
  • Weeding amongst poison oak in shorts and t-shirts. A couple of times.
  • Asking my eight year old daughter to help me jump start the car.
  • Running the first half of the Boston Marathon way too fast.
  • Using a clueless, commission-based financial planner.
  • Attempting to put Christmas lights on top of the steep ass roof.
  • Watching the Seahawks throw from the one yard line for a second Super Bowl victory.

Fortunately though, the biggies have gone especially well. I picked excellent parents who provided a loving foundation. I went to the right college because I had to work harder than I ever had to succeed there. And I am a much better person for partnering with The Good Wife.

Also, half way through college, discerning that I wanted to teach. And related to that, earning a doctorate early on opened doors to what has been an extremely fulfilling career in higher education. And while in graduate school, committing to daily exercise which continues to add to the quality of my life.

Recently, I reflected on these life decisions when a friend, the same age as me, late 50’s, opened up about her desire to change the world. It surprised me because she’s contributed a lot to a better world as an especially caring mother and volunteer. In hindsight, she said parenting was fulfilling, but only to a point. She regretted staying home with her son and daughter as long as she did. As she talked excitedly about plans to work outside the home going forward, I couldn’t help but think how different my mindset is.

If I’m honest with myself, I do not want to change the world too terribly much anymore. Why?

I think my spirit is relatively settled because of my decision to teach. The psychic renumeration has run circles around the financial. My soul is satiated with decades and decades of meaningful relationships with numerous students and co-workers. When deciding between vocations, young people don’t factor that in nearly enough. Being in debt certainly doesn’t help.

One huge advantage of working with adult students is after a class is over they often take time to write or say how much they appreciate my teaching efforts. And for all of the downsides to social media, it’s pretty cool to get “friended” by a former student who is flourishing as a teacher or social worker him or herself in some distant corner of the country or world.

If someone tapped me on the shoulder this September and said, “Sorry dude, but we have to go younger, you know, someone with hair,” I’d be cool with it. Absent that shoulder tap, I plan on continuing half-time for the foreseeable future because I think my teaching is mutually beneficial to both my students and me. At minimum, their idealism inspires me and they help me focus on more than baby rabbits.

I do not want to change the world in the manner my more energetic and ambitious friend does, but that doesn’t preclude me from doing so in small, subtle, nuanced ways.

If I don’t want to change the world, what do I want?

I want to invest in old and new friendships by slowing down and making time for others. I want to spend more time in the kitchen. I want to sit on the deck and watch and see if the four baby rabbits cuddling together in the planter survive the eagles’ daily fly-bys. I want to enjoy art, especially excellent literature and independent film. I want to swim, run, and cycle in nature. Mostly though, I want to be present in my marriage and as a father. I want to listen and understand my wife’s and daughters’ dreams and cheer them on as they achieve them.

And I still want to help others take small steps toward thriving families, schools and communities by putting pen to paper or keyboard to screen*.

*awkward phrase, one more bad life decision