Balconyfest 2016

It occurred to me recently that I have wildly different relationships with different friends.

I have my Boone/DC/Richmond friends. These are my local friends who I talk “everyday” life with: work, politics, family. We relate through our every day joys and concerns.

Then, I have my grad school/college/summer job Harrisonburg friends who I knew at a magical stage of life. A rare message from one of these people can light a spark in me. I miss these friends, and I’m grateful for our occasional chances to reconnect.

I also have my long-distance friends. Friendships tend to untether when life carries us in separate directions, but I’ve managed to hold on to a few long distance friends by writing letters. These friends are my interactive journals, essentially. I can reach out to them for advice and reassurance and be my real, unfiltered self. Letter writing is good for the soul.

And finally, I have these women right here.

2015_poolside

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Great Britain Adventure | 2016

I’ve wanted to travel to Europe forever.

I’ve dreamed of visiting England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany. Backpacking. Exploring. I’d hoped to study abroad in college, or find a summer job overseas, but that didn’t happen.

There’s always been an obstacle: lack of money or lack of vacation days. But in January, when Bret and I talked through some our hopes for 2016, we returned to our Europe dream and asked ourselves IF NOT NOW, WHEN?! So I did some research, found a reasonable tour, and booked it.

Passport

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14 Weeks Without Facebook

You may remember that I de-activated my Facebook account at the beginning of the year.

Facebook_2

It’s been a really healthy change in my life, for the most part. Now that I’ve had some time to step back and zoom out, I realize how much I depended on this site as my source of information about my friends. Now that it’s gone, it’s something that I often forget about. That is, until I miss a friend’s birthday, or realize that I don’t know something that everyone else in the room does because it was posted on Facebook. Continue reading

De-activated: Life after Facebook

A couple weeks ago, I deactivated my facebook account.

de·ac·ti·vate

1. make (something, typically technical equipment or a virus) inactive by disconnecting or destroying it.

“the switch deactivates the alarm”

synonyms:

disable, defuse, disarm, disconnect, inactivate, make inoperative, immobilize, stop, turn off

“don’t forget to deactivate the alarm”

Yes. I needed to disable the virus that is facebook from having a role in my life. I decided to do this for a few reasons.

  1. I needed a break. I needed a timeout. I was in the habit of checking my facebook account way too often. I relied on it too much as a method of communication, but even more as a mindless distraction. I used to sign in to facebook at my dorm room computer once a day. Now, as a 29-year-old adult, I was sliding my thumb over my smart phone app several times an hour. AN HOUR. And for what reason? I needed to break the addiction.
  2. I needed to feel better. Even though I’d say I use facebook with good intentions: to catch up with my friends and see how everyone is doing, I always end up feeling worse than before I looked at it. I can’t explain why that is, really. …I’ll try. I felt isolated and jealous of the tiny pieces of former friends lives that they were choosing to share on the internet… which brings me to the next point.
  3. My Facebook friends are not my friends. I have some good friends who I actually talk to. We talk on the phone and make an effort to spend time together in person. I trust them and I care about them. And then I have facebook friends. Every time I update my facebook status, I’m sharing news with an anonymous audience of 500 people. Sure, I knew each of these individuals at some point in my life: a former classmate; a former co-worker. But the assumption that they are going to see, read, and care about something I post makes me feel entitled, selfish, and lazy. The fact that I may not have personally spoken (or texted, or emailed) with someone in 8 years but I know their dog’s name, where they went on vacation last summer, and what they ate for lunch today is WEIRD. I’m convinced that’s why my 10-year-reunion felt so weird.

So, I’m taking a break, and while I do feel a bit disconnected, I feel a lot better in general. So many of my friends post negative or insensitive things. I’d hidden most of them, but, honestly, that’s taxing. These days, I’m making an effort to write more letters, to text more friends, and to stay in touch on a personal level because I WANT to, not because I feel obligated to be one of the ‘likes’ on a photo you posted.

One thing I hated about facebook is the lack of intimacy. When you wish a friend happy birthday, and you may say something like, “Happy Birthday to one of the most amazing friends and most talented women I know!” …it seems disingenuous to me. Because you aren’t writing this in a birthday card for her to read and hold on to, you’re shouting it to the world along with a collage of pictures of the two of you that scream, LOOK WE ARE FRIENDS AND HERE IS PROOF. That message is not just designed to make your friend feel good, it’s designed to make YOU feel good. And, I know everyone won’t agree with me, but I also think a status like that is designed to to showcase your friendship and status to see how to rates with her other friends. In turn, you’re making everyone else feel a little bit bad, or a little bit left out.

I never *really* thought about this until I listened to a podcast where 12-year-old girls were talking about Instagram rules and expectations for liking and commenting on photos. I still have my Instagram, by the way. I’m not addicted in the same way and I don’t use it in the same way so I think this is okay for me right now, but if that ever changes, it’s going, too.

One more thing. The ONLY thing about I truly miss about facebook is Humans of New York: https://www.facebook.com/humansofnewyork/

Fortunately, you don’t need a facebook account to view the content. If you have a faceobok account and by some impossible feat have not yet discovered Humans of New York, please go “like” the page. It will brighten your news feed and make you feel things and give you some much needed world perspective in a sea of mindless updates.

The Balcony

Growing up, I think I was pretty envious of friends who had been best friends since “1st grade” or “5th grade” or “freshman year,” even. Even though I never moved more than a few miles away, I changed schools in 3rd grade, I went to a different middle school than 90% of my elementary school in 6th grade, and then I went to a Pre-Engineering high school where I only knew a handful of people in 9th grade. This meant I only went to school with the same friends for 3 or 4 years at a time.

In hindsight, I think this was really good for me because:

  1. It allowed me to reinvent myself. If I had graduated high school among the same friends I went to kindergarten with, I’m sure I’d have been known as the kid who cried every morning we had a substitute teacher, the one who switched the tops on all of the markers, and, also, the one who threw up on a pile of backpacks.
  2. It prepared me for moving away. Living with new people in college and adjusting to life post-grad where I’ve been dropped in D.C. and then Tallahassee and expected to make friends on my own over and over would have been a LOT harder if I hadn’t been practicing the art of meeting new friends every few years anyway.

I like meeting new people. I love it, actually. But it’s so comforting to have friends who just KNOW you already. It’s simple. It’s comfortable. It’s such a rich feeling of acceptance to be in the presence of friends who have seen you at your best and at your worst and continue to love you anyway.

One life-changing thing I did in high school was try out for the Marching Band’s color guard. I made a lot of wonderful friends through this experience. One year I went on a band trip to Myrtle Beach, and shared a room with three other girls who made me feel comfortable and accepted. We were in a big fancy room with two rooms and a kitchen. I remember that two of us preferred to sleep in a dark cool climate, and two of us craved the sun and opted to sleep on a pull-out bed by the sunny balcony. We walked over to get breakfast in the morning and carried extra cups of juice back to our room to keep in our fridge. I don’t remember a ton about this trip that happened TEN YEARS AGO, honestly, but I do remember posing for this picture before we left:

BALCONYThese girls had been friends since middle school (or earlier?) and I was so grateful to meet them. They were nice, and real, and not catty or mean or manipulative like so many high school kids can be. I was so happy to spend a week with them. This picture was taken during my sophomore or junior year of high school in either 2003 or 2004. I can’t remember if we roomed together for another band trip, but after that, we spent our senior beach week together.

If you’d asked me then, I probably wouldn’t have guessed that three of us would end up going to James Madison University together, and the fourth just an hour down the road at UVA. I just feel at “home” when we’re together. We continued to be really close in college and spent a cold, snowy girls weekend together in West Virginia, and also a Spring Break together in the Outer Banks where we took THIS balcony picture standing in the same order about 5 years later in 2008 or 2009:

Friends_1None of us can remember if we intentionally planned and posed this picture to match the other, but I got really excited a couple months ago when I read this sweet article, and realized we were on track to take a balcony photo every 5-ish years for the rest of our lives! We’re due for a photo so we’re planning a long weekend this summer to spend some time together and of course stand exactly in this order on a balcony somewhere. We haven’t decided where we’re going yet and there’s only one real requirement: there must be a balcony.

I think it can be hard to stay in touch after high school and college. It’s a lot easier to maintain friendships when you all live within a couple miles of each other, have the same friends, and the same schedules. Right now, the four of us are spread out living in Florida, Virginia, and Boston, MA. We all have our own jobs and our own friends and our own routines… BUT we have a weekly google video chat that keeps us in tune with each other’s lives. I love that. I look forward to it every week and I always feel better after we talk.

I feel like this balcony photo will continue to play a big role in our friendship. It may be the very thread that keeps us close for years and years and decades to come.

Find out who your friends are.

The best life advice I can offer is to create and maintain authentic relationships. Friends share emotions with you, build you up, and help you define and redefine your identity. Friends support you. Friends save you.

I’m not sure how to distinguish when a person moves from acquaintance to friend to basic life necessity, but I think it has something to do with the realization that that person is actually a part of you. They enter your mind as you are trying to unravel a thought. And their presence is a comfort – never a surprise or inconvenience. Continue reading

Would you like to feed a squirrel?

First, this title makes me think of the movie, Rat Race, and the YOU — SHOULD — HAVE — BOUGHT — A — SQUIRREL scene. That movie always makes me laugh.

Moving on.

I don’t know how many people my age are lucky enough to have senior citizens for neighbors, but it is truly a blessing. My next door neighbors are the most kind people I interact with in a typical day. He is pushing 75 and spends most of his time reading the paper, animal watching, people watching, and maintaining a beautiful house. She is 75 and still works long hours every single day. In addition to caring for his own lawn, he cuts my grass every week and knocks on my door if I leave my car lights on. She maintains a BEAUTIFUL beyond BEAUTIFUL garden and keeps offering to help me start one. I have a few plants started in pots but I’m hesitant to plant them. I really should just take her up on it. Both of them offer pleasant conversation and a break from my busy schedule whenever I need it. Continue reading