Friday, August 12, 2011

The Evolution of We

I was born on January 1st in the year 1982. I went to 12 long years of Catholic school. I played soccer obsessively. I grew up across the street from a farm. I spent winters exploring area ski resorts. I went to college at RIT. I decided to work part time at a bike shop and a running shop while I figured out my post-college plans. I have moved no less than 6 times in the past 7 years. I hiked across the Alps. I’ve had 15 jobs. I have been many places, done many things, and for almost thirty years, I’ve been an I. I’ve used singular pronouns, like “I,” “me,” “my,” “one, please.”

At some point, I remember introducing the word “we” into my vocabulary on a more regular basis. Suddenly, “we” were going for a bike or going dancing. A friend once asked, “who is this ‘we’ – you got a mouse in your pocket or something?” We was a silly way of creating the illusion of commaradarie; togetherness. I am an I. I was born alone and I’ll die alone and this “we” stuff seemed as ridiculous as a mouse in my pocket. Suddenly though, my view changed.

These days, we go to dinner. We do the dishes, we debate, we laugh, we play games, we watch movies, we play with guinea pigs. We are moving to Pittsburgh. Sometimes I don’t know what this means – becoming a we. Some people do it naturally, willfully, with joy. For others the process is more awkward and bumpy. There are days when the w word flows freely from my lips as if I have always been a we. Other days I’m an I again and forget to tell the other party about evening plans.

When we find a partner (said as if it was something we’ve been searching for since the day we were born), we all react differently. Some sigh with relief, others dance on beaches in delight, and others dig their heels in, grasping firmly to the illusion of independence that they’ve been hiding behind for most of their adult life.

When you’re a we, some things are easier. Half of the we can do the dishes after the other half cooked the dinner. You can dance to slow songs without drawing too much attention to yourselves. You can share the driving and the burden of pain. You can take care of each other when you’re sick.

When you’re a we, some things are harder. You have to make choices taking into account an individual who, unfortunately, cannot yet read your mind. You can’t assume the other half wants to have an activity-filled evening. You have to share the bed.

We help each other with problems, groom each other, move furniture to prepare for a party. Being a team is essential, in my opinion. Outdoor activities with a partner also makes it a lot more fun. You can play silly games outloud and laugh and talk and pass the time as you trudge up hill, one tiring step after another. Being a we isn’t necessary in this case, but it certainly makes it more enjoyable.

So, the other morning, when Liz and I were barely awake she said, “You’re really smoking me out of bed,” I laughed, sleepily, and rolled over as far as I could to accommodate her presence in her bed. The next day, over dinner, which I made while she worked and did dishes, we laughed about her comment which came from a place of love, morning delirium and a desire to have this we thing last longer than a few months in a shared bed, as uncomfortable or delightful as that may be.

Last week, we danced in her living room to “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros (much to my insistence) with smiles on our faces and love in our eyes. It didn’t make the pain of the end of a tough day any less difficult, but it did make it a bit more enjoyable.

As I evolve into a we, I realize that it will make many things easier. It also might make some things harder. It will, however, hopefully make life more fun and filled with love. We’ll see how this move in goes, but having witnesses to our sometimes funny and weird lives is something I think 'we' both look forward to.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Out of touch

I feel our society has reached a collective state of nomophobia, a fear of being out of electronic communication. Think about it. What's the first thing you do when you get home or have a free moment? Often I find the answer is checking e-mail, phone messages or your social network of choice. We fear missing something or being left out of a virtual conversation. But can you really blame us? It's our nature to be social animals. We just happen to have the ability to have a conversation with anybody at any time now. The issue is there isn't a schedule for this anymore. It percolates into every moment of our daily routine. In the past you could anticipate communication at certain times. Communication is so interconnected into our lives now, which ultimately will advance our culture and our ability to do more with less time. In the same breath you can't help but mention the anxiety this puts on many and the distraction from productivity it gives some.

In short, we still do stuff. We still work, have to drive, play with our kids, go out with friends, work on our houses. This 'stuff' is full of many more interruptions than before, which transitionally can be rough but in the long run we adapt. We develop methods to more quickly process information and alter our attention from one thing to the next. Interruptions are something we can deal with. What we have trouble with is the insecurity the expectation to constantly be available creates. While we're taking part in other activities we wonder what else is going on in our virtual world. These thoughts can create anxiety if an activity takes too long or we suspect we're "missing out". What if we actually cut ourselves off from communication for an entire day. I wonder if this would increase anxiety or create peacefulness akin to meditation. Either way, we should all just relax and free ourselves from the pressure to always be in touch. I'd rather have quality over quantity any day.

Nippletop et al

Rochester Winter Mountaineering Society
Colvin, Blake, Nippletop, Dial

Feb 25-27, 2011

Leader: Greg Buzulencia
Climbers: Neal Andrews, Dave Wideman, Gregory Chambers

Short story: An engineer, graduate student, nurse and event planner walk into the mountains. They climb and head out the following the day. My apologies to those anticipating a joke, I couldn’t come up with a witty enough candidate.

Long story: On Friday February 27th, 2011 Dave and I left Rochester after a quick and heavy snowstorm. Most of my coworkers didn’t even make it into work that day, but by the time we left the roads were clear and the skies sunny. We stayed the evening in what is now a posh Maple Leaf Motel after many renovations over the years. I might even recommend taking it off of RWMS’ list, were it not for the discounted rate the proprietor offers us. I’m genuinely concerned that Marriott will want to buy out this property to stake their claim to the jewel of the Adirondacks, Schroon Lake.

Saturday morning Dave and I converged on the other half of our party, Greg and Neal, at the Noonmark Diner. At 6:30 in the morning Neal is reminiscent of Hans Solo in the Star Wars cantina scene where he slyly informs Luke Skywalker he can take him to the places he’d like to go (and perhaps some places he’d prefer to miss). Greg C. was eager to continue a week long sabbatical from graduate work to climb mountains with Neal. Dave and I just wanted to consume calories for the trek that promised not to lack in vertical movement. Hitting the trail around 8AM, we made it up to the campsite on the Gill Brook Trail after Dave led a blistering pace up the Ausable Rd. Lucky for our group we had a handful of enthusiastic trailbreakers ahead of us, stomping down the 15” of snow that fell Friday. We arrived at Colvin’s summit exhausted, but happy. Greg and Neal felt fresh and continued on to Blake, while Dave and I headed back for a little R&R at the campsite.

Sunday morning we awoke to 4 more inches of snow and typical winter temperatures in the 10 degree range. Dave decided he wanted some time alone with our campsite (we suspect he made friends with the local gaggle of pine martens that encircled our campsite). Greg C., Neal and I slowly but surely slogged our way up Nippletop via Elk Pass, kicking away at 20” of untracked snow. Neal enjoyed the trail breaking so much he insisted on leading us all the way up Nippletop. Once atop the peak the decision was made to float downhill along the ridgeline to Dial. This ridge was an enjoyable hike with snow drifting 3’ feet plus in spots, making a soft cushion for our moderate descent. Once atop Dial we decided to navigate our way to the campsite via bushwhacking. We gleefully greeted a couple grumpy French Canadians on our descent toward Bear’s Den before darting off into the woods. Our trajectory took us within 100 yards of the campsite and we soon rejoined our foursome to head back to for the weekend. We arrived back at the car in time to eat a relaxed dinner before parting ways.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Phone Company

There used to be an easy way to beat the phone company. If you were going out of state, somewhere overseas, or anywhere that involved a long-distance phone call, you could create a code with your loved ones at home to communicate. Say you were driving to Maine and you wanted to call when you arrived but didn't want to pay the long-distance phone bill at the hotel. You would tell your family before leaving roughly what time you'd arrive, then you'd tell them that you'd call once, let it ring three times before hanging up, and then you'd call again and let it ring twice before hanging up. Sure, you couldn't share the news that you'd hit a deer on the drive, but you could at least let them know you'd arrived safely. The downsides to this mode of communication are many, including that your family had to wait until the fourth ring to answer any call just in case it was you calling early. The only time this mode of communication might be useful these days is when you travel internationally, but it turns out that cell phone companies begin charging you the moment you turn your phone on. That's just one more thing cell phones have robbed from us.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Pear roulette

For every one good pear you get, you have to eat about 10 bad ones. No other food is so consistently inconsistent. The bananas you find in the grocery store all taste pretty much the same. You'll get an occasionally mushy peach, but you should know better than to buy those out of season. The problem with pears is that sometimes the best ones look the most abused, and sometimes the best looking ones turn out to be as hard as a cinder block once you bite into them. You think I'd give up and stop buying pears, move onto a new pulpy fruit that has a gritty texture, but that one rare pear that gives you a hit of perfection keeps me coming back. It's like a really low stakes game of Russian roulette.

Neva Johnson (1930-2010)

I've been Neva's grandson for nearly 29 years.  Many of you have known her longer, some of you have been closer, and all of you have been touched by her kindness and generosity.  She was a friend to all of us regardless of our connection to her as family, student, coworker, acquaintance or neighbor.  It's that friendship with her that brings us all together today.  Instead of mourning a loss, I'd prefer to consider what she has done to enrich each one of our lives.  While I summarize her life and its effect on mine I ask that each one of you reflects on what your life has gained from having her in it.  We all have a chance to enhance our lives through what she has directly or indirectly taught us.
Grandma Johnson would always brag that she came into this world on the same day as Mickey Mouse. She grew up in the midst of the Great Depression and coupled with the fact that she was the youngest in the family, this helped shape her personality later on in life. While I occasionally heard stories about the nature of her childhood, there was never a complaint. These stories of overcoming hardship were only meant to prove that we all find ourselves in situations where one can't control circumstances but you can always change your perspective to make the most of it. It was this existentialistic type of thinking that taught me one can find fulfillment in any situation. Grandma most certainly did.

She knew how to make friends in nearly any condition and in large number. It was a common joke within our family that no matter where we went with her, she would inevitably know someone and be familiar with their entire life story. Even the mere mention of a last name would invoke memories of someone she knew by the same name. I can only aspire to enjoy the company of a similar quantity with the same quality. Her generosity towards others was to be commended. Her philanthropy wasn’t monetary but emotional. She was always there to help a friend, son, daughter, neighbor, coworker or student. I’ve never seen a calendar as full of appointments with friends as Grandma’s. In fact, while many of us carry around pocket calendars to keep track of our lives, hers was a large calendar placed on her desk. But you always knew that if you made a date to hang out with her, she would be there. It’s that attention to dependability that is easy to dismiss in this day in age where you can cancel an appointment with just a push of a button.

Enjoyment of life was something she excelled at. This involved anything from a good laugh to a good movie to good food. In fact my enjoyment of ice cream may have originated in her house. Her rational for giving my brother Jeff and I the treat on a regular basis was that it’s just “frozen milk”. She also knew how to take pleasure in the company of others. She could make anyone laugh with her dry humor. Actually, sarcastic wit would be a better description. “Just hold your breath for 20 minutes and your hiccups will go away” was one of my favorite sayings. When asked what she’s up to, she would respond without fail, “About 5 feet 2 inches!” She’d strike up a long conversation with the postman, a cashier, her doctor and anybody else she came across each day. Inevitably she’d always crack some satirical gem and get a good chuckle out of her partner in conversation. It was never above her to poke fun at herself. Her lighthearted nature affected many.

Grandma may very well be the best Jeopardy player that has never been on the show. Countless times I would watch her outscore the eventual winner of the night. She was not only intelligent, but had a unique knack for retaining knowledge in all subjects. She was always perceptive and as I suspect many of you know this quality made her an excellent sister, mother, teacher and mentor. She not only knew when you were doing something wrong, but she was acutely aware of when something was troubling you. This also made her an excellent and quick judge of character. The fact that you are here today says a lot about yours.

Perhaps her most prominent attribute of all was her strength. She only missed a couple of days of work in 29 years as a teacher. She endured chemo treatment without much complaint. She rarely portrayed signs of weakness and that was evident from day one to day 29,185. This strength has rubbed off on me as I know it has on many of you.
29,185 days. That’s an eternity to some, but when you break it down to a day at a time and realize what Neva, Mom, Grandma, Mrs. Johnson achieved each one of those days, it adds up to something incredible. My hope is that each of you here will remember Neva as YOU saw her.  I hope that you will tuck that memory in your heart and let it touch you a little bit each day.  If you saw her wit, I hope that she continues to make you laugh.  I suspect that her independence will encourage you to live each moment of your life to the fullest.  I hope her strength encourages you to keep moving forward.
I never had the chance until now to officially say goodbye.  I don’t regret it. Instead I’m extremely grateful that she didn’t have to suffer long. This gives me more peace of mind than a chance to say the words “goodbye” in person. Goodbye Grandma, thank you and I love you. 

Friday, September 17, 2010

Money != Happiness

"Well if you think money won't buy you happiness, hell, you ain't ever been to Reno" ~Stumpy in the movie Out Cold.

"Oh they say I come with less
Than I should rightfully possess
I say the more I buy the more I'm bought
And the more I'm bought the less I cost" ~Joe Pug

Money is this funny double-edged sword. You need it to survive in modern day society, yet it is so coveted by many it often becomes addicting to hoard as much as possible. Months ago I had a conversation with a friend while running about this very topic. We agreed that the amount of money you have or material items you own only affects happiness until a certain point. Where exactly that tipping point is, who knows, but we believed it to be not that far above the poverty line. All I know is that attitude and appreciation of life outside of work and money is probably the biggest factor of happiness in my opinion. With the average person, it's a humanistic instinct to consume. In this era, the more money you have, the more you can consume. Sure, some of this added consumption with higher income may be beneficial to your general healthiness and well-being. You may buy healthier food, fix your dilapidated house, buy proper footwear to go hiking, donate to a charity you align with. Often you'll find that people will just buy things to fill their budget. I am close with many upper-middle class folks in their 20s and 30s. A couple of them live as if they make a fraction of what they really bring home, but the majority find things to spend their extra cashflow on. To be honest, and for the sake of making my point, those couple people who live simply despite their income level are two of the most satisfied, fulfilled individuals I know. The difference here is attitude. Others that live off of very little by necessity, but certainly enough to live, are also generally fulfilled. Sure, nobody is a cheerful cupcake 100% of the time, but the overall demeanor is generally on the positive side. Others have the attitude that they could always use just a little bit more money, no matter what they make currently. It's like a drug addiction in a way, and is a classic way to lead yourself down the golden road of dissatisfaction. Getting money and material items may get you a short high, but will always leave you wanting more. Trim the fat and use what you have left wisely. Simplifying will make you rich in other ways.