We have so much to talk about, always.

In the summer of my first year of grad school, I got back in touch with an old friend. Melissa lived barely 20 minutes away, the closest we’d lived to each other in the 10+ years that we’d been friends. In fact, we had lived closer than that for almost a year, if only we’d had modern conveniences like Facebook to tell us such things. But those would come later – at that time, and for the years before, we wrote letters.

I met Melissa at Covenant Harbor in the early years of our adolescence. We connected in the way that you connect when you are 13 and passionately in love with God and the world – while experiencing the first pangs of independence and angst. We were a part of a tightly-knit group that would return to camp every summer until we finished high school, even as our lives diverged in significant ways. But the passion of adolescence rarely lasts, and we drifted apart, until I passed Paxton on the highway one day and thought about dropping Melissa a note.

I wrote to her about my crisis of faith, how far apart my life was from the life I’d imagined, about the end of my first marriage and the relationship that followed. I wrote about my struggle to reconcile the pieces of my life with the faith and the church in which we’d both been raised. I wrote a long letter to a person I hadn’t seen in years, expecting nothing in response.

This is what I will always remember about Melissa: how when we met for lunch one day not too long after, she looked at me and asked, “Who are you to decide who God loves? Who are you to decide that God can’t love you just the way you are?” And I sat across the table from her and cried because I was so wrapped up in myself, in my hurt and shame, that it never occurred to me that I was shutting out exactly the love and acceptance I so desired.

Our lives diverged again in the years since then, though it was easier to stay in loose contact this time around. The last time I saw her was at her wedding a decade ago. She had family in the city, and her son saw doctors at the hospital on my campus, and we talked several times about connecting when she was here, but it never happened, and now it won’t.

There’s been so much loss this year, so many people gone too soon. I suppose that’s always the case, but it hits closer to home every year. Today my heart is with Melissa’s family, with her young son, with all who loved the wonderful person who was so important to me in those brief but crucial moments.

November Around Here

Unseasonably beautiful weather makes for weekend days full of crunching leaves and golden light. I need to soak up as much warmth as my skin can handle in anticipation of the winter to come.

A sudden windfall in a month of austerity means getting out of debt within the year is now feasible. Being responsible sometimes feels very hard, but also very good.

And for the baby, now a toddler: first tentative steps and a confirmed first word: kitty, which is applied specifically to the cat (his one true love) and more generally to all beloved things. We took him to the zoo, where he correctly identified two kitties (the sand cat and the puma) and other kitty-like creatures (red pandas).

So much hurt and sadness and fear in the world. There are days when it’s all too much, and all I can do is crawl into bed and hold the sleeping baby – for then he is still a baby – to me and cry. But so much love and generosity as well.

Reading:
Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantell, because the mini series was remarkable.
House of Light – Mary Oliver, because reading poetry to the toddler feels like a good use of our quiet mornings
Bedtime in the Meadow – Stephanie Shaw, because try as he might, the toddler hasn’t been able to destroy it, unlike all of his board books
The Argonauts – Maggie Nelson, because she slays me, and her writing about pregnancy and gender and identity feels very relevant
A Thousand Mornings – Mary Oliver
Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates, because I have learned more about race and privilege in the last six months than the whole rest of my life to date

Watching:
Fringe

Eating:
Spontaneous Persian food
Pie for days
Pasta with fennel, kale, and lemon
All the pears and apples

Drinking:
A second cup of coffee, as the toddler was up before 6 for a second day in a row

Doing:
139 miles to go to hit 1,500 on the bike for the year
Not enough running, but with good reason
Catching up on all the postcards I didn’t send during this year’s 31 Postcards
Babyproofing all the things

Planning:
A Thanksgiving menu (hint: it contains pie and a Vegducken)
An intranet communication plan
New hats for everyone
Eliminating my debt

Friend Feature: Natalie B.

There’s a scene in The English Patient where the nurse Hana tells Almásy of the arrival of the thief Caravaggio. She mentions that he’s Canadian, and Almásy wonders why that matters, why people are “always so happy to collide with someone from the same place”. Hana replies that during the war, where you come from becomes important.

In the last few months, I’ve become increasingly convinced of this. It’s not that there’s a war on – I mean, there are many wars, but few that touch my life directly – it’s that spending time in the same place gives you a shared vocabulary, a set of references, of people and places and things that provide context that can then go unspoken.

When people from junior high and high school started to turn up on Facebook a few years ago, I did the mass-friending, only to be reminded that I didn’t really like most of those people in high school, and so didn’t really have much interest in rekindling relationships that never really existed. I removed most of the high school people just as quickly as I added them – with the exception of those who seemed interested in actually being friends, not just performing friendship by friending.

My friend Natalie fell into the latter group. I’ve known Nat since the third grade, when her family moved to Illinois and her dad became principal at our school. With the exception of one week at camp, I don’t know that we were ever really friends in grade school and junior high – and then we went to different high schools, and the rest would be history if it weren’t for Facebook and P90X.

About two years ago, Nat started blogging about her path to fitness via P90X and running. Her posts were hilarious, honest, and motivational, and provided  a connection and a path to actual friendship. When she finished P90X and ran her first half marathon, I sent her a package including a BRING IT pin – I have the same pin on my backpack.

Nat was in town a few weeks ago to cheer her cousin on in the Chicago marathon, and we made a point of carving time out of the busy race weekend to meet up for brunch. I wasn’t sure what to expect – it was probably the first time we’d hung out apart from church functions since junior high – but instead of the likely awkward small talk between acquaintances, we had a lovely, rambling meal and talked about everything from our parents’ retirement to sex ed to running to our struggles to find a place to fit in (or out of) a church.

I don’t know how much of this friendship can be credited to where we come from – It’s not that Mr. Steely’s 8th grade science class provided a foundation for this friendship, or that it came up in our conversation at all. But it was there, as were all of the other artifacts of growing up in the same place at the same time around the same people and experiences. And perhaps that was just enough to ground what could have otherwise been an ephemeral Facebook friendship.

Either way, I’m thankful for Nat’s friendship, though I might feel differently by next October if we follow through with our hare-brained plan to run the marathon. I’m also thankful that no matter how rough we look when we cross the finish line, we’re almost certainly guaranteed to look better than we do here:

8th Grade Class Trip

Friend Feature: Tina P.

I don’t know about you, but it’s been hard for me to meet people since finishing school. When you’re in school, you have a common set of circumstances that structures your interactions with others while also giving you a lot of flexibility in who you meet and how you meet them. People come and go every year and your classes and interests shift, so you’re presented with a constantly changing cast of characters.

When you get out into the “real world” of a 9-to-5, that all changes. You see the same people and do the same things day in and day out. In some jobs, it takes a really long time to stop being “the new guy”. Outside of work, you have many of the same options for meeting people as you did when you were in school, but somehow it’s harder to make those casual connections that might turn into real friendships, particularly if you’re an introvert, and even moreso if you’re an introvert in a relationship.

I mention all of these things because five years ago, I came to DC on a job interview, and when I met Tina on my candidate lunch, I decided that I wanted to be her friend. We bonded over cats and Project Runway and Queen Bee bags. Tina was at the reference desk on my first day of work, and reintroduced herself, even though I definitely hadn’t forgotten her or any of the other cool people from my interview (including Abigail!).

C'est chic!

I really don’t think it’s possible to will a friendship into being – I’ve certainly tried and failed since – but I’m glad that the powers that be agreed that Tina and I should be friends. She made the days at Gelman a great deal more bearable, and I’m thankful our friendship persisted after I left that job.

Here are a bunch of things Tina and I have done together:
– picnicked and happy hour’d at Fort Reno and the Sculpture Garden and the Galaxy Hut
– rode bikes from Old Town to Georgetown and back
– knit for the troops at Buzz
got naked at Spa World
– saw Neko Case at the 930 Club
– ate a lot of latkes and cupcakes
– made plans for an alpaca farm where the stud alpacas will be named Brian Eno and David Byrne
– wrote a craft blog and also haikus about CVS
– high fived under the Kennedy Center
– wandered through “snow” on a film set in June in Ypsi
– ran a bunch of races as Team Helpful Paws and Team Astronaut Mike Dexter:

Team Helpful Paws
2009 Race for the Cure 5K, Washington, DC
Team Astronaut Mike Dexter!
2011 Cherry Blossom 10 Miler, Washington, DC
Pre-Race Flexing
2011 Dexter-Ann Arbor half marathon, Ann Arbor, MI
Team Astronaut Mike Dexter!
2012 Cherry Blossom 10 Miler, Washington, DC

Here’s hoping for many more miles, and many more cupcakes, and many more stitches, and many more Talking Heads dance parties in the years to come!

Friend Feature: Abigail C.

In lieu of explaining how I know Abigail or of sharing any choice anecdotes from the handful of years that I’ve known her, I would like to share a conversation we had recently via IM:

AC: elizabeth!
AC: let’s always be friends
EB: yes please!
AC: so i will always have someone to send coco things to

Yes, Abigail. Let’s always be friends for Coco. And for Spa World and pre-race bathroom breaks and being catty on the internet.

Also here is Abgail happily regarding a latke:

Abigail

Friend Feature: Mike J.

In lieu of the 30 Days of Thankful Facebook thing, I’m going to make a renewed effort at my Friend Feature over here. I’m thankful for lots of other things, of course, and hopefully some of them will be highlighted as well.

A little over five years ago, Shane and I Couchsurfed with this dude while apartment hunting in DC:

Untitled

I’m pretty sure that when we sent the CS request, we had no idea that our prospective host would turn out to be basically the best person on the planet.

Perhaps you think I’m being hyperbolic. Perhaps you would be correct. But I’m pretty convinced that Mike is the best person that I know. He’s intelligent, funny, has great taste in music, and is raising an amazing daughter who is also one of my favorite people.

Galaxy Hut Karaoke!

He is possibly the best travel companion ever as he is unflappable in the face of late night Bonnaroo departures, chipped windshields, closed Taco Bells, and hotel snafus. He will boldly join in the singing of ridiculous versions of 90s pop songs, and will play Youtube videos at the Hut even if it gets him yelled at. He writes long, delightful letters that make me laugh out loud.

Mike Janssen on Men
Mike Janssen on men

He once transmogrified into a cat at a holiday brunch:

Scrabble

Scrabble

Should Mike ever find himself in need of a ghost writer for personals ads, I might offer my services based on the text of this post. I’m very thankful that Couchsurfing brought him into our lives, and that inclination and affinity kept him there. He’s a tremendous dude, and I’m privileged to know him.

Last Weekend

A pretty good fortune after a really good lunch.

There are so many ways in which the life I have in Chicago is not the life that I imagined a year ago when a life in Chicago was still just the glimmer of an idea. There are lots of days that are hard, and lots of days that are lonely, and lots of days when I think about getting the hell out of here. But then there are weekends and weeks like this one, full of moments and events that were beyond the reach of my imagination a year ago – running a sub-2 hour half in my vinyl dress, riding my bike all over the city, drinks and dinner and brunch with so many new friends, impossibly happy late-night texts, dancing til 2 on a Thursday, crying like a baby at New Order – and then I stopped, realizing that I couldn’t possibly capture all of the ways and times I felt my heart swell over those few days.

If you’re reading this – if you’re a part of my life in any small way – thank you, thank you, thank you. For holding me through this last year. For loaning me your steam cleaner. For sending me real mail. For calling me out on my shit. For picking up the check, or letting me pick up the check. For longer walks than either of us expected. For the bourbon and the coffee. For over a thousand texts in under two months. For the yoga and the dancing and the bike maintenance and mentorship. For you, all of you, all of the time. My heart is so full, you guys.