Thursday, November 27, 2008

Being Lonely versus Being Alone

I sit here typing in the middle of a deserted campground - deserted save for me, my wife, and my son - the three of us in our tent trailer, the only inhabitants of this state park campground. As I sit and type, I realize I am lonely.

I was often lonely when I was single, so I always equated the feeling of loneliness with being alone. Yet I am not alone here. Still, I feel lonely. A sense of melancholy hangs over me as I realize how little I fit in with those around me even when there is no one around me. This feeling was eased a little when a couple other campers set up in this campground, but it did not go away entirely.

For instance, what does it say about me when the person I see as my best friend, the person with whom I feel the greatest sense of connection in the outside world is someone who lives more than 300 miles away in another state and is someone I may never actually see again? Whatever it says, I can't imagine it is all that good.

When I was single, I always had the excuse of being alone to explain my loneliness. There was some comfort in that because it created the sense that I could end my loneliness simply by being around other people.

That is how I have always dealt with that loneliness - by putting myself in a setting where I could surround myself with others. Yet I never really made a connection with any of them or them with me. I was still lonely, and I still felt alone.

I managed to escape that feeling or at least delude myself that I had escaped it after my marriage. I was busy enough trying to be a decent husband and later a decent father that I rarely had time to feel lonely or alone.

Lately, though, that has changed. I changed jobs and have yet to make any friends in my new position aside from the aforementioned friend in another state. Part of that is the new workplace itself. Everyone is usually very busy, and that makes it hard to make a connection. The other part of it is somewhat geographical. I sit all but alone in my area of the department. The nearest people to me are almost all managers.

The third part of it is something lacking in me. I am not by nature an extremely warm or outgoing person. As a result, people do not tend to gravitate to me. At times, I suspect I come off as cold or aloof.

At other times, I may come across as too needy because I do recognize this giant hole in my life. For whatever reason, there are times when my wife and son are unable to fill this gap. Because of that, I think I end up distancing myself from them and making my problem worse.

Some might label this depression, and perhaps they are right. Perhaps it is the feeling of growing old and not having accomplished anything I thought I would. Or perhaps it is simply the onset of the holiday season and realizing that again this year we will not see friends or family over Thanksgiving or Christmas. Perhaps it is all of the above.

After all of that, perhaps there is no real difference between feeling lonely and feeling alone, merely scale. (The physicality of being alone is another matter.) And right now, the scale tips way out of balance.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Giving Thanks

It is that time of year once again when young and old alike gorge themselves on a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, whether it be turkey or ham (in our case, turkey), with all the trimmings. Then, they'll collapse on the sofa to watch the traditional Thanksgiving football blowout and watch a bunch of other overstuffed men run around and get exercise for them.

Despite recent economic events, we are lucky to live in a country where so many of us have reason to be thankful. I invite you to take some time on Thanksgiving to make a mental list of those things for which you are thankful and then give silent thanks for each of them. Here's my list:

I am thankful for my family, first and foremost. They ground me and give me sanctuary from the emotional storms in which I sometimes find myself.

I am thankful that I live in an area that lends itself to outdoor activity and that I have the ability and desire to enjoy such activity, whether it be camping, bike riding, or snowshoeing. In fact, we will be camping over Thanksgiving.

I am thankful for new friends, old friends, and lost friends. Each has been an important part of my journey. I remember lost friends fondly even as I mourn their loss. I cherish the people who are part of my life now and hope they will remain a part of my life for years to come. I relish the new friends I have made or will make and pray I will not abuse or squander the gift they have given me.

Yet I know that there are also those who will struggle to find something this Thanksgiving for which they are thankful. I hope you will join me in saying a kind word or in thinking a good thought for them as you sit down to your holiday meal this year.

May you find plenty for which to be thankful this year. May you have even more for which to be thankful in the year to come. Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Requiem For A Friend

I cried for a friend last night. Those tears did not come because I had received news that some tragedy occurred. In a sense, my tears were tears of anticipated grief. First, some history.

This friend and I are co-workers, separated by some 340 miles. The circumstances of our friendship are potentially the stuff of soap operas. You see, in essence, I was hired to take her place with her in the awkward role of training her replacement. I had, just a little earlier, escaped a similar fate when my previous position was outsourced.

She had every right to be angry, bitter, resentful, insert your adjective here. But she was none of those things. Instead, she was kind, helpful, supportive, and encouraging. Her demeanor was everything you would want from a trainer.

Her position had been moved here as part of a consolidation, and because she had a life where she lived, she was understandably reluctant to move. I had been in a similar type of position years earlier, and having to move is not fun, so I sympathized.

In fact, I felt guilty for, in essence, taking her job, not because of anything she said or did but because of everything she said or did. I began to feel as if a cruel trick had been played on her. Through it all, she remained supportive and helpful, and a mutual respect developed.

My training required her to make visits to my location, so we did meet twice. Both visits were friendly, and we developed a comfort level around each other. But a friendship had not yet begun to develop.

That began to occur, I think, after she returned to her home. As the new kid on the block, I had questions about the work, and I would ask them: over the phone, through instant messaging, via e-mail. After a while, we began to talk about other things: politics, music, feelings, life.

The odd thing about our budding friendship is that, for the most part, it has developed through e-mail. Perhaps that isn't such a surprise given the electronic age in which we live. In some ways, it is the 21st Century equivalent of having a pen pal.

In some sense, that may make it easier to sustain the friendship when she and I no longer have work as a common footing. Yet the same thing that may make it easier to keep the friendship alive may also make it easy to let it die. One day, one of us may decide to no longer answer the e-mail of the other. I certainly don't intend to let that happen, but who can say with certainty what the future holds. Something could happen to one or the other of us, and the remaining friend may be completely in the dark.

This sounds fatalistic, I know, but it is based on my past attempts to sustain relationships long distance. Life tends to get in the way. In my past career in journalism, I lost every friend I had because of moving to a new job in a new city. Because I make friends with great difficulty, each loss was very painful. To this day, I remember each of them with a mixture of good and bad feelings.

Yet I persisted, and I will continue to persist. I do not meet people easily, but I know I need them in my life. I hope this friendship lasts. I want it to last. It may not, but I will enjoy each moment of it while I do have it.

I am not a wise man, but I have finally learned one thing in my time here. The one thing worse than losing a friend is never having had the friend to begin with. Here's to you, my friend.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Cell Phones & Bathrooms: A "Sound" Combination?

A few months ago, the group I work with moved into a new building. Right away, I noticed something that struck me as being somewhat odd. Almost every time I would walk into the restroom, I would encounter someone carrying on a business conversation on the cell phone - right there in the bathroom.

Many times, they would be pacing across the floor. It was almost as if there were waiting to enter a bathroom stall and thought to themselves "Well, I might as well call back this client while I'm waiting."

Now, I know there are many people who like to sing in the shower because of the acoustics. In fact, I'm one of them. Rumor has it that several well known songs were recorded in a bathroom for that very reason.

Yes, the acoustical qualities of a bathroom can make even a somewhat mediocre singer sound better. But do business calls sound better, more authoritative, more informed because one end of the conversation takes place in the men's room?

Perhaps it's a consequence of our always connected society. Even some hourly workers keep cell phones with them at all times, for fear of missing out on something. Or perhaps it's to show how popular they are. Not having a cell phone myself, I'm not sure of the reasoning.

Then again, maybe it is an extension of our growing need to be able to multitask. (That's all the picture I am going to draw for you; you will need to do the rest.) So many employment ads list the ability to multitask as either a desired charactistic of the successful applicant or an outright requirement.

Fine. But couldn't that ability to multitask be demonstrated in a more classy manner? Say, something like putting on makeup and driving at the same time? Sorry, I can't answer that. I have to go to the bathroom and take an important call.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Search for Fleeting Moments of Happiness

Of late, I have come to the conclusion that life is a somewhat mundane event, punctuated on occasion by what I call "fleeting moments of happiness." The number of these "fleeting moments" is what leads a person to decide whether his or her life is a happy one.

Such moments can range from the religious, such as First Communion or Bar Mitzvah (did you know there is a web site to help one plan a successful Bar Mitzvah?), to the emotional and possibly physical, such as a first date, a marriage, or the birth of a child. These punctuation marks in a life are what is remembered when that life ends.

I have also come to believe that successful people have more such "fleeting moments" than those who are not successful and are, in fact, capable of creating their own such moments. Such success can take many forms: abundant wealth, freedom to pursue and fulfill one's desires, a happy marriage. The list can go on.

Those fleeting moments are further punctuated by brief flashes: A memorable sunrise or sunset, a spectacular view, perhaps a wedding anniversary or a promotion at work.

The past few days have been a bit rough and have led me to search for my own "fleeting moments of happiness," to list them and consider the balance sheet. The list is not that long and contains nothing from my childhood.

There was the day I was baptized at the age of 28. A year later, I started building my own house through the sweat equity program of the Federal housing Authority (and lost the same house a few months later when I lost my job). There was the day I got married and the day a few years later when my son was born.

There have been a few memorable camping trips, including a visit to Redwoods National Park, which perhaps left feeling as close to God as I have in the last 20 years. Still, those moments seem fleeting indeed.

Thinking about such things led me to ask a philosophical question: Why are some people happy and others not? What can parents who come from an unhappy childhood do to ensure that there own children grow up somewhat happy? For that matter, what can adults who come from unhappy childhoods do to make their adult lives happier, and at what point does it become too late?

As I write this, another question occurs to me. If the world is constantly trying to achieve a state of equilibrium, then doesn't every happy person have to be balanced by an equally unhappy person? The way I feel some days, there must be one ecstatic person somewhere in this world. You're welcome.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Fresh Start

For several months now, I have left this blog to languish, forgotten in the recesses of my disjointed mind. Now that the election is over and, as President-Elect Obama said "Change has come," I felt perhaps it was time to revisit this blog. In the spirit of the new President's message, change is coming to this blog.

Or should I say change is what came to this blog before now. My original intent for this blog was to provide a literal outlet for my mental meanderings. However, the heat of the summer's Presidential primaries led me to focus almost solely on politics. Now that the election is over, I can refocus or perhaps unfocus and return to my original intentions.

And so, I return intent on making this blog what I always wanted it to be: the random thoughts of a somewhat random man. In the coming weeks and months, I hope to write about the things that strike me as odd, contradictory, funny, perplexing, even confusing. In doing so, I will try to make this blog live up to the title I have given it and perhaps one person, after reading something I have written, will scratch his or her head and ask "Where the heck did that come from?" The blog title will then say it all.