The older you get, the fewer things you get to do for the first time. I wonder how much of the perception of the speed of life has to do with that diminution of novelty. I can see it in even the difference between walking a path for the first time, and walking back along it. Anyway, on Saturday I got to do something new.
On Saturday I learned that some friends were going to a paint and wine night and I managed to cadge an invite. Now, I was a band geek of the first water. When electives were coming around, there was absolutely no doubt which one I was going to sign up for. So I never did art in high school. Or college. Or, well, ever. In fact, my nascent art career was cut short with one of the more bitter regrets of my young life. I begged my parents for art lessons when I was about 9. I remember going to a stationer’s store (I’M SO OLD) and buying the pencils, the sharpener, the paper and the special eraser. I was out of my mind excited. The teenager who showed up was an excellent artist at the high school level. But I was so wound up and energetic that I was hard to teach. She got frustrated with me in that first lesson and never came back. I ended up having been taught one method of drawing fir trees, but with a far more useful life lesson: If you want to learn, you had better make teaching you be a pleasure to your teacher.
My art skills completely stalled out at that level, and if you ask me to draw today, chances are excellent I’ll make a fir tree for you.
So when confronted with a blank canvas, I was unsure what the outcome might be. Complete humiliation seemed plausible. Fortunately, middle age also carries with it this glorious lack of caring about complete humiliation. I uncovered the paper plate with my paints. Our instructor was reassuringly clear. Plus, this was just the base layer. At this layer most of my mistakes would be covered later. I slapped on the paint with aplomb.
Then things got more complicated. We had to make rocks! Worse yet, rocks that actually looked like rocks. Woe!
Our last step was buildings. I have some regrets about the choices on the lights, but none about my lantern lit landing on the water, or the expressive stars I added.
It was a really enjoyable experience. It required attention, but it was a different kind of attention than I’m used to having to expend. My hands and mind were busy, but it was rather restful to be busy with skills I knew I didn’t have on an outcome that didn’t need to make it past the garbage can on my porch. (Have no fear – Thane has claimed he wants it for his room so it’s not intended for the bin just yet.) I would totally do that again!
It takes my mind off the near-complete-loss of all plums currently bedeviling my poor tree. Next year…
The book had two interesting concepts in it, for thinking about. The first was about Happiness Exchange Rate. In my perfect world, I’d write a blog post dedicated to my thoughts on that topic, so I won’t go into more detail here. (In the actual world, you should probably just read the book to find out for yourself, because intended blog posts are a loooooong way away from reality.)
The second interesting concept was Tribe, and how a Tribe both helped you get money (which you could use to make yourself happy), it also just plain makes yourself happy.
This was a weekend for Tribe.
There are few things that make me feel richer than dwelling on my friends. This weekend, we held the first annual “Flynn’s Fiery Feast” – to provide that critical third gathering between Piemas and Mocksgiving. For those who don’t follow me regularly, those are two “made up” holidays in November and March where 30-40 grownups and associated children get together and eat a lot and play board games and enjoy each other’s company. The people represented are a venn diagram of several social circles: college friends, gaming friends, internet friends, church friends, family, neighbors and a small handful of coworkers. (It’s also fewer people than I’d like to invite, but after about 50 humans in it, my house is just too small to add more. Don’t think because you’re not at that party we aren’t friends – we are – the parties just can’t get much bigger.)
We laughed and joked and caught up and ate and played board games and sat around the fire and had an awesome time. I felt like Scrooge McDuck, swimming in his gigantic pool of gold, surrounded by a real wealth of love and warm feelings. And then my friends helped clean up before they left. Seriously, people. It doesn’t get better than that.
Bryan and Michael say in there book that a Tribe is key to wealth – not only because it gives you the happiness that you’re theoretically trying to get enough money to have, but because it can help you in a thousand practical ways. And I’ve seen that play out for myself. Perhaps the tightest Tribe in my diagram is a group of moms who get together about once a month, and chat often on Facebook. This group of ladies is mostly just for fun. We do talk about parenting books, and exchange ideas about how to make our lives and the lives of others better. We support each other in fitness, borrow each other’s steam cleaners and babysitters, and know we can put out an all-call for whether someone has condensed milk handy (so we don’t have to go to a store and interrupt our baking).
But we also provide a backstop for each other whose depth may appear hidden. One of our moms’ husband was in a near-fatal car accident. For a few weeks, we delivered home made, love-stuffed meals and snacks. As you read about last week, one of our moms needs to raise $15,000 to get her son a service dog. The fundraiser is being led by the other moms, bringing together pretty amazing skills and collaboration. For a few months our regular chat is being replaced by party planning, and no one has said anything but “how can I help”? It’s this amazing sense of knowing that someone has your back (especially with little family in the area), to have a group of people like this.
Bryan and Michael describe a Tribe this way, “Tribe is simply a networked group of friends bound by their caring for one another and for a similar aesthetic for life. But when a group of friends become networked – when each knows the other – something else, not available from simple friendship, emerges.” (The Last Safe Investment, Franklin & Ellsberg, p. 277) They talk a lot about how important it is that the relationships are not “hub and spokes”, but a matrix of connections. They talk about how key shared values are to a tribe. And they go WAY FURTHER from my happy groups of friends to actual communal living.
They also have a Silicon Valley-esque focus on entrepreneurship. I asked when they gave their talk if this sort of group of people wouldn’t have the effect of compounding inequality. (Rich people with rich friends would be richer. Poor people with poor friends would not.) They assured me their Tribe cut across income. (In retrospect, however, I’m curious if it cuts across class. I wonder what degree of disparity in educational attainment and opportunity a Silicon-Valley-based-tribe actually has. Not, mind, that my Tribes are that much more class diverse.) They also talk a lot about how creating repeated opportunities for people to come together can create Tribe. (Which was actually my proximate cause for finally getting around to scheduling the long-contemplated third holiday.)
Coming out of the book talk, I started chatting with my coworkers about the topic, and realized something.
Quick: describe a group of people who have relationships with each other (not around a central figure), who come together very regularly, who cut across generational & class lines, who support each other, and who have strong shared values.
Does that ring a bell?
I realized, in that conversation, that the Tribe is the Church. That hole left in society when people walked away from both theology and communal worship is a gaping one, and it needs to be filled. It makes sense that groups and ideas like this one would be developed to plug the gap. But I also think that maybe churches need to see themselves a bit more like Tribes. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we saw ourselves as a group of people who come together because of shared values to support (and enjoy) each other, and then to turn our collective will towards service towards each other and the world? When we say “my Church” – how many of us imagine the building? The steeple and communion table and pews? Instead, it would be awesome if we thought of that great cloud of friends we have in the church. Take Jesus and the disciples – there was a Tribe to be reckoned with. (And they didn’t even have a building!) The early church actually did take it all the way to communal living. I think that as a congregation we can aspire to that same sense of joyful security that I get when I think of my friends.
Do you have a tribe? Who do you lean on in times of trouble? What do you do to build up your connections? I’d love to hear how this concept looks from your point of view!
As any economist could tell you, there are a lot of ways to measure wealth. There’s your net worth (the value of the things you own compared to the amount of money you owe). There’s your current earnings. There are your projected earnings. (That’s probably a better way of evaluating someone graduating with with a law degree, for example, than net worth is.) I’m sure there are a bajillion other ways: months without income until bankruptcy, ability to survive layoff, projected age to retirement, etc.
As the holidays draw to a close (even if you wait until epiphany, or count orthodox Christmas), I often find myself reflecting on my wall o’ friendship, and procrastinating from taking it down. I’ve noticed the cards seem to come later every year (I’m part of that trend – I think I mailed my last set on the 23rd!), and I get more New Years cards than I used to, but I love looking at them. Sometimes I take them down and read the notes inside them again. Every year I bundle them in a big bundle and save them. They’re in stacks in my attic, right next to the snapshots of my kids and school pictures.
The truth is that, quite unexpectedly, I find myself rich in friendships. I didn’t anticipate that, as a young girl. We moved a lot. I attended 6 schools by 6th grade. (I did that math when I was very young – I think I count church kindergarten in there.) I didn’t exactly have boatloads of friends waiting for my call. My best friend when I was Grey’s age wouldn’t acknowledge me at school. I, um, didn’t blame her. I wasn’t sure I’d admit to being friends with me either, if I was popular. I wasn’t a very easy kid to be friends with, I suspect. I reveled in being weird. It made me sad, sometimes, but there were books. My memories of childhood are mostly happy ones.
But then I stayed in one place for a while, and gradually learned how to not be quite so weird that people wouldn’t want to admit knowing me. (Or rather, how to keep the weirdness but lose the obnoxiousness of it? Maybe?) Then after learning how to be a friend, I got a fresh start. Man, college was the best.
And since I left college I’ve… accumulated friends. We’re still playing weekly (well, kind of weekly) role playing games with a friend whose name was picked off a bulletin board in a gaming store. (The gaming group has survived four children, and we’re delighted that a fifth has joined us. All boys.) I’ve made some relationships in church that are about ready to drive. The process accelerated vastly when I moved to this house, and there were a bunch of us the same age with kids the same age and we really got along. And then one of your friends introduces you to their friends. It’s been astonishing and wonderful.
I was thinking about what that flowering of friendship really means. Sometimes, when I’m staying out too late and consuming less-than-healthfoods with my friends, I wonder if friendship is bad for my health. But studies show that friends reduce your risk of dying prematurely, or that absence of friends increases it.
And then there are the more immediate advantages. I met a mom once or twice in a gathering of moms. In December, her husband was injured in a serious accident that killed the other driver and critically wounded one of his friends. This amazing group of moms banded together to deliver two week’s worth of dinners to her and her family.
The funny thing about being rich in friendship is that the more of it you have, the more of it other people have too. It’s a lot like love that way. Spending it just creates more of it. The modern world seems poorly set up to create deep and lasting friendships (at least judging by the number of lonely people in the world), but the optimist in me thinks that with some sort of catalyst, friendship-creating-reactions can spread. It’s hard to see friendships (especially those tough ones that cross some boundary, like race or generation or political belief) as anything but a net good to society.
So, do you want more friends? Here are some of the ways I’ve seen people become close friends:
Strike up a conversation in a park. (Seriously.)
Invite someone you like to dinner. Give them a specific set of three different days, and ask if they need any accommodation (food preference, only drive during the day etc.) If they’re interested in being friends, they’ll either accept one of the three days or counter with a different date. (And don’t be too offended if they’re not willing to get closer. Sometimes people don’t have the energy to spend on new friendships.)
Throw a party and mix multiple different “sets” of your friends. One of my bestest friends became my friend because another friend begged an additional invite to a party I held. And this also helps your friends make more friends, which is a kindness.
Put your name on a gaming store wall as adventurer seeking game!
Bring your neighbors cookies. Knock on the door. When they’re on their front porch, strike up a conversation.
Throw a block party.
Get involved in a local project. (I made some great friends by being active regarding the Bikeway!)
Join a workout group. (OK, this one is just theoretical. I’m not a workout group kinda girl.)
Order more Christmas cards, and send them to people you wish you knew better.
Exchange contact information with those parents you end up chatting with when you pick your kids up. Then schedule something with them.
The internet. I made some dear, dear friends online. I still feel much more connected to people on Facebook than one might think!
How about you? What are some of the crazy ways you’ve met people? Are you overwhelmed by an over-full social docket, or is there room for a few more busy Friday nights?
The turkey is in, the house is clean, the pies are done and only slightly squished by non-edibility-impacting malfeasance. The cats are exploring the new living room configuration and the children are under strict instructions to play quietly without messing up their room.
I think, while I cook, a lot of you. And I feel grateful. So in a stolen moment between turkey and dishes, let me shrae some things I’m particularly grateful for this morning.
* The complete recovery of Tiberius-cat. Yesterday he got his feeding tube removed. He had gained weight since his last checkup, and is pretty much completely recovered. Fatty livery rarely recurs, so… for the most part we are simply done, after a very difficult month. I’m grateful that our hard work and love paid off with health.
* The long, joyful service of the pastor of my church. He’s an amazing preacher, excellent minister, kind person and rollicking honkey-tonk piano player. His only fault is in being an awfully hard act to follow.
* The embarrassing riches of friendship that are mine. I have few lonely moments. My life is filled with close friends, acquaintances, friends of friends. I have friends of long-duration, new friends, parent friends, single friends, geek friends, faraway friends and friends close enough that I sometimes forget to knock when I invite myself into their house at 9:30 pm. I never thought that this wealth of friends would be my lot, and still find myself looking in disbelief to discover it’s true.
* My work is so many of the things I want out of my labors. It is interesting, important and educational. Every day I have more to learn than I can master. I had the flexibility to take care of my cat, but I go to work every day feeling like I will have important things to do, and that I am growing in my career. It also allows me to afford things like veterinary care for my cat. It comes with a hard toll to pay in fatigue and absorption, but I try not to complain about getting what I have asked for.
*Finally, of course, my family. I love reading advice columns, and the stories I hear make me grateful of loving, thoughtful, undemanding parents and in-laws. My own little nuclear family is made up of people I find interesting, and whose company I enjoy. My sons are fun and funny and growing more independent. My husband is helpful, thoughtful, kind and loving.
As Calvin says, Halcyon days are usually only awarded retroactively. I do feel as though, perhaps, I’m in the midst of a halcyonic stretch myself right now.
Thanksgiving is an interesting holiday for me. For 11 years now, I’ve done a huge “feeding lots of people turkey” holiday at Mocksgiving. The result of this is that, despite my feeding-people, epicurian bent, I’ve never hosted the Family Thanksgiving. And now, of course, my inlaws are all pretty much in Atlanta and my brother considers Thanksgiving a weekend sacred to video games…. so. I don’t cook on Thanksgiving.
We’ve done a bunch of different things over the years. Back when I was young and judgmental, my husband’s family went out to dinner in a restaurant for Thanksgiving. The year Grey was born, we went back home. The first, only time I’ve been home for Thanksgiving since I left for college at 17. A few years we’ve done nothing. But I’m surrounded by awesome people, so when folks get wind of the fact we’re doing nothing, invitations appear. Several years, I went to the family Thanksgiving of a college friend. His mom is a fantastic cook, so I was sad when he moved out to California and it seemed… weird to invite ourselves without him. Last year and this year, friends from church have invited us. They have boys similar in age to ours, and are FANTASTIC cooks.
So Thanksgiving is a mellow, happy, friendly day. The last few years I’ve started a tradition of watching the Macy’s parade with the boys. I sleep in. Drink coffee. Don’t get dressed until noon. I rest. Relax. It might actually be the most relaxing day of my entire year.
Gratitude is an important part of not losing site of what’s important to you. I don’t do as great a job of it, but I’ve tried to teach my children to give thanks. Every night, as part of their going-to-bed, we have a prayer of gratitude. Grey usually just says that he’s thankful for “Everything in the universe”, although when pushed he’ll tell you he’s thankful for screens (DS, computer & TV).
But Thane has started this tradition now too, of gratitude. His favorite books are the How Do Dinosaurs books. He demands to know the names of all the dinosaurs. And of course, with the plasticity of a youthful brain, he remembers them. One of my ambitions this week is to get video of this. But at night, his litany of gratitude goes like this, Thane is thankful for … “Mommy, Daddy, Grey, Thane, Neovenator, Pachycephalasaurus, Protoceratops, Tapejara, Neovenator, Mommy, Daddy…” He can go on. It’s awesome!
One of the things I’m grateful for this Thanksgiving morning is that I have this venue to write down memories. Sometimes I look back at what was, and I’ve written down things I otherwise wouldn’t have remembered. I wouldn’t write if I didn’t know you would read this. I know this, since I tried for years pre-blogging. So thank you for being you, and reading what I have to say.