Too Much Like Water (a poem)

(I wrote this poem tonight, though it has been in my heart since a friend (or one I thought was a friend) stopped being a friend. What makes a person decide to stop being a friend? What makes a person decide to stay? What do we do with the unanswered questions that haunt us? Was it something I did? Was it something about me? About us? All I can do is turn my obsessions to poetry.)

Too Much Like Water

Maybe I was too thirsty
and you heard the rasp and rattle
when I spoke
with words unused too long.
Maybe I was too much rain
crystal, pouring drops
flooding shallow banks
too soon.
Or together, two strong rivers
flowing, roiling, pushing
for the narrow neck
to the wide, vast sea
Or you, like ice
(like me)
unyielding
ungiving
Or we, a stream
that rippled toward the sun
whose hissing touch
left us only vapor.

Just One Friend (aka: Wistful Thoughts of a Facebook Hater)

I am a Facebook hater.

Mostly.

It’s funny, because years ago, I was a Facebook addict. There was little I enjoyed more than checking in daily with my peeps, posting status updates and comments, and joining in the games on our very own virtual playground. It was my second greatest social outlet.

But…life happened. And life isn’t always pretty. And Facebook became something to hide from, rather than something to enjoy. It still feels that way.

Mostly.

Sometimes, I love to see updates and photos of everyone celebrating life. But sometimes, seeing all those happy, glowing photos filled with smiling faces can be a little too much. Friends together at parties. Friends at concerts, singing along with the band. Friends camping. Friends waving from the bleachers at sports arenas. Friends running in races, striking goofy poses for the camera.

Like. I click the button from time to time. Like. Like. Sometimes I post the obligatory family photos of my kids, and a few people (strangers and distant relatives, mostly) click like, too. It’s a never-ending circle of shares and likes that mean so little, really.

Maybe it is a kind of envy, the gnawing, empty feeling I get sometimes when I peek at everyone else’s happy chronicles of adventures with their friends. It is dumb, really. I love my quiet life with my three great kids. Together, we have plenty of fun. We camp. We hike. We roller skate. We laugh together. I am not bound to travel through life completely alone, because I get to enjoy them nearly every day.

adult friendsBut still. There’s this constant yearning. If only I had one friend. One good friend. One who would be as happy to hear from me as I would be to hear from them. One who would be like – What? Go to a soccer game/concert/camping/karaoke/movie/party/weird new restaurant/bookstore/lecture/farmer’s market/have a cup of coffee/whatever? I’m in! Relaxed, caring, reciprocal coolness together.

It’s not like I don’t put forth an effort. I’ve tried a number of times in the past few years to make acquaintances, and then nudge that toward friendship. Sometimes, I think that maybe I’m close. But it is so…I don’t know…difficult. Maybe it is due to my INTJ way of seeing the world. Maybe it is my insecure way of fearing that our feelings are always one-sided instead of mutual. (Or maybe that is not the voice of insecurity, but of wise intuition).

Maybe it is a strange sort of Catch-22, in which my lack of friends frightens away potential friends, as though they can sense the desperation hidden beneath my calm, cheerful exterior. Please be my friend? And I, afraid of seeming too needy, quickly back off, too. And so, friendship doesn’t happen. And I return to my cave and my world of imagination. Why is it so hard to make true friends?

If I had just one good friend, then today, perhaps we would have sat in the stands together, cheering on Manchester United as they beat Barcelona. (Those are um, soccer teams).

Together with my one good friend, maybe I would have found the courage to go to a downtown event that my Meetup acquaintances mentioned earlier today.

With one good friend, maybe I would go eat inside of restaurants instead of getting takeout and watching old shows on Netflix by myself.

besties laughing

Maybe that one good friend would even help to connect me to a few more friends, and together, we would all go out to roller skate or dance to celebrate my upcoming 40th birthday. And maybe take a few silly, fun photos to post for the Facebook peeps, like all the not-so-lonely people do. Or not.

Or maybe I will just live it all in my head, then write about it in my creative, introverted way. Which is okay, too.

Mostly.

Top Ten (aka: Handwritten Letters to C.J.B.)

Letters CJB (2)

Dear C.J.B.,

Remember me? Tiare/J.K./Princess? The girl you met at a forensics speech team competition in the Bay Area when we were sophomores at different colleges? The girl with the strange tendency to break out singing girl scout songs and commercial jingles, or quoting Shakespeare in a British accent?

I found your letters today.

There are so many. Dozens of letters, resting in their envelopes. All hand-written on paper in your familiar handwriting. All filled with little side notes and underlines and funny quips and movie quotes. Remember? We wrote about a little of everything, and a lot of nothing. Politics, school, Bruce Li. My obnoxious college roommates, and your family and Pembroke Welsh Corgi. Our faith, our friends, our life goals, and shallow TV shows.

Remember the letters I sent you? I wonder if you kept any. I know, I know..I went a little overboard by writing in every existing color of ballpoint pen, or using colorful stationary and confetti in every envelope. And I snet you stories, and poems, and shared every detail of my life as an independent 17/18/19-year old. But you went overboard, too. My favorite is the letter with the stick of chewing gum taped to the top (“Before you start reading, have a piece of gum.”). I also loved the doodles, and the corny jokes, and the way you wrote my name in a zillion silly different ways (“Dear Erait…”). When I was a counselor at camp one summer, you sent me a newspaper clipping every week of David Letterman’s Top Ten. Oh, they made me laugh so hard! This one was my favorite:

Top Ten Rejected Titles for the Movie ‘Speed’ – June 21, 1994

10. The Speedstones
9. Jurassic Park 2: The Exploding Busosaurus
8. Honey, I Drove the Kids Really Fast on a Bus
7. Faster, Bob Barker is Chasing Us!
6. Creepy Guy in the Window
5. Debbie Does Greyhound (Times Square Only)
4. El Autobus Muy, Muy Rapido
3. Dave Letterman’s Drive to Work
2. That Whacky Big-Ass Bus
1. Mrs. Busfire
Remember the few times we managed to get together in person? That time at Fisherman’s Wharf, when you gave me that adorable teddy bear, whom I named C.J. after you. And we visited all of the little cheesy touristy places, like the Earthquake Experience? And that time when I showed up, unannounced (how rude!) at your house in the city, along with several of my Girl Scout camp counselor friends, and met your family and (sweet) dog? And when you and my sister dragged me to that Star Trek exhibit. Oh my god! I totally forgot what a Trekkie you were, although you didn’t seem nerdy in the least. You even managed to talk me into trading shows with you — if I watched Star Trek the Next Generation, then you would drop your pride and watch Melrose Place. The hilarious thing is that I ended up (not hating) STTNG, and you became crazy about Melrose Place. (!)

I am sitting in my bed, filled with nostalgia, and smiling at the memories. You were one of my best friends. One of the few people who really got me — who looked beyond my unusual surface and saw a gem. And you were a gem to me, my old friend. You and your Jeet Kune Do and action movies and being an overachiever. I know…life changes. You are a successful lawyer now, just like you said you would become. And your wife is a brilliant doctor, and your daughters are absolute dolls. I could not feel more happy for you, and for how your life turned out. I will keep your letters, and the way you made me feel, forever. You were, without a doubt, one of my Top Ten.

Live Long and Prosper,

That Tiare Girl

Used to Be (aka: Seeking Community When You’re a Nonconformist)

colorful latex balloonsWe used to have parties. It is one of those observations, briefly uttered by one of my kids, marking the contrast between who our family is now compared to who we used to be. Or maybe it is less about our family, and more about who I once was. I used to throw parties. Big, noisy parties full of distant relatives or church group acquaintances. Small, intimate gatherings with close family friends. Colorful and silly children’s parties, messy with icing and confetti and cupcake crumbs.

Used to.

Back when I was a different person, I used to throw parties, which are now distant memories of music and laughter and food successes and failures. I used to receive invitations to parties, too (and not just the everybody-come-and-spend-your-money types, either). And every now and then, in moments of loneliness, or perhaps in a passing celebratory mood, I think, how nice it would be to invite a few people over! How nice it would be to have an excuse to cook some special dishes and mix up drinks and dust off the party games which have not been opened in several years. But then I think, now whom shall I invite? And just like that, my sense of enthusiasm for party planning deflates like a loosely tied balloon. friends party

Whom shall I invite? Who is my group? Planning a party was so much easier back during the days when I was part of a primary group or two. Now, I am no more than a drifter, skirting around communities of people which either change so rapidly that I rarely see the same faces twice, or are so large that I wander around, lost; or are so well-established, that I do not see how I can possibly contribute.

I recently tried to make friendship a tangible goal. Throughout the summer, I made it my personal growth project – like a mission, to try things that I had not tried, in order to change the situation. Make friends. Join the group. Be social in real life. And so, I attended Meetup event after Meetup event. When I met interesting people, I asked for their contact information, so that I could stay in touch. I said “yes” to going out on a few dates. I put away my iPad and forced myself to join the conversation, or even (gasp!) start a conversation with someone I did not know well.

The results of the summer project? Well, I had some enjoyable conversations with people I will probably never see again. I did a few fun things that I can now check off on my personal list of Neat Things I Got to Experience in Life. I learned some new ideas from strangers which continue to change me in small but significant ways. I learned that coming out of my cave is not always scary and disastrous. And I think that I even managed to make a friend (though at times I am still unsure if I have yet earned the right to use that term).

topsy turvy weird bird

But as positive as the results of my summer project may have been, I am still sadly lacking in the social department, with little more than superficial connections. Perhaps I could squeeze my way into some social group the old way – by watering down my personality so that I can conform to the norms of the group. As much as we like to think that our society honors the individual and celebrates diversity, the truth is that nonconformity makes us uncomfortable. It is human nature to form our social groups based on commonalities. Be yourself! We preach. But if “yourself” happens to be too weird to fit into a group, then learn to love yourself, be your own best friend, save yourself, date yourself, treat yourself, enjoy time alone, because obviously, you’re going to have to.

Sometimes I wish that there were some website for people seeking meaningful non-romantic social connections. Something like Linked-In for bestfriend wannabes, where you can post a personality resume. Something like:

Name:

Tiare (aka The Girl From Jupiter)

Roles You Could Potentially Fill in a Social Group:

Comedian

The Melancholy Intellectual

The Clueless Airhead who has no idea what is going on down here in the real world

The sweet, cookie-baking Nice Girl who still feels guilty when she says bad words

*The Storyteller

Things You Are Into:

Writing stories & poetry

Sports (esp. soccer and tennis)

Classic literature, films, music, and other esoteric shit

Silly memes, YA books, vampire shows, and other shallow things that keep life from being too serious

Camping, hiking, geocaching, nature

Cooking and baking

Talking in a British accent, like a valley girl, or in Spanish when the mood strikes me

Handicrafts

Daydreaming about world travel

 

Then, anyone who registers for the site can come along and browse one another’s Desperately-Seeking-Social-Group ads, and say – ahh! Just the right type of weird individual to fit into my ideal social group! And with a few clicks of the mouse, I have created an instant community of people to invite to a real-life party at my house. Friends Wanted Advertisement

Okay fine. Maybe the world couldn’t work that way, exactly. And maybe it would be foolish and dangerous to invite a bunch of carefully-selected strangers into my home for fun. People do lie about who they are, after all. But I suppose I am feeling nostalgic, or wistful, wishing that there were some way to fast-forward to the magical day when life will cease to be about who I used to be and what I used to do and will suddenly be what I wish it could be.

But some goals simply are not tangible.

 

 

 

Why Don’t I Know How to Make Friends? (aka: Adult Friendships)

Shy adult can't make friends(Okay, a brief pause from poetry appreciation to address this confusing and overwhelming topic of friendship).

Why is it so hard to make friends as an adult? Okay, well, maybe it isn’t hard for most adults. Maybe many adults make acquaintances and friends easily, thanks to adept social skills, more outgoing personalities, etc. And certainly for many adults, it is less devastating when friendships end, because it is not so difficult to move on to the next friendship. I wish that I knew how to be that way.

But here I am, 38 years old and feeling once again like the misfit kid on the school playground, reading a book instead of playing tetherball – not because I don’t love to play tetherball, but because no one has invited me. Or because I asked to join the game and was told, no way, not you. So what do you do? You sit on the bench and read a book, and pretend that that is what you really wanted to do all along. You watch the other kids run and laugh and play together, and you study them, trying to absorb their happiness and companionship as your own. You listen to their conversations, trying to figure out the “right” way to talk and the “right” way to be, so that you will be accepted.

Because we all just want to be accepted.

So I decided to ask Google. “Google, how do adults make friends?” Well, Google had all kinds of ideas.

  1. Join a Club

Okay, great idea. After all, in the past, I made friends by being part of college Christian clubs and young married couple church clubs and new mommy clubs. And so I have been attending (almost) monthly Meetups for around a year for people learning Spanish. Unfortunately, the faces often change and many of the people are retired seniors. Recently, I joined a group for single parents. My kids and I attended one event. I had a lot of fun, thanks to my kids. But after the initial introductions, most of the other adults engaged in conversation while I hung back, observing and listening, not sure how to break into the other people’s conversations. (Blame it on extreme shyness. I hate being shy).

  1. Invite a co-worker out for lunch or drinks

This would be so great if I had that kind of job. The truth is, I work in isolation in a cubicle jungle, surrounded by empty cubicles. I get most of my job assignments via email and often go days without saying much more than hello and goodbye to my supervisor. Not conducive to one’s social life.

  1. Plan a party and invite all of your acquaintances

The last time I threw a party was four years ago, during the last World Cup. I invited more than a dozen people. Three came (not counting children). It is very hard to throw a party when you don’t know people well, and very disappointing when no one shows up.

  1. Ask your friends for recommendations

Hahaha! Good one.

  1. Seek out friends of friends

This makes so much sense, as friends of friends may also share your common interests. But practically speaking, this doesn’t work when you don’t already have friends.

  1. Take a class

As a college student, I take many classes. But most of these are online, and the others are mostly filled with teens and young adults.

  1. Join an adult recreational sports league

I have been playing recreational indoor soccer for a few years. I love it, and it is a great stress release. But my teammates and I never get past the acquaintance, small-talk stage. Maybe we just lack that certain vibe, who knows?

 

Some of the advice I’ve read online is simply ridiculous. For example, on the site http://www.adultsocialskills.com/howtomakefriends.htm, written for loners like me, the authors give the advice that other people prefer those whom they perceive to be social. Therefore, it is better to pretend as though you have other friends. It is also better to pretend that you are interested in those things which other people are interested in, to make yourself appear to be more like them. In other words, fake it. Is this really how other people build friendships, based on insincerity? No thanks.

The Help Guide had this suggestion:

Attachment and relationships

How you bonded with a parent or caretaker as an infant will determine how you relate to others as an adult. Those who experienced confusing emotional communications during infancy often grow into adults who have difficulty understanding their own emotions and the feelings of others. This limits your ability to build or maintain successful friendships. Read Attachment & Adult Relationships.

Of course, I followed the link and read all about attachment – a topic which I studied intensely my first time through university as a Child Development major. And yes, I recognize within myself my own insecure attachment issues, which probably continue to make it difficult to form meaningful attachments, or to detach from them once I have bonded with others. It also explains why I feel so mistrustful of other people, and fear a bandonment, and have trouble reading social cues, and blah, blah, blah. But knowing and knowing what to do about it are two separate issues.

So thanks, Google, but I am now back to square one, stuck in a constant loop of loneliness. And so I retreat to my cave, where I will bury my nose in a book, occasionally looking up to observe the rest of the world, and try to absorb the contentment they must feel from being so connected and accepted. And I will tell the world and tell myself (because it is less painful to convince myself), that this is all I really need.

 

how to make friends

 

Forever a Wallflower (aka Social Phobia vs. Shyness)

This week is filled with social obligations. There are kids’ soccer games to attend, Back-to-School night at my kids’ schools, and taking my daughter to a playdate at a friend’s house. Maybe these don’t sound like a big deal to a lot of people, but to me, they are a huge deal. My stomach feels twisted in knots. The very idea that I have to be around groups of people I don’t know makes me feel somewhat nauseous and dizzy. The idea of actually talking to people I don’t know makes my throat close up, until I feel like I can’t breathe. I have developed this awful habit of looking anywhere but directly at people, unconsciously discouraging them from talking to me. It is very hard to get to know anyone this way, believe me! Every now and then, someone will smile and say, “Hi, aren’t you so-and-so’s mom?” I can usually manage a smile and a quiet, “Yes, I’m Tiare. Nice to meet you.” But the conversation rarely ever gets beyond that.

Am I shy? Well, yes, I have nearly always been shy. Since childhood, I was the one sitting on the sidelines with her nose in a book, occasionally observing the world and people around her. When I had friends, I was not at all shy with them. But making friends has never come easily for me. In fact, recently, it has felt nearly impossible, as my shyness seems to have grown into something much larger than simple timidity. Could I be dealing with a social phobia? I wondered. Out of curiosity, I took an online assessment by the Social Anxiety Research Clinic at Columbia University, which assesses and rates anxiety according to the Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale (LSAS-SR). I answered as honestly as I could, then submitted the assessment.

The possible scores were:                  0-30 SAD unlikely

                                                                30-60 SAD probable

                                                                60-90 SAD very probable

                                                                Score 90 or higher SAD extremely probable

My score? 102. Interesting. So now I am not only shy, but frightened to death of people.

The other day, I discovered a fabulous new iPhone app, called SAM.  ,developed by the University of the West of England to help people to manage their anxiety. Here is what it looks like:

iPhone Screenshot 1iPhone Screenshot 2iPhone Screenshot 4

I have been using it lately to help me to manage and track my anxiety. It has been a surprisingly helpful tool – like an imaginary friend or therapist in my pocket, reminding me to breathe through my panic attacks, and slowing down the world for a moment while I regain perspective.

Now I know, SAM is only a tool, and not a true treatment for anxiety. Talking to a real therapist or friend would probably help, too. But there lies the paradox – finding either would mean talking to people. Ugh.

The Clocks (A Poem of Auld Lang Syne)

NewYearsEveI miss the old clocks

which used to tick, tick, tick

away the moments

then send them away on waves

of forgetting.

I do not want these memories

of warm, golden rooms

filled with children playing and feasts

of laughter,

the clink of bubbling glasses and

midnight cheers

into the new morning.

Now the calendar is done, only

empty pages

thrown away without a send-off

and a clock that only stares back, unblinking

as my heavy heart recalls

our auld lang syne