An Open Letter to my “Not-Yet” Friend

Dear Friend,

Can I call you that? I’m not sure. We’re not really friends yet. Maybe we haven’t even met. Or maybe we have. Maybe we sat at the same table at a young professional networking event and struck up a stilted conversation for 10 or so minutes before the speaker began the program.

Maybe we learned that we both grew up in suburbs – you on the northern fringe of Chicago while I was straight west. Maybe we learned where we work now and what we studied in school. Then that awkward pause came, the one that inevitably follows reaching the end of the list of appropriate small talk questions. Then the speaker started.

After he finished, one of your friends from church came up on your left-hand side and you dove deep into conversation about the difficulties your brother is facing in school right now. I remained, standing to your right, outside of this intimate conversation, unsure how to enter in, unsure if I should stay nearby hoping to continue our conversation from before. Hoping to get a chance to become friends.

After a few minutes I snuck away, not even sure if I should interrupt to say goodbye and nice to meet you and let’s talk again some time, I think we could be good friends. (Who says that? Too bold. Yet, I often want to.) With that you became another person I want to be friends with. But we’re not. Not yet.

Like so many others.

To everyone who falls in this category, there are a few things I want you to know. Before you meet me. Or if you have but haven’t decided what to make of me yet.

First, I really, really, really want to be your friend. Really. I can’t hammer this home enough. Despite the following pieces of information, keep coming back to this idea because it is the most important. I get along with almost everyone. I love hearing the stories of all sorts of people, from all walks of life. I want to know more about your experiences, the way you look at and live your life. I want to tell you about mine. I think we could be friends,  even if we are very different. Maybe especially because we are very different. Please don’t put me in a faith box or artist box or actor box or doesn’t-wear-cool-enough-clothes box and assume the differences can’t be bridged by friendship. They can, and I really want them to. We can help each other grow.

Second, I don’t think very well of myself. I’ve been on the outside of enough cliques, tried to be open with new people only to be forgotten very soon afterwards, ignored or interrupted as I offer a new thought to a conversation, played games at parties where everyone is given the chance to participate but me, and just generally had a hard enough time making new friends that I’ve lost a lot of confidence to do it. This is not a pity party. I realize this may be a common experience and I am not uniquely targeted for this sort of treatment. It has, however, helped me to lose a lot of confidence in the “making new friends in social situations” department. Hesitancy on my part is not a lack of interest in becoming friends with you. It’s a fear of receiving that sort of treatment all over again.

I realize this is my problem and not yours. Know right now that I am sorry if I put more weight on you than I take on myself to become friends. I don’t want to. It’s a default setting I’m working really hard to reset.

I can’t leave it up to you to bear the weight of making a friendship out of a brief encounter. I can’t sit back and wait for people to become friends with me. I’ve got to reach out. So I try the best that I can, but there are times it just feels impossible. Times where the circumstances feel too like previous occasions. Where I don’t feel cool enough, dressed well enough, have the right crafty or artistic bent to be accepted into the company, know the right thing to say when the discussion turns to politics, etc. Which reminds me of something else.

I can be very bad at beginning conversations. I’m not terrible at small talk. I have enough questions in my arsenal to learn some general things about your background that I can get us started. I like asking questions to learn something about your past experiences. And I really like answering those questions as well.

Yet there will come a point in the conversation where, in order for it to continue, there is a need to ask more personal questions. This is where I stall out as assuredly as driving stick shift for the first time ever in rush hour traffic on the Eisenhower expressway.

After learning what you do for a living, I do really want to know what you like about it, and what you don’t. After hearing that you moved here from Kansas City four years ago, I want to know which place you liked living better, or if you miss your home and family. After telling me that your apartment is in Lincoln Square, I want to know what your favorite restaurant is in your neighborhood.

I am always afraid, however, that these questions will be too personal. I don’t want to ask something that makes you uncomfortable, as we just start to get to know each other. So rather than risk that, I tend to lapse into an equally uncomfortable silence. I’m sorry. I just don’t know how to make the leap from small talk to real conversation. But I desperately want to.

Another thing: I think my thinking face can look like a judging face. This is something I learned recently. In high school, I belonged to a large youth choir and had one or two friends in a group that was otherwise very tightly knit. Years later someone made a comment about me coming from a “rich suburb,” and I realized, maybe they thought I was a snob? Someone in college once mentioned I was unapproachable. Ok, I asked myself, what is the cause of this? In my head and heart, I feel very soft and open to new people. It must be something about my exterior.

Here’s my best guess. I know it takes me a good minute to process information. Sometimes another good minute before I have a response. Perhaps, my face can be harsh as I do both things. This is not an expression of my thoughts however. Usually, it’s because I’m trying to visualize the details of the story you are telling me, or understand a new thought in light of my current worldview. It takes me a bit to process.

Finally, I want you to know that I am somewhere in the middle of being an introvert and being an extrovert. What does this mean as we try to become friends? If I’m in a large social setting, I will be really happy to be there. For about two hours. While I really like being around people, I only have so much energy for large group settings. It also means that I can usually go out a few nights a week, but I also need to stay home a few nights a week. When I decide to go to the networking event on Tuesday night, I give myself permission to skip the church group on Wednesday night. As soon as I feel like I need to go to all the events that I’m invited to, I stop going to anything. I pick and choose so that the ones I go to, I have the energy to really put myself out there and talk to people. To you. It’s a good system. If I don’t show up at the next big group event, please don’t count me out! I’ll be back next time!

Well, that’s all I can think of. Remember what I said at the beginning: I really do want to be your friend. I want to go get coffee in Wicker Park and talk about our ideas about creating art. I want to browse a used bookstore and hear your thoughts about Hemingway. I want to join you for brunch after Church on Sunday and talk about our faith journey. I want to get drinks with you at your favorite bar and laugh and laugh and laugh. How does that sound?

Love, your friend,

Victoria

An Advent Heart

I like being called to holiness, and not just reminded of my sins. (Don’t we all?) I was thinking of this lately as I considered the different impact Advent has on my heart and spiritual than that of Lent. They are both penitential seasons, after all; yet they impact me differently, and I started to wonder why.

Lent is heavy. Penance. I am a sinner and Christ died for those sins. I place my hope in his mercy and forgiveness. That sort of thing.

Not to sound casual, just trying to summarize. After all, it’s a beautiful season, and I am always eager for it when we get to that moment of the liturgical season. But it is heavy. I am called to contemplate my sins as I reprove my body with penance and fasting, helping my soul lean in to repentance and transformation by engaging my body in the action. It’s easy to feel the futility of that task, though, until I get to Easter and remember the story that makes the whole endeavor possible. Christ’s unending grace.

Advent, on the other hand, is like “penitential season lite” and it feels so good and right to me, weak and lazy soul that I am. I am reminded that we are a captive people, but that we have an Emmanuel come to save us, to call on, to ask him to come quickly and dispel the night. It’s so tangible, in a meteorological season that is so dark and cold, but brightened by lights on trees and hot, warm, sweet smelling drinks. I’m engaging my body in the action of my faith here, too, but differently, more happily.

I am also called to repentance, but also more than that. The acts of charity that should always accompany penance are, again, more tangible to me, as even secular society encourages me to move outside of myself and practice generosity as I seek and spend hard earned money on gifts for others. I am called to make my love an action.

Most of all, I love the duel nature of Advent. I love that it is simultaneously preparing us for Christ’s two comings. That as we prepare to celebrate his birth, a moment in time that transfixes history with it’s improbably splendor, we also gaze ahead to his second coming, trying to prepare for that as if it is just as imminent as Christmas itself.

Because, after all, it could be.

This is why I think I have an advent heart. The act of preparing for this double advent is the best way for me to understand myself in the narrative of salvation. My life is a moment in history, yet my faith tells me, with meaning that extends far beyond that moment. I am trying to live by the Gospel because of Jesus’s birth into my life and because the choices I make have eternal weight, all the details of which will be made known to me when he comes that second time around.

And despite the fact that that, too, is rather heavy, still my prayer is this:

Love and prayers, friends.

Things I Would Do If I Had More Time

  1. Write blog posts.
  2. Just write. And luxuriate in it.
  3. Paint my nails. (And watch Gilmore Girls.)
  4. Embroider. (And watch Gilmore Girls.)
  5. DIY Home Projects:
    1. Kitchen utensil storage
    2. Paint my vanity
    3. Hang things in my room
    4. Cart for the kitchen?
    5. Bookshelf for my room?
  6. Cook lovely meals and bake things.
  7. Read good books. Sit & drink tea & read good books.
  8. Write letters to people I love.
  9. Pray more.
  10. Memorize Shakespeare (just for fun).
  11. Figure out how investing works.

So What About an Elephant?

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My lunchtime spot for musing, photo from earlier this fall

When I sat down in Arena Theater, in the black box where I had acted and built sets and stage managed for my four years at Wheaton College, I looked up at the man that had brought me there. He looked at me too. He didn’t smile. Well, at least not in the broad, welcoming sort of way. There was a hint of it at the corner of his cheek. Although, that may have been imagined. His eyes were smiling and open-hearted.

He didn’t greet me in any way. But we did share that look for longer than most folks would feel comfortable with.

To be honest, I was a little uncomfortable. I did feel the need to make him feel more at home; it was, after all, his first time in this place that was a second home to me. Yet, I was left without a way to do that, besides smile, which I did. And then I just continued to hold his gaze for a minute or so longer.

It was new, and uncomfortable, but not foreign. Arena Theater had been for me, and continues to be for others, a place of open-hearted gazing. Relationships were built on this idea that we looked at each other with intention, even wonder. What is going on with you today? I see you. I notice you. Notice your tears or smiles or giggles or inability to sit still for more than moment.

It was actors’ work. We were actors, after all. We tried to look around with a sense of curiosity. To notice things with intention, with interest. Not assuming the person or situation was the same as the last time we had looked at it.

He told us about the “gaze of the elephant.” I don’t remember whose story it was, perhaps he didn’t say, but someone had told him to look out at the world in the way an elephant does.

Look at everything as if for the first time. Look at everything as if for the last time.

He told us that, doing this, it’s a very heavy thing.

And it is. When you see something for the first time, or for the last time, there are all sorts of feelings and reactions mixed up together, inseparable, and serious.

A list

First time:

Excitement
Wonder
Judgement
Potential
Affection
Casual
Light
Holding too loosely

Last time:

Sorrow
Knowing
Appreciation
Deep love
Concentrated
Heavy
Holding too tightly

(Sure there is more. But short lists are nice and tangible.)

I think I might already try to look at the world this way. I like walking around with my head up, consciously or unconsciously searching for something that may make me smile or think or just see the world with a slightly new frame for a moment. I stare up at the tall buildings of Chicago like a tourist as I commute to work in the morning. (Native Chicagoans do not do this.) I will stop and watch a very ordinary squirrel run up a very ordinary tree after crossing my path on the sidewalk. On a recent flight to Minnesota, I made a list of “Things I Can See from My Window” (future blog post alert).

That is the part of me that is an artist. A writer. A theater maker. A want-to-be-but-very-not musician.

I’m trying to cultivate that. More on why I need to be an artist, or a maker of things (because that title carries less weight in a way that makes the work of it seem more possible) soon. What I do hope is that I can learn to gaze like an elephant at the world around me so that I have more paint on my pallet when I try to create a thing. Any thing.

When Michael Howard looked at me that way, without greeting or approval or judgement, I connected with him more deeply than I did with most of the rest of the room, almost all of whom I knew and many of whom I would call friends. He was looking at me for the first time, and I him.

It is my hope that this blog will be a grounding place for my work as a writer and theater artist. I want, every time that I open this place to write, to remember that moment, that encounter, that gaze of the elephant.

Yes’s and No’s

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Things this blog is:

    1. A place to work things out.
    2. A place to remember little moments. Big moments too.
    3. A place to share the things I find delight in.
    4. A tiny corner of my inner life (pretentious, I know).
    5. My rehearsals as a writer.
    6. An intersection of everyday life and theology and being a woman and food. There will definitely be thoughts about food.
    7. Honest. (If not, call me out on it.)
    8. Imperfect (ideas, format, grammar and more!).
    9. A conversation.

Things this blog is not:

  1. A finished product.
  2. A polished writing sample.
  3. Neat and tidy.
  4. Political (Lord save us).
  5. Any type of authority. Especially in the theology department.

 

But come, and read. It’s not that bad.