Deodorant; or, Having Friends

Moderately embarrassing story time. When I was in middle school, my personal hygiene habits were pretty medium which, as anyone who has ever encountered a middle schooler will tell you, is not uncommon. One major element of this was that I was slow to develop the routine of wearing deodorant. It was a new part of the morning routine that had not been heretofore necessary and yet now, especially with PE every other day, it became essential. Mostly, I forgot. Sometimes, I was just a gross, lazy adolescent.

Anyway, it did not go unnoticed, as you might imagine. At some point during the year, I was called to the counselor’s office (which in itself was kind of frightening) to talk with the moderately-creepy (at least I thought at the time, who knows if he really was or not) counselor in charge of my grade or letter of last name or whatever. And, in short, he was like, you’ve got to wear deodorant people are noticing.

I think that I’m a pretty easily embarrassed person to begin with so this was absolutely mortifying. No matter how non-creepy or generously done, it was going to be heinous for my delicate sixth grade sensibilities. Needless to say, however, its effects were immediate and, I hope, comprehensive. To this day, I live with fairly constant worry about my smell even though I know my habits are much better these days and I haven’t gotten any further complaints.

But anyway. Now that you know more about that than you ever, ever wanted to. The idea that I’m trying to convey is that I am plagued by doubt. About many things, most more consequential than my odor, but that is one of them. But, for smell as well as for many other things, my doubts are unfounded. I know that there’s no real basis for this pervasive fear but it’s taken hold of me somewhere pretty deep. And simply being conscious of that isn’t really enough to overcome it.

Something that I’ve been trying to work on lately, with more or less success (mostly less, let’s be real), is thinking thoughts that are based on direct evidence. I don’t feel that I’m all that good at reading social signals and that leaves me, as above, plagued with doubts and fears about what people think about me and how they feel and whatnot. But because I don’t pick up on a lot of the signals, those doubts and fears aren’t really based on anything in particular, they’re just kind of a default due to the absence of real information.

And it’s a pretty trash default to assume that people don’t like me or that I’ve always done something wrong. So I’m working on it. Working on being direct with people so that I can have some direct information to go off of. Working on believing people when, having been direct to them, they confirm that they do actually enjoy spending time with me and do actually want to be my friend. It feels very childish to me and I’m often rather embarrassed but I think it’s a much better route than my default negative assumptions.

Here’s the real thing, going back to my little anecdote. I do wear deodorant now. Sometimes, after exertion or in inclement circumstances, I know that I do smell bad, but generally I do not. And so, knowing that I am generally kind to people (or at least trying to be, most of the time), I should be able to rest a little easier knowing that the scent of my friendship (okay yeah, this is a trash metaphor but here we are) isn’t all that offensive to my friends.

To cap this all off, I have to recognize that I do actually have friends. And this, relating to our metaphorical deodorant, has two implications. First, that I don’t generally smell bad. People do like me and I’m not constantly the least-wanted person in any group. Second, when the occasions come when I don’t smell great (which are inevitable), my friends will tell me and they’ll be nice about it and it’ll be a whole lot less mortifying than possibly-creepy counselor man.

So yes, this post is maybe a weird way to start off the year but whatever. Here are my takeaways for you: you are good, believe that people like you, accept correction when it comes, and just worry less. We are, I think, better off than we often give ourselves credit for. And, in the immortal words of Clarence the Angel, no man is a failure who has friends. So thanks, friends, for tolerating my deodorant.

The Road Before Us

You know I’m always here for singing a chorus or two but today, the road that lies ahead involves something a little different.

I’ve written before about how The Road Not Taken is NOT called The Road Less Traveled. Because they were really worn about the same. But even so, it is about which road you choose to take. Sometimes, however, there are roads that simply aren’t open to you. There is no choice, less traveled or otherwise.

And so all that is left to do is to take the road before you. There is no fork, there is no turn, there is only the road that is already under your feet. Thank God that we have a chorus or two this Christmas season, at least, to help us along the way.


A phrase that I heard this week: “You cannot burn yourself to keep others warm.” I don’t know to what extent that may or may not be currently applicable to me– as either the burner or the recipient of warmth–but it was very arresting when I heard it. Finding that balance between extending yourself toward others and keeping yourself whole.

Interpersonal relations are hard. Also, being a personal is hard.

Even so, I’m glad that I do have people around me. I’m not always cognizant of what a blessing that really is. People who care about me. And cats, of course (pictures forthcoming, sorry).


You may know that I am an avid re-consumer of entertainment media. I do not know why it took me so long to rewatch Wonder Woman, having first seen it in theaters when it came out. And boy am I glad that I rewatched this week. What a excellent film and what a poignant tale in this regard: evil will never be defeated because it lives within each of us but every day and every moment, we have the opportunity to choose good.

And, of course, I truly do believe that only love can save the world.


A disjointed post for a kind of bleh week. Big disappointment followed by a flurry of effort followed by zero effort. On the plus side, considering some of the things I want to bake in the next few weeks so I’m very excited about that. Hopefully, there will be a large number of delicious home-made treats in my life very soon.

In particular, I’m hoping that my cheesecake will turn out better than my last few attempts. They’ve been nice but not quite mixed and a little underbaked.


The British parliamentary election is today and I’m very interested to see the outcome. Probably won’t be anything I love but what can you do. Also, apparently this is the first British election in December since the 1920s (and I’m just realizing that now you have to say 1920s instead of 20s because we’re going to be in the 20s again very soon).

It’s been so interesting and unfortunate to watch this whole Brexit drama unfold the past few years. I’m still kind of hoping against hope that it won’t happen but not hoping too much at this point. I will obviously have to look at real-time results because elections are I guess like sports games for me except with actual stakes that impact people’s lives very directly. Anyway.


As an update on the previous previous, made cranberry orange shortbread yesterday, it was delicious. I also painted my nails, which I haven’t done in ages. Tried to do something festive and it didn’t quite work but at least they’re red and green!

There are worse ways to take a road before you than pretty nails and tasty treats. And as for the chorus or two, I’ve got that in hand as well. Will be going to a choir concert on Saturday for the choir I was in for many years–half my life, in fact, by the time I graduated high school. There will be audience carols and, as an alumnus, I will get to sing a couple songs up front as well. Very much looking forward to it.

Plus, though it’s just been rainy here, there’s been lots of snow in the mountains the past couple days, it’s lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you!

Can We Be Friends

So Ellen DeGeneres is great, no two ways about it. An icon. So cool. And you know that I’m 10/10 here for her saying ‘be kind’ all the time, that’s definitely my speed. But, if you were paying attention to a brief social media heyday around her this week, she said more than just ‘be kind.’ She said:

I’m friends with George Bush. In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have. We’re all different. And I think that we’ve forgotten that that’s OK that we’re all different….When I say, ‘Be kind to one another’, I don’t mean only the people who think the same way that you do. I mean be kind to everyone. Doesn’t matter.

In my reading of this, there are three distinct arguments being made. And I would like to talk about all of the arguments for a sec because I think they’re interesting and also because I think it’s important to recognize that they are distinct. I’ll work in reverse order, though, because what I want to say will get increasingly complicated, I think.

First (or last, as it were), be kind to everyone. Simple as that. Yes. Concur. Couldn’t have said it better myself. Be kind to everyone. Not just the people who think like me. This, to me, is a key thrust of what Jesus was about. Love your enemies and all that. Important note: being kind does not preclude justice, righteous anger, or healing wounds. It just means that we should be kind.

The second claim I identify is kind of a two-part argument: we’re all different and it’s okay that we’re different. I also agree with this one. I revel in diversity of many kinds. While I do think there are important commonalities (it’s essential to recognize everyone’s humanity, at the very least), people are so different. I also think there are some views that everyone should have (we need to do something about climate change, for example), I do also generally celebrate diversity of thought.

I go back and forth on whether or not I personally feel that differences or commonalities should be the focus, and I think it’s largely situational. Sometimes, people just need to get over people being different because we are. Other times, people need to realize that we also share a great deal and we’re not so different in many ways. From a conflict point of view, it’s really dependent on the attributes of the conflict and how best it can be deescalated.

The third argument is that we can (and perhaps a should is implied) be friends with people who have different beliefs. Closely related to the previous point. I definitely agree with this one but here is where a whole boatload of nuance becomes extra necessary. This is because there are different kinds of disagreements. We can be friends if we disagree on the best kind of pie. We can be friends if we disagree on the best way to provide people with healthcare.

We may even be friends if we disagree on whether or not I should be allowed to marry as long as you are (surprise) kind about it, though there will of course be a limit to our friendship.

But there are disagreements that would end or preclude friendship. If our disagreement is rooted in a denial of humanity or denial of reality, then it’s not a relationship worth pursuing–or subjecting myself to–in my book. We could be civil, have reasonable discussions, but I will not want to spend time with you. I will not be your friend.

Another important caveat of sorts is to recognize redemption. I do believe that people can change. It may be hard to determine but at least I think it’s possible. Important factors to consider are words of apology (properly, sincerely done) and actions to remedy the damage done or, if that’s not possible, to prevent further/future harm. If those things haven’t happened, then it’s going to be a no from me. And even if they have, it still might be a no.

So. George Bush. I wouldn’t be friends with him (if ever the occasion arose where that was a possibility). Not just because we disagree– though to be clear, we really do–but because those disagreements have been borne out in actions that literally killed tens upon tens of thousands based on a deliberately concocted lie. To name a single issue. Yes, he is my neighbor and therefore I should care for him. But that doesn’t mean that we’re friends.

We should be kind to everyone. Love everyone. We can be friends if we disagree. But I have some standards for friendship. Some beliefs and behaviors that I will not tolerate from my friends. If you break those standards, chances are I won’t be friends with you any longer.

Imagine that a friend violates my (and society’s) standards in some particularly egregious way, murder or something. I would think that they should go to prison. But I do not think they should be executed. I think the conditions in the prison should be reasonable and fair. Their human dignity is not diminished by their actions. Undervaluing the humanity of others still does not undermine your human value. I think they should be punished and I don’t want to be around them but there are limits to what I think is an acceptable punishment. We can debate where exactly that line is but life and reasonable conditions for life are pretty foremost in my mind.

This is obviously a super complicated and rapid-heartbeat-inducing topic. Or at least thinking and talking about it makes my heart feel a little yikes; passions are aroused around this topic. But there are some of my thoughts, as word-vomit as they may be. Writing is hard, I’m just trying here.

Yes, praise Ellen for trying to build bridges in a society that loves living on islands. But also recognize that not all differences should be treated the same. Everyone is your neighbor but not everyone must be your friend.

Why You Should Be More Like a Bag of Tortilla Chips

I was reading an article the other day (I’m not linking it because I honestly don’t care that much) about how, apparently, there’s been a recent uptick in lawsuits regarding underfilled snack packaging. You know, like a bag of chips with four total chips in it. We’ve all been there. I guess it’s a whole genre of legal action, though I forget the name.

Then, just yesterday, I saw a bag of tortilla chips–Safeway brand I believe, if you’re curious–that was entirely opaque. You know, just a normal chip bag. Then I realized, most tortilla chips come in a bag with a little window. You can see the chips. You know how full the bag is before you buy.

And, this will tell you where I am in life right now, that Safeway bag of chips is now the topic of this post. Are you ready. Here it comes.

People are upset in those legal cases because they are surprised by what something has (or does not have, rather) inside. It’s shocking to purchase a snack product–movie theater candy was another popular choice because their boxes are bigger than grocery store boxes apparently–and end up with way less snack than the packaging would suggest.

I won’t get into how this is, at it’s core, why either capitalism is a failed system (businesses built on what is, at best, misleading and at worst, lies, are not enabling rational choice, the beloved principle of economists) or we are not living in a true capitalist society. It would be so easy for all chip bags to be translucent. Instead, surprise of the century, I’m going to make things personal and philosophical.

Here’s the thing: little cellophane windows in tortilla chips are what I feel people need more of in their lives. Openness, that is. Showing the insides. Not just so people know what to expect, and decide whether to know us or not, but so that we can simply be a little bit more known.

I know this summer, relational and social have been very difficult for me. Social is pretty much always difficult for me but that’s beside the point. It’s hard to be transient in the way that I have been for the past few years because getting to see inside other people’s bag of chips is a real challenge when you haven’t know them that long. The same holds true of online communities as well, where I have made some inroads toward relational but have again been stymied partly because it just hasn’t been that long. There hasn’t been that much contact.

And thus, the emotional response to the entirely not-see-through-able bag of tortilla chips. There are good reasons for having bags of chips with lots of air, or milk duds that only fill up the box part way. Things are delicate, sealing adhesives may melt the product or overfilling may fuse parts you want to be individual &ct &ct &ct. The question isn’t really “should there be any empty space” it’s more along the lines of “what amount of space is okay with me.”

The little tortilla chip window does not claim that there is not space. It simply shows you what’s inside and lets you make the judgement. And, it hopes, the window will be enticing enough for you to choose that bag specially.


As an aside, I have finally gotten to see these precious ones again. Bubba remains impossible to photograph reasonably, but Camaro is regal as ever.


Later that evening–after the whole chip bag revelation– I finally sat down to watch The Imitation Game which is a wonderful movie. I really enjoyed it and would recommend but it was, of course, very sad. The kind of tragedy that unfolds on several different levels morally, ethically, emotionally, and personally. Oddly enough, it resonated with my above musings as though the whole thing had been planned.

It is difficult to know people. Another mind is, and always will be, an enigma. We can only be ourselves and, far too often, being ourselves is a hard ask for people whose selves are different from the norm. Sometimes, letting people see inside your chip bag isn’t just difficult, it’s dangerous.

Yet we look all the same. We look for people who will let us in, show us their insides, and hope against hope that we will not find them underfilled. Slowly, and if all goes well, we find people who think the same of us. And call them friends.

Showing insides is hard, and I am so very bad at it. It bears costs but I do believe the risks are worth the rewards. So I hope that we can all take a deep breath and let some of our chip bag become translucent. It’s vulnerable, showing all that empty space, but how else are we meant to find the people who like us just the way we are?

Shel Silverstein, philosopher for the ages, wrote,

“She had blue skin,
And so did he.
He kept it hid
And so did she.
They searched for blue
Their whole life through.
Then passed right by–
And never knew.”

Conscription

This summer has been pretty cool. I’m grateful to have the means and opportunity to have this big trip. Mostly, I’m doing well. But a little bit, I’m not.

I read a short reflection about loneliness a while ago. The writer spoke of how we find ourselves in lonely places in several ways. Rarely a choice, it might have been a conspiracy of circumstance or Divine Providence. Most of the time, he said, we experience solitude by conscription.

To be sure, there are voluntary alonenesses. As an avowed introvert, I am well acquainted with many of them. But these that he was talking about are of a different sort. Being a conscript in the legions of the solitary does not restore, as being alone so often restores me.

I have spoken of this before on this blog, and many indicated that they had felt something similar. Some kind of mash mixing loneliness, homesickness, fear of missing out, fear that we are better friends with others than they are with us–just general ennui. Sometimes, I feel very needy for companionship. In the words of Emily Dickinson, “My friends are my ‘estate.’ Forgive me then the avarice to hoard them.”

Throughout my travels this summer, I have been so deeply blessed to have People to See along the way. Just yesterday morning, I left my sister’s after an extended stay which they were gracious to host me for. And before that, new friends in St Louis, old friends in DC, a friend in Pittsburgh and friends in Michigan… Lots of friends.

But at the same time, seeing them all has been so temporary. My life currently is so transient, so liminal, so ephemeral (though I’m not sure such a fairy-magical word feels all that appropriate). It’s a little frustrating not to be living around friends that I keep up with in person on a regular basis. I like my friends. I would like to see them.

Instead, I remain unmoored and adrift, awaiting the time when I can exit this enforced loneliness. A time when I can once again Be in a Place and Do Things with People. Or, at least, begin making inroads toward doing so, since we all know that I am not a fast friends-maker or overly-aggressive doer. One must remain hopeful.

I have become more aware of my neediness in this area. Neediness not necessarily in a bad way, though I guess that’s not really for me to say. I struggle with the idea of burden–surely my friends will not be burdened if I bother them a little but I am equally sure that at some point it just becomes annoying. I just don’t know what that point is, and I would be loathe to conscript another into something that they didn’t sign up for. That’s kind of my whole issue to begin with.

On that note though, quick plug, if you are my friend, please always feel free to send me a message or arrange a little video chat. Literally always. I’m all about that communication life. (See? V Needy)

Part of the problem, of course, is that I am unemployed and have just a lot of time on my hands. There’s only so many job applications, so much Netflix, exercise, gaming, or reading that I can do at a time. So I have plenty of time to sit and stare at walls, which I literally do, trying to stop myself from messaging all my friends a million times because, you know, they’re actually doing stuff and it’ll take a sec for them to get back to me. Not an awesome way to spend my time, I’m working on it. But here we are.

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An Arizona sunset

Someone inadvertently reminded me of one of my favorite life sayings recently. They said “Belong where you are,” and I immediately thought “Bloom where you’re planted.”

Here’s the thing about flowers: sometimes, they’re grown in greenhouses. Naturally, they belong in the ground somewhere. But they are perfectly capable of being stored indoors for the winter or when they’re young or whatever the case may be.

So I guess that’s what I’m going for at this juncture. I may not be in the ground I wish to be in or even in any ground at all, really. But I can–and may we all–bloom anyway.

 

Really About the Same

If you are not familiar with the artist Mary Engelbreit, I highly recommend her work, it’s playful and thoughtful and beautiful. She often accompanies her pictures with quotations or aphorisms that add greatly to the scene she depicts. One of my favorite of her works shows a traveler having just passed a fork in the road, walking down one of the paths. The sign at the fork points that direction and says YOUR LIFE and the other direction is labeled NO LONGER AN OPTION. The banner above the picture reads DON’T LOOK BACK.

This week had a lovely start at the Maritime Parade, a seasonal fixture of Gig Harbor. It’s officially summer, basically. Though we feared rain or at least overcast, the weather turned out to be warm and sunny, which was fabulous. It wasn’t much as parades go but it was fun and my brother was marching with the high school band so that was nice.

In the intervening days, I had several opportunities for catching up arise all at once. I felt very grateful to have time with old friends, catching up and passing the time. Waffles were made, games were played, and years worth of lives were recounted. Sometimes the routes we’ve taken surprise even ourselves. On that note.

One of my biggest poetry pet peeves (because that’s definitely a category of pet peeves that I have) is Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken. Robert Frost is in my top three poets of all time (with Edna St. Vincent Millay and Emily Dickenson) but come on. I cannot pretend to know exactly what he was thinking when he wrote it, but there is substantial evidence in the poem to support my titular thesis about that particular work: he did not, in fact, take the road less traveled because “the passing there / Had worn them really about the same.”

This, I think, is the crux of the narrator’s point: it does not matter whether you actually took the path that fewer took, it matters mostly that you chose a path. The title, you’ll note, is not The Road Less Traveled (as some erroneously believe), it is The Road Not Taken. The important point is that there will always be a road (correction: many roads) that we do not take. However we may justify the choices that we make for ourselves, good or poor, the important thing is that we chose. One cannot go back.

I could have gone to Columbia to study Russia instead of Trinity to study… whatever it was that I studied there. I could have stayed at home until I found something a little more suitable than a job in Korea which, to be honest, I did not really want. I could have come out a long time ago and probably saved myself a lot of trouble. I could have pursued any number of opportunities and avenues and possibilities and skills. But I did not and here I am.

A friend recently told me in a moment of incredibly clear and concise insight that my life has basically been a series of random choices with little coherent meaning. Except he said it in a kind way.

“I think your problem is that even though you have done a ton of incredible things it has usually not really been part of a plan beyond going abroad which means even when you do talk about it you feel insecure because when you have to explain why you do anything even to yourself you know the only real answer is that it is because you had to do something.”

A fairly accurate assessment of most of the choices I’ve made as an adult. It’s not even a bad thing, I don’t feel like I’ve made a series of mistakes (most of the time). I have directed the course of my life with very little thought to a grand plan which I sort of thought was going to be a plan when I was in high school. But at the same time, it’s not like I’m thirty and have been working as a bartender with broken dreams for the past ten years. I have actually done stuff with my life, plan notwithstanding.

My life would be very different if I had made different choices at some key intersections. I feel, though, that the roads would end up being really about the same. Experiences and things would be different but my general, overall existence would be approximately comparable. Having given life a go in a number of varying contexts, I think I really could have made most of those decisions work. I think I would be okay.

If happiness and life were simple, I should probably be seriously getting down to work being a Croatian orchardist. But they are not. So I’ll continue to make decisions that are just this side of random and have faith that mistakes are mistakes but mistaken choices are less mistakes and more just different paths that, in the end, are probably not that different.

All of this is to say: I have received and accepted a job offer. It is, needless to say, not quite what I had in mind. This post has dragged on long enough or I would provide some more details.

As it is, suffice to say that it is in Michigan. So there’s that.

Side by Side

This week has been pretty run-of-the-mill in terms of intensives, it doesn’t give a lot of room for variation. As I noted last week, I did get off at 4 on Wednesday and I absolutely loved getting home before sunset and just doing nothing at home (as per usual). That evening also featured disk one of The Return of the King so the week couldn’t have been all that bad.

As a follow-up to my description of last week’s weather, here’s a glimpse of the ‘urban nature park’ on my way to the grocery store last Saturday. The waterfall has been frozen for a while, but it snowed that morning and it looked incredible. The stream was partially frozen as well.

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In addition to watching The Lord of the Rings over the past few weeks with friends (“…side by side with a friend…”), I’ve watched all the Harry Potter movies again. Four movies two weekends ago and the other four this past weekend. I just quickly wanted to say a moment–the only moment–that made me tear up for a sec.

Unpopular opinions: I don’t care that much for Dobby or Hedwig or George, not really bothered by the deaths of Remus or Tonks or Dumbledore, don’t think Snape is a good person and am not moved by his story. Harry Potter is of course fabulous and I love it, so don’t take those as criticisms. However, there was one part that got me, if just for a moment, this time around.

At the end of the end, when Harry is about to go to Voldemort in the forest, he just sort of vaguely hints that he’s a horcrux (spoiler) and only Hermione understands. Then she says, “I’ll go with you.” And that is one of the most beautiful of the many statements that the series makes about death. A friend who will fight beside you, even to death.

So there’s that.

Anyway, here’s our choral music selection. Latin music holds a very special place in both historical and contemporary Western choral musical traditions so I thought it an appropriate category. Some of these songs are quite old, some medium old, and some are much more recent but all of them come from a musical and theological tradition spanning thousands of years. It’s kind of a big deal.

I’ve given the English for the titles but if you’re really curious it just takes a quick Google or Wikipedia search to get the full text translated.

Latin Sacred Texts

  1. O Mangum Mysterium – Francis Poulenc (O Great Mystery)
  2. Ave Maria – Javier Busto (Hail Mary)
  3. Ubi Caritas et Amor – Ivo Antognini (Where Charity and Love)
  4. Absalon, Fili Mi – Josquin des Prez (Absalom, My Son)
  5. Angus Dei from Mass in C minor op. 147 – Robert Schumann (Lamb of God)
  6. Si Iniquitates Observaveris – Samuel Wesley (If You Mark Our Iniquities)
  7. Magnificat – László Halmos ([My Soul] Magnifies [the Lord])
  8. O Sacrum Convivium – Olivier Messiaen (O Sacred Banquet)
  9. Adoramus Te, Christe – Claudio Monteverdi (We Adore You, Christ)
  10. Amen – Henryk Górecki (not really Latin but I’m over it)