Losing Friends

Cancer sucks. It has little regard for the feelings of its victims or the people whose friends depart this life due to its pernicious effects. Yesterday I lost my friend Debbie, who was as good a person and as good a friend as anyone I’ve ever met on this earth.

Debbie and I got acquainted thanks to my request for someone to handle public relations for a space conference I was running ten years ago. She wasn’t a full-time PR pro, but she was an organized and enthusiastic space supporter. She also had a hilarious sense of humor and an extrovert’s joyful willingness to get introverts to talk. Debbie designated herself “Media Queen” and several of the ladies on the team soon picked up on their own “royal” titles, forming a “Tiara Coalition,” each sovereign of her own domain (track chair, signage, etc.). Her chipper demeanor in a stressful environment kept many of us calmer and looser than we otherwise might have felt because she was always there to jolly us along. The picture above is typical Debbie and how I remember her best: crazy happy and waving enthusiastically for the camera. That picture always makes me smile.

My friend also hosted me in her home when I went up to Washington, DC, to play go-fer and convention manager for the Science Cheerleaders every other year from 2010 to 2018. Later, she became my tax advisor/preparer as I transitioned to the freelancing life. Debbie’s professional skills were akin to her getting-introverts-to-talk talent, as she helped small businesses organize and run their business. It was a truly remarkable set of skills to have, and she applied them to organizations as diverse as a publishing company, a couple of non-profit space advocacy conferences, and a small space avionics firm.

But mostly I’ll just miss my friend and the great conversations we had. She was a counselor who seemed to understand the introverted geek male better than he understood himself, and her fun-loving, welcoming ways caused those geek males to trust her. She made conversations so fun, you sort of forgot that she was dispensing wise advice along the way. Beyond space and geeky males, she had a love of her two adult-age kids, elephant statues, crafting, board games, Cafe Berlin (a German restaurant within easy walking distance of her place near Capitol Hill), and fine whiskeys (as well as whiskys).

As the pandemic hit–I might have the timing wrong–Debbie moved out of DC to be closer to her family in Delaware. Then I learned she’d gotten ovarian cancer and was undergoing some pretty harsh medical treatments to get rid of the stuff. I think I spoke to her once in 2020 and now I regret not trying more often. I know I sent her a card or two to cheer her up during her treatment and looked forward (at some point) to seeing her again once she’d recovered. That didn’t happen, though, and now a lot of people beyond selfish little me are minus a joyful, vivacious presence in our lives. It sucks, and I will miss my friend a great deal.

Is that a tornado siren?
Is that a tornado siren? Debbie making last-minute announcements at ISDC 2011 as my ears pick up the sound of a tornado warning. We had multiple tornado scares that year, but Debbie stayed chipper and on task.

Debbie and me at Humans to Mars Conference
Debbie and me at one of the Humans to Mars conferences. She was just fun to be around.

Journals As Repositories for the Soul

I’ve been journaling since I was a college freshman in 1988 (go ahead and do the math; I know–I’m old). In that time, I’ve filled various paper and electronic pages with my half-baked philosophies, wishful ambitions, and angst-ridden frustrations. Aside from various conversations with people I know very well, my journal is where I’ve been the most honest about who I am, what I want, and why I do what I do. This morning I’m meditating on what to do with all that content.

Why Keep a Journal?

Therapy

I’ve given serious thought to burning my journals before I die or (riskier) requesting in my will that they be burned after my death. Given that, one might wonder why I have not done so already or why I should get stressed out to learn that during my move from Virginia to Alabama or Alabama back to Florida, the movers lost (or gave to someone else) the first box of my journals.

The reason I refer back to them now is for reference or curiosity: what was I doing or thinking at X point in history? Do I want other people doing the same thing when I’m gone? Sometimes it depends on the day. Most of the time, I’m committed to burning the journals–ideally before any nosy people decide to dig into and publish them.

It all circles back to the same question: why keep a journal at all if you don’t expect or want others to read it? There are some obvious reasons. Writing in a journal (or diary–pick your word) is therapeutic, not just in the sense of relieving tension from particular situations, but often literally as a form of therapy. I started journaling in part as a way to sort out my own problems without resorting to talking to an actual therapist. I had a general idea of the sorts of questions therapists ask, as I’d been seeing counselors off and on from ages 8-18, so I figured I could ask those questions of myself and write the answers without talking to a professional. People in a great deal of personal pain are not eager to tell other people what they’re feeling or why–that’s how they ended up in therapy in the first place. Other times, therapists recommend keeping a private journal as a way to cope with ugly, nasty feelings.

So there’s a lot of therapy in my journal, which is to say a lot of thoughts and feelings that are private and nobody’s damn business.

Personal history

Occasionally I write about places I go or things I do. Some folks keep a journal so their children or future family members will know how they lived their life. Personal reporting for the next generation, as it were.

Mostly, though, I’ve journaled to map the contours of my soul. I don’t fill out the physical details much–also a failing of my fiction, which is why that remains unpublished. Should I just burn all that and leave my thoughts and my self mostly a mystery to others after I die?

Fuel for future fiction

I am a technical writer by profession. My fiction writing has fallen by the wayside in the last decade or two, but that’s not to say I’ll never try to publish my fiction at some point (150+ stories, 4 novels–it can’t all be crap, right?). I could probably sift through my journal for fiction ideas. I wrote down a lot of story ideas that I never actually completed. Or I could write fiction based on situations from my past. I was a different character in my 20s and 30s than I am in my 50s, by temperament and circumstances. Could I write about Younger Bart as a fictional character? Maybe.

Quite frankly, a lot of my journaling embarrasses my later self. I find it uncomfortable to go back and read about the feelings or situations Younger Bart got himself into. Sometimes I’ve written things down so I can get them out of my head. If it’s on the paper, I don’t have to think about it anymore, right? Again: therapy.

So why keep the journals around, especially when they’re taking up a substantial bit of space in one of my closets? Once I’m gone, I’ll live only in my works (training documents? engineering proposals? blog entries? Facebook posts?) and in the memories of others. Or I could create art, which is not my specialty. Right now my journals are the most accurate record I know of who I am. Some people have a significant other to share their life experiences with. I don’t manage such things well, so I have conversations with close family and friends. There are maybe half a dozen people I talk with on the phone regularly for purposes of baring my soul and letting my voice be heard in the world. I don’t write much fiction, and what I do write I don’t share with too many people. I suspect that’s on purpose.

For now, I still have the journals. Maybe I’ll share the contents with others in some form, maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll just burn the lot and let my soul remain a mystery.

2020: Taking Stock

A couple years ago, I started keeping a “gratitude jar,” which gives you the opportunity to write down one good thing that happened in the past week. At the end of the year (or the beginning of the following year), you empty the jar and learn what good things happened to you.

2020 was a tough year for a whole bunch of us. I had a text discussion with a colleague who suggested that I look at the year from a personal rather than a global perspective. Looking at things that way helped. 2020 was not my worst year by quite a stretch–it didn’t make the top three, or maybe even the top four. So I’ve got that to consider.

Last year was also a major challenge because on the random date of January 29 I decided to stop drinking alcohol (for how long is still TBD, but at least a year). In the midst of civilization shutting down or acting crazy, sometimes the best thing I could manage for my weekly note was “X days sober.” I have 13 notes like that, and yes, I’ve kept going. Starting 2021 on day 339 of the non-drinking lifestyle and so without a hangover. Definitely a better way to start the year.

The next-most frequent good things I noted during my weekly notes were times I spent with family and friends, either virtually or in person. Introverted as I am, I still appreciate the opportunity to have personal talks here and there. I spend a lot of time alone, but I also had a few hour-plus talks with close friends, and those did my soul all sorts of good (calling people out: many thanks to Karl, Tim, Gwen, LaDeana, Katrina, Cal, Tara, Jeannie, and Tom). I joined a walk-around-Disney group this past year and ended up taking many of those walks places other than Disney via Zoom meeting on my phone. I also attended more virtual cocktail parties than I ever did in the real world…sober, of course.

I have a pile of “miscellaneous” notes of things I did that made me happy last year, such as getting a therapist (in January–I stopped therapy a few months later because the pandemic rendered a lot of my problems moot); buying art for my apartment; completing a short story; or doing something as frivolous as making pancakes for the first time.

Books were a major part of my 2020. I read 69 books of various sorts and couldn’t finish two. The reading was a defense against reading/watching the news. Plus, I think I discovered how much time I was wasting just drinking. Amazing how much I could accomplish if I wasn’t just sitting in a bar.

Work still had its place in my notes. The biggest work-related event for 2020 was finally publishing my technical writing book and getting it out on the market (and into libraries) for others to read. I still have some marketing work to do. Of course once you’ve written one book, people want to know what you’re going to write next. The answer is: I have no idea. The tech writing blog, however, will continue.

I plan to continue the weekly “good things” tracking jar in 2021. If anything, I need regular reminders that good things do happen, even if I’m having a cr@ppy day, week, month, or even year. May you find good things to celebrate in 2021!

Who Do You Become When You’re Left Alone With Yourself?

I’ve been left alone with myself–like many others–for weeks now and I can’t say that I’ve encountered too many surprises in my moments of introspection. The following is probably too long for you people in a hurry, so the short version is that I’m getting more introverted the longer I stay isolated. Continue reading “Who Do You Become When You’re Left Alone With Yourself?”

Forced in on Myself

I’m not expecting any great “transformation” or personal insights during this period of enforced isolation. They could happen, mind you, but I’m not expecting or forcing any. What follows are my thoughts about the state of my soul before and during this shared crisis called pandemic. Continue reading “Forced in on Myself”

Taking My Bad News Orally

Updated: In error, I posted that the resorts (hotels) would be closing, too. At present (3/13/2020), the resorts remain open. The parks are scheduled to close Monday, 3/16.

It’s been a little tense here in Orlando this week, culminating last night in the announcement that the two biggest employers/money making enterprises in town–Walt Disney World and Universal Studios–will be closing their theme parks effective Sunday night in response to concerns about this virus/pandemic galloping around the planet. I’m not happy, to put it mildly. Listening to or watching the news makes it worse somehow. Continue reading “Taking My Bad News Orally”

Working on My Inside by Working on My Outside

When I get into a funk, which has been the case  off and on lately, I’ll often spend a great deal of time in analysis mode: figuring out what’s going wrong, trying to identify ways to fix it, and setting myself (theoretically) on a path toward healthy thinking. Here’s the thing: despite 30+ years of journaling and time with and without therapists, I’m remarkably bad at fixing myself. However, one thing I am good at doing is setting external goals and then achieving them. This is what I’m preparing to do with my 2020. Continue reading “Working on My Inside by Working on My Outside”

What Are Emotions and What Am I Supposed to Do with Them?

I’ve mentioned a few times before on this blog that I’m a moody person. I’ve not always been thrilled with this trait. Boys/men are taught not to display their emotions (save for a few “acceptable” ones like sternness or anger or mild humor), and I’ve been going against that grain all my life. This morning, in the midst of an early-morning fog, I asked myself a useful question while journal writing: what are emotions? My answer lies below. Continue reading “What Are Emotions and What Am I Supposed to Do with Them?”

Getting the Introvert Out of the House

I’ve needed a new hobby for a while now. Specifically, I needed something to get myself out of the house and out of my own brooding thoughts for a while, so when a theater friend from high school told me she was appearing in a community theater play up the road from me, I really had no excuse not to reacquaint myself with the theater. And wow, I’m glad I did! Continue reading “Getting the Introvert Out of the House”