Living Your Life: Relationships, Friendships

Oh man, this was a rough lesson to learn. With so many different types of friendships, if you’re not shown or told how to navigate them, it can be a confusing task to manage on your own. Friendships can be especially confusing if you’re not used to being in healthy forms of them. My motto through my teenage years and twenties was, “bridges are for burning”. And not surprisingly, I ended up with few people I could call my friends after I finally pushed everyone away. I’m still amazed that the few people who actually did stick around, even through my neglecting our relationship to the point of not talking to anyone I knew for years, decided to stand by me. And to them, I am forever grateful. It must have been no easy task to endure the petty and neglectful ways in which I managed my friendships. And if anyone is reading this who is my friend, thank you, I’m sorry, and you are truly great friends.

But I also didn’t have many stable friends growing up. This was mostly due to my caregivers not being able to model what a healthy friendship was, or the lifestyle that would lead to lasting and loving relationships. In one case, one of my caregivers had no close friends save one, and on the other end of the spectrum, my others had many, but were rancorous in their judgements of them. I was stuck between complete isolation or being surrounded by rowdy and rancorous pettiness. These were polarizing ways of seeing the world and a very confusing place to be. So the few friendships I had, I held onto for dear life. As a way to escape the chaos that I was surrounded by. This was unhealthy too, as it set the standard for me to depend on the few relationships I kept, too much.

And this fear based way of maintaining relationships, as you’ve probably guessed, was unsustainable. The only people I was in touch with regularly were friends found for me by my then wife. I spent most of my time by myself, drinking and playing videogames. I was avoiding opening up to others due to the considerable amount of distrust I learned to have of others and by the time I was 11, I had experience the loss of a loved one to cancer while my parents were divorcing due to the stress of the event. I lost both my best friends due to more unfortunate events in their lives, and the slow decline and neglect of my family left me on my own. On top of the trauma I experienced, I had lost everybody I loved and was left completely alone to handle all of these traumatic emotions. This is and was a lot to handle for anybody, let alone a child of 11.

So I learned to distrust those closest to me, my caregivers and support network. This was the model I would later use to navigate all of my relationships, a.k.a. tactfully avoiding any type of close contact with others, especially those close in, so as not to get hurt again when they eventually decided to turn on me. This lead to, as I’ve said above, lots of beer drinking and video game playing.

When I was younger, the types of friends who I would drink and play video games with were a good time. But as we aged and life progressed, the more video games I played, the more disconnected I became from my life and the relationships in it. And this isn’t a soapbox for railing against video games or the people that play them. They can be a fun distraction and intellectually stimulating. Even bring out a sense of creativity. But I was definitely using them to avoid people. In fact, as if I were trying to tell myself as much, I was playing and replaying Zelda’s, “Ocarina of Time”. The original Zelda being the game I first played before and when all the traumatic events happened in my young life, and the premise of the latter game, “Ocarina of Time” is that of Link, the main character of the series, going back and forth through time, from his younger self to his adult self, in order to do battle with monsters from his past and present! Talk about meta! Art imitates life maybe 😉

So I managed to create a sort of comfortable cocoon to insulate myself from my role in my relationships. I say sort of comfortable because it took an immense amount of energy to keep myself so disconnected. The right amount of vice mixed with the right amount of avoidance. It was a balancing act for sure. But when I came to, I realized I had almost nothing in the way of authentic connections with friends. I was alone, and thankfully it took me a while to get scared, otherwise I’m not sure I’d have been able to handle the reality of my situation crashing down all at once.

So when I did come to, after my divorce and ending of the relationship that was the catalyst for my divorce, I had one close friend who remained loyal to me, (thanks Jon) and my parents. That was about the extent of those I had to support me. It was a sad situation to be in. Luckily I had taken to hiking which helped me to reconnect with myself a little and develop some healthy habits. This would later give me something to do with those I was trying to reconnect with. Because I first had to reconnect with myself, befriend myself. I had spent so much time running from others and burning the bridges behind me, that I could barely trust myself that I wouldn’t do that to me. This is an ongoing process of getting to know myself and trust that I’ll treat myself with respect and love. It’s also not an easy task.

This is where I discovered what my likes and dislikes are. Why I do certain things and what things mean to me. Such as certain songs, my relationship to my style and how I want to be seen. The ways I nourish myself and the care I provide for myself with meals, grooming habits and caring for my surroundings. These were the foundations of me coming to trust myself and that I have my best interests at heart. Tara Brach calls some of what I’m talking about as resources. As example, some of mine are burning candles, drinking herbal tea and listening to music. Basically whatever brings you a sense of comfort and ease. Once I was able to make acquaintance with myself again, and gain some trust in myself, I was then able to extent that practice to others.

I started out small. Like I said, I only had one friend at the time, so it was important for me to stay loyal and in touch with them. We went for hikes, got coffee and lunch together. And basically just did the normal everyday things I had previously taken for granted. We were friends in highschool and roommates in our twenties, so there was a shared history, but I had only just begun to know him as a person and as my friend. It’s been a good feeling getting to know him again and appreciating him for the person he is.

Then my friend group began to grow. Soon after I started running with an old friend from highschool every week. My other friend got married to an amazing woman and also a brilliant friend. I was also reaching out to people I hadn’t spoken to in years. Some live across the country, others a few towns over. I was amazed at how many of the people I reached out to were responsive and more over, friendly to the idea of being friends. As one friend who I recently reconnected with said, “our younger selves would have bullied our older selves for who we are”. And we were mean back then. But to know that we’ve made the change from bully to responsive and friendly adults is comforting. Knowing that the strength of our empathy and caring is stronger than the anger and bitterness of our past is reassuring more so now then ever.

Now that I’ve reconnected with so many people, and since I’m a list maker, I’ve put down the names of the friends I’m keeping in touch with on a regular basis, and some bullet points on what they’re experiencing or anticipating in the near future. This way I can open up my note and quickly see what they’ve been up to so I can check in with them and see how they’re progressing or offer some support or an ear to listen or maybe go for a walk and vent some frustrations. An example of this in practice is, I know for instance one of my friends is renoing her house. So I’ve created a board on Pinterest with ideas for her backyard living space and shared the board with her. This way we can have an ongoing conversation about what her focus is on.

On the same note, I also keep a list of upcoming plans I have. This way I won’t miss out on spending time with those I’ve been building a relationship with. It’s been helpful to have a place where I can see everything I need to know in one bird’s eye view so I can adjust and respond to those in my life with care and conscientious actions and words. This is where the rubber really meets the road in that mindfully supporting those who support you can build some seriously strong bonds. You’re there when they need you and you know what they’re going through. This is powerful for someone who is really in need of a friend.

I’ve also discovered some friends in strange places as well. I use a meditation app called Insight Timer. After you meditate you have the option of thanking those who’ve meditated while you were meditating. I’ve made a decision to choose six people to thank after every meditation. Four of them respond regularly, two respond every day, and one has become my gratitude partner. I asked them a few weeks ago if they’d like to practice gratitude with me since we were already kind of doing it by thanking each other every day. They said yes and we’ve been gratitude buddies ever since. It’s been nice knowing that I have something to look forward to in the mornings, something positive to read.

It’s been an intense but amazing journey and one definitely worth the undertaking. So if you’ve found yourself in a similar situation as I was in, do not give up hope! Reach out to old friends, you may be surprised with how they respond. Start some conversations with those closest to you. Work is a great place for this, seeing as how you are already around a select few people on a daily basis. Join an online community, like Reddit. There are loads of people out there looking to connect over shared interests. Find a place to volunteer. This way you can match your passions with your connections and do good work along the way. I met one of my friends at a grocery store. They worked there and went there almost three times a week. We’re both ginger so we hit it off immediately! And a word of advice, stay open. You never know where you are going to meet your next friend. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “friendship” by bekassine… is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

What Can We Buy vs. Make? DIY and Sustainability Meets Budgeting

I like to DIY things. Things I need, but also things that fit my style. Things that I’m able to eat, are functional, sometimes not functional. Whatever it is that I’m making, I enjoy the process of bringing something new into my life and the world. I also like to budget. When the numbers all come together, and I’m slowly but surely achieving my financial goals, it feels good. Good because I’m attuning to my own needs for security. For example if it’s in regards to building an emergency fund. Or my need to live sustainably. Another example would be me paying off my credit card debt. But when these two areas come together, when I make something that would otherwise cost me time and or money, the feeling is exceptional.

It’s for these reasons that I often look for things to DIY that are of interest to me. Or items and food that I use or eat regularly. It is in this vein that I will be going over some of the ways I make the things I would normally buy. Or turn something already owned that may be on its way to the garbage, into something useful. Nothing I’ll be listing here is new by any means. But it may be helpful to get a run down of how someone else puts sustainable practices to use. And maybe open the valve for your creative juices to start flowing. Let’s fire things up!

Food for Thought

Most of what I DIY is related to my food consumption. I’m a baker by trade, so I don’t make a lot of bread at home. But I’m always looking to create something delicious to snack on or drink. I made a lot of beer in my early thirties. Clones of brews I liked. Some that were staples. Such as IPAs and Belgians and some seasonal beers. They usually came out pretty good and it’s something I’d like to get back into.

DIY Your Beer

I don’t drink nearly as much as I used to. But there’s something about opening up a bottle of a beer you crafted that feels special. The time, thought and energy you put into crafting it, mixed with the some of the varieties of specialty ingredients that are available to the DIY home brewer, to give your brew that special twist that makes it yours, is satisfying. Plus they’re great gifts for friends and family. There’s also a large community of home brewers out there, willing to help each other. If you’re interested, check out Homebrew Talk. There are loads of recipes and advice for the new or seasoned brewer alike.

Also, the time it takes to DIY your beer has a unique feel. It’s like being in a science lab that’s been draped in old and colorful tapestry. This science-meets-art aspect of brewing is appealing to me. Mostly because it’s creating something as you would in a lab, but enlisting your senses to bring it together. The way you would your favorite meal. The elements, fire and water, but also the equipment and live cultures of yeast bubbling away that will soon turn the wort into something satisfying to the taste buds, that bring the whole experience together. There’s also the added benefit of its cost.

DIY Beer on a Budget

And for the quality of your DIY beer you’re producing, you are saving loads of money. Some of the clone recipes are spot on too. And if you drink occasionally, then it’s a great way to have some quality brew on hand for when you have company over. Or just a way of having a rotating selection of seasonal brews that will bring another dimension to your enjoyment of the time of year.

There is a lot that goes into brewing your own. So be prepared to spend some time doing the research if you decide to DIY your own beer. I once had a batch explode on me. Luckily it was in the closet. But I found shards of glass sticking out of the wall. Those are called “bottle bombs”. This is something that happens during the bottle conditioning phase. If you put too much priming sugar in the batch before bottling, they become supper carbonated. I’m not saying this to deter you in any way, just as a reminder of how important it is to become familiar with the process.

Pickles in the Pantry

For the pantry, sauerkraut is pretty easy to make as are most fermented vegetables. Though you’ll need some fermentation vessels first. I use mason jars as they are a conveniently sized for storage and easy to sterilize. I made a recipe from Minimalist Baker not too long ago. It was Gingery Apple Cabbage Sauerkraut that turned out great. And it only gets better with age.

Pickled cucumbers and other veggies are just as easy. You can use the same mason jars and you need only make a brine for the veg you want to pickle. This means more sterilizing jars. Then you pour the brine over the veg in the sterilized jar and either can them, which involves boiling the sealed jars in water for a certain amount of time, or put them directly into the fridge for a quick refrigerator pickle. And making either of these recipes from veg you grew yourself is most satisfying and budget friendly as well.

Grow Your Own

Speaking of veg, if you haven’t started a garden yet there are few things more gratifying in life. While also being able to save you loads of money to boot. Watching the seeds you planted during the colder months grow and bear fruit as the year progresses, brings with it a sense of satisfaction that few other activities deliver. I like growing leafy greens such as kale and collards for their prolific yields. Mostly because I use these vegetables often, two to three times a week usually. So I like to have a few plants on hand to harvest from throughout the season.

Other varieties, such as cucumbers and squash, are prolific producers. So if you plant some of theses guys, make sure you have a plan for what you’ll do with all the veg you will be reaping! That’s why pickling is so popular. It gives you a chance to use up a lot of the produce you’ll be harvesting. Saving you loads of fridge and freezer space. Other treats such as watermelons, produce once towards the end of the season. So make sure you are watering and tending to your plants with diligence to get the maximum yield.

DIY Your Living Space and Wardrobe

Furniture

Repurposing old furniture can be a rewarding experience and add another dimension of DIY to your life. If you have a few tools and the creativity to see new purpose for old pieces. I was rooting around in my basement not too long ago when I found the bamboo bottom of an old dish strainer. I was going to throw it away when I realized it was durable, water resistant, and made for drainage. So I thought I’d use it to some degree for my house plants. I brought the piece upstairs and left it on my chair. I didn’t have time for my plan and the bamboo strainer started collecting things. As things that lay around are apt to do.

In this case it was collecting linens. Towels and face clothes to be specific. I enjoyed the aesthetic of the white towels on their new bamboo “shelf”. So I decided to keep it as a linens shelf and find similar pieces to create an open storage concept. With the light wooden tones that remind me of a spa, a piece of would-be-garbage turned into something aesthetically pleasing and functional. All I need now are a few candles, a diffuser and I’m on my way to a relaxing, sustainable and functional environment. My own little spa : )

Clothing & Accesories

Another DIY project of mine is I make a lot of are bandanas. If you’ve read my post, “Read the Labels, No New Clothes, Well Maybe…” you’ll know that I wear a lot of bandanas. During my career I’ve pretty much always worked in the food service industry to some degree. And as a result I have always had to wear a hair covering. Since I was already wearing bandanas, being a hippy, I just continued to wear them at work as well.

I started making them not too long ago out of old shirts I had. I use to wear paisley bandanas pretty much exclusively. I even made a window covering by pinning together a few dozen paisley bandanas. This gave my bedroom a Boho vibe in my first apartment at 19. It fit my style for sure, but the bandanas I DIY nowadays are of a solid color and made from old Tees. And much softer than their paisley cousins. I rotate between four of them, all made with no sewing involved. When it’s a bit safer to go shopping, I plan on going to a local thrift shop to look for old Tees that may be suitable to make the jump from worn-out shirt to new bandanas.

Sewing Throws

If you are handy with a sewing machine, or want to learn how to use one, a project I have planned is, to take some of my old articles of clothing, ones that I have a sentimental attachment to (that’s normal, right?), cut them into squares and make a blanket from them. A sort of patchwork quilt. Where my memories are embedded into its very fabric (sorry, I couldn’t resist). And I’ll also have a comfortable throw laying around for the colder seasons.

Built Additions

Another project I enjoyed putting together was, a wall of windows. I DIYed a frame out of 2″x 4″s and hung old windows I collected in it. This created a transparent partition. It had loads of character, while salvaging some windows that would have ended up in the garbage. This isn’t the most kid friendly piece of furniture so if you decide you’d like to try it, find a place where it will be out of reach of the little ones in your life.

Bringing It All Together

There are so many ways to make and curate the things we need and use. We’ve been bread to believe that we must buy the things we need. And if you think about, we live in a capitalist democracy. Sure, we can vote whomever we want into office to make changes, but they’re still getting paid by our tax dollars. And they are most likely catering to the industries and corporations that are running and controlling the economy of our country.

The phrase, “vote with your dollars” strikes a chord with me and for this very reason. The better we are as a community at saving those dollars, by being thrifty, making the things we need or shopping locally to support our local community, the better we will be at not buying whatever’s popular or trendy because we saw so and so eat/wear/use brand X. And we will embrace the spirit of a community that values craft in the items we use. Above those values of being disposable or easy of use.

DIYing From a Place of Caring

I’m not saying that everything that is disposable and easy to use is inherently bad, but that’s another topic for another post. What I feel is most important about making the things we use and need is the sense of capability in caring for ourselves and those that we love. And in so doing, creating a deeper sense of community and connection.

So go make things! Enjoy the process. Start a project you’ve always wanted to do or find something you use or drink everyday and see if you are able to make it at home. Substitute some DIY instead of saving up for something that’s on your “wish list”. Why not see if you can make it yourself. Because who knows what a little research may yield for you. You may be surprised at how much you enjoy the work and how satisfying the fruits of your labor may feel.

Image Credits: “Tools” by shoesfullofdust is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Socio-Economic-No-Bueno

Canteen tent, Bedouin Camp in the Sahara
Example of a Yrt, “Canteen tent, Bedouin Camp in the Sahara” by jonl1973 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

Looking for some Community, I got it in me that I needed to start throwing pottery. So I walked to a pottery studio that is about a mile and a half from where I live. The studio was beautiful. It was in an old brick factory of some sort, built at the turn of the nineteenth century. Four floors filled with artist’s studios and kinetic energies of all kinds. The vibes were indeed good.

Finding Creativity Where it Lives

While on my walk home I took a different route from the one that got me there. And where the studio itself was inspiring, brick laiden with pieces of ceramics in various stages of completeness crafted by the earthy hands of Carhartt robed artisans, it was the homes on my way back that struck a chord with my creativity. What was most striking to me was the driveway of an apartment building on the outskirts of a small urban city that borders where I live.

What was so interesting about this driveway was that it was adorned with tents. Like carports only used as a gathering space instead of, well carports. And with the yards and driveways so closely packed together, they almost carried an air of being gypsy like. Or possibly the ways that the nomadic cultures of Mongolia use yrts as moveable structures to follow the herds to greener pastures.

Either metaphor falls short of the surreal feeling of a temporary community popping up in and around the more permanent apartment buildings. In the sea of tiered concrete, apartments and single-family homes that they were cohabitating with it seemed strange indeed.

Growing Community

The possibility seemed so whimsical, but the idea really didn’t begin to unfold for me until on my walk home. Walking through a different section of town where I saw the more creative uses of gardening spaces in driveways. And the spaces between the sidewalk and the street where sometimes you will see a small strip of green space.

I thought, what if you could take these two ideas, the temporary feel and nature of the tents and mix that with the creative gardening and rich texture of the yrt?” I imagine you’d create community. Each tier would be a different level of connection, comfort and ease mixed with vibrancy. A place where friends, neighbors and Family could gather and cook out or play games. What’s stopping us from creating something so beautiful? Perceived socioeconomic class boundaries.

Wealth and Breaking Down Community

The main idea of success in America, the socio-economic standard, is usually wealth based. How much money, land, cars, stuff can we accumulate to make our lives more prestigious and comfortable? Enviable of our neighbors, friends and social circles. How are we being ranked in the eyes of those we want to be seen as being successful. This is an old story for sure. I’m not blowing any minds so far but it’s a yolk that seems to regenerate itself each generation.

The sixties for example. Free love wasn’t just some catch phrase to sell a product or to get people to do drugs. It was about actually giving love freely to one another. Instead of, to borrow a line from Bens Fold Five, being so “selfless cold and composed.” But the part of us that fears egalitarianism because we feel it devalues our self-worth the more we raise the worth of another, took those feelings of love and freedom, and turned it into a fashion trend. And that’s not a knock on fashion either.

Who We are is More Than What We Wear

Fashion is usually the entryway into self-discovery. Getting to know who we are as feeling beings. It only becomes a problem when somebody else wants to put their name on our underwear and claim us as a victim of their war. I’m looking at you Vicky. Full disclosure, I am wearing Lucky Brand underwear but I usually just buy whatever is on sale at Marshell’s.

So if wealth and status have been the markers of success in our society, then packing ourselves together to share a space that is warm and filled with a caring community of friends, family and neighbors, would sound crazy in the eyes of those who have achieved success or those aspirants to the “successful life”. More to the point I imagine if it became popular to create outdoor shared spaces of community, those same minded successful would create it, then put a fence around it and control whom could and could not come into their space. This creates homogeneity and reinforces the same sort of class warfare conditions that separates “us from them”. And destroying the key ingredient to creating a community of freely flowing ideas found by bringing together a diverse battery of individuals.

Tuning Out What Helps to Divide

When my father and step-mother watch T.V. they mute the commercials and read a book or talk about something that is relevant to their day or to what they’re watching. This may not be the answer to how we create more community but it’s a start for sure. Instead of being driven and influenced by what we see advertised or what we hear our friends and family talk about wanting, why not be driven by authentic connection and knowing what it is that opens that space of connection between us and those we love? For example, I know my father puts cinnamon in his coffee every morning before brewing. So for Christmas I’m looking for an especially tasty type of organic ceylon cinnamon. As a special treat for their morning coffee.

This is the type of connection mixed with action that creates community. Thoughtful and inquisitive but also with some follow through and to have “the ability to let that which does not matter, truly slide”-Tyler Durden. A.k.a. all the latest trends or anything that is preventing us from connecting to our authentic selves and getting to know each other in an authentic way.

So it is in this vein that I suggest we build and create a space of comfort and community. A space of enough, being together in nature in the rustic. But also the urban or suburban and create something beautiful that we can all use as a catalyst in getting to know one another in authentic and loving ways. Regardless of how someone may try to privities or patent it :]

No fights were started, nor credit card companies destroyed in the writing of this article. Nor does the author condone the use of violence toward achieving any end. Peace : ) and thanks for reading!

Updated: 2/3/22

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