Saturday, August 29, 2009

Confessions of Emerging Adulthood #6

When my smalltalk words ran out, there was a silent pause in which we just stood there and looked at each other in the dim lights. It was my turn to talk, but I wasn't saying anything. It was then that Helen began to realize this was a different kind of conversation than we had ever had before. Her curiosity moved from light and playful to something more serious. She was reading my mind, and I knew it. I had to give her my thoughts before she just took them from me.

It was time for me to be courageous, even though the many opportunities for courage with Helen were long gone. This courage was about something different, though, like I was catching up on growing up. I was about to get the failure I needed, but had so skillfully avoided for so many years.

Since I didn't know how to be cool, courageous, smooth or even mildly attractive, not on purpose anyway, I mimicked what I believed to be those things. Images of other guys who were most certainly those things entered my mind, but not in an accessible way. These thoughts were stock caricatures of those guys. As I spoke, it must have sounded like I was doing impressions of Saturday morning cartoon.

"You know, Helen, I've been doing some thinking about us," I said with a confidence so obviously false it hurt. I played with a stringy piece of bark I had peeled off of a stick. It was something I could look at when it was too hard to look at Helen.

"Uh huh,"Helen replied as her folded arms tightened and posture shifted into defense. It was too late. She had already read my mind. The game was already over. Too bad I didn't know it.

"Yeah, you know, about us...about our future," faking a confident nod, "you know." I said having completely run out of vocabulary. I really didn't need to say anything more. I'd finally played my hand even though the game had been done for more than a year. Helen looked back at me as if to say, "Oh, you're still playing? You still think there's a chance? You poor, poor, thing. Bless your heart." But she gathered herself together quickly. She knew I was vulnerable, but she also knew there was no way this was going to work.

I'd just placed Helen in an impossible situation. I'd thrown my heart at her and she caught it, but didn't want to keep it. Reject me too hard and I am crushed and the friendship is in jeopardy. Fail to reject me and she falsely gives me hope and then her integrity is in jeopardy. Helen would never let her integrity go for so little, but she would not just let the friendship go for little either. She needed to thread a needle while balancing on a bowling ball and standing in a hurricane.

And somehow she pulled it off. We sat there talking as the fire died out and the mercury light flickered out. Helen was amazing. She let me down so gently, so kindly, so lovingly. With the skill of seasoned politician and the empathy of a gifted therapist, Helen gave me heart back to me uninjured. She was my friend. We talked some more, laughed a little, hugged, an went to our respective cabins.

I slept just fine that night, having accomplished what I needed to accomplish.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Confessions of Emerging Adulthood #5

It was Helen. Unassuming and beautiful, she approached me with a curious little smile on her face, arms folded and hands pulled into the sleeves of her sweatshirt to buffer against the chill. The dew had fallen, but I hadn't noticed yet. But there is something about the dew falling - sooner or later, you will feel its chill in your bones. She was genuinely curious why I had asked her to meet me at the campfire.

I sat on a log and Helen sat on the log next to me. The fire dying, I tried to create some small talk, but it felt forced. The clock was ticking and I was stalling. Helen was patient - tonight. But she had lost her patience with me a long time ago. It was two weeks before Helen would go 800 miles away to college and I would go back for my senior year in high school. I wouldn't see her again until Christmas.

We had known each other for six years. Every summer we spent weeks together at camp. We had been to lock-ins, hay rides, and new year's parties together. We talked to each other on the phone and wrote letters to each other. At times she would show up unannouned at my summer baseball games. I called her from work one night during my break, complaining of how miserable I was, hated my job and missed her so bad. When I left work that night, there was note from Helen, sitting on the front seat of my car. I was worth her time and effort. It was like this for six years.

So no one was to be faulted for wondering when we would get together. She liked me, they say. She liked me. The thought of it confronted me - conjured up my fear. Failure. Rejection. My deepest inner dork exposed for all. Was I likable? I mean, as more than a friend. Could I be in a relationship? The thing was, we were friends, good friends - and that was the problem. I didn't know how to be anything else. The safety of our friendship was so comfortable. The idea that it could be more was enough to keep it exciting enough for me without the requisite risk.

Six years of wondering how to be more than friends, but being afraid to do anything about it, was about to time out, right there at the camp fire ring. I had to make one desperate effort at doing the one thing I didn't have the courage to do. Six years of chances ended tonight.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dissertation Insanity

I am giving every article, chapter, and book I read for my dissertation a code based on what kind of literature it is. I am struggling to organize myself, whcih is hard because I have hard time organizing my half of the closet at home. Here is my current coding system.

Type of Paper:
T = Theory (PYD theory and any other theory that is included in this paper)
E = Empirical Research Study
R = Review
X = Not specified

Topic of Paper:
C = Civic Engagement in general
R = Religion (Effects of religion and spirituality on Adolescent Civic Engagement)
P = Parent (Effects of parents and family on Adolescent Civic Engagement)
M = Media (Effects of Media on Adolescent Civic Engagement)
X = Not specified

C = Cross-sectional / Time (Snapshots – correlations, associations, and differences)
L = Longitudinal / Time (Effects of Time on adolescent Civic Engagement)
E = Experimental design
X = Not specified

1, 2, 3.....N

ERL1 would refer to the 1st article that was and EMPIRICAL study on RELIGION which had a LONGITUDINAL design.

ERL2 would be the second of the same kind of article.

I am holding to some kind of belief that this will help me when I return to the notes I am taking and have a clue as to what I am looking at. Anyone else have a system for organizing loads of articles?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Confessions of Emerging Adulthood #4

I stood near the campfire ring as the evening summer camp activities wound down and the other campers started their procrastination routines – putting off going to back to their cabins for just a few more minutes. I usually joined them milling about the shower house and strategically pretending to forget my toothbrush back at the cabin. I would go looking for one last round of good night hugs – it was going to be a whole nine hours before we all saw each other again. It was bedtime, but we were juiced. The sugar and caffeine that had not worn off from canteen combined with a surge of adolescent hormones made the idea of going to bed sound ridiculous, even though it was nearing eleven o’clock. We would chase around the shower house hoping not to get caught by the camp director, hoping to play a lot and at the same time somehow appear to be getting something necessary done. It was an unstructured, yet highly ritualized, part of youth camp – a part that I never missed.

But tonight was different. I didn’t do any of that. Tonight I waited for Helen.

The embers of the campfire were still orange, but a darker orange. The festivities of crazy campfire had long passed and echoes of the whole camp singing silly songs faded into the shadows of the pine and birch forest. Smoke wandered out from the charred wood and slowly rose into the darkness. The last bit of color had left the sky and the stars were staring down in anticipation. I tried sitting on one of the logs that circled the fire ring as I waited, but couldn’t find a comfortable way to sit. I paced back and forth, but never too far from the fire. Besides the intermittent mercury light by the old craft house, which was no off, it was my only source of light. Once again, my flashlight was somewhere else. The lake was only about 20 yards away, but it looked like complete blackness. The lake was beautiful, my favorite part of the campground, but night had sent the lake to bed. I looked around for Helen, hoping to see her, but also hoping she would stand me up. I knew that an important conversation was about to happen, but I still didn’t know my lines. The spotlight was about shine and I had not rehearsed.

This was a conversation that I should have had a long time ago. No, it was a conversation that should never have had to happen. It was a Hail Mary pass in hopes of a miracle - the kind of miracle that would release me from the all of the social and romantic responsibility I had found ways to avoid over the past six years. Desperation, as it turns out, is the necessary experience of prolonged avoidance of the inevitable. But how was I to know that? No one told me actions and inactions were boomerangs. I thought when you avoided something you got away with it. It was a clean break. Each day was a new day. I had an intense loyalty that that which was convenient in the moment, even if it had no semblance of truth. That was one of my major flaws - I kept believing things that were not true. Experience, however, was merciless in its reminders of the realities of world in which I lived.

I heard the crunch of footsteps on pine needles and sand. Someone was coming. A shadowy figure was emerging from over by the girl’s cabins. Backlit by the dull purplish mercury light, which had flickered on at some point outside of my awareness, I could tell the person was female. My stomach squeezed and I wanted time to stop. Like a log to the buzz saw, I was about to be shaped into something more useful – through pain.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Confessions of Emerging Adulthood #3

The summer moved along and I felt the weight of another school year encroaching on my ever more slothful summer. I’d get anxious every August, as I knew that fateful Labor Day was right around the corner. I always hated Labor Day because it was the sentinel of school. I couldn’t enjoy the day off because it felt like it was prolonging inevitable misery. I didn’t want to go back. The academic pressure, the social pressure, the getting up before noon pressure was all too much. The misery train was chugging down the tracks and blowing its horn ever louder as it neared. I would get so worked up about the upcoming arrival of school that I would lose 10 pounds at the end of summer just worrying about it.

Anticipating my senior year of high school made matters even worse. The senior year of high school is incredibly important both in substance and symbolism. There are certain benchmarks occurring in the senior year that everyone must meet in order to become a real live person. There was homecoming. There was prom. That darned Sadie Hawkins thing I did not understand. Who the heck was Sadie Hawkins? Sounded kind of hick to me. And of course there was graduation. That’s pressure I tell you – pressure. It was pressure and I didn’t want any of it. To some people these were exciting events that would result in lifelong memories. To me they were an academic and social house of horrors meant to expose and parade my inadequacies and demonstrate to people that without a doubt, I didn’t what the hell I was doing. When other people longed to shine, I just wanted to disappear.

Life is hard when you see your shortcomings through a magnifying glass and your strengths through binoculars, only backwards. Perceptions get all messed up. How does a reasonably smart, decent looking, athletic, morally sound, relatively humorous and generally nice guy see himself as inadequate? Actually, the older I got, the worse it got. My adolescent life was hard not because I was dealt a bad hand, but rather because I knew that if anyone ever figured out who I really was they would find that I was a monster. I was an unworthy, undesirable, and surprisingly scary thing. I deeply wanted other people to discover that I was good, but feared they would discover that I was a fraud, that I was a social malignancy.

My longing to disappear was thwarted by the reality that I had no place to disappear to. I could not run away from home. Running away is hard work. If you’ve ever tried it, you know. Plus, where do run-aways go? I didn’t know any of that. On top of that, my idea of running away well included a comfortable place where I could nap all I wanted, eat pizza all the time, never do any work, and everyone there liked me a lot. There may have been a hammock somewhere in that run-away fantasy. When I realized I didn’t have the strength to run away, I considered becoming invisible. It would be great. I could roam around the school hallways, but no one would know. I could go into the girls’ locker room and finally satisfy all of this built up curiosity. I could just have things because no one would know I was taking them. I could listen in on conversations, go home with anyone I wanted, and how fun would it be to drive a car while being invisible? But pulling off the “going invisible strategy” required more science classes than I had taken. Earth science and chemistry were a little light on the practice of invisibility. Beyond those two ideas, I had nothing. My two best ideas were currently impossible.

Once again this year, like every year before it, there was no way to avoid school. I was standing on the train tracks waiting for the school train to run me over. I was worrying, losing weight, sleeping poorly, eating badly, and just waiting. School was inevitable. Or was it?

Monday, August 03, 2009

Confessions of Emerging Adulthood #2

Some people prepare for the transitions that occur in their life. I don’t. It is not that I don’t want to, but rather that I don’t know how. Something’s wrong my brain, I think. While most people anticipate, plan, and execute their plans, I tend to just show up, stumble in, or get thrust into transitions when I am not even ready – and then, after I am floundering pathetically, it occurs to me that I should have planned for this.

Most people anticipate a transition and adjust their lives for it. For example, by the time high school is over, they have already prepared for college. They know where they are going, when they will get there, their housing situation, where to get food, what courses they will take that Fall, etc. These people see the transition coming and understand that this is something that is going to happen in their lives. They have influenced the outcome with some sense of intentionality. For me, life just seems to happen – to me. Much of the time I watch my own life like it’s a movie. I see a plot unfolding, but don’t know what is going to happen. And even if I did anticipate what was going to happen, it’s just a movie. It’s like I can’t seem to operate such that the transition is actually going to happen in real life. All too often, I live as if it is not happening right now, it does not exist.

Many adolescents live in an extremely present-tense world. Part of adolescence, however, is learning about that part of your brain that is capable of mentally getting outside of the current bowl of Captain Crunch you’re eating and consider the future. The transition out of high school to college or work marks the first major rite of passage that requires some sort of future thinking. Many of the people I knew seemed quite capable of understanding the implications of this transition and made adjustments quite well. I, however, wasn’t able to think about the future in real terms. I could talk about the future, but not like it was really going to happen. It’s like I was using the imagination or fantasy part of my brain for planning for the future. What would occur in my life down the road was something fun to think about, but mentally categorized as inconsequential. It’s OK to use the imaginative part of the brain, but it is not OK to use it for planning – because no actual planning gets done. How sad that I had this incredible brain and used it all wrong.

Since I had apparently misplaced the users manual for my brain, I needed help. Unconventional help. Divine help. I needed to hear things in different ways – ways that would get my attention. I needed the kind of assistance that would by-pass my imagination addiction and move me forward in action.

It was 1987, the summer before my senior year of high school. It was a strange sort of summer. Unusual things were happening. These were the kinds of things that, when they happen, it should be telling you something. It was like God was really trying to tell me something important. But what was that message I was supposed to be getting? What was I being warned about?

In June, for instance, as anyone alive at the time in the Minneapolis area would recall, there was a tremendous flood. It rained seven inches on Monday and nine inches on Thursday. Monday’s storm set the stage by saturating the ground and Thursday’s storm came in for the kill. Hard and loud, the rain cascaded and splashed to the ground so heavy and steady it was like sitting under a waterfall - the ground just couldn’t drink it up. Rain pounded down in the night, lightning strobed like a house of horrors, and continuous thunder punished the earth. The sewers gave out and began vomiting up rainwater – the streets began to fill as water looked for alternative places to pool. Low spots began to disappear as the floodwater crept up our street, crept up our driveway, and injected our hearts with dark questions about means of survival.
When the spacious firmament had finally wrung itself dry, the streets were rivers, basements were murky subterrainian pools, and smart people used boats to get around. But the rain had stopped. People exited their dark houses to assess the situation. Neighbors wanted to talk to each other, but would need to swim across the street to do so. An eerie calm began to settle in as the lightning, now silent, continued to strobe off in the distance. Looking down the street and seeing the headlights of a submerged car dim and then go out completely was a fearful sight.
I was in a daze of excitement and fear. There was this voice inside my head saying, “go for a swim.” But my more sensible side conjured up images of what might by lurking under the water. Part of the image came from reality – debris, sharp objects, and the chance of getting electrocuted. Part of the image came from the garbage scene in Star Wars in which the walls were closing in and this strange, snake-like creature kept pulling Luke under water. I kept out of the water.

A flood of this kind happens maybe once in a lifetime. It is the kind of event that is so immense, so overwhelming, that it immediately imprints into the mind and occupies that part of the brain reserved for the unforgettable. It was the kind of event that deserved a name and a t-shirt proclaiming one’s survival. “I survived the flood of 1987” t-shirts did, indeed begin to appear shortly after clean up.

But was the Flood of ‘87 a universe message just for me? Was it God’s metaphoric communication for what was about happen in my life? Was everything I knew and expected life to be about to change? Was God giving me a heads up? Well, if God was speaking, I wasn’t really listening. I went on with life as usual, playing baseball, going to summer camp, sleeping in until noon, eating Captain Crunch and trying to find ways to slay the boredom. Little did I know that I was merely weeks away from one of the most dramatic turns in my life.