Invested in being present

The box had been next to my desk for a few weeks, still sealed with copious amounts of packing tape. Glancing down, I decided it was time to see exactly what was inside.

My sister shipped the box to me after asking a deceptively simple question. "Do you want Dad's journals?" It seemed unkind to say no, but I don't think anyone really knows what to do with someone else's journals. Are you honoring their memory or violating their privacy? How will it change the way you remember them?

Inside was a large stack of spiral notebooks in a variety of colors. He had numbered them and added a date range to each cover. I sorted them into piles until I found number one.

The very first entry, written when I was a year old, began with this: "Diaries are work."

How true. I've made many attempts at keeping a journal over the years and none has lasted longer than a few weeks. I've sought the perfect Moleskine and pen and experimented with innumerable apps. In recent years, I stopped trying. We document our lives so thoroughly—every thought, photo, location, steps total, and restaurant review—that it feels like there isn't much left.

A personal journal is something else entirely, of course. It's a chance for more honesty and reflection than we allow ourselves elsewhere. When Jack wrote about his experience, I was newly inspired. The revelation for me was the five-year journal.

In a five-year diary each day (i.e. November 29) has its own page. The page is divided into fifths—one for each year—and when you write in it at the end of the day, you can see what you wrote the previous years.

There's always the question in my mind about whether the effort is worth it. What will I do with this? Will I ever read it again? It's unlikely that I will stop and revisit a journal in the future and the idea of someone else reading it years from now isn't particularly motivating at midnight.

The five-year journal helps enormously with that. I know I'll read what I wrote today a year from now. I'll be able to see patterns. I'll be reminded of disappointments that appear smaller in retrospect, wishes that were granted, and kindnesses I might have forgotten.

There's much to be gained through writing day after day, too. There's something about setting aside devices, taking a deep breath, and thinking through the day. The limited space surfaces the things that truly matter. I've already had the experience of thinking a day was unpleasant and then, after recapping it in a few sentences, realizing how much there was to be grateful for amidst the rather insignificant frustrations.

My dad's first entry continued (inspired by his love of Mark Twain, I suspect):

Bob and I go to talking at lunch one day about how interesting it would be to see our own diaries of 10 or 20  years ago or to read a diary kept by our dads or their dads, so then he says how's your diary coming and I say hrumpth, it ain't. His was and I'm better than him so I got in the '69 Chevy pick-up and stopped at Patterson's Drugs and got 2 notebooks. [One was for my 8-year old sister.] What if what if what if I had kept up from age 8 to 33.

He might have missed 8 to 33, but he kept a diary for the rest of his life. He went so far as to offer to pay me and my siblings for each entry we did in our own journals when we were kids. Even that, sadly, did not overcome my indifference, though my sisters embraced the habit.

Intimidated by the pile of journals spread across the floor, I started skipping around, quickly flipping through one and skimming another. One opened to a page that had something stapled to it. When I realized what it was, I was dumbfounded.

You might recall a dispatch about accidentally dropping baseball tickets in the mailbox on the night of the game. We eventually called the box office, who agreed to let us in after I provided the section, row, and seat details, which I had memorized in anticipation.

Stapled to that page in this random journal was the envelope that was waiting for us at the stadium. Written on the outside was the following:

The boy dropped his tix in mail by mistake — let them in side gate. 114 6 17,18

Diaries are work, but it's deeply rewarding work. I understand that now.

Last month, I bought two five-year journals. I gave the second one to my son.


The latest dispatch asked, What are your best tips for making friends? The replies are an amazing collection of insight and wisdom, a testament to this truly uncommon community.

Melanie wrote:

Up until 2015, I didn't have a ton of friends. I always kept to myself and my thoughts. I would go to the movies by myself, have dinner by myself and talk to myself (I'm not crazy I promise ha!). What changed? I started trying.
I found some people on Instagram who I could connect with, reconnected with some college friends, and started making new friends through other friends. Now, I have a small curated group of friends and am constantly making an effort to make them feel cared for.

Teri wrote:

To make a friend takes effort. Listen more than you talk. Ask about their life. Don't settle for "let's have drinks sometime." Take the initiative to actually set a date for drinks. In the early days of the friendship, don't let too much time pass between get togethers. It's a bit like dating... ok, a lot like dating. We are all busy. Don't wait until you are "not busy." If someone is important to you, you make time for them in your schedule.

Shawn wrote:

Be yourself. From the start. Throughout. Be at ease with you. At this moment, this is the best tip I can give on making friends, or, as I think it works, allowing genuine friendships to become. It's easy to get caught up in so many ego and insecurity traps. It's easy to mistake someone else's actions, whether based on ego traps and insecurities or not, as a reflection of ourselves. Thus when we can wholly be ourselves, true friendships develop while those that would otherwise be predicated upon false understandings do not. And we are all better off.

Sara wrote:

I can’t stress enough the importance of friends of friends. Having moved around a lot as an adult, most recently across the globe, I’ve relied on the introductions of friends within my network to get me off and running in a new place. There’s something to be said for people who know you well enough to filter and connect you to other people you might have something in common with. At the very least, it’s a not-so-scary starting point.
I’ve also learned to give people a chance to show you how awesome they can be. First meetings over coffee or a drink can be as awkward as a first date, especially when you are being set up. Give it some time—a couple meetings, different venues and social settings—for that magical friendship click to happen.
I’ve been lucky enough to discover that it’s possible to make important, supportive, and formative friendships, even as an adult. All it takes is spending enough time together and allowing yourself to be vulnerable around those new people who are deserving of your trust and who understand you where you are and where you are coming from.

Ryan wrote:

I’m not a great person to ask for advice about making friends. I’ve never had more than a few at a time, and I prefer to spend most of my free hours at home, working on something that interests me. Also, as an opinionated but non-outgoing person, I think I tend to strike people as Not Nice to Know. To the extent, though, that I succeed in the workplace and personal relationships too casual to accurately be labeled “friendships”, I think it happens when I remember one very difficult-to-follow principle: make conversations about the other person. When I try to draw people out and discover more about them instead of waiting for chances to tell my own stories, I win.

Marina wrote:

This took me a long time to learn – probably much longer than it should have, but I realized that the best way to make friends is to just let my freak flag fly.
I’m an extreme extrovert with a large, exuberant, often age-inappropriate personality that can really be overwhelming. I had spent the better part of my life trying to tamp that down so that everyone would like me; but wow – that took a lot of effort, and left me constantly anxious and uncertain. Then, about 10 years ago, a wise man told me a simple truth – “Not everyone is going to like you.  And that’s OKAY!!” Seems obvious, right? But to me, it was one of those obvious things that wasn’t obvious until someone said it. So I embraced this philosophy and stopped trying to be anyone but myself.
I am who I am, and I’m never going to change – this is how I now approach every new friendship opportunity.  And you know what? Some of the best friends I’ve made in life have been people I met since!
So my tip for making friends is this – just be yourself, and the right people will come into your life. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to meet my fab friends and act completely inappropriate for my age.

Ben wrote:

I am not very practiced at making friends. I'm pretty good, I think, at getting along; at establishing an acquaintance; at being personable. But I am generally very slow to initiate a move to the next circle of friendship. Some of it is that I'm an introvert and so it takes a lot of energy to maintain any social connection, so I want to be thrifty with that energy and invest it in relationships that will work out. Another part of it is time: It takes time to tend a friendship, especially a deep one, and in order to take that on, I'd have to leave something else out. It's not a clear calculus to make.
However, one of my primary filters for the kind of person I want to spend more energy on is how often they shed new light on something I've been thinking about and, conversely, how they react to my shedding new light on something they've been thinking about. I feel that for ideas to be strong they need to be considered and argued from many points of view and having people around you to help provide those sounding boards and new angles is crucial. I guess my advice isn't so much that you should use my filter, but that you should think about what your own filter should be.

Drew wrote:

My recipe for friendship:

  1. Be interested in others — we like it when people want to know about who we are
  2. Be invested in being present — listening and being present with someone is a gift
  3. Be sensible about what you want in friendship — some people I know collect friends like Pokemon cards with little-to-nothing to show for it
  4. Be worthy of friendship — I once heard of a model for assessing relationships that pictured people on a continuum between being a radiator, of energy/goodwill/enthusiasm, or being a drain, of others' energy/goodwill/enthusiasm—I try to err on being a radiator
  5. Be aware that not everyone is looking for friendship — try not to make something out of nothing and recognize when you are perhaps not being well-served by another's friendship

Note: I have many people with whom I am friendly but I have few deep friends. I love spending days with my deepest friends. We have a shorthand based on trust and respect that is hard to beat.

Uncommon reads

In Case of Blizzard, Do Nothing by David Dudley:

Unless you’re a plow driver or a parka-clad elected official trying to look essential, one doesn’t pretend to do battle against a blizzard. You submit. Surrender. Hunker down. A snowstorm rewards indolence and punishes the go-getters, which is only one of the many reasons it’s the best natural disaster there is.

Where Inspiration Struck by Andy Battaglia:

Since 1977, this minor desert outpost—population: 228—has served as the launchpad for a visit to “The Lightning Field,” a mysterious and enduring work of Land Art. As sculpture, it consists of 400 stainless-steel lightning rods, each standing about 20 feet tall, arranged in a rectangular grid measuring one mile by one kilometer. Material terms, however, are hardly the best to assess a work of art about such metaphysical matters as time, space and, as the cryptic [artist] De Maria himself communicated, “isolation.”

German Forest Ranger Finds That Trees Have Social Networks, Too by Sally McGrane:

... Trees in the forest are social beings. They can count, learn and remember; nurse sick neighbors; warn each other of danger by sending electrical signals across a fungal network known as the “Wood Wide Web”; and, albeit for reasons unknown, keep the ancient stumps of long-felled companions alive for centuries by feeding them a sugar solution through their roots.

Your turn

What’s the most surprising question you've been asked?