We always saved a swing for each other

Recent cold spells in Austin have left me addicted to fires in the fireplace. I've enjoyed them in the past, but I've never so enjoyed building them. The warmth and sounds are comforting, the flames mesmerizing. Starting the fire is a fun challenge, but keeping it going is the part I enjoy the most. It requires continual partial attention, a skill technology has given us in abundance.

I love the conversations that fires make possible. Long stretches of silence are awkward in normal conversation, so we have developed techniques to prevent them. Fires, though, are just distracting enough to make that silence tolerable, even pleasant. It's usually the conversations that happen after those stretches of silence that are the most meaningful. It's our hope that Uncommon is a space for thoughts and stories, memories and flickers of inspiration, and yes, silence, too.


Last week's dispatch asked, Who was your first best friend?

Ellen wrote:

Susan. My favorite thing about her was that she decided she wanted to be an archeologist because Indiana Jones was one. She's the only person I know who really picked her career from a movie she loved as a child. Now she's doing her PhD in archaeology at UVA, and I got to visit her in Pompeii one summer.

Brad wrote:

The beauty of this question is that I get to define the answer. I had a "best friend" in preschool whom I don't remember at all. His name was Armin, according to my mom. I think instead I'll talk about Julie; I met her when I was five years old. She lived in the same condo complex and we had endless adventures along with her brother, my sister and my cousin for over twelve years. We learned to ride bikes together, and to build forts, play kickball, swim in the pool, run after the ice cream truck, discover video games, watch movies, explore our hometown, watch sunsets, go to the beach, hug, scream, cry, laugh and kiss. We lived an entire childhood together and it was incredible. She made it a point to attend my college graduation, which I deeply appreciated, and we have since lost touch. We followed two very different life paths after I moved away from home, but no one can change the purity of human experience we shared for so many years. A bit of swelling in my throat and a heaviness in my chest serve to remind me how special a best friend can be. Someone who changes your life, helps build your world and shapes who you are.

Kristin wrote:

I've lost sight of who my best friend is. For the longest time, I made best friend synonymous with longest friendship, but I don't think that's the case anymore. As I approach 30, I feel like the "best friend" designation doesn't hold true. For one thing, I think the older we get we transfer that "best friend" energy and intimacy into our romantic relationships. They become our person, our go-to dinner date, our shoulder to cry on, and the one who knows us best. The other reason, "best friends" no longer works for me, is that I have ended up segmenting my social circle into pockets. There's no one friend who knows everyone else I'm connected to. There's overlap, yes, but there's no one else that has the complete picture. Hopefully that makes some sense.

Asad wrote:

My first best friend was my twin sister. She arrived on the planet a few minutes before me (I now joke about how I kicked her out). Although she was born before midnight and I was born after, we celebrate our birthday (and the birth certificate concurs) on the same day. I learned to walk by pulling her hair and we've always attended the same educational institution, all the way up to university. We've got a similar energy source and although there is a bit of overlap in our source code, we boot up to different operating systems.

Ben wrote:

My first best friend was another boy named Ben. He had bright blonde hair and was shorter and rounder than I (not hard to do). Our parents (and we) had met as part of a playgroup. We didn't attend the same elementary school and so drifted out of touch and by the time we ended up at the same high school were completely incompatible socially.

Tricia wrote:

My first best friend, Erica, is still my best friend today. We met in the sandbox at You & Me preschool as three-year-olds. We were each other's mirrors: two extremely freckled, red-headed, bright eyed little girl-twins running around together. When people ask me about how I feel about my freckles today I attribute my love and comfort in them to having had a best friend who also shared them, and that made them feel normal. We've grown up and into our lives, but will always look and feel like sisters.

Grant wrote:

Liam. We became friends in kindergarden and stuck together all the way through high school graduation. We were in the same class every year from kindergarden through 5th grade, when we ceased having a homeroom class.

Stephen wrote:

Our neighbors across the street had a son named Nick. Over a few years we built forts, explored suburban forests, played Sega Genesis, re-enacted Star Wars, and took turns teaching each other new sports. We shared dreams of the future, thoughts on death, tribulations at school, and confusion about girls -- all the desperately important stuff of early childhood. Around 12-years-old Nick and I moved to different places and lost touch, but I think we both realized we had done enough for each other by then. That it was time to make new friends for a new phase of life. Those were good years.

Rian wrote:

My first best friend was from different neighborhood, different school and 3 year older than me. We met at the computer course we attended together. Every Sunday morning we went together to have a free exercise time at the computer course lab, that ended up using it to play computer games! (Hah, kids!) We managed to hack big computer game that would normally played on a powerful PC with hard disk, and put it on floppy disks (remember this?) to make it playable on a less powerful PC we had on the lab! This was circa 1994 when the fastest PC was 486 and no Pentium PCs yet. The game was Romance of Three Kingdom III (RTK3.) And my friend's name was Yani. We live in different city now and I miss him a lot.

Paul wrote:

I'm embarrassed to say that as I type I can't remember his name though it will probably come to me another time. Our friendship ended when we went to different schools at age eleven. He lived across the road from the school I went to so I remember seeing him again one time after school. Before that I have memories of going round his house. His Dad was a policeman and his house was behind the police station. I remember flying a kite for what seemed like an hour one evening. Though the evening was still it found some air currents high up and just hung there. I remember playing with his chemistry set, reading his annuals, what his parents looked like, discussing whether you could fire a bullet by hitting the firing pin with a knife while it was in a vice, but not his name! I expect if I don't think about it for a few days it will come to me.

Ryan wrote:

I met Wesley when I was four. He was three. My family had just moved into town, where my father had taken a job at the church Wesley’s family attended. We moved away again just over a year later, but we returned when I was in third grade, and Wes (as we were then calling him) was my best—and almost only—friend until my sophomore year of high school.<br><br>Wes was devoted to me, in his way. He copied a lot of my hobbies and called me nearly every day. But he was a grade-A people-pleaser, and he would sell me out at the slightest provocation if he thought it would make him look cool or help him save face. Quite possibly I have him to thank for the strong value I place on loyalty and honesty (he also lied constantly), but I don’t want to dwell too strongly on his negative qualities. Even after we drifted apart, as people do, he seemed to retain a strong affection for me, and when I came to town he would always ask to see me and try to involve me in whatever fascinated him at the time. Ever an optimist, he has always had some creative project in the works, and even when they don’t turn out as he hoped he never seems dismayed. I haven’t spoken to him in a few years now, but I’m sure he’ll circle back into my life again at some point, and when he does I’ll be glad to see him.

Drew wrote:

I have four best friends, each of which I collected at different times in my life: My wife, Jo, whom I adore (and who I have known for over half my life). My high school friend, Ben, on whom I blame my fondness for New Order. My childhood friend, Craig, who asks such great questions. And my friend from birth, Kylie, with whom there is no getting up to speed as it is like we were never apart. It's interesting that even though I thought I collected additional "best" friends they never quite seem to stick.

Michelle wrote:

My first best friend was a boy in a suburb of Maryland.  We lived in a neighborhood surrounded by woods, and we spent a lot of time together.  I met him when I was three years old and English was my second language. We walked barefoot to the community swimming pool, played freeze tag while waiting for the bus, fell through ice on what we thought were frozen ponds, made up spontaneous, impromptu, live action drama horrors with audio tapes, played atari and simple games on the commodore 64 and were at times part of a bigger and smaller gang of neighborhood kids that biked to school, made snow forts, and found leftover change for the ice cream truck. It was a growing friendship that would continue on, after seven years, into longer distance. At the age of 10, I moved outside of the country, and he moved to Northern Maryland. We kept in touch through letters, he was my first pen pal. We exchanged school pictures and thoughts and every now and then, when I was back in the USA for vacation, a phone call here and there. I have seen him twice since our childhood days. Once when I was 16 and again when I was 18. We were changed. We walked our old neck of the woods, and I remember muttering, god, it all seems so small, when at one point it all seemed so much bigger. Our friendship, as we continued to grow older, faded. Lives grow apart. He is still my first best friend. My fondest memories of childhood include him and our imaginations for exploring, getting into trouble, being free, scheming, adventuring, walking long walks, biking longer roads, and just keeping each other company when no one else was there.

Danielle wrote:

I absolutely adore my first best friend. Her name is Kristina. We moved to Pflugerville in the same week in third grade. We met on the swings at recess, where we happen to wear the same thing one day. For the rest of elementary school, we always saved a swing for each other. We'd jump off them super high and crash land in rocks. If there were no swings, we would start up a game of Tag-You're-It. She lived a mile away, so it was easy to hang out, find excuses to spend the night, and ride bikes to each other's house. We even had a frog-theme collection that we shared a love for, along with an endless list of nicknames for one another.<br><br>In middle school, she got a Playstation 2. I sucked at games but was entertained with watching her masterfully play Spiro, Crash Bandicoot and Tomb Raider. One day, at lunch, Kristina completely ignored me. The next day, and every day for the next week, she didn't say anything. So, I stopped sitting with her and made some other friends. It wasn't something I could understand then, but she had a lot of internal struggles and I wasn't always the best friend to her and took her for granted. At the end of middle school, we both auditioned and made the Pflugerville High school colorguard. We kind of reunited again and grew a little more, as we spent a lot of time with each other through our time in practice and band trips. Things were going well until a major incident put a wall between, outside of our control. She moved to Colorado for school to escape the trauma, and ended up back at UT, the same semester as I transferred there. The 2 year gap in our time before UT was the kind that helped you reset and open your mind to the changes in someone. I saw Kristina differently, and with more depth. She was an incredible friend- STILL, meaning she had always been, but I didn't see it or value it the same before. We had some daringly-honest, heart-felt conversations in those years after being reunited. I started to see that I could give more to her as a friend, and I think that made it possible for us to continue to grow. Months after graduating, my dad died on her birthday. It was a strange thing for me. She was my one friend that really knew him, what he meant to me and represented that same genuine sense of loving me for me. I remember feeling that I robbed her of her birthday, but she was beyond selfless. Each year, we try to take that day as one to celebrate us, as friends and to remember my dad. It's pretty much the perfect cohesion of two important days and people. 19 years later, through thick and thin, and now 2,000 miles away, we are forever bonded.

Uncommon reads

Falling in Love (How To) by Linda Stone:

A few years ago, in a conversation with a friend, I caught myself paying more attention to another, nearby conversation. Realizing I was missing the moment to connect with this friend, I created a “game” for myself to counteract the distraction.

As Technology Gets Better, Will Society Get Worse? by Tim Wu:

The technology industry, which does so much to define us, has a duty to cater to our more complete selves rather than just our narrow interests. It has both the opportunity and the means to reach for something higher.

An Uncommon gathering

Big news! We are hosting an Uncommon gathering in Austin next month. It's called Kaleidoscope and we think it will be a special evening. A few members of our community from far away will be in town, so it seemed a terrific excuse to get together in person. If you'll be in the vicinity, we'd love for you to be part of it. (We hope to find ways to host Uncommon gatherings in other cities, too.)

Get the details and save your spot for Kaleidoscope.

Your turn

Which three people would you invite to join you around a campfire?