Monday, January 11, 2016

Trip to Rexburg + I won a thing!!! + Aging. (It happens.)

In September or October or some month in the past I spontaneously took a trip down to Idaho with a former early-morning seminary student of mine (shout out, Spencer Transier) who was going there to forge his destiny and stuff.

I was going there because my parents had just moved into an assisted living facility. Which, in case you were wondering, really sucks.

The drive down was great--uneventful and nice and picturesque, like any good road trip should be. Here's a poor picture from the drive:

I'm always amazed I haven't been tapped to work for a magazine with photos like this.
Oh, side story: at one point I was introducing Spencer to Radiohead (which I viewed as part of my responsibility as his former seminary teacher, obviously) and in order to give context to the brilliant progression of their musical output over time I was like "well, you know "Creep" right?" expecting him to know exactly what I was talking about. And he didn't. So I sang the chorus. "Cuz I'm a creeeeep, I'm a weeeeeeirdoooooo . . ." Still nothing. Then I was like "Really Spencer? It was one of the most popular songs of 1995. How have you never heard this?" And he was like "Josh, I was born in 1995."

And that's when my soul died.

Guys, Spencer isn't some junior high student. He is a returned missionary. He drives. He's done years of college. He is old enough to drink. Maybe. I can't remember. The new mission age thing throws me off. But the point here is that I might have never felt so old as I did in that moment. And for a man three gray hairs shy of officially being salt and pepper and three years shy of his 20 year high school reunion, that's really saying something.

Anyway, we got there, and a bunch of stuff happened that I have trouble remembering because it all happened months ago, but I'll try.


I walked around campus and visited the old haunts from when Lolly and I were there together. You know, last century. Literally.

Lolly lived in this apartment. I ate dinner with her and her roommates almost every day my Freshman year.

Here is the Snow Building (music), where I spent a lot of time my Freshman year. It looks the same as it did in 1999.

I spent a lot of time wandering the campus after a long run at the track. It felt so familiar and peaceful, and was really wonderful. Lots of good memories.

Later that day, we went to visit the assisted living facility where my parents are living. It was hard. The facility was nice though.

 My sister Jenni and I during the dinner they served us at the assisted living facility. We are Klassy.

 This picture of my dad feeding my mom breaks my heart and fills me with joy all at once.

After that we went to a park nearby to hang out with my dear friend Sarah Dunster. She and I have been writing friends for years, Skyping to workshop poetry and beta reading one another's stuff, and when I told her I was visiting my parents in Rexburg at the assisted living facility she was like "Josh, that is next door to my house. I am looking at that assisted living center from my window." I couldn't believe it. It felt moving to me, and very synchronistic. I feel a lot of comfort knowing that she lives near them while I can't. Anyway, she could only come to the park for a few minutes so I didn't get a picture of her, but I did get some of the rest of us.

 Mom and Dad on a bench.

It was such a beautiful day that Jenni and I decided to go walking through the park with the kids. The air was autumn-crisp. Her kids were chasing, playing tag. Jenni and I talked about life and about what was happening to our family. As we walked I saw some swings, and couldn't help myself. I hopped on, and it felt so refreshing to fly through the air like a kid again. I couldn't contain my childlike laughter as I soared higher and higher--it felt so freeing and wonderful, like I had accessed a part of me long forgotten. Jenni pulled out her camera and snapped some photos. "You're gonna love these," she said, and I was glad she thought of it. She sent them over to my phone and when I looked at them, I couldn't stop laughing. I don't know what I expected to see (something youthful? something carefree?) but it definitely wasn't this:

 What whimsy!

Such childlike wonder....

And/or I look like a disabled koala bear that's about to sneeze.

One of those two things.

The rest of the shots were also hilariously awful:

 That swingset's about snap old man. Go home.

 It's tragic that such genuine, childlike laughter could look so awkward. 

 My favorite part of this one is the shadow--somehow that shadow so perfectly captures the ridiculousness of the giant man-child soaring through the air above it.

I don't know why, but that moment of freedom and childlike wonder which I thought would be so beautifully captured on Jenni's phone and then the way the actual pictures bitch-slapped back to reality was one of my favorite parts of the trip. Absurdity is fun, I guess. And humor helps to process pain.

Here's a picture of me looking relatively normal. To restore balance to the universe.

After this, we had dinner at a Mexican Restaurant. It was really difficult. My mom struggled the whole time. But it was very nice to be together.
I had some really healing, beautiful things happen this trip. It was wonderful to be with my parents. Going to church with my dad was soothing--the way his ward was already reaching out to him (in part because of Sarah's advocacy in ward counsel before we got there) felt comforting. And then the last night I was there, my dad,  my brother Chris and I all had dinner together. We talked and laughed and ate really good food. It was cathartic. 

The next morning Spencer came and picked me up, but before he did I was able to spend time with Chris. I talked to him and gave him a blessing, and it was really really clear to us both that he and my parents were supposed to be there (he lives in apartment close to them), and that even though it was hard, God had some important things planned for all of them.  

I'm very glad I was able to make the trip.

I'm also really, really, really glad that I'm on Friday #2 of 2016 and I am on track of keeping my goal of writing a post every Friday.

Go me!!!! 

2016--I will OWN YOU.

Oh, PS, an awesome Weeder named Wendy Simmerman posted this link on my Facebook page yesterday, and I realized I forgot to tell you all about something important. I won a thing!!!! A year ago!!! And now I waited so long to tell you that the contest is open again!!!! Because that's how I roll!!! (If you click on the title it will take you to a PDF that I think is free, so you can read the actual piece. It was based on a blog post I wrote years ago, so it might sound a little familiar to some of you.)

(For the record, the plan is to write these things on Friday and post them on Monday--you know, when people are avoiding their horrible jobs all day more apt to have an online presence.)

All right. Finis.

Friday, January 1, 2016

At the outset of a really big year...

This year feels big to me.

I'm halfway through being 35. Maybe that's why. If there is any youth in me left, I feel like it's about to eked out in the next few years, like the last blobs of toothpaste in an almost empty tube. I still look almost young, but my hair has started to gray. Wrinkles are coming. I sleep less.

Nobody prepares you for 35. There are no after-school-specials about what it's like to be wedged halfway between young-adulthood and middle-age. There are no road maps for this time--when the early thirties somehow feel so young and vibrant and nearly-linked to your twenties, yet your later thirties feel so adult and serious and nearly-linked to your forties, and you are smack dab in-between both of those worlds

It's hard to describe, I guess. But the feeling of it is starting to make me take things seriously.

I take this new year very seriously because of it. I'm starting to realize so many things. Life goes quickly. Youth fades fast. Energy dwindles. Aches increase. Responsibilities threaten to overtake all of your hours. At this age, the future is now less of an amorphous, seemingly endless expanse of possibility in front of you. Instead, you have begun to inhabit that space. There are other dreams still, but if you aren't careful, they begin to take on a different timbre--less pie-in-the-sky and filled with hope, and more realistic (aka, pessimistic).

I don't care for that. I choose to continue to believe in the power of my dreams. Even the most scary of them.

I have been feeling recently like I'm in the middle of some kind of bridge, or some kind of transition.
I feel it right now, while my family is all together for the holidays. Right now, most of the people I love on this planet are with me still. It feels flimsy and temporary--but also like an amazing gift. It feels like this very rare chunk of time when nearly all of the people I deeply care about are still breathing, eating, living--still accompanying me on this rock. Admittedly, I haven't experienced much death in my 35 years, and I feel lucky (and also a little bit ill-prepared). My parents are both still here. All four of my siblings are still here. Lolly's parents are here. All of her siblings are here. All of our respective children are here. My best friends are still here. Most of the people I love with all my heart are still with me.

I know how lucky I am for that. And I have a sense how temporary it is.

I don't mean that to sound morbid. This is not some prediction of calamity or tragedy, though certainly no human soul will escape those bogeymen.

It's more like this: last week I was in Coos Bay and I was spending time with my Mom's mom. She is 92. She is spunky, articulate and refined. She is a farm-girl who wished to leave that behind her when she grew up, and so married my grandpa. He was more urbane and academic and provided well for her, and she never looked back. I sat in her little house on the bay, and I played the violin for her on one of the instruments my grandpa made. I sat talking to her about her daughter, my mom, who is dying. And it occurred to me that besides some of her children and their progeny, all of her people are gone. No siblings. No aunts or uncles. No parents. No spouse. And she will soon lose her second child.

She is, in so many ways, alone. The last vanguard of our clan, a relic and a gift to her descendants, but largely alone in this world. She has no peer-group, no contemporaries. They are gone--all of them.

This loss is something that happens. It is a matter of course. It is part of the cycle of life on this planet. It is natural and filled with grief and tragedy, because it's also filled with love, and it is the fate of every human who lives enough years: we eventually lose our tribe.

But I am at the opposite end of that. I am an adult looking over that precipice. All of my tribe is still here. We all sit before that great cliff and enjoy one another's company, and I can see how all of us will eventually leave one by one. But we haven't yet. We have a few precious moments left where we are all together, where we can all sit in a room with each other and eat and laugh and be a unit. But it will end, slowly and gradually, in a natural progression of loss. And I can see that somehow. I can see how lucky I am to be where I am at this dot on the spectrum of time. I have my tribe now, and it's beautiful, and it simply cannot last.

I'm so grateful for that gift, and I'm so grateful that most of my family decided to be together this season.

So yes, this is a new year. And I feel the weight of my own humanity. I feel the power of my internal forces urging me to bravely fling myself towards my dreams--even the most terrifying ones--and I also feel the temporariness of that endeavor--the fleeting nature of the seconds and minutes and days that remain at my disposal.

And so I will do it. I will run toward the realization of my dreams, bumbling and tripping and falling all the way. I will not be deterred by the bruises and cuts and scrapes along the way. I will rebuke shame and its internal voices. I will be brave and do hard things. I will take risks. I will do the things I feel called to do, even the ones that leave me breathless with fear. I will speak instead of remaining silent. I will create, and then create again. I will throw my hat into the ring over and over and over in the endeavors I care about, even after met with many failures. I will take care of my body, and I will eat good nourishing food, and I will spend time with my wife and daughters and siblings and dear friends because I know that our time together is finite. I will do the things I love, and observe the beauty around me. I will work hard and play hard and rest well. I will make self-care my clarion song, so that my filled cup will overflow into the lives of as many people who thirst as I can reach. I will give and I will love and be brave and vulnerable. And I will tell jokes and laugh and celebrate and have fun throughout it all.

I am so grateful to be alive, and I'm so excited to see the wonderful things this year holds. I have the feeling this will be an exceptionally big year--probably with really high highs and really low lows. And I'm excited for it all.

Thanks for being there. Happy 2016.

Here's a picture.

We are very excited for 2016!

Oh wait. Just remembered that we took a fun one last night.
Right after the ball dropped! Happy New Near!