Christmas Card Friends

I’ll never forget the time I was in anguish about some friend drama when I was in my early 20s, and a close friend of mine said something along the lines of: sometimes friends just become Christmas Card friends.

At the time I scoffed a bit at this comment. I couldn’t imagine any of my close friends, no matter how much drama came with them, demoting themselves to Christmas card-only status. And I didn’t even sent out Christmas cards.

Alas, the time has come when the wise words once spoken have come true. I now have a handful of Christmas card friends. They were once close, but time and distance has ceased regular conversation. We now only get correspondence in the form of Christmas cards. The friend who explained this phenomenon has become one of them. Actually, we don’t even do much of the card exchange anymore.

It’s hard to see friends come and go. People you thought were once so close they could be a sibling become distant memories. People you thought would be your best friend forever or your maid of honor at your wedding didn’t even RSVP. But, this is what happens. Lives change. People change. Paths diverge. It happens to everyone.

I do say, though, that Facebook has created this notion of closeness to friends whom I have not been in touch with in 15 years at least. It’s an interesting social experiment. I don’t necessarily feel closer to these people, but I suppose it deletes the need to have much small talk at high school reunions. You can just get down to the nitty gritty of why you lost touch to begin with and how amazing it is that Facebook brought us all back together again.

In fact, I’ve been thinking that high school reunions are going to become obsolete because we can all peer into each others’ lives through Facebook. How much real conversation are you going to have with someone you haven’t seen in more than a decade once you’ve gotten past that initial cocktail party chit chat? Take this out of the equation and is there really anything else to talk about?

I’d rather just send a Christmas card.

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Back in Action

After a long hiatus, I have returned to the blogosphere. I tried to get back earlier, but the words wouldn’t come. I blame the thesis. I blame academia. I blame long nights of slaving over interpretations of statistical test outputs from SPSS. I blame waiting. I blame waiting again. I hate waiting. But most of all, I blame the lack of creative energy that had been zapped from my soul for the past month as I made the final steps toward completing my master’s degree.

Now it is over. And through it all, I have learned many life lessons—most important, don’t get a Ph.D.

This is not to discredit the friends and family members of mine who are either pursuing or have accomplished that major hurdle, indeed, this is a note to myself to avoid a future in academia. Oy, the bureaucracy, the egos, the drive to publish.

I can say that my post-graduate education has mainly turned me on to the deep issues that plague higher education. I have known about these problems for many years from a distance, but now they have touched me. First and foremost, the expansion of the university system has hurt students.

As Americans, we are told from an early age that we need a college degree to get anywhere in life. But not everyone is cut out for a college education, and they shouldn’t be. Our primary and secondary schools have failed to produce a majority of high school graduates who can be successful college students. This leaves many professors with the duty to remediate these students in basic English and math classes. This puts a strain on the students who may not need remedial classes but need college-level courses but can’t get them because there are too few teachers or too few sections offered. Budget cuts to public universities don’t help this either. Neither does the pressure a tenure-track professor undergoes to publish scholarly research in order to get that golden tenure. Nor does the astronomical jumps in tuition and fees charged each term. These are just a smattering of the many problems that face modern academia.

Bottom line: the students’ education is suffering.

Our education system from beginning to end is in severe crisis, and if this country wants to remain competitive in a global economy there needs to be remediation in the way we look at education. We can not view it as a business venture or a money-making opportunity. Education is the gateway by which we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Education is the way we understand ourselves, our culture and those around us. Education helps us be more human. Education is necessary, and it to be strong and supported from pre-school to the doctoral level. Otherwise, I fear to imagine what our ignorant faces.

Transitions

It’s that time of year again. People come and go. Like an airport terminal, only with less urgency and more tangled webs caught on their pant legs.

Our lives are set apart in chapters. We arrive. We live. We leave. In late spring, many of us find ourselves leaving or being left behind. I fall into the latter category. These ideas have been ruminating for a while in the dusty attic of my brain that does not deal well with transitions. It’s time for some spring cleaning.

I always thought I dealt with transitions without much angst or worry. One thing led to the next. And then to the next, and so on, until I found myself here: a mother of twins, wife of a medical student, landlocked in the middle of Iowa (read: unemployed in Greenland). It sounds romantic, I know, a life picked up and moved in a freeing sense of adventure and wanderlust. But the dizzying glitter and confetti that rained down on my transition quickly cleared to illuminate the truth of my situation. Transience.

We bought a house. That very move would signify setting down roots. But the nature of our path determines another course. Our timer had already been set, and when the bell rang we would be off on a new adventure: medical residency. No matter who we met or what relationships we formed during our four-year tour of Iowa, there would always be an expiration date. And there’s something there that makes it a little easier and a little harder to see people come and go.

It’s May, so graduations are happening left and right. People we know and have had time to get to know are graduating, getting married, moving to find better jobs. They are progressing to the next chapter of their lives. Yet we remain in purgatory waiting for our time to come. Nevertheless, lives go on. They must. But the fate of the relationships we have formed between us are not so certain. And this is where the crux of the ruminations lies. If life is about relationships, why is it that our culture enables us to so easily pick up and discard our friends like we do our golf clubs or tennis shoes? How deep of a connection can you form and maintain with another person if one of you is planning to leave?

My world has become one of impermanence, and it creates an aura of unsettling discomfort. It creates loose bonds, and it feels like lost time. Yet, it is May, and I must say goodbye to some friends who feel like family. From past experience I know the separation will erode this closeness, and I wonder who will take their place. But the truth is I don’t want anyone to take their place. I want them to stay with me in purgatory just a little bit longer. But they can’t. They must move on. There is no escaping life’s transitions.

Soon my time will come. I will leave, and I will arrive. My choice will be, do I dust off the tangled webs caught to my pant legs and start fresh, or do I bring them with me and incorporate them into my new life? I suppose there will always be some residue that carries over from one chapter to the next.

From Ani DiFranco:

everybody's in a hurry
here in purgatory
except for me
i'm where i need to be
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