To my readers

I’ve obviously failed at posting every day in November. There are three more letters that I’ve thought about writing, and I might do that. But I let working on my paper take all of my writing time coming up to taking off to Tennessee for three days. I tried to peck something out on the iPad, but I’m just not used to using it that way.

It was fun while it lasted, though.

Dear Noah

I haven’t heard from you in a while, and I must admit that I’m a bit worried. I hope that you’re well.

We all open up from ourselves what we feel that we can give. It is good to give of ourselves, but it is also difficult. We can be in fear that our offering won’t be received. When we feel that it’s ill-received, it can feel like a crushing blow. I know how that feels.

With you, sharing is always free and never burdensome. You have a kind ear and a willingness to offe perspective from your own experiences. You may think that you don’t give good advice, but sometimes all we need is someone else’s story and time to think.

Be well, and do send me a note.

Geof

To every teacher I’ve ever had

I brought my last-minute nature up to my therapist today. You see, there was this term project I was working on, and I completed the entire writing part of the task in a 24-hour period starting last night at 2130. But I’ve been thinking …

… and she says to me, “This is just how you’re wired, and there are a lot of people like you. Most people fall into one of two groups: hallways or clouds. A hallway will compartmentalize things, moving down through a project piece-by-piece until they get to the end—and then they’re done. A cloud processes pieces over time, building up steam before dropping a bunch of rain.”

That’s how it goes. The best research paper I wrote in college the first time around was one on Richard III. It was due at 1300 on a Tuesday, and I started at 1900 on Sunday. By “start”, I mean “walk over to the library and find some sources for citations”. I already had a pretty good idea of what I was going to write, and I needed the scholarly resources to back up my thinking. This paper ended up being so good that I was encouraged to be an English major. ((I know, I’ve told this story before. I’ve told a lot of stories before. If you want new material, pay me.))

With this paper, I had done plenty of research and a ton of thinking. I had really done a good job with the passive soak.

The soak is when you plant the seed of a thought in your brain and let it bump around in a rich stew of ideas, facts, and whatever other random crap that seems to relate. The soak is a protected activity that will rarely occur during your busy day because you’re busy reacting to the familiar never-ending flood of things to do. The goal of the soak is simple: an original thought. Whatever the problem is your stewing on, you want to find an glimmer of inspiration which transforms your response from a predictable emotional flame-o-gram into a strategic considered thought.

I may not have actively written the paper until the last 24 hours, but I have been passively writing it for the better part of the last month. ((“Term paper’s coming. Can’t sleep. Clowns might eat me.”)) I’ve spent time thinking about it in the car, in the shower, lying in bed, etc. It’s the way that I work. I can’t really get it any other way.

You see, here’s the thing. If a term paper doesn’t really involve knowledge gained along the way, then you could make the term paper due the second week of class and you’d get the same quality of paper as if you’d let it go until the end of the semester. I had the idea for this paper about five minutes after she’d told us what it would be. I learned a lot in this course, but my paper would have been just as good if due by mid-September as it is tonight.

Academia seems to relish treating every student as a hallway. I got a B on my research paper in my Western Civ I course because I didn’t do note cards. Note. Cards. I tried to explain that I was 23 years old and a fifth-year senior in college and didn’t need to write any friggin’ note cards. You can see who won that argument. The frustrating bit about it is that he loved the paper and told me after the semester that it was the best one submitted to him and that I’d been his best student. But that friggin’ B on the research paper brought me down to a B+. Yep, I’m still kinda cheesed at that, and it’s simple: if I can write a great paper without going through all the wickets, then leave me be and let me drop the bomb on you. If it sucks, then that’s on me.

I just hope Dr. Mc is in a good mood when she reads my paper. I like it, but I’m not grading it…

Hopefully and cloudily,

Geof

P.S. Mom, this was as much written for you as anyone. 😉

To all the Cafe 153 barists

Y’all rock. I knew one of your number prior to coming in for my regular caffeine fix, but I didn’t realize that she worked here. [I say “here” because I’m in the Madison store right now. I would be working on my term paper but for any number of reasons, the least of which is the gentleman loudly running his business two tables over.] The Madison location is by my house, and when I needed coffee in the worst way, y’all were there for me.

I love that I have a neighborhood coffeeshop. I needed it this summer when I was unemployed and otherwise unengaged: job-hunting only takes a couple of hours in the day. In retrospect, I should have been over this time last year, drinking coffee and getting the diversion from my problems in my house. When I am at home, alone, I am left in the midst of all my problems and failings. While a life unexamined is a life poorly lived, I do not need to wallow in it in order to have a healthy life.

I spent most of the summer over here, drinking coffee. I got to the point where I paid very little, if anything, for my coffee. [Mike, I promise you that whatever barista you’re staring down right now always made me pay full price.] This enabled me to spend more time talking and listening, which were things that I needed to hear.

We’ve shared stories with each other: history, frustration, hopes, fears, and dreams. As an extrovert, I need to be around other people. On summer weekdays when it’s 100F outside, few people want to drink coffee besides me, so I would be the only one in the store with whoever was working, usually Mary. We have long conversations about whatever strikes us, because we’re not so much going anywhere with our stories as we are batting them about like a ball of yarn.

I’m apparently now an infamous regular, because two of the newest baristas knew who I was before I’d even met them. I’m glad that I’ve gotten to this status, and I hope to keep it. I get away with stuff that normal customers never would. I enjoy that.

It’s about building a relationship. We’ve built them, and they’re awesome.

Geof

Dear John

I love it when people in my life teach me things, especially when they are things that I don’t want to hear. You continually teach me that trying-and-failing isn’t a bad thing, which was a part of my encouragement to Atticus. I often find that I fall short of things in my life because I do not try as well as I ought, and I also find that I sometimes I learned to do things and then stopped doing them out of fear of failing again.

Stepping back into the classroom this semester was daunting. I sounded all chipper about it in August, but I knew two simple truths: I hadn’t been an undergraduate since April 2002, and I hadn’t taken a math class since April of 1999. Twelve years away from mathematics-as-study and nine years from mathematics-in-application seemed a terrible distance to cover. I had started and stopped graduate school twice. I honestly wasn’t sure if I could do it, but I decided to give it a go. Your encouragement to try-and-who-cares-if-you-fail helped me through that hole.

I loved it when you emailed five people about squashing a bug, a group I described as “four people who can write a good algorithm … and me.” Your response: “You can write a good algorithm, you just haven’t practiced enough yet.” When I said I’d wait until I had to do it for class, your response was, “Why wait? You can grab a free C++ compiler and start working on it now.”

Your approach is irrepressible. “Let’s make mistakes” was in the title of a recent Weblog post. You decided to try drawing with your own charcoal, remarking, “Why can’t I pick up some charcoal from a fire and draw with it?” These are things that I’d be too scared to try.

I know why this is a problem for me. For the longest time—as long as I can think of—I defined my self-worth by tackling challenges and winning. I once saw former GE CEO Jack Welch’s theory of only competing in a marketplace if you could be #1 or #2 and decided that it fit how I was living my life. That’s a fine business strategy, but it’s a pretty shitty way to live.

I hope that one day I’ll be able to shed all that baggage—I’m working on it, and have been for a couple of years now—and be free to experiment with abandon as you do. Until then (and likely beyond), you will be encouraging me, and for that I am ever thankful.

Geof

Dear Atticus

As I said at the beginning of the month, my friend Kari has written letters to her son each of the last two Novembers. We’ve traded emails about how hard this daily writing thing is, and I offered last Monday night to write him a letter. Because I 1) spent a lot of time writing that for Kari’s audience, who are not used to my elliptical way of not making a point and 2) need to spend more time writing this damn term paper into the ground (due: Tuesday), I’m going to link you to my letter to good Mr. Atticus about striving for goals.

As an addendum to the letter: Dad and I finished clearing out Papa’s genealogy work today. Not everything in those two filing cabinets was about family: I found tax receipts, church committee notes, campground information, and a pile of newspapers. I was flipping quickly through the papers before throwing them in the trash box when one stuck to my left thumb: the 31 Jan 1986 A section of the Birmingham News. The top-front story was about finding more debris from Challenger. I had a tiny moment.

I’ve closed comments here, but you can comment over there and I’ll see them. Also, read more of Kari’s stuff if’n you don’t already. She is worth the time spent getting to know her through her writing.

Dear Stock

This letter will be short because it is late and I am tired. Also, a lot of the things that I’ve said about Chris and Mike apply to you, except you have hair and do not snore.

I don’t know why I have always expected you to be more talkative than you are. I have learned that you will speak a lot given space to do so, which is often difficult around me. You always have something good to say, and so I have to wonder if staying quiet allows you to edit out the bad stuff? Who knows.

We’ve both had a crisis happen and then had to live with the aftermath of it. I’ve seen people doubt you, and that’s bothered me because I’ve felt like they have not wanted to give you a chance to rally. I know that I desperately want that chance for myself, and I am faced with increasing doubt about the success. It’s an irrational doubt, but it exists.

I remember being sad when I got an invitation to your wedding, because I knew that I just couldn’t go. I told you that I couldn’t, and you told me that you knew I wouldn’t be able to—but that’s not why you invited me.

[blackbirdpie id=”127826969013391360″]

Redemption is a story often found if we’re willing to be told of it. Thank you for the reminder.

Fuckin’ Greece,

Geof

Dear Mike

You’re the friend that I actually do exchange paper letters with … even when I lose yours in my car for a few weeks.

I think that what I most treasure about you is that, somewhere along the way, you just decided to be okay with being a nerd. I never really did, so I have a lot of mainstream interests and have huge gaps in my reading list. [Truly, I wish I had chosen to relish reading C.S. Lewis instead of Tom Clancy. Ah, misspent youth.] You’re passionate about the things that interest you, even when they bring you grief—Arkansas football, mostly. You care about reading and writing, and these are things that we share.

I’ve asked you questions about what your life’s been like, about what you think about being a husband, a father, and all that. Your answers stay with me, of course, but the care you put into the responses shows me that you really do think about those things and lead a life that is Examined. That’s an important thing.

You’ve been very supportive for the last year-ish, always reaching out when you thought that I was a little on edge, and praying when you weren’t reaching out. I always know that I can ask for your prayers—I covet them—and that you will provide. Prayer is still this nebulous, seemingly-unknowable thing to me, but I know the sense of calm that comes with intervening prayer. Perhaps it is simply the momentary admission that we do not have enough strength in this life to live independently, and these admissions drive us further to the interdependence borne of Christ that can supply us with the energy and orientation towards what is Good.

You’ve stayed with me twice now: once in the inaugural Chris/Josh/Mike/Geof hotel crash run, and once in advance of Whiskerino. When I got to show you the US Space and Rocket Center, I had more fun watching you light up than I did seeing the new parts of the exhibit space. Yes, I had more fun watching you look at a Saturn V than I did looking at it myself.

That Whiskerino trip stands out because we were around the Throwdown but never fully in it. I think that’s part of what friendship is about: shutting down the outside world when you want to make time for fellowship.

Someday, I will make it over your way. The ledger has a lot more marks on this side.

Geof

Dear Chris

[These are necessarily getting shorter as the semester draws to a close. Also, the narrative as I understand it is on its own course, and I’m just writing along. –GFM]

It can be hard to get to know someone from afar, but I think that we did so about as well as two guy friends can, with you in Iowa and me here in Alabama. I do have the tendency to dominate a conversation given my preternatural talkativeness, but you can hold your own when you get a word in edgewise. You may tend to be an introvert, but you do have a lot to say.

We talk about so many varied things that interest the both of us. Frankly, it’s hard to find a ton of things where we truly disagree. If we do differ, it’s usually resolved in a conversation where one of us gives way or we find a middle ground. However that goes, the conversation has as much value to me as the conclusion. I think that’s mainly because in our writing—we never talk on the phone and rarely have time to meet in person—we force ourselves to really decide if those words are what we believe, what we’ve thought. I find a lot of the time that I have to re-think before I write—this is very hard for me, because I’m improvisational when not extemporaneous—and this contemplation does me a good turn.

I am sad that I have as yet been unsuccessful in getting you to move down here, but having you meet the Granades was merely a step in that process. ((It was Misty’s idea to have you visit, though. I didn’t bribe her or anything.)) I think that you value good friends as much as I do, and I think that you would have a lot of them if you lived here. [We would adopt you. That’s all I’m saying.] That said, you’re doing greater Cedar Rapids a good turn by being a part of that community and living your life there. ((But really, please move.))

Thank you for being a good friend, for having good words, and for having a ready ear. I can’t really ask for much more than that. ((Okay, I could ask for a job, but if you knew of one up there you would’ve already told me about it.))

Geof