Monday, November 24, 2014

How to Make Friends, Part 4 of 7: Survive Living in Mainland China Together

Once upon a time, I spent a year living in Shanghai, working in the English department of Sanda University and sharing an apartment with my teaching partner Lucy.

Lots of things happened in those twelve months, running the gamut from comedy to tragedy and often blurring the lines in between. During almost every adventure and misadventure, amidst the hilarity and the horror, there was Lucy, being goofy in just the right moment to save my sanity. 

Many photos in this post courtesy of Cliff Larsen
As often happens with most Westerners living in mainland China for an extended period of time, we both went a little crazy at one point or another.

Whenever it was my turn to flip out, Lucy was there to talk me down off the emotional ledge, just as I was there to do the same for her.

The thing is, as important as she is to me now, it's amazing (and a little scary) to think that we probably never would have become close friends if we hadn't been paired together by an organization and sent to live in mainland China together (with two other teammates, yes, but they don't factor into the equation for the purposes of this post). Even if the stars had aligned and geography had brought us together in the States, I don't know what would have drawn us together as friends. When we met, everything seemed so different: tastes, likes, dislikes, personality, interests, and temperament. She read People magazine. I read Thomas Hardy novels. She quoted pop songs. I quoted Shakespeare. She attacked China with a freewheeling and high-spirited zest, whereas I worried and grumped along beside her, fretting about unlikely catastrophes and periodically spouting pedantic nonsense.

You get the picture. 

We were different. 

It's proper to use the past tense here -- "we were different" -- because during that year spent living together in China, each of us had an impact on the other’s life that has never worn off. 

Although geography and the pressures of life preclude getting together now as much as we both would like, we've managed to keep in touch. We've even managed to take two international trips together since that year, one of them a wonderfully spur-of-the-moment jaunt to Italy, in which we  ate everything in sight, couldn't take a decent picture together to save our lives...

...and Lucy scored the phone number and email address of one very convivial German tourist. 

I love Lucy dearly and consider her friendship to be a rare and precious thing.

After all, there's a huge, life-altering aspect of my history that only she can understand because she lived through each step of it with me.

I think perhaps most telling is this last photo, which our friend Cliff snapped on our way to the airport at the end of our year in Shanghai. Although we were happy to be headed home to see our families and live in a world that once again made sense, we both knew that this drive to the airport also marked the end of a special time in our lives and that we would miss each other dreadfully.

I kept this photo as my computer desktop background for several years after we came back, reminding me daily to pray for Lucy and thank God for the strength her friendship provided during a difficult time. Reminding me that no hardship lasts forever and that the friendships forged through adversity (and mind-altering confusion) are often the most precious.

Reminding me to be thankful, once again, for the sustaining joys of genuine friendship.

Friday, November 21, 2014

How to Become a Vigilante Superhero in Six Easy Steps

Guest post by Bethany Buchanan


1. Live in a big city. Because fighting crime in the country would put lots of miles on the hero-mobile.

2. Learn to keep a secret. Because most people suck at it, and it takes practice.

3. Learn to sew. Until you find a master tailor to be your sidekick, you’ll have to repair all of those close-call, knife-fight tears yourself. And you'll have the added bonus of being able to give yourself stitches without raising suspicions at the local ER.

4. Learn to fight. Because contrary to Hollywood lore, just getting out there on the streets and standing up to bad guys doesn’t cut it.

5. Learn the law. Because sooner or later you’re going to run into law-enforcement officers, and you need to know how to keep on their good side and yourself out of the clink.

6. Get an actual job in which you make lots of money. Because living in a big city, stocking sewing supplies, getting fight training, and earning a law degree are not cheap. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

How to Make Friends, Part 3 of 7: Take Road Trips

Nothing breeds friendship like enforced time spent together in tiny spaces, seeing the world and beholding its wonders together. 

This is how I became friends with someone I will call Alissa. (Because that is her actual name.) 

We'd already been working together for a year or two before taking this trip, but we taught at different ends of the building, had a pretty significant age gap, and therefore had nothing whatsoever in common. 

But then right after I'd returned from a quick trip to San Diego for a friend's wedding, Alissa sat behind me in a staff meeting and casually said, "I always wanted to run a marathon out there," and I said, "Do it next summer and I'll go with you," and she said, "Okay," and then I leveraged this agreement to include not only the 2011 San Diego Rock 'n' Roll Marathon but also a two-week road trip spanning gigantic swaths of the Southwest, including Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, the Panted Desert, Monument Valley, Canyonlands, Arches National Park, Salt Lake City, The Bonneville Salt Flats, Donner Pass, San Francisco, Big Sur, the PCH, and Los Angeles.

During this time, we were either cooped up together in a tiny car, hiking in tandem, or protecting one another from ax murderers while staying in bombed-out, third-rate motels with names like "The Homesteader Inn." 


It should be noted that I've taken some awesome road trips with many other incredible friends over the years, and I'm thankful for every one of them. But this trip with Alissa continues to be the first time that I committed to a road trip with a relative stranger and came out at the end with a trusted friend.

We've even taken two more road trips together since this one, and hope for many more. 


For more on this first trip, which I nicknamed the Great American West Adventure and blogged in some detail for writing practice, read a day-by-day summary by clicking the GAWA2011 link and scrolling backward. You'll see many, many more photos and -- of course -- shenanigans galore. 


Monday, November 10, 2014

How to Make Friends, Part 2 of 7: Announce Your Intent

One day I walked up to a girl named Hilary and said, "I don’t really know you, and you don’t know me, but we’re going to be friends. I’ve decided. Get used to the idea.”

Please understand that we weren’t children at the time. Doing the math right now in my head, I'm pretty confident in saying that I was at least twenty-one when this happened. 

And it wasn't a totally random act on my part. I did have a reason. We already had a few mutual friends, and we were going to be working together for the summer, so I thought it would just be better all around if we were friends. 

From that moment on, I treated her as if we were already close, as if we already had a well-traveled road behind us. I teased her, started making up inside jokes, and I told her things that I would tell close friends.

I followed her around and basically wedged myself into her life.

And do you know what? It worked!

In a case of “fake it ‘till you make it”-style friendship, we grew genuinely fond of each other while developing a real core of shared experiences.


Fifteen years later, we’re still going strong. I’m so thankful for this long and faithful friendship.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that as a friend-making tactic, this doesn’t always work. The whole “treating someone as if you’re already close friends until they get the idea” thing can backfire. In fact, I’m fairly sure that some of the other people I tried it on went away thinking I was either mentally imbalanced or a stalker. (Or both.)

But at least once, it worked, and beautifully so.

For those of you unconvinced of this method of friend-making, there’s no better way to prove it sound (or not) than to try it yourself.

Be sure to get back to me with your results!

Monday, November 3, 2014

How to Make Friends, Part 1 of 7: Make Friends of your Family

(Catch the audio.)

Some my my best friends are my family members. This is only partially because we have no choice in the matter of knowing one another. Even if we weren't related by blood, I'd still choose them as friends. They are some of the most supportive, intelligent, godly, and entertaining people ever.

As friendship goes, this group has much to recommend it.

First they're loyal. They've come to all of my productions, concerts, and shows. They’ve been beside me at every step (except for the steps that they thought were stupid). They visited me while I lived overseas, and if they couldn’t visit, they sent letters, e-mails, cards, and coffee. 

Second, they're supportive. They sit through endless script readings and discussions of rough drafts and self-indulgent rants about  my troublesome writing projects... just because. They've made it clear that they believe I'll succeed, and they cheer loud and long with every new achievement. (I mean it. They literally shout "Hurray!" in unison. It's uncanny.)

Third, they're engaging. The wide-ranging interests of each family member means there's never a dull conversational moment. (My mother recently sat down next to someone we'd invited to dinner and asked, "So... what's your opinion on the Nephilim?" He almost swallowed his teeth.) 

Fourth, they're entertaining. They make me laugh harder than almost anybody else.

Best Photo Ever, by Bethany Buchanan
Best of all, most members of my family won't put up with my self-indulgent pity parties or ridiculous flights of selfish fancy. They challenge me to become more Christlike and are not afraid to tell me to get over myself when necessary. (It's often necessary.)

Of course, we can’t always help whom we’re related to, and if you've been blessed with a different sort of family, I understand. This is a seven-part series, and I promise that every other aspect  of friendship discussed will deal with situations under your direct control. 

But I would be wrong to attempt any serious discussion of friendship with out first acknowledging the best and dearest friends of my life: my family.