Of Love and Office Supplies: Philosophical Perspective’s Thoughts
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Philosophical Perspectives” is the author’s chosen pseudonym.
There are many things about the NCFCA that were… not awesome.
But as I’ve been remembering my years in the league, I’ve also been remembering the beautiful things – the friendships I gained with people around the country.
We were a strange bunch – “like-minded”, high-achieving homeschooled teenagers who liked to spend their spare time researching trade policy, arguing about Calvinism, and discussing the validity of resolutional critiques. We shopped for suits (at goodwill) and cooed over office supplies. We compared flow charts and rehashed debate rounds to figure out how we needed to boost our evidence boxes.
My church growing up hosted a New Year’s Eve party at a rec center every year which, as a tangent, I always thought was a dumb location – what were you supposed to do, if we didn’t want to play basketball? Work out? Communally? Anyway, after several years of sitting there, bored, I hit upon the perfect solution – I brought my debate box and re-wrote my case.
I saw my friends in person maybe once a month, usually at tournaments. Tournaments are weird places to hang out. We would be in rounds from 8am-10pm, if everything was running on time. I remember once not finishing until midnight. We grabbed moments when we could – during bye rounds or speech rounds if we weren’t competing. But we were exhausted, high on adrenaline and Red Bull, and most of the time competing against each other. We were also under the watchful eye of parents in every hallway.
Relationships may have been sparked at tournaments, but friendships grew and deepened online – mostly through Xanga, AIM, and HSD.
For the uninitiated, Xanga was an early web-blogging service, predating even MySpace. For us, it was facebook before there was facebook. You could write articles or update your status, and friends would comment or give “eProps,” the predecessor of facebook’s “like”.
AIM stands for AOL Instant Messenger. It was the one way we could have unmonitored conversations, since most of us understood the internet better than our parents.
HSD stands for Homeschooldebate.com, a forum established to discuss debate, judging, and coaching – but also quickly became home to myriad conversations about anything and everything, from serious to silly.
All three of these became spaces of deep community for me. As I re-read one of my (now private) Xangas recently, I was struck by how normal so much of it seems. I talked about how awesome my friends were, re-hashed tournaments (mostly the social happenings and tournament outcomes), posted inside jokes, and, more often that I care to admit, “meaningful” song lyrics.
It was on my other (secret) Xanga that I remembered the other stuff. There I wrote journal entries – some public, some private, and some protected (only visible to specific readers). I wrote about my faith, reflected critically on the competitiveness of the NCFCA, and processed problems in my family. I wrote about boys, love, belonging, and identity. I wrote about beauty, about pain, about Jesus.
I shared my soul with my friends on that site. They responded with love, support, and friendship. They called me out when I was spiraling. They talked me through my depression, and nursed me through my neglect. They reminded me that I was loved.
I did the same for them. I remember friends thousands of miles away IMing me when they were depressed, on the verge of self-harm. I would send them a song, and we’d talk until they could fall asleep. We dealt with eating disorders, self-harm, depression, anxiety, addiction, and death. We were a rag-tag bunch who were just helping each other survive.
And survive we did. We even managed to have fun. One of my favorite memories of my time in the NCFCA was a tournament held at a university, where I did very well. While usually out-of-towners stayed with other homeschool families, this time, we were allowed to stay in the dorms, without parental supervision. So we stayed up all night, drank artesian root beer, and watched a U2 concert. I held hands with a boy I liked under the couch cushions. We giggled, we ate candy, we made fun of M. Night Shyamalan. I think it’s one of the few times I felt like a teenager.
There are many skills the NCFCA gave me – critical thinking, public speaking, how to argue well, and how to understand all sides of an argument. This online community was its hidden gift. I learned how to share my heart in writing. I learned that big ideas are ok, that asking questions is good. I learned that I was beloved, messy and depressed as I was. I learned about music, and movies, and art. I learned that I didn’t have to win to be loved. I learned that I didn’t always have to be mature beyond my years, that it was ok to be silly. I learned how to listen, and that not every conversation is a debate. I learned how to walk through suffering, and how to ask for help. I learned how to sit with someone in their pain. I learned how to love and be loved, unconditionally.
I work now as a campus pastor – and I remember all of these things, as I sit with people in crisis. My friends in the NCFCA taught me more about love and honesty than anyone else since.
So, I’m taking a minute to celebrate those friends – from Xanga, AIM, and HSD days. It was a beautiful (and I think, sacred) community that we formed. For all we weathered, I’m grateful. It was, strange as it seems, a place of calm, and sanity, in the middle of the storm.