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Posts Tagged ‘friends’

Where’s your community?

In behavior, cities, culture, domestic life, education, family, immigration, life, love, travel, urban life, US on September 3, 2014 at 12:24 am

By Caitlin Kelly

With the New York Times trivia team --- the year we won!

With the New York Times trivia team — the year we won!

So I’m a member of an on-line women/writers’ group, now my go-to site, a place I waste spend wayyyyyy too much time.

It’s a place where women across the U.S. and Canada, from the UAE to India, multi-racial, multi-ethnic, with varying views on sexual preference, ranging in age from 20s to 50s (very few of us!) rant, rave, laugh, weep, share, support and are forging some powerful emotional bonds.

There are women with multiple tattoos (I have none); women in graduate school and women teaching college; women working on some of the biggest television shows out there (!), those happily pregnant and those who never want to have children, and women frustratedly un or under-employed.

In American culture, at least, it’s rare to find a group of women who both raucously and respectfully disagree, let alone share stories and support that are not exclusively focused on one issue.

We talk about everything: work, men, women, family, drunken misadventures, marriage/divorce/dating, how to navigate new situations…Interestingly, we rarely talk about the mechanics of work. We have plenty of other places to do that.

Some of us finally met face to face last week. What a joy!

It was such a pleasure to just sit for hours and get to better know an eclectic, smart, funny, passionate group of women.

A view of my town, Tarrytown, NY

A view of my town, Tarrytown, NY

The one thing I’ve always craved, sought and struggled with is a sense of community.

Most people think of a geographic location when they use that word, but today, thanks to social media, we’re often much more connected — emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, professionally — to people we have yet to meet IRL (in real life), yet who passionately share our convictions, values and/or interests.

As I’ve written here before, I live in a place — the wealthy suburbs north of New York City — where I typically fail to connect meaningfully with many people. Women my age are corporate warriors with high six-figure salaries and husbands to match or stay-at-home mothers in enormous mansions grooming perfect children.

I don’t have children and we are not wealthy.

Not my crowd, for sure!

I began attending a local church in 1998 that Jose and I still visit every few weeks or so. But it, too, is too safe, white, wealthy and non-political for my tastes.

I also have been working alone at home, with kids or pets, since 2006. That solitude and isolation can start to feel claustrophobic without the company of others.

So community matters deeply to me.

I also left behind my country, culture and friends when I moved to New York in 1989. As a professional writer, I belong to several groups, on and off-line, that revolve around our work. But they are often simply transactional — Who’s the editor? What do they pay? — not social.

Pratt's library -- with one of the many sculptures dotting the campus

Pratt’s library — with one of the many sculptures dotting the campus

I recently began teaching at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and have already attended a four-hour orientation session, where I met a fellow instructor, a lively, friendly young woman. The school’s president invites us all to his home in mid-September for a reception, and I attended a celebration of their new MFA program, a two-hour affair (after four hours of class that day!)

It feels good to be welcomed, even as an adjunct, into a new, thriving and creative community.

Where, when and how do you find or build a sense of community?

 

Yup, you’re my friend — how I know it for sure

In behavior, culture, domestic life, family, life, love, women on July 11, 2014 at 12:46 am

By Caitlin Kelly

They help push the van in 95 degree heat!

They help push the van in 95 degree heat!

Now that “friend” is a verb — (no, it’s bloody well not!) – how many of us really have people who fit the bill, old-school?

You know, people you sit down with, (or stand up with or run or walk or go fishing with), face to face.

People you actually talk to in the same room whenever possible.

I’ve been thinking about this recently, and have decided there are a few ways you can separate the wheat  from the chaff.

They share a cup of coffee and a great adventure!

They share a cup of coffee and a great adventure!

They’re really your friend if:

— They know your parents, your siblings, your pets and their birthdays

— Your parents ask how they’re doing and vice versa

— They know the exact brand of hard-to-find bubble bath/liquor you love and buy it for you for your birthday

— They pick up the tab

— You each dated two men who were best friends, both of whom broke your hearts

— You each dated two men who were brothers

— They traveled from the furthest reaches of northern British Columbia to your suburban New York wedding,  then came to Toronto for your second one

— They help you pack up your home, load the truck and (yes, I did this once, in summer), drive you from New York City to Washington, D.C.

— They climb a hill in a snowstorm at 6:00 a.m. when the taxi can’t go any further, to accompany you to the hospital for surgery

— They catch you as you fall backwards into the toilet door, woozy from anesthesia, before you concuss yourself after surgery

— They can share a bed with you platonically and don’t find it weird

— They’re the executor/executrix of your will

— You spend Christmas with them, since they’re more family than yours is

— They have keys to your home

— They named one of their children after you (or vice versa)

— They go with you to chemo

— They attend your loved ones’ funerals and wakes

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My best friend, my husband, Jose

My best friend, my husband, Jose

— They never forget your birthday

— They send you a condolence card when your beloved pet dies

— They send you a congratulations card the day your book is published

— They know your — ahem — romantic history before you snagged the husband/wife and will keep your secrets safe

— You might, just possibly, have shared a few of those adventures, and partners

— They remember the night you…possibly in far more detail than you do

— They share your deepest geek/nerd passions

— They know your PIN

— They know your childhood nickname

— They know what you’re allergic to

— They make you laugh so loud people stare at you in public

— They’ll hold you tight if you need a good cry

— You can lend them a bathing suit and it somehow fits, even if they’re a whole lot smaller and younger

— You can ask for/offer explicit sexual advice/instruction and not get get laughed at/grossed out

— You know they’re who they are because they’ve battled mental illness or addiction in their family and they’re a survivor, not damaged

— You know their flawless public appearance is a little more complicated than that

— They remember things from your distant past that you’ve totally forgotten

— They love you, in spite of yourself

— Whenever you see them or talk to them, even after months or years of absence, you pick up as if it were 10 minutes ago

— You’ve traveled together and not killed one another

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— They stood in on your wedding day for your absent mother, helping you with your makeup and keeping you calm

— You’ve helped them survive their divorce/infidelity/a natural disaster/becoming a crime victim — or all of the above

With love and gratitude to some of my many treasured friends: Cadence in London, Marion in Kamloops, Leslie in Toronto, Suzy and Salley in D.C., Jennifer in Maine, Molly, roaming about Laos, Cambodia and Thailand this summer and Pam across the street…

Loneliness — the new epidemic

In aging, behavior, cities, culture, domestic life, family, life, urban life, US on November 27, 2013 at 12:24 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Loneliness

Loneliness (Photo credit: FotoRita [Allstar maniac])

Powerful piece in The Globe and Mail:

In Vancouver, residents recently listed social isolation as their most pressing concern. More Canadians than ever live alone, and almost one-quarter describe themselves as lonely. In the United States, two studies showed that 40 per cent of people say they’re lonely, a figure that has doubled in 30 years. Britain has a registered charity campaigning to end chronic loneliness, and last month, health secretary Jeremy Hunt gave a speech about the isolated many, calling attention to “a forgotten million who live amongst us ignored, to our national shame.”

It is the great irony of our age that we have never been better connected, or more adrift.

The issue isn’t just social, it’s a public-health crisis in waiting. If you suffer from chronic loneliness, you run the risk of illness, and premature death.

“This is a bigger problem than we realize,” says Ami Rokach, a psychologist and lecturer at York University in Toronto, who has been researching the subject for more than three decades.

“Loneliness has been linked to depression, anxiety, interpersonal hostility, increased vulnerability to health problems, and even to suicide.”

The holiday season is a time of year when feeling unconnected, or disconnected, can be more painful than ever.

As someone who’s been working alone at home — with no pets or kids for company or distraction — since 2006, I know how isolating this form of employment can get. Yes, I can go to the library or a cafe to be surrounded by people, but that’s not the solution. They’re not friends.

I realized the other day where my community lies, and it’s not at all what I would have answered if you asked. It’s the YMCA in my small town. I go there three or four times most weeks, taking classes in jazz dance and choreography or using the work-out room. I also sometimes take pool aerobics. So every visit now means running into one of my teachers or a fellow student or a neighbor.

It feels really good.

Loneliness is something I’ve fought for years since I moved to New York in 1989, jobless, knowing only two people, my fiance (now my first husband) and a high school friend of my mother’s. To my dismay, she never bothered to invite me for coffee or, even though she worked in the same industry, make an introduction to anyone. It was very tough indeed.

Getting divorced five years after arriving here was also difficult. I had only one deep friendship, with a woman (sadly) since gone from my life.

Only in the past four or five years have I felt at home here, thanks to finally having found several good friends. No matter my professional achievements, it was a long, long time of feeling disconnected and unwelcome. When you live in a suburb, and don’t have kids or hobbies, it’s tough to find and nurture new friendships. And New Yorkers endure the nation’s longest commutes, their spare hours devoted tend to work or family.

This year, Jose is working on Thanksgiving but I’ve been adopted for the holiday — strolling only three doors down a warm, dry hallway on my floor to join friends for their Thanksgiving meal tomorrow.

I love this smart, creative solution. (Yay, Canada!)

The Vancouver Foundation has another answer: It is giving out grants of $500 to people who will organize a community event that brings strangers together – a knitting circle, an origami workshop, a pumpkin-carving jamboree. Mr. McCort attended one gathering recently, and was struck by an unfamiliar sight: “No one was on their phone, or checking email. There were a hundred people, just talking and making new friends.”

Do you feel lonely?

What do you do to try and alleviate it?

THIS WEEK’S WEBINAR IS “CRAFTING THE PERSONAL ESSAY”; 4:00 p.m. EST Nov. 30. I HOPE YOU’LL JOIN US!

DETAILS AND SIGN-UP HERE.

The value of staring into stars/fire/backlit leaves

In beauty, behavior, life, nature, travel on August 31, 2013 at 11:38 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Comparison showing the effects of light pollut...

Comparison showing the effects of light pollution on viewing the sky at night. The southern sky, featuring Sagittarius and Scorpius. Top – Leamington, UT, pop. 217 Bottom – Orem, UT, in a metropolitan area of ~400,000 I’ve attempted to match sky brightness to how it appeared to my eyes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love you guys. Really.

But two entire days far away from email and computer is a blessed and necessary break for my hands, eyes and brain.

To spend it, as we did last weekend at a friend’s cabin in the Catskills, right beside a rushing stream lulling us to sleep — bliss!

I was very lucky to grow up with parents who loved the outdoors and took long country walks. I also spent every summer, ages 8 to 17, at a summer camp in northern Ontario, surrounded by silence and birch trees, whispering pines and weathered granite.

We canoed across deep lakes, and the sunlight refracted in the tiny whirlpool of our every paddle stroke created a star sapphire in those ancient waters.

A stand of birch trees.

A stand of birch trees. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Loons called.

For a while, my father had a 200+ year old house in the Irish countryside, complete with a wide, cold stream thick with watercress we could pick and make into salad. We stood in Galway Bay, plucking fresh mussels, and went home and made soup.

I love re-connecting with nature and after too much time indoors by artificial light touching plastic, I miss it terribly.

After a week of so much computer time my eyes were sore and watery, I really needed to look at leaves and stars and stone.

So the weekend was perfect.

Lying, snoozing, in a wide hammock strung between two towering trees, dappled by filtered sunlight, all I could see was some bright blue sky with a fresh contrail.

Walking through the woods, I marveled at moss so thick and springy I wanted to make a bed of it and settle down for a nap. Mushrooms, of every possible variety, lay everywhere — many of them with their edges delicately nibbled by something small and hungry.

At night we light a bonfire and sat beside it, feeling small and primeval — not just weary New Yorkers, (three journalists and a spokesman for one of the area’s most-used services), usually attached to cellphones rushing to deal with the latest emergency. We stared up into the night sky and marveled at a rare sight in this light-polluted part of the world: the Milky Way.

As the fire burned out, we pushed the charred logs closer and closer, the embers winking and glowing through the darkness.

In the Catskills

In the Catskills (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you make time to be at home in the natural world?

When and where?

The kindness of (blogging) strangers

In behavior, blogging, culture, domestic life, journalism, life, Technology, women on June 23, 2013 at 12:01 am

By Caitlin Kelly

So this little box arrived on my doorstep, with a return address in Los Angeles and $11.25 (!) in postage.

It rattled deliciously.

20130621183038

My granola!

Improbably and very generously, Niva, who writes the terrific blog, Riding Bitch, had sent me some of her home-made granola — yes, really — all the way from L.A. to N.Y., a six-hour plane ride. She’d mentioned on her blog that she’d made too much.

I, of course, said: “Send me some?”

And she did.

Too funny. How completely bizarre, and lovely, that blogging made two women connect enough to send cereal winging its way across the vast fruited plains of the big ole United States.

This is the fourth present I’ve been sent by blogging pals, each of which was deeply touching and completely unexpected.

Elizabeth Harper, a fellow ex-pat, an American now living in Cornwall, who writes Gifts of the Journey, saw this bar towel and sent it to me across the Atlantic.

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Danielle, a young American lawyer who writes I Heart the Brazil, from Auckland, sent me (!) a gift card to my favorite New York City indie bookstore, Posman’s. Which I promptly spent, and am still loving the books I bought with it.

And C., who writes Small Dog Syndrome, (and who’s been working as my [stellar!] part-time assistant for a few months), sent a box of calming tea from her then-home in far-away Utah. More than anyone, perhaps, she knows when I’m on my absolutely last nerve. (Of course, this might have been a gently — ahem — worded suggestion I chill the hell out.)

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It’s hard to express how touching and lovely this is.

I’ve been writing for a living since 1978, with my work published in books, newspapers, websites and magazines and read by millions of readers — but only blogging has created this sort of sweet global bond, one that prompts us to email or call or send stuff to people we haven’t (yet!) met face to face.

It’s an interesting high-wire act, this calculated exposure, this calibrated intimacy — putting it out there into the blogosphere and awaiting a response. Blogging, more than any other medium, allows us to express some deeply private thoughts and emotions, which, and I’ve seen this for many years, emboldens others to say “Really? Me, too!”

Journalism is usually too structured and commercial a product to allow for this sort of authentic expression.

Whenever I get a paid assignment I consider myself a tailor — someone wants a suit made in gray gabardine or navy pinstripes in size 42 tall. Got it. They do not want me to come back months later with some wildly bohemian and personal Vision of a suit. They just want a suit, their suit, by X deadline, in X size.

Even my most personal of personal essays — one of which won my National Magazine Award for humor — was written for a specific audience, (Canadian women), and might well have read differently if edited by Americans for their readers. Ironically, the same idea was roundly rejected by Woman’s Day, a big American women’s mag.

This essay, written for The New York Times about my apartment building neighbors, was also created for a specific readership.

When I write for this blog, I have no idea who I’m talking to!

Well, to some degree, I do…There are regular commenters: an artist in Arizona, a student in Ohio, a professor in Massachusetts, a mother of six in the States and another mother of six in New Zealand. There’s a florist in Ecuador, a medical student in Lebanon, a celebrity’s relative, a 17-year-old in Ireland, a Maltese movie festival.

But I have no idea what will make y’all happy. I just put it out there and hope for the best.

Getting eyeballs is great.

Receiving pressies is pretty damn cool.

Thank you!

Loneliness can be deadly

In behavior, blogging, cities, culture, domestic life, family, Health, life, love, science, urban life, US on May 15, 2013 at 1:59 am
Poster for a New York showing of Children of L...

Poster for a New York showing of Children of Loneliness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Caitlin Kelly

Can loneliness kill? Apparently so.

The New Republic, in this piece, argues in favor of being more social:

Teach a lonely person to respond to others without fear and
paranoia, and over time, her body will make fewer stress hormones and
get less sick from them. Care for a pet or start believing in a
supernatural being and your score on the UCLA Loneliness
Scale will go down. Even an act as simple as joining an athletic team or
a church can lead to what Cole calls “molecular remodeling.” “One
message I take away from this is, ‘Hey, it’s not just early life that
counts,’ ” he says. “We have to choose our life well.”

The story is long and complicated, and its underlying premise argues for more government funding for parents and young children.

But the larger point is an interesting one in a time when we are so connected by technology — thousands of you have signed up to follow me but will never meet me in person — yet often so lacking in true emotional and intellectual intimacy.

It took me a long, long time to make new friends when I came to New York. I was 30, and had always had very close friends and had made new friends easily. It was puzzling and miserable that I couldn’t seem to replicate that here.

But New York is a place where many people come with the absolute goal of making a lot of money and getting ahead and becoming powerful and famous — which all leaves little time to hang out for a few hours over coffee. New Yorkers also suffer the longest commute to work of anyone in the U.S., so even if someone likes you, they’re often sprinting for the 5:14 or the 8:22 back home to their own family.

I found the place annoyingly tribal; if you hadn’t attended the same schools as others, preferably an Ivy League college, you were simply persona non grata. College and graduate school as a sorting mechanism are powerful tools here.

I was lonely for a long time. In the past three or four years, finally, I’m happily starting to enjoy an active social life again, recently fielding two invitations to visit one friend in Pennsylvania and another at her house upstate. Last night, I met one friend, in from San Francisco, for a drink and another for dinner.

(Oddly, or not, they knew one another, having worked together decades ago for the same NYC book publisher and both [!] arrived with copies of their publishers’ new books for me to read. In addition to the three I had just bought {thanks, Danielle!}, I was now coming home carrying nine books!)

It feels really good to have friends you know for sure love you and are rooting for you. We need to be liked and valued, so see someone’s face light up with pleasure when they see us and lean in for a ferocious hug.

But building friendship also requires intimacy and intimacy takes time and effort, two things many of us have difficulty mustering up after a day of hard work (or looking for work) and commuting and caring for our families and pets and ourselves. Intimacy requires trust and being vulnerable and opening yourself up to someone new.

I paid a very high price for being lonely in 1998 when I became the victim of a con man. I was isolated, struggling financially, had not had a boyfriend in two years, was divorced and feeling as low and insecure as I ever have. The vulture swooped in — I was emotional roadkill.

After I survived that ordeal, I immediately joined a small, friendly local church. Living alone in the suburbs, without kids or any emotional connection to others living near me, I desperately needed community. I needed, and found, a place where I could feel safe again, and valued, and heal.

Have you ever felt terribly lonely?

What did you do to alleviate it?

Making time for friendship

In aging, behavior, children, culture, domestic life, family, love, men, women on March 19, 2013 at 1:35 am

On Monday mornings, I sometimes go to a friend’s home and sit in her kitchen and we talk. She pours me a coffee, and cooks or putters or sits at the table with me.

How retro! So 1950s.

How lovely.

Temple of Friendship at 20, Rue Jacob

Temple of Friendship at 20, Rue Jacob (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’re very lucky. We both work from from home and can carve out time for face-to-face friendship.

I think it’s as essential as exercise and sleep, this sitting with someone who knows and loves you, or is getting to know you and and you’re peeling back the onion layers of who they are as well.

Friendship takes time.

And it takes face time, not just emails and Facebook updates or texts. I want to feel a fierce hug, enjoy a shared smile, provoke a loud laugh.

I’m now scheduling face time with a friend into every week, determined to strengthen my relationships with the women I’ve recently gotten to know — after decades living in my suburban town with few intimates.

Paris Exposition: Champ de Mars and Eiffel Tow...

Paris Exposition: Champ de Mars and Eiffel Tower, Paris, France, 1900 (Photo credit: Brooklyn Museum)

In the past few weeks, I’ve had some great moments with friends old and new. An Irish woman I met in 1982 in Paris — I was 25, on a journalism fellowship there for eight months with her — was visiting New York to make  a radio documentary. Meeting up with her somewhat wrecked my work that day, but there was absolutely no question which was more important.

We picked up our conversation with the pleasure and intimacy of people who had seen each other a week before, when it might have been decades — we couldn’t remember. She looked amazing. We sat at the bar and ate hamburgers and it was sheer heaven to be with her again.

Because I never had kids, I lost my friends for a while when they were exhausted and spoken for, tending to the needs of their families. Now their nests are empty and they are hungrier for intimacy beyond their family circle.

Last week I sat with a new friend, who, like me, is trying to re-invent herself professionally. Being American, she’s sure that just a little effort will be enough. Being Canadian, I raise an eyebrow and ask: “Really?” She’s a helium balloon shooting for the ceiling, bursting with naive optimism and I’m the string, tugging her back to earth.

As soon as I sat down, she asked: “You look sad. What’s going on?”

You don’t get that from Facebook.

Do you make time to sit with your friends?

Help! I need somebody…

In behavior, books, business, domestic life, journalism, life, work on February 28, 2013 at 12:05 am
A group of security guards in Hong Kong lined ...

A group of security guards in Hong Kong lined up (fall-in) before on duty. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When you work for yourself, alone, you tend to think you can — and should — do it all. You get used to not having a boss, or colleagues or tech support or a janitor or security guards, any of the other people that normally surround us in an office or work setting.

You’re the CEO, CIO, CFO, R & D….and the janitor!

So hiring and paying others for their skills is something I have to force myself (Ms. Cheap) to do, while knowing it’s going to help me do my work better and faster. We all need a few smart brains to help us think through a problem that just stares us in the face sticking its tongue out…

And there’s a fun, honest piece on outsourcing grooming and fashion help from the current issue of American beauty magazine Allure, (which they offer no online link to):

I wish the tech nerds would get together with the fashion nerds and invent a company that would not only body-map the exact topography and physique of my physique, but also take it a step further and send me the following items in my exact size — hosiery, socks, T-shirts, jeans and bras.

Here’s a lovely post from mashedpotatoes about how much her husband does for her…

And another, from one of my favorite blogs, by singer Jessie Veeder, (which always has spectacular photos of her life on a ranch):

for all the Valentines Days I’ve been able to share with with a cute and thoughtful boy who turned out to be a man who makes the coffee nice and strong, searches for his clothes in the early hours of the morning with a headlamp so he doesn’t wake me, knows his way around a kitchen, unclogs the clogs, fixes broken things and promises he will be there tonight when I sing again, no matter the hours and miles he has to put in at work today.

A few of those helping me get it done these days:

The redoubtable C

It seems too unlikely to find and hire a terrific assistant through reading her blog, and vice versa, but that’s what happened. (A well-written blog lets readers know who you are and how you think and what your values are, so I felt no fear asking her to work with me as a researcher and general dogsbody.) She lives very far away from me and always will, although there’s a chance we’ll meet this summer. Her energy, enthusiasm, smarts and humor are a godsend. Here’s a link to her blog, Small Dog Syndrome.

Ricky

Ricky comes to our apartment every two weeks to clean it. I pay her $55 for about 90 minutes’ work, a fee some of my friends consider a lot of money. Not me. She’s quiet, efficient, meticulous and allows me to focus on high-value work. And she’s nice.

Alex

My hairdresser of more than a decade.

Ilda

A local hairdresser in my suburban town, she’s happy to meet me at 7:30 a.m. to do my hair, necessary when I’m asked to do a TV appearance. No, I can’t begin to approximate the quality of a professional blow-out! (And it’s a business expense.)

Yujin

He created my main website, caitlinkelly.com, which is due for a major re-do. We spent a good hour on the phone recently — as he now lives in Portland, Oregon — trying to figure it all out. I’m grateful for someone who’s known me so long and watched my career and skills morph since we put the site up in 1995, when very few writers even had one.

Jim

My financial planner in Toronto. OK, he’s not mine — he handles 100 accounts, mine among them. I’ve heard his gravel voice for years, but finally met him face to face recently and we chewed around some ideas for my portfolio. Given that mine may easily be the smallest he manages, I’m lucky he’s as gracious and helpful as he is.

Peter

My accountant for more than a decade. Even in my scariest, nail-biting, can-I-pay-the-bills years, and there have been a few, Peter has been encouraging, warm and proud of my ability to save 15 to 20 percent of my income — as a percentage, far more, he tells me, than clients earning much, more more. He even makes filing my taxes pleasant!

Tony

In May 2010, it was he, a massage therapist who knows me and my pain threshold all too well, who figured out something was seriously wrong with my left hip due to the sort of 24/7 pain I was suffering. After another MRI, at Tony’s urging, the dismissive surgeon who had given me steroids that destroyed my hip bone, said those three fateful words: “We missed that.”

Assorted helpful colleagues

The one serious drawback of working alone at home all day? Loneliness, isolation and brain-freeze. With no one across the desk or in the next cubicle to ask for help or advice or to brainstorm with, you can quickly burn out. My friend K, in Nova Scotia, always makes me at least 32% smarter after every call, no matter what the subject. G, in upstate New York, is high-energy and optimistic, and W., a new friend in Montreal, brims with fantastic ideas and helpful connections.

Roy and Yvonne

Every time I do a local event for my book, the owners of The Village Bookstore, one of only seven bookstores left in our large and affluent county, come out with a box of books and the hope that, after my presentation, we’ll sell some. Sometimes the drive is 45 minutes each way. No matter what the hour or weather or day, they’re there and cheerful and I’m grateful!

My brother

I have two. This one is ten years younger and runs his own software company, a fact that leaves me awestruck. The other day I needed all sorts of advice on creating and protecting IP — intellectual property — for a new project I’m working on. He totally got it and referred me to his patent expert and an IP lawyer. It’s really helpful to have someone I know, like and trust who sees all the issues and had dealt with many of them already.

My husband

I had neglected (!) to include him in this initial list, which proves how ungrateful utterly reliant I’ve become in 13 years on his good will, good humor, generosity and energy. I hate buying anything to do with technology — I’m cheap, hate making major financial commitments and yet appreciate every single thing he’s bought for me/us, including the coolest thing ever, a MiFi, the size of a credit card which turns anywhere, (short of the Grand Canyon), into an instant wi-fi spot. He also does all the laundry, some cooking and, far more safety conscious than I, thinks of things like — “Hmm, we’re driving up to Canada in the winter. Maybe we need new snow tires.” Which we desperately did. I’m lucky that he, too, has been a journalist, (albeit on the photo side), since his freshman year of college as I did, so he’s helped me many times with work dilemmas.

Who is essential to helping you run your life better or more easily these days?

The comfort of community

In aging, behavior, cities, culture, domestic life, family, life, love, religion, urban life, US on November 7, 2012 at 2:52 pm
English: Luncheon of the Boating Party (1881, ...

English: Luncheon of the Boating Party (1881, Pierre-Auguste Renoir) housed in The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This past weekend, shaken by the hurricane and our renewed sense of vulnerability — knowing the next power outage is inevitable — Jose and I instinctively went to be, in person and face to face, hug to reaffirming hug, with two of our long-time communities.

They are certainly distinctly American: softball and church.

I started playing co-ed softball about a decade ago, on a suburban park field in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY, joining a group of men and women, ranging from their 20s to over 70. It was founded by Jon, who then worked for the commuter railroad, and who soon adopted two small children, a Chinese girl and a tow-headed boy named Dakota, who used to sit in their strollers behind the batting cage.

The years since then have been a parade of deepening friendships. When Ed’s Dad died, we drove into the city to attend his wake, much of it in Spanish. When CJ fell and shattered his leg, Marty, an orthopedic surgeon who also plays with us, was able to do a quick, if sobering on-field diagnosis. When I went onto the DL list in November 2009, unable to play for the next three years with a damaged left hip (fully replaced Feb. 6, 2012), I kept coming out for after-game lunches to stay in touch with this group I love so well.

At lunch last week, as one of only two women among 20+ men, I felt — as I always do — completely at home, teasing Sky, the handsome young man sitting to my left who’s become a personal trainer, with his Mom, a newly retired teacher, sitting to my right. We now feel like family, laughing and teasing and hugging. Ed, a tall, thin lawyer my age, has the same last name as Jose, so I call him “el otro Lopez.”

In an era of almost constant job and financial insecurity, some of us shifting careers in our 50s or beyond, having a group of people who love you, sweaty and dirty, injured or healthy, employed or not, is a wonderful thing.

Here’s part of an essay I wrote about them for The New York Times:

One unspoken rule of Softball Lite is that men don’t help the women — who usually make up roughly a third of about 20 players each time — or tell them what to do. We know what to do, and after a few games, our teammates know and trust our skills as well. If we goof up, well, it’s not fatal and we’re quite aware that we goofed. I usually play second base, and I didn’t appreciate one new male player who marked a spot in the dust and told me where to stand.

Off the field, too, we cherish our longstanding ties. When one player had a multiple organ transplant and spent many long months in the hospital, teammates went to visit. (He’s now back to running the bases full tilt.) We’ve attended friends’ parents’ wakes, celebrated their engagements and weddings, applauded their concerts.

And, after every game, a group heads to a cafe where — like some sweaty version of Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party” — we gather green metal tables in the shade of a spreading tree, with stunning views of the Hudson River, and settle in for lunch.

We’ve watched Jon’s kids grow from toddlers to grade schoolers and cheered when Joe’s author made the best-seller list.

Jobs and homes and friendships have come and gone.

It’s said that diamonds are a girl’s best friend. This dusty little one is mine.

The other place we went back to, after about a six month absence, is our church, St. Barnabas in Irvington, NY

I rarely blog about religion because it can be such a divisive issue; I’m Episcopalian (Anglican) but not super-religious, another reason I don’t blog about it. I began going there in 1998 after I became the unwitting victim of a con artist, a man I dated, a convicted felon whose predatory behavior terrified me.

His ability to so effectively dominate me psychologically proved to me how terribly lonely, isolated and lacking in self-confidence I had become, allowing him access to me, my home and my property. He stole a credit card of mine, forged my signature and committed other crimes — but the police and district attorney were derisive and dismissive, making me feel even more alone and scared.

I needed to repair my fully broken spirit. Two of the women I met my first week at church, Niki and Barbara, married women a bit older than I, are still friends. We’re still in touch, years after they have moved away, with our former minister and one of his assistants.

On our visit back this week, I was worried we might be snubbed for having been away for so long, but people were lovely. One older man, much more hunched over his cane than we had ever seen him, stopped me to say, with joy: “You’re walking so well!” They had seen me suffer 24/7 pain for 3 years with my damaged hip, on crutches for three months to relieve it, seen me through three prior surgeries.

I congratulated one woman on a 60-pound weight loss, saw another get baptized and heard about a friend’s move.

They knew me single, knew me when dating and living with Jose, and know and value us now as a married couple. We were asked to carry the elements — the Communion wine and wafers — down the aisle in their gleaming silver containers, cold to the touch. I feel deeply honored to be, however briefly, a part of the service, and in such an essential way.

Jose and I are not much like our fellow parishioners, many of whom are wealthy and live in large houses, the women staying home to raise multiple children, when we have none. But his parents are decades in their graves; his two sisters live far away and my father is a 10-hour drive north in Canada.

Like all of us, we need to know we are appreciated!

And, while I obviously value on-line connections, I most crave being in a room with people I know.

It is deeply comforting, especially in times of such fear and insecurity, to be known, loved and accepted by community.

Where  — in person — are you finding this sort of community in your life now?

My unexpected refuge

In aging, behavior, domestic life, family, life, love, women on September 28, 2012 at 12:08 am

This is the view from what might be my truest home, one to which I’ve been returning — lovingly welcomed in good times and bad, whether I was lonely-and-single, freshly-divorced or happily-remarried — for more than 20 years.

It’s in Toronto, the home of a friend I met when I was just starting out in journalism, a woman 11 years my senior, a witty, fun, worldly publicist.

Through our work, and with her, I had some of my best adventures, both personal and professional, like one of my first-ever visits to New York where I (yes) performed eight shows of The Sleeping Beauty with the National Ballet of Canada (as an extra.) She took me to see “Sweeney Todd” on Broadway and loaned me money when mine was stolen.

As I spent my 20s in Toronto, forever single but professionally doing well, she saw me through some mighty tempestuous affairs, one with a local legend, an eccentric/talented guy we still talk about and recall with some fondness. My own parents never met or even heard of some of  my ex-es, even the Big Deals, but she remembers them all.

Like me, she’s had plenty of dishy beaux and never had kids. Living alone suits her.

What she so generously offers, to me and many others, is a place of refuge.

I once stayed with her for three weeks as I recovered from being victimized by a con artist in New York in 1998, an experience that left me so terrified and traumatized I seriously considered — for the first time since leaving Canada in 1988 — returning to Toronto for good. I needed time and a safe place to heal far, far away from the fear and, even worse, my local police and DA who dismissed his six felonies, and my experience, with a laugh.

In all my subsequent visits over the years, M and I rarely hang out or have long heart-to-hearts. She’s always super-busy, but gives me a key and we bump into one another in the kitchen for a few minutes or chat as she’s getting ready to go out to another meeting or event. But the full-to-bursting fridge is mine to raid, the teetering stacks of newspapers and magazines everywhere there for the pillaging.

Most important of all, though, her home is a place I feel safe and loved. Here, she helped me throw a birthday party for my 50th, inviting 10 of my oldest friends. Here, she helped me throw a birthday party for my husband’s 50th as well, only a few months later.

She is, it has taken me a long time to fully understand, true family.

I left my father’s house for good when I was 19. He sold it weeks later and went to Europe to live on a boat for a few years. My mother was traveling the world alone. My home, then, was a tiny studio apartment. I had no aunts or uncles or cousins nearby, no siblings and no family support.

My parents never told me it was OK to come home again, not after my divorce, not after losing a few jobs and trying to weather the recession. My troubled mother lived a six-hour flight away and my father had a new family with little tolerance for me hanging around.

M’s house — I finally, gratefully realized after all these years as I sat alone one morning this week with a cup of tea in the darkened kitchen — really is home, if home is the place you are always greeted with love and kindness.

I finally told her that this week, even though both of us are uncomfortable expressing so much emotion. (We WASPs just don’t do feelings!) 

Do you have an unexpected refuge?

Or have you offered one?

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