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Posts Tagged ‘friendship’

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 new bridezilla — show me the dough or I’ll shame you on social media

In behavior, domestic life, family, life, love, Money, news, Style, urban life, women on October 20, 2013 at 2:50 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Wedding

Wedding (Photo credit: teresachin2007)

Here’s a seriously depressing story from The Globe & Mail about bridezillas’ latest depths of greed and entitlement:

Earlier this month, a bride whipped out her phone and texted one of her guests: The newlywed woman was still waiting on a money-stuffed card and congenially reminded her guest that she’d attended “for free.” The guest, a childhood friend saddled with student loans, fired back with a refreshing smackdown. “If you cannot afford a wedding, then do not have one,” she wrote in a letter. “Do not dare make your friends/family feel financially responsible for your decisions/parties/extravagances.” The guest taped a penny to the letter, then bid farewell to their friendship.

It’s the third nasty blowup of this kind since summer, all leaked by the guests and highly publicized. In July, another wedding guest revealed a Facebook message she’d received from a bride dissatisfied with the gift of $100 from the guest and her partner: “We were very much short on paying off the reception,” read the complaint. And before that in June, two guests from Hamilton got blasted for their admittedly unusual wedding gift, a wicker basket brimming with pasta and Marshmallow Fluff. The bride didn’t mince words in subsequent texts and Facebook messages to the pair: “I lost out on $200 covering you and your date’s plate,” she wrote, later adding, “Weddings are to make money for your future not to pay for people’s meals. Do more research.”

There are few occasions more id-revealing than weddings. God help us.

I used to be really good friends with  a woman I’ll call J. We were besties, I thought, for life. Hah!

I threw her a wedding shower, at a point in my life when spending even $100 to welcome 15 of her friends — only one of whom I knew — was a real financial strain. When she arrived the first words out of her mouth weren’t, “How lovely. Thank you!” but “What time will this be over? I need to let my fiance know what time to pick me up.”

Nice.

Then she held a destination wedding on a Caribbean island far from New York, where we live. Another $1,000+? Nope.

Another friend kept having showers and parties, like the dinner inviting a group of her friends, (many high-earning or married) to a midtown restaurant full of Wall Street guys eating $40 steaks. Women at the table ordered many bottles of wine and the bill arrived — my portion (!) was $100, an absolute fortune for me at the time. Every shower required another gift. By the time I attended her wedding I couldn’t afford another thing.

Enough!

I’ve been married twice; the first time my family gave us some money for the wedding. I married again in 2011, in Toronto, and it was all on us. We managed to make it charming, stylish and affordable.

We loved our gifts, but, apart from the actual ceremony, considered the day a large party. I don’t ask my friends over and present them with a bill for dinner…

People in a marquee enjoying a wedding feast.

People in a marquee enjoying a wedding feast. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What do you make of this notion that wedding guests need to cough up — or else?

Has it happened to you?

Have you done it?

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?

When your BFF goes AWOL

In aging, behavior, life, love on July 12, 2013 at 2:16 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Do you have a best friend?

I wish I did!

Best Friend Forgotten

Best Friend Forgotten (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A new movie by Noah Baumbach, (whose “Squid and the Whale” I really disliked), addresses the push-pull of female friendship in your mid-20s, “Frances Ha.” It’s about Frances and Sophie, who meet at Vassar and are still BFFS at 27, but being pulled apart by work, life and boys.

Fans of the series “Girls” on HBO might find some of the themes similar, and Adam Driver, who stars in the series, is also in this movie.

Frances is a modern dancer, tall and gangly, financially struggling and a bit of a mess. She never brushes her hair and is repeatedly pronounced “undateable”, with which (ouch) she is quick to agree.

Sophie snags the banker boyfriend, Patch, and moves with him to Tokyo.

It really hit a chord for me and I left the theater, alone, an hour before sunset, feeling melancholy and wishing I still had a best friend like that, someone with whom I still shared a ton of history, in-jokes and the sort of sexual secrets that make for excellent blackmail material.

I lost my BFF, or she dumped me, or maybe or we just got fed up with one another — it was never clear or resolved or even discussed or addressed — about a decade ago.

We looked alike and were often mistaken for sisters. Hyper-competitive, in life and with one another, she’d say, “I’m the smart one.” I’d say: “I’m the pretty one.” Or vice versa.

I knew her mom and Dad and sister. I knew she’d always have a huge hunk of Brie in the fridge. She had three cats, one so enormous he could have doubled as a doorstop. I still remember their names.

Both bubbly, chatty Geminis, we were also both ex-pats who had moved to the U.S. and then to New York. She had a tiny studio in the West Village and we’d go dancing at Polly Esther’s and flirt with boys a decade younger, sometimes more. We both dated wholly inappropriate men. One of hers was a musician in a famous band who had very few teeth. Another was a friend of mine, but they argued constantly and eventually broke up.

Like Frances and Sophie in the movie, we sometimes platonically shared a bed and woke up giggling on a sunny Saturday with nothing to do and no one to report to. Bliss!

She held my hand while I wept really hard during my first divorced Christmas and climbed a hill in a snowstorm after the cab couldn’t go any further to accompany me to my first knee surgery — and caught me as I fell, tree-like, into the bathroom door afterward.

We traveled together to Venezuela where we both got trapped, terrifyingly, by the 1999 landslide that devastated the countryside. I got the last scheduled flight out, at 8:00 a.m., but she was stuck there for a week or more and returned home traumatized by the smell of dead bodies.

We went to visit her home country, where her father scared me by getting really drunk. We hired a small airplane and a pilot to fly us to where we wanted to go, meeting him at dawn. It felt exactly like the final scene in Casablanca.

But she met a man I didn’t like much, who boasted about his money and looked at me like I smelled funny and replaced all her charming furniture with his ugly, chunky, dark choices. She married him and moved to a huge lakeside house.

I saw little hope for our friendship continuing. And I was right.

It’s been a long time since we stopped being friends.

I’m lucky, though, to still have two dear girlfriends of very early vintage — one from high school and one from my first year of university. They knew me thinner, pre-marriage(s), before I left our native Canada for the United States in 1988. I see each of them once a year or so and keep up with them by phone mostly.

One of them, even though she was then living so far away she was practically in Alaska, came all the way to New Y0rk for my first wedding and again, in 2011, to Toronto for my second. We met when we eye-rolled at one another in our freshman English class. We added a few vowels to our first names and became The Pasta Twins. I still use the tattered, stained cookbook she gave me in the ’80s.

I pray that both of these women remain in my life for decades yet to come. It’s very comforting to be deeply known yet still well-loved, to share so much of one another’s long life histories.  We need to explain nothing — why we ditched that man or how our mother drives us nuts or the reasons we’re still chasing a few unlikely dreams.

We know.

Here’s a perfect list of 22 ways you know you’ve found your BFF, from Buzzfeed; 2,3, 13, 15, 16 and 20 really rang true for me.

Do you have a BFF?

Have you ever lost yours?

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.

20130214090743

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.)

20130622075940

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?

Who’s your cutman?

In behavior, family, life, love on March 8, 2013 at 2:51 am
English: American boxer Jack Dempsey posing in...

English: American boxer Jack Dempsey posing in ring in boxing position (Boyle’s Thirty Acres, Jersey City, N.J.). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love that word.

Technically, it’s the person who is — literally — in your corner of the boxing ring, whose job it is to deal with the cuts and bleeding a boxer endures in a match. To send them back in, ready to keep fighting.

I’m not a boxer, but sometimes life just feels like you’re getting socked in the jaw, really hard, and you stagger back and wonder…now what? Can anyone help me fix any of this?

Mine is a soft-spoken woman a decade younger who lives in a different time zone. Like me, she had a lousy first marriage and a happy second chance. Like me, she works in the publishing industry, albeit on the inside of a major publishing house. We’re both idealists, a little goofy, from families we can’t turn to for help.

I called her the other day, and, in reply to a soft: “How are you?” it all spilled out.

Some people can ask you that question and just start reading the emails on their phone as you begin to answer. It’s a stock phrase and they’re not really very interested, especially if you’re in the middle of a rough patch.

Your cutman cares. More importantly, s/he is, as they say, solutions-oriented, not only able to listen sympathetically, but someone who knows how to bandage you up and get you back into the ring.

I’ve faced a really rough patch recently and, tangled in the thorny vines I only make worse by thrashing, I really needed someone kind and loving and smart to help me cut through them, (a cutman of a different order, if you will.)

In a 45-minute phone call, (yes, during our workdays), I laid out my various issues — a work problem, an exciting new project with some dangerous elements, a family drama of extreme nastiness and my annoyance with an agent who can’t seem to return emails or phone calls.

I hung up, encouraged enough to take some remedial action, grateful as hell for her friendship.

Who’s yours?

The comfort of the familiar

In aging, beauty, behavior, cities, culture, design, domestic life, History, life, urban life on February 2, 2013 at 1:55 pm
English: Panorama of Toronto. Français : Image...

English: Panorama of Toronto. Français : Image panoramique de Toronto. Italiano: Un panorama di Toronto, al tramonto. Nella skyline si nota la CN Tower, la più alta torre per telecomunicazioni del mondo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We stood on the sidewalk, gobsmacked.

We’d walked along Queen Street in the freezing cold, counting the minutes until we were seated once more at our favorite Toronto deli, Prague, a Toronto institution of schnitzel and strudel and Pilsener and potato salad.

“Closed” read the sign.

A guy stepped out.

“What happened?”

“Some new owners bought it. They changed it. It didn’t work.”

Sigh.

I peered into the windows, looking in vain for the charming renovation they’d done a few years earlier, for the display cases filled with ham and jam and biscuits. All gone. The only thing left was the ancient mirrored wooden icebox from the original store.

There is something deeply comforting — in a life filled with constant change — in the familiar. Since I was born in Vancouver, I’ve lived in Toronto, Montreal (twice), New Hampshire, New York, Cuernavaca, Mexico, London and Paris. Between 1982 and 1989 I changed cities four times and left my native Canada for the United States.

After a few decades, when so many friends and jobs and colleagues and husbands and wives and sweeties have come and gone, knowing you’ll always find something lovely still standing in its spot takes on new power. It might be a tree, your old school, a beloved park. It’s a marker, a milestone. a piece of your past you can return to.

When we drive north to leave Toronto we pass a white brick house on a corner, the one we lived in when I was in high school. The one with tall narrow windows my Dad punched into those walls. The one with the lilac tree outside the kitchen door. The one where I lay in bed for a month with mono. The one where I wrote my essays in my first year of university while I still lived at home.

It was the last home I shared with my Dad.

I moved to New York in June 1989, so I have plenty of memories and associations there, sights and sounds I treasure as well, from our reservoir walk to weathered, patina-ed metal scrollwork of a nearby estate.

But there is something deeper for me in returning to places I first visited as a very small child and have been enjoying since. I have plenty of history in New York but much of it has been stressful — four surgeries in a decade, a brief and miserable marriage, becoming a crime victim twice in five years. For all the fun and excitement of publishing two books and re-creating my writing career, I miss the sense of optimism and excitement I had — as most of us do — in my early 20s, before I launched myself off the rocket pad of Toronto, my hometown.

We had lunch this visit at The Coffee Mill, which opened in 1963. I love the fresh rye bread, pre-buttered, they bring to the table. Their goulash and strudel and dark black coffee, all impossibly exotic in the Toronto of the 1960s. The seats are always filled with stylish regulars; when we we there this week, a famous Canadian actor sat a few tables away.

We stopped in down the block at the jeweler my Granny used to frequent, splurging her inheritance on enormous rings whose stones weighed down her hands. Jose bought my wedding ring and earrings there, a choice he happily gave me when we were deciding where to purchase that symbolic link to my future. I still own rings I bought there in my 20s and one my mother bought for me.

English: Toronto Globe newspaper office (with ...

English: Toronto Globe newspaper office (with a globe on top) on King Street East, Toronto, Canada, early 1860s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ll be having lunch in a few days with my first true love, a man who’s now on his second marriage, a very late-life Dad. We’ll eat at Le Select, another Toronto institution, which sits  — of course! — directly across the street from the place where, in 1984, my writing career started in earnest, the newsroom of The Globe and Mail. I used to walk up its steeply sloping driveway ramp every morning, pulling open the metal door, grabbing a fresh paper off the stack there and stepping into that day’s chaos. Every single morning, as I did so, my pulse rate soared as adrenaline kicked in and I wondered what they’d ask me to accomplish that day. An enormous satellite dish would beam my words to Saskatoon and Moose Jaw and Victoria and Halifax. Magic!

It will be odd to see P., but lovely. We were inseparable in my first year at University of Toronto. I was 18, he 23 and editor of the school newspaper where I, desperate to become a professional journalist, spent all my time when not in class. I was still living at home, he in a big old house shared with room-mates, one of whom was a ferociously serious member of the Marxist-Leninist party. We got fancy journalism jobs, married other people, got divorced, re-connected briefly in the mid-1990s, lost touch, found one another again.

University College, south side, University of ...

University College, south side, University of Toronto (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On this visit, as we always do, we had lunch with M., a friend I’ve known since my early 20s. It’s the sort of friendship where we pick up as if we’d stopped talking a week or so ago, not the three or six months that usually pass between our visits. Her love and enthusiasm and smarts are a touchstone for me. She, more than anyone except my husband, knows my intimate history — the sad dramas within my family and the ex-es who made me knees weak and possibly still could.

Do you take comfort in the familiar?

What are some of your touchstones?

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?

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