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Posts Tagged ‘friendship’

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?

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?

Have we lost the art of conversation?

In behavior, children, culture, domestic life, family, life, parenting, Technology, urban life on April 26, 2012 at 1:06 am
Talking in the evening. Porto Covo, Portugal

Talking in the evening. Porto Covo, Portugal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This recent think-piece in The New York Times argues that we have:

At home, families sit together, texting and reading e-mail. At work executives text during board meetings. We text (and shop and go on Facebook) during classes and when we’re on dates…

We’ve become accustomed to a new way of being “alone together.” Technology-enabled, we are able to be with one another, and also elsewhere, connected to wherever we want to be. We want to customize our lives. We want to move in and out of where we are because the thing we value most is control over where we focus our attention. We have gotten used to the idea of being in a tribe of one, loyal to our own party.

One of the rituals my husband and I enjoy is my driving him to the commuter train station in the morning. It’s only about 10 minutes door to door, but it’s a nice chance to connect and chat before his 40-minute commute and a crazy life working at the Times, one with six meetings every day.

We talk a lot, usually two or three times, briefly, by phone and maybe an hour or two in the evening. That’s a great deal more than many couples, certainly those with multiple children juggling conflicting schedules.

But sitting across the table from someone, sharing a glass of wine or cup of coffee, seems to have become an unimaginable luxury. How else can we ever get to know one another? I’ve had two female friends tell me, only after many years of knowing them, that they had each been sexually abused as a child.

That took a lot of trust and courage. I don’t think most of us would want to share such intimacies only through a computer or phone screen.

I love road trips, six or eight or ten hours in a vehicle with my husband, or friends, or my Dad. You get a lot said, and the silences are companionable.

On a recent trip to San Francisco, (on Virgin Air, maybe the reason for such indie fellow travelers), my outbound flight had a career musician beside me, Homer Flynn, who has spent a long life making very cool music in a band called The Residents. Their Wikipedia entry is huge! We had a great conversation, for more than an hour, about the nature of creativity, about managing a long and productive worklife, about inspiration.

On the flight home — 5.5 hours — I had a similar conversation with my seatmate, a visual artist a little older than I.

Ironically, she’d just opened and started to read a book about introverts and I figured she’d never want to chat. But we discovered we had so much in common we talked the whole way! She had even attended the same East Coast prep school as my mother.

Another flight, from Winnipeg to Vancouver, placed me beside a coach for the Toronto Argonauts, a professional football team. Orlando Steinauer and I had a great time comparing notes on the world of professional sport and professional writing. We found it hard to decide which is more bruising!

As you can see, conversation is my oxygen. I love meeting fun new people and hearing their stories.

It’s why, after 36 years as a journalist, I still enjoy my work — and the comments I get here. I’m endlessly curious about people.

Do you make time in your life now for face to face conversations?

With whom and how often?

If not, do you miss them?

You say goodbye, and I say hello

In aging, behavior, family, life, love, travel on April 13, 2012 at 12:58 am
F-82G 68FAWS Itazuke Nov1950

F-82G 68FAWS Itazuke Nov1950 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How many times a day do you say goodbye?

Or hello?

In a life we often envision and plan for and treat as forward-moving, consistent and linear, it’s really more often one of constantly interrupted relationships — with people, with places, with ideas, with fantasies, with hopes.

This struck me on a recent trip to San Francisco, a city I had not visited since 1998, when I stayed with a friend working in Silicon Valley on my way home from a vacation in New Zealand.

I lost touch with that friend, who I’m deeply fond of, shortly thereafter and always hoped to see him again.

To do so, I emailed and then called the ex-beau who was our mutual friend back in 1996. The boy who broke my heart! But he and I are now both happily re-married and he readily put me back in touch with C, my friend.

What a joy it was to hear his voice again and to catch up on all those lost years. Who knew that our “goodbye” would last so long? I figured it was forever.

I stayed out there with a friend who is in her 70s and whose husband is 83. I wondered, when I said goodbye to them, if that was our last.

I’ll soon be finishing up eight weeks of post-operative physical therapy, working with a group of men and women I’ve known since 2000, when I had my first knee arthroscopy. Within 11 months after that one, I was back, having needed surgery on the other knee. So much for “goodbye”!

I returned there in May 2008 after right shoulder repair, in December 2009 to avoid left shoulder surgery and in August 2010 while I was on crutches. Crazy! (I’m normally very healthy. I just seem to have lousy orthopedic luck.)

But it’s been a pleasure to be welcomed back so warmly by people I like, who’ve twisted me like a pretzel and whose skills have helped me regain strength, stamina and mobility. I’ve watched them date, marry, have kids, graduate college. Who knows how long this next “goodbye” will last?

I attended summer camp ages 8 to 16, for eight weeks at a time, and our end-of-summer leave-takings were truly epic, with much weeping. It wasn’t just faux teenage drama. Sharing a cabin/tent/canoe/sailboat created a much deeper intimacy than some of us had with school-mates, even our own families in some cases.

And, oh, the glorious excitement as that bus, after a three-hour drive north from Toronto, finally pulled into the camp’s long gravel driveway the next summer.

Hello! Hello!

Every time I leave Paris, I feel bereft and the last last time we arrived, I burst into tears of relief and joy that I had finally been able to afford to return.

And yet, the past 12 months have also taught me the powerful value of saying goodbye to several toxic relationships that were making me really unhappy, no matter what efforts I made. That wasted time and energy — reclaimed — has brought some lovely new people into my life, hello’s that have deeply enriched it.

Which do you say more often and why?

Is “Help!” a four-letter word for you?

In aging, behavior, domestic life, Health, life, seniors, women on March 15, 2012 at 12:07 am
English: "A Helping Hand". 1881 pain...

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve just experienced the most dependent month of my adult life.

Having had full hip replacement, returning home bruised, swollen and sore, I needed daily — even multiple times a day — help to do the simplest of things: eat, dress, pull socks, stocking and shoes on and off, get in and out of bed, bathe.

I left my parents’ home at 19 and lived much of my life after that alone. I’d been sick as hell alone in my apartment or traveling far away where I knew no one and didn’t speak the language, in places like Venice or Istanbul. My family has never been close emotionally or physically — it was made very clear to me what, pretty much whatever happened to me, physically, financially, emotionally, it was up to me to figure out, and cope with it.

I hated being weak, needy and vulnerable. Surprise!

I finally drove this week — and showered (alone!) and tied my sneakers (unaided!) — for the first time in a month. I went by train into Manhattan, our nearest city, and saw a movie with a friend and did some clothes shopping. It was all deliciously new and deeply pleasant.

But I didn’t, as everyone expected, sigh with relief at finally regaining my cherished independence.

I loved having Jose home, to chat with and bring me breakfast in bed. Friends drove an hour to visit, bringing home-cooked meals and fresh cheer. Two close friends were kind enough to chauffeur me to physical therapy a few times, otherwise a $20 cab ride each way.

I’d never been so fussed over or cared for, and it was lovely. Our front door is covered in get-well cards. We ate dinners for three weeks cooked and delivered by members of our church.

As I’ve been walking our apartment property in spring sunshine, I’ve run into a neighbor, a single woman my age who is fighting cancer for the third time. She’s reluctant to ask for help, but she needs it from time to time.

We all do.

We are, even in our vigorous 20s or 30s, as likely to be felled by a vicious flu or a broken arm or a sprained ankle.

We need help, whether writing a better resume or finding the perfect wedding dress or learning how to refinish furniture or bathe a baby. But, for some reason, we’re supposed to shoo away a helping hand.

No, I’m, fine, really, we insist. Even when we’re really not at all fine and would kill for a helping hand or two.

Maybe we’re afraid no one will step up and be reliable and do the hard work, even for a while. As someone who took decades here in New York to make lasting friendships, this offered a huge and powerful lesson for me. We’re loved!

Do you find it difficult to ask others for help?

When you ask, do you receive it?

My baby, she wrote me a letter

In behavior, culture, design, domestic life, life, love, Style on March 11, 2012 at 12:06 am
English: Postal card mailed from Washington, D...

Image via Wikipedia

When was the last time you wrote — (yes, by hand, using a pen) — a letter or note on a piece of paper, let alone chose a lovely card or piece of quality stationery? Foolscap, notebook pages, the back of a receipt or a Post-It note do not count!

Did you put a stamp on it and mail it to someone: a business associate, a former professor or mentor, your sweetie or mom or nephew or former college room-mate?

When was the last time you received a card or letter and ripped open that paper envelope, wondering who had been so thoughtfully old-school to choose it, write it, buy a stamp, find your mailing address and, in time for an occasion, send it to you?

Here’s a recent op-ed in The Guardian making the same argument in favor of paper-based communication:

A letter is a letter no matter whether it lands on the doormat or pings into your electronic inbox.

Actually, though, there is a difference and it is one that worries historians like myself who spend their days combing the correspondence of ordinary people written 150 years ago. The protocols that govern letter-writing mean that even the simplest of communications come packed with extra bits of information that never make it into an email. “A … letter, should be loose, cover much ground, run swiftly, take risk of mortality and decay,” Saul Bellow once wrote – and while most peoples’ communications don’t quite match up to these exacting standards, they do strive to do more than simply arrange where to meet tonight, FYI, or chortle over last night’s debauch down the pub, WTF. Even the most listless letter-writer generally includes a bit about how they are physically and emotionally, a snapshot of their recent activities, a nod towards future holiday plans and a final comment on the state of the nation.

To a historian this stuff is gold dust. For buried away in the interstices of the most apparently banal note you will find all sorts of data, not just about how people lived, loved, ate and dressed a century ago, but – and this is the important bit – what they thought and felt about it all. Letters are a prompt to reflection and what cultural critics call “self-fashioning”. Put bluntly, we get to know who we are and what we think by writing about it to other people.

I recently had major surgery and cannot adequately describe the pleasure, comfort and moral support I got from the many cards and notes I received, whether slid beneath my apartment door by neighbors, sent from old pals in Canada or mailed by members of our church.

(I loved getting e-cards, too.)

But, years from now, when I sort through my papers — literally — these pretty, physical, time-specific memories will fill my hands: Valentine’s, birthdays, weddings, condolence, congratulations.

Here’s a link to 30 gorgeous modern thank-you notes, from one of my favorite daily blogs, Design Milk.

Especially at times of sorrow and stress, a thoughtful, personal note on lovely paper is an air-borne hug.

Here’s a great story from NBC Nightly News about why sending cards matters so much.

And a year-old blog devoted to saving the use of snail mail.

Writing a novel? Here’s a fascinating argument by one writer why writing letters is so beneficial to writers of fiction.

Mail one today!

You’ve Got To Have Friends!

In behavior, life, love, women on February 9, 2012 at 12:09 am
Friends

Image via Wikipedia

Bette Midler sang it, and oh is it true…

I moved to New York, to a wealthy suburb filled with soccer moms, (I’m neither), in 1989. When I first married, in 1992, many of those attending were more acquaintances, with a few old friends, all from my native Canada, mixed in.

Only in the past two years have I finally — thank heaven — felt like I, and my second husband, have found a strong network of good friends. I’d always found it really easy to make friends, so was surprised and hurt at how hard it was for me here. I’d only lived in one other place that was lonelier, in a town in rural New Hampshire for 18 months, that was the roughest place I’ve ever been.

No matter what I said or did, or how many times we entertained, nada. Everyone was married, pregnant, eager to become so, or a mother. I had nothing in common with anyone I met — until the very last month after we’d decided to get the hell out and move to New York when I met Penny, a funny, warm, down-to-earth single mom in the rug store where she worked. We stayed friends for a decade.

It’s not easy making new friends as an adult, once you’ve left school and especially if you, as I have for six years, work alone at home all day.

Which is why I read and enjoyed this charming new book, “MWF Seeks BFF” by a young (28 yr old) writer who went on 52 dates in Chicago in search of new friends. She writes lucidly about the challenges and how rare it is to just click! with someone new and hope they’ll carve out room in their life for you.

As I headed into major surgery, and Jose made up a list of people who might want to hear about my progress, I realized how lucky we are now to have found so many people who genuinely care about us both.

How did I meet them?

– Freelance work. Several are people I met at professional events aimed at writers. One is a woman who intelligently and sensitively edited my work when she ran a women’s magazine.

– My husband’s colleagues. He works full-time in an office at a newspaper, a place where people are really busy. But I found a lovely new friend in his department, a fellow Francophile.

– Pool aerobics. I don’t hang out with my classmates, but seeing the same women week after week for two years has created some new friendships, even if largely limited to the locker room.

– Church. I’m not at all like most of the women at our church, but the women who have become close friends have taken the time to see past what some see as my bohemian exterior. (I’m hardly a hippie, but we don’t live in a huge house, or a house at all,  and our household income is probably 30 percent of theirs.)

– Board work. Any sort of volunteer work where you have to show up regularly means you have time to get to know one another, know that you share a passion for the same issues and care enough to commit time to that cause. One of my best friends is someone I’ve been on a volunteer board with for a few years. You see one another in wholly different roles and behaviors than simply going out for drinks or a movie.

– Friends of friends. One local woman is an artist I met at a party here.

– A dinner party filled with strangers. One of my favorite women friends first sat opposite me at a fun dinner party held occasionally for 20 paying strangers at a home in Queens. Turns out her Mom attended the same Toronto ballet school and we’re both Canadian, have lived in foreign countries and both speak French.

Team sports and classes. I’ve been playing softball for a decade with a group of men and women from their 20s to 70s, including a retired ironworker in his 70s and a 30-something pastry chef. We have lawyers, a few doctors, schoolteachers, and have gotten to know one another very well on that dusty field. Athletic pals see our sweaty, exhausted, sore, injured (and triumphant) core.

– My own work colleagues. One of my new friends is someone I met through my freelance work for The New York Times, who has since moved into another full-time position elsewhere.

– Blogging. One of my new friends is a man who also blogged for True/Slant when I did, and we quickly became mutual admirers of one another’s work. We’ve read each other’s manuscripts and I love having a handsome, smart, single guy friend to keep Jose on his toes!

My friends range in age, from 30 years younger to 30 years older. Some have young kids, some have grand-kids, some have teenagers and a few, like me have no kids at all. Maybe typical of the women I find interesting, we almost never talk about kids, but about work, the news, our families.

How do you make new friends?

Friendship? Who’s Got Time?

In behavior, domestic life, life on August 19, 2011 at 1:00 am
Three best friends

In the same room! Image via Wikipedia

If there is one ongoing lacuna in my life  it’s face to face time with friends.

I miss them.

I miss it.

I feel very out of step where I live, in a super-affluent suburb of New York.  People here, and in the city, seem to devote the bulk of their time to work, commuting, family and self-improvement, not to time spent among friends.

I know this likely feels tougher for me because I spend about 80 percent of my life alone at home, where I work. No office cooler jokes or chitchat leaven my days. I miss the eye-roll!

Nor do I have any family members nearby, all living far away in Canada.

I recently made a new friend while we were both attending a conference in a city far from our homes. He lives in Zurich and I live north of New York. It was one of those instant coups de foudre, an immediate meeting of the minds that I find so rarely and which is so blessedly precious. Maybe because I’m not doing most of the things women my age do: worrying about kids and grand-kids, climbing or clinging to the career ladder, racing back and forth to my country house, I rarely meet women here I can identify with.

Frankly, it also seems to be a question of money — I live happily in a one-bedroom apartment and drive a 10-year-old vehicle. The women near me here live in enormous mansions and often out-earn me by many multiples. We have little in common except our gender.

Tristan and I spent a fantastic day together, as it turned out we’d both stayed after the conference with no fixed plans or agenda. We wandered (!) the Mall of America, all 520 stores and 78 acres of it. A world traveler with sophisticated tastes, he wanted to eat lunch at…Panda Express, a fast-food Chinese joint. We went out for dinner and enjoyed one of the best white wines I’ve ever tasted, from Argentina, which he chose.

It was terribly hard to say good-bye and I realized how rarely I now spend an entire day with a friend. When you spend uninterrupted hours with someone, the conversation has time to meander, from your earliest histories to your favorite bands, from that day’s news headlines to sharing stories of a fantastic trip five years ago.

People are too busy.

I do have some friends here in New York, and am glad, but if I see them once a month, that’s a lot. If we meet for a meal, it’s hurried. No one seems to have the leisure to just hang out. Emotional intimacy is not something you can rush.

But you have to want it, and you have to make time for it.

So this past weekend, Scott came to visit, about a 90 minute drive from his home. We see one another about every three or four months, punctuated with chatty emails. We celebrated with a big lunch on the balcony and he brought a great bottle of red wine and then we sat in the pool to cool off and talked about everything from the recent London riots to our own writing careers.

I live in the U.S., a culture weirdly addicted to the overshare, the blurt, the unwanted confession. Tristan knew of the conceptual model — whose name I forget, but I learned in my cross-cultural work with Berlitz — that visually explains how Americans relate to one another. It’s the opposite of many other cultures. Within seconds of meeting you, an American will unload a ton of extremely personal detail, but later remain emotionally aloof and distant.

In Canada, and other places, people often initially appear cold and unfriendly, but they’re reserved — wisely and cautiously reserving intimacy as a precious resource.

Self-disclosure follows, but takes time. You can’t rush it.

Scott is one of my 427 Facebook friends, but we’re also quite private people and there is much that only emerges over time. There is always news so good, or so bad, you need to share it in the same room with someone, not diced into status updates. I find it depressing as hell when people I’d like to become better friends with tell me — on Facebook — they’ve just had major surgery or their partner has died.

Seriously?

How are your face-to-face friendships doing these days?

The Locker Room

In behavior, children, family, life, love, sports, urban life, women on May 16, 2011 at 12:04 pm
YMCA office in (Ulan-Bator) Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

This one's in Mongolia! Image via Wikipedia

I work out and take classes at a local YMCA, which guarantees a wide mix of ages and income levels. A life-long jock, a veteran of boarding school and summer camp, I’m used to being around other people in various stages of undress.

But it’s the naked emotion that often surprises me there, not the glimpses of others’ flesh.

I learn a lot in the locker room and often leave it in a very different mood than when I arrived:

– the mentally disabled children who come to swim, bound up in splints and diapers, laughing and playing with their caregivers

– a diabetic woman my age who needed the EMTs after going into sugar shock

– the woman who casually announced it was her 83d birthday the next day, the one whose vigor and tart wit made me sure she was 20 years younger

– the scars of surgery

– what a woman’s body really looks like in old age

I value the very few places in American culture where little children and people in their 80s or 90s mingle freely, sharing space and ideas. One is church, the other is the Y. I don’t have children or nieces or nephews and lost both my grandmothers when I was 18, so I hunger for cross-generational contact.

A few weeks ago I was worn out, weary of holding it together. A conversation that began in the locker room after swim class with the 83-year-old was, suddenly, the most honest and helpful I’d had with anyone in months…Then we kept talking in the parking lot, even after I burst into embarrassed tears. Her unexpected advice was blunt but kind.

I’m used to being visible physically, not emotionally, a common theme in my life. I tend to keep feelings bottled up, not wanting to burden friends or family who have, of course, their own challenges as well.

I know you change in the locker room. I didn’t know it might be more than your clothes.

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