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Posts Tagged ‘friendship’

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?

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...

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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!

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