We weren’t invited to one friend’s Christmas or New Year’s party this last season (although we were invited to an end-of-year birthday party which we regretfully passed up as it was in Seattle). I know, it’s kinda funny. There were a few galas open to groups we’re involved in, and we elected not to go to those for a few reasons. The season passed joyfully for us with much family love and fellowship. But the social and friendship aspect gave me a minute’s pause. A few weeks later, and two nights ago after a breakdown of intense sadness and many tears, I have come to see there is something amiss for me. I think I’ve begun to sort it.
I know many people take a lot from my life, my friendship, my writings (here and elsewhere), and my example (as wife, mother, social thinker, and whatever else). Lately I’m not sure how much I’m getting served by those I give to, those I think on so much, and the efforts I make to help (however effective – or non-effective! – they are). I feel a deep sadness when I think on this. I know I am loved by many people and liked by many people. I have only once in my life genuinely been rather friendless and that was such a breathtaking experience of pain and crystalline awareness I feel, today, a deep gratitude and awe when I think on this episode in my life. I am not “lonely”, not only because we are very social, but due to the quality of these many exchanges. Friendship, however, is sometimes elusive and trecherous terrain.
Sometimes I wonder if some people deliberately stay away. In saying this I don’t think I’m being overly neurotic or self-obsessed: think on it, if you wrote as often and as publicly as I do on (occasionally) very radical ideas and you knew you were read by many, you would probably wonder too. But without concrete evidence I can only guess if my impressions are true. I know many people think of me as “intimidating” (#1 adjective levied against me if not discussing my busoms), “smart”, “inspiring”, “open-minded” and “compassionate”; and many people will speak with glowing praise on my writings. I sometimes wonder if they keep me at a distance because they are as self-described: intimidated (I have done this myself in relation to some people) or threatened or angered or scared by my passions. As if all I am are the passions I write about.
But these are guessing games on my part. In the meantime, there is no shortage of “positive feedback”. Besides the explicit Thank Yous I receive, the words like those identified above and the thoughts many share with me on what they’ve read let me know I am appreciated. I believe I am very fortunate in that I’ve always taken praise with a grain of salt. Praise is not about me and my quality, it is about what was ignited within the individual receiving me. When my writing is praised I have the opportunity to learn a bit more about the one praising or thanking. It is a joy, a bone-deep joy, to know and believe those who tell me I’ve helped. I’m very fortunate to have helped many. But I’ve never taken it to mean I was something special, because I know I’m not, really. I’m merely a writer. I was happy to write before I knew my reader statistics and before I opened comments. I’m happy to write still. I will write until I can’t anymore, no matter who is reading and responding.
Appreciation is a positive experience for me and I do not want to belittle its role in my life, nor my gratitude for those who take the time to express it. I thank them then and I thank them now.
But being appreciated, admired, serving as helpful, and serving as a mentor are not the same as experiencing friendship.
Friendship is being together. Without conditions and without praise. With love. Love is simple. And scary sometimes.
Friendship means spending time. As I’ve gotten older and not only experienced family life but observed my friends and their young children, I have heard many, many say they don’t have time to see those they love, that they miss them, that they have to make more time for them – someday. And here I will get very personal, because this is where the sadness really hits me. When I hear this from my friends it injures – every time. My heart simply breaks and childhood hurts swell up inside me. It is not my friends’ fault. At all. It is something I have not yet moved past. My own mother, so dear to me, struggled with being so pinched she was often fleeing rather than being with me (my brother often does the same). She loved me and she paid for me but I sensed she was never There, her foot always half-out the door (ask my half-sister more about that, too). Her inability to be with me wasn’t about me, a little child who needed her, and then a growing and grown woman who wanted to be friends. It was about her feeling of claustrophobia and her fear that any commitment would limit her, her bargain that “busy” and earning money and Good Girl performance would make her worthwhile in the eyes of others – a bargain that served too-often as the lash against her back. It was, in final estimation, damage done her as a child in repeated and subtle or overt ways, within her family, sure, but within the narratives of a patriarchal culture built upon the suffering and hard work of and oppressions heaped on so many women and carers.
I can know in an evaluative way how my mother let me down, and I can forgive her for that, and I do (I think). I can know it in no way negates the many positive attributes of her character nor how much she loved us (it is a myth that parents who fuck up in this or that way have less “love” for their children). It also would be a false picture not to point out her commitment to earn a good wage and work hard to support us were valuable parental enterprises that kept us safe from many hardships (although more, I suspect, served her sense of “security” – something we can never really have, but so many seek out fervently). Her work served us one way, my father’s presense served me another. My experience of my father’s presence has been the greatest outside source of strength in my life. I wonder if it is his absence I feel so keenly, leaving a void in my life; I wonder if over these last couple years my sadness in some friendships is an echo of that pain.
But the hurt I experienced through my mother, it is still with me. I don’t know why. I blame myself now (there’s no point in blaming her). And I don’t understand; and I wonder if I’ll ever be free of those childhood hurts.
In light of my recent reflections and my feelings of sadness I’ve experienced anew a gratitude for the time I’ve recently received from friends. Thinking on it now there are more than I’d realized. Several dates smoking on the porch or getting a cup of coffee or sitting in our living room talking comic books and homestyle cooking; shopping at the thrift store and laughing until almost peeing; even the brief conversation in the parking lot when I know my friend is really there, really seeing me. IM conversations and email exchanges where my loved ones take time out of their life for me. The candy date in Olympia just last Monday. And last night being invited to our friends’ (Ralph seriously bogarted baby Easton) where we caught up and talked and experienced nothing more than fellowship.
People who read here should know (or be reminded) I don’t use this space as an attempt to communicate with someone indirectly. My thoughts here are not directed at an individual or a few individuals. I comb through my every sentence in an attempt to avoid this. This caution is something necessary in a public journal that wouldn’t be in a private one – but it also helps me avoid externalizing my conflicts while discovering what they are, deep inside, where they are often more complex and yet, in the end analysis, simple as a kitten on Christmas. I sometimes wish I could do all this “growing” in private, air these vulnerabilities without making myself vulnerable. But: there it is.
What I’d wish for anyone reading here, near or far, is to consider those in their lives they aren’t spending time with – and why. What is being served by missing someone, by loving them from afar? Consider telling them you love them. Consider spending time with them for the sake of seeing them. Compliments and thank yous can wait another time. Don’t assume anyone you know isn’t lonely or rattled or sad or needing support. Don’t assume those who appear “strong” do not have hurts and deep sadness. Don’t assume they know you like them, or love them. Assume instead you might not see them again (and you might not). Take back your life. It’s yours, just now.
I will be doing the same in the next few days.
And now? I’m going to get up from my computer now and go sieze that precious, flavorful strawberry.
Small Stone #13*
love the way I smell.
(Small Stone #14*)
But father is asleep
I identify the fluffy and small kitty as his proxy.
Giggling, satisfied smiles all around