essence

I have a very precious friend. I’ve known her since I moved here to New York, and we’ve known each other through a lot of good and bad times. She lives on the other side of the park from me and I don’t see her nearly as often as I’d like, but we always know that we love each other, and when we see each other it’s like no time has passed. You know, that kind of friend.

One of the many things that is true of her is that she’s extraordinarily charismatic, and people are drawn to her. People love her easily, because she is so lovable. She’s smart, she’s so funny, she’s articulate, she has opinions (but she’s not rude about them), she’s a wonderful conversationalist. And her big gift to me is that she always makes me feel seen. I feel seen by her, recognized, understood. In fact, she’s the only person in NYC who makes me feel that way. She says generous things to and about me, but that’s not why I feel seen.โ€‹  (Gee, that would be mighty arrogant and grandiose of me — she’s so great because she sees how wonderful I am!) No, it’s not that, it’s not the valence of what she says about me, but it is often the detail. She pays close, close attention and when she says something, the detail of it makes you know that she has seen you.

I’m not sure, but I think this is part of her essence, her ability to see. I think this is why people aren’t just drawn to her, but stay eagerly in her orbit — and that’s the case, people stick with her so happily. Something terrible happened to her a few years ago and so many people wanted to see her in the aftermath that someone had to create a log, a sign-in sheet, so people could schedule a visit. I’ve never known anyone with so many friends — and not facebook “friends,” either. Real flesh and bone friends, friends who light up when she enters the room. As I do.โ€‹

We were talking about the awful complexity of living. How we do things, sometimes, that we don’t feel great about, we make choices we’d prefer not to make, we manage so many things simultaneously and sometimes end up in a situation that leaves us feeling trapped. All those kinds of things, real life things, things that aren’t on the radar of impossibly perfect 20-year-olds, who are ALWAYS going to do this and NEVER do that. But life goes on, troubles accumulate, backs get pushed against walls, the array of choices dwindles and we have to pick from a crappy assortment (kind of like our political candidates, which is the least bad?). And a further challenge is to try to have some self-compassion in the mix. We agreed that it gets very dicey there, the whole self-compassion deal, but I think I’m starting to understand it a little bit, so I’ll think more and then talk about that later.โ€‹

โ€‹So anyway, there we are. Real women, with real histories of our own, encountering the real world and surprising ourselves now and then, letting ourselves down on occasion, and always doing the best we can, even if it turns out to be less than we wished. And in the midst of that, we are essentially ourselves — her essence is light, and the ability to really see people (and make them feel that), and she connects people together, somehow, both to her, and to each other. I’m less clear about my essence, about what essentially equals me.

I come away feeling — as always, with her — seen, heard, listened to (with curiosity and interest), loved, and accepted. And she shares herself with me, which is often a struggle for us as we both are so busy saying “But how about YOU?! What’s going on with YOU!” That cracks me up, it’s so far afield from my usual NY experiences.

Yesterday’s gray skies and rain seem to have blown away and the sky is clear blue, and clean. I hope it’s equally beautiful where you are, and I hope you have someone in your life like my friend. If you lived here, she’d draw you to her, I guarantee. ๐Ÿ™‚ Happy Wednesday, y’all.โ€‹

family

Family is one of the most important things to me, but also one of the most complicated. The family I grew up with is shattered and permanently disbanded. I haven’t seen or spoken to my mother in 25 years. My sister pops up once every 10 years or so and then it’s over after a couple of days or weeks. I haven’t seen or spoken to my brother in 27 years, and until a few months ago, I didn’t even know if he was still alive. My father killed himself 30 years ago, and my stepfather died in prison ~20 years ago. They were never trustworthy people, never safe, never there except as a threat to my life or sanity. My grandfather, Big Daddy, died when I was 12 but has remained large in my life ever since. I had no cousins, one uncle.

me and the kids in 2002-ish

When I had my three children, I finally had a family. It has grown as my kids married — I have two sons-in-law now, and shortly I’ll have a granddaughter, Grace. ย And along the way I’ve collected people who fill in the gaps for family — a couple of brothers, a sister, a dad. The role of dad has rotated among a few men, starting with my former father-in-law Kiki. I have a friend now who fills the role. ย I’ve never found a mother, though my former mother-in-law was quite good to me and we loved each other very much. Recently, I was talking with a friend here in Manhattan who asked if she and another friend were sisters, and I knew immediately that they weren’t. It’s hard to know why one friend is a family member and another isn’t; it absolutely isn’t about depth of feeling, or importance, or love. It’s more about some kind of feeling of being in the same tribe. Being the same kind of people in some deep way, indescribable — made of the same stuff, holding the same sense of things, very similar sensibilities, sometimes shared memories, but that isn’t necessary. The woman who is my sister is new to my made-up family; she married my made-up brother and she just feels like family, even though I’ve only seen her 4 times. But there’s a deep click, a deep sense of familiarity.

Earlier tonight I had dinner with my Manhattan friend who had asked if she was my sister. We were talking about a man she knew and I asked if he was in her tribe. If you read my old blog, you may remember I have this idea that we have tribes; the crying people are my tribe, as are social psychologists, Texans, serious readers, my family, and people who need to write. These are my people, the identity groups, the people who resonate very deeply with who I am as a person. When I meet someone who is in one of those groups, we have so much shared in common that we can use shorthand when we talk because we share assumptions, understandings, and experiences. There are things I don’t have to explain to a Texan that I’m not even sure I could articulate to a New Yorker.

But I can see how this is confusing to someone who loves me and who I love, to a very important friend, to someone I love to talk to. Why aren’t valued friends part of my family? This friend is in my psychology tribe, even though she’s not a psychologist (she knows so much about it from having written about it for years as a journalist). She’s definitely in my reader tribe, and in my writing tribe. I know I could count on her if I was in trouble — I don’t even have to wonder, I know I could. We hang in there with each other through trouble. I talk to her nearly every day. I know her better than I know the friend who is my sister, than the friends who are my brothers. And yet she isn’t my sister, and I don’t even have to think about it to know the answer. It’s mysterious, family, even if it’s a made-up family. (But she and another of my friends are like sisters to each other!)

Maybe all this is just me. Maybe because I didn’t know what family meant until I had kids, because my original family was so horrible and crazy, maybe I have a strange focus on it, a strange understanding of it. Maybe certain aspects of the way I grew up have led me to look for tribes and family in a way that others don’t. Maybe this isn’t something you even THINK about. I’ll bet you do, though, but maybe you don’t name them in the same way I do. But you know who your people are — “these are my people!”, people say that all the time. And family, you just know it, you just know that she’s like a sister to you, she’s like a mother. Maybe you didn’t need to cobble together a whole family, but you have friends who are family.

I’m such a lucky person. Things didn’t start off very well in my life, but they got better and better, my life got richer, and I collected friends and gave birth to a family and made a family and found my tribes. So very lucky, right?

I hope you have a wonderful Friday, y’all.

that kind of friend

I have this friend who is one of those people with a true knack for picking up just the right gift. And they don’t have to be big, or expensive, or fancy — sometimes even picking the smallest thing is amazing, if it’s just the right thing.  Last night I saw her at our poetry group meeting and she gave me a birthday gift (it’s November 6), because she realized she wouldn’t see me on my birthday because I’ll be in Austin. First, who thinks that far ahead!!โ€‹ That just blew me away. And she’d already written an email about the gift, explaining it, that she sent right after she gave me the gift. Again, thinking ahead in such a particularly cool way.

But the thing that makes her gift so incredibly special  — well, here are her words about it:  “The pendant is from a fragment of glass from Roman ruins excavated in an archaeological dig. It’s some
2,000 years old and with all the years being the ground into the earth, being
hammered and shaken and all the wars and all of the peace, it survived,
endured — AND was made stronger, more beautiful, more opalescent, for it. I
thought that you, of all people, are an appreciator of reconstructed identity to great beauty.
The colors glisten, blue and turquoise and greens, and the story reminds of
you.”  I tried so hard to capture the beauty of the stone, but I couldn’t.  It has so much more depth than the picture suggests. See what I mean about her knack for gift-giving?

โ€‹I wish I had that knack but I just don’t. I get paralyzed in trying to think of something and then just start wandering through stores, hoping to see something that’ll be just right. I don’t know how the excellent gift-givers do it; maybe they have their eyes open all year, and when they see something that makes them think of a friend or loved one, they get it and tuck it away for the next gift-giving occasion. That’s probably it. The few times I’ve done that, I’m too excited about the gift to wait, so I give it right away. Also, I guess I’m usually dashing around so fast I don’t give myself time to linger anywhere.

โ€‹Why the dashing? I’m not the only dasher, there are loads of us. Another of my tribes, the dashers. For me, part of it is habit; during my years of going to college and graduate school while raising three children, there wasn’t time to linger, we had to get. it. done. and get on to the next thing. Dash dash dash, efficient as possible. Some of it is probably also due to living in my head so much; when I’m walking around, I’m rarely seeing what’s around me because I’m thinking so much about something else, something I’ve been reading or thinking about usually, or perhaps whatever trouble is going on in my life at that time. Of the great many ongoing projects I have with myself, slowing down and being present is one of the harder ones. I can be incredibly present when I’m talking to someone, but if I’m on my own I’m in my head. Some people dash around and keep something in their awareness at all times to avoid being with themselves, and I don’t think that’s my problem. ๐Ÿ™‚ Even typing that sentence made me laugh. I’m too much with myself.

Anyway. Another gorgeous day here in Manhattan, and I have to go downtown this afternoon so I’d best get to work. Happy Wednesday, y’all — I hope it’s gorgeous where you are, too.โ€‹

p.s. a favor: if you’re one of regular readers, would you mind helping me out a little bit? i’m working on the stupid idiotic comment system and need to know who’s having trouble. i don’t have any trouble, ever, but others are. obviously, i don’t want you to have trouble. could you post a comment, and if it doesn’t work shoot me an email (lori.txny@gmail.com) and let me know? Just once, you don’t have to keep doing it. muchas gracias!โ€‹

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