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Archive for the ‘friendship’ Category

katie bethany coffee shop

Here is one thing I love about deep friendships: you develop a kind of shorthand after a while.

Some of this shorthand is topical: my friend Abi and I love so many of the same books and TV shows, and we can discuss/quote them for hours. Some of it’s geographical: my friend Kristin, a fellow West Texas transplant to Boston, knows exactly what I mean when I talk about missing home and loving the life I have here. (Even better: she knows the particulars of certain Texas cities, and how tough it is to find great Tex-Mex food in Boston.)

I’ve been thinking about another kind of shorthand, though: the kind that comes from knowing each other’s casts of characters.

Pretty much everyone I meet knows I’m married: if my wedding ring doesn’t give it away, a comment about my husband is bound to come up before long.

katie jer beach san diego

I also talk frequently about my parents, sister and two adorable nephews – and I’ll show pictures of those sweet boys to anyone who’s willing to look at them. (Here are Harrison and my sister. Adorable, no?)

betsy harrison

But my good friends (and family) also know about the other important people in my life – even if they don’t know one another personally. I tell stories about Sunday nights spent at Ryan and Amy’s, long talks with Abi (and snuggles with her baby girl), college and post-college adventures with my roommate Bethany. (That’s her at the top of this post.)

I talk about my writer pal Hannah (who runs our occasional book club), my snail-mail pen pal Jaclyn, my work buddies Adam and Anissa, my long-distance lifesaver Laura. And in turn, I get to hear about the supporting casts of my friends’ lives: their parents, spouses, siblings, best friends, the people who help anchor them.

It’s a gift to reach the place in a friendship where you don’t have to explain all of that, where the person who’s listening to you has heard, and remembered, the stories about the people who matter. I love hearing stories about my friends’ loved ones – and it’s even more fun if I get to meet them in person. I feel like I know my friends better after getting to know the people they love, because our people are so much a part of who we are.

Do you have this kind of shorthand with your friends? Who’s in your supporting cast of characters?

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baby evie

This is Evie, who belongs to my dear friends Abigail and Nate. She was born in May, and I’ve gotten to spend some time hanging out with her (and Abi) this summer. Which definitely qualifies as a sweet delight.

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housemates radcliffe camera oxford

If I’ve heard it said once, I’ve heard it a hundred times: friendship is a process of give and take.

In the best friendships, each person has a lot to offer the other, and we do this via a healthy, balanced exchange of love and respect. Not in a pedantic, score-keeping way, but in a way that fills each person up, and doesn’t tip the scales too far in any one direction. We lean on each other when we need it; we provide laughter, a listening ear, a place for our friends to be themselves.

I am grateful to have a lot of these friendships (and this kind of marriage) in my life. (One example: the three girls I lived with during my year in Oxford, who are pictured above – we had a surprise reunion last fall.)

I’m a classic overachiever: organized, driven, capable. I am not Superwoman, but I know my strengths, and like most people, I prefer to operate out of them most of the time. I am so much more comfortable being the giver in a friendship: the one who says, “I’m fine” and means it, the one who can provide what another person needs: a listening ear, a home-cooked meal, a bit of encouragement on a tough day.

I’ve been dealing with a difficult situation lately, and here is one of the most frustrating things about it: I have had to ask for help, over and over again. I need advice and support and cheering up; I need lunch dates and distraction and a little extra attention. I am having to learn to be the one who takes, who receives, who admits her own neediness and lack. And – no surprise here – I don’t like it.

There’s nothing wrong with being capable, but there’s something a little more insidious at work here: I like seeing myself as a person who has it all together. The other side of that coin, it turns out, is a deep fear: the fear of being a person who takes and takes and has nothing to give. Of being a person who pushes her friends away because she’s just so needy. Of turning into a person who demands more than she can give in return.

I don’t have any easy answers for this, at the moment. The tough situation in my life isn’t going away, at least not yet, and I’m still struggling to figure out how to ask my friends to help me through it. I’d much rather work things out on my own and keep presenting a brave face to those I love, but that isn’t really an option (at least not a healthy one).

So I’m learning, day by day, to keep asking for help when I need it, and reminding myself that friendship is about loving each other when we’re human. And to fight down the fear that says I’m not enough – because I know, deep down, that my friends and family are kind and generous and willing for me to lean on them. Even if I have trouble with the leaning, sometimes.

Do you struggle with being the “taker” – the vulnerable one – in your relationships? (Please tell me I’m not alone here.)

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boston skyline sunset

Fire in the sky tonight, as we shared a picnic on the beach with friends. There were sand critters and sandwiches, chips and salsa, Frisbee-throwing and ice cream.

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tulips-public-garden

This week marks five years since we landed in Boston, after a month of so many good-byes (and so much packing) in our West Texas college town, and four days of driving a moving truck cross-country.

We arrived at nearly midnight on day four, parking our unwieldy truck in the driveway of new acquaintances whom I hadn’t yet met (though J had). Our college friends Nate and Abigail, who had moved a month before we did, came to take us to their house, where we crashed in their living room for the night. Abi ran down the sidewalk to greet me, and I nearly collapsed into her arms. We had made it. It was an end, and a beginning.

The next day, we moved into the apartment Abi had helped J find, when he flew up for a weekend to meet his new boss and scout out a place for us to live. Our landlady, Gina, showed us around the empty rooms: creamy walls, wood floors, plentiful windows. “I hope you’ll be happy here,” she said simply.

We never had a set timeline for our Boston adventure. We were hankering for something new after nearly eight years in Abilene (where we met and fell in love and earned our college degrees), and J’s job hunt had foundered in Texas, leading him to cast a wider net. We figured we’d be here for three years or so, till he earned full licensure as a marriage and family therapist (with the necessary hours, supervision and mounds of paperwork), and then we’d see. We moved here knowing exactly three people (all fellow Abilene transplants), and we had not the first clue about what it would be like.

Five years in, I can say with certainty: it’s been a messy, rich, full, glorious adventure. And it has been hard.

We have loved exploring Boston and New England: gorgeous, historic, charming, so utterly different from the Texas plains where I grew up. We have delighted in apple picking, trips to seaside towns, the ease of driving to other states and even to Canada. I have gloried in the bookstores, the green public spaces, the farmers’ markets, the wonders of Harvard.

harvard yard autumn light leaves

Our community here is much smaller than in Texas, but we have made some firm and dear friends. (We could not have survived, in particular, without Nate and Abi, or without Shanna, another college friend who lived in Boston for a while and then moved to Atlanta.)

I am deeply grateful for colleagues and writer pals and the small but tightly knit community at our church, who have been our lifelines over and over. Many of them are fellow transplants, who remember what it’s like to be strangers here, who have walked alongside us as we built a life from scratch in this exciting, frustrating place.

Because Boston – despite its appeal in a thousand ways – is not an easy place to live. It is full of snarled roads and complicated public transport, elaborate parking regulations and surprisingly insular communities. It is hard work to build a life here if you’re not a native, if dropping your r’s and shoveling snow don’t come naturally. It can be lonely and isolating, and for a good chunk of each year, it is cold and snowy. We miss our families, the soul-deep friendships we left in Abilene, the spicy Tex-Mex food that doesn’t seem to exist up here (outside our own kitchen). Our life here is rich and lovely, but it has never gotten to easy.

I get asked a series of related questions often: What brought you to Boston? Where did you live before? Do you think you’ll go back to Texas one day?

The answers to the first two are simple: a job and a new adventure; West Texas (and Oxford). The last one is more complicated. We’ve never been sure how long we planned to stay, and we’re still not sure. Three years after I wrote about being in the middle of our time in New England, we are still there. We knew when it was time to move up here – trusting our instincts and taking the leap – and I believe we’ll know when it’s time to go.

The gift, and possibly the lesson, of this time in Boston has been to pay attention: to accept the gifts of the present moment and not get too caught up in wishing for what was, or what may be one day. The constant challenges of living here are an ever-present reminder to be here now. We may not stay forever – and every winter I wonder why we moved here at all – but we are here now. This is our life. And it is challenging – and good.

Happy five years, Boston. We are grateful for all your gifts. And we’re not done with you yet.

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katie jer maine view

Earlier this summer, I started reading Laura Dave’s Eight Hundred Grapes, a novel about a woman who runs away from her wedding after learning that her fiance has a daughter he didn’t tell her about. (That’s not a spoiler; I just told you what Georgia – the narrator – finds out in the first chapter.)

Full disclosure: I didn’t finish the book (though my friend Hallie loved it and recommended it on Great New Books, where we’re both part of the review team).

But there’s one line I’m still thinking about, weeks later:

 

Wasn’t the ultimate form of fidelity whom you told your stories to?

In the book, this line refers to Georgia’s faltering relationship with her fiance: she’s (rightly) furious that Ben hasn’t told her about his daughter, or that he’s still in touch with his ex (the little girl’s mother). But I’ve been thinking about it in a broader sense.

As Joan Didion has noted, “we tell ourselves stories in order to live.” That’s especially true for those of us who view the world through words: readers, writers and bloggers who make and share meaning through stories.

Some of us are born storytellers, like my dad, whose sense of comedic timing and infectious laugh make it fun to listen to his stories over and over again. (I can retell many of them word for word – even if I wasn’t there when they happened.)

But all of us tell our stories to the people we love, whether it’s a funny incident at work or a life-changing moment in the middle of an ordinary Tuesday. And when we don’t – when we start to hide things or simply stop making the effort – it stands to reason that those relationships would start to fray.

Last year, my friend Laura wrote a terrifying and powerful blog post: And then I stopped talking to my husband. She didn’t literally stop talking to her husband, but she gradually quit sharing a lot of daily incidents and insights (which, in her case, happened mostly online) with him. They talked about their kids and their household routine, but they stopped discussing the important stuff – until one day, when he was driving her to the airport and didn’t know where she was heading. This caused a few understandable tears on Laura’s part, but they talked it out, and started making the effort again.

That post terrified me because I saw how easy it could be. How simple and effortless to stop telling your stories – until you don’t really know each other any more. I sent the link to my husband, and I’ve been thinking about it again since Eight Hundred Grapes brought it to mind.

It’s so important to keep telling my stories, not just to my husband, but to my family and friends (many of whom live far away). I want to be faithful in telling my stories and hearing theirs, even when it takes work. (And sometimes it takes a lot of work.)

Lindsey noted last fall that friendship is made of attention, and I believe this is a part of that. We share our lives through stories, and they are foundational to our relationships. To paraphrase Didion, we tell ourselves – and each other – stories in order to live.

What do you think? Who are the people you tell your stories to?

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strawberry popsicle

The long, lazy summer days are finally here – but they’re slipping away alarmingly fast. It’s been a while since my last “right now” post, so I wanted to take stock of what’s happening around here in this season.

Right now, in mid-July 2015, I am:

  • starting many mornings with the Yoga Studio app and then a cup of ginger peach (or blackberry sage) tea in my favorite cobalt blue mug, a souvenir from the Ground Floor many summers ago.
  • listening to the You’ve Got Mail soundtrack (still so good), construction noise outside my apartment windows, and lots of Taylor Swift.
  • hanging out at Darwin’s a few times a week, writing and people-watching and drinking (more) ginger peach tea.

darwins cafe cup

  • making anything for dinner that doesn’t involve turning on the oven: pasta with fresh veggies, pita wraps with hummus, chicken burritos, zucchini quesadillas, a few salads.
  • eating all the summer fruits I can handle. (The berries are back at the farmers’ market, and I am one happy girl.)

strawberries

  • scheduling “coffee” dates which are really lemonade or fro-yo dates. (It’s hot!)
  • spending Sunday nights in Ryan and Amy’s backyard, where we grill various meats (and pineapple), eat guacamole and fruit and ice cream, watch the kids run around, and pet Telly, the world’s sweetest dog.

sunday night backyard

  • snuggling my friends’ new baby, Evie, whenever I get a chance.
  • loving the flowers of summer – peonies, Gerbera daisies, sunflowers. (My friend Kate says you can chart the seasons by the most popular flowers on Instagram. It’s true!)

peonies

  • walking along the Charles River Esplanade about once a week. It’s green and gorgeous down there, and I am always watching for ducklings.
  • wearing dresses and skirts during the day, shorts on the weekends, sandals and comfy flats all the time.

stripes silver flats

  • watching a little Modern Family with J and an occasional episode of Veronica Mars by myself.
  • reading lots of great nonfiction – Mission High, Consider the Fork, Between You & Me – and a stack of mysteries.
  • drinking gallons of lemonade.
  • savoring lots of ice cream. We are recently obsessed with Talenti gelato.
  • thinking about another getaway with the hubs, maybe in August.

What are you up to right now?

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