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Posts Tagged ‘friends’

Generous Listening

A conversation can be a contest,
or a game of catch with invisible balloons.
They bounce between us, growing and shrinking,
sometimes floating like cloud medicine balls,
and sometimes bowling at us like round anvils.
You toss a phrase and understanding blooms
like an anemone of colored lights.
My mind fireworks with unasked questions.
Who is this miracle speaking to me?
And who is this miracle listening?
What amazingness are we creating?
Out of gray matter a star spark of thought
leaps between synapses into the air,
and pours through gray matter, into my heart:
how can I not listen generously?

I found this poem via On Being’s poetry archive; I’ve heard Nelson on their podcast before. It seems to me – in a year marked by isolation and loss – that we especially need generous listening right now.

April is National Poetry Month, and I am sharing poetry here on Fridays this month, as I do every year. 

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Masked smiles from strangers, neighbors bringing in packages, snail mail from friends. Kindness keeps the world going, especially in times of isolation and strife. I give it back when I can.

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The weather, their kids, books we’re reading, joys, frustrations, existential questions, virtual hugs. I miss in-person time, but this is a vital way to say I see you, and be seen.

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Casual weeknights around the table: spaghetti, chicken, pizza or takeout Chinese. The kids (and Chloe the cat) drift in and out. We watch videos, laugh, and I’m part of a family. 

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We meet (bundled in coats and masks), wave hello, stroll the river or park or neighborhood. We trade news, talk books, share hopes for a return to some kind of normalcy. 

(Image from last fall when it was warm enough to walk without coats!)

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One of the toughest parts of the pandemic, for me, has been the isolation. I live alone, was working full-time from home until I was furloughed in May, and have not seen my family (all of whom live in Texas or other far-flung states) at all this year. I’ve still been seeing my guy (thank goodness) and a few local friends, but there are a lot of empty hours to fill, and even when I have work to do, I’ve been missing community.

Back in September, my friend Nina Badzin posted about an online writing class she was teaching through ModernWell, which usually happens in person but had moved to Zoom for the fall. I’ve known Nina online for years (we both used to write for the now-defunct Great New Books), but we’ve never (yet) met in person. But I loved the idea of a safe, fun, creative space on Tuesday mornings, a chance to write in community. I signed up, and y’all, it has been life-giving.

There are around a dozen women, mostly Midwesterners (a few of us live elsewhere) of varying ages, careers/life situations and writing experience. Many of us love to cook, and we’ve had a few cookbook discussions alongside the writing chat. All of us love books and enjoy a well-written TV show (I think I’m the last one who hasn’t yet watched The Queen’s Gambit). Everyone has been warm and welcoming, and I’ve so loved seeing their faces on Zoom every week. Our focus is writing, but bits of our lives creep in around the edges – one woman’s newborn granddaughter, another’s house renovation, another’s passion for beautifully wrapped gifts.

We go around and share what we’ve been up to creatively – both what we’ve been writing/creating and how we’ve been filling the well. Nina gives us a prompt or exercise, usually with a sample essay by a pro, and we turn off our cameras and write for a while. Then we take turns sharing our work. The results are rough, of course, but they are full of gems – astonishing warmth and humor and vivid details, whether we’re writing about our current lives or memories from way back.

In a time when I’ve struggled to find both community and silver linings, this group has been a major source of both. We’re taking a few weeks off for the holidays, but we’ll be back in the New Year, and I’m so glad.

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For a spill of yellow calla lilies and long-stemmed roses tipped with crimson, both from my beloved Cambridge florist.

For morning runs along the harborwalk and up the greenway, sea and sky and breath and music in my earbuds, a ritual that makes me stronger and happier and more at peace.

For three bags of cranberries and plump sweet potatoes, homemade mac & cheese and beef en croute from Trader Joe’s, with cider from Downeast for our tiny, two-person feast.

For daily chats with my girl Allison in California, whose good humor and grace and honesty about the vagaries of pandemic life have kept me sane for so many months now.

For Friends Thanksgiving gifs shared with my sister, weekly phone chats with my parents, Thanksgiving cards from my aunts. I am far from most of my family, but we love one another fiercely, even in these strange times.

For the memories of past Thanksgivings, in Texas and Oxford and Missouri and a few miles away in Brookline. There is pain in some of those memories, but also community, and joy.

For a light-filled, wood-floored apartment near the harbor, which has been a true refuge and home during a turbulent year and a half.

For a man who loves me deeply and shares my joy in the fact that we get to twine our lives together.

For the freelance writing projects that have helped give me purpose and income and a chance to use my skills in these furloughed months.

For strong black tea brewed in my favorite mugs, stacks of library books and e-galleys, candles on the mantel and cozy plaid slippers and all the comforts of home.

For the nurses, doctors, grocery store workers, delivery folks, farmers and other essential workers who are keeping us all going.

It has been a hard and sobering year, but there is still and always so much to give thanks for. If you are celebrating today, I wish you a Thanksgiving full of love and gratitude.

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rock-heart-hello-friend

Earlier this summer, I spoke with Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, cohosts of the podcast Call Your Girlfriend. Longtime friends and media professionals who live on opposite coasts, they explore the phenomenon of “Big Friendship” through their own experience in their first book, Big Friendship, which came out this week.

I loved talking with Ann and Aminatou about the joys and challenges of friendship for Shelf Awareness, and I want to buy their book for half a dozen of my female friends. In celebration of the book’s publication, here are some excerpts from our conversation:

You’ve been co-hosting Call Your Girlfriend since 2014, so you are known on the Internet for being friends. How does your book explore friendship–specifically yours–in different ways than the podcast?

Aminatou Sow: Like many of our collaborations, none of it is calculated. The book asks: What does life look like when the people at the center of your life are your friends? That’s a meta-conversation the two of us have been having for a long time. We wrote this book as a way of explaining our own relationship to each other, but also opening up a robust conversation around what it means to really choose your friends and have them be vital parts of your lives.

Early in your friendship, you created a “story of sameness,” and later, you discuss the need to upend that narrative. 

Ann Friedman: The term “story of sameness” belongs to the linguist Deborah Tannen. We didn’t even realize, early on in our friendship, how we had created this story of all the ways we were similar. Some of it was superficial: we both like to eat dinner at the bar! But it happened very subtly, as part of the larger process of falling in love with each other as friends. We only realized later that we had made a practice of choosing to focus on these similarities. Our ability to recognize and deal with our differences became very important later on.

All friendships go through challenges: discrete moments that cause pain, a gradual growing apart, or a combination of those. You use “stretching” as a metaphor for tough times in a friendship.

AF: The “stretch” is a phrase both of us have uttered when things were difficult, as in, “I’m feeling really stretched by this relationship and what it is asking of me.” I think the metaphor also has a normalizing effect. We understand that our romantic partners are going to hurt us, and there’s emotional support for working through that. But there’s not the same kind of support or expectation for working through conflicts with friends.

AS: We are both words people, and I have real discomfort expressing my negative feelings. I was trying to find the gentlest way to say, “I feel hurt. I don’t want our relationship to end, and I would like to talk about it.” We reach for metaphors to try and explain our feelings.

You also address the challenges of being in a close interracial friendship.

AS: We are a Black and white friendship, which is very different than any other racial pairing. There is a direct correlation between the relationships white people have with Black people and the policy that governs how Black people are treated. It’s a painful reality to understand that if you are not understood in an intimate way in your relationships with white people, it will manifest itself in incredibly dangerous ways with white people whom you do not know, like police officers.

AF: The particular dynamics of interracial friendships for adults are really under-researched. It is also not an experience of close friendship that, statistically, a lot of white people have had. We really wanted to center that in the book, because not having interracial friendships is mainly a white experience. Thinking back to when we talked about stretching: it feels important to normalize conversation about the hard things. Just because you ignore the conversation [about race] doesn’t mean it goes away.

Tell us about the process of writing “every sentence together,” as you say early in the book.

AS: Ann looked up at me toward the end of this project and said, “Wow, we really did this the hard way.”

AF: That was about all our life choices, not just writing the book! [laughter]

AS: [The process] was informed by the way we work on other things. We knew it could not be a book where we wrote in a duelling voice, because we were trying to arrive at a joint truth of what our relationship was. It opened up another line of communication for us to dig through some past incidents and make decisions about the stories we were trying to tell. We would outline, make decisions, go away separately to write about those, come back together and knit them into the text you have. It was really hard! But we are also very practiced at being in conversation together.

AF: It feels really good to me that no one can say “I’m Team Ann” or “I’m Team Aminatou.” And since we were telling a story that feels emotionally risky, this was a way for both of us to feel protected. We could agree on stories to use as examples of bigger themes we are talking about. And there’s a lot of respect for each other: we could say, “I don’t want to tell anything you’re not comfortable sharing.”

AS: Though I want the record to reflect that I am 100% Team Ann.

What would you tell readers who are not sure how to nurture their own Big Friendships, or where to start?

AS: It’s an interesting conversation, because people define for themselves what a Big Friendship is and what it looks like for them. The thing I have learned in writing this book, and in my relationship with Ann, is that communication is very important! So: Talk to the people you’re in Big Friendships with, and define that bond and those values for yourself, because no two friendships look alike.

You can buy Big Friendship wherever books are sold – please consider supporting an independent bookstore. You can also read my full review at Shelf Awareness

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Hello, friends. Happy Monday, and happy May.

I’m writing to you from my kitchen floor, where I sometimes sit for a bit these days to give myself a break from the kitchen table. (A couple of weeks ago, I started having serious soreness and muscle tightness – at least partly caused by weeks of sitting on a hard chair.)

I was a bit burned out after 30 straight days of posting stories from quarantine, but I’d like to keep creating and sharing with you during May. To that end: daily tulips, and a daily thought, at least on the weekdays.

It is tulip season in Boston (hallelujah), and I’ve been snapping and sending daily blooms to a friend in California (hi Allison!) who loves them as much as I do. Both the parks around town and my neighborhood are full of glorious, nodding beauties, and I want to share them with you. (I may switch to #dailylilacs or something if we run out of tulips.)

Today’s thought, like so many of mine right now, is related to connection. In this extended time of social distancing, I have been missing time with my people, though I still get to hug my guy, thank goodness. Several friends of mine are feeling the same way: those with kids/partners at home need some additional adult interaction, and those of us who live alone are dying for face-to-face connection, period.

As we head into the next phase of whatever-this-new-normal-is, I’ve got to make some shifts: I can’t count on one person for everything, nor can I spend all day, every day, alone with my own thoughts. We are all taking calculated risks, even if they’re small, and I need some of mine to include community.

So last week I took a (distanced) walk with a girlfriend, and made plans to check in regularly with another on the phone. I FaceTimed a friend from high school, and took a long, glorious Sunday afternoon ramble with a local friend. We stopped by Downeast to buy some cider, and we waved at a few folks I know. It might not be magic, but it’s helping.

My therapist expressed it well: how can I sprinkle in moments of being seen throughout the week? As we head into May, I’m keeping that in mind: how to seek out that space for connection, and create it for others.

Where are you this week, friends? I’d love to know. I’ll be back tomorrow, with more tulips.

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One of the strange gifts of this time in quarantine is the chance to reconnect with friends I haven’t talked to in a while. I’ve had several phone chats, FaceTime dates and Instagram exchanges with girlfriends from college, and am texting with my best friend from high school more regularly. And last month, I spoke to my friend Brent for his coronavirus podcast, You and Me and Everyone We Know.

Brent and I were part of the same friend group in college, and we followed each other’s blogs as I went back to Oxford and he went to the Peace Corps, and then I moved to Boston (after another stint in Abilene) and he found his way to Minneapolis, where he lives now with his husband and their kids. We keep up on Instagram, but hadn’t actually spoken in years. It was such a treat to catch up a bit and hear his warm, kind voice.

The episode I’m on includes two other conversations: one with Brent’s younger sister, Macey, and one with his friend Kedrin. Brent and I talked running, isolation in a one-bedroom apartment, social distancing with friends at the park, the approach of spring, and more. You can listen on his website, on Spotify or on Apple Podcasts. Enjoy!

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