January 14, 2013
Friendships New and Old
I have always had girlfriends. I am the type of person who collects friends over the years and keeps them. As I make new friends, my old friends become friends with my new friends and the circle grows.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when he discovers that someone else believes in him and is willing to trust him.”
I have to agree with Emerson, as I often find myself doing. During this past year my friends have been there for me every step of the way. From the very beginning, when my novel The Reverse Commute was just an idea in my mind, I was given the inspiration to sit down and write it from my friend of over thirty years, Sandy Staines. Once it was written several friends continued to believe in me. They were early readers, offering constructive criticism, encouragement and sage advice. They read and re-read several drafts of the novel. They helped me to the finish line.
It wasn’t always just reading and writing and editing. My friends and I have what we call wine emergencies. Anytime someone is feeling overwhelmed by raising children, a husband who doesn’t always quite “get it”, a job that is unfulfilling, or all of the above, we can call a wine emergency. As in calling our circle of friends and saying “Hey, I need a wine emergency. My house, tonight at six.” We all show up with leftovers, cheese and crackers, whatever else we can find in the fridge and of course a bottle of wine. We offer each other advice and comfort and humor. We laugh and yes, as our husbands describe it, we complain. We help each other get on with life, knowing when things get bad we have each other.
So now that I have taken the bold step of quitting my job and devoting my time and energy to writing full time, my friends have stepped up to the plate once again. They have been hosting book clubs for me, asking friends of theirs to read my book and join us for an evening of literary discussion. Some of them already belonged to book clubs but others have gathered together an impromptu group of people who like to read. We have had gatherings of co-workers, mothers, daughters, sisters and neighbors. And I have to say I have enjoyed every one of these book clubs. I love my new job!
“Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another: “What? You too? I thought I was the only one?”-C.S. Lewis
The Reverse Commute has also introduced me to many new friends. It is so gratifying to hear women I’ve never met before say something like the C.S. Lewis quote above. Such as, “I loved when Sophie watched Ray chopping wood and had an ahha moment.” Or “the way you described working in a cubicle described my feelings perfectly. I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time.” I love having the opportunity to meet so many new people and share these common bonds.
I attended two book clubs in Rhode Island this weekend, the first hosted by Cheryl Baeszler. When I knew her she was Cheryl Rooney and lived in the house behind ours when I was growing up. She went to a Catholic high school and I lost touch with her around the time we were fourteen but she lives in our old neighborhood now and my sister sees her once in awhile. When she heard I’d written a book, she immediately jumped at the opportunity of having her book club read it.
I hadn’t seen Cheryl in forty years but when we reconnected it seemed like just yesterday. We laughed at how simple things were back then. Without cell phones or Facebook, we would walk over to each others’ house when we wanted to play and standing outside the front door shouting out in a sing-song voice “Hey Cheryl, come out and play with me.” We remembered the time we found her brother’s Playboy magazines in a trunk in her garage, hidden under his Boy Scout paraphernalia. We laughed at the memory of our much younger selves quickly looking at the photographs then even more quickly closing the magazine, blushing but cackling our heads off then peeking inside at another photo.
She has a great group of friends in her book club and they all enjoyed the book. Everyone really liked Ray, Sophie’s husband, and could relate to Sophie’s desire to hold onto her marriage despite the pressures they were under. They too sometimes longed for that rush of excitement when they first fell in love, totally understanding Sophie’s need to recapture it with Ray. Each one of them had a story of an “ah-ha” moment when they looked at their husband and thought, “Yes, I remember why I married him.” They talked about date nights with their spouses, from moonlight snowshoeing to dancing classes to end of the work week Friday restaurant nights.
Sunday brought a new group of women and my first brunch book club, hosted by my friend Mary Jane Doughty and her twenty-six year old daughter Ashlee Mallette. Mary Jane and I have been friends for thirty years. We met at our first job out of college and have had many adventures together. We quit our jobs and moved to Vail one year during our mid-twenties. We went to Mardi Gras together, which loosely inspired one of the chapters in my book.
This was one of the rowdiest groups I have met with but I would expect no less from a gathering of MJ’s friends. There were lots of questions from the process of writing and getting self-published to the motives of some of the characters. It was the second time I had been asked why the young girl in the story agreed to be a bridesmaid in the extravagant New York wedding set in the Hamptons. This was the book club that coined that “ah-ha” moment when you look at your husband through the eyes of the young girl you once were, the girl who fell in love with and married him. Eight of the ten women had worked in a cubicle and loved the office scenes. They also loved the settings from New Hampshire to Boston to Rhode Island and beyond. An American story with restless characters traveling, moving and visiting this large, varied country we live in as one reader described it. Several of them gave me the wonderful compliment of saying my writing brought them into the scene and they could visualize it as if they were right there with the characters.
I love when we have younger readers at our meetings; twenty-somethings like Mary Jane’s daughter Ashlee, who related to the young girl whose story runs parallel to Sophie’s. They enjoy the book as much as their mothers do, as they too struggle with the same doubts and fears in an insecure world where parents frequently get divorced, making them wonder if love can last. Will they really live happily ever after? They find themselves graduating from college with a lot of debt and little job prospects during a recession. They end up working at jobs that don’t pay well and have little to do with what they studied in college or dreamed they would be doing.
I am reminded of the character Kathy in The Reverse Commute and her advice to Sophie: “Do you remember what I told you about love? That your husband can’t be everything to you? That’s why you need your friends and sisters. Because there are just some things only women understand.”
So as I look forward to several more book clubs over the next two weeks before I leave for Florida, I hope to be making more friends who say “I thought I was the only one who felt like that!”