Living Candidly #8: Be Friends With…

Living Candidly #8: Be Friends With…

Be friends with the people who promise to deliver you digital AND print copies of British Vogue’s September 2019 interview by Meghan Markle of Michelle Obama when you fangirl so hard that it physically hurts your chest upon hearing the announcement.

Be friends with the people who sit and drink wine with you while you wait for multiple furniture deliveries in your new apartment without complaint, instead encouraging that extra pour while the Netflix loads.

Be friends with the people who run errands with you, and who you run errands with, for the pure sake that together is better than alone and each other’s company is preferred to anyone else’s. Even if that errand run includes waiting in a cellular store for an hour plus.

Be friends with the people who send you “love texts” — reminders that your worth is inherent and your value to them is esteemed. The ones that range from the “Hey! Just checking in <3” to the “Hope you have a great day” to the outright “I love you.”

Be friends with the people you can distance from for a time and then pick up with that same spark and joy in each other’s presence (physical or digital).

Be friends with the people who cry with you, who rage with you, who laugh with you. Be friends with the people who feel with you, not for you. There’s a difference. One is empathy, one is sensory sharing.

Be friends with the people who make you feel whole, whose very tether to your life makes you feel more grounded and vulnerable and fulfilled all at the same time. Be friends with the people who build you up, push you to be better while never discrediting where you’ve been, and celebrate your achievements while you reach for the next rung. Those people are the ones you want by your side when you falter, when you drop, when you sink. Because they know that you can pick right back up there again, and they will do everything in their power to remind you of that strength you lose sight of.

But in order to be friends with these people, you must be their friend too. Work on their resumes and job applications with them, celebrate their latest promotion. Vow to poop on doorsteps of exes, and say you “ship” their latest boo. Make time for their calls, even when you would rather be watching Hulu. Call them when something good happens in either of your lives, or when something is amiss in theirs. Be their cheerleader, their champion, their confidante. Make them feel their inherent worth, their value in your eyes; make them see their beauty — inside and out — by feeling your love. Be their rock when things get hard and promise to stick with them until the sun shines again.

Because friends — even the most fleeting of them — are more valuable than words can express. And when you have them as golden as the sunset, you have to sit on the waterfront and drink in the glow.

Candidly Reading #4: How Could She, Lauren Mechling

Candidly Reading #4: How Could She, Lauren Mechling

What makes a friendship? And to further that question: what makes a friendship last? What gives it that stickiness, that emotional glue to keep two (or three) people invested in each other’s welfare beyond the tit-for-tat of initial contact? Is there an inevitable and inherent expiration date to these bonds? Or do we have the free will to stand up and choose that relationship again, much like we are expected to do in our romantic ties? What is to say that our friendships aren’t our great love affairs?

Of course, none of these questions are novel. In fact, they are wildly, exquisitely clichéd. I, for one, have faulted to posting quotes celebrating female friendship from Sex and The City, Bride Wars, and — ever on brand — The Bold Type under Instagram posts about the closest in my “tribe.” And rarely will you meet a woman in her twenties who hasn’t endured the brutal reality of losing a girlfriend over unfortunate circumstances, minor or major causes aside. But to take these lingering questions on in an engaging way that does not shy away from that fourth question (i.e. is there an inevitable and inherent expiration) is what Lauren Mechling’s How Could She sets out to explore.

I won’t lie and say it was the most thought provoking book I’ve ever read. Following Orringer’s The Flight Portfolio and battling my desire to reread Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch before the September 13th launch of the film, I found myself frustrated with the characters’ continually selfish behavior. The story alternates third person focused omniscient narration chapters on friends Geraldine, Sunny, and Rachel as they all navigate their late thirties and their respective career, social, and romantic arenas. Geraldine at the start is floundering with no real roots and pining after a life that has passed her by, but by the end has a successful career in podcasts and has left behind her good-for-nothing ex-fiancé. Sunny transforms from the top of her career and from having a stable (yet loveless) marriage to…well, not. And Rachel, well, Rachel just kind of floats. As for the prose, it was purposeful but not striking. I saved maybe four sentences from it, a shockingly low amount for me as a typically overly complimentary reader.

Perhaps it was the way that these women eviscerated each other at a dinner, years of betrayals and alienations being brought to the forefront of conversation, but it make me starkly aware of how my relationships now could transform into those relationships by the mid-to-late thirties without proper care and precaution.

I hope I never reach the point of disdain for those I hold dearest that Geraldine, Sunny, and Rachel reached. That paradox of holding onto someone with white knuckles while also holding that person at arms’ length so they can’t inflict any damage on you. Walking that tightrope sounds — quite frankly — exhausting.

If not a lyrical masterpiece or a philosophical wonder, How Could She serves as a cautionary tale to keep your friends closest. Without a doubt, they are the ones who will love you but you must act out of love towards them too.

Living Candidly #6: On brighter days and better friends

Living Candidly #6: On brighter days and better friends

Wednesday 3:40 PM: My eyes felt hot as I read the text message from my psychiatrist: “use Xanax liberally today and text me tomorrow morning with how you’re doing.”

It had been twenty hours since my complete decomposition on the sidewalk outside my apartment. In the midst of a disagreement with one of my roommates about a bill payment, the thought of stepping inside my home was the final trigger to a build-up of anxiety. I had immediately called Rebecca — my lifeline in the overcrowded city that somehow makes me feel wildly lonesome — and she had showed up in what might as well had been a winged chariot: swooping me into a hug and then ushering me onto my bed while she cleaned the rubble of my room and bathroom that had fallen into detritus over the preceding weeks. While I had ignored the problem of cleanliness, it became wildly apparent that my lack of housekeeping was a major indicator that this breakdown was an inevitability rather than a freakish whim of my biological nature.

Rebecca sat with me while we chowed down on half-decent microwave meals from a local deli and tried to pin down exactly what had started the downward spiral that had begun this morning. As it turned out, I was still battling demons from years prior that I had thought were long vanquished: friends lost, guilt repented, shame accepted. Instead of letting me sit in that pit of despair, she assured me that I was not solely responsible for those pains that sat with me nearly four years later. In fact, she sat before me as living proof — the epitome of a friend who had seen me in my darkest and most destructive — that true friends stand by you through the thickest black and love you for the person that evolves from those trials. They encourage you to pick yourself back up and to grow, and when you can’t do it alone, they bring down that very winged chariot and scoop you onboard until you can command the reins yourself.

It’s now been about forty-eight hours. My Xanax supply is still within reach but it is not in white-knuckle grip. Instead, it’s the people around me who make me feel like me. It’s the way Rebecca — a social worker by profession — exceeded the bounds of normal friendship to make sure that I was secure before exiting my apartment on Tuesday night. It’s the way Jasmine stayed on the phone last night laughing with me about how tragic our lives are, in sync nearly four thousand miles apart, and how we will support each other as we seek out local clinical and therapeutic help (my trusted psychiatrist — as helpful as he is and regardless of the fact he has legitimately saved my life on two accounts — can only do so much from two states away). It’s the way Justine understands when I request an extra half hour for lunch in order to commute to attend that very therapeutic appointment.

When I was hospitalized, I had the incredibly fortunate encounter of meeting a seventy-eight year old patient committed for suicidal tendencies. And, in our discussion, she told me that what she had learned in her several hospitalizations consistently was that life is always worth fighting for. Feeling more like myself today, I can say that I know she’s right. There is always a light.

Thursday 9:39 AM: “I feel great today.”

All my love x

On sibling Snapchats

On sibling Snapchats

And being one of your favorites has always been one of the things I liked most about myself. To be loved in a special way by someone like you, who was loved by everyone so much, was the best part of being your friend.

The Beauty That Remains, Ashley Woodfolk

“Yeah, he’s my best friend,” I say, sitting at the high-top in the back of the bar on the Upper West Side, concentrating on not looking down at my drink as I bring the straw to my lips. My date looks across at me with an unreadable smile — the same one he’s been wearing all night — and I feel forced to continue. “Well, I should clarify. Maybe best friend doesn’t describe it. He’s more like my favorite person. I would lay my life down for that kid. Adult. Kid? Adult? He’s 20. I don’t know…you talk.”

My date laughs. “That’s cool you’re so close with your brother. I’m not as close with my siblings. Do you two talk every day?”

I nod. “Kind of? We Snapchat. But it’s almost constant. Our streak is 173 days right now. I always mess it up when we get to 199. I’m cursed.”

And before I know it, we’re joking about social media and my date’s lack of expertise in the area, justifying my own lack of expertise, and the “hot seat” has eased off of me and back into the steady rhythm of first date banter.

When I was three years old, I became acutely aware that my life was lacking a very, very fashionable accessory that all my friends seemed to be sporting: a sibling. Brooke had Emory. Kelsey had Jason. Robert had Doug. Rachel had Alex. Me? I was a solo flyer, a lone-wolf, if you will. So I began to beg my parents for a sibling. And not just any sibling — a boy sibling. It had to be a brother.

My mother and father, little did I know, were already trying. It was hard enough the first time. They knew the routine for the second, but this time presented its own hardships. When my mom did become pregnant, they began to coach me that the odds were not stacked that it would be a boy. They wanted to prepare me for the chance that I could have a sister. This — did not work. At the doctor’s screening when we would find out the gender of Baby No. 2, my parents heard a weird whimpering only to turn and find me muffling sobs in the corner as I dreaded the potential that it could be a girl. The anxiety was literally driving me to tears at four years old. So when it was revealed that it was in fact exactly what I wanted, I was ecstatic.

Being an older sister to a younger brother brought its struggles through the years. God knows I wasn’t perfect at it either (sorry, Joe, for testing every creative insult on you). And there was distance between us for the years in which we were in the same house, particularly in our formative middle- and high-school years.

But the minute I left the house, that gap seemed to close. It was like being forcefully, physically separated made us grasp for that proximity that we had grown accustomed to for the previous fourteen years of his life.

I’ll never forget when he texted me that he liked a girl.

Or when he called out my (and I cannot stress this enough) asshole ex-boyfriend over Snapchat when he was over my shoulder in the shot.

Or when I moved to Dublin and he insisted on becoming Snapchat best-friends with me.

Because in that moment, knowing that he wanted that closeness that I craved all the way back in 1998, I was completely blissful.

A lot of the Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers call out Millennials and Gen Z for being incapable of long-form written communication. And maybe, for a percentage of the population, they’re right. But when it comes to my brother and me, we defy the odds. We have conversations. We have inside jokes. We keep each other informed on what we’re doing, eating, seeing, listening to, thinking about, hanging with, choosing between, the list goes on.

The most important take away from these little updates though is not what the messages are. It’s that there are messages at all. Regardless of whether they are traveling 4000 miles to from Maryland to London or 400 miles from Maryland to New York or 40 inches from armchair to armchair, when the notification flashes on the phone, they say more than “Snapchat from Joe.” They say, “Joe is thinking of YOU.” “Joe loves YOU.” “Joe wants YOU to have a good day.” “Joe thinks YOU smell bad. But in a good way.” (That last one only he will get.)

I think of you too, Joe. And being one of your favorites is one of my favorite things.

On mattering

That was what I didn’t understand, how people made the leap from not mattering in each other’s lives to mattering.

– “Volunteers are Shining Stars,” You Think It, I’ll Say It Curtis Sittenfeld

Despite my very best efforts, I have lost my fair share of friendships. Perhaps more. There was my very first friend, Kelsey, whose closeness dissipated with time and distance that could not be overcome with as many pen-pal letters as our fourteen- and twelve-year-old selves could muster. I recently learned she got engaged. I truly hope she’s happy.

There were my college roommates, who saw me in the most devastating days of my depression: Shannon, Jen, Natalie. The last conversation I had with any of them was via text regarding me taking the artwork from our living room in the apartment with me as I moved out. I didn’t even say goodbye when I left, shame and anger over the disagreements we had had over the last semester sinking in my stomach with too much pride. I regret that.

There was Ann. And Eliza. And Ryan. And Emily. And Caroline. And Bekah H. And Katrina.

Of course there were others, but these are the ones that haunt me.

And today I learned that I am losing one more friend.

It feels like it did before.

Because this story is very much in real time, I’ve changed names. Posterity, people. But please know that everything in it is very, very accurate.

I met Sam on the tube on my way back from International Students Day for my postgraduate university. I had been walking behind her and two other Americans (I could hear their strident accents) for the distance between the student center and the station, too shy to step forward and introduce myself. So when I sat down across from SAm on the tube, her pulling off her name-tag with the LCC insignia on the bottom righthand corner, I leaned forward and took my chance. We then headed to a Wetherspoons and the rest was friendship history.

Until June 10.

At this point, we had traveled to Budapest together, moved in together, gotten drunk more times than we could count together (embarrassingly often to the High School Musical trilogy). I thought we understood each other. But Sam started to pull away. She spent more time with her door closed and locked away in her room, ignoring me when I knocked on her door and skipping meal times when she knew I was in the common space despite my promises of sharing take-away and a bottle of wine.

We had purchased tickets to see Demi Lovato (queen, don’t @ me) for another good friend’s birthday (Rachel, another of the girls who walked from the international student day to the tube). Unfortunately, due to “illness” the concert was postponed and we were sent back to the tube. Unwilling to let the birthday festivities fall flat, we started making plans to go for boozy milkshakes — a childhood dream come true. Then Sam started to look — well, distressed and more than a little pained. Her eyebrows scrunched and she looked like she was forcing her smile to a degree that physically pained her.

I knew that face. That was her “Heidi and Olivia face,” the face she made around her classmates for whom she had a particular distaste. I just had never had it directed towards me. Sam started making excuses that she wanted to go back and get a heads start on her Final Major Project, something that was looming over all of us in our Masters programs. Knowing this was complete bullshit, Rachel and I let her go and then made our way to where we had wifi where we could check in with her again a little later on. She insisted that she was fine.

Since that day, the “Heidi and Olivia face” has become the “Rachel and Rose face.” Sam does not talk to me to my face, she only texts me via whatsapp. Even though she lives in the same 400 square foot area as me. And having heard what she was able to say about Heidi and Olivia over the smallest things, I can only imagine what can be said about Rachel and me — we aren’t always the most tolerable people, although I believe it is charm more than anything.

I haven’t had a face-to-face conversation with Sam since June 10th to memory. And today she texted me asking to talk. It is November 7th. She moves out in 15 days. I don’t know what could possibly be said that could repair months of silence and questioning, months of introspection and dissection. Months of internal victimization and internal blaming.

Today’s post is a far cry from Monday’s graciousness post about good friends. Today’s post is about the opposite effect of the Curtis Sittenfeld quote. How does one so quickly jump from mattering to not mattering? What flips the switch from being one of the most important people in your life to someone you can’t even stand the look of?

After trial and error and time and time again, both on the dispensing end and on the receiving end — well, I wish I had the answer. But then again, I wouldn’t be writing this blog if I had the answers to life’s secrets like that one.

On conviviality

On conviviality

Photographs are just light and time.

– Turtles All The Way Down, John Green

For a few lovely moments, self-awareness relinquished its grip on him, and he was happy. This, time with Sunny had taught him, is what friendship is. To be given a key to a locked part of your soul.

– Mobile Library, David Whitehouse

The end of my first summer working in Fadó Irish Pub, I was asked to train a a short blonde girl who had three times the serving experience I did. She took to it much faster than I had only three months previously. As I was in my second to last shift, I didn’t bother getting to know her past that point.

Two years later, she sat down next to me at the bar after a shift at that same pub. I was returning for yet another summer and she was miraculously still there. I say miraculously because to this day she is one of my very best friends. Even better, she drew in another member of the staff who had remained in my periphery previously. I knew the other because we went to the same high school — knowing of each other but never meeting because we were in different years. Before I knew it, we were ordering rounds of shots and making plans for an old school sleepover party to watch Game of Thrones.

That was two years ago.

I bring this all up because their presence in my life explains my absence on this blog for the past ten days. Bekah (the short blonde turned brunette) and Kate (the one from my high school) traveled 4000 miles to come and visit me, something none of my friends have done during my time abroad. And even more amazing was that we enjoyed our time together immensely. I’ve had friendships tried and ruined during excessive exposure during traveling. This did not happen. Sure there were quirks and annoyances, but there was no death and destruction as I have seen and heard of before.

They both left yesterday and today I am left with photographs and memories. While the photographs (unlike in the 90s) will not fade because they are digital, the memories will. We will be left with the select three to five we choose to repeat over and over. But that feeling of contentment, of security, of conviviality and likeness of spirit? That is something that I will be grateful for regardless of where our paths take us.



On the intersectionality of fear, courage and friendship

Strange, though; because he is afraid of everything, nothing is harder than anything else. Taking a trip around the world is no more terrifying than buying a stick of gum. The daily dose of courage.

– Less, Andrew Sean Greer

I distinctly remember in my Christian Morals class of 11th grade — I know, again with the Catholic school thing — learning the distinction between bravery and courage. Bravery was paired with its near homophones brazenness and brashness, indicating a lack of thought and a lack of sensible fear. Shamelessly, they used Frodo from Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings as their example of a courageous hero. Their reasoning? He was courageous precisely because he was afraid and because he did not seek glory. He was on his quest because for no other reason than it was his burden to bear and his burden to bear alone…excluding, you know, that entire band of brothers that travels with him, namely good ol’ Sam, but I digress.

I hadn’t thought about that example until today, when I sat down and looked at this quote from Greer’s Less. I had highlighted it in my kindle (how bourgeoisie) because the example of fearing buying a stick of gum reminded me of fearing grocery shopping at one point in my life and I fully intended to unpack that experience, but on second glance that isn’t what this quote is about at all.

This quote is about Frodo and that quest to throw that damn ring into the fiery pit of Mordor.

When you reach a point in your life in which you fear everything, you simultaneously reach a point in which you surrender control. This invariably takes several forms, not all of them healthy. Many have succumbed to some terrible, terrible choices in this: drugs, radicalism, low self-esteem, to name a few and that’s not even exhaustive with my bias. I did for a little bit (ah, see, there we go with the mental health reference).

The important thing is to find healthy fears. Fears that give motivation and purpose. Fears that propel you, that guide you, that give you credence and boundaries. Fears that say “no, not today” quietly when you veer to far to the left or right, or a hard “NOT TODAY, SATAN” when you do a complete 180-degree turn from the path. And if that means you fear everything for a little bit, until you hit that numbness, so be it — but have the resources like (and I hate myself for saying this) Frodo with his Gandalf and Legolas and underappreciated and reliable Sam — did I mention Sam?

And yes, I know this is easier said than done. And I certainly know that when you are in the place of complete fear, of overwhelming fear, of fear so strong you’re even fearing buying that stick of gum let alone traveling the world (feared both), you definitely don’t want the help of anyone. In fact, you want to be left the hell alone to be paralyzed.

Don’t let yourself be left the hell alone.

This is where I go a little extra preacher-like, so bear with me. A few months back, I read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, which I would also quote above if I hadn’t taken my copy back from my apartment to my childhood home for safekeeping I loved it so much. In it, Eleanor hits rock bottom — shocker! But she has good people, really good people around her who care enough to pull her back up. And that’s one of the beautiful things about the world. If you let yourself be helped, chances are there will be people there to ferry you upwards when you can’t carry yourself any further on your own. Sometimes the most courageous thing is admitting you can’t do it on your own.

I’m excited to keep reading Less because I know that Arthur, the protagonist, will find his ferrying people like Eleanor, his tribe like me, his band of brothers like Frodo, and will be able to face the encompassing fear that he is running from so fervently in the early chapters. And I hope you, dear reader, know that you will too, if you have the courage to do it together.