dating for friends?

Lately I’ve been thinking about the commonalities between developing new friendships as an adult and the experience of dating. For a lot of reasons, “dating” isn’t on my radar these days. But, as my daughters are getting older and much more independent, I’ve found myself venturing out into the world in new ways; that includes noticing people with whom I might find friendship. I’m finding it’s a lot like dating.

Here’s what I mean:

hm, that person seems interesting –> maybe we should hang out –> let’s hang out –> agreement/expression of mutual interest –> plan –> hanging out (a walk, coffee, a movie, a meal, or some activity) –> contact following the hanging out –> self-doubt (was my text goofy? overwhelming? too much? not enough?) –> interpretations of responses–> texting (or not) –> one or the other or both make obvious efforts to have a repeat performance of the original hanging out.

Do you see how this could be dating or it could be making a new friend?

I’ve had the experience in the past few years of knowing people about whom I think “we could be totally excellent amazing friends” but, for whatever reasons, they don’t see me in the same way. When that happens in dating, I usually know not to take that personally. It’s not me, it’s that we’re not a good fit. I’ve used hindsight and lessons from dating to heal some of my small wounds from failed attempts at friendship.

I’ve also had the experience in the past few years of people reaching out to me to hang out but I drop the ball. In hindsight, some of those dropped balls were tossed to me from interesting people. So, I’m going back to pick up the ball where it makes sense.

With new friends there are all kinds of negotiations, just like in dating. What does “friend” mean to this person? What level of communication do they expect vs. what I expect? Historically, my closest and most intimate friends have not always been the same people I see or talk to regularly. Because my children have been young, most of my energy is used mothering. And, I’m an introvert (for real! not because it’s trendy!).

As my life is changing, will my willingness to invest in and availability for friendship change, too? I’m not sure. I suspect I’m a bit of an old dog who won’t learn many new tricks. But, I’m keeping my mind open. All I can do is try. As with dating, so with friendships; I will depend on my mantra from the 12 step recovery program I hold so dear: “progress, not perfection.”

“Breathing. (twitter.)”

Sometimes I see an image in my mind. Sometimes it’s just a strong flow of feelings. Usually, it’s a little of both. In all cases, I never know exactly how a picture will turn out when I start. Sometimes, I have no idea at all what it will be, I just start drawing (or painting).

That’s what I did with this painting. I picked up the leftover nubs of oil pastels and just started scribbling and smearing them all over the birch panel. When I don’t know what I’ll be painting or drawing, that’s what I do. I find just moving my hand with the medium gets things going.

I started with the “just get color on the panel.” I added more color and still nothing was forming. I set it aside and worked on some other things.

A few days later, I had a dm (direct message, a kind of “chatting” on twitter) conversation with @tackie_jackie who suggested I make a painting about the word “breathing.” When I’m overstimulated, overwhelmed, or simply need to get back to my center (and, typically, away from technology), I’ve developed a habit of tweeting the word “Breathing.” and then walking away for a bit. Noticing my breathing has been an important part of my life in the last many months.

So, here are some pictures of the progression of the painting that is now complete. It is called: Breathing. (twitter.)

[youtube:http://youtu.be/ThWgNvV0LNs%5D

This and several other of my paintings will be hanging at the Starbucks on Congress at High/Free Streets in downtown Portland (Maine) starting on May 2, 2012. I would be thrilled and honored if you would check them out.

my friend Paula

Weeks ago I saw on Facebook that my friend Paula had a birthday. I’ve been off of Facebook for a couple months now, so I didn’t have its handy-dandy little notice that her day was coming up. Turns out she fibbed about her birthday, but it was right around that time. I got to thinking about how I could really wish her a happy birthday. Not just an email (she’s an online-only friend). Not an e-card. Not just “glad you were born!”

For days I constructed a brilliant essay about her. About her and me, of course. It was in my mind for days, then I started writing. Everything I wrote was crap. For weeks, it wasn’t enough. Or it was too gushy. Or it was… well, screw it, I’m going to just tell you now. I wrote about how we met in the newsgroup misc.writing and how she scared the crap out of me. How she was so totally mean that I cried a few times after reading her posts directed at me. How even then I was struck by her open mindedness, her willingness to accept people with very overt and often offensive flaws.

I missed the blogging hey day (hay day?) that happened in the early 2000’s, so I never got to know her in that way. Then, as misc.writing finally and totally collapsed Facebook revived our online world in a new way. That’s when I started to really know her.

Paula is unique in this world. Of course everyone is, but Paula’s unexpected. I kept trying to classify her as… well, you name it, I tried labels on

her and none of them fit. She’s strong, funny, a great writer, a dependable friend, and beautifully honest. She’s gorgeous inside and out, too. She is one of my first friends who doesn’t come from where I’ve been. Our backgrounds are different, our values are frequently different (besides valuing honesty and there are a few other key shared values), our politics are often different (don’t even get me started on how misguided she is about Palestinians!), and she somehow understands the world that is shoe-lust. Shooz, that is. Or has it become sh00z? I think so.

She is herself. It’s what I admire most about her. She may sometimes slide into trying to be something or someway for others, but more than

most people, she stays true to being her. She’s an incredible friend, a solid shoulder when I’ve needed it, and always (did I mention?) honest.

She’s amazing. And, yes, I am very glad she was born.

Happy birthday my dear, sweet friend. Here’s some buttercream just for you.

 

Ophelia’s ride

Lately, the evils of four year olds has me losing perspective. I keep telling myself, “they’re four, they’re only four, they’re just four year old little kids!” But, when my sweet daughter Maya tells me a classmate said, “you can’t play with us” within some particularly nasty context (playing doggy, no one would be her owner) I want to rip out the classmate’s hair and throw her into a locked dark closet. Would that be inappropriate?

Life is like ocean waves. My self-awareness and understanding always reaching and finding new sands, new treasures. Always uncovering new old rubble. I’ve come to love The Ride even when storms make it scary. The Ride always rocks and rolls me. I’m always safe.

From this perch, I’ve been revisiting what it was like. What it used to be like. My happy tendency these days is to live in what it’s like now, finding the past an ordinary place with the present full of mystery and joy. Then these little brats came along. These little excluding and nasty and superficial little crap heads.

I’ve started reading Reviving Ophelia.No matter what parents do, Pipher reports in Ophelia, young girls risk losing their authentic selves. It’s only by being “high in acceptance and strong in controls” that we parents have a chance to find our daughters reclaiming themselves in their later teens. Apparently, our daughter is doomed to begin hating herself and hiding herself at around 11 years old, just like every girl I’ve ever known. The parents are not to blame.

Overbearing parents, absent parents, cool parents, geeky parents, they’re all facing the same thing. Girls who used to be outgoing, unabashedly intelligent, confident, and creative turn into little puddles of quietude, bitterness, or fear. Everything the girls are is wrong — their hair, their bodies, their thoughts, their words.

Early on, I was entirely a Good Girl. I didn’t get in trouble, I followed the rules, I did my homework, I was Responsible. Before junior high, I was an artist. I wanted to be an architect, among many other things. Then on career day, an older woman groaned at me when I told her this and said, “Oh, no you don’t, dear! You’d have to major in math and science!” She said this in an honors seventh grade math class. Not only was she not accurate about the “majoring,” but she was talking to someone who (at the time) loved math!

In the seventh grade I decided to become popular. I set about it like I would any homework assignment, I read books, magazines, studied up. I realized I’d have to drop the friends I had, even the ones who were hoping to climb the social ladder with me. It would only be by publicly rejecting them that I’d move into the cool crowd. I did what it took. I began flirting with boys, too, and found them flirting back. My life began revolving almost entirely around how others perceived me and I did, as Pipher reports as so common, lose track of my real self.

In the 9th grade I wrote a play in AP English as a class assignment. I have no idea why I thought it a good idea, but the play ended with me, standing alone in front of the class saying, “I’m lonely.” It was meant to be a Waiting for Godot flavored performance, but I look back now and see that I was speaking the truth.

There are other pivotal moments that shoved me into the typical self-hatred so many of us experienced in the brutal years of junior high and beyond. For a while in my 20s I blamed my parents, of course. But I think Pipher’s on to something in her position that it is our culture, our misogynistic surroundings that damn girls (and boys, I could argue in another essay) to the Hell of self-annihilation. Blaming the culture may sound like a cop-out. But now that I’m living life as a parent of a child, and now that I’m reflecting on my own history from this perspective, I see no other explanation.

Now I’m examining my role as a grown woman, a mother. How can I help Maya survive with her Self intact? Or, help her have a chance of reviving her true self when the storm of adolescence calms?

I’ve already strayed. When Maya went to a summer camp (mornings doing crafts and music) I began to pack little “treats” in her lunch box that felt inconsistent with who we are. I bought the little sugar drinks (claiming to be yoghurt, with Disney characters on the bottles) or pre-sliced cheese. I included bits in her lunch bag I knew “all the other kids” would have. Already I was concerned about her experiencing the ostracizing that comes from having the “wrong” foods in a lunch bag. I was giddy doing this, knowing I was “helping her” be one of the “cool” kids. Oh my god. What was I thinking?

Last week I again packed a lunch for Maya, but this time I was grounded. I was joyful and held true to our family’s priorities. I did pack a little treat, but it was some plastic spider rings we got at the dollar store last year (the lunch was on Halloween) rather than some crap food that would only make her feel tired. The environment for this lunch was also not typical — I knew that in this group “cool” was actually healthy and wholesome and genuine. Authenticity and kindness are the norm and the children are much less likely to say, “eeeew” to Maya’s lunch choices (as they did when I once included a box of carrot juice).

Just as I am revisiting this insane pressure to be what others expect — the same pressure that forced me over the cliff into self-hatred as a young girl despite my loving supportive family — I’m finding my own life to be a comfortable, firm, and perfectly fitting shoe (is there a prettier more accurate metaphor? I’m sure there is…). I am coming into being myself, fully accepting and pleased.

As a mother, I think I’ve caught myself early enough — I’ll do my best to focus on being true to myself, modeling the self-respect I want for Maya. I don’t need to buy the Disney. I will also focus on supporting Maya’s choices, encouraging her to realize that she has choices, that she alone determines her value — no matter what those around her say.

Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today, I’ve read. What I got from the Ophelia book wasn’t despair or hopelessness. I got guidance. The book recalls a study done on strong and successful women like Eleanor Roosevelt. She describes a common theme for all the women was intellectual curiousity about something and a generally lonely adolescence filled with solitude or social rejection. Armed with this information, I feel encouraged. If Maya turns out to be a girl who loves horses, or a girl who loves Broadway musicals, or a girl who loves field hockey, I’ll be overjoyed. Passion for something, no matter how unfamiliar or even distasteful to me, will be her go-home-free card. I also won’t let myself get sucked back into the “if she’s liked, she’ll like herself” trap. As I begin experiencing the pain and joy of watching my daughter work her way through the system, I’ll try to remember to let go. I’ll practice having faith that everything will turn out okay.

Tonight a friend asked Maya who her best friend at school was. Wouldn’t you know her answer was that very same girl who had so wretchedly spurned her before? I can’t say I’m pleased about this since I am still nursing a tidy resentment. However, I am more comfortable remembering that not only is she only four, she’s out there practicing life. She’s learning about who she is just like I am. All I can do is just hang on for the ride.

“she’s Black, she’s Black, she’s BLAAAAACK!”

“She’s Black, she’s Black, she’s BLAAAAACK!” was just about all my brain could handle. Maintaining a simple and polite conversation was barely possible. No matter how much we had in common, no matter how likely a future friendship, I could think of nothing but that amazing dark skin, the transcendent hair texture, and my entire personal history of race relationships. Oh, how I wanted to prove to this woman that I was not like just any white woman! I knew, of course, it was just this level of self-consciousness that would make me utterly annoying to her. But, I just couldn’t help myself.

Helping myself, though, is really what race relations is about for me these days. I do care about the greater socio-political issues (shocking disregard for people’s lives all across the continent of Africa, overt brutality in our country, job discrimination, and of course the list goes on). However, my personal journey with racism now centers around me, my husband, and most of all, my daughter.

When I sat for coffee with the “she’s black she’s black she’s BLACK” woman, I was reminded of a time in college in the late 80’s when a fellow student raged at me something like, “I am not all black people! I can’t solve your problems!” The disgust, the tears, and the absolute giving up I felt from her did change me. I was so ignorant, so inexperienced with people who were not white-upper-class-and-highly-educated that I lumped anyone unlike me into a group. This group, I thought, would be my source for how to fix the world. Surely, they knew what I could do to not be like a bigot, a racist, a slave owner.

It was then I began to try and get over myself. Trouble was, I just didn’t have anyone to practice being just a person with. There was no one in my life I could intentionally not discuss race relations and curing the world of injustice. There was no one in my life with darker skin, or fancier hair. There wasn’t even anyone I knew whose family had struggled financially, dark or fair skinned. And, yes, I recognized how this desire to not look to someone for all the answers was just a different side of the same coin.

I don’t believe in the concept of being “color-blind.” I find it offensive to everyone involved. Why should anyone pretend someone doesn’t look the way they do? How is that respectful? One constant in my life is my need for authenticity. Facing tough issues by talking about them; I don’t do well with elephant’s snoozing on the throw rug nearby.

It my own need for honesty and clarity that had me obsessing, desperate for an intense and intimate conversation about race every time I ran in to this woman. Entirely annoying, of course, since I knew I was just doing it again. Not seeing her as a woman, a mother, a wife, a writer, a social justice activist, but only seeing her Blackness. I really didn’t want to, but I knew if I pretended I wasn’t, it would just make it worse.

In college, I studied and fell in love with “Symbolic Interactionism.” Put forward in force by Herbert Blumer but made real to me by Erving Goffman, the idea that we all together strive most of all to maintain a coherent sense of reality. The “presentation of self” is disturbed when an individual becomes obsessed with their own performance. Smooth interactions between individuals are the goal of most players in life, most of the time throughout our daily lives (most don’t walk down a crowded busy street intentionally slamming into other people, we work together as individuals to keep the peace).

I know in my past I have suffered from white guilt and that has prevented me from behaving naturally. It’s humiliating, really, but, it’s my own shit.

Playing with dollhouse toys, my daughter announced one afternoon that she called one set of dolls the dark-skinned dolls. She didn’t say that the other set was the light skinned dolls. I gathered myself together enough not to launch in to a whole history of race issues in the USA. She’d made a simple observation. We’ve tried to always be sure she has characters in books with lots of different backgrounds, tried to always have dolls that are not only blond and white, knowing every little thing is part of the greater picture. We talked to her about melanin when she first asked about darker skin after visiting my parents’ church. We’ve done everything we can to not make a big deal, but to still keep the option for deeper discussion open. And, yes, I am probably over-thinking it way too much. But, then again, I’m really not.

We live in a state (Maine) where it’s not common to see people who aren’t white. Economic status is more varied than where I grew up, but trying to recognize those differences takes a judgmental frame of mind, not easy for a four year old to pick up on. We visit Boston (awfully white city, but relatively International) and come across families speaking other languages, wearing interesting clothes, looking remarkably different. It’s nice, and we talk about things with her, but what will help Maya most?

I tried signing her up for a Kwanzaa celebration class for toddlers, but was vastly disappointed when the instructor slipped up and asked the class if they knew about the country of Africa. I do believe that experience with people with darker skin, with different languages, and with different cultural backgrounds is the best thing we can give Maya (and ourselves). But, how can this happen and not be contrived?

I’ve written previously about my six grade field trip on a bus into Hartford where the teachers showed us “urban decay” and “urban renewal.” They actually stopped the busses in stressed out neighborhoods and said “this is urban decay.” I guarantee you there were people around those streets. How can [my husband] and I be sure that signing Maya up for classes or working to have playgroups where the kids aren’t just white isn’t a lot like that? I suppose it makes a difference if there is a genuine interest in the topic, or if the playgroup participants are actually friends. Knowing I have the motivation of “exposure” however, is what feels too close to that old frame of mind (“these people will give me the answers, ease my guilt”).

Today we went to the toy store where [my husband] and I very blatantly purchased an excessively expensive and annoying toy strictly for bribery (you reach this milestone, we’ll celebrate with this toy!). We reached the shelves and the Baby Alive toys available were only the dark skinned, curly haired dolls (sort of African American looking, though I think they all look like aliens). We had watched a movie on the computer that morning as we whetted her appetite for the thing where the freakishly large-eyed blond baby says, “uh oh, I made a stinky!” I flinched at the shelf. I wondered if I should be prepared for Maya to say, “That isn’t the doll we saw, I want the other one!” I was really hoping I wouldn’t have to say, “It’s this doll or no doll,” because I didn’t want the darker doll to be the disappointing choice.

Maya didn’t say a word about how she looked different (even though the doll was surrounded by the blond dolls of the “pee-pee only” version). She hugged the box to herself. She has been cherishing the boxed doll all day (she gets to open it after she reaches her milestone).

On the way home from the store, this is what she said, “The company that makes these dolls must really want children to buy them!”

“Yeah, hunny, why is that?”

“Because she has dark skin and dark skin is the most beautiful.”

“Dark skin is beautiful, hunny, yes, they must know.”

Inside I’m not afraid her pale-skinned self-esteem is suffering, I’m doing a touchdown dance with fireworks. Thinking, at least at the moment, she’s making good associations.

A few months ago (a year?) I said to the “she’s black she’s black she’s BLACK” woman who I had come to know on some deeper levels, “It’s so nice to finally know you as a just a person.” I honestly don’t remember if we went forward with that conversation at that point, or later in safer email, but, it’s true that she’s the first Black woman (and Latina, it turns out) who I consider a friend. And, it’s most definitely true that while I have fleeting thoughts of “wow, that hair is so cool,” or, “her skin is so stunning,” I realize I have thoughts like that about all of my friends in different ways (“how does she pull of those knit caps?” “when does she have the time to shave her legs?” “her hair always looks so clean.”). They are fleeting and I’m not obsessed.

[My husband] doesn’t have the same hang-ups I do. He grew up in a much more culturally diverse world (Southern New Mexico). He’s also blessed with an ability to not over-think things. But, he knows what I’m talking about when we try to decide how to help Maya not think that this world (Maine) is typical of the rest of the world. He knows how gross it feels to imagine signing Maya up for a playgroup or class only because we know she’d meet kids who aren’t white. I suppose, like everything, I’ll have to turn this over to faith. Trusting that it will all work out because God’s in charge and I’m not.

I don’t know the answers. I don’t know how I can help Maya make friends without having an internal explosion about race or class issues go on in her brain. For this day, for this moment, I’ll take Maya finding the “dark skin is the most beautiful” as a pretty good start.