The Fragility of Friendships

I first posted this several years ago.  I am now 82.  I came across it while surfing through my old posts, looking for fodder for a new poetry project.  I thought it is worth reposting — with some editing.

Making friends is easier when you are young.  The potentials are all around you — at school, in the neighborhood, your church, your teams.  If you are lucky, some of those friends stay with you throughout your life.  

Such is not necessarily the case as you get older, move, find a new job, get married. If you are lucky, you find new friends wherever you are.  I was lucky for decades after I settled into a job and a community and joined organizations with like minded folks.  For forty plus years, although I lived alone, I was rarely lonely.  I had a group of women friends who gave my life the kinds of rich interactions described by Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in this video.  Watching the video stirred up in me profound feelings of loss; I left  all of my friends behind when I moved to a new state to live with my family.  I call it my “assisted living”, and there are great advantages for an 80 year old to live alongside  kind and nurturing offspring.

But as wonderful as family can be, they are not my close friends — the five women (originally six) in the photo strip.  For. 40 years, we shared events, feelings, frustrations, vacations; We all were without partners at the time (although some came and went, pretty much operating on the periphery of our female friendship).

The first photo shows us in our glory days. I was the oldest– in my mid-forties.  The youngest was 10 years my junior.  While our personal histories were different, we shared the common grounds of politics, agnosticism, irreverence toward authority, an appreciation of belly-laughs, and a need to have fun.  We met when I ran a discussion group for single women.

Over the decades, the dynamics of our group changed, as one distanced herself, one (who often chose playing golf to hanging around with us) also fell off our radar.

Eventually there were only three of us to continue the friendship.  And then I moved away.  I still keep in touch with the two I left behind, but it’s not the same.  No longer face-to-face, it’s more difficult to hold onto that feeling of intimate connection.  Now one of the two is battling breast cancer.  I recognize that change is a part of life, but there are some things I wish hadn’t changed.

I left my old life 20 years ago to become my mother’s caregiver.  Ten years ago, I moved to live with family.  Since I moved, I’ve made several efforts to find friends.  I have made one close friend.  Am I spoiled by the intimate and supportive close friendships I had in the past and so I am not as open as I once was?  

Part of the truth is — while I want to have friends and to have some fun — I am tired of the effort it takes to find kindred spirits at this point in my life.  At age 80, I am also physically tired, with aching knees and a non-fixable torn rotator cuff.   I am resorting to trying the Rummikub player group at a local senior center.  It was a game my former group of friends used to get together and play, armed with several bottles of wine.  Lots of fun and laughter.

Is this what it’s like for many single women over 75 who find themselves severed from their former lives?  I would like to start an older women’s discussion group (I was really into the consciousness raising groups of the 1970s).  The challenge is to find some women with the same need. And senior centers around here don’t seem to be a place to find them.

There are so many things we don’t appreciate until we don’t have them any more.  Close friends fall into that category.

Go and watch Tomlin and Fonda.

 

 

So, here I am at 2 A.M……

While I’m waiting for that “sleep switch” to kick in, I’ve been trying to track down other bloggers around my age to see if we can develop into a virtual community of kindred spirits. That’s what I had back in the 2000s, and I miss the virtual camaraderie.

As part of my efforts to lesson my feelings of isolation, I am working with my local senior center to try to put together a weekly Zoom group of older folks who are disabled or are self quarantined. I only go out when I have to — medical appointments or grocery shopping. I would love to make new friends, and these days, Zoom is the way to do it.

I did spend most of my afternoon sending out my poetry in response to several “call for entries.” I have been pretty successful getting my poetry published, but it is three years since I have sent any out. At some point I will add a “Poetry” link to my primary menu.

Beginning next week, I will be part of a Zoom-based poetry group. I just love when synchronicities kick in and I become aware of the ongoing spirals that my life is on. I dreamed of a married couple with whom I was close friends for decades, but then they moved away. I contacted to tell them about the dream, and they put me in touch with the leader of the poetry group. The leader of the poetry group was one of my ex-husband’s college students and my daughter was a flower girl at his wedding. Circles into spirals.

Obviously, I have my depression under control. If only I could do that about my Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder.

Three or four a.m. has become my usual bedtime. Will I ever be awake again during those morning hours when the air smells fresh and the birds are just starting to sing?

09/18/2020, 7:45 PM

I never worried about getting old. I figured that I would deal with it when it happened. Well, it happened, and I’m not dealing with it very well these days. Objects seem to fly out of my grasp. I’m constantly misplacing things. If I get down, I can’t get up without help. I trip when there’s nothing there to trip on. The technology that I used to use without a second thought now requires too much figuring out. It doesn’t help that, back in March, I accidentally sent my removable partial denture down the garbage disposal, making it unusable, and it’s taking forever to get a new one. I lose track of my finances and find myself owing more than I thought. My crazy sleep pattern doesn’t help, of course.

It wouldn’t have helped if I had worried about getting old before it happened. There’s no way to have known what it was going to mean for me. Everyone is different. My mother lived until she was 94, but her last 10 years were lost in dementia.

I wonder who those old people are who go out dancing, marathon running, paddling canoes. Of course, I’m assuming the Pandemic has put the kibosh on all of that now — unless they are the deniers. Good luck to them, I say.

I finally let my hair go gray more than a decade ago, and I was very happy with it. Only now, my hair is thinning. Not so happy, now.

The other day I took a magnifying mirror outside so I could see my eyebrows, which are also thinning – except for the long wiry white ones, which I plucked out. I suppose I could get one of those eyebrow stencils, that so many of the folks on tv seems to be using, but I think they look horrible. Not many choices here for me.

Over on Ronni Bennett’s blog, she has been chronicling what it’s like to get older. Exactly my age, she is now chronicling how she is dealing with the pancreatic cancer that is literally killing her. She is heroic in dealing with her situation. I wonder how I would handle it.

Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful that I can still drive, blog, see the tv, chat on the phone with the one close friend I’ve been able to make in the ten years since I’ve moved here (more on that another time). Grateful for the support of my family, especially during this time of quarantine.

The one thing I certainly never expected to happen when I got old is the Great Orange Turd, who has made all of our lives a nightmare. And I just heard that Ruth Bader Ginsberg has died. Fuck it all.

Big Picture, Little Picture

The Big Picture these days is like a Gordian Knot. From the domination of the patriarchy and its greed for power and resources, to the negation of any kind of true social and legal justice, fixing the Big Picture is going to take public persistence, strategic action, and (ultimately) creative cooperation to either unravel or discard the current system.

As a White, progressive, middle class extended family, we support working toward re-building our society into a world view that values all life, that prioritizes ethics, equity, compassion, and diversity, and that supports the development of the best of human potential to solve problems in ways that meet the needs of all sentient beings. We make an effort to find common ground – even with antagonists – as a starting point, and often that starting point begins in learning about, understanding, and accepting the truth of each person’s personal journeys and experiences. But too often antagonists don’t want to find common ground, and so there is no place to start or proceed, especially since we are living in a world that seems to have lost all shades of gray.

Decades ago, my (now) adult son was mugged and beaten by three men of color who robbed him of the meager amount that was available via his ATM. Because he was nurtured to understand the influence of the local environment in which these men most likely lived, he was able to move beyond anger and “hate”. As an adult, autistic and afraid of violence, he still lives his life committed to social justice and intersectionality. The road he travels is bumpy, indeed. But he persists in the best way he is able: by intelligent research, analysis, and writing.

When my grandson was 7 or 8 (he is now 17), he became enamored of firemen and their uniforms. Every week, he visited our local fire station, getting to know the firemen personally. Finally, they gave him a discarded uniform, including sections of the hose. He was so excited, he even wore the stuff grocery shopping.

I suppose his love of “costumes” was reinforced by the fact that we are a family with some history in theatrical performance, and his progression into costumes of “authority” was fueled by his feeling secure and protected when he wore them – fire fighter, EMT, detective, police, Dr. Who, Jedi.

So, despite all of his commitment to fairness, ethics, justice, and the goals of Black Lives Matter, and despite his acknowledgment that our system of policing needs to be overhauled, he cannot ignore his empathy toward the plight of some law enforcers – the cop who gets shot and leaves a wife and baby behind; the cop who doesn’t come forward and report unnecessary police violence because he is afraid his partner won’t give him the backup he might need in violent situations; the cop who needs his job to support his extended family.

In addition, my grandson is involved with an online game along with a young POC policeman from the Midwest who has become his friend. That cop has an unmarked police car that is his to drive and even take home. But he does not want to park that car in his driveway because he is afraid to make it public that he is a cop; he is afraid of his family being victimized by opposition forces.

The backlash my grandson gets from his “social justice warrior” friends when he tries to explain his feelings about the police, in his words, “hurts his soul.” But he perseveres in trying to explain why he feels the way he does.

We talk about these things over the dinner table. I tend to come down on the radical side of issues. He is a reminder to me not to forget that each individual has a personal history that is often ignored by critics – a history that might have room for some deserved “walk a mile in his shoes” empathy.

Many of today’s police are trained to believe they must be invincible and to accept violence in order to survive. In some ways, they are victims, whose own fears and bigotries have been co-opted to support a narrow view of law and order. My grandson reminds me that there often are understandable reasons why many of today’s police do what they do; there are understandable reasons why some folks are driven to rob convenience stores, at lethal gunpoint, for basic necessities. To keep our humanity, our empathy, strong, we need to be able to see some gray within all of the overwhelming “either/or” culture.

While Rudyard Kipling was a man with controversial political views, I am one of those who is able to look at art apart from the personal reputation of the artist. So I share with you a personally edited version of Kipling’s “If”, dedicated to my grandson. Edited pieces are in bold.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it all on you
If you can trust yourself when all folks doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And not worry if you seem too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And move beyond the stress of loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all folks count with you, and some too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ of your soul beguiled,
Your love of life will have no limit,
And you’ll find your destined place, my child.

I invite any readers to open a discussion of what I wrote here (harkening to the style of the original “blogosphere.”) Or at least leave a comment.

Paul read his poetry naked.

He was a crowd favorite at urban poetry readings, especially at the former punk club QE2 on Central Avenue, where he screamed his edgy and ironic “White Boy” poems — often completely naked. Occasionally, he wore a baseball catcher’s mask to go with full-frontal nudity.

Such is how my once friend and colleague, Paul Weinman, is described in a tribute posted in the Albany Times Union today. He just died from the complications of Alzheimer’s. He was 75 years old. The newspaper piece celebrates Paul’s delightfully skewed lifestyle and creative pursuits and is an entertaining read even if you never knew him.

I met Paul when I began working at the New York State Museum in 1980. He already was a fixture and a legend in that institution, often annoying the staid administrators with his controversial off-site antics, while, at the same time, becoming a beloved and entertaining teacher in the Museum’s educational program. Parents and kids alike flocked to his workshops based on the Museum’s exhibits, and inner city neighborhood kids would show up in the Museum after school hours just to hang out with Paul and be entertained by his adventurous historical tales and re-enactments of life in the wilderness of the Adirondacks. He treated all kids with respect and affirmation; he dealt with adults with honest response to the way in which they dealt with him; he responded to the hypocrisies of every power structure with naively gutsy irreverence.

My professional path crossed with Paul’s because we were both poets in an institution that shared a building with the New York Sate Library and Archives and that often held literature-related events. Together, Paul and I organized and hosted the Museum’s annual “Banned Book Week” public readings. We held ekphrastic poetry events in conjunction with Museum art exhibits. We worked well together as colleagues supporting the educational mission of the New York State Museum.

Outside of our jobs, as part of the Albany poetry community, we came to know each other as writers, although our styles — in both content in presentation — had very little in common. As a challenge to my more conservative bent, one day Paul suggested that we do a collaborative poetry chapbook that explored male-female sexual tensions. I would write a poem and then he would write a poem in response. We would go back and forth like that until we had enough for a chapbook. Paul would print out and staple copies of the chapbook and then distribute it, for free, around the area, as he did with all of his poetry projects.

The whole idea was way out of my comfort zone, but Paul was pretty much an icon in the local poetry scene, and I was intrigued by both him and the challenge.

eating.jpg
This is what the cover and back page our chapbook looked like. “Fruits of the Harvest Press” is just the name Paul gave to his own personal printing and distribution system. There’s no date on the publication, but it probably was in the late 1980s.

It took me a while to figure out how to approach the subject of sexuality, but I found a way to do it my way: through food metaphors. Hence the title: “Eating Disorders and Other Mastications.” My first effort was inspired by a Thanksgiving turkey neck.

something about turkey necks,
gizzards nestled in palm of hand,
stroked with oil,
moist heated
until firm, juice-laden,
ready for needing,
nibbling, gnawing–
lip-licking
fine night dining,
giving
thanks

And we went on from there, as I branched out from the food metaphors into other expressions of female sensuality and Paul responded with blatant come-ons such as this, which became one of his famous “White Boy” series:

IN QUIVERS OF INAD-
EQUACY, WHITEBOY TRIES
BUCKUP UP HIS IMAGE
AS HE STRUTS FOR ELAINE
A.   autographing pens
      strapped to hips
B.   rakish hat
      festooned with
      panty hose
C.   boots tooled
      with female in-
      initials, cellular
      calling codes
WHITE BOY TRIPS…
POLEVAULTS ON THAT
POINT HE’S TRYING 2
GET ACROSS: ARRESTED
4 SEXUAL HARASSMENT

My relationship with Paul never moved beyond friendship, although as a willing participant in Dionysian revelry, he might have taken it in that direction. But as attracted as I often was to “bad boys,” Paul was way out of my league in that arena. Plus I got to know Paul’s wife at the time, Judith Braun , a talented visual artist who really didn’t come into her own until she divorced Paul. I liked Judith, enjoyed the bohemian parties they threw, was energized by the creative energies with which they always were surrounded. Paul caused me to stretch the boundaries of my writing and my perceptions of what is acceptable to me in both words and life.

Paul loved the lore of the Adirondacks, and he spent the last five years of his Alzheimer-ridden life making miniature chairs out of tree branches. As the newspaper tribute reports: He built miniature chairs in the Adirondack twig furniture style and left them anonymously around town with a note: “I’m an orphan chair. Please take me home and put a stuffed animal or plant on me.”

I don’t know his latest wife, but I’m going to try to contact her to see if I can get one of those chairs to hold a plant in my garden and hold his memory in my heart.

This is why I blog….

Here on this weblog, I write about whatever interests me at the moment, even though, at the time, I recognize that it might not interest anyone else.

But every once in a while, out of nowhere, it does.

I just received an email from a man in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada regarding a blog post I did back in 2003 about friends of mine leaving to join a group in Edmonton that I consider a cult.

You can read the post here — and be sure to read the comments as well.

Apparently, a colleague and friend of my e-mailer, who was missing since March 22, has been found dead. Police do not suspect foul play; my e-mailer suspects suicide. He also seems to believe that she was somehow involved in de Ruiter’s group.

I guess he is doing his own investigation, and so I gave him the names of my old friends who left all of those years ago, in case they are still around and can help him. And in case they might like to get back in touch with me.

That’s why I blog. Because all of my stuff is sitting somewhere out there in the world wide web, and sometimes it is just what someone is looking for.

Well, it’s one reason I blog. I blog because I’m a writer and I need a place to write.

Whatever. It all works for me.

A Day of Memories

aweddingSix years ago today, my friend and once-husband died of lung cancer. This is the only existing photo of the day we eloped in 1962.

We were kind of a fire and ice mixture. Made some fascinating patterns and two great kids, but we were destined to destroy each other if we didn’t separate.

Our son published some of his writings, which are available on Kindle. In the early days, we were very competitive with each other regarding our writing/achievements. Back then, I kind of viewed us as an “F. Scott and Zelda” situation.

Only I didn’t jump into a fountain and wind up in a loony bin. I jumped out into the life I was destined to have.

We eventually were able to become good friends, and I was with him on his last day.

I often think about how much he would be enjoying the paths that our two kids have taken and the way his grandson is blossoming.

Who is Jake Trussell and why…..

Why do I have him listed with Kerouac and Kafka in a poem that I wrote when I was twenty years old?

jake TrussellEven the information about him in the last available copy of his chapbook that I just bought for $10 doesn’t tell me anything about how I might have come to know anything about him more than a half-century ago.

Apparently, he wrote back in the late 30s and 40s, and this chapbook is his only collection. The inside cover says

Only a limited edition of 1000 is being printed, and none of them will ever be available except as a personal gift from the writer.

The copy I bought is inscribed to “Doc Chandler: who appreciates cheesecake and football predictions — all the good things in life. Jack Trussell, 10-15-57.”

I was a freshman in college in 1957. Might I have heard him read his poetry on campus? Did one of my fellow pseudo-beatniks tell me about him? Did I share a beer with him one night in the tiny bar on Central Avenue in Albany where we gathered around a table in front of a bizarre mural of Buddha, Shiva, and various other inspirational myths? I don’t know why his name would appear in my poem.I don’t remember. Have no idea. “Doc Chandler” certainly doesn’t ring a bell.

About the poems in this collectin Jake says “To me, poetry was always a personal thing, written for the pure joy of writing and for no other consideration whatsoever. These poems were written at very odd moments ….and on the strangest assortments of materials (napkins, the backs of old football programs, and scraps of typing paper crammed into a beat up portable late at night on a kitchen table).”

I guess that sounds pretty much like what we were all doing back then.

Most of his poems have end line rhymes, which I rarely like. I might never know why his name found its way into one of my very early efforts. Maybe I had read this one of his; I know I would have liked this one, which he wrote in 1938:

trussell exit

NaPoWriMo #4

70

I had planned, for my 70th spring,
to blog my way down the East Coast,
searching out the names of those
I knew along the way,
planting new memories
that would grow old even
more slowly than I.

I would take my time,
sleep in my little SUV
if necessary, charge my laptop
as I drive, stop where
hot spots showed strongest,
keep my story going to no end.

That time had come. And gone.
And I no longer dream of
long distance running, taking
that last flight from anonymity.

Instead, I wander garden hot spots,
searching for the solitude
to rock instead of run,
to stop in time and
contemplate the passing
of Roger Ebert,
who was 70.

maybe old friends are still the best friends

I have had the urge to get in touch with people with whom I was close but haven’t been in touch with for more than 30 years — former colleagues with whom I shared both professional and personal adventures.

Maybe it’s because I really haven’t made any new friends since I moved out here to Massachusetts almost four years ago. It isn’t that I haven’t made an effort; I just haven’t connected with anyone with whom I’d like to hang out.

So, that’s just another reason to love the Internet, where I am able to track down folks even if they have a very low cyber-profile.

We are all elders, now — retired and involved in both the tribulations and the pleasures of being where and when we are now. And most find it fun to reconnect at this point — each sharing the stories of our past 30 years, as well as sharing, again, memories of younger and more vitally engaging times. This is a time for opening memories.

OK. I’ve got to face it. I’m ready for the rocking chair — well, really I’m ready for Spring and the awning-shaded yard swing where I like to laze away the days, reading, knitting, and, often dozing. And catching up with old friends via my iPhone.