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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Send Me a Friend Request!

This week, Merryland Girl chose the topic.  She wrote:  Friend matchmaking:  Tell us about a time you were “set up” for a friendship with someone.  Or a time you matched two friends together.  (Or both.)  Please keep it to “in person” friendships only since it’s way too easy to connect people online these days.

After a thorough mental inventory of my friends, I could not think of two people I “set up” for friendship.  (I wondered why that is . . .  but only briefly.)  I can only think of one person with whom I was “set up” and met and with whom I continued a relationship.  Except he really isn’t a friend, he’s my ex-husband.  And we no longer really have a relationship.  And I don’t really feel like talking about it. 

So, instead, I’m going to cheat a bit and recycle and update a post I wrote last June, before I was invited to join this group.  (Funny enough, Froggie (Tracey) was featured in the old post!)  Here’s my take:

When I first joined Facebook, I made a bright line rule:  I would not be virtual friends with anyone whom I had not actually met at least once in reality.  The concept of having 1,000 friends, 700 of whom I could not pick out of a line-up, was not my thing.  I refused to be a FB friend whore.

It was my rule, and it worked well.

And then I bent it.

The first crease came in the form of a Friend Request I sent to a friend’s wife, a gorgeous personality I’d never actually met but whom I felt I knew through her husband’s posts and her corresponding comments.  After a lengthy exchange about Jon Bon Jovi, I thought, “She is my kind of people,” and I friended her.  I still haven’t actually “met” her.  But that doesn’t stop me from calling Dana my friend.

Several months later, I signed up for a writing workshop in Michigan.  The facilitator introduced the attendees via Facebook and email.  A few of us were looking to share rooms and started chatting, and I made my next “never-ever-met-her” FB friend, a great writer named Dana (Dana II!).  Within days, another:  Tracey.  And then, finally, Laura.

That rule?  Completely broken.

We started messaging, sometimes in pairs, sometimes as a foursome, always as writers who just happened to be on the path to becoming friends.  Real friends.

Back then, Tracey and I shared the luck of geography, as we both lived in Chicago, so we met up for lunch, and I liked her even more in 3-D.  She moved off my “never-met” list and eased over into my “friend in reality” group.  She’s come to be a good friend, and I am forever grateful for her invitation to join this blog group and for my introduction to the other bloggers, Melissa (Merryland Girl) and Sara (Moma Rock).  I’ve never met Melissa or Sara – hell, we’ve never even spoken on the phone – and yet I feel I know them as well as – if not better than – some of the friends I often see in person.  I am proud to call them friends.  The fact we haven’t met just seems immaterial. 

And when we do meet (and we will), I know I won’t feel like I'm meeting strangers, because I won’t be.  I’ll be meeting up with old friends – friends I just hadn’t yet met in person.  That’s what happened when I ultimately met Dana II and Laura last summer in Saugatuck, when we shared meals and jokes and stories and our manuscripts and then – now  memories.  (Interesting aside:  my move to Tennessee moved me away from Tracey (and Dana I), but within driving distance of Dana II.  It was so nice to know I had a friend waiting for me in my new home state!)

I do offer one caveat, however.  I’ve found that my bright line rule is an absolute necessity when it comes to male friends.  For some reason, when I’ve broken my rule with a male, bad things have happened.  Remember Pie Guy?  He was the first male exception, and he was a fruit-filled Facebook fail.  And then there was a guy I like to call “The Creeper.”  He and I went to the same grammar school (though not at the same time, as he was several years older) and he friended me last year when our shared alma mater sat on the Archdiocese of Chicago’s school chopping block.  Within days of our virtual friendship, he started trolling my female friends – totally uncool and extremely creepy.  After the third creeped-out female friend mentioned his behavior, I unfriended him, and when he tried to blame his behavior on alcohol, I blocked him. 

So, yeah, boys, you and your gender have earned yourselves some disparate treatment!

In the year or so since I first wrote my post, several more never-met friends have joined my list of FB friends.  They are all friends of other friends.  Would I like to meet them in person some day?  Sure, why not?  But if I dont?  Well, thats ok, too.  

Unless they are male.  

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Don't You Know That You Are a Shooting Star?

I’m super excited to have been invited to join a blog group alongside three talented bloggers.  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.   

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

Moma Rock           

This week, Moma Rock chose the topic, and she asked:  Robin Williams’ death has shocked the world.  What celebrity deaths have you found most shocking, and why?

            Funny enough, this very topic came up just moments after I learned Robin Williams had passed away.  I will never forget where I was when I heard the news:  it was Monday evening, and I was attending the 10’s Parent Night at her new school.  The 8 and I had stopped in the hallway to talk to Mr. Hill, the music teacher, and during our chat, I mentioned how I wasn’t sure when we had to return for the 8’s Parent Night.  Ever polite, Mr. Hill offered to look it up on his phone.  He pulled the device from his pocket and typed in his password.  And then he sort of recoiled. 

            “Oh.  Wow.  I didn’t expect that,” he said.  I shot him a puzzled look and he said, “A friend just texted me . . . Robin Williams is dead.” 

            I gasped.  Audibly.  “Oh my God!” I whisper yelled.  “Are you kidding??”  My voice truly carried multiple question marks and the trace of a soft exclamation.  I couldn’t believe it.  It seemed impossible.  I was standing in the hallway of my kids’ school on a regular, plain old Monday night.  How could Robin Williams be dead??  It wasn’t right.  He was supposed to be out there, somewhere, just being Robin Williams.  Being funny. Being happy.  Being alive.

            Politely, Mr. Hill put down his phone, and we began to talk about Robin.  How old was he, we wondered, not that old, right?  Didn’t he have a heart issue?  I thought I’d read something about that.  Maybe that killed him?  I couldn’t imagine anything taking down Robin Williams – what could possibly extinguish such energy and verve and spirit?  (David Letterman would later say Robin blew on stage like a hurricane while other comedians crept in like “morning dew.”)  I felt anxious.  I really wanted to know what had happened.  In my shock, I needed an explanation, but I’d left my phone at home so I couldn’t hit Google.  I felt rude asking Mr. Hill to do it, so I instead just stood in the hallway, bristling with curiosity.

            Maybe Mr. Hill felt it, because a few moments later he offered to look on the Internet for news.  He took out his phone, and as he looked, he turned a little pale.  I lowered my eyebrows into a “what’s wrong” shape.  Discomforted, he glanced down at the 8 and mouthed over her head, “Suicide.”

            I gasped again, literally clutched my throat like some Victorian era woman.  Mr. Hill shook his head.  It made no sense.  We simply could not process the news, not then.  Maybe still not yet.

            We kept talking, probably more to distract ourselves than anything.  We talked about other celebrity deaths that really “got” us.  He shared a few of his. 
I told him a couple of mine.  We shared our grief, and then I went home and watched the news coverage and checked the Internet and generally reeled from the news that one of my favorite actors and comedians had taken his own life. 

            And so that exchange in the hallway of Overall Creek Elementary School is forever burned into my brain, just like those of the handful of other celebrities whose deaths affected me in a profound, almost personal way.  I’ll share those here, in order of remembrance:

John Belushi:  When Mr. Belushi died of an overdose in 1982, I was in 8th grade.  I heard the news during my birthday party sleepover (John died in March and my birthday is in February, meaning I got my horrible planning children birthday parties gene from my Mom).  I was crushed.  John Belushi changed television for my generation, and for me.  My parents allowed me to watch the show, and I did, faithfully, each and every week.  I loved John’s characters:  the Samurai, the Bumblebee, Joliet “Jake” Blues, Pete from the Billy Goat who yelled “Cheezebugger!  Cheezbugger!” at everyone, his spot-on impression of Joe Cocker.  John changed my perspective as to what was funny.  He pushed the boundaries – too far in the end, it seemed.  And when he died, I felt an inexplicable gap:  the loss of someone I’d never met but who’d come to feel like a friend.

John F. Kennedy, Jr.:  I’d always had a little “thing” for JFK Jr.; I mean, what red-blooded American woman didn’t?  I loved that he was easy on the eyes, and I loved that he did his own thing, dancing just along the edge of his seemingly cursed family.  I subscribed to his then cutting-edge George magazine and I looked forward to seeing where John John’s life took him or, more accurately, where he took his life.  And then he was gone, literally vanished out of thin air.  I checked the television coverage as they searched for his plane and, unfortunately, his body, silently hoping he’d somehow survived.  After the wreckage was found, I thought about why I missed him, and I realized that he was one of those people I’d wanted to watch grow old.  I wasn't alone; at John John’s funeral, his uncle, Sen. Ted Kennedy, said“We dared to think that this John Kennedy would live to comb gray hair[.]  But we would never have that opportunity.  This July marked the fifteenth anniversary of John F. Kennedy, Jr.’s death.  He would have been 53 had he lived.  I am left to wonder whether any of his hair would have been gray.

Phil Hartman:  I was driving back to law school in Ann Arbor, Michigan, when I heard the news report on the radio that Phil Hartman’s wife had shot him and then herself.  I’m sure I gasped.  Much like John Belushi, Phil’s talents shone on SNL, and I loved his characters:  the anal-retentive chef, Frank Sinatra, Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, his hilarious Ed McMahon.  When he moved on to News Radio, I watched religiously just to see his droll-but-fabulous Bill McNeil.  He bordered on brilliant.  Of course, I’d no idea his personal life was so fragile, and the whole situation screamed of a total waste of talent and life, leaving me angry, confused, and more than a little sad.

Hunter S. Thompson:  I started reading HST in my thirties, and once I started, I couldn’t stop.  The first time I tried to watch Johnny Depp’s portrayal of the Doc in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I couldn’t do it – it seemed too over the top.  But then I saw some live interviews of HST and I soon realized Depp nailed it.  The real HST was, indeed, that over the top.  He lived life at a million miles an hour and managed to take copious notes as he sped along.  Gonzo had nine lives, and all of them were brilliantly talented and incredibly resilient.  And so the February morning that I got into the elevator at work and mindlessly stared at the in-elevator TV screen, I couldn’t expect to read the news that Hunter had taken his own life.  But I did.  And I gasped really loudly.  And the other occupant of the elevator, a man about my age, looked at me and said, simply, “I know.” 

I managed to make it to my office without crying.  But it took me years to understand the sensibility behind HST’s choice, to see that his shocking death really was the perfect dénouement for his shocking life.  But I still miss him, especially now when the world seems utterly cracked and crazy.  I’d love to read his perspective.

I’d love just one more sentence.

John Ritter:  This one is a little different in that John’s actual death – though upsetting – didn’t affect me as much as the timing. 

Just a few days before John’s passing, I’d gotten together with my family to celebrate my Mom’s birthday.  At dinner, we began talking about TV shows we watch, and my sister and Mom mentioned Eight Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter, John’s then-current sitcom.  I made a face and said, “I can’t watch that.  John Ritter doesn’t look good.  He’s all bloated.  He doesn’t look healthy.” 

Apparently, I was right because just a few short days later, John Ritter died.  Soon after I heard the news, I received an email from my sister that said:  “You killed John Ritter!”  I felt sad that he was gone, as I’d loved him as Jack Tripper on Three’s Company but, more than that, I felt just a bit weirded out that I’d inadvertently predicted his untimely passing. 

Ron Santo:  I came late to the Ron Santo bandwagon.  Chicagoans know him as Number 10, the Golden Gloved third basement of the famed ’69 Cubs.  I was much too young to appreciate him then, but he won my heart when he joined Pat Hughes in the broadcast booth where together they called the Cubs games on WGN radio.  Ron provided color:  the stories, the predictions of what pitch would come next, the humor.  Ron was funny, even when he didn’t mean to be.  Like the time he called Montreal “a pit,” or when he accidentally started his toupee on fire when he stood too close to a heat lamp.  More than once, Ron got so caught up in a story, he forgot to watch the game and had to ask Pat, “What just happened there?”  It was part of his charm. 

Ron suffered (and ultimately died from complications related to) Type I diabetes, and he helped raise millions of dollars for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.  He was known to call kids struggling with diabetes just to cheer them up.  He was a great ball player and a great man, and I couldn’t believe it when WGN announced his death early one morning in December of 2010.  I walked around my kitchen, completely stunned, muttering, “No!”  Soon enough, the texts and phone calls began, friends and family making sure I’d heard Ron had died. 

WGN-TV broadcast his funeral, and I watched, crying as Pat Hughes eulogized his friend and partner.  (Funny enough, the priest celebrating the mass had worked at my childhood church, and he, too, suffers from Type I diabetes.)  I miss Ron every baseball season.  I think I always will.  I wish he’d lived long enough to watch the Cubs win the World Series (I hope I live that long . . . ).

Jani Lane:  The former lead singer of Warrant died in August of 2011 at the losing end of a long battle with alcohol and drugs.  Jani left us at the end of a week where I’d attended back-to-back wakes/funerals:  one for the mom of my childhood best friend, the other for the uncle of my high school BFF.  It was also the week they dedicated the Ron Santo statue at Wrigley Field; my niece had surprised me with tickets and together we celebrated Ron’s legacy.  It was a week of loss and grief, and when I heard Jani passed, I burst into tears.  I had one single thought:  What a waste.  What an absolute waste.

I’d always felt a connection to Jani, both to his music and to him.  Jani was beautiful.  I first saw him when he was the blond, blue-eyed star of the Heaven video.  Of course, I loved him.  Not long after, I met him at Excalibur in Chicago after a concert, where he introduced me to his “future ex-wife” and called my friend’s boyfriend an idiot (he kind of was).  Later, he’d live around the corner from me in Sherman Oaks, California, and even though I didn’t see him, I knew he was there.  I liked that he was there.  I wish he still was.

Jon Bon Jovi:  Ok, yes, Jon is still alive, but thanks to some moron with access to the Internet, we had a scare where we thought maybe he wasn’t.  Boy, did my phone light up that afternoon.  Given my “affection” (ahem) for Jon, my reaction surprised me:  I simply didn’t believe it.  Call it denial, but I could not accept that Jon Bon Jovi had passed from this world. 

I don’t like to think about Jon dying, now or anytime in the future.  Hell, I wore black for a month when he got married, so I can’t even fathom how I’ll react should I outlive him.  But I’m fairly certain it won’t be pretty. 

                                                            *            *            *            *

            It’s hard to say why these deaths affected me more than the deaths of other celebrities.  I mean, it’s not like I personally knew any of them.  But I can surmise.  In the case of Robin Williams and even Phil Hartman, the men’s deaths not only took away entertainers I loved, they also shattered some long-held and obviously mistaken illusions.  I assumed both men led happy, fulfilling lives off screen.  Robin in particular was known to be warm and generous, a kind soul.  But he also battled depression and addiction and apparently the beginnings of Parkinson’s, and Phil lived in a very unhappy and unstable home.  I wouldn’t have wished either scenario on either man, and so I grieved not only their passings, but also their realities. 

            The deaths of Robin Williams and John Belushi were also a bit symbolic:  they took a piece of my childhood with them when they left.  I grew up watching SNL and Mork and Mindy, but after the comedians passed, neither could ever be again.  Similarly, I assumed I’d have the luxury of watching JFK Jr. move through life, maybe have kids, maybe run for office.  I took that fact for granted, and then the Universe changed his trajectory.  Of course, he was also so young, only 38 (eight years younger than his famed father).  I felt robbed of a good half century of John John.  I grieved that lost time.

            Jani Lane’s death hit home in another way.  Substance abuse has touched my family and friends, and I never underestimate its insidious power.  I’d known Jani struggled; I watched him on Celebrity Fit Club as he tried to sober up.  I guess in my heart I’d hoped he’d been winning the fight, but my heart was wrong.  Jani’s death reminded me that addiction is truly managed one day at a time.  The battle doesn’t ever end.  Except in death.

            I’m not one to believe in an afterlife, but should one exist, I wish all of these talented people peace.  I hope they rest well.  And I’m grateful they continue to live on in their work:  the movies, the CDs, the videos.  It makes them immortal, stars that have fallen from the sky but which somehow continue to shine.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

            I’m going to cheat a bit here.  Our chaotic move to Tennessee trumped blogging (and temporarily eliminated Internet access), leaving me many weeks behind topic wise.  Here is my noble attempt to catch up (not all the way up, but as close as I can).

            A few weeks ago, I asked the group if they are able to ask for help.  The next week, Moma Rock asked us what are some of our deal breakers when it comes to friendships/relationships, etc.  I let both topics simmer for a bit and eventually I came to realize they were connected, to me anyway.

            Moma Rock’s topic really made me think.  My gut reaction was:  trust.  If I can’t trust someone, I can’t be in a relationship with that person.  That was easy, I silently gloated.  I thought I was done.  But then the subject popped back into my head, and the more I mulled, the less confidence I held in my answer.  It seemed too simple, too pat.  Too easily could I think of an example of someone I called “friend” but whom I don’t totally trust.  Like, I can think of a friend whom I would trust with my children, but not with my husband.  Or friends to whom I’d hand the keys to my house, but to whom I’d never tell a deep, dark secret.  Trust is a funny thing, and complete and total trust isn’t easily earned.  Few have . . . but not all.  So I kept thinking.  I came at the question in the positive; I didn’t ask what would break the deal but instead wondered what sealed it.

            Then it hit me:  All of my friends have my back.  I can depend on each and every one of my friends to take care of me.  Maybe not in the same exact way, but in one way or another, my friends are behind me.

            I thought about the friends I rarely see – but those I know I can call in a pinch and they will be there in the way I need them.  There’s an awesome line in a Bon Jovi song that immediately (and not surprisingly) springs to mind:  In the years and miles between us/It’s been a long and lonely ride/But if I got that call in the dead of the night/I’d be right by your side.  That describes my friends.

            And that of course led me to think about my topic, about asking for help.  I’m not so good at it.  And it’s a shame, really, because I’ve come to learn that a great way to strengthen a relationship is to depend on the other person.

            Generally, asking for help fills me with anxiety.  I hate it.  Hate.  It.  I hate feeling like I need help, I hate seeming needy in any way, I hate imposing on anyone else’s time or resources.  Who doesn’t want to be self sufficient?  From picking up a kid from school or requesting simple advice, I hate to ask.  So I don’t do it very often.  And when I do, I try to ask only my closest pals, the ones I’ve known the longest. 

            But then I noticed something.  I like being asked to help.  I really do.  I like feeling useful.  I like lifting someone else’s load.  Most importantly, I like knowing someone trusts me enough to depend on me, to trust me with their kids or their house while they’re out of town or whatever. 

            And then I realized that when someone asked me for help, our friendship grew.  It solidified.  The request brought us closer.  It allowed me to show the other person that I?  Had her back.

            Yeah, sometimes I’m a slow learner. 

            Now that I am 500 miles away from most of my friends, the struggle to ask for help looms large.  I know it’s coming.  And I know it will make me feel all icky.  But right now, I don’t even know anyone to ask for help (other than my good law school friend, Alex, who lives in Nashville and to whom I’ve turned to several times in the past few weeks.  And she?  Had my back.).  But one thing I do know:  even though my friends aren’t here with me, they are still there for me.  I can call or I can text or I can message them, and they will be there for me in the way I need them to be.  I will ask – and I hope they will, too.  Because if I got that call in the dead of the night – well, I’ll let Jon say it:  Blood on Blood.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Just Don't Challenge Me to Arm Wrestle

I’m super excited to have been invited to join a blog group alongside three talented bloggers.  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.   

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

            I chose this week’s topic:  What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

            The topic had been rattling around in my brain for a few months, ever since Moma Rock asked us to share an inspiring quote.  I spent most of that post deriding inspirational quotes (except, interestingly, those supplied by AA), particularly the expression “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

            Then, a few weeks later, I had a conversation with a psychologist I know.  We were talking about my volunteer work with hospice.  She said she was happy I enjoyed my time with my patients, and she mentioned how not everyone could do that kind of work.  I wondered about that.  I mean, I guess it’s true, as so many of my friends and family members have said they could not regularly spend time with dying people and grieving families.  And yet I’ve wondered whether their shared conclusion is actually true.  I think I’ve always thought if I can do something, anyone can.  I’m not special.  I’m just me.

            But as I considered my psychologist friend’s words, I realized that a few years ago, I don’t know that I could have spent my time with dying people.  I thought about the moment I decided to try, and what preceded that decision.  I’ve mentioned before that 2011 and 2012 were rough years for my family and me.  My eldest daughter was in and out of the hospital on and off during that time, and once she was out of crisis mode, my middle daughter was diagnosed with autism.  Mixed in there was an assortment of heart-bending losses, deaths of aunts and uncles and friends that nearly brought me to my knees.  Fast forward to July of 2013 when I unceremoniously “lost” my job, and emotionally I was stripped bare.  I was also immediately overcome with an irresistible desire to serve others.  I couldn’t explain it, and I wasn’t sure what to do about it until I read a fictional account of a hospice volunteer and the light bulb went off.  I tried it.  I liked it.  It helped fill the gaping hole.

            Had I not suffered the losses and faced the struggles I’d faced, I don’t think I’d be able to work with hospice patients, and I told my psychologist friend as much.  I said, “I think everything I went through made me colder.”  She scrunched up her face and shook her head.  “No,” she said, “it didn’t make you colder.  It made you able to separate yourself.  It allowed you distance.”

            I chewed on that.  And as I did so, the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” kept coming to mind.  My experience begged the question:  did my experiences strengthen me?  Does my ability to spend time with people (and their families) at the end of life = strength?  Perhaps.  But maybe it also means I experienced a death of my own, the end of an innocence I once had but now have lost and will never regain.  Does that mean I’m tougher?  And, if so, is that necessarily a good thing?

            Obviously, I don’t know the answer.  I do know I am not the same person I was in early 2011.  Even my husband has noticed, and when we were discussing the rough patch and he said to me, “That changed you,” I didn’t disagree.  I couldn’t.  He was right.  (Oh, he’d love to hear me say that.)  I am different.  Good or bad, thanks to some serious grief, I don’t see the world the way I did just a few years ago.  But I don’t know that I’m ready to call that “strength.” 

            I can think of myriad examples of times when something didn’t kill someone, but instead left them worse for the wear.  I have a good friend who battled (and so far has beaten) cancer.  Although the cancer is gone, physically she is by no means stronger.  She and I could both catch a cold and I’ll be fine in a few days while it will take her months to heal – and she will probably end up with some kind of respiratory infection.  Emotionally, the cancer wore her down.  Perhaps it had something to do with the fact she fought (and won) at the same time her father fought (and lost).  I know she feels fortunate to be here, but battling her disease took something away from her.  And the question remains:  is she stronger?  I don’t think so. 

            Then, too, I could not help but think of Robin Williams as I typed this post.  Since none of us knew him personally, we can only guess at the battles he faced and the impact each struggle held.  Something did kill him, likely a toxic mix of addiction and depression (they tend to walk hand in hand).  But I’m left to wonder whether, after each round of rehab, did he feel stronger?  Or did each chapter slowly chip away at him, leaving him weakened and ultimately gone.  And yet I would never, ever think of him as “weak” for the ultimate choice he made.  But I'm guessing he did not feel strong.

            I won’t focus on whether the “new” me is better or worse or stronger or weaker.  I just am.  And I’m glad that my newly found ability to create distance (without losing my ability to empathize) has allowed me to serve others in a way that (I guess) other people cannot.  I won’t think about the hows or whys, but instead I’ll just take this new skill as the gift it seems to be.