You guys playin’ cards?

Hello, fair readers. Michelle here, Ian’s little sister, guest blogging for Ian as his family is on a skiing adventure somewhere in the mountains with no internet.

Ian asked me to write about boys. I would, except it would either be extremely dull or extremely fantastic and definitely not very interesting. Although I did have an “Animal House” Flounder moment at the gym today: I was on that contraption that looks like a large torture chair, designed for pull-ups and leg lifts and I was halfway through a third set of leg lifts when I realize a rather tall and strange looking young man is standing in front of me, waving and talking. I, of course, had my earbuds in, my workout mix firmly in the middle of “Groove Is In the Heart”, so I couldn’t hear a word he was saying. He, too, had earbuds in, but didn’t seem to be similarly impaired.

Assuming I must know him, even though I don’t recognize him, I put my legs on the rungs of the chair, pull out an earbud, and say, “… hi?” And he stands there, nods, smiles, and says, after a bit, “You, uh, working out?” I take a moment, look around at the thirty other people in the weight room, look back at him and say, “Yeah. Yep. Um, you?” He starts to answer, but I realize that this is going nowhere, so I put my earbuds back in and resume my lifts. He weirdly followed me from machine to machine for the rest of the hour, but at least he didn’t try to break in again. It reminds me of when I was working on my computer at Ozzie’s, a coffee shop in Brooklyn, when an obviously very sweet but slightly misguided young suitor tried the following line: “I see you have a clamshell iMac. I, too, have a clamshell iMac!” as he fondly patted his bulging messenger bag.

I suppose you could say that both men found the common element, the potential conversation starter, the foot in the door, and that they had the cajones to actually say something. I guess I’m just waiting to be swept off my feet with just a little more eloquence.

So rather than write about boys, I’d like to write about connections. I’ve made several reconnections with old friends in the last few months, and although staying connected can be challenging, I’m really happy that I’m making a new practice of it. When 2007 was drawing to a close, I spent a fair amount of time thinking about how I wanted 2008 to be different. I loathe the whole idea of New Year’s “resolutions”, because resolving to do something is very different than doing it. (To quote Yoda: “Do, or do not. There is no try.”) So rather than making a list of resolutions, I’m actively doing just a handful of things that I believe will make my life better, and one of them is staying in touch with a number of friends far and wide. But I’m also realizing how little I see my friends who live within walking distance of my home.

This last year has taught me that most of the world- or at least, most of the people who live in this little place I call home- might feel the same way. I’ve been involved in a county-wide public process that sought input from the full community on arts issues. We held open meetings in every city and town in this county, and the common theme was that people did not feel connected to one another. People in the small towns- populations of 5000, and even less- felt like they didn’t know what was going on in town, and didn’t even know their neighbors. We heard the same feedback in the city with a population of 75,000.

This reminds me of the study I read that had some terrible number- something like only 1 in 15 people- knew the names of their neighbors. I think that’s sad. As much as it’s great that we have the internet and email and all the other technologies to connect with each other, it’s created, I think, a troubling distance and a lack of real human connection. I feel that lack, and I mourn it. So one of the things I’ve started this year, a little thing that I think can make a difference, is a series of dinner parties. It’s a themed series, and the latest name is Dinner With People I Really Like Who Probably Don’t Know Each Other And Whom I’d Like To See More Often. Every month, I’m going to host a dinner party (which means I get to bake and cook!) with 6-8 colleagues or friends I’d like to get to know better, and who probably don’t know the other folks I’m going to invite.

For my first dinner, early in February, I’ll be cooking for two artists, one microbiologist, one early childhood advocate, one CPA, and a funder at a local foundation. I’m the degree of separation between all of them; we all live within a couple of square miles of each other; and this will be a first meeting for the bulk of them. I think I’ll make lasagna. And pie.

So, dear readers, how do you combat this problem? How do you stay connected with the people you know and love who are far away; and how do you stay connected in your own community?

0 thoughts on “You guys playin’ cards?

  1. Anne

    Michelle, this is a wonderful topic.
    My short answer (and all my answers should be short!) is: 1) Get involved in community organizations. In my case this is our church as well as the local neighborhood association. 2) The Internet, which has enabled me to reconnect and stay connected to friends who no longer live near me, and forge new connections with virtual friends with whom I share interests. Some of the latter have become real, i.e., face-to-face friends via travel.
    Where I feel a distinct lack is in the number and intensity of individual friends in my daily Real Life. Raising three kids, working, and feeling busy all the time (hmmmm, maybe too much devotion to Internet friendships??) has made this difficult. It’s something I think about a lot. I’m trying harder!

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  2. ken

    I agree, great topic.
    For far away friends and family, Facebook has been outstanding as has maintaining my own blog. I’d say 70% of my readership (probably similar to Ian’s percentage) is old friends/family.
    As for local community, that’s been trickier. With everybody having kids now, it’s tougher to get together as often. A shame really.

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  3. GFWD

    That’s what Carolina basketball games are for! Getting together with new and old friends for BEvERageS, food and good hoops action. Ken, you should check out my last comment yesterday.

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  4. connor beach

    My answer’s similar to Anne’s. Internet for friends far away and church for friends nearby. My best female friends all get together weekly for a Bible study. We’ve been doing it for 5 years now and have seen each other through boyfriends, marriage, illness, children, job changes. The standing commitment means we never lose touch. Ditto w/ couples. We have a group of six couples that meet most Mondays from church. Other friends I end up staying close w/ are ones from standing commitments like art class or an ongoing service project. Working together on a common goal & prearranged time together are the two pre-reqs to maintaining my friendships locally.

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  5. Anne

    Speaking of kids (Ken and Connor above), being involved in our kids’ schools when they were younger was a big jump-starter for real-life friendships for me. All 3 of our children went to a co-op preschool for two years each, which meant I had to put in a set number of days of volunteer staff work during school sessions. There were field trips and other activities where I bonded with other parents, too. Some of those parents are still our very good friends, and even though several have relocated out of our state, we try to get together at least once a year. Little League and youth hockey were good for finding new adult friends on the sidelines/stands, too.

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  6. craighill

    what’s the big deal with “community involvement”? if you’re happy with your friends and family, why is it important that you spend time with the people that live near you? it’s like you’re expected to be friends with someone because they chose the same street as you. i never understood that.
    oh yeah and please don’t come knocking asking for a cup of sugar. ;)

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  7. Rebecca

    Staying connected has become more and more difficult for me as the years have gone by, and I mourn the closeness that I once had with other women. For me, a big part of it is the societal pressure to be completely involved in your children’s lives. Don’t you all recall running free in your neighborhood for hours at a time as a child? All the kids, within a 2-5 year age range, just hanging around? Well, that doesn’t happen anymore. Now the Mom is supposed to make play dates, within defined time parameters for kids. When I tell my 8 year old to just “go out and play with someone” he replies that nobody will be able to come out. And God forbid my 6 year old go out on her own; someone would probably call social services because clearly she’s being neglected. Anyway, sorry for rambling, but between entertaining 3 kids and helping 2 with their homework, I have little time for keeping up with my friends.
    My other issue is living on the west coast when many of my oldest and dearest friends are on the east coast, because we cannot talk after the kids are in bed. It’s too late in the east when I am totally free.
    Fortunately, I think all my Mom friends understand, but I’m pretty sure my friends without kids think I’m nuts. And maybe they’re right!

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  8. Jody

    In a smaller town every connection is helpful. It takes a while for this to ring true but it eventually does on many levels. The new people moving to my gentrified neighborhood block are from Chicago, DC, Atlanta and Miami suburbs. I can tell that they are used to their ‘anonymous boxes’ but they come around quickly. I host weekly dinner parties and card games, fairly religiously.
    Part of the reason you get to know your neighbors (C’hill) is that you can eventually let your kids run around in the way Rebecca describes (that doesn’t happen anymore). That now happens here again, although it took years and attracting families. It seems like it would happen easily in a larger suburb. My little town is fairly self absorbed, so most people are here specifically for connectiveness reasons and the people who aren’t generally move out again fairly soon. It’s not a place for careers (Asheville, NC), so many are independently wealthy or something close to it, making it an anomaly I guess.
    I find it’s very difficult to keep up with friends far away, at least in the meaningful way that made them friends in the first place.

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  9. Susan

    My mom friends get together about once a month for a “Mom’s night out”. We go out usually for drinks and good food and lots of good conversation. We try really hard not to talk about our kids the whole time. We all like to read so much we also do a “book club” get-together too. My husband has a similar thing with his friends. They all get together to play RISK (they are very competitive), watch whatever game is on and drink lots of beer. With kids it is hard to get together with other couples but we manage…everyone seems to have so many extracurricular activities. I also grew up in the time where you could just run free for about 8 hours in the day. My Dad would stand in the front yard and whistle for us to come home and miraculously we could hear him from several streets over. they really had no idea where we were. That would never happen today. I find most of my neighbors keep to themselves. For my son to play with someone requires that I call and make sure it is OK….people don’t just send their kids over to knock on the door and ask to play anymore.

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  10. Neva

    Connectedness is key for most people to feel alive and human I think. I guess it doesn’t have to be with the folks who live near you but it sure is easier and more convenient if it is. We live in a two cul-de-sac neighborhood of 22 houses. I know every single person in every one of those 22 houses. Not necessarily extremely well, but because we are an isolated group here and because we all have children we see each other a lot. We have neighborhood parties, ladies nights outs, book clubs and just random get togethers. Because we are so isolated and look out for each other we really do let our kids roam around our isolated two streets almost (but not quite) like we did when we were kids and it makes life so much easier than when I used to schlep my kid across town to play with someone.
    I’ve always thought there’s nothing like imposed closeness to make good friends (dorms, sorority houses, residency) and those days are over but we don’t really have to isolate ourselves in our own homes once we’re grown up. I wish I did more with my “old” friends – the out of town folks (you know who you are) but that takes even more effort!
    Michelle, I’m impressed with your attempts to get groups of folks together -what a great idea!

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  11. michelle

    I can give a very timely and compelling reason to know your neighbors: I just got a call from the folks who live across the street from me- very dear people who are artists- who called to let me know that my front door was wide open. Apparently, I left for work in such a sleepy haze early this AM that I didn’t pull it shut. They went over to shut it, but didn’t know if anything ugly had happened while it was open. I rushed home to find my house cold, but intact. If my neighbors didn’t know me well enough to know where I worked, my front door would have been wide open all day.

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