Last month I talked about how the nature of our collaboration is one thing that made the Newport Ladies project work. I also mentioned in passing that the other thing was who my collaborators were.
This post answers that second part of the equation. It's adapted from a post that originally appeared on my personal blog June 2010, shortly after the concept of the Newport Ladies Book Club was born but before we began heavy work on it.
When I was a kid, friendship meant playing house, roaming the neighborhood, doing bake sales, being invited to one another's parties. When my best friend didn't invite me to a Christmas party, saying she was told to invite other friends, and then I saw them come caroling to my house? Yeah, it nearly killed that little nine-year-old in me.
As a high schooler, friendship was defined largely by who accepted me into their group. For the most part, that meant friends I hung out with on weekends. They're the ones I shared all of the high school drama with (of which there was much), the ones I always, always worried would nudge me out of the inner circle because they'd figure out that I wasn't cool enough and didn't belong.
During that time, I had an intense sense of loyalty and always supported my friends, whether it was in a performance, recital, birthday, or even for a competition in another city. (They were freakishly talented, so that was quite the commitment.) I gave and gave and gave. Then I got horribly confused when that kind of support was never reciprocated.
I remember a dress rehearsal in the school auditorium for a dance concert I was in. A couple of "best friends" were at the school at the exact same time, in the same wing of the school. They knew I was about to go on stage. I'd learned enough by this point to not expect them to come to the concert itself, but I was hurt when they didn't bother to even peek in the door to at least see the dress rehearsal of one number. They were right in the hall. All it would have taken was turning a door knob.
This kind of thing happened a lot. I'm a very slow learner. They meant well, and I'm sure they didn't realize their actions (or lack thereof) hurt. They probably had a better sense of what over commitment means than I did.
Eventually, near the end of my senior year, there was some big seminary thing. I think there was a slide show or some such, and in the background was the classic Mormon pop song that goes, "Be that friend, be that kind, that you hope you might find. And you'll always have a best friend, come what may."
Yeah, right, I thought.
It was the first time I'd admitted to myself that no matter how hard you work on being a good friend, you can't control someone else. You can't make them be friends back in the way you'd want them to. The way, frankly, I needed them to.
So I sat in the back of the room and bawled, knowing that the lyrics were a load of garbage. I was the best friend I could possibly be, but I'd been kicked around over the years.
Much of the time, I didn't know if I had a group I belonged to, let alone a best friend. (People who knew me then would be surprised to hear all this, I'm sure. I hid the angst well.)
I left the room not knowing what friendship really meant.
Things only got worse when I was the second of our group to get married. There's been a lot of finger-pointing since about the period immediately following my wedding, but the upshot is that, for whatever reason, I was clearly no longer part of that circle. There was a big disconnect between me and them until the others married and had kids. That's when we finally had common ground again (we could share potty-training war stories).
However, I had one friend who remained single. She never stopped talking to me just because I had a ring on my left finger. I don't recall her ever acting weird after the wedding or after I became a mom. She never changed. She was my tender mercy (and was in high school more than once, and has been a several times since).
The next deep friend connection I had was several years later. I served in a Young Women presidency where I bonded with the other presidency members in a remarkable way. After our release, we stayed close. But when the former president was moving away and I said good-bye, I walked home hyperventilating with wracking sobs. I knew that such a friendship was rare and priceless, and that as much as we cared about each another, we'd never have the same relationship after she left the state. We don't.
I've had other dear friendships, many that span years. Today, my critique group is made up of people I consider some of my dearest friends, including that rare occurrence, the male friend. I am lucky enough to have two of them, and they're both like awesome extra brothers. I have another friend I've been close to since we lived next door as newlyweds.
For me, the definitions of friendship have continued to undergo many iterations over the years.
My current view includes all of this and more:
- A true friend might not be a buddy who has known you most of your life.
- Someone who is nice 95% of the time but manages to twist a knife say, annually, is not a friend.
- You can live in the same area for years but never truly be friends with neighbors, even if everyone is friendly and gets along. (Friendly does not equate friendship.)
- You must earn the label of friend.
- If someone who uses that label is really a friend of convenience, he or she might stab you in the back or climb over you to get what they want.
- I tend to be way too real for a lot of people, which has caused me no end of trouble, and has likely lost me some shallower friends. True friends like me, warts and all. (I have lots of warts.)
- I have a difficult time making friends, largely because I'm shy but don't look like it. I've been called "stuck-up" many painful times. The reality is that I don't ever feel superior to someone; I almost always feel inferior and unable to introduce myself or open up.
- The most surprising element of friendship of late: I can love (and be loved in return) by women I've never met, thanks to blogging. (You know who you all are. You truly enrich my life. I've had the joy of meeting some of these friends in person recently. A joy.)
I am more and more grateful for three special women who are true friends. We've known one another a varying number of years, but less then a decade in every case. We're separated geographically (we're all in the same state, but in some cases, hours away from one another). Each one has walked a different path with me, shared things unique to them and our friendships.
Yet the four of us as a group are close in a way that almost defies logic.
These women lift me. They encourage me. If I'm having an off day, they don't get offended. Instead, they come to see what they can do to help. They offer support and love and understanding. Often, as a group.
They're never more than a phone call or an e-mail (or a text or a tweet) away. They provide listening ears. They give needed hugs. They make me smile and laugh. And because we're all in the same "weird" industry, they understand me, the way I think, and my feelings, in a way few can. Sometimes, just hanging out and laughing together is enough to lighten my load, because of who they are and what they represent:
Because the truth is, they know me (frighteningly well), and that means they're starkly aware of all those warts that often turn others away.
But they love me anyway.
Of late, I've found myself regularly saying prayers of gratitude for Josi, Julie, and Heather.
I love you guys. Thank you for who you are, what you represent, what you've been to me, what you continue to give me, and for what you put up with. I really don't know what I'd do without you.