It’s funny how everything seems to be going along swimmingly and then one day you realize you’d like a friend.
You might know a lot of people. You may be on committees, boards, round-robin tournaments, or in a hoity-toity book club. But you don’t have a friend — one friend — whose companionship and humor make you feel complete.
She’s not on Craigslist so forget that.
Finding a friend has to become a priority. She is not going to knock on your door. You’re going to knock on her door.
Look around and see if you like the way someone looks or behaves. Make eye contact. Are her eyes smiling back at you? Introduce yourself.
She must have a delightful sense of self. You don’t need an insecure and needy person in your life.
Do not eliminate someone because she’s much younger or older. You’re looking for someone with shared values and curiosity. A goofball sense of humor can’t hurt.
When it feels right, suggest meeting for a carrot/beet/ginger smoothie if she’s juicing. Tea or coffee are also an option if she’s normal.
Don’t take it personally if she asks to reschedule. Remind yourself to write your plans in pencil.
Buy red construction paper and make her a valentine with a list of alternative dates. Send it to her.
You’re right. Maybe not a good idea.
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A few months ago I went to see a comedian in concert. The guy has done nine (9!) HBO specials. I’d prefer not to mention his name because I could get sued but trust me…you can find out who he is if you’re proficient at Google.
By the middle of his set I was squirming in my seat. I was uncomfortable for him. His material was stale and recycled. Who remembers (or cares) Vice President Dan Quayle misspelled the word potato? And one more thing. In addition to the tired material, he was wearing the kind of suspenders that clip onto the pants. The guy has done nine (9!) HBO specials and he can’t have his tailor sew suspender buttons? The suspenders distracted me. They made me wonder if he liked to milk cows as well as old jokes.
When he exited the stage I thought “it’s too bad he doesn’t want to go out on top.”
That got me thinking. A dear friend had recently leveled with me. She said my pieces were stale and recycled. She listed the topics I’ve covered over and over again: Thank you notes. Initiating a hello. Talking to a stranger. Mon dieu! She was right. I asked myself, “Should I quit writing the posts?”
I took the past three weeks to make my decision. Maybe I was done. But maybe not. Have I talked about fear of change? Have I told you how to find a friend when you’re 55 or older? Have I mentioned the importance of socks?
I’m not quitting yet. The ol’ girl has a few more tricks up her sleeve. And yes, I’ll stop haranguing you about the importance of a handwritten thank you note. Even though. I do think. Well…you know.
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The Borscht Belt, or the Jewish Alps, is a term for the hotels of the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York.
A popular destination for New York Jews in the 1920s to the 1970s, the resorts were famous for their gargantuan meals (borscht soup a favorite) and comedic entertainment. Jack Benny, Mel Brooks, and Woody Allen launched their careers in the Borscht Belt, offering observations, complaints, and lamentations on everything from nagging spouses to physical ailments. Most of them did “shtick,” creating a character or a gimmick guaranteed to be funny (e.g. Stephen Colbert’s alter ego is shtick.)
I hate when someone does shtick at a funeral.
Eulogists now entertain rather than celebrate the deceased. Instead of sharing touching stories, we find ourselves listening to embarrassing anecdotes. I once witnessed a speaker remove the microphone from its post and walk around the funeral home as if he was doing the 9 o’clock show in Vegas. “Yes kids, the guy loved to drink.”
I come to a funeral to hear heartfelt stories that paint a vivid picture of the person who is no longer alive. I don’t want to hear that the speaker is the CEO where the deceased once worked. (True story.)
Someone needs to vet the speakers. Or maybe you can add the vetting process to your Will like I just did: If the speaker isn’t blown away by my death and can barely croak out the eulogy, he doesn’t make the cut. He can, however, hand out his custom monogrammed M&M’s in the parking lot after the funeral.
That’s always good for a laugh.
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As the senior writer and editor on this blog, I’ve had the good fortune to interview myself on several of occasions. Most of these interviews take place while I’m driving my car. Or watching a movie starring Johnny Depp.
Last night I sat down and conducted a selfie:
EL-S: Ellen, what do you think of Janet Yellen’s appointment to be head of the Federal Reserve?
EL-S: Whoa, Nelly. You’ve come prepared. But I’m glad you asked. Dr. Yellen certainly has impeccable credentials but frankly, I would love to give her a make-over. I wish she would call me.
EL-S: Dr. Yellen’s appointment is probably the most important decision the president has made: The first woman to lead the Fed! I doubt she has time to think about her style.
EL-S: Okay, fine. She’s busy fixing our lousy economy. But she needs to rethink her hair. It’s too thick, it looks dry, and she’s been wearing that style since the 80s. A little time on the treadmill might also be good.
EL-S: Let’s change the subject. You always tell people to buy one “piece” to add to your wardrobe. Did you find that piece?
EL-S: This winter I’m going to wear a cape over my coat. But not in black. I’m a little tired of black. Then again, I may go with black.
EL-S: What about shoes?
EL-S: High-heeled shoes look desperate with jeans. Taylor Swift only wears crazy colored oxfords. I think I’m going to follow suit.
EL-S: Any other advice for women looking to tweak their winter wardrobe?
EL-S: Never wear thick black socks with a pair of black pants. They make your ankles look fat.
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There she is. In the fruit department.
My frenemy. Fren-uh-mee. Someone who posed as my dear friend and inflicted a thousand paper cuts. My last remaining frenemy as everyone else has been jettisoned. Defriended in today’s parlance. I had to, of course. There was no way I could write a book or move confidently through my life with the second-guessing and ruthlessly patronizing remarks that flowed so easily from their mouths. “In your dreams. My brother has been trying to get published for years.”
Coward that I am, I ditch the shopping cart and make a dash for another aisle. But I need to get back to kale, mustard greens, and all the other vegetables high in antioxidants. I’m 60 now. What will become of me if I buy iceberg lettuce?
She sure takes her bloody time looking at those heirloom tomatoes. I can’t blame her. I need to look at every apple to make sure they’re not blemished. If I’m buying the organic apples they’re all blemished. It’s part of the frisson of buying organic. Fruits with dings and divots are intrinsically superior.
I bury my head into the bin of particularly rotten-looking brussels sprouts. I turn around and our eyes meet. I must say something but dare not mention our ’till doomsday’ hiatus, reflexively fall into the trap of being obsequious and avoid the forced conviviality.
So I stick to the tomatoes. “Are you loving the tomatoes this year?”
Auf Wiedersehen. The End.
Molly Haskell = film critic and prolific writer.
Andrew Sarris = film critic and prolific writer.
Molly and Andrew = married. New York intellectual power couple. Probably never discussed the pros and cons of a Sub-Zero refrigerator at the dinner table with friends.
Andrew got sick. Molly in charge of Andrew’s medical treatment.
The men in the white jackets with their stethoscopes flung ever so casually around their necks stand at the foot of Andrew’s bed, talking medical speak, and ignoring Andrew’s pain. Molly (Love and Other Infectious Diseases) became enraged. What to do? Andrew needs her but she would have to confront the doctors. Molly admits she’s a “good girl.”
Epiphany: Molly realizes there are no Brownie badges in heaven. She doesn’t have to be a good girl. Epiphany releases Molly to voice her displeasure with the doctors’ shocking lack of empathy. Epiphany releases me too. I am not a “good girl.” I am a smart, confident, and unafraid to voice her opinion woman.
Ellen = No Brownie badges await her.
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Can you relate?
Last week I blew it. Acted like an idiot. Momentary lapse, of course. Of course.
I embarrassed myself. (I know you’re dying to know what I did and I’d tell you but then you’d shake your head in disbelief and unsubscribe from my blog.)
There was no way I could dash off an email to apologize for my blunder. That’s like texting someone a condolence card. I needed to do something more sincere, express my contrition, and ask for forgiveness for being obnoxious.
So I whipped out my blue Verge de France stationery and wrote a note. I didn’t defend myself or rationalize why I did it. I just wrote “I’m sorry” and some other stuff because, hey, you might as well write something nice about the person whose feelings you just injured.
Don’t get sick with worry when you act like a dolt. And don’t blame the other guy. You were a dolt. It happens. Write a note, affix the stamp, and send it off. And one more thing: don’t use the LOVE stamp. Let’s not go overboard with the mea culpa.
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(Beware, I say! Too many nay-sayers are lurking about…)
Perhaps the inner voices whisper in your ear:
“I’m lonely. I’d love to meet someone wonderful.”
“I want to change careers. Am I too old?”
“I think I’m smart. But do people think I’m smart?”
“I’m really not good at anything.”
One day you decide to share the inner voice with someone you trust. Instead of permitting you to undermine yourself and sabotage your confidence, your yay-sayer listens intently, looking for the moment to offer assistance and challenge the unfairness of your self-doubt. With their good nature and generosity, the yay-sayer is built to give you strength and courage. They see options you cannot see. The yay-sayer is about to change your life.
Do not share the inner voice indiscriminately. Be very selective as to whom you can trust. The nay-sayers are as ubiquitous as neighborhood banks or nail salons.
The yay-sayer is waiting for your call, ready to help you perform an exorcism on your unjust inner voices. If possible, please use a land line. Are you always pleased with the clarity of your mobile? I didn’t think so.
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The Self-Operating Napkin — Rube Goldberg
I’ve heard the name Rube Goldberg for years. But it wasn’t until I was describing an organization’s bizarro method of communication that someone nailed it by saying “Rube Goldberg.”
Rube Goldberg was a cartoonist famed for a series of cartoons depicting complex gadgets that perform simple tasks in convoluted ways. (Convoluted is the operative word.) His most famous contraption was the Self-Operating Napkin. Go to Wikipedia to enjoy the farce.
But back to me since practically everything I write seems to get back to me (and I apologize for that).
I belong to an organization. The organization uses the word “community” in most of its correspondence to its members. Doesn’t every organization talk about community? Organization/community. Bread/butter. Cookies/milk. Macaroni/cheese. Peanut butter/jelly. They go together like a horse/carriage.
However. (Please cue ominous music here.)
Despite the emphasis on “community,” there is no directory of members’ names or contact information.
So let’s see…you meet someone at an event and she mentions a book you might enjoy. You promptly forget the name of the book because that’s what you do. You forget stuff. You think “maybe I’ll email her or (gasp) call her and ask for the name of the book.”
Uh, no. If you wish to contact someone you have to go through an intermediary. The intermediary contacts the woman you seek to have community with. You wait for the response. You have a manicure/pedicure. You drive to a farm stand for their excellent peaches. Finally, your call is returned.
The intermediary leaves a message: “So-and-so cannot remember the name of the book she recommended.”
Ha. Ha. Ha. Rube Goldberg, baby.
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The day I stopped lying about my life was the day I became more likeable.
Nothing had changed but instead of telling a friend “I love my husband,” I said “my husband is irritating me.” Without the false pretense of everything is wonderful I gave the green-light to shift a friendship into a more meaningful relationship.
A few weeks ago I had dinner with a friend. Every year she sends out a Christmas letter filled with stories about her far-flung vacations and medical missions. And, of course, detailed stories about her children who were not only stellar students but also worked at low-wage jobs so they would “appreciate” their privileged lifestyle. Her letters gave me the creeps. Number one, I cannot heal the poor, and number two, I didn’t feel the need to chauffeur my children to “Subway” to make the point they were luckier than most. Dinner table conversation covered that subject; not making subs.
Today her children are grown. Her son works in a leper colony and her daughter is in the Peace Corps. Her marriage has never been more “satisfying” (whatever that means), and she not only works a 16 hour day at the hospital but also exercises for one hour before she goes to sleep. (As if.)
Our dinner gave me the creeps. I bet 50 percent of what she said was a lie. No one could have a consistently “photo op” kind of life. Just like her sunshine and lollypops letters, she shut me out of her life instead of inviting me in.
My friend doesn’t or chooses not to get it: Admitting your life is flawed and sometimes disappointing is very cool and quite courageous. And simpler. My friend would find it a whole lot easier to tell the truth than keeping track of all her alleged bouts with malaria.
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