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Wednesday
Oct142009

In the Broadest Sense of the Word

Evany was pinching her cheeks, making fish face. "My smilers hurt."

I hadn't seen Evany in a year, not since she was visiting New York last October, when we gathered in Brooklyn to watch the second debate over cookies and cake, then rode the subway home discussing clogged drains and applying late night lip gloss because we felt parched.

When I heard Evany would be at Broad Summit, it made my day. I couldn't wait to see her again. And I knew that if Evany was the caliber of woman this thing was going to attract then I'd be in good company. Because if there's one thing Evany can do really super well, it's make my smilers hurt.

My smilers hurt all weekend. My throat, scratchy from saying so many things. My ears warm from listening to the laughter late at night, skipping across the courtyard, up past my bedtime and full of cookies and milk. My head swelling from the collective wisdom of a stellar group of women, and their stellar lives (and possibly also the wine).

I knew I had the potential to sit in a corner, terrified of the power in that circle, in awe of their style and grace, counting different ways to hide the way my eyebrows curled funny at the edges or how I could never get the hang of when to reapply the lip gloss or where the eyeliner went. This is what I used to do around most girls. Sneak off into the grass to stare at the foliage, toss a ball to the dog, away from all of those smart, beautiful women.

Introvert (verb).

But that didn't happen (apart from tossing the ball with the dog, but that's just because I felt like tossing the poor dog a ball). There was no insecurity, no pressure to be anyone other than who you were, no fear of saying anything wrong. Even when I tripped over my tongue, someone was there to say "no, I know exactly what you mean." All of us our own flavor of awkward. Even when there were silent pauses, we were simply digesting, taking in what had just been said, rolling it around in our heads and coming back up for air with a new way of looking at the world.

Or realizing that we should probably check with the woman we were sharing our bed with if she was ordering beans from the taco truck, too.

Mostly, when we weren't speaking, we were laughing. Those ladies made my smilers hurt.

"I'm just going to ask them to massage my cheeks and tongue," said Evany, wisely, before ducking behind the curtain.

After the weekend was over, as I cooed and gurgled over Evany's bouncing baby boy in their East Bay home (Marco buzzing around us, installing a clothesline and painting the spice shelves in the few hours I was there, and still managing to sit for a chat and help soothe the baby to sleep), I mentioned how overwhelming it must be to read all of those baby books, how much of what you read and learned might never be used, because there's just so much information. We decided that these books exist to replace the village of women that used to (and in some societies still do) use all of their collectively gathered wisdom passed down from generation to generation to help a new mother raise a child.

It's a shame we don't use this community learning model more with our female friendships. Melissa and Helen Jane both said as much when writing about this weekend: too often women will get together and judge, or feel the need to impress, rather than learning from each other just by being themselves, giving and taking equally, letting down their guard, accepting our differences. Ignoring for once the competitiveness we so easily revert to when confronted with strong, independent women and instead reminding each other that we do good things. That we are good people.

I've tried to surround myself with friends like this all my life. The ones who spend less time dissecting and more time laughing. After the Summit, I met up with two such friends over Pisco Sours and Old-Fashioneds on Haight. Alexis, who used to play hide-and-seek with me on our block, sit on the curb and poke sticks in the gutter, later in life making sure I said "yes" to rooftop parties, forcing me to drink in the city. Charlotte, with whom I shared a pair of rollerskates bought at the Salvation Army in college, white with blue wheels; we'd each wear one and lean against each other, coasting across the hardwood floors, an exercise in balance after a few beers.

They'd never met each other before, two different friends from two different worlds who now just happened to live in the same city. So I introduced them. Here, you two will get along. Pitched forward over plates of noodles in a dark cafe, we discussed our expectations for cities, bonded over our love of Happy-Go-Lucky ("you have a bit of Poppy in you, Zan"—these ladies know what strange compliments I seek) and revisited the idea that you need your art and you need your work and sometimes it's best to have both on opposite sides of the coin. Our own little mini-Broad Summit.

How nice it felt to share my friends with each other, a lesson learned from the very ladies who brought me out to California in the first place.

Before I get too Mother-Gaia-touchy-feely on you (too late? just wait until I get to the part about placentas and yoga), let me say this: if you want to be known to the world as generous, kind, and good, you should be that way with your friends. (Heck—you should be that way with your enemies, but that's not why we're here today.) Express joy for their successes—not jealousy. Spend more time listening to them. Laugh together. Most of all, laugh together.

We would all do better to seek out those people who are going to encourage the good in us. We would all do better to be that way ourselves. Gather these good people in our lives together, smart people, funny people, and laugh with them late into the night over a campfire, or a coffee table, or the sink in the bathroom of a fast food restaurant, or wherever else we might find ourselves with a moment to spare and the inclination to remind ourselves just why we're friends in the first place.

Now come over here and let me braid your hair.

(The rest of my pictures from Broad Summit are here; links to the very fabulous women and their very fabulous blogs are in the right column here.)

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