On Friendship [ 2003-11-02, 10:40 p.m. ]

Back in September I thought a little thing called NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, sounded like a great idea. Itís a challenge for writers to write 50,000 words between November 1st and 30th, with no goals or rewards other than being able to accomplish the task. Back in September I thought 1,700 words a day would be no problem, that the discipline would be good for me. Back in September I thought NaNoWriMo was the greatest thing Iíd ever chosen to do. In November - well, Iím at about 5,000 words so far, and 50,000 is a bit intimidating. Whatís most difficult, however, is not losing my way as I start writing. Before I officially began my NaNoWriMo book, I felt like I had a solid story to tell and vivid characters who would be easy and natural to develop. But now that Iím working on my book, I find myself looking at my computer screen and feeling as if Iíve been blindfolded. Iím disoriented, I forget where Iím heading with passages, I canít remember what my characters look like. I want a guard rail to guide me.

But the story Iím working on centers around the friendship between two women who grew up together, and one byproduct of the NaNoWriMo experiment is that I am spending a considerable amount of time thinking about friends and friendships, and the value they hold.

As a female I feel comfortable making the generalization that women and girls are likely to define themselves by their relationships, versus men and boys who may define themselves by their actions. I certainly find that to be true, and anyone who has ever gone through adolescence as a girl knows the value of a Best Friend. Friendships are the currency of a girlsí junior high years, and often times I was dirt poor. I remember being told that I either was or wasnít someoneís friend, only to have the decision reversed mere weeks later, as the winds of popularity changed direction. I grew older and eventually wiser, but the lure of an exotic new best friend still holds. But Iíve been bitten in the ass by that particular snake, and emerged with a much clearer picture of friendship, to say nothing of a truly deep appreciation for my friends.

I have two close friends with whom I grew up; that is to say, two friends from Before. From before I left home, before I became an adult, before I learned who I am. Though I have been lucky enough to acquire several other worth-their-weight-in-gold friends, these first two go way, way back. I never thought Iíd be able to claim knowing someone for 20 years, but itís been nearly that with S and Lee. The three of us were children together, teenagers together, experienced college separately and became three very different adults. One is a warm, patient, loving mother of two. One is a smart, focused MBA with an utter lack of pretense. And the other isÖwell, me. We live separate lives, but each is enriched by the othersí continued presence. I was touched and proud to get married with S and Lee at my side as bridesmaids.

I have one dear friend from college. We were sorority sisters and have a shared bond of loyalty and adventure. It was in her Honda Civic that I left California with a few boxes and no plan, and headed for New York. Ang just graduated from law school and is engaged to be married. She remains the most confident person I have ever known, confident in the true sense of the word. The girl does not mess around, and while I may not see her often, I know sheís got my back.

And Jay - my friend Jay is the one person I feel was truly fated to be in my life, and vice versa. I found him, he found me, we found each other. He is family, as sure as my own blood.

In my adult life, living independently in New York, I have worked at three jobs, and at each was able to find the coolest, funniest, warmest chicks around, and make friends with them. Weíve all gone on to many different things, living in different cities, but I like to think of the friends Iíve made here and the first people I really chose to let into my life. With the exception of one toxic friendship, the people Iíve chosen as my friends - my urban family - have enriched my life beyond measure. I am now in the enviable position of having a group of girlfriends that I get together with on a regular basis. Sometimes we let our husbands and boyfriends come too, but mostly I am just thrilled to revel in the amazing conversations and comfort that comes from surrounding oneself with an awesome group of women. We recently started a monthly Cooking Club, and I hosted the first meeting. It was fabulous Ė the food was great, but what was better was getting together and realizing that Hey, Iím doing alright. Iíve bumbled and fumbled and made a lot of questionable decisions, but I wound up with a living room full of five other devoted and interesting women, so things are looking good.

When my grandmother died almost four years ago, my father spoke at her funeral. He talked about how anyone who knew my grandmother knew of her affinity for the finer things in life. She loved to give generously and live extravagantly. But what you donít know, he said, is that she kept the most valuable things for herself. All of you. You, my father said, you - her friends - were her real treasures.

I couldnít agree more.

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PS - Read what the uber-wise Mary has to say about friends, good and bad. She's right, as usual.

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