Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Who’s teaching who?

An old friend and I have started back up an e-mail correspondence just recently, and she writes happily, “

OK, bed time. We have way too much going on, and still not enough hours in the day. I hate that! I WILL write more, I promise. It's just WONDERFUL to be back in touch with you!!!!

This is a woman with the gift of being happy, married to a man with the gift of taking on the world on his own terms. Job transitions have her thinking about making some life changes, and she imagines that I have some wisdom to share. I do, but some of it gets handed back, since it came from the two of them. Since I make a habit of keeping my friends anonymous in this blog, let’s call my friend Doreen and her husband Douglas.

I met Doreen at an arts camp in Maine, a spectacularly beautiful place where I had retreated to make pots for three weeks, while she made baskets. We had a bond immediately. Neither of us, for the life of us, could fathom the intensity with which our classmates viewed the search for the perfect “vessel.” It took only a hint of the v-word to send us into giggles.

It was a period of weird and wacky life connections, too. Doreen had gone to high school in Cincinnati with a guy I was seeing at the time, and also with Sarah Jessica Parker (not that that matters to any of us but I wonder what including a celebrity name will do to my blog stats). I was taking pottery lessons from a potter who was having a feud with my pig farmer cousin in Georgia. Doreen and I took a day trip one day, and we visited a fort in Maine that is built on the identical plan of one near Savannah, where my mother grew up. Maybe that fort is a metaphor for our lives, two identical plans executed in worlds far apart. Me Southern and shy, her Jewish and bubbly.

We remarked that day on the poignancy of fortifications of such exquisite design, but both outdated by advances in armaments. The invention of spiral bores in rifles made their walls vulnerable in unforeseen ways, and they had to be abandoned. It was not, thank goodness, necessary to abandon our lives as we went back to the real world of difficult jobs.

Doreen also went back to Douglas. She had told me stories of his rather unusual approach to life, and also his zest for life. While we were potting, weaving and giggling in the woods, Douglas was on a bike tour to China. Listening Doreen talk about Douglas, it was one of the times that I recognized that when people are really in love, they see the other person as absolutely unique, as if he or she exists with an extra dimension. They even speak the name differently, with a kind of hushed expectance. It’s a dead giveaway, just as one of the ways you know that someone is checking you out is if they ask your age.

The one that really got my attention, though, was the description of Douglas recruiting a new secretary for his office. It was a tough market, it seems, and the usual routes of advertising and interviewing had not worked well. So Douglas wrote up a resume for the office and went out into the crowds at rush hour to try to get more applicants, maybe ones that were happy at their jobs and hadn’t even considered a new opportunity. What an idea! If something is not working, change the approach. Don’t settle for what you can get, change the rules. When I went back to my difficult job and difficult boss, I changed my approach. And I have remembered that lesson.

One of my favorite true stories of how people really manage life transitions—as opposed to how we all think we do it—is the story of how they decided to get married. “It was a slip of the subjunctive,” says Doreen. “One day he said to me something about when we get married and I almost dropped my teeth.” But it was too late to take it back, or he really didn’t want to, and neither did she. They were married in a garden, as Doreen put it, “of late blooming flowers.” And they were happy. She has a gift for happy, and he has the sense to organize her into his life.

A couple of years later, I saw Doreen briefly at the airport. She was on her way to Russia. She was so excited about the trip, but it was the first time she was leaving her baby son. I think it took a lot of courage to make that trip. Not long after that, Douglas and Doreen moved from the northeast to the South, a dramatic cultural change on so many levels.

And this is the woman who wants to know how I have gone about making big changes in life? I have watched her and learned from her, among others of my dear good friends. There are some specific skills I learned, too, like the value of structured networking, a lifesaver for the shy person. It gives you a tool for being outgoing when you really would rather not. And I am told that for the outgoing, it can offer a way to organize all the information that you gather without even thinking about it. Maybe I will blog about that tomorrow.

Oddly enough, Douglas’s parents live in the same retirement community near Burlington as one of my best friends. So perhaps I will have visits from Doreen and Douglas and their children to look forward to, as I also enjoy J’s visits to Vermont with his daughter and his girlfriend. I could end up with more friends in Vermont than I had in other places I lived. Ain’t life weird and grand?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, please tell us about structured networking.