Tag Archives: significance

Digging Out; In praise of long friendship

We are digging out.  Literally and figuratively.  It has been a beautiful and interesting time; this enormous snowfall and huge disruption in our normal routines.  But it has also been for reasons I won’t go into, or perhaps reasons I don’t yet fully understand, a kind of dark and sad time for me beginning a week or two before the snowstorms.  Since it snowed, I have not been writing and I have missed it.  I have also not been sleeping much, which is an on and off chronic struggle for me– more serious than I often let on, although people who know me well, know that I often don’t sleep well.  But the fragility of my sleep has been challenging me lately despite this past 10 days with seemingly so much time on my hands. 

Today was our first day of both work and school since February 5.  After work, with both my daughter and partner along with me, we stopped in at one of our favorite independent bookstores where we ran into a very old friend of mine (and a friend of my partner’s in another context), E.  I don’t see her often, though we live less than 2 miles from each other.  She figures importantly in my life.  She was a brilliant and loving and interesting and encouraging teacher of mine with an amazing life history.  She is a Jew, a Yiddishist, a holocaust survivor, a feminist, lesbian, a mother, a writer, a literature scholar and a teacher.  Among other things.  Now past 75 she has a second Ph.D, is a dancer and does a whole variety of interesting things I cannot even recount.  I cannot wait to see what she does with the next 25 years. 

E. is almost exactly the same age as my mother and it was no coincidence that soon after I arrived at the university (the second time, after dropping out of a smaller school the first time) I asked her to be my undergraduate advisor.  I did then and still do have a kind of intention about friendships and mentors, but I was less scared to go out on a limb then than I am at times now.  I think I knew then that I was asking her to be my friend and advisor for longer than my undergraduate years, but I figured that was a reasonable amount of time to start with.  

She has remained my friend through perseverence, shared history, a love and respect for one another and a series of interesting threads of common interests and concerns–as well as the coincidence and good fortune of having met in the midwest where she was a professor and I a student, and then having moved to the same east coast city for completely different reasons within a year’s time 2o+ years ago.  She has also– consistently encouraged me to write, which is what I have always wanted to do, loved to do, done or not done, but wanted.

I will not recount our conversation tonight which was brief, but very important to me.  Which is exactly what I could say about many of our conversations over many, many years now.  Tonight, as at other times, she helped me dig my way out of a tough spot and get back to writing which is just what I want to be doing.  Although we often go a year or more without seeing one another, I have had more contact with her since the first of this year, than we have had for awhile.  And it was a deep and serious conversation with her at a party in January, about adoption, race, racism and the nature of family, that made the party for me, but much more importantly, jumpstarted this writing that I have been doing.

She had a wonderful and interesting 75th birthday party two years ago, at which I read her two poems, by Grace Paley, another Jewish woman, now gone, who was also very significant to me.  It was E. who introduced me to Grace Paley’s work.  At E.’s party I think I tried, as I am trying now, to let her know that in general, and particularly as a teacher, you never know what you have meant to people, but you can assume it is likely that often it is more than you know.

Significance or What’s in a name; part two

I am thinking about this name business.  Annie Dillard said “Because how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”  I am also reminded of a joke in the form of a first person story an older friend once told us.  When we first moved to our small coop apartment building there was a couple who were long-time residents here, I’ll call them Henry and Tess.  Neither one is still living, but it was Henry who told this joke about sexism to my partner and me.  He said, yes when Tess and I got married 55 years ago, we agreed on a way of doing things in our marriage.  She would make all the small decisions and I would make all the big decisions.  Thing is, we’ve been married 55 years and there’s still never been a big decision.

I think in writing, I am trying to understand which of the small things are actually the big things, or the thread between small and big; big and small.  And I am always interested in the connection between writing and knowing and understanding things.

Somehow all of this relates to naming.  How are the ways I spend my days, related to the issues I care most deeply about?  What would capture that perspective– that the small things are part of a bigger whole life in which I/we do have certain deep values and concerns?  

In a life, there are many moments when we have the chance to take a big defining stand against racism, sexism– class oppression, glb oppression, or not to take a stand.  We just don’t always know ahead of time which action will be very significant, a turning point for ourselves or for someone else.  Or put differently, there are myriad things that we do day to day that may not seem significant, but may be very significant.  For the good or for the not good. 

I know this is true mostly because I can remember and recount many instances starting in childhood and through the present, in which a word of appreciation or encouragment, a connection with someone, a sharp word or dismissal by someone, has either inspired or flattened me; has been helpful or a hindrance way beyond what I think the person on the other end could possibly imagine.   

You don’t quite know what will be significant until you try something.  I think you often don’t even know it was significant after you’ve done or said something.  Now I feel myself getting further afield here, but I think all this is somehow connected to me figuring out a proper name for this blog.