Watch Your “Persona”

marymarthaDo you ever look around and wonder who your friends are? I sometimes do. I’m naturally introverted, and yet the combined effects of several relocations, caring for two special-needs kids (and now my mother), and endless work-related social media interactions (I’m an editor) have depleted my little black book on those rare occasions when I’m craving a girls’ night out.

Yesterday I was discussing this with an author friend who happens to fall in the category of both professional and personal connection. She has met my extended family, and made rosaries for my kids. I’ve slept at her house, and call her whenever I’m in her area to get together.

Apparently this sense of rootlessness is something that many women experience. She also made me sit up and take notice when she identified what is often the source of the problem. “There are persons, and there are personas,” she reminded me. “When you are a writer, you cultivate a persona that you let out into the world … but it’s not the same as the real you, known to your real friends.”

The moment she said this, a light bulb went on. Do editors have personas, too? Of course! So … how do I set aside the persona and let the “real me” out to play, to establish real friendships?

Interestingly, my friend’s first suggestion was … silence. Spending time together in silence, “until the uncomfortable silences become comfortable.” Of course, this isn’t something that can happen on Facebook, or in any other social media venue. It takes physical presence. It means stepping away from the computer and inviting others into the messiness of ordinary life.

This is risky, of course. I’ve had women — from church, for example — who have reached out and made an effort to connect with my daughter and me. It always surprises me a bit, to experience such kindness, knowing that I’m not really in a position to reciprocate meaningfully. What is more, the way my life is set up right now, it seems almost impossible to set up regular get-togethers. And yet, this is exactly the kind of effort true intimacy in friendship requires.

The topic of friendship is very much on trend these days. Emily Jaminet and Michele Fahnle’s The Friendship Project is being discussed in book clubs and parish women’s groups across the country. Elizabeth Foss published True Friend, a four-week devotional to help kick-start friendship in your own life.

And yet all these wonderful books won’t do a bit of good unless I’m willing to venture into that scary territory of vulnerability and initiate contact. Invite someone over (or invite myself over) for a cup of tea. Strike up a conversation with someone at a bookstore who is carrying a book I’ve recently read. Even (*gasp*) take that water aerobics class for us grannies-in-training and chat up the friendly looking lady on the kickboard next to me.

Because every decades-old friendship begins with the touch of a real, live person.

 

Weekend Ponderings: Caution! Do you know where your friends are?

kitchen-madonnaThree of my favorite Catholic women writers just posted about the lunch they had together they other day. Oooh, I WISH I could have joined them!  Writing can be such a solitary, sedentary sport, with most of the communication going one way (out!). It can be tempting to lean on our virtual connections, and neglect the real-time ones. And yet, there is nothing quite like a REAL cup of tea (or a Cosmopolitan, as Kitchen Madonna and I are doing here), sitting across the table from a good friend. Getting to see her eyes twinkle, hear her warm laughter, crunch the cookies, feel the warmth trickle down the back of your throat. Yum.

Those personal connections soften the hard times, and sweeten the good ones. But they do require a bit of effort. Tonight for the first time in . . . well, forever . . . I’m going out with my girlfriend Katy to a benefit for Safe House. It’s being held at St. Andrew Parish in Saline (7-9 p.m., if you’re interested), and it will probably just involve sipping tea and buying a new set of sheets. But with a good friend . . . sounds like heaven!

Like all God’s gifts, friendship requires a certain amount of investment to function properly. I recently sent out invitations to a half dozen church friends — we used to run the mother’s program at church together, but have since moved on to other things. I’ve missed these women, and figured it was time to do something about it!  A little chicken salad and iced tea, maybe a pavlova for dessert. Time to catch up!

We’re all busy. We all have a million things on our to-do lists. But a year from now, how many of those things are going to matter? Only the relationships we build with one another. I was reminded of the importance of keeping proper perspective again today from the first reading, from Acts 5, which is about the Pharisee Gamiliel, one of the greatest Jewish teachers of all time (and some say a secret follower of Christ). In discussing what to do with St. Peter and the apostles (who had recently gotten on the last nerve of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish High Court), Gamaliel makes an astute observation about human endeavors of all kinds.

“…So now I tell you, have nothing to do with these men, and let them go.
For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself.
But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them;
you may even find yourselves fighting against God.”

So the question I put to you today …  How many of the activities on your list are “of human origin,” and how many are of lasting significance? Are you maintaining the gifts God has given you — including the gifts of friendship? When was the last time you hugged a kid . . . or a friend?

Wee Cook Wednesday: Rose Sunday Tea Cake

In just a few  more days — right after Thanksgiving — we will be entering the season of Advent. These four weeks before Christmas are about more than buying presents and baking cookies … They are about getting our hearts soft and warm with thanksgiving, ready to receive the Newborn King!

Every year on the third Sunday of Advent, I host a special tea party at my house for a group of truly extraordinary friends. We met when we were all still single … a dozen years later, three of us are married, and three have become adoptive parents. One hosts an exchange student every year.

Each of us makes a signature dish. Mine is a rich chocolate pound cake I make just once a year, especially for the tea (unless my husband is able to wheedle it out of me for his birthday). This year the cake is going to be a show stopper! Over the summer I was at a craft fair, and found these beautiful hand-painted cake plates. Here’s a picture of the one I got!

Rose Sunday Tea Cake

1/2 C shortening
1 C butter, softened
3 C sugar
5 eggs, separated
3 C flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C cocoa
1 tsp cinnamon
1-1/4 C milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour (or sugar) a 10 inch tube pan.  Cream shortening and butter until light and fluffy, gradually adding sugar. Beating well on medium speed, add egg yolks one at a time. Beat well after each addition.

Sift dry ingredients. Pour extracts into milk. Add flour and milk mixtures alternately, beginning and ending with flour, mixing just until blended after each addition.

In a clean glass bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold carefully, just until no white streaks remain, into the chocolate mixture. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 75 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes, remove from pan, and let cool comploetely on a wire rack. Serve with chocolate sauce.

Devastating Fudge Sauce

2/3 C cocoa
2 C sugar
1/4 C Karo syrup
1 can evaporated milk
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 C butter

Bring cocoa, sugar, syrup, and milk to a boil. Add remaining ingredients, and boil 5 minutes longer. Serve hot.

Adventures with Friends

Sarah at “Just Another Day of Catholic Pondering” has done her usual outstanding job with this week’s “Catholic Carnival.” Be sure to check it out!

When Sarah missed her friend Lauren’s birthday, we decided to take the girls to Sarah’s favorite lunch place … “Sweet Aftons” Tea Room in Plymouth, Michigan.

Sarah has caught my “tea bug.” About once a week we’ll have a special time with my best tea pot and pretty china cups … and c a k e. Cake is not optional, where tea is concerned.

When I arrived at the school to pick up the girls and head for the tea room, another friend was standing there looking sad. So in the end, it was the four of us: Arianna, and Lauren, and Sarah and me. All off for tea.

Then, there was one more wrinkle: It seems that Sweet Afton’s is closed on Mondays. So we headed for my next favorite place, Cafe Marie’s. The teapots were of stonewear instead of china, with mugs instead of delicate tea cups for the apple juice. But it was fun!

Watching Sarah with her friends, I was struck by how much more … active … she is than her little friends. While they sat quietly in their seats and ate French fries, or carried on conversations about earth worms and fairy princesses (with equal seriousness), Sarah was hopping up and down, turning her fuzzy purple hat (her favorite) around and around and inside out. She is a wash of kinetic energy … screeching and singing and blasting her flute. Twirling and spinning and twinkling like an imp. Oh, how I love that little girl.

I’m sure the mothers of those other little girls are proud of them. They can read whole books, and sit quietly for more than two minutes at a time. They put on one outfit and it stays on their bodies all day. My daughter doesn’t do any of these things … at least not yet.

But I wouldn’t trade her for a library of books. Her brother, either.

In a few weeks, I’m going on my own adventure with a friend and her children. Sarah and I are driving to Atlanta, then back through South and North Carolina before winding our way home. Both of us are a bit nervous about how the rhythms or our respective families are going to affect each other … and ultimately our friendship.

Yesterday’s outing reminds me that adventures with friends can be a great way to rediscover ourselves.