Beyond the Point is a novel based on the true story of four women who went to West Point and their struggle to maintain their friendship across war, marriage and life after college. I tell people it's like 'Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants' meets 'Zero Dark Thirty'. Check out an excerpt here...Read More
I am not a shy person. Call it extrovertedness. Call it being an Army brat. Call it a desperate need for approval. But if I walk into a room of strangers, I will be the first person to walk up to someone I don't know, put out my hand, and say—Hi, I'm Claire. What's your name? I think that actually may be the first full sentence I ever spoke.
Regardless of my desperate need to be liked (see video above), I sincerely enjoy meeting new people. Learning their story. But the longer I live (hello 30, I see you!)... the more I'm realizing that it's hard to tell mine.
Here's the deal. For most people, work looks like showing up. Doing a good job. Hoping you get recognized. Leveraging that recognition into promotions or a new gig. Etc. Etc. into infinity. For creative-types, (think writers, musicians, artists, producers) work looks like showing up. Doing what you desperately hope is a good job because there's no one out there to really compare to when you're trying to create something new. And instead of hoping you get recognized, you must actively endeavor to be recognized, while suffering myriads of rejection.
So far, I have sent my novel-in-progress to a total of TWO agents. Both have turned it down. One never wrote me back. The other asked me to keep working and try again.
Since then.... (and it's been about a year)... I've been in a hellish hole of self-doubt, unable to hit send. The Army brat in me is dying to reach across the room and introduce myself. The creative in me is desperately trying to find a hole to crawl in where I can avoid disappointment. It's kind of a cluster-f#$% in my head, if you can imagine.
But today. I'm hitting send. On an email to an agent. On this blog post. Because hey. Why not. What's the worst thing that can happen?
You don't like me?
Ha! Do I need to be liked? Absolutely not. I like to be liked. I enjoy being liked. I have to be liked. But it's not like this compulsive need to be liked, like my need to be praised...
It was the Christmas my dad turned into a full bird. My mother and I were in a department store at the Garden State Plaza surrounded by bows, glitter, and faux firs decorated from tip to trunk with lights and glass-blown ornaments. I was eleven, a sixth grader with snaggly teeth, bangs and the patience of a newborn squirrel. But I knew my mission. "Something gaudy," my mother instructed. "It's got to be huge."
"I think we're in the right place," I replied, looking over the sea of drums, meaningless balls, gingerbread men, and fat Santas. I gave my bangs a puff of air with a protruding lower lip. "Does dad know you're doing this?"
"Of course not," she snapped. Turning another carousel of ornaments, my mother laughed. "He's going to hate it."
A Matter of Rank
In the Army, a full-bird grows within a cocoon of service and emerges with two-dimensional eagles pinned on its epaulets. A full-bird is a Colonel—an officer selected to climb to the ranks of the U.S. Army. When the good news came that previous summer, my mother popped a champagne bottle and invited the family to the promotion ceremony that overlooked the Hudson River. All that was done and over, and now it was Christmas and my mother was determined.
"This bird is putting you through college," my mother shouted from across the store. I shrank in embarrassment and rushed to her side.
"No one makes eagle ornaments, mom," I whispered. Why were we looking for an eagle ornament when my father wore two on his shoulders every day? There was no sign of an eagle. Not even a dove.
I didn't understand the importance of that ornament. I didn't understand that removing LTC from the doorstep and replacing it with COL was a feat that required an entire committee to select my father's name and pass over someone else's. I didn't know that if his name hadn't been chosen, it would have meant the end of his 23-year Army career. It would have meant leaving West Point, the cocoon of my own making. I couldn't contemplate that even though my father's career had been extended, there was still an expiration date, and that it was fast approaching.
I didn't understand that when he took the uniform off, the ornament and the memories and the man would be all we had left.
And then I saw it.
"Mom," I shouted across the store. "I found it!"
When I was a girl scout for five seconds, I learned a song. It went something like this, "Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other's gold..." The gist? Don't forsake old friends for the new ones. But somehow, though I sang the song happily, and believed its sweet simple message—I think I forgot the words along the way. Over the years, it became easier to just move full steam ahead.
And if I lost touch with friends in the process? Surely, that is just part of life...
Or is it?
I don't think I'm the only one with this problem. This walking away and not looking back problem. This "I see what they're up to on Facebook, and surely that's enough" problem. This, "if they are really my friend, they won't care if we don't talk for three or six or thirty-six months" problem.
Over the past few weeks, I've had the privilege of reconnecting with a few close friends that I almost let slip away. And feeling the tears well up in my eyes, I realized how deeply and fully missed they were.
And my excuses no longer held water.
[EXCUSE NUMBER ONE.] We don't live near each other.
This has always been my favorite excuse. After all, I was an Army Brat. I moved every two years, leaving behind friends, zip codes and area codes. No need to keep up with everyone. How could I possibly keep up with everyone? It would have been impossible to keep up with everyone. Plus—I thought—the ones that are true friends will be the kind I can just pick up with where I left off. The problem was... I rarely picked up where I left off.
[EXCUSE NUMBER TWO] Our lives are just so different.
This excuse usually follows the first. Not only do we live in different places—but our lives, emotionally, physically, spiritually.... are in different places. She's a mother, I'm not. I'm a teacher, she's not. At the heart of this excuse is a bout of pride and/or insecurity. There's no way she could ever understand what I'm going through. Or. There's no way I could ever understand what she's going through.
But if you call those things what they are: lies — they no longer have power. Because the truth is... none of us are in the same place. If being in the same metaphysical "place" was a requirement for friendship—none of us would have friends, and all of us would stay stuck where we are.
[EXCUSE NUMBER THREE] I just don't have time to be friends with everyone.
This excuse is the most dangerous–because the lie is wrapped in kernel of truth. Of course, it is impossible to be friends with everyone you ever meet for the rest of your life—and if I tried to be best friends with everyone, surely I would be a best friend to no one. However, when I look at how I spend my time, I know deep in my heart that I have more time that could be spent on others. When I look at my schedule, I'm often ashamed at how much time I'm always spending on myself.
[EXCUSE NUMBER FOUR] It's too late.
Let's face it. Life gets in the way. Half of our time is spent working, and the other half is spent just trying to do the things we need to do to get by. Filling the car with gas. Picking up groceries. Taking care of your marriage, or your roommate, or the laundry. Life is demanding, and before you know it... six months, a year... three years have gone by since you last spoke with your friend. And we feed our guilt with this, the chief of lies: it's too late to change.
But it's not too late.
I don't think that writing a blog post about being a better friend is going to make me a better friend. But facing the facts, and calling excuses for what they are might just be the first step to change.
“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival." - C. S. Lewis