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    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Are You Gone Gone

When I was hospitalized, a very good friend from high school, a writer friend,  wrote me a letter nearly every day for six months. She was the only person in high school with whom I shared my love of poetry. Under cover of darkness, we exchanged journals. The letters were deep and intense, addressing  much of what I was struggling with including my tenuous hold on life and battle with depression. She had strong opinions on these matters and her letters annoyed me as much as they helped me. She could not understand how a person could give in to depression. She didn’t believe in psychotherapy. She hated drugs with a passion. But still, those letters were amazing, just the fact of them, counting on their arrival, the familiarity of her penmanship, the pale green pages she tore out of a notebook. When mail arrived each day, I’d put her letter away until I could savor it in the day room on a worn out couch with a cigarette or two.

We fell out or apart soon after I got out. We exchanged one or two letters over the next few years. She told me that she quit writing and  had become a doctor. I found the letters over the weekend. They were all tied up with a string, a fat package. I couldn’t bring myself to read them.

Was there anyone in your young life with whom you shared a writing bond? Anybody now?

73 Responses

  1. because of this blog, i have found a select group of writers who i now keep up with daily.

    we read each other.

    we comment on each other’s blogs.

    we email each other when we’re quiet for too long or need a pick-her-up.

    i’ve belonged to writing groups, but none have been as effective as the bonds i have forged here.

    thank you.

  2. “Was there anyone in your young life with whom you shared a writing bond? Anybody now?”

    Yes. In my last year of high school I had a friend who was a young creative writer much as I was then, ambitious, unschooled, and untried. We worked on the school paper together and shared with one another our juvescent poems and stories. Now, it’s this, coming here to be in this place that is also no place, where the connections are much more tenuous but the implied bond is strong. Likewise I feel a bond with a group of writers I studied with twenty years ago and who would probably not remember me if I fell through the skylight in their bathroom, but whose works I still follow and whose voices I still hear therein.

    • “Now, it’s this, coming here to be in this place that is also no place, where the connections are much more tenuous but the implied bond is strong.”

      Yes. To this, to Amy and MSBaby.

      Many thanks to Betsy, and the apples and oranges on her tree.

  3. That’d be love then. You were blessed.

  4. Oh, ouch.

    I’d forgotten.

    Don’t know if I want to dig up that past.

  5. While I neglected to mention it first time around, that friend you described sounds wonderful. An angel? A lifesaver? The proper medicine at the precise dosage? All of the above?

  6. That’s a moving story, Betsy, thank you. So often true, this: ” … her letters annoyed me as much as they helped me.”

    Am fortunate enough to engage in a lively correspondence that’s lasted for 20 or so years.

    Like sending old-fashioned letters and cards too. Not least because doing so allows me to slip the e-tether for the aether.

  7. Out of high school, I got married and divorced, twice, to two redneck boys younger than me. (At one point in my married life, I lived in a trailer with my hot-rod-obsessed husband while I read Sylvia Plath.)

    When I finally made my way to a local liberal arts university, I took a writing class straightaway. We were put into groups and told to meet outside of class to collaborate. M. and I were the only ones who showed up.

    We ended up wandering the stacks. Pulling books off the shelves at random, pulling sentences out of those books at random…and making up a story from them. I had never done anything like that in my life.

    He introduced me to philosophy, religions (and world views) outside of my southern baptist upbringing, Tarkovsky, the notion of anarchy, and pot.

    We lived together for five years. Longer than I’ve ever lived with any other man. He’s married now, with a baby and one on the way.

    He is still my best–and oldest–friend.

  8. I had a teacher in sixth grade called Mr. Tribe who looked like Santa Claus and was the first and greatest motivator for me to write. I would submit weekly stories of my friends and I adventuring in improbable places, and he took them extremely seriously and encouraged me to keep going.

    I did.

  9. @ac – That’s a beautiful story. You’re incredibly lucky to have met him. Plus it reads like a short – the reader is left asking: what happened between your moving in together and his getting married? Thanks for sharing 🙂

  10. I was going to write about my swell writing group–a group somewhat renown locally in Portland due to the success of its various members and its incredible longevity. But I changed my mind. Not because the group isn’t amazing, it is, but because of the image of the fat package of letters bound in twine that you couldn’t bring yourself to read. The sacredness of time and place that can’t be replicated. The connections, through writing, that are integral to sense of place, time and self.

    In the end, I think it’s the act of epistolary intercourse that is sacred. The connection, exchange, rage, intensity, humanity. I don’t think it’s sustainable though. I don’t think we’re (as humans) built to ride that wave long term. I have those letters and cards, too. Those secrets. And I never reread them, yet cannot bring myself to get rid of them. That they moved me once, I think, is enough. But not having lived my full life yet, I’m not completely sure I’m right.

  11. My favorite uncle enlisted in the Navy and shipped out. He was 19, I was 9. Years later he would claim that my letters, with their practiced penmanship and small town gossip, kept him from being homesick. And it was his letters recounting almost daily seafaring adventures (much fictionalized) that first peaked my interest in world travel.

    I no longer have his letters. I wonder if he has mine…

    • Don’t underestimate the value of your letters to him. They really are a lifeline for those in the military.

  12. As a freshman in college, I’d come home after a day of skipping classes (to smoke pot in the beautiful Miami sunshine) and write: Semi-erotic poetry, heavily influenced by Edgar Allen Poe, raunchy song lyrics, and short stories about suicidal young women with horrible mothers. I’d call up my best friend Ana and read her my stuff, gratified when she’d start breathing heavily, and more gratified when she gushed how wonderful it was.

    When I first started hanging out with the Hare Krishnas in Boston, I was befriended by a stunningly beautiful young woman, loaded with piercings and tattoos, who took me under her wing and taught me almost everything there was to know. She loved to write, and when I was seized by doubts about joining a cult and moved back to my mother’s house in Florida, she wrote to me frequently and encouraged me, both in my spiritual aspirations and in writing. She left the movement, but we still keep in touch.

    And now? My husband, ever the encourager. A fabulous writing group in Gainesville, full of witty, funny people.

    And Betsy, always Betsy, who, when I first dared to make a comment on her blog, made me face myself when she sent an email asking, simply, “Do you write?”

  13. Oh yes, oh yes. Thank you for reminding me. From Perry, who had embossed stationery with his full name (Pericles) in grave black on ivory, to my grandmothers, to my Heathcliff who went all magic-marker-on-legal-pad when he was fighting against adulthood. I still insist on snail mail now and then, and I can’t do Facebook.

    My mother, in an uncharacteristic bout of cleaning (the kind that involves throwing things out), had to rescue a box of letters from a Hefty bag and ship them to me. I haven’t looked through them yet — I hate silverfish (did they survive the trip?) — but am so relieved she saved them.

  14. When I was young, my first love and I shared letters. The heat seriously rose from those pages.

    30 years later I’m getting back into the swing of things. My partners are now virtual but the effects are just the same. I wait with baited breath and feel changed with every connection.

  15. My Dad is my touchstone and archivist.

    He sends me batches of my old, purple prose (literally purple, on unicorn stationery) and bad poetry and college essays – telling me that I always had talent and I’ve come a long way, as appropriate – and reads absolutely everything I’ve written.

    My stuff doesn’t always suit his tastes, but he loves to discuss it all at length – especially my research – and he keeps reading and applauding. This is how he tells me he loves me.

    Mom and I send each other low-humor greeting cards with semi-serious little notes. I have a box full of favorites she’s given me. Whenever I visit, her favorites are out on the sideboard.

  16. I had a friend with whom I read and wrote in high school and college. We both ended up becoming writers, though, as was the case with Betsy’s friend, we fell out a bit later in life. He died of complications following heart disease and I wrote an essay about him:

    “The Edsel Farm”, Why We’re Here: New York Essayists on Living Upstate (Colgate U P, 2010).

    Now, I have married a writer. My wife Elizabeth is a novelist (she has a novel coming out today, in fact — The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady (Doubleday)) and we read everything the other one writes and talk about writing every day. Ah, bliss.

  17. When I first went to my husband’s small apartment, we hardly knew each other, not really anyway. He was divorced, a part-time dad to his little girl, and doing his best to adjust to his new life alone. I walked in and there were two bookshelves lined to the gills, alphabetized although stacked in every which way which made me laugh. He came out of the kitchen, handed me a beer, and sat down saying nothing as I spent the next hour perusing his shelves. We spent the better part of the night, first comparing the books we had in common, then moving quickly to the best part, the you have to read this right now part.
    The books were the only thing he kept in the divorce.

    He had a Master’s in literature, and had been going for his doctorate, when he had to drop out. A disintegrating marriage, a full-time job, a baby, there just wasn’t time. I asked him if he thought about going back, did he intend to be a professor, and on and on.

    His dream was to open a store where there was a sign on the door that said “The Doctor Is In”. People would come in, tell him what ailed them and he would give them the book they needed.

    He’s the only one who reads my book, as I go, from the really horrible beginning stuff, to the halfway decent later stuff. He lets me know where it works, and where I’ve gone off the rails. And whenever things, marriage/life get nuts, we communicate by writing. Hundreds of notes, letters, even e-mails that we write, all because he’s smart enough to know we both think better on paper, when we can take a minute to figure it out.

  18. During the first Gulf War in 1990, my class had to send letters to soldiers in Iraq. I was in 7th grade. I got a response from a sergeant in the 101st Airborne. He was a Native American from Oklahoma. We wrote for about a year and a half. I sent him brownies at Christmas, and every Sunday I taped The Simpsons for him and mailed it out (his favorite show).

    There’s something pretty cool when you’re a kid about having a pen pal you’ve never met, fighting in a war. I really liked the guy.

    • I came to poetry late: 38 years old. I was a new teacher at the International School in Jakarta and in 1992 I took a colleague’s creative writing class along with his students, so I could teach the analysis of poetry better, by understanding how it works. I ended up with a bonus: writing poetry. My colleague, an internationally published writer, became my mentor and best friend. Nineteen years later we are as close as we were when I learned from him. I am still learning and he still helps when I need it.

  19. I had a friend in college who was just absolutely insane. He was the first person to read my beginner drivel and tell me that it wasn’t half bad and that I needed to go for it because I absolutely had something important to say.

    Then he dated my best friend and broke her heart a few times, and now we rarely speak. I wish we would though. I never got to thank him.


  20. I had two friends in high school who thought I was a poet and so I was a poet. There were many years when writing was the only thing that was going well in my life. Writing can slap me around as much as it likes after that.

  21. Not sure how my comment ended up as a reply to Beth, but it’s up there. Sorry, Beth. Computers!

  22. When I moved to England I made some dumb decisions about what to keep and what to pitch. I kept all my letters – I never read them, but just knowing they’re in the back of my closet is comforting.

    Last year in my first year of the MA, I whinged to myself constantly about the lack of a writing community, blaming my part time status, the commute, blah blah blah. This year, with my dissertation looming, I emailed a few classmates and said will you please read my stuff. I’m building my own damn community which includes bloggers, most of whom I “met” here. So thanks for that, Betsy.

    Now if we could only do something about the damn time difference…

  23. I have had some ebb and flow with people who have had an influence on me and my fledgling writing career. I have learned the (hard) lesson that sometimes people aren’t meant to be forever friends, but it doesn’t mean what they gave us for however long wasn’t worth having.

    Thanks for the post.

  24. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Elisabeth Black, sillystoryideas. sillystoryideas said: Are You Gone Gone: When I was hospitalized, a very good friend from high school, a writer friend,  wrote me a le… http://bit.ly/hP3jZz […]

  25. It is with a grateful heart that I submit this comment. One of my dearest friends and I have been writing letters to each other for 25 years. I often wish we had saved each other’s letters, so filled are they with analyses of our marriages, of our experiences of motherhood, our children’s development, and critiques of the culture.

    This friend, who reads several books a week, introduced me to the joys of reading, believed in my ability to write, and consistently encouraged me to write my memoir, which has been published here and abroad.

    Another dear friend who is now querying agents for her memoir, has been sending me your blog, and I thank you for them. Their honesty and reflection of deep respect for authors, for memoirs, for the writing process, for the sacredness of life is refreshing. If I didn’t already have a wonderful agent, I’d be querying you, too!

  26. We met at a 12-step program. She became the mother I never had, with unconditional love and support. Four years later, when I was moving back to the West Coast, she gave me pre-addressed and stamped postcards so I had to send one. Now, 20 years later, she is nearly blind with macular degeneration, but still writes in her perfect penmanship. Just sent me a funny story about seeing chickens, a hallucination called Bonnet Syndrome, that her son, a doctor, explained happens when the damaged eyes try to regenerate cells. “Whatever! I’ve had a lot of fun with my little chix flix and they really are my dear little friends,” she wrote last week.

    In her 90s, she is humped over from a stroke in 2007 and doesn’t get around very well, but took me on a cruise to Bermuda in 2009. Always sends a postcard when traveling which she still does. She never forgets a holiday or birthday and is my strongest supporter, praying for my book(s). I am blessed beyond measure to have found such a friend who hasn’t let go, and won’t be surprised to find this devout Catholic on the other side.

  27. I’ve never shared a writing bond with anybody–that would be nice, though.

    I do remember when I first felt validated as a writer–even better than being published and winning an award. In 2003, the Bas Bleu catalog arrived one morning. I’ve always loved it because they pick wonderful, classy books. I was busy cleaning, so I put the catalog next to my reading chair and didn’t get back to it until that night. There on page 3 was my Letters in the Attic with Eleanor Edmondson’s amazing review. And then, four years later, she validated me again by including my very own Kat’s Promise with all those special titles. Funny how a good thing happens when you’re not expecting it.

  28. In elementary school, my best friend and I started writing a “novel” together. It was fun but even then I knew collaboration on a creative work would never work for me.

    Aside from some friends who also enjoyed writing, I never really had a strong “writing bond” with someone. It always seemed too solitary and private a thing for me. I know that sounds all precious and pretentious, but it’s the truth.

    Now, however, I have two amazing writing buddies. We meet in cafes to write together. We critique each other’s work. I feel so fortunate that they are part of my life.

  29. My Tomas. His letters carried me through one of my longest Alaskan summers. They are now tucked safely in a shoe box.

  30. I always wanted a friend like that. I grew up in a town of tar-papered additions, broken down cars and the smell of kerosene. Art was a crocheted Barbie doll toilet paper cover. Career meant pouring coffee in a shabby diner or stripping sheets at the motor inn. Secret was not invented yet. To trust my soul to another meant pages passed around, whispers, declarations that I didn’t know my place. I still find it hard to share. And I’m still envious of those who can.

  31. My mother. Every year she gave me yellow legal pads to write my thoughts and my stories. We never really discussed writing, she just knew it made me happy. She rarely, if ever, read anything beyond cookbooks, although she had a signed copy of the Scarsdale Diet book because her name was in the credits. She read the newspaper features and other stories I sent from college and I think most of all she liked seeing my name in print, always encouraging me to do what I loved.

  32. Ah, Betsy. Sometimes you just break my heart.

  33. “What do you want to do most—paint or write?” is what he asked me, He was Tommy Wayne Cannon, or TC to most, and an American Indian artist visiting the University I attended. Already an accomplished poet/painter, a warrior back from Vietnam, an official member of the Kiowa Black Leggings Society and, my lover. “Both,” I answered. “All. Everything.” I’d made a promise to myself at fifteen—the year I became a foster kid. If I survived, if I could take a flying leap of faith and thrive, I would find a way to give that possibility away, to prick dead conscious and prod dulled minds until they remembered that kids don’t belong to anybody, that people are ends in their selves, not society’s servants or a way to keep a marriage together or the manifestation of some bible thumping narcissistic rule to procreate. “Then, keep doing this,” he said, flipping the pages of my wide ruled Big Chief, filled with quotes, poem sketches, adolescent blather: Crocheted doilies beside store bought cookies. “And, you should change your name. To CJ, Sounds better. More serious.”
    More like a man.

  34. My best friend in ninth grade — back then all girls just HAD to write notes to each other in class. (and fold them creatively, into squares and t-shirts and things.) I am not one for small talk, and apparently wasn’t then, either. But I had to write notes. So Melissa and I started making up stories about our teachers, like “origin” stories. Completely off the wall and bizarre. We stil laugh about them, 20+ years later. I’m a wannabe novelist and she’s a stay-at-home mom; I moved to the Big City and she lives 20 minutes away from where we grew up. And she’s still my best friend.

  35. No. But it’s always too soon to give up.

  36. I spent an entire year in high school co-writing a story with a friend from out of town. We came up with the idea at summer camp and each week we’d post a new part of the story on some abandoned Korean message board.

  37. My husband and I began our relationship through letters, as we were mere acquaintances when my first letter landed in his mailbox. He’s still my first and best reader and editor.

  38. No, when I first began writing every day, no one else I knew wrote. I was very ashamed of the time i spent doing it, as well as what came out when i did. Recently I met a guy at work who’s working on a book and not shy at all about it (furry fiction anyone?). As a result, I’m becoming more open about how I spend a lot of my spare time. Someday I may be as brave as some of you who’ve posted some of your work. Just one more thing briefly, sorry I’ve been a dick on here at times, I am something of a work in progress. i really value this site and appreciate those on the same road I am. Betsy helped me to see that yesterday.

  39. My pen pal and I started writing after meeting at a National Student Council Convention in 1983. We were 16 and continued to write about our lives for more than 20 years. We had almost nothing in common except our love of words. She married at 18 (I was her maid of honor) and had kids soon after. I went to college and wasn’t domesticated until a decade later. Still, we stayed tethered by post. Then she stopped. Suddenly. I tried to find out why. She said we had nothing in common, which I know was a lie. Our differences had never nicked our friendship before. Why then? I still don’t know. I still Google her once in a while to make sure she hasn’t died. I still have all those letters, and I still hope she comes back to me someday.

  40. This is late to the game, but it fits so well (I think) with the idea of finding someone in your life who is your soulmate no matter the sex/gender or relationship.


    “My closest friend died June 10, 2009. She was 62 years old. She dropped over dead of an aneurysm in her brain. No warning.

    We express ourselves differently now than women did in the 19th century, but I’m wondering if I really felt differently or feel differently. She and I met when she was 16 and I was 18, on our third day as freshmen at Stanford University. She was a little tiny thing, but very determined. She announced to me upon our first meeting that we were to be friends, and she was certainly right about that.

    We were separated almost all our lives. After we graduated from Stanford, I got married, and she moved to Massachusetts, where she too married. We never used the telephone a lot….she didn’t ever have money, and long distance was expensive, back in the day. Then, it was paper letters. (When she died she left an entire box of my old letters.) Then, email. When she died, we were emailing about twice a week.

    Her daughter told me that she didn’t think her mom would have survived, if something had happened to me. I’m still trying to figure out whether I have survived the corresponding loss. I realized after she died that at any given time I spent perhaps 65% of my interior time composing letters to her. I’d see something that would interest her (she was supremely intelligent); I’d see something we’d discussed (and there was almost nothing we didn’t discuss in those 46 years).

    Or I’d think of some argument I’d made that I wanted, now, to nuance, part of that endless, reiterative, lifelong conversation. Without her I don’t know what I think, any more. I’m married to the love of my life; we have four adult children and four grandchildren so far. She too was married, and has three grown children, and now a grandchild she didn’t live to see. We’re not talking sex here, people. Was it love even? Or was it identity?

    I can’t write long emails any more, not to anyone, or long letters. All the letters were to her. I never talked about her; my husband was surprised, when she died, at my reaction. She talked about me all the time, apparently….. The Zen folks tell a story. Once there was one who played the harp skillfully, and a friend who listened skillfully. Then the listener died. The musician cut the strings, and never played again.”

    When you find that person your life is complete.

  41. I just want to give a shout out to Stephen Lucas. If you ever read this, Stephen, your letters were a life line to to me when I was sixteen. Thank you.

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