• Bridge Ladies

    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 Ready To Be My Everything










Last night my daughter’s school held its annual Spam Jam. This is when their three a cappella groups perform. Two female and one male group each sing two sets of five songs and over the course of the night there are many solos by seniors and freshman alike. There is beat boxing and scatting and rapping and riffing. Some of the boys flush like thermometers rising. Others are tall and gangly on their way to becoming men.  There is unmitigated confidence in some of the young men, and others who never crack a smile. The girls are exotic birds in their pastels and high heels. Some statuesque, some tiny as dolls. All that hair! And together they all make this amazing sound and there is a kind of joy I have never known. A feeling of comraderie, of collaboration, of lifting their voices together in song.

As a high school student and budding poet, I  never once experienced anything like this. My companion was my notebook. My sound was in my head. My lot was loneliness. Or maybe that is why I started to keep diaries and write poems. It was my song. God that sounds douchy. Anyway, I pinged between feeling enormous joy for my daughter to shine in that constellation, and being the supreme narcy that I am: a bittersweet feeling that located itself in a knot at the top of my throat.

Do you join or isolate?

59 Responses

  1. Top of the morning to you!

    Join and doubt; or isolate and long.

  2. I haven’t seen a can of spam in years!

    I wish I could join. I’ve already said it so many times. In my next life I am going to be a back-up singer getting into the groove doing the moves. I’ll be the short curvy one on the right.

  3. I ate some spam a few months ago; it’s low carb. It’s not bad fried thin and crispy brown.


    • I hadn’t finished! Well, I was just going to say I was not a joiner in school, although I would have liked to have been. Between natural shyness and a religion (Jehovah’s Witnesses) that said don’t mix with sinners who are gonna die when Armageddon comes in 1975 and then being disfellowshipped (excommunicated and ostracized by all, including my family) I never actually developed any social graces. I can fake it when I have to, but I’m more comfortable alone. And actually I think I’m a natural loner, so it’s all right.

      • The Witnesses. Kingdom Hall. The 144,000. This was also part of my childhood in the 1960s, when Armageddon was supposed to come in 1975 (September, I think it was). Being made a stranger is part of what made me a writer.

  4. Enough about me. Your post was so spot on and beautifully written that I read it three times.

  5. I join when alone time leaves me too empty . . . and then isolate as needed (not always as convenient) to stabilize the pressure of being with others.

  6. I was both.
    I went to three different high schools so I never had a chance to really connect. I did my best to be a joiner but sometimes my efforts were way over the top and stupid. I wonder whatever happened to that stupid kid. Just ask my kids, they’ll tell ya. My daughters were very artsy and focused, they were in the same school system K thru HS. I envied their connections with friends.

    About last week’s ‘fork in the road question’… because of space my comments were short but this weekend I wrote about an incident, so unbelievable, it was well, unbelievable. Check it out if you want. At the time, it was freaky, but it changed my writing life.

  7. Isolate, until I saw the point of other girls in my early thirties, but didn’t really join in until my 50’s when I started my first team sport, rowing. An eye opener as to what I had missed, standing cack-handed on the lacrosse or cricket pitch wanting to be back in my books and with my dreams.Shared hard times and bad weather in an eight, bonded all ages into that best of female groups, supportive with a shared sense of humour at our ridiculousness.

  8. Isolate, isolate, isolate.

    In fact, this was a point mentioned on my blog, in a psychic reading I gave a fellow writer. She was advised to make more writing friends, in person, not online.

    Since I’ve never done that myself, I say, Screw it! (As a result, I have no writing friends who owe me favors, can get me great gigs at writing conferences, etc.,).

    I’m even socially adept and popular. Yup — I am. Them’s the breaks. We are nothing if not deeply contradictory. I suspect we’re supposed to be, but maybe I’m making excuses.

    • It’s super contradictory for me, too. I actually liked high school and still have friends from that time. I married one of them.

      I’m also the one who gets invited to the party-of-life and never wants to go. So I don’t. I love to isolate. I love staring out windows, woolgathering like Virginia Woolf.

  9. I join (at heart I’m just a girl who wants to have fun) but the second I do, I disengage. I feel most comfortable when I’m alone. I’ve always seen it as my defense mechanism for having been abandoned. Sure, I fantasize(d) about what it’s like to have what your daughter’s comrades had last night but no matter how I try, it’ll never be. Some holes are permanent but now, instead of trying to erase it, I wear it as a press pass. This crater is actually a peep hole that allows me to see things others who are more complete can’t. I wouldn’t trade me for the world.

    • Oh yes! The immediate regret & disengagement whenever I join in. As an adult, I’m highly selective about where I spend my time. I like my self-imposed bubble more than anything else.

    • “I wouldn’t trade me for the world.”

      I love that because that’s exactly how I feel, although…well, there is no although. I am also very comfortable alone. When and if, I begin to prefer ‘alone’ that’s when I’ll take up Wii at the senior center. Egads, shot me first.

  10. Even today there is the approach avoidance conflict. I want to, but can’t bring myself to. Socially shy.

    High school, my lost years. A bad complexion and cruel kids made it something to endure. I spent them in my room reading (which very likely is responsible for my desire to become a writer).

    And yet I wanted so very much to shine. Forced myself to take speech and drama and was a darn good actor and not half-bad speechifier. But when acting, the words weren’t mine, the character not me. Liberating, that.

  11. Isolation is natural for me. Sometimes I fight it, with mixed results, but I need my alone time. It bothers me sometimes when loved ones feel hurt if I just want to be alone, but lately I’ve been choosing family time over solitary confinement, taking time alone when it’s there but not forcing it.

    As for music, I love playing my guitar and singing. I wish my voice was better — severely limited range and a nasal twang that would make Hank Williams proud — but it doesn’t stop me from belting out a song or two. I like playing alone, but by playing with others I’ve only gotten better. And one of the best things about hearing a live performance is you’ll hear things in a song you’ve heard 100 times and never noticed.

    Make a joyous noise, even if no one else hears it.

  12. I hadn’t had Spam in years and had actually missed it. A few months back I bought some, fried it up with some eggs, and tried to bring back a feeling of a time when my Dad made it for us.
    Didn’t work.
    Later I made Jell-O with canned fruit cocktail…

  13. Isolate. Sometimes that’s a good thing, but overall I isolate too much, and often to my later regret.

  14. I used to join, but I was uncomfortable. It was like wearing tight shoes. Now, I isolate.

  15. Did I isolate? You ask that as if I had a choice. High school is a master at teaching passive voice to those who see themselves as put upon. Our senses are so alive during those years. We take in every little word, movement, look, signal, touch . . . or not touch. It is a cold, cruel world, if you let it be. Even the youngsters with their beaming smiles and sparkling eyes may not see the world as you think they do. We think we know their feelings when we put on them that self-serving cliche: You have it so much better than I did. At some point you have to stop letting the world push you around like a rubber duck in a small pond. Grow some balls. Find your active voice. If you want to write a screenplay or a book, write the goddam thing.

  16. OY, you sound like me. But I decided to make up for high school. Started sax at 38 and now play in a jazz band. Started carpentry at 48 and now build houses. Started writing a novel at 58 and will soon be published. Forget the regrets and go for what you mourned you didn’t do then.

  17. Thank you, Betsy, for a beautiful and thoughtful post.

    When I was a young and stupid idealist, I joined the military, which largely disabused me of those inclinations. A slow learner, I became a cop, but never fit that culture, finding myself an isolated joiner.

    Nearing my dotage, I find myself intrigued by newer sailors, who gawk at the mysteries, as I do. I feel connected to the people here, too.

  18. Betsy, I could feel the sweetness and joy of that scene all the way out here in the Desert Southwest.

    It was my good fortune to join. While I began writing as a teen because I was terribly alone, the fact is, all teens are terribly alone. Even when I started joining, I kept writing.

    What did I join? I thought you’d never ask. I was a cross-subculture joiner–ROTC my freshman year, journalism my sophomore year, drama my junior year, stoners my senior year. By the time I got out, I’d been threatened with court-martial for insubordination, threatened with death for editorial boldness, slandered as a faggot for prancing about onstage in makeup and tights, and I was stoned out of my mind. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world (it was the world).

    Of all those groups, the one that was the most filled with joy and life and exuberance and energy and just plain pure and simple love was the group of kids in the drama program. We had a hell of a teacher, too–the late Rita Harlien, who insisted we do our best and wouldn’t let us out of rehearsals until we had.

  19. Everything I ever did (or do today) screams isolate. I tried to “join” in HS (don’t we all) and felt like a misfit most of the time, but I persisted anyway. These days, I prefer to “isolate.” Maybe this is because if I want to reach out and join, I can and do. My husband is more of the “join” kind. Here’s a good example of “us.” My cell phone has about ten numbers – most are for family, one is my best friend. My husband’s cell phone has so many numbers, when he bought a new one, his SP said “we’ve never had a client with so many contacts.” Now part of those are his business – but a good chunk are friends. My phone never rings – his rings constantly. Sometimes I’m envious…most times, not.

    I guess the other thing is…when I do “join,” I’ll go around and hug everyone, catching up, and I love to soak up the smiles from friends who spot me across a room and yell, “Hey stranger! Where ya been?” Those are the times that I’ll refill the “join” tank and it’ll last…oh, I don’t know, several more days – or weeks even.

  20. I’ve witnessed the joy you describe so beautifully.  But participate? Much less often. 17 schools from kindergarten to high school graduation made a wary observer of me. Finally in senior year, during one rare year of domestic continuity, I tried it out–Thespian, debate team, art club–and had some fun. Still, I lived in my Wide Rule Big Chief, where painful stray thoughts were allowed, unquestioned and uncensored, to stand on their own.

  21. I think I 40% join and 60% isolate. Definitely better for my writing!

  22. I am so with you in this particular query, Betsy. So much so that I just whipped out a draft of a YA that pummels that same question. In high school, wacko Gemini that I am, I was both. Fly-on-the-wall, bespectacled nerd, and rabid party girl with a gutter mouth and an enormous appetite for trouble. I never knew which one I would be on any given day.

    So the book I just wrote is about this artsy loner girl whose popular older sister has just died in a horrendous cheerleading accident. Naturally, she falls in love with the boy (a stoner, of course) blamed for the accident. The fun (and terrifying) part of going down that road was getting to be both girls again. The isolated weirdo. The must-win-at-all-costs belle of the ball.

  23. The day before graduation, I shared a beer on the beach with the most popular (self centered bitch) girl in school. We baked in the sun with peroxide soaked hair and she told me she wished she was more like me, nice to everyone and well liked. I should have taken it as a sign to become an actor.

  24. i’m an ambivert so i swing both ways. not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    i believe in community and try to do a coupla volunteer jobs within the writing community–this year i manned an open mic.

  25. I was both. Wanting to be part of everything, to fit in, and never feeling like I really did. While family circumstances put some constraints on my social life, so much of it was in my head. As a grown-up, I see that large part of it was me creating ways to hold back and set myself apart, even when I was almost “in.” I wish I hadn’t done that. Would have had so much more fun.
    And I still catch myself doing it. A habit I need to break.

  26. I was definitely a joiner, but my primary contribution was fucking off. From Girl Scouts to Junior Achievement, I was a chronic kicked-outer.

    That all changed once I became editor of the school paper, and finally found something to which I could really commit.

    I’m less of a joiner now (writing breeds isolation), but I’m also far better behaved.

  27. Isolate. But when I feel that kind joy and/or pride, I always get that knot, lump in the throat thing, more in the chest. Always thought it was my heart overflowing.

  28. Doomed with the over-achiever complex, my level of participation in all sorts of school activities, rock bands, community service groups, and quasi-political organizations braided a thick support rope of friends and experiences to save me from that inner turmoil called The Teenage Years. Decades later, I’m still volunteering and helping and joining. At the least, I have a treasure-trove of “content” for many WIPs; more importantly, I know I have made a small difference in several worthwhile causes.

  29. Betsy. Love this post. There is something different about this one when compared with your others. I don’t know exactly how to articulate the difference – it’s been a long day, I’m exhausted and pretty much hate human being – but whatever it is, it feels effortless, universal and honest.

  30. I absolutely love the feeling I got from your post of perfected motherhood. You write about your daughter, and your love for her comes thru in your words. As for the join or not, I was constantly shoved out by my father, in front of crowds to play guitar and sing. Two things that I enjoyed doing alone in my room, not in front of hundreds of people. I was so happy when I reached an age that I could say, no thanks I’ll pass. But then funny enough, as I got older, it came easier to me, to step up on the stage. Maybe my dad knew what he was doing after all.

  31. I did both. I mostly kept to myself during high school but, as a one of the only black people in the school, I was recruited to be a member of the drama club because they were putting on a play with an African character (Blossom in “The Hasty Heart”). I loved the drama club and I loved being on stage. During my high school years, in addition to “The Hasty Heart,” I was in “Enter Laughing,” “Half a Sixpence, “The Odd Couple,” & “West Side Story,” This was in the late nineteen sixties, during the heyday of Sidney Poitier and Poitier was the person I wanted to grow up to be. However, outside of drama club, I kept to myself and scribbled in a notebook or read books, perfectly content to only spend a little time in the limelight. By my senior year in high school I’d met the woman who become my wife (we’ve been married for 38 years as of April 30) and I withdrew from the drama club. We were both quite happy spending time with each other to the exclusion of others. We were both creative (me a writer, she a painter) and we’ve been that way for all of our lives together.

  32. Have you ever handled anything like “The Neurosciences” or “Gravitation”?? Ciao!! EFI

  33. I join. I am not ashamed to say I love attention. I don’t speak nonsense, though. I find interesting things in people and I ask about them. It makes them feel good.

    If they don’t want to talk and share, I talk about something. My candor is inspiring. See –

  34. Here is a comment[advisory]:

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