One of the things that I find most amazing about my life right now is the depth and breadth of friendships I have with women. I’m fifty-one and while there have been years in my life where there would be one ‘best’ friend at at time or in high school when my parents were still married when I was a clump of friends called “The Fearsome Foursome plus One”. The original four each has an older sibling in the St. Mary’s Folk Group, then another joined the group so we added her one.
Each of us in that group has a strength. I sang. Mary S. played piano as did Sharon R. Elise had leadership skills and Karen was nice. We all sang. When I think back on those days, I think it’s remarkable that as an entire group we were self-regulating, self composed and rehearsed without supervision. I cannot speak for the rest, but I rehearsed because it gave me somewhere to go on Thursday nights and I got to sing. I loved singing and I still do.
But then as a single mother, when the more familiar term was “un-wed mother”, I had no friends my age. I had people in my life but no intimate relationships other than the men I dated, and since I was in my 20’s, with no self-esteem, I did my best. Then I worked, like all of us, men or women, and went back to school to finish my BA. And time passed.
In that time, I had women friends, a few very close ones that I did not seem able to keep going. Since I’ve been married for 16 years (almost!) I’ve come to understand that it takes two to make a relationship work. I’ve learned things here and there. (Well, duh, Ann-Marie you’re 51, you should have learned things.) But my sister and I have had to learn these things from nothing. Our mother did not have sustaining friendships. She didn’t do ‘girl talk’. She did art. She worked hard. We learned those lessons early and often.
But today, my life is alive with woman of many ages. And I am grateful, for each and everyone of them. Lately I’ve been saying so: “Thank you for being my friend” or “Thank you for accepting me, just the way I am.”
So why the title to this post? One, is I think she’s an amazing poet and woman. I heard Aliki Barnstone first at the Vancouver AWP conference and remembered her name. She was on a panel that was supposed to have Grace Paley, but Grace had been ill and didn’t make the conference. At other conferences I looked for her name on panels. She was fresh, and smart, and near my age and working at her craft. I picked up (used) an anthology she edited, “A Book of Women Poets from Antiquity to Now”. One of the few anthologies I recommend to others.
This past February I found myself at the NEA table, at the most recent AWP conference in DC. I looked in a box on the table and there was a new and selected edition of Aliki’s work, “Dear God, Dear Dr. Heartbreak” “OOH” I said, “where can I buy this!” and she said: “This is mine!” as if she were protecting her little ones. So I introduced myself, gushed a bit and gave her my card.
“Can you wait a moment?” she asked and I nodded. We moved to an empty booth and Aliki asked: “If I give you a book will you blog about it?” And of course I said of course. I was thrilled. I’m getting free stuff that I would have paid good money for! And we chatted, well she chatted because her daughter called just as she was signing the book to me. I was a single-working mom, and from the end of the conversation, she was lovingly trying to be in two places at once. (Note: I tried to walk away as to not eavesdrop but she wouldn’t let me.) Then she took me over to UNLV booth and introduced me to an editor there, a friend. He started catching up with her about his health and stuff. He turned to me and asked if I was grossing him out. . .to which I, so graciously blurted: “I did treatment for stage 3 Rectal cancer. You cannot gross me out any longer!” Aliki burst into laughter, as did her friend (yes I cannot recall his name) she hugged me and said, “Oh I love you!”
I owe her a blog post. A critical look review of her book. I have not done this but I am recounting how we met. And I”m talking about her work. What I’ve come to know, after working my degree and reading, I’m not great at critical thinking. And I want to say, for now, but it’s not for now. I make stuff. I make stuff up. I repair things. I am only critical about myself, and my work and there, I am hard on myself.
It is May. They are moving the house outside my window. I have Aliki’s book here beside my keyboard. I read bits and pieces and I love the work. It resonates with in. I hoped to write and post this during April, National Poetry Month, but I didn’t. April was something of a fog in a drought. But I made stuff. I wrote. And I did volunteer things a friend asked me to do. I did a baby shower and the momma-to-be, dear friend Nadine and her husband asked me to be the god mother. Another friend is here to learn how I needle-felt.
My mind and heart are filled with women-friends, they encourage and support and say, ‘what are you thinking?” and “Man could you be harder on yourself?” How blessed am I?