How to Lose Friends and Ignore People: A Dealer’s Fable

It was 1975, the year Squeaky Fromme attempted to assassinate President Ford. It was a volatile year. Charlie Chaplin got knighted and the Watergate gang was convicted. In local news, a crime wave was hitting the grocery store a block from where I lived. A thief was lurking among Safeway’s aisles – dressed like a seven-year old girl. Sometimes in a Girl Scout uniform.

I prowled the aisles, shifty-eyed and indiscriminate in my larcenous hunger. Some days it was the candy near the checkout lanes, but other days, I’d be emboldened by the surplus gum packs down the aisles. I was a second grade shoplifter.

canstockphoto9650094I didn’t take it for myself. I took it for my friends of the future. Friends who would gather about my locker clamoring “I want one, too!” I gained a reputation. I could hook you up. Sometimes it was Tic-Tacs, other days I got a line on some Bits O’ Honey. Kids talked to me, shot me secret smiles in the hallway. I had what they wanted and they provided what I wanted – the illusion of being liked.

The nobility of poverty is bullshit. As one of the shyest, poorest kids in my grade, my character was in need of self-esteem and cash. I didn’t get the whole “being enough on one’s own”.  I was not a likable child. I was quiet, horribly self-conscious and somber. And then there was The Incident, which triggered my life/week in crime.

canstockphoto0952980Spelling test day. October 1975. Substitute teacher – the mean one. The order was always to push our desks apart for tests. Second graders are well-known for their propensity towards plagiarism and skulduggery. We were scattered about the room and given strict instructions to not speak unless spoken to. If we wanted to be spoken to, we must raise our hands. Up to this point, I followed rules. The letter of the law had no spirit.

I’m a bit of a freaky speller, so I smugly finished the test within minutes. I would have savored my success, tapping my eraser on the desk to let the other students know what canstockphoto2706524dunces they were, had it not been for the milk at lunch. I’d held out through recess. I’d held out through reading time. It was time. I raised my hand to go to the bathroom. The teacher wasn’t looking. I raised my hand a little higher, starting to shift in my seat. She kept her back to me. The rule was not to speak. I did not speak. I did, however, pee. And still, I remained silent.

We pushed our desks back together. At seven, child development experts say that children have reached the Age of Reason, when intellectual capacities are more developed, as is the ability to lie. I reasoned that since I was no longer in the same locale, my secret would remain undiscovered, but I had not yet honed my lying skills.

“Who did this?” The teacher shot red angry beams from her eyes. Sparks snapped and crackled off her fingertips. Her hair stood on end and the vein in her neck throbbed. Well, I was seven. She looked scary. She pointed to the large yellow puddle in the middle of the floor.

I raised my hand slowly and her fiery glare zeroed in on me.

Oh – NOW you see my hand, lady?!

canstockphoto12906996I was marched down to the nurse’s office where I was changed into clown clothes or whatever was in the lost and found that day. Do not ask about the underwear. I try not to think about it.

That was the day I turned towards the darkness. A day of singular humiliation. Until a week later, when Martin peed his pants and got sent to the nurse’s office, after which he wore what looked like girl’s bell bottoms all day long. But it was too late by then. I had ground to regain. I had gum to steal.

There should be a moral to this story. I didn’t get caught. I didn’t find a true friend who was uninterested in a sugar high. The store owner didn’t befriend my little bedraggled self. I got tired of being afraid. I wasn’t getting an adrenaline high from the steal, I was getting a rumbling, burbling stomach. Likely the Bit O’ Honey didn’t help (always test your own goods).

Getting tired of being afraid. It’s sometimes as simple and selfish as that. I got tired over the years of dealing with friends who I didn’t really trust. I got tired of worrying about whether or not people thought I was good or smart or kind or friendly enough. I got tired of living life as if it weren’t my own. It’s an amoral fable of the unrealized criminal. The payoff isn’t good enough to justify the anxiety.

Forty years later, I realize that I learned three very important life lessons in 1975.

  • Real friends don’t need to be bribed at the cost of your personal integrity.
  • Speak up on your own behalf. Some rules are just stupid.
  • Go to the restroom whenever you get the chance.

Real Imaginary Friends: Life and Death in Cyberspace

I sat back in my chair, stunned. Ruth passed away from cancer. It was a simple statement at the bottom of a comment section of her last post. Ruth and I had been writing buddies for NaNoWriMo in 2012. We exchanged comments on her blog or mine for the last few years and I kept up on her entries dealing with cancer treatment. I feel terribly sad that her voice, which was so distinctive, sometimes sharp, sometimes funny, will no longer be heard. I never met her, but she was my friend.


Last month, I met another blogger friend for coffee. I had to laugh when she said “You’re much nicer than you seem on your blog.” Distance. The distance between who we write ourselves as and who we are. If we do it right, that little first skip from cyberspace to reality is a short one. We’re able to shake off preconceptions and get on with the business of getting to know one another. If we obfuscate and seek to deceive, it becomes a terrible blind date where we take a circuitous route home to avoid being followed.

I’ve been fortunate in my cyberlife. I’ve met friends who love to read and write as much as I do, who encourage me when I’m really slogging through things. When I moved to Minneapolis years ago, leaving behind a stale job and relationship, I placed an ad with Yahoo online personals (a precursor to the current menagerie of dating websites), because I was too old for bar scenes and too introverted for networking events. I exchanged messages with a man who responded to the ad. After I scouted his address, ran his plates and notified all of my friends about who I was with and where we were going, we went on a date. Eventually, I married him. That’s how introverts do it, yo.

When I read comments on various forums, I am often amazed at how willingly people reveal themselves to be racist, misogynist, homicidal shitheads. They think that cyberspace is actual space between what they say and who they are, some sort of magical buffer zone. Whoever they are online, it’s never diametrically opposed to who they actually are offline. They just take pains to hide it better.

Alarms have only gone off a few times in my online dealings. I tried to buy some old computer hardware from Craigslist. The equipment was good, but the seller was creepy, even in a public space. I decided to go nowhere near the trunk of his car, lest I become an unwilling passenger. And I tried to remember exactly where his kidneys were located, should I need to incapacitate him in a pinch. Instead, I had to get his phone calls blocked, which was likely a bigger hassle than a kidney punch.

I’ve never viewed the internet as a place where I lived some other life. My online persona is merely an extension of me, one that at times is more nuanced or strident or intellectual or silly than what everyday life allows. The gap between online and offline is a puddle jump. People who know me are rarely surprised by what I write here and thus far, the people who meet me after connecting online rarely run away screaming.

When I talk to people who don’t use the internet socially, it feels like I’m talking about imaginary friends. They “uh-huh” and nod and feel slightly superior for their numerous fleshy friends. I could hardly explain why I would cry about a lady I’ve never met or why I feel a void where her voice once was. It would seem to them like crying over the demise of a fictional character.

But she was real, so let me tell you about my friend, Ruth. Better yet, I’ll let her speak for herself, through her comments:

I don’t believe happiness can be ‘caught’ but is often ‘stumbled upon’ unexpectedly. I think we have to be open to those moments when they catch us unawares. Happiness to me is having nothing to do except write, or go on a ‘photo safari’ with my partner. Even then, I’m not sure if that is happiness or contentment. I am perfectly happy to be content most of the time with some giddy moments of happiness thrown in to mix it up a little.


Success and failure are constructs we make. If you think you’ll succeed or you think you’ll fail, you’re right. Failure isn’t in my vocabulary any more. But that depends on how you define failure – if it means not living up to someone else’s definition of success then it isn’t a failure. And if you do fall short of your own expectations, but keep trying, then that isn’t a failure, either. And I never, ever, think of myself (or anyone else) as average – there’s no such thing. We are each unique with our own set of talents and quirks, and that’s what makes us special, not average.


I don’t know about ‘fitting in’, but I’ve always marched to my own drummer, even in high school in the early 60s when I was taking science classes and most of the other girls were taking language and arts. I’m sure there are some demographics I fit into, but the more you drill down from the broad categories of age, gender, occupation, the more people become unique to themselves.


And that’s what love is – a journey together into the unknown.


I think there comes a point in our lives when we realize our mortality. That’s the point when we ask ourselves if this is all there is. We either get depressed and accept that life is over for us, or we get off our butts and realize we still have a lot of living to do. I read somewhere that happiness is the journey, not the destination, and that we are so often too busy pursuing what we think is happiness to realize it’s right here with us.

I have learned that nothing is certain in this life and I have also learned that it’s up to me what I do with my time here. I choose to live as long as I am physically able, and to enjoy whatever time I have left. None of us know how long we have; we don’t know our expiration date.


Ruth Rainwater was here. And she was my friend.

The Women in My Tribe

I had an experience today that I haven’t had in a long time. I met someone I want to induct into my tribe.

My tribe of women is not formal – most of the time the members have no idea that they belong. There’s a longtime playwright friend and mentor – generous, encouraging and talented. There’s a woman I’ve worked for over the last decade – thoughtful, grounded, physically fit and funny. There’s a “mom” friend, starting her own cottage industry, with common sense and a great sense of humor. There is my personal trainer and friend, who is smart and well-read and passionate about issues. There’s my mother-in-law, who has such a lovely temperament despite the fact that hearing loss means she misses out on most conversations (we could probably learn something from that). There’s a dear friend with whom I spend inordinate amounts of time Skyping, because she “gets” me.

Today I met another one of those women – interesting, passionate, intelligent, animated and willing to take responsibility for her worth in the world. I love those amazing moments when you meet someone and things click. Admittedly, I tend to be in awe of powerful women. I love women who know themselves so completely and express a full range of human emotion. They can be emotional and be powerful. They can have flaws, but not bend over backwards apologizing to anyone who crosses their paths. They can take a compliment and not be an arrogant jerk. They can be loud and brassy, and still be sensitive and kind. They can demand their value in the world and still be humble.

I grew up around women where passive-aggression was an art form. You could control people by pursing your lips or giving a backhanded compliment or sighing dramatically and making a “poor me” statement.  You couldn’t just come right out and say what you wanted or felt. That would be selfish. I was raised to be a consummate wallflower, to write bad melodramatic poetry and to stuff every emotion down until I was a seething ball of rage. Don’t bring attention to myself. Don’t make eye contact. Don’t be loud. Don’t ask for too much.

Having a daughter has changed me and not in the maternal, isn’t-she-adorable kind of way. I have written this before, but mothering a girl has forced me to think about and decide what I want to teach her. Leading by example is simply the best way to teach and influence. It is no longer okay for me to be indirect, subtle, and passive-aggressive. It is no longer okay for me to be falsely humble, to deflect compliments (oh, this old thing?) and to devalue my skill set so I don’t appear to be bragging. You can be self-deprecating without being self-defecating.

One of my favorite things about the women in my tribe is that they laugh. Some of them have wonderful, loud, barking laughs – the public kind that, in the past, would have had me sinking down in my chair and pretending that I didn’t know them. Now I know the secret to their joyfulness – they have carved their place in the world.  And most of the time, they’ve got a great tribe of their own. I hope they’ll let me in. No – I DEMAND that they let me in. Please? If you wouldn’t mind. I don’t want to be a bother. I guess I’m just a terrible friend and human being.

I might have to do a little more work, before meeting the membership requirements.