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Can I Groom You?: The Importance of Female Friendships in Adulthood

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship lately.

It started when Double X announced a new advice column called Friend or Foe by Lucinda Rosenfeld focusing on female friendship. At first, this struck me as a rather “girlie” topic for this particular women’s magazine. And then I thought, why not? Rosenfeld is absolutely right that most women spend far more time talking about other women than they do about their boyfriends/husbands/partners.

Then I saw The Duchess, a period drama in which the bond between two women is so strong that it survives one of them becoming the mistress of the other’s husband…even sharing a house!

Finally, I read about this new study out of UCLA arguing that baboons whose mothers have stronger female ties are much more likely to survive into adulthood. Interestingly, it’s not about the number of social ties – but their intensity – that seems to matter for the reproductive success of their offspring.

As someone who’s been likened to a rhesus monkey on more than one occasion, perhaps I was unduly drawn to this particular line of research.

But I also think it’s true. I’m not sure if close female friendships make me (or anyone) a better mother, but I am convinced that they are an essential part of a happy adulthood.

I regularly exchange emails with two friends of mine from Chicago, even though I haven’t seen either of them in three years and it’s unlikely that we’ll ever live in the same place again. But we met when we were all new mothers. And the intensity of that bond has kept us emailing about politics…parenting…literature – you name it – on a regular basis to this very day.

Ditto for my older friends from college and graduate school.

I have one historian friend who felt so close to another colleague that they decided to write a novel together. They each took one of the two main characters and then lobbed the plot back and forth to one another over email like a tennis game. She told me that it was an absolute blast and I’m sure it was also one of the most gratifying things she’s done professionally.

I wish I had better insight into what makes adult female friendships so essential. There’s the obvious bond of motherhood and all the agony and ecstasy that giving birth and raising a kid implies. But I find that these bonds are just as important for my friends who don’t have children.

One clue may come from the baboon study, which says that there’s something about the grooming process between females which lowers the release of hormones that induce stress.

I don’t know about you, but I plan to carry a hairbrush with me to my next ladies night out…


Further to Monday’s post about freelancing during a recession, I came across this humorous and thoughtful blog – pink slip – about the travails of being a freelancer.

Image: Baboon Concentrating by patries71 via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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DVD Commentaries: Why I Actually Loved "Love Actually"

I have a confession to make:  I love watching DVD commentaries.

I know. Sometimes they can be excruciating. But when you find a director who really knows how to articulate what he or she is up to, I enjoy these commentaries almost as much as the film itself. (Fortunately, my husband feels the same way.)

I got to thinking about this because last weekend, we rented Richard Curtis’ film Love Actually. If you don’t know who Richard Curtis is, he also wrote Notting Hill and Four Weddings and a Funeral. (Yes, I realize that – given my usual penchant for films about things like abortion under authoritarian rule in Romania – you might not think that romantic comedies would be up my alley. Turns out I have a soft spot for Hugh Grant. Go figure.)

I liked the film so-so. But I loved the commentary. Why?

Part of it, I think, is that I’m fascinated by the creative process. I love it when people really understand what makes them tick professionally and can convey that process to a wider audience. (In my next life, I plan to return as a career counselor. I figure that, like a cat, I’ve still got six professional lives to go…)

So when Curtis, for example, talks about why he chose a particular piece of music or why he cast Laura Linney in a film otherwise dominated by European actors or why the lighting was particularly challenging in a given scene, I feel like I’m gaining insight into not just the movie, but into the whole world of directing itself.

The other reason I like to watch commentaries is that I love to watch people who love their work. It’s so hard to figure out what you really love to do. So when I happen upon someone like Curtis, who’s clearly found his calling, I find it not just enlightening, but joyful.

It’s the same way I felt last week when I went to see Garrison Keillor perform live in London. Keillor – best known for his quirky public radio show  A Prairie Home Companion – is also a syndicated columnist and singer/songwriter. He is funny, touching, ribald and irreverent. But most importantly – whether he’s reciting a poem or singing a song or telling a story – he’s clearly having a blast. Talk about someone who’s found his niche.

So there you have it. And having now outed myself as a serial DVD commentary viewer – not to mention an abiding Garrison Keillor fan – I feel much better. I’m glad I finally cleared the air.


Check out the blog Daily Routines to find out how artists, writers and other creative folk structure their days. I also enjoy By Henry Sene Yee Design, which examines the creative impulse behind book covers.

Image: DVDs! by THEMACGIRL via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Beam Me Up, Scotty: Are Sequels an Escape from Adulthood?

In case you haven’t heard, the summer movie season has officially begun.

Two weeks ago X-Men Origins: Wolverine opened. And last weekend Star Trek hit the Cineplexes.

Many of the current releases are either some version of a franchise, a re-make or an adaptation. And, for some, this trend is a veritable assault on adulthood.

Dennis Palumbo of Huffington Post bemoaned the current dearth of movies for adults, urging those of us who go in for more serious cinematic fare to “get off the couch” as it were (he’s also a psychotherapist). His point:  no one’s going to make movies for adults if we don’t actually go see them.

Another blogger, Lorrie Lynch, made a list of the serious Indie films coming out this summer and then wrote “Grown ups, read on.” (True confessions: I bookmarked the page post haste. I mean, c’mon. Atom Egoyan? In the summertime? Sign me up…)

I must say that I’m sympathetic to some of these concerns. The sight of grown men and women parading around theatres in their velour-insigniad Starship Enterprise tunics and Vulcan ears does give one pause. (For a particularly thoughtful review of the entire Star Trek franchise, read this article by Chicago Reader critic J.R. Jones. He argues that the original TV show was actually quite mature in its subject matter – with its mixed-gender, multiracial crew and Cold War overtones. Over time, however, the series – and movies it spawned – were dumbed down considerably to appeal to kids.)

But for me, the most interesting analysis of this trend was an article in the Washington Post by Hank Stuever examining the effect of  extreme fans (of the lightsaber bearing sort) on the making and marketing of these blockbuster-type movies.

The central question he asks – and I paraphrase here –  is why we feel compelled, as a society, to compulsively remake The Dukes of Hazard or our favorite books from fourth grade. Is it a lack of creativity? Nostalgia? Escape?

I don’t have an answer to that question. But as someone who’s quite prone to nostalgia myself, I can say that I, too, find it moving to revisit signature cultural artifacts – books, movies – from my childhood. I don’t necessarily need to don Lieutenant O’hura’s mini-dress in order to do so. But I understand the impulse.

So go ahead and beam me up, Scotty. But be warned: I’ll be looking for the Indie screening room on the Starship Enterprise when I get there.

Image: Trekkies by San Diego Shooter via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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The IRA in Adulthood: Do Political Movements Grow Up?

I’m a sucker for movies about politics. Reds, Julia, and All the President’s Men count among my favorites.

So it was with a great anticipation that I rented Steve McQueen’s movie Hunger this past weekend. The movie is about the Irish Republican Army’s hunger strike in a Belfast prison in 1981, famously led by Bobby Sands.

I was not disappointed. It’s a harrowing, visually compelling film that got me thinking (again) about The Troubles in Northern Ireland.

But the movie also got me thinking about the life cycle of political movements. In the movie’s most famous scene (and I spoil nothing here), Sands squares off against a priest over the best way to advance the Irish Republican cause. Sands claims that his suicide (he calls it murder) is warranted because he believes in his cause even more than he believes in his own life. The priest, in contrast, doesn’t see why you’d kill off vital young members of a political movement in order to secure the movement’s future. Rather, he argues, the future lies in negotiation.

Fast forward 28 years or so and the priest’s view seems to have won out. While there is still plenty to worry about in Northern Ireland (including sporadic killings), the IRA leadership has put down its guns and embraced a power-sharing agreement with its former Protestant enemies. (For a quick primer on the peace process, look here.)

It’s the same story (with a different political context) that Philip Gourevitch tells in last week’s New Yorker about Rwanda. Only 15 years ago, there was a full-scale genocide taking place in Rwanda. Today, former enemies live together relatively peacefully.

So I’ve been wondering whether political movements like the IRA undergo a life cycle which is very similar to our own. They begin with a violent infancy (assassinations, protests, hunger strikes etc.), move into the fits of adolescence (oscillating between cease fires and renewed violence), and then land, finally, in an adulthood marked by realism and negotiation.

I have no idea whether this is a fair assessment of violent political movements and will leave that to the sociologists and political scientists to sort out. But I’m always pleased when something forces me to think about adulthood in an entirely new way.


If, like me, you have a quiet obsession with The Troubles, I’d highly recommend a small but powerful film that flew a bit under the radar screen called Nothing Personal.

Image: Irish Republican Army by Sherber711 via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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The Road Not Taken: What I Learned From Watching Mamma Mia

“Regrets, I’ve had a few. But then again, too few to mention.”

–Frank Sinatra, My Way.

What a great quote that is.

I’ve been thinking about regret lately. It all began with this touching piece by David Sedaris in The New Yorker a few weeks back. Sedaris writes movingly about a near-hook up he almost had in his early 20’s with a Lebanese guy whom he met on a train in Italy. Although the guy invites Sedaris to get off the train and join him, Sedaris passes on the opportunity. But he still thinks about that guy – and what might have been – all these years later. The essay is a giant homage to that great question of adulthood: What if?

The Road not Taken is also the subject of Mamma Mia, which – for my sins – I watched with my kids last weekend at their behest. (I fully own up to my abiding love of musical theatre, but even I balk at Abba.)

Mamma Mia – and I’m not spoiling anything here – is about a young woman on the brink of getting married who doesn’t know who her father is. So (unbeknown to her mother) she invites the three likely candidates to her wedding. Passion, longing, anger, resentment (and far too many Abba songs) ensue. The movie is all-out camp, but nestled within all the cheese are a few touching moments that actually work (Meryl Streep singing The Winner Takes It All to a love-struck Pierce Brosnan was my own personal favorite).

What Sedaris’ essay and Mamma Mia have in common is wistfulness, which is a huge part of adulthood. In Sedaris’ case, it’s not that he regrets whom he ended up with. (He makes a subtle nod to his long-time partner, Hugh, at the end of the essay.) It’s just that he’s wondering if –  in turning down that handsome Lebanese guy all those many years ago – he missed the boat. Not necessarily the boat, but a boat nonetheless. And in so doing, he articulates that great fear of adulthood:  which is that once we make a choice, everything else becomes path dependent.  Which in turn forces us to come to grips with the fact that we may never go round again.

This can be a fear about your personal life, as it was in these two instances. But it’s also a fear that we bring to career choices and to where we live and to the schools we attend (or don’t). What I find moving about wistfulness is that you can’t really escape it. You need to just live with it and perhaps, even, embrace it by – say – writing a short story in the New Yorker.

On a lighter note, midway through the movie – which is shot on the Greek islands – I commented that I’d like to go to Greece. To which my daughter replied: “OK, but let’s not go to Latin.” No, indeed. Let’s not.

Please tell me that you, too, are now singing “The Winner Takes It All”…


Speaking of musical theatre, is anyone else as excited as I am that they’re making a movie about the making of A Chorus Line? OK, anyone who isn’t my sister?

Image: Two Roads Diverged in a Non-Yellow Wood by Msmail via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

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Mental Escapes: Take a Journey to Middle Earth

My family went through a crisis recently. And I noticed that it affected each family member differently. Some of us got very emotional. Some withdrew into themselves. Others seemed busier than ever.

In the midst of it all, my sister – an avid reader – revealed that she was re-reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy. She then went on to say that she did this every two years or so, whenever she got really stressed. Apparently, she finds it soothing.

My first thought was: that’s weird. I myself have never been all that into fantasy literature, despite a son who recently declared The Silmarillion to be his favorite book.  Not familiar with that one? Think of it as a sort of Middle Earth version of The Book of Matthew, Chapter One (the one that reads “And Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob, etc. etc.” Except that in this case, because it’s Tolkien,  it reads more like “Rian, daughter of Belegund, was the wife of Huor, son of Galdor…,” on and on for like 300 pages. Small print. The fun never stops…

But my sister’s comment got me thinking. We do all have our own ways to escape when we’re feeling tired or stressed or over-extended. On her terrific blog, The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin talks about creating “a place of refuge.” By which she means a literal space  – for her, it’s often libraries – that can serve as a peaceful refuge for her thoughts.

But you don’t actually need to go somewhere to find solace, as my sister’s Lord of the Rings habit reminds us. My husband listens to music on headphones or watches concert videos. I just spent two hours with a friend whose husband did nothing but garden the entire time I was there. To me it looked exhausting, dirty and  nerve-wracking, but he was clearly completely zoned out.

I tend to dive into family sagas when I want to chill out. I’m currently in a French cinema phase – Summer Hours, I’ve Loved You So Long – to name a few. Or I’ll read something like Revolutionary Road. There’s something about immersing myself in someone else’s problems that I find…comforting. (Yes, I know, I’m a freak.)

How about you? How do you unwind? And where do you go?

Eln Sila lumenn omentielvo (a star shines upon the hour of our meeting…)


And speaking of literary escapes, via the Practicing Writing blog, I came across this list of obscure literary terms. Fun stuff!!

Image: Woman in her Garden, Virgin Islands? via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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My Michael Phelps Moment: Why I'm a Yoga Convert

I got a compliment the other day that still has my head spinning. It wasn’t about my appearance or my kids or my blog. It was about my yoga.

All my instructor said was: “Your practice is looking so much better. Your feet, your legs…it’s a big jump up from where you were.”

Not exactly: “Wow! You’re the yoga equivalent of Michael Phelps! We’d like to feature you in London 2012!”

But boy was I in seventh heaven.

Let’s start with the fact that I have a crush on my yoga instructor. (Because, really, what’s the point of taking an exercise class if you don’t develop a crush on your instructor?) She’s warm and encouraging and has this lovely, mellifluous English accent. It’s like taking a class from a giant bottle of jojoba bath oil.

She’s also great at giving you step by step instructions. She’s positively obsessed with making sure that your three middle toes are lifted during all postures, something which turns out to be surprisingly difficult.

I was a reluctant convert to yoga, even though my husband and several close friends had been doing it for years.

Part of it was that the whole yoga gestalt seemed too groovy for the likes of me. You know – the chanting, the incense, the earnestness of it all. I felt like Lucille Ball every time I showed up for class.

I also had a hard time wrapping myself around the idea of slowing down, the idea that you would go somewhere just to stretch when you could be, I don’t know…running, jumping, or scaling high buildings in a single bound. It didn’t really resonate with me at first. It took me awhile to catch on that slowing down was the whole point.

It wasn’t until my life coach – yes, I have one – suggested that I do yoga that I finally gave it a whirl.

And now, like all converts, I’m a shameless proselytizer. Because yoga has been a life-altering experience for me.

It really does chill you out. I go only once a week – first thing in the morning every Thursday – but it clears my head, and body, for the rest of the day. And let’s face it: As we grow older, who needs to be more stressed out?

Yoga also helps with all of those niggling, aching, here-to-fore unnamed muscles that begin to plague us as we age (piriformis, anyone?) If you do yoga regularly, it helps you to avoid – or at least minimize – the costlier, more time-consuming path of physical therapy.

Finally, I love the feeling of trying something new – particularly something I’ve been skeptical about – only to discover that I really enjoy it.

So I guess the moral of the story is to stretch yourself (so to speak). And chill.

Oh yes, and get a life coach.


In keeping with yesterday’s post about nostalgia for my first job, I recently rented The Wackness, a cinematic paean to the early 1990s and to high school romance more generally. It’s not a great film. And it was criticized in the press for over-doing its re-enactment of that particular era. But as someone who likes to take the odd trip down memory lane, I must say that I enjoyed it.

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Image: Girl Relax by Federico Stevanin via

Help! I'm Over the Hill: And Other Lessons Garnered while Cooking Beef Stew

I’m feeling old today. And I know why.

It all began when my husband and I watched a movie we rented over the weekend entitled, In Search of a Midnight Kiss. Let’s start with the premise of said film, which is basically a boy meets girl kinda thing with two sad, lonely protagonists desperate not to spend New Year’s Eve alone, who meet through an ad in Craigs List and spend the afternoon and evening together. That’s pretty much it. But it’s been so long that I spent New Year’s Eve alone – or worried about kissing someone other than my spouse (and I don’t really worry about that too much) – that it was like taking a trip back in time even to get myself a place where I could remotely identify with the protagonists.

Or maybe I could have, if the protagonists had been cynical middle-aged divorces, recently separated and gamely looking for a night out on the town (there was one character like this in the film – in a scene that lasted maybe 15 seconds – but he was really there as fodder for our laughter and derision, and other than him, there was no one over thirty in the movie except the main character’s mother, herself getting a boob job to feel younger).

I have no problem with any of this. The movie was made by someone who’s probably barely 30 himself and I’m sure the whole thing resonates with his target audience. In fact, I actually liked the film (I’m a sucker for sad endings…or at least wistful ones). But with its indiscriminate drug and alcohol use, random hook ups and fleeting moments of intimacy, it did make me feel, well…old. Anthony Lane, in an improbably long review of this film for The New Yorker, argues that the movie is a poster child for the “Indie” romance wherein “all the inhabitants of the indie universe…are like children, playing at adult life.”

Amen, brother.

It’s kind of like how I feel when I read the “Gen Y” portions of Penelope Trunk’s insightful and entertaining blog, Brazen Careerist. I’m sure these posts connect with their intended readership, but I’m so firmly ensconced in Gen X that I no longer even bother skimming them.

Which brings us to the end of the weekend, when one of my husband’s new colleagues and his fiance stopped by our house to say hi with three friends in tow. It was around 6 p.m. on a Sunday night and they’d all just come from Paris where they’d spent the weekend – en masse – and were about to go out and “catch some dinner” before heading back to their collective crash pad. As it happened, I was making beef stew when they showed up. I was also in my pajamas since I’d taken a late afternoon run and couldn’t be bothered to get dressed for the evening: picture a sort of Target-esque red and black tartan pajama bottom with…it must be said..a black dog on the pajama top. Now to be fair, I’m not normally a beef stew/doggie pajama kinda gal. But that’s exactly what I looked like when they showed up with tales of the Rodin Museum and strolling through the Left Bank.

And, as I was saying, I just felt really old.

So tonight I’m thinking of rassling up some fajitas and buying some tequila and maybe I’ll even wear that new teal camisole I bought…What’s that you say? Oh, right. It’s book club. With my forty something friends. To talk about Amos Oz’ memoir. Guess not…

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