Friendship Archives

If only more women like these were in charge

I like how the lead story on the front page of today’s New York Times seemed to be about the financial crisis in Europe, but was really about friendship.

Christine Lagarde from France, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, and Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, have a BFF relationship. They text each other often and exchange gifts. They became friends because they often found they were the only two women in rooms full of powerful men.

Currently they are at odds over the role Germany should play in bailing out its neighbors. They show how friendship can transcend differences and how political disagreements can be managed without the vitrol that is all too common among politicians:

Their differences were brought into sharp relief in January when Ms. Lagarde gave a speech at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin in which she demanded that Germany step up its efforts to save the world from “a 1930s moment.” Switching from her fluent English to halting, phonetic German, she concluded with a line by the German poet Goethe. “It is not enough to know, we must apply,” Ms. Lagarde told the audience. “It is not enough to will, we must do.”

The speech made headlines around the world, evidence of a backroom dispute breaking out into the open. Yet Ms. Lagarde had arrived in Berlin on the eve of her address with a copy of the speech, for Ms. Merkel to read, before Ms. Lagarde delivered it in front of the political and foreign-policy establishment. The two women debated the crisis in private over a dinner of veal tenderloin in the modern Chancellery’s eighth-floor dining room.

Ms. Lagarde also brought Ms. Merkel an orange-blossom-scented candle from the French perfumer Fragonard. The candle represented “hope,” Ms. Lagarde said. “Because we had tough discussions,” she said, there “was an element of symbolism about it.”

Ms. Lagarde, 56, and Ms. Merkel, 57, appear to be opposites, the glamorous, Chanel-clad French extrovert and the grounded German introvert, recently spotted doing her own grocery shopping in the same suit jacket she had worn to sign the new European fiscal pact in Brussels earlier that day.

“I’ve been in government and know what securing parliamentary support means,” Ms. Lagarde said. “And equally she appreciates that I speak from a position where I have to think about not only Germany but also the whole of Europe and the stability of the international scene.”


Though Europeans of the same generation, Ms. Merkel and Ms. Lagarde once had lives as divided as the continent they grew up on. Separated throughout their youths by the Iron Curtain, the odds they would meet as politicians at the highest levels was improbable.

Ms. Lagarde was a member of France’s national team for synchronized swimming. Ms. Merkel famously needed to spend an entire swimming class mustering the courage to jump off the diving board. The prospects under Communism for a pastor’s daughter like Ms. Merkel in politics were dim at best, and she became a physicist. Ms. Lagarde became a lawyer and rose to the top of an American corporate firm.

Once they entered politics, their climbs were similarly swift. Ms. Merkel was head of Germany’s largest party, the Christian Democrats, just 10 years after joining in 1990. She beat out career politicians to win the chancellorship five years later in 2005. Ms. Lagarde won the top I.M.F. post a mere six years after joining the French government as trade minister in 2005.

The personal relationship between them was nurtured when Ms. Lagarde became the first and only member of a foreign government to sit in on a German cabinet meeting in March 2010, taking her place across the Chancellery conference table from Ms. Merkel. “It was a very moving moment, because she made a point of inviting me and nobody else,” Ms. Lagarde said.

For Ms. Lagarde, sorting through the differences requires patience, as well as understanding for Ms. Merkel’s deeply analytical, scientific approach. “You have to continuously explain, rationalize, dissect the whys, the pros and the cons and plead your case,” Ms. Lagarde said. “It’s the lawyer and the physicist. I will continue to grit my teeth and smile and keep up the work.”


Erma Bombeck: Treat Friends, Kids the Same

I was looking at my blog stats and noticed someone found my blog by searching for this particular column of Erma’s.

Unfortunately that person had to go away empty-handed as I didn’t have that column posted here, so I thought I should correct that.

This column literally made me LOL, which felt good, as there have been plenty of reasons as of late to not LOL (the AZ shooting in January, blizzards, the political kerfuffle here in WI, etc.). Plus with all the client writing I have on my plate right now, it’s nice to let Erma do some of the heavy lifting.

Here’s Erma:

On TV the other day, a leading child psychologist said parents should treat their children as they would treat their best friend…with courtesy, dignity and diplomacy.

“I have never treated my children any other way,” I told myself. But later that night, I thought about it. Did I really talk to my best friends like I talked to my children? Just suppose…..our good friends, Fred and Eleanor, came to dinner one night and……

“Well, it’s about time you two got here! What have you been doing? Dawdling? Leave those shoes outside, Fred. They’ve got mud on them. And shut the door. Were you born in a barn?

“So Eleanor, how have you been? I’ve been meaning to have you over for such a long time. Fred! Take it easy on the chip dip or you’ll ruin your dinner. I didn’t work over a hot stove all day long to have you nibble like some bird.”

“Heard from any of the gang lately? Got a card from the Martins. Yes, they’re in Lauderdale again. They go every year to the same spot. What’s the matter with you, Fred? You’re fidgeting. Of course you have to go. It’s down the hall, first door on the left. And I don’t want to see a towel in the middle of the floor when you’re finished.

“Did you wash your face before you came, Eleanor? I see a dark spot around your mouth. I guess it’s a shadow. How are your children? If you ask me I think summer school is great for them. Is everybody hungry? Then, why don’t we go into dinner? You all wash up and I’ll take up the food. Don’t tell me your hands are clean, Eleanor. I saw you playing with the dog.

“Fred, you sit over there and Eleanor you can sit with the half glass of milk. You know you’re all elbows with it comes to milk. There now, your host will say grace.

“Fred, I don’t see any cauliflower on your plate. Have you ever tried it? Well, try a spoonful. If you don’t like it I won’t make you finish it, but if you don’t try it, you can just forget dessert. And sit up straight or your spine will grow that way. Now, what were we talking about? Oh yes, the Gerbers. They sold their house. I mean they took a beating but….Eleanor, don’t talk with food in your mouth. I can’t understand a word you’re saying. And use your napkin.”

At that moment in my fantasy, my son walked into the room. “How nice of you to come,” I said pleasantly.

“Now what did I do?” he sighed.


Lesson in friendship from a dog and elephant

When elephants “retire” they are sent to an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee and usually seek out another elephant to be best friends with.

In Bella’s case, she became best friends with a dog, Tarra, which is an unusual pairing. Below is a short video that tells the story of how Bella kept vigil when Tarra was out of commission for a few weeks due to an injury. Tarra didn’t really start to get better until they let her start spending some time with Bella again. Awwww:


The King’s Speech: Saved by friendship

If you’re looking for a movie to watch, I highly recommend The King’s Speech.

It’s about King George VI (father of Queen Elizabeth II) and how he overcame a stammer after having to suddenly assume the throne following the abdication of his older brother King Edward.

Much of the movie is based on the unpublished diary entries and reports of King George’s unconventional speech therapist, Lionel Logue.

Here’s the trailer:

As you’ll see when you watch this film, friendship ends up being more important than the credentials of the speech therapist. The director, Tom Hooper, says:

What I felt the film was really about was that he was saved by friendship. Yes, it’s about a man with a stammer. But we all face blocks to becoming our better selves.

Also, the movie reminded me how much I like Beethoven’s 7th symphony. The orchestra I was part of in college performed this my freshman year. Whenever you play a piece of music it remains part of you and you recognize it in a special way when you hear it again, years later, as I did when watching this movie. I always love it when that happens. Here’s a video of this symphony:


We Gather Together

“When you go home to where your parents live it’s like saying that the place you live in now isn’t really home.”

Ah, Thanksgiving.

As a kid, Thanksgiving gatherings couldn’t be large enough. The more cousins and the more game-playing the better.

Then comes middle age, when Thanksgiving serves as a reminder of how some family relationships have almost imperceptibly accumulated a certain amount of baggage over the years. The weight of this baggage is felt during Thanksgiving and its demand that we still must gather together anyway.

If recent convos with friends are any indication, gathering together at Thanksgiving can often take non-traditional forms these days, from gatherings in hospital rooms, hotel rooms, in the kitchen cooking for the homeless, and restaurants.

Which brings me to the “We Gather Together” Thanksgiving episode of thirtysomething, which also took place in a non-traditional setting, to avoid that baggage.

I happened upon episodes of thirtysomething on Netflix instant viewing the other day and have since found myself watching an episode every evening.

I watched the show when it originally aired (1987-1991). I was a young twentysomething at the time and don’t recall being annoyed at the show.

Now I’m a fortysomething and found myself wanting to throw my slipper at the screen during the first episode, when Michael whined about how Hope no longer took care of him like she did before they had kids (i.e. no more massages or fancy home cooked meals, the poor thing), except I haven’t been able to find my old Ugg slipppers this fall (wah!), so I wasn’t able to throw them.

I wanted to throw my slippers again when Hope whined about being a stay-at- home mom. The SAHM vs. working mom debates bore me to tears in 2010. The clear cut working mom/SAHM divisions, and the superiority complexes on both sides, seem antiquated in today’s society where the great majority of moms now work at least part time.

But I’ve kept watching the thirtysomething episodes anyway (it’s especially interesting to compare it to Mad Men) and watched the Thanksgiving episode We Gather Together last night.

Instead of doing the normal thing and getting together with family, the friends all gathered at Hope and Michael’s house for Thanksgiving, opting to spend the day with the people they see the most and have the most fun with in their everyday lives.

When Hope asked Gary if he had family to spend Thanksgiving with he said, “Yeah, but they don’t like me as much as you do.” Another reality of middle age:  sometimes you like your friends more than their family does and can better appreciate both their quirks and their strengths.

They forgot to thaw the turkey so ended up getting ice cream and eating it on Hope and Michael’s bed.  It’s a fun scene. It certainly is not the way one would eat Thanksgiving dinner if spending it at your parents’ house, causing Ellen to say,When you go home to where your parents live it’s like saying that the place you live in now isn’t really home.”


Walking like an Egyptian on Bascom Hill

It’s interesting how a stroll up and down a hill can take one’s thoughts on a quick journey from Bascom Hill, to Canterbury, to rural Illinois and back again.

I taught a mini course on blogging at the University of Wisconsin-Madison the past two Wednesday evenings. This took me to a building in the very heart of campus (the Education building on Bascom Hill).

UW-Madison is my alma mater and even though I now only live about 7 miles away from campus, I rarely have opportunities to stroll up Bascom Hill and walk on campus.

I felt a sense of rootedness and relief as I strolled up the hill. The past several months I’ve visited several college campuses with my oldest daughter and it was nice to be back on a campus that felt like home.

As I approached the Education building I recalled one of the English classes I took in that building 24 or so years ago. English 215. This was the class where you had to memorize the Prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and recite it before the class – in Middle English. “Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote, The droghte of March hath perced to the roote…”

This is a rite of passage for English majors. Whenever I meet someone who also majored in English the Prologue is inevitably mentioned at some point. Quite often the other person can still recite it. I remember the time a friend drove us to Logan Airport in Boston and he recited the Prologue with much delight while navigating through rush hour traffic.

I, however, can only remember small snatches of the Prologue, which is something of a relief to me. :-)

Don’t misunderstand. If I was doing it all over again, I’d still major in English, even with the dreaded recitation of the Prologue, although this time I would choose the Creative Writing track rather than the Literature track.

This would mean a few less literature courses and a few more writing courses. To graduate college knowing how to tell a story in addition to knowing how to analyze one would be a pretty awesome thing, I think.

Anyway, back when I took that class, the Education building was stuffy and old, old, old. Creaky wood floors. Dusty staircases. It no doubt looked much like it did when it was built in 1900.

When I stepped foot inside it last Wednesday evening, I was taken aback at how thoroughly it has been remodeled.

The wood floors look new and no longer creak. There’s a huge lounge and a cafe. All the classrooms are modern with state of the art projectors and, of course, WiFi. The woodwork along the staircases is jaw-dropping and I’m so glad to see it restored in that way.

After class it was dark as I walked down Bascom Hill. The capitol building was lit up in the distance and it took me by surprise and looked spectacular. The capitol wasn’t lit up like this at night back in my day:

I then recalled how I have a photo of me and 3 other friends on Bascom Hill, taken in May 1987, and I wondered if this was the first time I had been on Bascom Hill at night since that evening 23 years ago.

A statue of Abraham Lincoln is at the top of Bascom Hill. Sitting on Abe’s lap is something of a rite of passage on campus. I’m the one in the white sweatshirt on Abe’s lap. I note with alarm that I’m wearing electric blue shorts but, hey, it was the 1980s, so I’ll cut myself some slack:

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The way the two young ladies at the foot of the statue are posing will, of course, immediately bring to mind the #1 hit song in 1986, Walk Like An Egyptian, even if you had thought you had long forgotten that song.

Many memories come to mind when looking at this photo, but perhaps the most vivid one occurred a little more than a year after this photo was taken.

Shelly, the young lady in the yellow shorts, was a bridesmaid in my wedding. She drove me and my other two bridesmaids to my wedding at a country church in rural Illinois. We had spent the night before at my grandmother’s house – one last slumber party. The next day we whizzed through the flat countryside in her blue Mercury Sable on the way to the wedding. Thanks to all our chatter we became hopelessly lost for a time.

Also, this was unfamiliar territory for me, as I had only visited this church one time before.

I selected it for the wedding because my great-great-grandfather was married in this church and served there as its pastor for the first five years of his career as a Lutheran minister.

He’s considered something of a saint in the family lore and has always been described as a quiet, gentle man who was pious and liked to read. Even though I had never met the man it seemed fitting, somehow, to be married at the same altar where he was married.

Such reflections were far from my mind as we panicked and tried to find our way to the church. Eventually we did and the first person to greet me was, of all people, the Australian boyfriend of my South African penpal. He had hitchhiked his way across part of the US to make it to the wedding. His presence was unexpected and it was fun to meet him.

A reporter from a Lutheran publication was there to take a photo of me and my grandmother and do a little write up of this “historic ceremony.”

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It’s just as well my face is hard to see in this photo, as I had been crying beforehand, due to some sentimental things my future brother-in-law told me that made me cry.

That’s my grandmother’s handwriting at the top of the article and it warms my heart to see it again. I still have the many letters we exchanged.

At any rate, as I walked down Bascom Hill last night after class, I made sure to do a little Walk Like An Egyptian move, as a nod to Abraham Lincoln’s lap, saintly great great grandfathers, forced recitations, rural weddings, and friends past and present.


Six Word Story #8 (plus a book recommendation if you’re into fiction)

Their neuroses fit together like gloves.


The above is a line from Nora Jane: A Life in Stories that I tweaked into a six word story.

If you like fiction I recommend this book, which is a collection of short stories and one novella about Nora Jane. The author Ellen Gilchrist wrote  the stories over a period of 20 years. The first story begins when Nora is a little girl and ends about 35 years later.

A side note: The two main male characters are best friends and see each other almost every day, even though they are married and have kids. It’s a sub plot I found interesting, because it’s unusual to see male friendships like this both in stories and in everyday life. At my physical last fall my doctor asked me “Do you have 3-5 friends you can confide in?” He said he begins every physical with questions like that because he thinks those questions are even more important than things like cholesterol numbers. He told me men always answer the friendship question by saying they have zero or, at most, one friend to confide in.

Anyway, back to the book… the book isn’t heavy on character analysis but the characters are charming enough and the plot interesting enough that I found myself staying up late reading it and then wanting to read it again first thing in the morning. Sometimes you need a book like that.


The power of negative thinking in friendship

One of the surest routes to friendship is disliking the same things about other people.

That’s the conclusion of the snappily titled study “Interpersonal Chemistry Through Negativity: Bonding by Sharing Negative Attitudes About Others.”

Jennifer Bosson, one of the social scientists who conducted the study, says:

“We found a very robust tendency for people to mention more negative than positive attitudes about other people.. and the closer the friends were, the more negative attitudes toward others that they shared.

They tested this among total strangers too and the sharing of negative attitudes also formed closer bonds.

Here’s an excerpt from the abstract of the study:

Presumably, sharing negative attitudes is alluring because it establishes in-group/out-group boundaries, boosts self-esteem, and conveys highly diagnostic information about attitude holders. Despite the apparent ubiquity of this effect, participants seemed unaware of it. Instead, they asserted that sharing positive attitudes about others would be particularly effective in promoting closeness.

I suppose I might have assumed that the positive attitudes would’ve been more effective too. Oops.

But as I think about it, I have to admit that relationships where both of us are pleasant ladies all the time never develop any traction.


So says Ashe while proposing to Joan in the closing scene of the delightful P G. Wodehouse novel Something Fresh.

Or as Leo Tolstoy said, “We do not love people so much for the good they have done us, as for the good we do them.”

Or as Bono sings in the U2 song The Fly, “It’s no secret that a friend is someone who lets you help.”


Toy Story 3: A tribute to friendship

Even though I have four kids, I’ve never watched the first two Toy Story movies.

My kids have watched the movies multiple times and I saw snatches of the movies, I suppose, but I guess I was content letting Toy Story babysit amuse them while I did other things.

Anyway, last week I watched Toy Story 3 with my youngest two daughters.

Most stories about friendship are children’s stories (I’m not sure why kids get all the good friendship stories  – I guess we adults are more interested in romance). Toy Story 3 is another excellent children’s story about friendship.

Toy Story 3 opens with the same song the other Toy Story movies open with: You’ve Got A Friend in Me.

It closes with the song We Belong Together. An adult reading the lyrics without knowing the context would automatically think the song is about romance but it’s actually a song about friendship:

Don’t you turn your back on me,
Don’t you walk away.
Don’t you tell me that I don’t care,
Cause’ I do.

Don’t you tell me, I’m not the one,
Don’t you tell me, I ain’t no fun,
Just tell me you love me, like I love you.
You know you do.

When we’re together,
Clear skies are clear, oh.
And I’ll share them, till where I’m less depressed.
And it’s sincerely, from the bottom of my heart,
I just can’t take it when we’re apart.

We belong together,
We belong together.
Yes, we do,
You’ll be mine, forever.

We belong together,
We belong together.
Oh, it’s true,
It’s gonna stay this way, forever,
Me and you.

If I could really talk to you,
If I could find a way.
I’m not shy,
There’s a whole lot I wanna say,
Oh of course there is!

Talk about friendship, and loyal things.
Talk about how much you mean to me.
And I’ll promise, to always be by your side,
Whenever you need me.

The day I met you,
Was the luckiest day of my life.
And I bet you feel the same.
At least I hope you do.
So don’t forget,
If the future should take you away,
That you’ll aways be part of me.

We belong together,
We belong together.
Wait and see.
Gonna be this way, forever.

We belong together,
We belong together.
We’ll go on this way, forever,
Me and you.
You and me..

The movie has a lot of adventure but at the root of it is their love for each other.

In fact, when I re-read my list of 6 characteristics of BFFs, the toys in Toy Story 3 exhibit most of them: creativity, fruitfulness, archetypes, similarities, distance, secrecy.

Maybe that’s just my way of trying to justify why the movie made me misty-eyed at times even though the characters are just toys.

I did enjoy the mere edge of romance in the movie. There’s a new toy character – a Ken doll (Michael Keaton). He lives in the Dream House and has closets full of fabulous clothes. He hits it off with Barbie and one is left wondering for a while whether or not one can trust a man in an ascot. That character is worthy of an entire post.

So go see the movie. Bring a child. Bring a friend.