Tuesday, October 03, 2006
Jealousy, not gratitude, was my first reaction when I was the guest author last week at my friend Michele’s book club. It wasn’t her beautiful Northbrook home I coveted, but the bond between the six women who had assembled to discuss my book. Girlfriends -- who gather often, travel together, and consider themselves a group -- I don’t have one of those.
Don’t get me wrong. I have plenty of girlfriends -- singly. No lack of close women friends to share woes, lunch, or advice. But they’re separate from one another; know each other through an introduction by me, not sewn together by a common thread.
Then there’s a tier of women whom I know and enjoy because we watch our dogs chase, fetch and tussle each morning at our neighborhood park. Or another number I’ve met over the years in writing groups, Spanish classes, and of course, Weight Watchers. But in all of these settings, if there was an inner circle formed outside the scheduled time or purpose, where women bonded, I was absent.
Why is this I wondered? Why did Michele, or some of the other women pictured in this post (captions at the end), have a posse, and not I? After much soul-searching, I’ve come up with an answer, and it’s not pretty: I’m a selfish, self-centered, inflexible, stay-at-home; and these traits fare poorly in a group setting.
In truth, I was a member of a foursome once – back in high school. I was reminded of the group at our recent Roosevelt High School reunion because in my memoir, “The Division Street Princess,” I had cropped out two of our four from an old photo to emphasize my long friendship with Ruth Gilbert that’s included in a chapter of my book. (The pair missing from the original photograph is resurrected in this post.)
The four of us teens were indeed a group back then, part of the Alpha Valedas, a school club of bright, popular girls, where, well, I never felt I fit in. It wasn’t because I wasn’t cute or well liked that made me feel like an interloper, but more that I came from the wrong-side-of-the-tracks. After all, to enroll at Roosevelt, I had lied about my place of residence, claiming to live at my Aunt Molly’s Albany Park apartment rather than my Division Street flat. So, I wasn’t really a Northsider. And, I had an after-school job at Harding’s-Chicago, a print shop and manufacturer of dance bids located on Irving Park and Kimball. I needed that employment to afford those cool tassel loafers, and I believed most of my club members (not all, though, as some were illegals like me, and also held part-time jobs) were better off.
Because I continued my job through Roosevelt University, I had no time for clubs or teams (then there’s that absence of athletic ability thing, too) that might have cleaved me to a group. Marriage followed graduation, then a teaching job at Suder elementary school, and lastly, two children. No time to be a member was my excuse, a pattern that continued whatever the job or family obligation.
Certainly there were groups of women I could have joined over the years, and I could never be labeled an introvert. Opportunities and invitations have come my way that might have led beyond the club, committee, sisterhood, or class to an inner group of four or six. But remember those unattractive traits I ‘fessed up to earlier? These are my barriers. If I were part of a group, I’d have to share decision-making, not be the center of attention, compromise, and most importantly, be forced to stay up late.
There. I’ve said it. Being a member of a group would require me to leave the house at night (Michele’s book club moved their regular evening meeting to a Sunday brunch just for me.), thus relinquishing couch time with TV, newspapers, Tommy, the dog, plus my 9 p.m. bedtime. So attached to these activities and routine that I’m willing to forgo ties to a quartet or sextet of amiable women, might make me seem pathetic or stubborn. So be it. But at age 68, having sunk even deeper in the divan, and admittedly sneaking up to bed before the big hand hits 12 to announce the hour, I’ve come to accept my hermit-like habit.
Instead of sympathy or criticism, you might consider indulging me and set your gathering for mornings (afternoons won’t work either because of naptime between 1 and 2 p.m.). Perhaps then, I’ll be enticed to participate and diminish the envy I experienced at Michele’s place. But then again there’s that sharing thing, or compromising, or forgoing the spotlight. Well, thanks for the invitation. I appreciate it, I really do. But unfortunately, I must decline.
1. Michele’s book club: Me, Michele, Libbey, Marilyn (a guest), Ruth (a guest), Patti, Leah, Kimeri, and Sue.
2. Members of our 6 a.m. dog group, sans pooches: Lucy, Molly, Susan, Mary, and me.
3. 1956 high school photo: Joan, Ruth, and Eve, with me seated in the center.
4. My sister-in-law Norma’s gang: Sue, Carol, Betty, Bonnie, and Norma.
5. A few members of the Jill Rohde network pictured at my May, 2006 Women and Children First reading: Brenda, Jill, Ann, Vicky, and me holding Vicky’s granddaughter. (I’ll be back at this great bookstore again, October 27, 2006, 7:30 p.m. with Hillary Carlip and Jill Soloway.)
6. Faith Soloway’s female cast in “The F Word:” Margie Zohn, Christine Canavo, Merle Perkings, Megan Toohey, Faith (her fake pregnancy is part of the act), and Jenny Benscome. (Apologies to Seth Bodie and Eric Schmider, actors I cropped out to keep with our Girlfriends theme.)
7. Jill Soloway’s showbiz friends who took turns reading from “Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants” at a N.Y. book event: Amy Poehler, Jodi Lennon, Lili Taylor, Lauren Ambrose, and Molly Shannon. Jill and me are front and center.
Upcoming: October 27, 2006