That awkward phase

photo-67By Catherine Keefe
Oh, the late 1980s. Neon ruled; hair was big, and bib ski overalls were still in fashion.

While it’s easy to observe fashion’s fluctuations it’s a little more difficult to discern how the adult phases of life slowly meander bearing unexpected gifts and challenges.  One thing that surprises me at this mother-of-young-adult-children phase is how difficult it is to make new friends.

I do have a deep connection to many wonderful women. But I’m often reminded how impermanent relationships are. This friend followed her husband’s job to Davenport, Iowa. That friend is eyeing a move to Phoenix when she retires to be closer to her grandchildren.  And so I begin a plunge into the inevitable awkward phase of trying to build new friendships. As if the universe listens to me, the following e-mail arrived from a woman I barely know.

Hi Gals,
I’m starting something new this year. It’s a salon (ala Dorothy Parker’s soirees at the Algonquin Hotel in New York), and I’m calling it “The Interestings.”

Did the woman who sent this, a former Broadway actress, current screenwriter and almost novelist, know she had me with the Dorothy Parker reference? It’s forever been my dream to start or belong to a salon like the Algonquin Round Table, a daily gathering of poets, writers and critics that convened in NYC from June 1919 until 1929, a group that “strongly influenced young writers like Fitzgerald and Hemingway” and where “Harold Ross, legendary editor and friend of The Round Table, created The New Yorker” according to the hotel’s website.

I immediately imagined a group of smart women, part writing group, part literary critique and visionaries who might support my desire to turn the abstract concepts I glean from literature into concrete action to affect social change.  Would we begin a new magazine or a Writer’s House? Start a movement?

I wondered what connection there was between us and the novel the group took its name from. In The Interestingsby Meg Wolitzer one character famously blurts, “Specialness — everyone wants it. Most people aren’t talented. So what are they supposed to do — kill themselves?”

Last night’s inaugural agenda was to create vision boards, something I was a little snarky about. “I feel like Oprah will show up any moment,” I said not long after I walked in and eyed the leaning stacks of magazines, scissors and glue sticks. The circle laughed, a little uneasily and I made a mental note to be more open-minded and close-mouthed.  I wondered what Dorothy Parker would have made of our earnestness.  Quit talking about what you want to do and just do it.

But there I was and so I sat around a table with 8 other women snipping pictures and words from travel brochures, Yoga Journal, Bloomingdale’s catalogs, and a beauty salon’s stash of titles like O: The Oprah Magazine, InStyle, and bon appétit. I felt like a little Brownie Girl Scout at Craft Afternoon as we diligently put ruffled cut edges around camels in Saudi Arabia or a front porch weeping wisteria blossoms and I wondered if I was destined to wander alone through the end of my life unable to fit in with a group of nice women.

What didn’t we talk about? Our jobs. Our children. Our relationship to the hostess. We were untethered to any identity other than what made us smile for our future.

Finally, like kindergartners as Star of the Week, we held up our vision boards. “An open-mouthed shark bursting through the ocean’s surface represents a desire to attack new projects,” one woman said. The next woman pointed to a small photo of hundreds of lanterns floating on a river.  “Not that we’ll get to the Loi Kratong festival this year, but this reminds me to spend more time with my daughter who will go to college next year.”

There was a murmur of low sighs. Oh. Mhmm. A recognition of that awkward phase when who we were, who we are and who we want to be eddy in the rapids. Last night I heard enough dreams to light a million candles and enough desire to share those dreams even at the risk of seeming hopelessly earnest and decidedly unliterary and I think how no amount of talent or literature can save a person or sustain forever a circle of friends.

As we walked together into the full moon night, each of us clutching one cardboard idea of a life, the relentless Santa Ana winds battered our newly envisioned futures so we had to protect them tightly against our bodies. We agreed to meet in a month, to talk about and write poetry. Who knows what will happen? Our called-out promises were blown away under watchful stars.  


With more white space than most,

p.s. You can read one idea on how to create a vision board version here, but I highly recommend instead, gathering a group you don’t know well. Make small talk as you release your rational brain and sift through images to see what makes you sigh or your heart quicken.  We all agreed there were more surprises than deliberate compositions and for that we were grateful.

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