Friday, September 17, 2010

Can I Borrow a Cup of Sugar?

Sometimes I wonder whatever happened to the art of entertaining? I don't mean fancy parties where people dress up and act all muckety mucky. I mean the kind of entertaining that's spontaneous and easy. Like I say, "Hey, we're grilling burgers tonight, do you want to come over for dinner?" And the reply is "Sounds great. What do you want me to bring?" Then a few weeks later, that person asks us over. Or you call someone up in the morning and say, "Hey, want to come over for tea or coffee and just chat?" And that someone says, "I'd love to." A few days later, you're out getting your mail and that someone sees you and says, "I've got a good bottle of wine open, wanna swing by for a drink?"

Remember when moms used to talk over fences to each other? Yeah, they were probably gossiping, but they were talking. Remember those days? I do. I also remember having lots of spontaneous gatherings, small and large, up until a few years ago. Now? Now I have to organize every detail and try a lot harder to make connections. People are busy. People are on the go. People go to work, drive home, park in their garages, go inside and never leave their house again. Seriously. Even in the south this happens. In fact, I think it happens more here than it did in the city I used to live in. For some reason, people are less inclined to put forth the effort to get to know their neighbors.

Why? Are they suspicious? Afraid? Are they too wrapped up in their own families, or hanging out with their lifelong friends that they don't have the inclination or desire to include someone new in their world? I see this all the time. I see it here. I see it where I used to live. I see it in the way others behave. I don't like it because I try to treat people as I wish to be treated. Therefore, when I am in a circle of friends and I see someone alone, I invite that person into the circle. I make room for that person. I welcome that person into my world.

I'm not sure too many people do that anymore.

A lot of people won't open their tightly knit circles to include new people in them unless they meet them at work, at church or at some other formal place. To go beyond those acceptable, known norms is not an easy leap for people these days. Perhaps it is because people don't know how to do it. They are afraid they'll fail at entertaining. They think it has to be restaurant quality food and will require a lot of work, time, and  energy. Maybe they don't want to broaden their horizons. They prefer the known over the unknown. And that's too bad. Because whenever I include someone new in my world, I grow as a person.

The reason I am focused on this issue is not so much because I feel left out. I tend to create my own circles wherever I go. Some circles are created quickly due to circumstances. When we were in DC, we experienced 9/11. This unified my corner of the world. Neighbors in a new community were drawn together by the adversity. We bonded. In other corners of the world, it took me a little longer. But no matter what, I always end up with a circle of friends. People I can rely on. People who become important to me. People I don't want to leave behind when I move again.

I think about this a lot because as a writer I am tasked with the problem of bringing people together. Two characters must fall in love. They live in a world where they have friends, family, co-workers, neighbors.  Yet much of the time that my characters are together, they aren't hanging out with their friends drinking coffee and chatting about the neighbor down the street (yup, gossiping). They're falling in love, going on dates, fighting the bad guys, saving their towns, buying up properties, saving children, making a difference.

But after they save the world, fall in love, and get their Happily Ever After, I hope they also become good friends with the neighbors across the street. I hope they have dinners with them. I want them to play cards till midnight and drink cheap red wine while they hang out with their friends. I want them to go bowling, see movies, plant gardens. I want them to hang out by the mailbox and chat with the guy across the street about football games and kids.

And I hope when they see someone new move into their corner of the world that they go over to meet that person, say hello, invite them to dinner. I hope that they broaden their circle to welcome new people into their lives.


Kieran said...

Great post, Christine! We all need to do more socializing over the backyard fence. I've seen you in action, drawing people in, and that is one of the very finest things about your character!!

Christine said...

Hi Kieran: Happy Birthday!! And thank you for your kind words. You are also very open and inviting. As is Sharon. I learned a lot from you ladies. I do miss how easy it was to meet new people in a new place when I had a younger child. But it is doable. I just started a ladies night here in my little neck of the woods. I was actually quite shocked at how difficult it's been for the lovely women to make new connections here. So I'm glad I got the ball rolling in the right direction.

I hope you have a very wonderful year.

Piedmont Writer said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks of her characters after I've written "The End".

Christine said...

Hi Piedmont Writer: Me, too! I'm not alone. But let's face it--after spending months with them and struggling to get their stories right, how can we forget them? I hope your writing is going well and that all your characters are cooperating.

Kate Diamond said...

This is the first place I've lived in a long time where I actually know my neighbors. We haven't actually been inside each other's houses... I think having yards and working in them helps, though. We can have those impromptu chats over the fence.

I honestly think we're all incredibly over-scheduled these days and this definitely contributes to why we don't just invite people over for a cup of tea. It seems almost... rude... to presume that someone has free time.

I miss that loss of community, though.

Christine said...

Hi Kate: I agree. People are very busy. In fact, I'd say they are scheduled to the point of having no flex time. We know all of our neighbors, very nice folks, but they are super busy. Doesn't seem to matter the age and stage of life they and/or their kids are in because I rarely see them. We do chat outside. But the spontaneous "let's get together and break bread" stuff is not happening. Everyone is super busy. I wrote a blog about the "business of busy-ness." I have my own take on what that really means to me. I think people feel like they have to be "on" all the time in order to feel important and validate themselves. It springs from our culture as a whole. I mean really, think about it, do we all need to be talking on cell phones when we are grocery shopping, at the theater, driving, etc.? I remember a time when the only people who got paged at movie theaters were doctors who had to deliver babies.

Wendy Marcus said...

I think about inviting people over then I decide I'm too tired to deal with the prep and clean up. Every year I do a big Thanksgiving feast for 27. And I ususally do a Passover Sedar. When my children were young we had big family birthday BBQs. Not so much anymore. It's something I have to work my spare time. Yet to be honest, socializing with the outside world is not something that should be relegated to spare time. We should make time.

Christine said...

Hi Wendy: I think people believe that entertaining has to be this big deal because of the recent shows about it on television. Sure, who doesn't want to cook and entertain like Martha Stewart, Rachel Ray, the Barefoot Contessa? But they're not doing it alone. They have a lot of help. I learned a long time ago that a tiny bit of cleaning, not perfection, baskets of crap hidden in the closet, a few candles and a lot of heart make the house a home that people want to visit. I would be happy with Stouffers Lasagna, salad in a bag and a bottle of wine to share. People make the visits fun. If people would just not worry about being perfect cooks, hostesses and having super clean houses, I bet more people would open the door to guests.

We are busy. And there are times when I think, oh, I really don't have time or want to take the time away from my writing, but the truth is if I don't make this a priority, what will I write about? I love my friends in the writing world, but I need relationships with people from all walks of life. It feeds my soul and I believe enriches my writing.

A party for 27 is a lot of work. I remember we used to do these crazy Happy Hours in our neighborhood. My daughter called the HAPPY NIGHTS. Lots of people, everyone brought appies, booze and we stayed up late drinking, laughing and having fun. But now I am only up for smaller groups. I find it heightens the quality of my interactions. The most I can seat at the table is 10--4 at a card table. So that's my upper limit.

You'll find the time! and I love Passover Sedar. I went to one years ago. So nice. I wish I lived closer to you. I'd bring something to share!

Wendy Marcus said...

If you lived closer I'd love to have you and your husband over.

Christine said...

Wendy: you never know--we might all hook up one day. The world gets smaller and smaller. I am still kicking myself for not seeing you at Nationals this year. But we will meet. I will make a point of it. :-)