Discover more from People + Bodies
Hi, loves. 🌿
On our chosen people
My daughter is sitting on her floor, covered in clay. She has a mini wheel before her and some tiny tools, too. She’s just come from the bookstore where her grandparents have bought her a pottery wheel—a plastic kit, which looks like it’s for dolls. She’s fully engrossed.
She was at pottery camp last week—I know, truly the most bougie combination of words I’ve ever written down—where they threw pots and played games with the wheel and the clay and learned all the elementary steps of working with pottery. She ran out the door every morning and came home covered in clay and overflowing with instructions. When I caught a glimpse of her in her bedroom after camp one day, legs open in a split, piece of clay before her, I thought only of the kids I knew at my sleep-away arts camp, the ones who spent all summer hunched over wheels, elbows hardened by clay, totally absorbed. And for the first time in almost 30 years, I thought of the VHS tape my friend Becky walked over to my house on a March afternoon in the early 1990s, encourage me to join her at Buck’s Rock.
The kids in the marketing video were what any parent in those days would have confidently called weirdos: burgeoning artists who didn’t fit in. They were awkward and funny looking and devoted to painting or batik or playing the trombone or blowing glass or directing Brecht plays. One after the other, they articulated to the camera what it felt like to come to Buck’s Rock and finally fit in, to find your people. What a relief! To know you weren’t the only weirdo around! The world, it turned out, was full of us.
This is exactly the experience I had when I arrived at Buck’s Rock. It took some time, but I realized that while I’d been relatively happy at school and had wonderful friends in Montreal and did, basically, fit in, this was something else: a whole community of people just like me, who wanted to make art, who found nothing weird or wrong or strange about throwing ourselves into plays, dance recitals, or putting together a summer publication. We cared more about all we wanted to make (and making out) than any of the things that took up too much of our teenage brains: popularity, our bodies, social groups, grades, fitting in, our annoying parents, college. (This was all, of course, before social media.) It was the first time I learned that there were myriad ways to live; that there were places for people just like me. It’s no surprise that this is where I had my first real boyfriend.
I thought about this as I watched my daughter mold her minuscule vase, as she unabashedly walked around caked in clay, telling us about how to throw and shape and measure. One day, I told her, maybe you’ll go to a sleep-away camp where you can do any kind of art you like! Her eyes lit up. She fits in at school, as far as I can tell, but the difficulties of being an almost-nine year old are starting to make their way into her life. So-and-so doesn’t want me to be friends with so-and-so but I want to be friends with both of them, she says through tears, chin resting on her bent knees. I try not to cry, too, and say, Only you get to decide who you are friends with. No one gets to decide that for you. She nods but says nothing. A true friend won’t stop you from being friends with someone else.
For decades I believed I found “my people” at Buck’s Rock, which lead me to Oberlin, where I found more of “my people,” and then to the New York, where I found the rest of them. This is how I thought it worked. I thought I knew who my kind of people were.
In the early days of our time living in Vienna, after going out with yet another couple I didn’t like but felt we needed to be friends with for the sake of having friends at all, I used to say to my husband, “we’d never be friends with these people in real life.” This was actually my line. As if this weren’t my real life. As if real life happened back in Brooklyn and this was something else entirely. As if, at 34, I hadn’t picked up my entire life and moved to Europe with my brand new husband to live out my brand new (very real) life.
I was judging people based on — what, exactly? How familiar they seemed? How New York-ish? How much of an artist/intellectual/academic/meditator/yogi they were? I don’t even know anymore. It now seems ridiculous.
In the years that followed — it will surprise no one to hear — we met the most outstanding people, and I fell head over heels for all of them: the Irish Mum who made me cry laughing over burgers and cider; the Viennese couple we saw at least four times a week for playdates and dinners who became our best friends; the Kiwi writer who talked shop with me on the playground while we drank wine; the only other Brooklynites who lured us to Romania for a visit once they moved away from Vienna. We understood each other as only expats can, as only new mothers can. These people became my people.
I can feel myself rounding the corner to some sort of Jewish/Passover reference here about how we choose people and how we are chosen by others. But when I think of my daughter on her floor covered in clay — when I think of all the people who’ve led me closer to myself as a woman, a writer, an artist, a mother, closer to a sense of internal liberation and freedom — I see so clearly how we, so often, find liberation through our relationships, a pathway to freedom carved out of connections. With friends, partners, parents, siblings, mentors, teachers, even our children. Not always, of course. Some relationships do the exact opposite. They confine us, define us all wrong, make us feel pinched and judged and cornered. Less of ourselves.
But when you find people who allow you to feel liberated inside your own skin, for even a few moments, is there anything better? Is there anything more we can offer each other? The friends who make you laugh until you are peeing your pants. The sister you can call sobbing from a street corner. The one who reads your work and says, yes yes yes, keep going. The teacher who offers you a pen, a violin, a piece of clay. Try. See who you are with these things in hand. Maybe you’ll find yourself in there, or just among those of us doing the same.
The point is that we never quite know who those people will be. Our chosen people will be different depending on where we are in our lives — emotionally, geographically, with our health and age. Moving to Vienna, and then to Los Angeles, I was reminded that we never know where those openings might come from. That it behooves us to stay alert to the possibilities, that people sweep in to show us so much about life, about the world — and about ourselves.
✨ WRITING CLASSES! ✨ There are *a few* spots left for May’s intro class on May 22 from 10-1230 PST. This will be there last LIVE class until September. Come write with us! It will be fun, fun, fun. In two weeks I’ll send out more info about Summer School, which you’ll be able to do from anywhere in the world, at your own pace.
ALL THE THINGS
I have been on a very fun, very relaxing Jasmine Guillory binge and am now onto Paula Hawkins’ A Slow Fire Burning (way less relaxing). “The Final Pandemic Betrayal” (Ed Yong). Loved this essay about a DNA test by my friend/student, Helen Jupiter. I am obsessed with HBO’s Julia; has anyone seen this documentary? Also very excited for The First Lady. Ocean Vuong on Time is a Mother. I loved this Song Exploder with Brandi Carlile. And this Ten Percent Happier episode with Johann Hari about our inability to pay attention.