Web of Friendship

Editor’s note:


The connections I’ve maintained with my childhood friends taught me how a lot about how family could be, and equipped me to find my missing family. I met Susan Sommer when we were in grade school, and am so pleased to have her as my first guest blogger.

By Susan Sommer

I’ve done battle with my share of remote controls, new TV set-up instructions, and computer software glitches, but I have to say, technology is my friend—especially the internet. Yep, I’m Googley-eyed and face Facebook daily, I’m LinkedIn and loving it, I cheer along other “losers” on LoseIt!, I read blogs from A to Z, and my comments are scattered across the globe.

Now, I’m not some loner dork who sits all day at the keyboard and doesn’t know how to converse at
parties. I have plenty of real-world friends and do get out enough to know, for example, whether it’s still winter or not.

Seriously, though, the internet is a thing of beauty, IMHO (and just a few short years ago I didn’t
know what that stood for). I’ve reconnected with people from my past who I thought I’d never see or
hear from again. And not just old boyfriends either, but true friends—people I’d traveled with, a
childhood pen pal, high school classmates who are now as (gulp) middle-aged as I.

I treasure my family and friends who live near enough to see on a regular basis—these are the people
who know me best and who I know I can always rely on no matter what. They are the base of my days, weeks, months, and years. Without them, I would be the loner dork. But getting reacquainted with old friends online—as well as making new ones who I might never meet, but could, if one of us happens to be passing through the other’s town or attending the same conference, and you never know who is destined to become your next old friend—has broadened my world.

I grew up in Alaska, sometimes in the far reaches of the Alaskan bush. I always felt sheltered. I remedied that by traveling as a young woman, but now that I’m married and stable and I work from home, I’ve once again become somewhat cut off from new experiences. The internet offers me the web of friendship outside my immediate sphere of existence. I trade thoughts on editing with LinkedIn members; I learn fascinating tidbits about farming from a Facebook group (like the best way to kill a chicken before plucking and processing, and that you can use goat placenta in a facial mask); I receive encouragement to keep shedding those extra pounds from my LoseIt! friends, only one of whom I actually know in person; and as a member of our 30-year high school reunion planning committee (which I sucked myself into by being the first to open my mouth online about the upcoming event), I can’t imagine trying to find old classmates by perusing the telephone book (you now, that big heavy paper tome plopped unceremoniously at the end of our driveways each spring?).

Despite the fact that for some reason my husband seems to think I’m just goofing around on Facebook all day (not ALL day, I tell him when I stagger down from my office and open the fridge and think hmmm, what am I going to make for dinner?), social media and search engines have changed my life for the better in unique ways. Our rural-ish neighborhood has drawn closer through use of a handful of closed Facebook groups—one for wildlife sightings, one for bartering, and another for general ramblings. I recently, finally, found my old pen pal from when I was ten years old. We’d met once, traded a few holiday cards over the years, then lost touch; turns out we’re leading very similar lifestyles, right down to how many and what type of pets we have. And just this week when I was doing research online for a freelance article, I “met” a woman who had visited Alaska several years ago and was familiar with my parents’ old trapping cabin from the 1950s.

It’s a small world out there. I don’t panic when I go off-grid for a few days like some people do. My
phone is dumb so I can’t check email. But if the internet ever disappeared, for whatever reason, I would surely miss its power to connect.

Susan Sommer is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Alaska.  She holds a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing & Literary Arts.  Visit her at www.akwriter.com

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To Eat or Not to Eat: The End of a Troubled Relationship

Not all bad relationships are between people. I’ve limped along my negative relationship with food for decades, carrying the associated emotional and physical baggage.
My old diaries from ages 13 and 14 are missing the cursory teenage angst about boys and mean girls at school. Even the fact that my mother disappeared with her last husband, leaving me and high dry with a barely- adult sister.
Instead, the journals contain page after page of what I ate:
          Monday- cornflakes with skim milk.
     Tuesday-same.
    Wednesday-same.
    Thursday- one box of Suzy Q’s, one pound M&M’s, cornflakes with whole milk.
You get the point. Starve, starve, starve, and binge.
When I was in my mid-twenties, already a single mother of two girls and on food stamps, a friend set me up on a date. The date wanted to meet for lunch at Simon & Seafort’s, an Anchorage landmark known for its fabulous seafood and steaks. I spent the next few days fantasizing about what I would eat. Should I order something I knew I’d love, like a burger and fries, or venture into new territory and order a shrimp louie?  My poor future date.  I never thought a lick about him.
Just as well.
We met for lunch a few days later. My date was a portly brunette at least twenty years older than me with a mustache that covered his upper lip. He didn’t smile much, but talked a lot. He was a museum curator, and he assured me he had LOTS of money. “Order anything you like,” he said. Seeing my look of surprise, he said, “I’m serious. Anything.”
He didn’t have to tell me twice. But since he did, I went wild with the appetizers. Calamari, potato wedges with gruyere, beef tips, and crab and artichoke dip on bread. Yum!
My date? I don’t know what he ate. He just talked and talked and talked. But I didn’t mind. I was self-medicating. Our waitress circled the table repeatedly, trying to take away baskets with food still in it. Since my mouth was full, I had to shoo her away by waving my free hand.
When the bill came, my date finally got quiet. “I’ve never had a lunch cost so much,” was his only comment.
Another one bites the dust.  Although it was a great temporary departure from poverty, the food hangover lasted for days.
As much as I adore eating, I don’t love the feeling of being that out of control.  I want to eat food that’s kind to me, and eat what I need, not everything I can swallow.
It’s important to be intentional about all relationships. I don’t hang out with people who bring out my worst qualities or encourage me to abandon goals and core beliefs.

 And the same is true with food.

Recently, I’ve come to love the show Hungry Girl on the Food Network.  I’m confident Lisa Lillien and I would be friends if she lived in Alaska.  The food is fun, with respectable portions thanks to some innovative substitutions. I haven’t tried a recipe of hers that I didn’t love.  A close second is Not My Mama’s Meal’s by Bobby
To Eat or Not to Eat: Three Questions I Ask Myself When Deciding
  1.       )      Is this food good for me?
    2)      Will I like myself after I’ve eaten it?
    3)      Have I exercised enough to burn the energy it will give me?
Pretty simple, but I’m used to telling myself I deserve to eat this cake, French fries etc., instead of I deserve to feel healthy and fit.  And I do deserve to be healthy.

You do, too.

Any recipes or tips you’d like to share, Dear Reader?

Turkey burger with Hungry Girl Onion Rings
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3d Book Group/ AfterImage by Carla Malden

Every six weeks or so, I get together with some of my favorite friends and talk books.  Until now, we’ve met at a coffee shop, spoken about our impressions of the book, and let conversation morph into one about our lives and loves.
 

(1/2 the group at Cafe Del Mundo

This time, we tried something different.

I selected the book AfterImage by Carla Malden. It was recommended to me last summer at a writer’s conference as an example of a memoir that seamlessly moves from the past to the future while telling a beautiful love story.
Normally, books about women whose husbands have died make me jealous. My marriage was heinous, and I really wanted my husband to die. I prayed for it to happen. It never did.
But this book tells of an enviable relationship that began for the writer as a teenager and led to a personal and professional partnership (the two were screenwriters) that ended too soon. The author had me hooked in the first paragraph:
“Mrs. Starkman,” said the doctor, “sit down.”
          Ten months, three week later, my husband was dead.
           Cancer is an awesome opponent. Sometimes it wins. Even when it most should not. Even when all goodness is on the other side.
I wasn’t the only one who loved AfterImage. We all agreed that it was lyrically written, universally relatable, and pretty funny in spots for a book of its kind.
I saw on the author’s site that she attends book groups in person or via Skype when possible. She responded immediately when I submitted a request. Due to the time difference between Alaska and California, we settled on a Q and A format. The group submitted their questions and comments to me which I forwarded on to Ms. Malden.
What was it like, writing this without your husband who you wrote with for ages?
It was the only type of writing I could do without him.  I could not return to screenwriting (and still have not). This was a completely different type of writing — more individual, less dependent on a particular structure.  I found I could access that voice, whereas I didn’t feel I had the confidence or the inclination to write a screenplay without him.  We had developed a rhythm as to how to do that together over the years that I didn’t feel I could re-invent.  This book took on a method of its own.  I had to write it, in a way, even though it was agonizing.  
  Was it a cathartic experience? 
   “Cathartic” isn’t precisely the right word.  But it was a learning experience.  I learned that I really love writing prose which I hadn’t done in a long time.  In retrospect (as it’s been a few years now since I finished the actual writing), I realize that it was important for me to turn the events of that year into some sort of narrative that I could wrap my arms around, to make it less surreal.  Writing the book helped me understand that this had really happened… and, at the same time, turned it into a “story” that I could somehow contain (or, at least, have the illusion of containing).  Maybe it helped stop that “story” from subsuming the rest of my life because for a while there, I really felt like I would never come up for air. Wasn’t sure I wanted to — which I think is necessary part of the process.  I now believe you have to make that daily choice to live — in whatever limited way you can — when you’re in the darkest depths of an experience like that.
  What are you reading now?
  Right now I’m reading “Defending Jacob” which is a courtroom best seller — the kind of thing I very  rarely read, but it happened to be on a Kindle that was given to me.  (I rarely read on the Kindle either — I prefer the old-fashioned way!).  Before that, I read a book called “Heft” that I found enormously inventive and compelling.  Within the past year I was on a Meg Wolitzer kick — caught up with everything of hers I hadn’t read before, and then, coincidentally, her mother, Hilma Wolitzer, just came out with a new book called “An Available Man” which I really enjoyed (though it kind of freaked me out because it’s about a widower and parts of it were so much like a fictionalized version of my book).
There were a few more questions she answered, but you get the drift, Reader. Suddenly reading a touching story became a real conversation, and our book group was so thankful that our author provided insight. And the author was sincerely touched that we chose her book to read and spent time discussing it.
Our 3d book group was a great success. Next group, we’re hoping to have local author Bong attend with us and tell us about writing Escape to Survive.
What tips do you have to keep your book group fun and relevant?

AfterImage will soon be available in paperback.

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