Only Connect

Lindsay Pontius and Mary Beth CoudalAt the end of August for her birthday, Lindsay (Pontius) and I began writing our seven rules for living at the Yacht Club, also known as the Bistro du Lac. We did this four years ago. At that time, our number one rule was Pile on the People. This time around? Only connect. This is from Howards End.

It is so easy to disconnect. As a writer, I always choose a seat on the outside of the circle. I have to consciously make myself sit at the table. (Reading Sandberg’s Lean In helped.)

I find the sidelines are a good place to watch the action. But do I really want to watch the action? Don’t I want to get in the game? I know I’m mixing metaphors here — a seat at the table and a play on the field. But you know what I mean.

I read Howards End in grad school or maybe I read it for book club. My book club’s been together for 10 years so sometimes I forget where and when I read what.

I do remember the Ivory-Merchant movie of Howards End. It was my first official date with Chris. We saw Howards End at the Paris Theatre. Oh, God, the Paris is like the Ziegfield — such a gorgeous movie theater.

It was my exhusband Jim who told me, “You’ll love this movie.” He was good at knowing what I’d love. Or maybe I was just good at listening to him and letting him tell me what (and who) to love. But with Howards End — what’s not to love? He was right.

Any way, on my first date with the man who would become my second husband, I went to a movie recommended by my first husband.

davidComing out of the Paris, I ran into Diana and David. And Chris was a little ways behind us. So David, playfully, suggested that we pretend he and I were an item.

He said it’d be funny to make Chris and Diana laugh And so, David sort of dipped me on the sidewalk on 58th street and we pretended we were making out. And now — how many years later?! 20? — David died last year, and Chris has Parkinson’s.

And well, it just goes to show, “Connect, only connect.” It’s the message of the movie and the novel and hopefully, this blog post.

Pretend you are making out with someone. Pretend anything. It’ll be funny. Take a seat at the table. Get in the game. Because who knows where you — or anyone — will be in 20 years?

I have digressed. Lindsay and I, over champagne, talked about learning this lesson from her husband Sandy who died of cancer more than ten years ago. She learned you must live fully while you are alive.

That’s why the last time Lindsay and I made rules for living, our number six rule was, “Live every day as if it were your last.” We were inspired by Sandy’s life.

What’s your legacy? What do people remember about you? Were you playful? Were you kind? Did you connect?

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, And human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect… -E.M. Forster, Howards End

Wanted: Help

I do not like asking for help. At last week’s lecture on teen boys, Rosalind Wiseman said getting help is a lifelong skill, I agreed, intellectually.

I am the driver who does not like asking for directions. In fact, I am the sole long-distance driver in my family. Chris’s Parkinson’s Disease — or his meds — have compromised his ability to drive. My son does not yet have his permit. We don’t own a car any more. But I am the family driver, metaphorically too.

20130914-091306.jpg
At the Yacht Club with Lindsay a few weeks ago. We were toasting out new rules for living.

In 2009, on Lindsay’s birthday, we made up 7 rules for living on the back of a paper napkin while drinking champagne at the Yacht Club. This year we did it again, but had to finish up over coffee the next morning at the Inn. Lindsay Pontius and I made up seven new rules for living. And I will blog about these rules in the coming weeks.

In the last round of rules, my number one rule was Pile on the People. Which I then changed to Pile on the Useful People. Because, at some point, I felt that I was helping more than I was helped by helpful babysitters, caregivers, friends.

For example, I remember hiring a professional babysitter when Hayden was a tot. She took Hayden to the playground, while I stayed home and folded laundry. I loved the playground. I hated the laundry.

Luckily, at that time, I had a therapist, April Feldman, who helped me see the error in this equation. Do the fun stuff. Farm out the chores, like the laundry.

Because of Chris’s Parkinson’s, everyone says to me (and I say to myself) “Get help!” But piling on more people (for me) is often piling on more work. I am exceedingly generous, even to the point of bankruptcy.

This may have to do with my white (and wife) guilt for needing to hire caregivers at all. Caregivers are often people of color. I dont’ want anyone to think that I am better or believe I am better than they are. We are all equal.

The typewriter on the counter at the inn in Westport. So charming.
The typewriter on the counter at the inn in Westport. So charming.

So what can I do?

  1. Care about the helpers
  2. Go to the park
  3. Farm out the tasks I don’t like
  4. Get help
  5. See that asking for help requires practice.

I wrote this at the 475 Riverside Drive ecumenical library’s first and third Wednesday of every month writing group a couple of weeks ago.

The post was inspired by today’s Daily Prompt. The task was to grab any book, open anywhere, go to the 10th word. I grabbed Melissa Gilbert’s Prairie Tale: A Memoir. My word was “wanted.” As in, Wanted: Help.