Wednesday, March 30, 2011

One of the things I don't like about New York is how people are always leaving it.  It's an exciting and dynamic place, and people are always moving here or coming to visit (one of the things I do like about New York is how frequently I see friends who don't live here, sometimes entirely by accident), but it's not the kind of place, for a lot of people, that is suitable as a permanent home.  It's a difficult city to put down roots in because the soil is always shifting.  This summer a good friend of mine will move away to begin a marriage and a master's degree in Kansas, and the tragedy and beauty of the city is that, although I'll hopefully stay in touch with her, her place in my life will quickly be filled.  Nothing stays empty here for long.

I've lost one friend already this year, and in a more upsetting way.  A woman I'd become friends with last spring, and become much closer to over the course of the fall, stopped speaking to me abruptly in January over my unwillingness to enter into a relationship with the IB.  I feel that this is unfair and a little bit ridiculous, but I'm still bothered by it.

My friend - ex-friend, I suppose - is an intelligent, vivacious, likable person.  Our lives were very different, but we used to get together once every week or two for lunch or a drink or a shopping expedition, and we became each other's sounding boards, in large part because our lives were so different.  Her husband and I always had plenty to say to each other, and we liked each other's other friends.  (Yes, it sounds like I'm talking about a guy I used to date, but the similarity of friendships to dating relationships is hardly accidental.)  I knew her friendship would change when she had her baby (which happened a couple weeks ago, according to Facebook, ever the go-between in these situations), that I'd see her less and that she'd always be preoccupied, but I didn't expect it to be so thorough, and I didn't expect it to start three months before the baby's birth.

I understand it, though.  She's not the first friend I've had whose gotten married or had a child, or for that matter taken another job or found an amazing hobby.  People's lives change, and their friendships ebb and flow.  New mothers have more in common with other new mothers - at least, in some ways - than with single women, and people who make lots of money have more fun going to fancy places with other people who make lots of money than eating stale pizza with postdocs.  People change when their lives change - but, also, people like to think they've changed.  They like to think they've outgrown or evolved past or transcended who they were, and sometimes that means outgrowing the people they were once friends with. If they didn't - if, while working their amazing job and living in their huge house and raising their three children, they still wasted their time with people who were important to them in college, people who don't have any of those things, well, that's a little bit threatening, isn't it?  Because if  you can still respect the people who don't have the things that you think make you respectable, maybe those aren't the respect-bestowing things after all.

It takes a lot of guts to be exactly who you are, even when other people are different, and that seems not to be less true at thirty-five than it was at fifteen.

I've almost-lost friends to this sort of thing before.  My best friend and I went through a rough patch - okay, we went through approximately two dozen rough patches, but I'm talking about one in particular - right about the time she got married.  There were a lot of components to it, involving all the expected bridesmaid/bride clashes plus my own unhappiness in my then-current relationship, as well as some more difficult stuff going on in both our lives.  But the part I remember most clearly is a comment she made to me over instant messenger that she was more interested in selecting the correct sofa for her apartment than in discussing my "non-committal relationship issues".  What stung so much was not that she was more interested in her life than in mine, but that she really did view the most emotional aspects of my life as less important in an objective sense than the decorating quandaries of her own.

Fortunately, time tends to even things out.  Eight years have passed, during which time I've bought two sofas and she's had two children and both of us have weathered plenty of ups and downs in all areas of our lives.  While we don't always understand each other's viewpoints, she's a good friend and an impartial one, it's been valuable to me to have her in my life if only to have a differing viewpoint as well as some idea of how a person with her life lives.  I can't imagine what our friendship would be like now if we'd followed similar paths in our twenties.

I'm sad that my ex-friend and I seem destined not to develop a friendship like this, but I know there's nothing that can be done.  It takes patience to tolerate your friends when they are living your lives in a way that seems blatantly wrong to you, and it takes a lot of honesty and humility - more than I have most of the time, anyway - to accept that maybe your choices aren't right inherently or for everyone, or even - possibly, some of the time - for you.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

vacation: a recap

I recently returned from a trip to Costa Rica.  Because I've been so intermittent about blogging lately, I'll save background information and generalized catchup for a future post (the sort of much-anticipated backwards-moving series of recaps that generally never gets written) and just tell you about this one trip.

I went on a group tour with Caravan, which is about as white-bread and cliche as it sounds, but it was mostly alright.  I wanted to go to Costa Rica because several of my friends had been there and had amazing photographs and stories, and I was overdue for a vacation, but I didn't have a lot of time to plan.  So I signed up for the "Costa Rica: Natural Paradise" tour, ordered binoculars and hiking boots and waterproof pants from L.L. Bean, tossed them in my bag along with a random assortment of clothing and more sunscreen and bug spray than could possibly be reasonable (no, really... my bag weighed 32 lbs when I checked in at Newark and I think around 8 lbs of that was bug-and-burn ointments) and headed off to San Jose.

It turns out, Costa Rica is super-bright - I was very glad to have my new prescription sunglasses - but not all that hot.  Even though the latitude is only about twelve degrees, there weren't a lot of times that I was too warm in pants and a t-shirt.  However, it is very very wet.  You know how they say, "it's not the heat, it's the humidity?"  Well, in Costa Rica, it's not the humidity, it's the fact that much of the time you are actually inside a cloud.

Quick itinerary (at least, what I can pick out from the blur of awesomeness):
  • Arrival in San Jose, the capital, where they were in the middle of a holiday that lasted - depending on whom and when you asked - a day, a weekend, a week, or a month.  I get the sense they have about thirteen such holidays per year. The primary celebration consisted of a daylong music festival in a park; the musicians were multinational despite the festival being about Costa Rican heritage.  The attendees were mostly very young and could have easily been Spanish or French.
  • Visit to a volcano, with actual steam coming out of it.  In some parts of the country, there is rainforest, and in some parts, there is "cloud forest", which is what they call it when you are so high in elevation that it cannot actually rain, but it is just wet in the air all the time.
  • Visit to a coffee plantation, with actual coffee samples (turns out, they are happy to give you free chocolate or coffee or whatever, almost everywhere, and the distribution center is usually the place where you can buy more of it to  take home)
  • In the same vein, but now largely departing from chronology, visit to a pineapple plantation, where I discovered that I like pineapple when it is not soggy, and also a visit to a banana plantation, where we learned about the bizarre and interesting lives of banana plants and the men who harvest them.
  • Visit to another volcano, mostly from a distance.  Visit to a "hot spring", which was more like a set of hotel swimming pools (except warm) than like I imagine a hot spring to be.
  • Stay in a rustic hotel reachable from civilization only via dirt road and 90-minute boat ride.  "Hotel" was actually a group of cabins separated by paths, kind of like girl scout camp.  The coolest parts of this were being inside my cabin and looking out at the trees, and seeing monkeys on the way to meals and iguanas by pool.  While we were there we went on a number of boat rides and such to view the more skittish wildlife.
  • Stay in a way-less-rustic resort by the beach on the Pacific side, where I went horseback riding.  This part of the country was much dryer, and looks a little like I would imagine the African savannah to look.
  • So much wildlife: monkeys, birds - including ibises, which I had thought were mythical, crocodiles and caymans, iguanas and other lizards.  Also so many plants, growing out of the soil and the water and each other.  
  • Probably some very important insights and conclusions and the like, but it is far too much after my bedtime to think of what they are now.