The Isle of Defeated Souls
Friday, April 17, 2009

I was sitting in a café recently with several women acquaintances, and one of them reported that she was embracing a new philosophy. That she was only interested in keeping those friends who fed her--who helped her to be creative, friends who nourish as opposed to friends who might at times, or maybe even all the time, make you bleed. I listened to her without responding. I was caught off guard; I'm not sure if my mouth dropped open or not...Am I one of those friends?

And then I read this same idea on a blog that I follow, placed nicely beside a black bullet point. The writer is a well-known publisher--someone that I respect and have learned from. He wrote, in so many words (I'm all for exaggeration), to ditch those folks in your life who aren't feeding your creative impulses. That they drain and zap your spirit and keep you from being prolific and productive.

I've lived forty some years now, and in many places from Italy to Colorado... Just like you, I've had the honor of meeting people who fascinate and inspire me, and others who are a bit horrifying, broken, depressed or even desperate. I have to admit, I've run from some of those desperate folk, and probably even talked behind their backs or stuck my tongue out at them when they weren't looking... I'm sorry for that.

Having moved around, I've learned that the biggest mistake I can make when entering a new community is to not be involved. Sitting on the fringes of a community, whether it's a neighborhood, or the office environment, or the church I attend offers safety from some types of hurts, but it's also a lonely place. Many writers are introverts, and I'm no exception. Closeting myself in a small room, with an open view to a budding tree, a warm cup of tea in my hand--that is a natural place for me (sounds a lot like my office, actually!), a place that I long for and need. But it's also a selfish place if I stay there too long, so I take a deep breath, and leave that room grudgingly, and force myself into environments that are less friendly to my personality, but full of unexpected rewards.

In any community, if you stay long enough, you find people of all stripes. Happy/sad, spicy/sweet, needy/giving. Just like in the writing life, folks have seasons of taking in and giving out. Right now, Rhonda has cancer and needs a large network of folks to help her through. She's weepy, and angry, and it's even difficult to be around her at times. I feel zapped when I leave. But last year, she was the one decorating the church on every feast day, scraping the candle wax from the wood floors when nobody was looking, hanging out with the homeless at coffee hour, sending me funny little emails that made my day.

Of course I want to hang out with Jenny, who inspires me to be creative, with Seraphima, who is an exuberance of prayerful energy, with Cheryl who makes me laugh. They give to me... and hopefully I give something in return, but all relationships don't work that way. And after reflecting, I don't agree at all with this philosophy of gutting your contact list deliberately. Let's see:

  • Colleen is always negative. Can't remember the last time she asked me a question about MY life. I've known her since kindergarten, but maybe it's time for this friendship to end. Colleen.
  • Donny actually growled at me last time we talked politics. He's always looking for some sort of argument. I want peace... I neeeeeed peace. Donny.
  • Ah, Rita. Won't even go there... Rita!

Anne Lamott says in her book on writing, Bird by Bird, \"Almost all my close friends are walking personality disorders...\" In her quirky, unique way she understands how much more real our writing can be when we are living amidst real people. I don't want to spend all my days with perfectly groomed and mannered folk--people who would do anything not to offend or insult me. What kind of story-making friends are those? In order to make beautiful, poignant stories, we need experiences and ideas coming at us from all sides, the good, the bad and the icky. Needy desperate people make really good bad guys.

I'm all for searching out good and healthy friendships. Give and take, isn't that what makes a friendship after all? Yet, what would this world be like if everyone suddenly started shunning the needy people who surround us, the people who spread their hurts and leave us gasping and sore? Would we begin separating not according to economic have's but according to emotional health? Would we then walk around, so proud of our tribe, proud to be one of those who feeds and is fed--plump in good people, creativity pouring out of our hearts and hands?

And for those who don't inspire us. Do we ship them off to the Isle of Defeated Souls? And is that where my friends should ship me when I'm having an off day--or an off year? We're all bound to be off at some point, aren't we?