Wherein our heroine learns to avoid the damned street entirely

Leaf with holes My friend, Mary Ellen, and I go way back to my advertising days; she was one of the first people I met when I moved back to Chicago from New York, and I still make fun of how relentlessly and Midwesternly cheerful she was when she poked her head into my office for the first time to invite me to lunch.

She is still way too nice to remind me of what a dark and twisted troll I was, but 20 or so years later, she's simmered down, I've cheered up and we've met in a new middle ground. Our semi-/annual conversations have become important to both of us because we serve as touchstones for one another, showing how we've changed and where we might still need to. And, since Mary Ellen forsook advertising for psychotherapy instead of something idiotic like acting, it's basically like I get a 90-minute session free, or for the price of a phone call, which, since I switched to Vonage, is almost free. Ha, ha, Mary Ellen, I win!

Anyway, after the brief-but-requisite foray into the piteous state of national affairs, we launched into the more important topic of boys boys boys. Specifically, what we were doing with ours and how it all was going. (Mary Ellen and her husband have been together 15* years, during which timeI've divorced one guy and slagged around with a bunch of others, so there's always lots of touchstoning action there.)

I'm happy to report that things are tip-top back in Illinois; I'm guessing that by the way I natter on like a schoolgirl about The BF, everyone reading this knows things are hunky-dory here in sunny California. But it was not ever thus. Which got us to talking about two things: whether mileage logged**, solo or in tandem, is responsible for things going more smoothly or whether there really is a more-right-for-you type than those hilariously inappropriate jackasses you couldn't get enough of as a girl of 30 winters.

Here we sharply diverged, with Mary Ellen taking the highly uncharacteristic "life is short, life is shit/soon it will be over" viewpoint (i.e., there is no one type of person more right for us and relationships are, at their best, "a crucible, or cauldron, depending on the day" for personal development) and me staking out the cute boy – debilitating mental illness = reasonable shot at happiness position.

However, we both agreed on one thing: time do make the difference, both in knowing what is and is not tenable and speeding up the loosening of one's monkey-like grip on the latter. This is why I'm happy to be a craggy old crone of 44 rather than the juicy scoop of 20-something I once was. Also, I have excellent genes.

Mary Ellen even supplied the poem of the day: a lovely offering by one Portia Nelson, whom you may know better as Sister Berthe in the film version of The Sound of Music (or, for you 70's hipsters, the Law Office Receptionist in the only version Can't Stop the Music). I'm being glib, but I'm actually rather moved by Portia's story, having read up on her via her lovingly crafted website and read her poem, "Autobiography in Five (Short) Chapters" on the INS (yes, the INS) website. I guess self-actualization is a hot topic of discussion among potential immigrants to the U.S.

The poem is contained in There's A Hole In My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery, and is, apparently, quite as famous as any Von Trapp in its own right. The book (and contents) are copyrighted, so I can't but excerpt a bit here, but it resonated deeply with me, and I must needs share a stanza here, the one I got stuck in for a good 15 years:

2. I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don't see it. I fall in again. I can't believe I am in the same place.

But it isn't my fault.

Yeah, right.

On the one hand, where else could you be from ages 18 - 40?

On the other hand, let's hear it for 44.

xxx c

*Mary Ellen says it's actually closer to 11, but my position is if you make it past 10 years together in this farkakte world, you might as well call it 20.

**Intelligent, aware and awake mileage, that is. Just making it to age 170 is no guarantee that you will be any smarter than the average 12-year-old, and probably less smart if that 12-year-old has learned things like "don't stick your hand in there unless you're sure that thing is unplugged".

Photo by novon, used under a Creative Commons License