Thursday, February 23, 2012

Barefoot Truths: You’ve got to have friends…

And most of us don’t have enough of them. Not the close kind, the kind of friends you can turn to both when things are going perfectly – blue skies forever - and when life is at its worst and you feel like nothing will ever be right again.

A question that people ask me after reading my novel Barefoot Girls is: what was your inspiration? Well, the book was about a lot of things - the unique mother-daughter relationship, finding true love, the past and its potential hold over our lives – but most of all, it’s about friends.  Specifically, it’s about women’s friendships: our basic need for them, the blessings and benefits that come with them, and the challenges that are also inherent within them.

In our ever-faster ever-busier modern lives, it seems to me that friendships are falling by the wayside, being dropped like dead weight as we rush onward, trying to keep up with a million responsibilities and interests. This is a mistake as that extra effort that goes into your friendships repays you a hundred-fold in the end. Your friends are your mirror, your cheerleaders, your helping hands, your shoulders to cry on. They are there for you in ways your family, your significant other, and your children just can’t be. Maybe it’s because
those people have so much tied up in you, maybe it’s because of your role in their lives, but they’re never going to just relax and let you be you the same way a friend will – loving you all the more for your quirks and human nature, which reassures your friends as they, too, are imperfectly human.  

I hear you. You’re saying, “But I stay in touch with all my friends on Facebook (or Twitter)”. But that’s not the same thing as spending time together in person – it just isn’t. In person you see their expressions, call them out on the crazy things they might say, laugh together, cry together, just be together.

Barefoot Girls is about four sister-close friends who not only see each other in person during the year, they’ve made a sworn pact to spend every August together on the same little island where they grew up. There, they re-forge what holds them together, adding new layers, making it grow with careful tending and lots of love. Other books and movies and television series out there also talk about women’s friendships – why are they so important to us?

Why Fictional Friendships Help Us with Our Own
  • They remind us that our friends don’t need to be perfect (and neither do we). Pam has a compulsive and fattening addiction to chocolate chip cookies, Amy can be cold and too tough sometimes, Zo is a pushover and a hopeless romantic, Keeley has a drinking problem. Yet they all also have wonderful qualities too. Pam has a huge heart, Amy is the most fiercely loyal friend you could ask for, Zo is a great listener with a brilliant mind, and Keeley is just a load of fun to be around. Real-life friends have good and bad qualities too. By reading about not-so-perfect friends, it opens our hearts to the not-so-perfect friends around us.
  • Variety is the spice of life. Having many friends ensures that your friends will have a variety of personalities, skills, strengths, life experiences, and insights that they will bring into your life, enriching it immensely. One show that depicts this well and reminds us of its importance is Sex and the City. Would Carrie’s life been the same without Miranda? What about without Samantha? What if Charlotte was MIA? Nope, nope, and nope! Each brought something to the other three that was unique and all them. The same is true of the four Barefoot Girls.
  • Your love is like a rollercoaster baby, baby! Fictional friendships either enlighten us or simply remind us that all friendships have highs and lows, that the tide fills the plain at times and that it is a desert at others. Sometimes, it’s where we are in life. Maybe we have a new baby or a new job and it’s swept us away from our friends. Sometimes, it feels like we’ve grown apart; but maybe we just need to grow on our own for a while before coming back together – better than ever. Keeley abandons the Barefooters for a time, but it isn’t forever, and without her, they aren’t the same. When a valued friendship of mine has ebbed and I worry it will never flow again, I remind myself of the old proverb: this too shall pass. And it’s amazing how often it does and, reunited with my good friend, it seems as if no time has passed at all and our conversation resumes right where we left off.
  • In it for the long haul. Lifelong friendships do happen, beginning in a playpen, eyes smiling around high-held nippled bottles. Some are found in the school yard, on the swings, passing notes in class. Others are more mature – in college while experiencing the first heady taste of freedom and responsibility, at a first job, through a club or meetup. No matter when you meet your friends, make no mistake: maintaining a friendship is work. Like tending a garden, you must make sure it is watered and fed and that weeds don’t choke it. You can’t just ignore it and expect it to flourish. Great books about friendship show that – like Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg. Those two women worked to be friends – there was nothing easy about it. But the spoils, the deep riches of friendship, are well worth the battle. Old friendships are gold. As Sally Field once said, “You like me! You really like me!” Old friends really do like you, in spite of and because of everything that you are.
  • What’s in it for you. Fictional friendships remind us of how good it can get. They show us the laughter, include us in on the inside jokes, take us along for the wild ride into the night. We learn of new games (Kamikaze Uno, anyone?) and new recipes, hear secrets, participate in childhood pacts. All the magic is there: just keep turning the pages.

If you liked Steel Magnolias and re-read Beaches over and over, if you miss having close friends in your life and want tips on how to find and keep them, Barefoot Girls may be the book to inspire you. Four women – a small tribe that is, as Zo described them, “fierce and fun” – who I believe you’ll fall in love with.

Other must-reads about friendship (re-listing any ones above for your convenience) according to moi:
Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by Lorna Landvik
Beaches by Iris Rainer Dart
Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy
Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher
Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells
Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
First Wives Club by Olivia Goldsmith
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg
Summer Sisters by Judy Blume
The Castways by Elin Hilderbrand
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
The Saving Graces by Patricia Gaffney
Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan

Any other books you think should be included in this list? Tell!

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