I have been friends with Fiona since I was 17 years old. We had just moved back to the UK from Canada and I was in French class wondering how I was going to fit back into a French class in the UK after 4 years in Quebec. The French teacher at Hills Road Sixth Form College wasn’t sure either; he seemed concerned I might have trouble keeping up. However, as I sat in class listening to other students struggling to put basic sentences together, I realized that my four years in Quebec had stood me in good stead back in Europe. I was now worried about getting bored. But then, a voice from across the classroom uttered words I will never forget: “J’étais piquée par une méduse.” I sat up in my seat to get a better look at the girl who had been stung by a jellyfish. She was slim with a brown bob, and in her jeans and sandals had a slightly hippy vibe. I immediately wanted to meet her.
In the last few years, I have been spending more and more of my time writing, which means a lot more sitting typing into my computer, and a lot less time interacting with other people. I’ve always been a very social person, so it seems strange to me that I spend so much of my time alone talking to myself, our two cats and whatever poor creature they’ve brought into the house. I increasingly love the process of writing, and while it is thoroughly rewarding when something I’ve written comes together and people tell me they’ve enjoyed reading it, I rarely discuss the act of writing with others. This is hardly an unusual predicament, as very few people sit and discuss the details of their working process with friends and family. However, when I met Lisa a couple of years ago, I couldn’t help myself asking her about her writing. A relative of parent friends of mine, Lisa has a son at another school, has a degree in law and was finishing her PhD in geography, but at that time was coming to the coffee shop every day with her laptop to write.
One morning, I asked her what she was working on and she explained that she was taking the month to work on a young adult novel. At that time, I was trying my hand at children’s fiction and soon we discussed the challenges of our self-assigned literary projects. She was working on plot structure and character development, and I was struggling to find my story’s direction, so we decided to try to help each other out and started meeting regularly to go over each other’s writing samples. This meant being incredibly honest with each other about something very personal. It soon became clear to me that Lisa was not only intelligent and talented but also very thoughtful and creative with her criticism and suggestions. I hope I was half as helpful to her as she was to me. She is still working on her novel, but mine is on a back burner right now (or perhaps in the fridge). However, our writing relationship has grown into a lovely friendship that I value on many levels. Tonight, when we met at a neighborhood bar for glass of wine, I gave her a notebook – a book full of blank pages for her to fill when she’s ready to start her next literary journey.
Seventeen years ago this week I began my life in Southern California. I moved 6000 miles from London to work as a curator at Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena. I stayed at the museum for nearly 9 years and during my time there, I was able to curate a wide range of exhibitions, write a few books on Asian art and meet some wonderful collectors, volunteers and docents. Although I never became a collector of Asian art myself – for financial and ethical reasons – I occasionally acquired some small Asian art works, which I have enjoyed over the years. One was an Indian miniature painting I found at one of the museums sales. It depicts lovers in a desert landscape being discovered on tryst. It wasn’t so much the bold subject matter but rather the skill and delicacy of the brushwork and the warmth of the colors that attracted me to this sweet little painting.
A few days after I arrived here, I moved into a nearby apartment building. Just upstairs from me lived a pretty, friendly and extremely smart woman called Lynn who welcomed me warmly to my new home and soon became my best friend in this new life. In our seventeen years of friendship, we have gone through one divorce, two weddings, one childbirth, multiple family dramas, work crises, agonizing self-doubt and so much more. She listens hard when I need to bare my soul, she forgives me for my screw-ups, and she even lies to me if she has to – only once, actually, when I was in labor and felt I couldn’t push any more. She told me she saw the baby’s head coming, and after 34 hours of labor, these words gave me the strength to push for 2 more hours! To my dear friend Lynn I give this miniature painting in part because we met because of my Asian art job at Pacific Asia Museum, but more importantly because, like this little painting, a true friendship requires skill, delicacy and warmth, and the occasionally act of boldness.