Tuesday, June 8, 2010

January to December

I really detest the term May-December relationship. It is evocative, but almost too evocative--the image of the May party as green and fresh beside the wizened, withering hull of their December partner is tad on the dramatic side for me.

for example

I remember exactly where I first learned this irritating phrase--in a review of Richard Gere and Winona Ryder's regrettable romantic film Autumn in New York, a movie that features a terminally ill Ryder falling in love with silver fox Richard Gere.

I mean did you lose Ethan Hawke's number or something?

Autumn in New York is a pretty perfect example of what American society holds up as one of our few ideas of an appropriate intergenerational relationship--a tender but sexual relationship between an older man and a younger woman.

But what does our culture make of other types of intergenerational pairings?

Devout readers will remember that I have touched on this topic before when I blogged about my relationship with my hero Douglass Parker in this post. I've also mentioned my beloved Gregory, a former tutee and dear friend of mine--May to my hoary old December. In fact, when I started thinking about it, I realized that my life is rife with friends outside of my age cohort--like my NaNoWriMo partners Jessica Alexander and Teri Osborn, for example--and that, in this day and age, my predilection for befriending people of all ages falls outside the usual parameters for interpersonal relationships.

Our culture seems to come pre-set with two acceptable settings for non-family intergenerational relationships: lover/lover and mentor/mentee. If you feel a special connection with someone of a different age, you have three options:

(1) fall in love, assuming both parties are of the age of consent, Demi and Ashton-style
(2) develop a patronizing relationship wherein the older person enriches the younger person's life with their abundant life-earned wisdom and the younger person infuses the older person with youthful energy, Karate Kid-style
(3) ignore it

Why can't a person of another generation just be my friend? Is the widespread abuse of children at the hands of adults the reason why it's weird for a twenty-something to call a teenager their friend? Is the rampant ageism in our culture the only thing to blame for the stigma against making friends who are much older? I really don't know. I've wondered these things my whole life.

As an only child, I learned to interact with adults at a very young age. My first intergenerational relationships were forged with my parents' friends and business associates when I was knee-high. On lazy summer days, I would often accompany my parents to the advertising agency where my parents worked--Dad as an account exec and partner, Mama as a copywriter--and wander the halls chatting with the employees. Richie and Phyllis and Pat and the whole BG crew went out of their way to treat me like a little grown-up, taking me for sushi lunches and asking my opinion on the latest creative pieces.

I was a little older when I met my parents' friend Kenna. I don't remember how I came to know Kenna but it only took meeting her once for me to come to believe that she had hung the moon.

1997, dinner before Gallagher show

Kenna was like magic to me. The kindest eyes, the sweetest laugh, and the best ideas. Kenna took me (and my dear friend Alex) to one of those pottery studios where you paint your own stuff back when they were brand new and no one had ever done it before. She took me shopping at the vintage stores in downtown Nashville and almost acquiesced when I begged her to buy me a vintage teeshirt embroidered to say I'M NOT FAT! I'M PREGNANT! She also took Alex and I to see 1970s comedian Gallagher, whom we had inexplicably come to adore over repeated late-night viewings of his specials on VH1.

...yeah I don't know

I always had lots of friends my own age, but what I loved about Kenna was that I could be completely myself around her. I could geek out over painting pottery and Gallagher and not worry about looking like a dork. Even as a teenager who supposedly Did Not Care What Other People Thought, her company was a tremendous relief. I'm speaking of Kenna in the past tense because it's been AGES since I've seen her, aside from a quick hello at my wedding. Hey Kenna, is Gallagher touring again?

My nontraditional friendship with Kenna blew the door open for me making friends of all ages. In high school, I participated in Missoula Children's Theater's touring show every year. MCT is an incredible program--a truck rolls into town on Monday and casts students aged 5-18 in a huge musical production that goes on the following Saturday.

One year, I was cast as Ma Munch in The Wiz of the West. My part came complete with a fetching pair of overalls, a four-line solo (if you need a new tonic / he's got snake oil to spare...), and a crew of elementary-school Munchkins. On the first night of rehearsals, I couldn't help but notice that one of the Munchkins, with her round cheeks, big glasses, and bouncy personality, seemed kind of familiar. She reminded me of me.

It turned out that I had a lot in common with Little Leigh Sauvageau, as I always called her. A fellow sibling-starved only child, she decided we were "twynnz" and used to write me adorable little notes addressed to MY TWYNN. After the show, her mom called me all the time to baby-sit Leigh. I didn't know how to tell her that she didn't have to pay me--I just genuinely enjoyed spending time with her daughter. We would rent movies and do art projects and just be silly until the wee smalls when her parents came home. We mostly lost touch after I went to college and her family moved away.

Fast forward to a couple of years ago. Leigh contacts me out of the blue to say she's going to be in Atlanta and would I like to see her?

clearly the intervening years have caused us to mellow and mature

I guess we were onto something back when I was December and she was May--Leigh and I are still like sisters. We had an incredible weekend of hanging around and talking nonstop.

And impossibly, perfectly, my little sister Leigh caught the bouquet at my wedding.

somewhere, Leigh's girlfriend Amanda is getting nervous

Leigh and I share something I long-ago dubbed the *snap*. It's something a select few people have, and you can recognize it instantly. It's like a live wire crackling behind your eyes. I think it has something to do with being creative and intuitive.

I saw Nadine Eckhardt's *snap* in a stack of hand-edited pages of the first draft of her autobiography "Duchess of Palms" when I was volunteering at UT Press in the editorial department. Nadine, I was told, was of the pre-computer generation and needed someone to key in her edits of her first draft. I was thrilled to get anything besides photocopying to do so I dove right in.

Nadine's book grabbed me on the first page and did not let me go, luring me through border towns and DC and the Austin of another era. After spending a frustrating twenty minutes half-heartedly keying in edits in between feverish bouts of reading, I finally switched my monitor off and just let myself read the manuscript, knowing I'd have to work double-time later to finish keying in the edits and not caring one bit. I fell in love with saucy Nadine and her incredible adventures with her famous husbands and LBJ and the elder Bushes and all manner of other glitterati. When I turned the edited files into Alison, the acquiring editor for the project, I fell all over myself raving about the book.

Fast forward a year. I've snagged one of the two coveted UT Press Fellowships and have scored my dream job--working full-time in the Copyediting department for a year. Nadine's manuscript needs a managing editor. They give it to me. I am breathless.

Nadine lived in town and she came in to meet with us and show us some photos she was thinking of using in her book. I was immediately enchanted--Nadine is pretty, pint-sized, and absolutely the zestiest, liveliest person I know. Her photos were incredible. One--a photo of her as a teenager as the Duchess of Palms in her hometown of McAllen, Texas, framed by palm fronds--was so incredible that I snuck a photocopy of it later to tuck in the file in my desk labeled inspiration. She invited me to her house in South Austin to go over some edits.

looks like trouble

Nadine and I started coming up with lots of flimsy excuses for hours-long afternoon editorial meetings. We filled her lovely home up with gossip and laughter more times than I can count. And in the midst of our fun, I had a hand in creating a book that I am so incredibly proud of.

I miss Nadine so much ever since I left Texas, but we write letters--and now sometimes emails.

If you're interested in Duchess of Palms can buy it here or even read it on Google Books for free here. I can't say enough about how awesome it is.

* * *

Some friends change your whole world. They make you reimagine your life. They redecorate your brain.

Dr. T. Davina McClain came into my life at 3am one random night in high school. Always a little compulsive, I had kept myself up half the night emailing the heads of Classics departments around the country, asking questions about life in the program. I was just about to go to sleep when I noticed that someone had written me back already. Davina had written me a long, exuberant email about the program and all of the wonderful things that would await me should I come study with her in New Orleans. I was stunned. Who was this effervescent woman and why was she emailing me in the middle of the night?

When I went to visit New Orleans by myself that summer, Davina picked me up and treated me to a day in the Quarter--the French Market, bookstores, cafes. I knew I had found a home in that sweaty, foreign city.

It's hard to describe what Davina became to me. I was tight with a number of wonderful professors at Loyola--Paul, Karen, Kleist--but Davina was my Davina. My favorite professor, my advisor, and my mentor, she helped me plan for my graduate career from the moment I set foot on campus. She met with me outside of class endlessly to read Latin and Greek, and conducted independent studies with me even when she was on sabbatical. When it came time to apply to grad school, she steered me through the entire hellish process and helped me nab a Mellon Fellowship, admission to Cambridge, and even an interview for the Rhodes Scholarship. When I found the post office closed one deadline Friday and I called her in tears, she came and picked me up and drove me downtown to the post office that closes late. I went so far because she pushed me so hard--I wrote dozens and dozens of drafts of everything until they were perfect. Sometimes she'd just come over and hit "New Document".

But Karate Kid this ain't. Davina was my friend too. I spent weekends at her house, enjoying the humanity of a real home with home-cooked meals, curled up on the couch watching My So-Called Life and sobbing together. When Hurricane Lili threatened New Orleans in 2002, Davina packed me AND my boyfriend AND my cat (AND another of my beloved professors, Karen Rosenbecker) up and drove us to take refuge at her parents' home in Texas. We talked on the phone all the time for hours. She was something like my mother and my sister and my teacher and my friend.

Was? IS!

After Nick proposed to me on New Year's Eve 2007/8, I knew right away that I wanted Davina to marry us, and I told her as much probably a little hastily just a few days later. Probably a little hastily since I hadn't discussed it with my fiance.

We spent a lot of time considering options for the ceremony but it all came back to Davina. She was ordained by Rosewood Ministries in Tennessee and she performed our beautiful marriage ceremony on May 16, 2009. She wrote her own sermon and everyone agreed that it was among the most moving and incredible wedding ceremonies they'd ever seen. I'll never forget it.

Davina is the director of Louisiana Scholar's College now and she is Mother Goose to dozens and dozens of gifted young students. I hope each and every one of them appreciates how lucky they are to spend a little time under her wing.

My dearest Davina is coming to visit me in Atlanta for the 4th of July weekend and I can't wait to tear it up with her. Just like Leigh and I have enjoyed the evolution of our friendship as the years have gone on, Davina and I enjoy a whole new kind of relationship now that my days as her student are over. I can't wait to burn the city down with my friend.

Discussion question:
Have you ever had a friend who was much older or much younger than you?


  1. A wonderful riveting post Kate :-)

    You have such a talent for producing the most emotional blog posts.

    Btw - Gallagher is amazing. I don't know what you're talking about ;)

    That leprechaun's on aaacid

  2. Thanks for reading, baby!

    I honestly can't believe I didn't put that Chappelle skit in the post to begin with

  3. Great work, Katie!

    It's been my experience that these cross-generational friendships exist more with broads then fellas. I've talked with several women about these great older mentors and confidants they had while growing up, but not so many men. Maybe women are just more open and receptive to these types of relationships? Maybe the men who have them just aren't as eager to talk about them?

    And Gallagher is hilarious. Such a good night.

  4. Hey Asa, do you still have the watermelon sponge you caught?

  5. Of course! I'm going to be cremated with that sponge! I also still have the mug I painted with you and Kenna.

  6. cremated??? but I was going to soak it in water and wing it at your grieving family!!!!

  7. I was a bit scared to see why I was 'tagged' for this particular blog entry, but relieved to see my innocence confirmed. Remember the livejournal+Maroon article incident concerning a certain ethics professor and a sex shop? btw, May-December is unusual. Calendar months equate to the human life span sort of like dog years do: 7 years per month, given an 84 year life span. So, May=29 to 35 years old, while December=77 to 84. That's unusual for a relationship, although I know one married couple who fits that model. (The older man was a philosophy professor, of course.)

  8. it took a great deal of restraint not to dedicate an entire section to you, but it was hard to think of anything that was appropriate for an all-ages blog

    AND SEE, I WAS RIGHT! none of our stories are appropriate. but they are wonderful nonetheless.

    also I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought to calculate the approximate ages for a May-December relationship. By this calculation, I am still in April. Perhaps that explains the peculiar weather...