Defining Friendship in Today’s World

My blog today is contributed by Sherrey Meyer, a good friend and fellow writer who is working on a memoir about growing up in a matriarchal culture.


Nouwen quote on friendship

Henri Nouwen’s quote defines the foundation of a friendship. In looking at online definitions of the word “friendship,” they are many. Not one encompasses the qualities necessary to move from “being friends” to a true and lasting friendship.

The definition found in Urban Dictionary is worth reading and understanding as it relates to today’s ever-growing cybernetic society:

“Something that is much underrated in our society. Friendship is actually a form of love (here I’m not talking exclusively about erotic love). It’s not a lesser form of love than erotic love, only a different form of love. In fact, the ancient Greeks had a word, “phileos”, more or less equating to fraternal/brotherly love (friendship). …” [read more here]

With the birth and exponential growth of social media, we use new words to define or describe friendships and how they are created. As the 2000s rolled by, social media networks burgeoned and we began to meet new people online. “Friending” someone on Facebook became commonplace, an action most often based on a prior relationship. “Friending” a stranger may occur because you know someone who knows someone who knows someone.

But, “friending” or “following” on social media is not as companionable as meeting up face-to-face.  Chatting with old friends over a meal or making a new friend as the result of attending a conference or workshop, or even at the coffee shop where casual conversation begins.

Questions loomed around “friending,” “following,” “linking up with” online. Could we build “friendships” via social networking? Could you become friends with someone you couldn’t see? What impact is there on the definition of friendship?

In an article by Phil Barrett of Burning the Bacon with Barrett, he states his answer to the question of defining “friendship” and the impact social media has had on it. Quoting Barrett here:

Social Media has changed the definition of friends.  Just as media consumption and interaction has fragmented with new technology, so [have] our relationships and how we define them.

Best friends and trusted business associates will always be there for you – but social media has allowed us to cast a wider net personally and professionally – and thereby expanding or evolving who we consider a friend.

My response to the question of defining solid friendships is simple. Along the way in my online writing journey, I have made many friends. This summer I had the opportunity to meet in person three women I met online because of our shared interest in writing. The three just happened to be travelling through Portland at various times in the summer months, and I was able to meet each one face-to-face. Those intimate interactions, one-on-one, changed nothing of how I felt, except this: Face-to-face, intimate sharing of conversation and personality instilled in me a greater fondness for each one of them. When I’m online, I know who they are and what they do, but I don’t receive the pleasure of seeing the twinkle in the eye, hearing the laughter, or grasping other emotions shared during personal conversation.

Those are individual characteristics that for me encompass the definition of friendship. Getting to know the real person.

Coupled with Barrett’s widening net theory and my real-time meeting with my online friends, I can say the expectations I have held for decades with respect to making and keeping friends have not changed so much. I can still find and enjoy sharing interests, values, and mutual support and encouragement with all of my friends, both online and the ones I can reach out and touch.

Maintaining online friends, just as in keeping nearby friends, requires the same give and take of a real-time friendship. Intentional and authentic support, encouragement, caring, and honoring the other’s privacy and space are still important factors.

What about you? Please share your thoughts on defining friendship and what you think social media’s impact has been on friends and friendships.



sherrey2013_2A retired legal secretary, Sherrey Meyer grew tired of drafting and revising pleadings and legal documents.  She had always dreamed of writing something else, anything else!  Once she retired she couldn’t stay away from the computer, and so she began to write.  Among her projects is a memoir of her “life with mama,” an intriguing Southern tale of matriarchal power and control displayed in verbal and emotional abuse.

You can reach Sherrey on her websites:  Sherrey Meyer, Writer, on Facebook and/or Twitter, or via email at

Travel as Experiential Expansion


My guest today is Lois Joy Hofmann who, like me, has rejoiced in her decision to step out of her comfort zone and live on board a sailboat as she and her husband ventured to foreign climes. Unlike me, Lois and her husband actually made it all the way around the around the world.


Travel as Experiential Expansion

travel -varanasiTravel requires a conscious effort to step outside our comfort zones. Not only do we challenge our physical comfort when we travel; we also challenge our psychological comfort.

My husband and I spent eight years circumnavigating the world on our 43-foot catamaran, Pacific Bliss. We flew back to San Diego between voyages. Our friends would ask: When are you leaving on vacation again?

“You don’t get it,” I’d reply. “Living in our condo for a while is coming back to comfort. This is our break, our holiday. Sailing, touring, and understanding the differing cultures of 62 countries—this is like work.”

Why did we choose to live like that?

Travel to us is not about staying in five-star hotels and enjoying a beach holiday. It’s a way of life. And even though we’ve completed our mission and sold our beloved Pacific Bliss, we’ll continue to travel as long as our health permits. Travel is how we learn and expand our minds. It’s as much a part of our lives as the books we read and the food we eat.

Think about it.

You can repeat the same life experience every day, year after year. Or you can travel for five, ten or twenty years and have perhaps fifty life-changing encounters during each one of those years! The more you travel, the more you expand your life and grow your soul.

What if you’re still working and can’t take off for a big chunk of time?

During the weeks that you can get away, I advise you to put a different emphasis on time. In the business world, everything needs to have happened yesterday, while at the same time, you must prepare for the future lest you fall behind. You’re never in the moment.

You can make travel happen on your time. I call it “slow travel.” As soon as you arrive at your destination, take your foot off that accelerator and slow down to a snail’s pace. Those ruins you wanted to see are not going anywhere soon! Leave those tight schedules and to-do lists back at the office. It’s only when you slow down, engage with your surroundings, and absorb the moment that you truly feel a sense of place. Sit down for a coffee with the locals. Spend time people watching. Sample strange food.

My husband and I implemented the technique of “slow travel” during a three-week trip to India We used Enchanting-India, a travel company specializing in tailor-made travel experiences using local guides. We selected a standard two-week, six-city round-trip tour from Delhi, then expanded it to three weeks to make time for photography and journaling at each destination.

Even so, we made changes to our itinerary on the fly. For example, when our next stop was to be the Raj Ghat Memorial, we could see from the car that the site was basically a black marble platform marking Mahatma Gandhi’s cremation. Long lines extended around block. We decided that getting there was not worth fighting traffic and jet-lag in the heat of the day. This is the advantage of independent travel! The plan is ours to make or break.

On the way to Sarnath to see Buddhist sites in India, we asked our driver to stop and allow us to “walk the village.” While we interacted with the locals, he waited for us on the other side. This link gives you a taste of the village and the people we met.

I urge you to let travel transform your life. Vow today to make a change outside your comfort zone. You won’t regret it!


Lois Joy Hofmann - travelLois Joy Hofmann is the author of Maiden Voyage and Sailing the South Pacific, the first and second book in a trilogy called In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss. Both books won first place in the Travel category of the San Diego Book Awards (2011 and 2013 respectively).

Her stories have appeared in magazines such as Latitudes and AttitudesCruising World and Living Aboard. Lois has contributed to online magazines and blogs such as: Multihull MagazineYacht BlogsMultihull newsletterTop Dekk and The Log. Lois has been a keynote speaker for various organizations including: yacht clubs, optimist clubs, book stores and libraries. She is currently working on the third book in her trilogy, to be called The Long Way Back.

When she’s not writing, Lois enjoys travel with her husband Günter to those countries they did not visit during their 8-year, 62-country sailing circumnavigation.

You can read about Lois’s travels on her website, Sailor’s Tales.


A Patchwork of Stories



My guest this week is Gwen Plano, who writes most eloquently about the way in which writing enhances our understanding of and appreciation for our own life stories.


patchwork quiltWhen I was a young child, countrywomen gathered to sew quilts for special events. My mother took us with her when she met with her friends in the basement of the local rural church. Sometimes I snuck under the stretched material on the large wooden frame and listened as the women stitched and knotted. They talked about their families, about their hardships and about love. When they cried, I cried–even if I did not quite understand. It was their emotion that spoke to me.

The cloth leftovers rhythmically sewn one to another helped me see the interconnectedness of life. And as I began writing my memoir, I realized I was creating my own quilt of sorts—through a patchwork of stories.

Even before I put pen to paper, I was awakened in the early morning hours with scenes, faded by time. Drawn into the story they revealed, I began to write. Soon pages of text accompanied these reveries and though I captured some of these glimpses of insight in my writing, others hid and waited—for yet another night. My crowded desk of post-it notes became my companion and sometimes friend, helping me bring the pieces together.

This process, unexpected and bewitching, guided me through the corridors of my heart, where I wrestled with haunting flashbacks and elusive threads of connection. The years of abuse were long past and in tow—its numbness. I could feel again; and, the tears and gasps came and went—because they could.

One story after another unfolded on paper, as sections from frayed journals and yellowed family photos came alive and spoke to me. The dramas that once controlled my life and held me captive were but ailing memories, soon to meet their demise. And as I gazed upon this human collage of struggles and apprehensions, I was humbled by another story that emerged.

I realized that my journey was everyone’s journey. I had thought I was alone.

The person I was decades ago lives only in ashen memories. Hardships have carved the landscape of my youth, shifting dreams and opening horizons. I barely know the adolescent me who trekked unburdened by reason. But as I look back over the years, I now see the terrain she must travel to become who I am today.

Through choices, some chilling but otherwise ordinary, we find our way. While I might take one road and you another, we all face adversity, and we all experience sorrow, fear or regret at some point in time. And, don’t we all go through life trying to make sense of it all?

It is only in retrospect that I have come to see how the journey we travel is both universal—and circular. Life’s summit is elusive because the terminus is also the starting point. Ultimately, any life path we choose brings us full circle. When we meet ourselves again, our joys may have expanded and our hearts may have softened. And then we begin again. We travel until we find the one love we all seek; only then, do we rest.  

T.S. Eliot, in his last verses of the poem “Little Gidding,” wrote:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning…


Writing Letting Go into Perfect Love was an integrative process for me; because, as I wrote, I began to understand; and, as I understood, gratitude emerged—for the trials and tribulations, for the sorrows and the joys, for the friends and the foes … for the preciousness of life. For you.

I sit in awe of my traveled life and marvel at its relationship to the whole. Perhaps we’ve met along the way. I wonder which quilt block is yours and what its story might be.


Gwen - patchwork quiltGwen Plano spent most of her professional life in higher education. She taught and served as an administrator in colleges in New York, Connecticut, and California. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in nutrition from San Diego State University, was awarded a Master’s Degree in Theology from the University of the State of New York, and then completed a Master’s Degree in Counseling from Iona College. Finally, she earned a Doctorate in Education from Columbia University.

Plano is also a Reiki Master and a Certified LifeLine Practitioner.

Letting Go Into Perfect Love (She Writes Press) is Plano’s first book.

Find & follow Gwen online:


On Not Being Perfect



The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.                                    ~Anna Quindlen

Being PerfectThe notion that we grow the most—personally, professionally, and spiritually—when we step outside our comfort zone has been central to my life and central to what I have chosen to write about over the last decade.

Quindlen’s message is that much of the heavy lifting in the matter of personal growth comes through the often exhausting, sometimes frightening effort, step by small step, to find a new approach to getting through the day. It requires a conscious effort to step outside our psychological comfort zone as well as our external or environmental one.

. . .

To read more,  check out my blog on Becoming Yourself, a guest post of Gwen Plano’s lovely website “From Sorrow to Joy — Perfect Love.”


The Paradox of Our Age/Time



In 1992, political scientist Francis Fukuyama famously argued that the spread of Western-style democracies and free market capitalism would become the final form of human government.  It seems a paradox that the economic and political systems that were thought by Fukuyama to bring peace and stability to the world are increasingly on the defensive—in Europe, in Asia, in the Middle East, in Africa and, I often think, here at home in America.

While musing on this dreary thought, I happened on Jann Freed’s recent blog on paradox. I will reprint here a portion of the essay she shared from ‘Words Aptly Spoken’ by former non-denominational pastor Dr. Bob Moorehead.  This 1995 essay—The Paradox of Our Age/Time—shines a bright light on many of the contradictions wrought by prosperity … and may help explain why so many cultures choose to reject a way of life that seems to offer material prosperity but spiritual poverty.

“The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less.

We have bigger houses and  smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees
but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness.

We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom. We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.

We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life. We’ve added years to life not life to years. We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor.

We conquered outer space but not inner space. We’ve done larger things, but not better things.

We’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We’ve conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less. We’ve learned to rush, but not to wait.

We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less.

These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill.

How many of these paradoxes bedevil your own life? Are there any that you can change in your own world?

The Bio-Ethics of Aging

Bio-Ethics of Aging

I wonder how many of my readers have managed to avoid the quandary that surrounds the health care needs of so many of our aging parents:

  • Should you respect their desire for independence or insist that they live where their medical needs will be taken care of?
  • Should you approve surgery or chemotherapy for an Alzheimer’s parent who has a malignant tumor?
  • Should you insist on insertion of—or removal of—a feeding tube for a stroke victim who will never regain even minimal intellectual or physical function but is in no immediate danger of death?

These issues loom large in my mind as I revise the syllabus for a class I teach on the Bio-Ethics of Aging.  What I see is that our lives have become ever more complicated as medical technology and innovative drugs have provided more sophisticated—and more expensive—ways to keep aging and death at bay.  Where once diminished capacity and ultimate death were considered to be inevitable stages of life, they are now increasingly challenges to be overcome.

The problem, as any reader of the daily newspaper will know, is that we as a nation are resource constrained. We do not have enough money or enough geriatricians or enough kidneys or enough antibiotics to treat every single older person who wants to be treated.  While we are only one of many countries facing rising health expenditures as the baby boomers age, we are unique among the developed countries in our lack of a consensus on what kind of health care should be provided, to whom, under what circumstances, and who should pay for it.

In practice, the United States rations health care based primarily on who can pay rather than who has the greatest medical need.  Even with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, access to health care depends on the ability to meet co-pays … to meet defined income limits … to meet state-by-state Medicaid criteria for income and co-pays.

I am teaching this course because I believe that both the baby boomers and their children desperately need to understand the ethical, legal, and pragmatic choices they will face in the next decade or two.  From a bio-ethical perspective, not all health care is the same.  From a bio-ethical perspective, each of our decisions about health care for us and for our parents has worrisome implications for the health care, education, and employment of the generations to come.

A key question addressed in the Bio-Ethics of Aging is not whether we should ration health care—we already do—but whether we should allocate it in a way that is more transparent and more equitable than our current system. I believe the answer is “yes,” but I challenge my students to define what that more equitable system might be.

Bio-Ethics of Aging
Senior College of Greater Des Moines
September 8, 15, 22, 2014 – 10:00 – 11:30 am
Pappajohn Center, Room 218

To register for the course, please google

Being Lost


                      Though your destination is not clear                                                                         You can trust the promise of this opening;                                                                 Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning                                                                         That is one with your life’s desire.         ~John O’Donoghue  


being lostFor the past week or so, I have been feeling very lost … and it feels wonderful.

It sounds contradictory, doesn’t it?  If you accept Webster’s dictionary definition—”unable to find one’s way; not knowing one’s whereabouts”—being lost should be an unpleasant experience.

But from another perspective, being lost is akin to stepping outside your comfort zone. It paves the way for looking at life through a different lens.

So says author and essayist Rebecca Solnit. To Solnit, “Lost [is] mostly a state of mind, and this applies as much to all the metaphysical and metaphorical states of being lost as to blundering around in the backcountry. The question then is how to get lost. Never to get lost is not to live…”

In other words, to get lost is to begin to live.

In my mind’s eye, however, there is a significant difference between being lost and being outside my comfort zone.

When I am outside my comfort zone—something that has happened many times in my life— I am forced to find new ways of coping. But whether the experience is pleasant or unpleasant, my inner compass generally tells me where I am and where I want to get to.

By contrast, being lost means that I don’t quite know where I am or where I want to get to, at least metaphorically. I’ve defined myself for the past eight years as a writer.  But can I be a “writer” if I don’t know what I want to write about. I have an idea about a new book, but I’m not committed to it. I have a long list of potential blog topics, many of them linked to themes of my novel, but they don’t inspire me as they did while A Fitting Place was a work-in-process. I’ve done quite a bit of freelancing, but I have little enthusiasm for seeking out new freelance assignments.

Perhaps it’s a simple case of writer’s block.  But it has occurred to me that, as woman on her eighth distinctly different career, I have a history of changing horses on a regular basis.  Has my career as a writer run its course?

Since my novel was released in May, I have filled much of my time with busy-ness: Facebook posts, tweets, Google +, checking stats on book sales, and reading an endless stream of blogs on writing, publishing, and marketing—anything to mask my sense that I had no idea what I wanted to do next.  But then, this past Sunday, as I read Solnit’s words on the link between getting lost and becoming alive, I realized in a burst of insight that not knowing what I want to do next is a gift.

I am healthy and have enough energy to swim a half mile every day.  I share a love with a thoughtful, caring and healthy man. Being lost frees me to travel,  to spend hours reading, to sit and watch the full moon rising over the skyline.

Why, a few months shy of age 70, do I have to have a purpose every day?  Why should I not take joy in the fact of being lost?

The world is, potentially, my oyster.

To be lost is to be fully present  ~Walter Benjamin

From the Perspective of A Reader


moral-dilemma-empathic-concernShortly before A Fitting Place came out, a friend asked how I would measure the book’s success.

My answer was unhesitating: I wanted it to prompt readers to re-examine the way in which we all make relationship choices.  I hoped that A Fitting Place would:

  • give readers more empathy and understanding—for themselves and for others—of the way in which circumstances, habitual behavior patterns, and societal stereotypes influence the relationships that we choose, and
  • recognize that every relationship reflects a series of choices that we could have made differently, and that we can change if we ourselves are willing to change and grow.

My first clue that I might achieve my goal came one day last week when a middle-aged acquaintance said, in passing, “I loved your book. But I have to tell you, I wouldn’t have read it if I’d known what it was about.”

Straining to keep my jaw from dropping, I asked, “Why did you read it?”

Sailing Down the Moonbeam was wonderful.  So I bought this when it came out. I never checked to see what it was about.”

My reader went on to say that her religious objections to homosexuality had stopped her from ever thinking about the emotional dynamics of a same sex relationship. When she realized what the book was about, she almost put it down.  “But I had to keep reading. I had to know what happened to Lindsey.”

As the conversation continued, she noted that, unlike Lindsey, she’d had multiple sources of emotional support in the wake of her own failed marriage. But now, my reader could empathize with someone who was emotionally bereft.  “Lindsey was reaching out for a relationship that was supportive and nurturing. I could understand that. It made me realize,” she said, “that I needed to be open to alternative ways of dealing with life.”

I had a virtually identical conversation with a woman in her 70’s a few days later.

I was fortunate that both women were willing to speak so openly with me.  From the book clubs I’ve met with so far, I know they are not the first readers to object to the same sex love affair on religious or social grounds.  But they were the first to acknowledge that A Fitting Place pushed them to think differently and even empathetically.  And because these two women were willing to “step outside their comfort zone,” they understood that A Fitting Place was about relationships, not about sex.

On a related note, I’ve had a lot of readers—and reviewers— refer to A Fitting Place as “a page turner” or say that “I couldn’t put it down.”  To my delight, I’ve heard repeated stories of readers who planned to peruse “just one more chapter,” but stayed up into the wee small hours or went to work late in order to finish the book.

A Fitting Place seems to be a good read as well as a thought-provoking book.

For a writer, that has to count as success!

Letting Go of Anger


Letting-GoThe fine art of “letting go”—Buddhists call it detachment—has been one of my guiding principles since my early 40’s, when I spent a year crossing the Pacific Ocean on a small sailboat.

That was the year that I learned, in a visceral rather than intellectual way, that letting go is what you have to do if you hope to live in the moment.  A quest to find familiar foods—McDonalds and whole wheat bread—in Pacific Island communities could only hamper your discovery of such local delights as pamplemousse, guava, conch fritters, and ceviche.  Setting expectations—e.g. planning to arrive in Tahiti on a specific date and time—when you couldn’t control the weather or the currents was a sure-fire way to miss the sensual beauty of a day at sea … the dawn light creeping across the fluid surface of the sea, the porpoises who cavorted in our bow wake.

But letting go of these sorts of things has been easy for me compared to letting go of anger. Anger at a mother who neglected you. Anger at a spouse or friend who betrayed or demeaned you. Anger at the boss who passed you over for a promotion you deserved. Anger at anyone who violates your trust, who diminishes your self-esteem, who makes you question your self-worth.

I was reminded of this as I read a recent blog entitled, aptly enough, “Letting Go,” in which the author, Danielle, offered some practical tips for getting rid of anger.  Herewith, some tips of hers and some of mine.

  • Recognize that we all live in our own reality.

My mother was a case in point. She never intended to hurt her children, but she was so crippled by her own fear of being hurt that she had no emotional reserves to draw upon for the care of children. As she did with adults, she rejected me before I could even imagine rejecting her; she punished me for my inability to anticipate what she wanted. Somehow, my efforts to please her always failed.  I could never be the child she wanted.

Depression—anger turned inwards—plagued me until I was in my 40s, when I finally recognized that I had been an unfortunate bystander in her own personal tragedy … that it wasn’t “my fault” and I wasn’t a failure.  Only then could I begin to let go of my anger at her. Only then could I begin to live my own life instead of the life I thought she wanted me to live.

  • Recognize that anger is often a response to “old tapes.”

Letting go of my anger at my mother did not, unfortunately, erase 40 years of painful emotions or the automatic behaviors I had used to cope with her rejection. Over the ensuing decades, I have managed to break most of those old habits, but there are still times when something sets an old tape to running. A paralyzing anger is the default response.

As complementary personalities, my partner Kent and I occasionally set off old tapes.  Fortunately, we understand each other’s foibles and can usually recognize the pattern in time to head off an angry response. Even when we fall prey to the old tapes, though, we can usually figure it out within a few minutes and let the anger go.

It is not always so with friends, even some I know very well. I recognize the hurt … I feel the anger … but it can take days or weeks or months for me to understand how much of my anger is rooted in something that happened 50 or 60 years ago.

  • Recognize that we often impose a higher standard of behavior on others than we do on ourselves.

We all make mistakes.  Sometimes our intentions are good, but we just plain get it wrong.  Sometimes, we’re too busy and self-absorbed to see what’s needed. And then, of course, there are times that we do the wrong thing because we’re still playing out those old tapes of our own.

One of the benefits of maturity is the ability, when we make a mistake, to forgive ourselves, to move on even as we vow to do better the next time.  Too often, however, we do not offer the same generosity of spirit to those around us, responding in anger when someone we trust does something that is hurtful.

For example, I expect Kent to understand and be forgiving when I make a mistake that wounds him, but when he slips up in a way that is hurtful, my instinctive response is often anger alongside a quick march to the moral high ground. I need to take a deep breath and remind myself that he is terribly—and wonderfully—human.

  • Recognize that the need to claim the high ground is another name for being a victim.

I have long believed that most things in life—including what other people say or do to us or about us—are fundamentally outside our control.

From this perspective, holding on to anger gives up the one form of control we do have—the ability to choose our response to what happens around us. Holding on to anger allows someone else to control your identity, to define you in terms of their actions rather than yours, to further diminish your sense of self-worth.

In a recent blog on The Confidence Gap, I observed that whenever something diminishes your confidence level, inaction erodes your confidence further, while positive action serves to rebuild it.  Holding on to anger is a form of passivity and inaction.

Letting go of anger represents an active decision to take control over your own life.

How does residual anger left from old tapes affect your life and relationships?

Where Metaphor Meets Life


              One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose                                                                                  sight of the shore for a very long time — André Gide


SJ #1I’ve been perennially in search of new lands—a metaphor for new ideas and new perspectives—since childhood. I’ve often had to lose sight of the metaphorical shore in order to find them.

Ironically, the most dramatic change in my perspective came when I had lost sight of the literal shore, a day when I was roughly a thousand miles out into the Pacific Ocean, heading west along an unmarked route. That day, my husband and I were two years into a planned circumnavigation of the world in a 37-foot sailboat, a journey that required me to abandon a successful New York career.

Throughout our cruise, we’d often had to trim our sails to unpredictable winds and set our rudder to compensate for erratic currents. We sailed as close to our intended course as we could, but all too often, we ended the day someplace other than where we’d set out to go. As good sailors on a well-fitted sailboat, not much could go very wrong, but we knew that if something did, we would probably die. Life and death were pretty much out of our hands.

That watershed day, a sunny afternoon with clear skies and calm seas, it struck me that sailing was a metaphor for life. I suddenly understood that I’d had no more control over my life and death when I lived and worked in New York City than I did while sailing on the Pacific Ocean. And it seemed obvious that if I couldn’t control my fate, I might as well spend my days doing something meaningful and satisfying, rather than wasting precious time and energy trying—all too often in vain—to meet the expectations of others.

It seemed equally obvious that if I hadn’t decided to sail away from the metaphorical as well as the geographic shore, I’d still be living under the illusion that I could actually control my life.

It is this last concept—that you grow the most when you step outside your comfort zone—that has been the leitmotif of my life as an author. My memoir, Sailing Down the Moonbeam starts with my decision to step out of my comfort zone from a professional and cultural perspective. It ends as I begin a new, more purposeful way of life that has sustained me for a quarter of a century.

But few people have the option of quitting their jobs and heading off into the sunset. I wanted to write a novel about “every woman,” to explore the growth that can take place even if you never leave home.  Just as sailing was a metaphor for a life out of control, “A Fitting Place” is a metaphor for learning how the pieces of one’s life fit together.

In A Fitting Place, Lindsey Chandler is hurtled out of her psychological comfort zone by the betrayal of those she most trusts. Her journey to emotional maturity finally begins when she begins to re-examine her entire value system, including loyalty, marriage and gender roles.

How has stepping out of your comfort changed your life?



A Fitting Place

My blog today is adapted from a piece I wrote for “Plain and Fancy,” Marian Beaman’s delightful website on the challenges and opportunities of a life that started in a Mennonite community and took her to a wide-ranging career in academia, with a stint as a neighborhood activist.

I will continue to blog on other aspects of universal human relationships in the weeks to come. I welcome guest contributors whose own experiences offer another perspective.

If you’d like to contribute, please contact me at



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