by Linda Rodriguez
I have become a terrible friend. I spend all my time writing books, taking care of the business of books (research, tours, conferences, accounting, and correspondence with editors, agents, publicists, and fans), and promoting my books (blogs, guest blogs, interviews, signings and readings, Facebook, Twitter, email newsletters, etc.). There’s little time left over even for my family and my own physical and spiritual needs.
Making time for a friend involves carving a hunk out of an already over-committed day, and the problem is that I have a lot of friends. They’re wonderful people with whom I love to spend a leisurely lunch or afternoon coffee/tea break while engaged in delightful, intelligent conversation. I’m lucky if I can manage this with one of them every few months. So I have many friends I only “see” on Facebook. This is one thing with friends I love who live far away. Facebook is a great way to keep in touch with them when we know we’ll only see each other once a year at some conference. It’s quite another kettle of fish with friends who live in the same town.
I’ve been thinking about this situation lately—and my thoughts have not been happy ones. I miss my friends, and I hate responding to an invitation to get together with a list of three possible dates four months in the future. I worry that the message that sends is not at all the one I want to send, that they will incorrectly feel I don’t value their friendships. As for a spontaneous “Mary’s in town for two days, so let’s have lunch with her and catch up,” I’m almost never in a position to join in.
This situation all came to a head for me recently. A friend sent me a chain email that talked about a sister who would never spontaneously go to lunch and had recently died without ever going to lunch with her sister. (I wonder why they chose to send that email to me?) Right after that, I received an email from one of my oldest friends to tell me she’d had surgery and was laid up at home in bed, going stir-crazy. My first thought was, “I should drive out there and visit with her.” This friend lives on the other side of town out in the country, entailing an hour-long highway drive there and and another hour-long highway drive back. That visit would eat up an entire afternoon, so my first thought was immediately followed by a list of the things I have to do, many of which have imminent deadlines. “I’ll send her a card and some flowers to wish her a quick recovery and finish some of these urgent tasks,” was my next thought. “I’ll visit her later when I have time.” As if I would ever have an open afternoon to go see her without creating it!
That quick dismissal of my friend’s situation in order to get back to the always-present workload left me wondering what was wrong with me? When had I become the kind of person who would begrudge a few hours to visit a friend at home alone on bed rest? If a wonderful professional opportunity suddenly presented itself, and I needed to make major adjustments to my schedule to accommodate it, I knew I would. Why not for an old, dear friend?
I sat down and made a list of all the good friends I’ve had to put off for lunch or other meetings. I decided I had to do something about this. I’m trying to build a whole new career with my books, and it’s demanding and time-consuming, as it is for any small businessperson. But I don’t want to ignore my friends. So I made up a schedule that allows me to meet someone for lunch every week. I’m going to work my way through my list of friends that way. It means finding some other time to do some critical tasks. They’re also important and can’t be skipped. It won’t be easy, at all. But I know the kind of person I am, the kind of person I long ago decided to be, a person to whom people are more important than things. If my career takes a little longer to get going, at least I won’t have achieved it at the cost of becoming someone different from who I truly am.
And yes, dear reader, I’ll be slow responding to your comments today because I’m spending the afternoon taking lunch to my dear friend who’s recuperating from surgery, and we’ll be making bad jokes and laughing hysterically at them.