Monday, February 13, 2012

Desperately Seeking Brandy Alexander

     It's Sunday night, and Spartacus and I have spent the majority of our weekend, preparing for our impending move back to Atlanta. We've determined which items to donate, pitched and tossed out the broken stuff, rooted around through boxes which still haven't been unpacked from our last move, and enveloped just about everything, except the dust bunnies under the couch, in roll after roll of bubble wrap. Although we're together in the same room, packing is a solitary undertaking. Today, Spartacus was in charge of dismantling the bookshelves and taking down the wall cupboard, built by my ex-husband, which houses the serving pieces from my vast collection of Polish pottery. I packed innumerable boxes of knickknacks, glassware, ceramic casseroles, dishes, silverware, and small appliances. Maybe some people actually have fun while they're packing, but in our case, it's a quietly dreaded chore, a task we approach side-by-side in near-deafening silence.
     Our living area is starting to look skeletal, transient, impermanent. I remember what fun it was to organize the space in this loft, and how excited we were about living downtown in a new city. I'd envisioned us having an active social life, replete with book clubs, charity events, and dinner parties, none of which materialized to any appreciable extent. I guess I had the wrong idea about what moving to Rome would accomplish. I thought that living here, instead of commuting from Atlanta, would magically integrate us into the medical community, that in committing ourselves to residing within the city's limits, we'd automatically gain access to its social network. In other words, we'd be "in the loop." Although we have made some good friends here, we rarely seem to get together. Over the last ten months, I think I've hosted one party, a couple of brunches, and one or two dinners. In the springtime, we got together for First Friday outdoor concerts and impromptu dinners with one couple, but since my mother-in-law died in August, we haven't seen much of each other, mostly due to work schedules, travel, or recent illness. Another couple that we've befriended spends nearly every weekend out of town, making it virtually impossible to hang out with them. Out of six former work partners, only one ever invited us into his home. Before moving back to Louisiana, he and his wife lived a block away from us, making it easy to meet somewhere on Broad Street for drinks or dinner. Their close proximity to us certainly made socializing convenient. Still, this is a town of 30,000, and to get from point A to point B takes a whopping total of only 2 or 3 minutes! In my other partners' defense, I've heard they used to socialize quite frequently before their contract got sold out from beneath their feet to a depersonalizing anesthesia staffing corporation. I suppose the group lost its identity, and with it, the desire to spend time with one another. They never recovered from that change in dynamics. In the physicians lounge, I've had wonderful, stimulating conversations with a certain plastic surgeon, which always end with, "We really need to get together!" but neither of us has initiated the next step. Honestly, the majority of my social interactions nowadays occur in cyber-space, on Facebook or BlogCatalog. It's a sad state of affairs. Although Spartacus is a true introvert, he compensates for it very well, and as a couple, I think we're approachable and friendly enough. So, what gives?
     Whatever happened to the days of cocktail gatherings, like the ones my parents used to have? My dad was also a physician, and when I was growing up, it seemed to me that Mom and Dad were constantly entertaining. They'd serve exotic drinks in special stemware: Brandy Alexanders, Pink Squirrels, and Grasshoppers. Sometimes, there would be hot hors d'oeuvres. I especially liked it when Mom made pigs in blankets or anything wrapped in bacon. The ladies smelled perfume-y and nice, and they'd leave their coats and purses in Mom's and Dad's bedroom before congregating in the kitchen. Adult conversations seemed so grown up and mysterious back then. Dad provided entertainment by playing the piano, and Mom would make sure that we all came up from the downstairs den to say "hello" to their guests. If it was a Saturday night, which meant we got to stay up late, my sister, Emi, and I would take sips from the almost-empty glasses left sitting on the coffee table, while our parents stood chatting in the foyer with the last of their guests to leave.
     I can't think of the last time I've been to a real, honest-to-goodness cocktail party. When I was in medical school, a group of us got together every couple of months to go to the opera, and beforehand, we'd meet for drinks or dinner at one of our homes. We broke out whatever bling we had, which wasn't much, and we dressed up for the occasion. In the interest of our non-medical spouses, we tried to keep conversation flowing by avoiding school or work-related topics, talking instead about current events, our kids, and our lives before medicine. We often got together for informal dinners and parties as well. One of my classmates was Korean, and when she returned to Macon from visiting her parents in Augusta, she'd invite our entire class to her place for Korean barbecue, generously sharing the delectable bulgogi and kimchi her mom sent home with her. My husband and I hosted several big end-of-the-year parties at our place, which were terrifically fun. People would bring their kids along, and our boys would keep them entertained. I remember one party in particular where the guys-who-were-going-into-radiology climbed up into our treehouse to drink beer and smoke cigars. I still have pictures of that night, lying around somewhere. These gatherings were a beautiful, reciprocal thing, possibly one of the biggest advantages of having only 56 students in our class. By the time we graduated, we all knew each other pretty darn well.
     The older I get, the harder it seems to get to know people in a social context. Maybe it's just my line of work. I've definitely been guilty of hoarding my free time, of just wanting to get home and stay put. I have a good friend from residency, a divorcee my age, whose kids are both grown and in college, but she still hasn't found time to date because she's so busy with work. No needy men, no worries. Although she seems happy, this would qualify as a problematic existence for me--maybe I rely too much on the company of a good man. As an attending physician, I've personally organized several parties and events, inviting folks from work, but have found that many times, people don't even bother to RSVP, making it impossible to adequately plan the food and beverages. Why bother? Also, anytime a group of doctors gets together, the conversation inevitably focuses on work, an unfortunate faux pas of mingling that we knowingly commit time and time again. To me, talking about work in a social setting is boring and superficial, a real cop out. I'd rather hear about the music you're listening to or what you cooked for dinner last night, anything but the diseased organ you resected or the nightmare airway you handled on call. There is so much more to all of us than what we do for a living.
     I'm hoping for a fresh start in Atlanta, a different kind of social life,  where we have an opportunity to meet people outside of work. Spartacus and I already have some friends in the Atlanta area. These are people we've known a long time, but don't see very often, and I think it's time to break the cycle of seclusion we've all become accustomed to. I won't be working as much, so I'll have more time to organize get togethers. Our new home will be the library of an old elementary school, which has been converted into lofts. Twenty-one units means 20 new sets of neighbors. It would be great to get one or two coffee partners, or someone to walk the dogs with, or maybe even a yoga partner out of that bunch; if not, maybe I'll start my own book club or investigate the possibility of progressive dinners.  Someone out there has got to be as starved for social interaction as I am!
     Perhaps packing doesn't have to be such a lonely chore for Spartacus and me, either. Working in tandem in self-imposed monastic solitude, breaking our mutual silence only to ask each other for the scissors or a roll of tape, only adds insult to the injury of moving a second time in less than a year. We might be more productive if we talked about the things we're looking forward to. I'm slowly starting to get excited, anticipating what lies ahead with exponentially less anxiety, my fears concerning our near future being steadily replaced by an empowering sense of curiosity and optimism. I can feel it: good times are headed our way. We'll be able to watch Nick and Rory perform with their new band, BearKnuckle, and hang out with their friends and girlfriends, something we've missed out on living this far away. We'll have more time to spend with my sister, Edina, and her family, as well as my mom, both of whom live just north of Atlanta. We'll see more of Spartacus's brother, Greg, and his partner, Becky, as well as our friends from IHG and Emory. Since I've started blogging, I've reconnected with some old friends and acquaintances on Facebook, many of whom are living in Atlanta or Columbus, and I'm going to make a point of meeting them for coffee or lunch. We'll be closer to Macon, where my good friend, Rana, and her husband, Joseph, live. She's hosting a 10 year reunion for our medical school class sometime this spring, and in her capable hands, it may just be the party of the century! Best of all, I'll now be available to help her. From my perspective, I'm emerging from the chrysalis of recent despair and disillusionment, vulnerable, yet receptive to fresh possibilities, my life unwrapping itself like a thousand gifts within a gift. I'm considering being my own boss for awhile; we'll see where it goes. Socially, I'll be desperately seeking Brandy Alexander, trying to recover the camaraderie I've missed out on for the last decade or so. Being more proactive in this arena is going to take some effort. In the meantime, I've got more packing to do, and since Spartacus's at work, I have no choice but to endeavor in solitude. Thank goodness for NPR!

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