Bi-Postal Blogging

I can’t believe I launched another blog. What could I have been thinking?  Only a few months ago, I was bemoaning the hype around social media, wondering how to get back to my writer self.   But I realized it wasn’t the blogging that got me crazy; it was the disappointment that I didn’t have much of an audience (which didn’t prevent me from feeling deeply grateful to the six of you who did tune in!).  I kept saying to friends, “Blogging is like sending an email into the Universe, but you have no way of knowing who’s read it.”

So here I am again, now with two blogs–Consequential Strangers and MotherU–each representing a totally different part of my life.   I’ll funnel some ideas into in one blog, some in the other, and with others, such this one, I’ll be “bipostal,” contributing to both sites.   I’ll express my thoughts and hope that they resonate somewhere in the Universe, share my expertise and hope that it helps.  But I’ve let go of the expectation.

I’m not the only bi-postal blogger out there, according to some recent stats on blogging.  Approximately half of us are working on at least our second blog, and 68% have been blogging for two years or more.  To paraphrase Oscar Wilde’s famous quote about second marriages, “Second blogs are the triumph of hope over experience.” Continue Reading »

What It Takes to Connect Face-to-Face (in the age of the Google brain…or in Paris!)

I’m back in Paris, on the prowl for a new set of consequential strangers–following my own advice about what it takes for a place to feel comfortable.

It’s not easy here (see this post about my last trip), and the challenge has made me think about what I have to do to connect in a city–this city.  New York is different for me, not only because I speak the language there, but also because  I know the unwritten social rules of the city–how to read the “body idiom” and do what Irving Goffman called the “face work.”   But one doesn’t have to be a sociologist to see that Parisians have a different social playbook than Americans–and I don’t have a copy!  Therefore, I keep reminding myself of the basics of face-to-face connection–skills  we don’t exercise in front of our computers. Continue Reading »

Outsiders Can Make a Marriage Stronger

Sandy (not her real name) was “moved to tears” after hearing me talk about the importance of connecting with consequential strangers in our everyday life.   She later explained in an email:

[My tears were] about my husband. I realized when you were talking about how these consequential strangers enrich our lives that my husband (a stay-at-home dad) hasn’t taken advantage of the consequential strangers he has access to, which has led to depression. I also realized that b/c my experiences are so rich and different from his (I get to meet people like you!) that he’s missing out and I just want him to be able to share experiences and “people” with me b/c it will enrich both of us, as a couple.

Sandy’s story brought to mind a point I often make about CS and marriage:  Outsiders can make a marriage stronger!  Continue Reading »

We Need New Words to Describe Relationships

Guy Owens and I are very distantly related–he’s the husband of my ex-husband’s first cousin!  Our paths would have never crossed but for the fact that I still spend most holiday’s with my ex’s family–two children, three grandchildren and many years later, my ex and I and our extended family comprise a “family apart.”   That’s how Guy and I met, and now we’re consequential strangers who see each other at family events–proof of why it’s so hard to categorize relationships as “intimate” or  “non-intimate.”   I prefer to think about my various connections, family or not, close or casual,  in terms of “meaningful” (instead of intimate), in which case all relationships matter.  Guy sent this in an email and allowed me to post it in CS Stories. Continue Reading »

Downsizing: Jets vs. Sharks

TV imitates life.  The economy and the ills of the health care system set the scene for this season’s Gray’s Anatomy. In the first episode, we learn that financial difficulties have forced Mercy West from across town to merge with Seattle Grace, where Meredith, Christina, McDreamy, and assorted other characters work.   ER meets West Side Story.

This past week’s episode, “I Saw What I Saw,” highlights what hard times can do to our relationships.  It opens as docs of the two opposing gangs nervously await their turn to be questioned about an unnecessary death.  Through a riveting series of interviews and Rashomon-like flashbacks that follow, we learn that even in the face of a mass emergency–a hotel fire with multiple traumas–the newly merged staff members continue to rumble.  Every scene involves gossiping, back-stabbing, and jostling each other out of the way in order to get the “good” cases.  Yet, somehow, no one takes responsibility for the woman who died. Continue Reading »

Getting Stuck on the Word “Stranger”?

Consequential strangers. From the moment I saw the term Karen coined to describe people on the periphery of our close social circles, I loved it.  And so did most people.  They declared it “intriguing” or said “what a great oxymoron.”   But a few were confused.  After I’d described the kind of people we meant–coworkers, neighbors, a favorite waitress, their mailman, their mechanic–they’d inevitably come back with, “But they’re not strangers.” 

No, they’re consequential strangers, which is  a different word entirely.   Recently, I asked my Facebook friends (most are actually CS) for examples of similar phrases in which the meaning of the second word is completely changed by the presence of the first.  

They came up with many suggestions in which the first word modified the second, but does it completely change the meaning of the word?  A final curtain is still a curtain; a silent prayer still a prayer.  Others in that group included heavy duty, dual diagnosis, bind date, jump shot, bathing suit, and sponge bath.  (I came up with will power, which is still a power of sorts.)

They also offered other oxymorons, like jumbo shrimp (suggested by two people), along with civil war,  invisible ink, and amicable divorce.  But in each of those cases, the meaning of the second word is really just modified.  However ironcially, they’re still shrimp, ink, and divorce.  Granted, consequential strangers start out as strangers–all relationships do–but then they become something altogether different.   

The best suggestions, I think, were friendly fire, jazz fiend, smart cookie, trail blazer, military intelligence, and, when meant as an exclamation, good grief!   In each case, the second word takes on an entirely different meaning than if it stood alone.

Is there a name for such phrases? I’d really love William Safire to weigh in here.  Consequential stranger is an oxymoron, but these relationships–in scholarly circles, “weak ties” and in everyday parlance “acquaintances”–are people we know.  So if you’re listening, Mr. Safire or any other experts in our language, your input would be greatly appreciated. 

In the meantime, just remember:  Consequential strangers are not strangers! 

And if you’re wondering whether a particular person in your everyday comings and goings is a friend or consequential stranger, take this test.