Living with Family & Friends
What can I say that hasn’t already been said…
Let me guess: You love your family and your friends. They occasionally drive you crazy.
You are not alone.
I began writing this introduction several weeks ago. I stopped, started and meandered. My family and friends are the most important aspect of my life. They make me feel deeply and I wouldn’t be without them — but living with family and friends can get complicated quickly.
So for now, given the number of great fiction & non-fiction stories about family and friends, I will leave the books and bundles do the talking, except for the scant bit of advice below:
- Your family & friends impact you — both good & bad.
- Choose wisely: both who & how much.
- Respect their opinions, even if you don’t agree.
- Be patient.
- Let go of your ego and the need to be right — you are still you.
- Silence can be golden. Share opinions and give advice wisely.
- Check you, before you check them.
Questions I invite you to consider as you read & explore:
- If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?
- If you could change one thing about you when you’re dealing with your family, what would it be?
- What’s the best thing about your family?
- Have you ever drawn out your family tree? See below for a sample from Pride & Prejudice.
- As you read, are there any ideas/tools/thoughts that might help you live better with your family?
THE CORRECTIONS BY JONATHAN FRANZEN
The legacy of The Corrections is fraught with as much drama as the story within its pages of the midwestern family, The Lamberts. For those who remember, Jonathan Franzen got his novel, The Corrections (and thus himself) dis-invited to appear on the Oprah show. It caused a media frenzy and likely cost the author and publisher, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (FSG) millions — or at least hundreds of thousands of dollar.
The saga is captured in a chapter of Boris Kachka’s entertaining book, Hothouse: The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America’s Most Celebrated Publishing House, Farrar Straus & Giroux. The publishing tale from Hothouse was excerpted in Slate.
There is so much about living with ‘family’ in these three stories: The Corrections, the Oprah debacle and the wider FSG story. So many lessons to learn: when to speak up, when to stay silent, how to stand by an errant relative, how to manage oneself in the middle of drama. There is humor of all kinds, sadness, devotion and many shades of love.
DRESS YOUR FAMILY IN CORDUROY AND DENIM BY DAVID SEDERIS
I am afraid to write about David Sedaris here; afraid I’ll want to try too hard to match his prose — their precision, sharpness and warmth — especially when he writes about family. He tackles the simple but complicated conversations of family interactions with sentences that cajole and correct all at once. He captures those simple moments of living when we are balanced between worry about the worst possibility and hope for some perfect happiness.
I can’t seem to fathom that the things important to me are not important to other people as well, and so I come off sounding like a missionary, someone whose job it is to convert rather than listen…. It’s no wonder Tiffany [his sister] dreads my visits. Even when silent, I seem to broadcast my prissy disapproval, comparing the woman she is with the woman she will never be, a sanitized version who struggles with real jars and leaves other people’s teeth and frozen turkeys where she finds them. It’s not that I don’t like her — far from it — I just worry that, without a regular job and the proper linoleum, she’ll fall through a crack and disappear to a place where we can’t find her.
— Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
Sedaris regularly sells out his readings. Though this clip is not about family, it’s indicative of Sedaris’s precision with words — even bad words.
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE BY JANE AUSTEN
There is an endless array of connections in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. It’s impossible to escape the good and the bad of family.
One of the major questions of the novel: What is to become of children raised by loving but ineffectual parents? It’s an important philosophical question with real world consequences that many of us often ask ourselves today.
Elizabeth Bennett has not had great parenting. Her mother is a fool. Her father is weak-willed and ineffectual. And her younger sisters are a complete embarrassment: foolish, self-absorbed and unable to think further than immediate pleasures and unable to anticipate the consequences of their seemingly silly actions.
How does one manage?
For many modern readers, Austen’s style will feel slow and meandering. But, I’d offer, perhaps we need slower, less rushed, more meandering when responding to our families. Read Austen (not just watch the last movie version) and you will see why she is still a crowd favorite.
“Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.” — Jane Austen
BEHIND THE SCENES AT THE MUSEUM BY KATE ATKINSON
Behind the Scenes at the Museum is quite a grim book. Death is always cutting the family tree apart.
This is the first novel by Kate Atkinson and though it is not perfect — sometimes trying too hard to be clever, it does capture the rudeness and pointlessness of family life occasionally interrupted by world affairs. It’s a dark and funny read that captures the pointlessness of world affairs juxtaposed to the immediate enormity of family life.
Ruby Lennox, the narrator of this multi-generational family saga, has dark humor conversations in her head. We are often guilty of the same as we sit anxiously at a family wedding waiting for something embarrassing to happen or we wait frozen silent in a church pew for the coffin of the dearly departed to be rolled by.
Behind the Scenes at the Museum won the Whitbread Prize in 1995 (beating out Salman Rushdie) and catapulted Atkinson to the front of the British literary line of contemporary authors. In this short interview she talks about the impact that the stunning praise had on her psyche. Interesting that she has created an alter ego and renamed herself to manage her mind. A common technique advocated by many high performance sports coaches. Is it a technique to consider when you undertake a big goal or new life chapter?
Additional Thought-Provoking Resources:
Alain de Botton the singular British writer and philosopher who helped found The School of Life in London, produced several short, entertaining, sugarless videos on various aspects of family and friendship,
These might come in handy some day 🙂
I would also recommend his short book, The Consolations of Philosophy. Though it is not specific to the topic of living with family and friends, it does contain some excellent advice. It’s a lovely short read.
Other Books To Consider:
Not surprisingly there are an endless supply of novels about families. Here are are few more that are worth putting on your reading list:
Many of us remember the sumptuous BBC series with Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews. Visually stunning, it was not always true to the brilliant novel. Waugh is more complicated, nasty and nuanced in his depiction of the human condition within the family community. A brilliant book and worth a read — or re-read for anyone dealing with a strong family culture.
Wise Children by Angela Carter
I must confess that Angela Carter is one of my favorite writers. Wise Children was sadly her final novel before her early death from cancer in 1992. It is a magical romp through decades with the Chance and Hazard families. Complete with illegitimate births, multiple wives, several sets of twins, step-families, badly behaved parents and more than a few family hangers-on, Wise Children is a literary soap opera tour de force.