Martha Randolph Carr Martha Randolph Carr, 2/1/2008 [Archive]

Answer My Questions

Answer My Questions

By Martha Randolph Carr

As human beings we aren't designed to be alone. We like to pair off, bunch up in groups or even stop and join a large crowd just to find out why everyone else is standing around. We are programmed to search each other out and when we find people who behave kind of like we do, we stop and trade information. It's gotten to where I'm actually surprised when someone doesn't have a business card on them. Like they forgot their wallet or something. My niece and nephews, who are still under the driving age, all have calling cards.

As small children back in the 1960 suburbs of Philadelphia, we inquired along the lines of whether or not our new best friend would eat paste too or had the Malibu Barbie beach house or if they could ride without the training wheels. All of that is great stuff because it still tells us something about who that kindergartner is shaping up to be and about how confident we are because we can reveal bits and pieces of ourselves.

I would try the paste and found it to be kind of like overcooked oatmeal, did have the beach house and even a full wardrobe my mother had sewn and took the training wheels off early but dismounted the bike by throwing myself on a variety of neighbors' lawns. I was not good at using the brakes but would head out again anyway. Friends of mine now would probably find that very revealing.

Flash forward about forty years or so and here I am, still having to mine new people for information. I'm not really sure I saw this one coming. I half-expected to be married, celebrating some huge anniversary with a tight circle of friends who knew most everything about me dating back decades. None of that happened and, if you've been following along at all, I took off for the big city this summer and have started all over in every category. It's been a little daunting. I didn't realize how much I expected to find a bunch of paste-eaters right off the bat until I caught myself trying to turn anyone half-interested into a best friend. No discernment, no warming-up time. It hasn't worked well, either, particularly in New York City, the land of keeping your private information close. There is even business card etiquette that I haven't seen in other cities. Cards have the person's name and, of course, personal web site and maybe an office phone number but there's no email address or cell phone number. That you have to earn.

So, my invitations to go out for coffee were met with looks of jolted surprise. Some people even said, "we'll see," which made me wonder what they were waiting to find out and what unpleasant surprises they might have had before. In a city with subway stops every other block to use as an escape route, how bad could having coffee actually turn out to be? However, there have been a few hardy souls who have jumped right in and at first, I still bubbled up with enthusiasm about way too many things. I was starving for some connection, some recognition of shared values or delights. Not so much. So far, reactions have ranged from bone-crushing goodbye hugs as if the ship was going down before they walked away, to hurried goodbyes as they looked for that subway stop. I walked away feeling lonelier than ever and a little foolish. I had revealed my paste-eating, Barbie-loving self and been rejected. Maybe I should get some new cards as well, hide more of who I really am and wait for some subtle signs--

Nah, I thought about that idea for awhile, but it's not who I am. I'm looking for a friend like the one I had back in Virginia who agreed to go to a party drummed up to discuss politics and in the middle said, in a very loud voice, "politics is boring" and somehow got everyone to change the subject. Now, she was a pistol, and by the way, inspired by my move to New York, she sold everything and moved to Hawaii. A kindred spirit, unfortunately half a world away. But, as long as I keep being myself, as off as that might seem to a few million people, I just know I'll find that handful mixed in among the others who had a knack for leaping from a giant purple Schwinn onto the cushiest part of the green, green grass. My new peeps. And, since I'm planning on sticking around New York City for awhile, maybe this time I can grow roots.

Martha Carr is a popular newspaper and magazine columnist as well as book author. A 1982 graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and the 1990 first place winner of the Virginia Press Award, she is a descendant of Thomas Jefferson, and along with her cousin, best selling author, Lucian K. Truscott IV, has worked to recognize all of the Jefferson descendants.

A Place to Call Home: The Amazing Success Story of Modern Orphanages (Prometheus). "...Carr's book should touch hearts and open discussions."- Publishers Weekly. For more info about Martha and her books go to

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