Sara James and Ginger Mauney, two women who have been friends since they were 12 years old, have just co-authored a book on this very topic called The Best of Friends: Two Women, Two Continents, and One Enduring Friendship. It's a dual memoir, with alternating chapters written by each woman, and is a testament to the strength and importance of female friendships in the sometimes dizzyingly complex adult world. Both women are compelling authors, with fascinating life stories, and iVillage recently got a chance to ask both of them a series of questions about their book, and their "enduring friendship".
iVillage: Sara, in the book you mention wondering if you could "keep up" with your old childhood friend, especially when you had new friends, a new life, and so much time had passed. How were you and Ginger able to do that? Any tips for those who are longing to re-connect with old friends?
SARA: I think the first step is simply giving it a try. Pick up the phone, shoot off an email, see if your friend is free for coffee or a drink after work. Or maybe you're on a business trip or on vacation and find you're in the city where an old friend lives. That's a perfect, easy opportunity to reconnect. Chances are they are going to be thrilled to hear from you. I remember feeling anxious about calling Gin when we hadn't seen each other for a few years, and only did so because I was coming to New York, where she then lived. Even so, I made all sorts of excuses --"It's been so long, will she be wondering why I'm calling, she's probably busy" -- but something made me call anyway. And I could instantly tell from her voice how delighted she was that I had -- in fact, she'd wanted to do the same thing. I'm so glad we didn't wait.
I don't think every friendship has to continue forever -- it shouldn't feel forced. To my mind, a real friendship -- as opposed to someone you're happy to see at a high school reunion, but only catch up with every few years -- are those relationships which contain a present and the promise of a future, as well as a past. Shared history may enrich friendship, but so do new experiences. When you have an old friend who made you laugh back then, with whom you shared so much, and who seemed to understand you so well, I think it's definitely worth taking the trouble to seek them out again. Even if her life is different, chances are, she's still pretty much the same.
iVillage: Ginger, a lot of the narrative of your part of the story seems to have to do with preconceived notions that people sometimes have about one another. You write:
"Were we still friends, or would the outside perceptions of our lives once again keep us apart?" I think that is something so many people can relate to. Could you talk a little bit more about that?
GINGER: There are so many sides to all of us, and depending upon how comfortable we are with people, we make decisions - conscious and unconscious - to expose more of them. Of course, first impressions count, and those are often influenced by prejudice. On a very superficial level, when I was younger I was skinny with blonde hair, blue eyes and a bouncy step. To many, these traits automatically defined me. Sara was pretty, smart and though funny, came across as more serious. Somehow, instinctually, we both saw behind these outward and obvious traits to something deeper.
Sharing a deep secret with Sara forged our bond. I just knew she was someone I could trust and time and time again, she's proved me right.
iVillage: Sara, I would love to hear about how you got the idea to write such a book.
Did you come up with it together?
SARA: First of all, thank you! We're so thrilled you liked the book, as we loved writing it. The idea for it actually came to me quite suddenly one day when I was on a road trip. It was one of those moments where you mull over life, and think about how you got from where you started to where you are now. In my case, sitting in a car with a man from 10,000 miles away whom I had just married. And at that moment, it occurred to me that the person who understood that better than anything was my dear friend Ginger, because her life was so similar. Except for the fact that it was absolutely opposite.
And that's when the idea hit -- how someone who lived thousands of miles away and had a life completely different from my own could be such a close, wonderful friend. How she could understand everything, even though she wasn't there. How we were exactly opposite, yet uncannily similar, from our appreciation of men with passports and foreign accents to the things that make us laugh. And then there was the fact that we'd known each other since we were twelve, and could communicate with a nod, a wink, a look -- we had so much history in common. When I got home, I called Ginger and said, "I think we should write a book together!" I thought she might think I'd lost my mind, but she instantly agreed, and immediately had wonderful ideas for how to carry through with our project. We both knew from the beginning that it was a story we had to tell together, in alternating voices, in alternating chapters. In essence, there were three stories: Ginger's, mine, and the story of our friendship. For both us, the third is the spine of the book.
iVillage: Sara, you write at the end of the book "Ginger was my alter ego, she could also be my truest self". Is there something in your particular friendship that helps keep you grounded?
SARA: People who "knew you when" always keep you grounded, I think. Take Ginger. She remembers the dopey stuff I did at twelve and still do. The god-awful dress I wore to the prom ... over those years, old friends share secrets, too, large and small. And it seems to me that all that shared history, that trust, builds an incredible bond.
Also, with an old friend like Gin, you know when they give you advice, it's real. They'd never tell you to buy that dress that actually makes you look fat-- they'd just shake their heads and say, "Next!" And you'd laugh. Gin keeps me grounded because she knows so much about me, because she's fundamentally such a kind person, and because I know she has my best interests at heart. I'm lucky enough to have two dear sisters, who I totally trust, and who keep me grounded, too. A good friend is like an honorary sister.
iVillage: Ginger, I loved the part in the book where you described Sara giving you constructive criticism on putting together the rushes for your film. At first, you were defensive and then you realized she was right. I would love to hear a bit more about your thought process in that moment, because I think we all can relate to those times when a friend
is trying to help us, and we might take it in the wrong way.
GINGER: At this stage, I was floundering professionally, very, very afraid that my first adventure into wildlife filmmaking would end without a film. Sara was already a successful reporter and anchor -- larger than life with a billboard to prove it!
Since she'd passed the entry level phase long ago, I didn't think she could understand my fears and she was jumping in far ahead of me, speaking in "TV" terms I was unfamiliar with and so somewhat intimidated by. What she was really trying to do was share her experience and help. She believed that I could catch up - fast!
I had to let my defenses down and accept her constructive criticism at face value, but it was hard cracking my outer, protective shell.
iVillage: There's a beautiful line near the end of the book, Ginger, where you write: "Many times when I've looked in the mirror, I've seen Sara looking back, daring me to dig deeper, to
aim higher, to let go and risk failure." Could you give a couple of examples of Sara "daring" you "to dig deeper"?
GINGER: I think back so long ago when I lived in NYC and my personal life was a mess. Then out of the blue Sara and I reconnected. Even that night sitting at a bar in Manhattan, though she said nothing, I could see in her eyes that she thought I could do more with my life than I was. There was nothing judgmental about it, just a look of support that said, "You have more to offer than this."
Then, when I went to see her in Charlotte, she took me to the station where she was anchoring the evening news, introduced me to the crew and her fellow anchors, proud that I was her friend, and her pride in me made me feel better about myself - at a time when I really wasn't feeling good about who I was at all.
These moments were building blocks, helping to give me the strength I needed to make bigger choices, like the move to Africa.
Since then, and since I spend so much time alone in the bush with the necessary quiet to listen to your own voice, many times I've asked myself, "What would Sara think?" and I hear the answer. It doesn't come as a challenge but as a cheer. I guess that is a true example of how deep our friendship runs.
iVillage: It's kind of neat to read about two women who, over the years (of losing touch, of re-connecting, of staying in touch in pre-email days!) have become even more committed to the idea of female friendship, and how important it is. Is this something you two talk about - or is it something that just happened organically?
SARA: I think our friendship began organically, as most do. I look at our six-year-old daughter Sophie, and get such a kick out of her budding friendships. Some relationships just click. But I also think that as I've gotten older, I've recognized how lucky I am to have dear friends like Ginger, and how important it is to stay in touch. Like so many other things in life, friendship is reciprocal -- if you try to be a good friend, you'll have wonderful friends. And if you have that, you're fortunate indeed.
For more information on "The Best of Friends", please visit HarperCollins.
Click here to buy The Best of Friends, by Sara James and Ginger Mauney!