our gang

cast of

Today’s post is a tribute to some of my very favorite people in the world. But it’s a tribute with a point and a challenge for us all.

In my writings, I talk a lot about the many interesting and cool people I meet day to day by taking positive social risks. Today, I want to tell you about a different group of people – an inner circle of friends that make for a pretty wonderful life.

Our little gang centers around two sisters, Holly and Dib. Their real names are Charlotte and Olivia, which adds to the atmosphere somehow, because they are truly classy, classic and traditional while at the same time being entirely down-to-earth, modern and cool.

Gatherings typically happen at one of their homes in Marshfield, Massachusetts. Holly’s home is right on the actual marsh of Marshfield – the house where she and Dib grew up. It holds a rich history of personal stories, with new ones emerging all the time, even after the decades some of us have spent together there. Dib’s home is near the sea wall, where you can hear the ocean and smell the salt in the air the moment you step outside. Everything from the lighting to the hand soap feels like a beach escape, yet without the slightest hint of pretentiousness.

Both are gardeners extraordinaire. You’ll never see such personal and beautiful spaces as their gardens; and while dropping in, it is likely you’ll be offered an artisan salad made with their own herbs and tomatoes in an array of colors.

But Holly and Dib aren’t the only members of our hodge-podge family, nor the only ones with interesting pet names. Spanky, Alfalfa and Froggy had nothing on our gang, which includes the likes of Fluffy, Tipster, Pinky and Richie Rich.

I’ve spent twenty holiday seasons with this group of friends. Though there have been additions along the way, it is difficult to imagine a time when we all weren’t there together.  The Christmas tree is always perfectly imperfect, and laden from stand to star with decorations spanning a hundred years: bubbling baubles and tiny trains that run their tracks on heat from the bulbs. Food is made from scratch with old family recipes, and we all clap when it is at last presented by our host, Holly, who is beaming and covered in flour. It’s as close to stepping into a Norman Rockwell painting as anyone will ever get.

It would be hard for me – even as a writer – to describe the feeling when we are all together.  On the surface, we couldn’t be more different. The age range spans 40 years. Some are single and some are married with kids. Some are tech geeks. Some are connoisseurs of cigars, wine and spirits.  Some get serious about Magic: The Gathering while others discuss Nietzsche. Some are boisterous and others as quiet and reflective as I imagine Abraham Lincoln to have been.

But despite all of these apparent differences, the love is a tangible thing. Every time we get together seems to end too quickly, even if it is 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning (and it often is). “It’s over?” Holly will pout from the porch as she sees us each to our cars. “How can it be over?”

Perhaps most remarkable of all is that, in twenty years, there has never been one day – not one incident – of fighting, arguing or ill-will within this group. No gossip. No whispers or side taking.  No awkwardness. No one opting out of coming because so-and-so will be there.

And no reason such things would ever occur.

In fact, we make up excuses to have parties, which we’re doing again this weekend (and next). And each time, an excitement builds as if it were the first. But as we group texted to get this Sunday’s soirée in place, something new occurred to me (I love when that happens).  I’d always thought that we were all very different; but I saw clearly for the first time that we actually all have something in common, other than the desire to just be together.

Every single person in this group is uniquely and undeniably creative. And each is creative in more ways than just one. But I’ll give you some snapshots:

Holly is creativity incarnate. You never can tell when she’s going to burst into a comical opera or do angry cat impressions. She’s not looking for attention; she just loves life and goes with whatever hits her. She’s an outrageous storyteller. And her cooking! The things she might make and feed to the birds as “a flop” would be better than most things you’d order and lick the plate after.

Richard is a problem solver. I quite believe that you could present him with any mechanical or spatial problem and he would be able to solve it within minutes – a half-hour tops. He just sees solutions. Not only does he see them, he’s a wiz at implementing them. At any given moment, if you tune in to Richard’s voice, you’ll probably hear some version of, “Well, if you were to turn it sideways at a 30˚ angle and then double up on the …”

Dib is a big picture kind of person. She can corral the cats. She can take nothing and make it into something incredible. I can’t count the number of times Dib has apologized that she has nothing to offer by way of a snack, because she hasn’t been shopping.  Then she’ll open the fridge, tap her lip while perusing, and – chop, chop, stir, twist, shake – five minutes later she’ll hand you a gourmet plate that would fetch a high price in Paris. She has a way of making a tiny change to a room or outfit, and changing it from plain to perfection in an instant.

Bud sees the humor in words and situations. He hears every possible meaning and turns out puns at a mind-boggling rate. He performs out at open-mic jazz nights and plays the harmonica, and he regularly offers the latest concoctions from his home beer microbrewery to the oohs and ahhs of those in the know on such things.

Sam and Caroline have been members of acapella groups and play ukulele.

Martha’s hand-sketched drawings are marketable pieces, and she can (and does) create by hand the most stunning cosplay outfits.

Jon is a graphic and visual artist who also makes killer cookies, and Kayla writes and sings her own music. Even their little girl Maia makes unusually creative crafts (as well as devising unusually creative persuasions for why she should get a tasty snack when it isn’t time for one). And as for Baby Ruby (“Noobie”) – well, I’m sure she’s already up to something creative in that little mind of hers. We’re left to guess what it is a little while longer.

Matty is a pastry chef and culinary entrepreneur who treats us at nearly every gathering to gourmet ice creams made from ingredients you’d swear couldn’t work together – as you’re going back for thirds.

David plays guitar and sings in a band. He writes and performs his own music, as well.

Michael is a filmmaker and poet, and Larissa a visual artist who just knows how to capture true emotion in an image. Together, they also create truly beautiful and personal gifts from burlap, shells, sand – whatever they can find in their world.

Gina (-Beana) is a photographer and never shows up without the tastiest assortment of homemade Italian baked goods.

And Helen (who will always be part of our little family, even from a world away) is an accomplished bassist, and weaves the most unbelievable creations from wicker and wood. The stars she gifted me with a decade or more ago have donned my windows and tree top at Christmas time every year since.

Again, these are just hints. Each member of the troupe is creative to the core and expresses it in a dozen other ways.

So why the tribute and reverie? As promised, there is a point.

You see, in addition to being creative, our gang is made up of happy people. That’s not to say that we never have a bad moment or day. But we are absolutely more positive than most and by a long shot. We are peaceful. We are adept at finding silver linings. We smile a lot. When we get together, we often can’t help but to circle up and sing something, or to move the furniture and dance the night away.

And all of this got me thinking, playing some mental connect-the-dots. How could so many people, who are otherwise as different as can be, correspond 100% where being both creative and happy are concerned. Is there a correlation?

Are creative people happier?

Or is it that happy people – are more creative?

Are creative people happier? Or are happy people more creative?

Interestingly enough, my friend Chad turned me onto the folks at SoulPancake and a fun and entertaining VIDEO, a live experiment that convincingly suggests that the latter may be the case: that happiness actually causes people to be more creative.

If you know anything at all about me, my writing and what I believe in, you know that I believe this central truth – you always have a choice. Happiness, then, is not a lot in life doled out capriciously by the universe.

Happiness is a choice.

Happiness is a choice.

So if happiness is a choice, and increased happiness leads to increased creativity, logic would dictate that choosing to be happy is also choosing to be more creative. And if we are more creative, doesn’t it stand to reason that we will solve problems better and faster, succeed at what we put our hands to and increase our overall enjoyment of life (thereby keeping the happiness cycle going)?

After twenty years with some of the happiest and most creative people I’ve ever met, I’m willing to put my money on it.

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