Tuesday, April 23, 2013

On Friendship

This morning I received a message on Facebook (edited slightly to remove identifying factors):

Hey there Jenny
Thinking of you. You always light up my facebooking with your wonderful little posts and amusing updates.
I'm just coming out of a week long depressive episode. It's not always as linear as that, as yesterday was pretty crap. HOWEVER, today is a new day.
Sometimes feel incredibly close to you -- it's a little strange I know, considering I haven't seen you for years. Take Care x

It could not have come at a better time. That generous vulnerability warmed my heart and echoed with understanding.

I have 920 Facebook friends, and a lot of the time I feel alone in the world and wanting more. I've been turning this notion of friendship over in my head for a few weeks now, taking stock after the loss of Rel. Yesterday was one month since she passed away and it's getting easier and harder all at once. It's not a shock to remember on waking anymore, but settling in for the long haul of loss sends that chilled, dull ache to my gut. When you water the plants in the garden you also water the weeds, and they have deep roots going back years that are impossible to disentangle from the now, the fresh grief raises up the old and it is somewhat crushing on the harder days.

I wonder, truly, how humans deal. Death is a part of life, and with love comes loss, that's a given. But how do people move about in the world and keep on truckin' when those blows just keep coming?

This has led me to deeply consider the role of friends in my life. Do I have enough, do I want more, do I expect too much, what do I deserve, how do friendships change as you go through life, and so on and so forth.

I have a love in my life who is my best friend. Her smile lights up my world and her depth of understanding and wisdom quite frankly takes me aback. We talk a lot about friendship and the challenges and loveliness of experiencing and maintaining meaningful friendships over years and decades. We both place high value on having adventures separately outside of the relationship - and it's wonderful to have stories to tell each other after the fact.

Most people can say they've moved on from friendships that turned out to be too dramatic, cumbersome, draining or that didn't change and grow as the parties included in it did. I've moved on from my fair share when the time was right and never regretted it for a minute. I've missed who people used to be to me and felt loss, which is a very different thing to regret.

Sometimes friendships are location dependent - when you live or work closely with someone, these friendships are easy and flow beautifully, but when circumstances change and someone doesn't happen to be in your field of vision that commitment can become a task that falls short of our daily to-do lists.

Look what we've done - moved an hour away from many people we love. Now interactions involve diaries and planning and time and energy, and with that change comes a bit of awkwardness. I think many friends wait for an invitation to come visit, as we wait for people to say they want to come and see us, and we all wait and time moves on and the space between seeing one another grows bigger and bigger.

Don't even get me started on the old "we must catch up" with no follow through chestnut. Lord! 

Life is full and so many of us are pulled in multiple directions. We all do our best - and our experience of that level of 'best' range from fulfilling to disappointing.

Last week I'd stayed in town overnight after teaching as I had an appointment on Tuesday morning in town, and had a spur of the moment breakfast with an old friend. An old lover in fact, from years ago. It was experiencing that light and intimacy over eggy bread and a decaf that I realised how much I'd been missing those interactions - how much it feeds your soul to sit with someone who knows you so well, that you can say "I can't bear to talk about myself, I'm sad today can you please just keep telling me about what's happening in your life?" and they happily do and you both have a lovely time. What a gift!

On Sunday I went to a family BBQ (Tracey's brother and sister in law had turned 31 and were having a shindig) and then we went our separate ways as I traveled into town for a solo night out. I was so close to just going home because I felt like a loser (I'd sent tentative, last-minute messages to about three different friends asking if they wanted to join me, all were busy) but something in me knew that being afraid of being lonely was fine, acting out of that fear was something else altogether. I could become a hermit! The horror. (Perhaps I already am?) Leaving from the BBQ had shaved about 20 minutes off my travel time in to town, and so I was propelled into the great bustling metropolis of Melbourne town.

Good golly, I had a fabulous time. First stop was Temple of Music at Chalice in Northcote. I'd interviewed Kirsty about this on PBS earlier that week and was thoroughly intrigued about the church experience minus the Jesus stuff, and including music and discussion and philosophy and a bit of old-fashioned chanting and Leunig and George Harrison and an egg shaker. Brilliant. I thoroughly recommend getting along to the next one if that sounds like your bag (Sunday May 19 at 5 pm, Northcote).

Next I drove over to Trades Hall and saw Catherine Deveny in her last show at the comedy festival, and the first and only thing I managed to get to this year. Fabulous. Outrageous. Cacked myself til my sides hurt. (Side note - I wholeheartedly say YES to trampolines without fences around them). She even made a cancer joke (from the perspective of a survivor) and it didn't make me curl up in a ball and wail, so that was a bit of a personal milestone.

Then I came home, triumphant that I'd broadened my horizons and had stories to tell.

The next day I had work (radio show and taught a class) where I get to see all sorts of lovely people and do creative things. Mondays are so great because I get to do these things that mean I connect with other people. The down side is that all the driving wreaks havoc with my back and my arms and my neck, and Tuesdays are often spent not feeling so great and needing to be still. Is it worth it? One hundred per cent yes.

It's a shame though, that with happiness and fulfillment comes physical pain. I never get used to that and overcommit myself, having to cancel things often and being too embarrassed to explain myself properly (or sometimes I do but people don't really understand - how could they?) then I'm the piker pariah from Loserville.

Who would think that being around people three days in a row would mean overcommitting myself? But there it is. So my solution is being an extremely active Facebooker. If something makes me happy, I like it. If I think other people will like it, I share it. It keeps me connecting and interacting with people and smashes isolation to smithereens. That's the intention anyway.

Tracey once told me about a time when I was off doing something else and she had been spending time with three of our friends, and they decided to work out a chart of my Facebook activity (bestill my nerdy chart-loving heart) and there was definite correlation with what I know as my lay-low days and markedly increased traffic. The days I'm gathering strength to get amongst it again I am rarely without my smartphone in my hand, checking in on what's happening in the rest of the world. I have massive reading lists of websites and blogs that I'll get back to when my levels of concentration will let me take it all in.

I print out amazing things that have rocked my world - I have no idea where to put them but I know I want to keep them and somehow hold on to the feeling of being moved.

Back to the start and the message I got through Facebook this morning - I was delighted to hear that the closeness and connection I feel goes both ways in some instances. Don't you love it when people tell you that you've been on their mind, when they've been on yours?

Today I'm driving about an hour down the road (further from town) to see a new friend I met through the BHB conference just over a month ago. There's a cinnamon tea cake baking in the oven and I can't wait to go have an adventure out in the world and hear about how she's doing and see some beautiful beachy goodness.

Looking forward - I'd love some friends close by - drop in for a cup of tea kind of friends. Easy friends. I wonder where they are? I'm looking forward to seeing more friends in town, as always, and having visitors when the time suits everyone.

One thing's for sure, when your energy is limited you definitely make every bit count.

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