Friends

Standard

I saw some of my friends today. Not all of them by any means, but a few, more than I think I’ve seen all year, and these only for two hours.

They are people I’ve shared experiences with for more than 20 years and who, despite that, will still show up to slop around a muddy field playing disc golf on a December morning.

We didn’t talk about much. Afterwards my wife asked me how everyone was doing, what was happening in their lives, whether we might see so-and-so at such-and-such an event next year. I couldn’t really answer any of those questions. We didn’t really cover them.

Instead we laughed at each other, tried to put each other off our shots, cheered when the mud rose towards welly-overtopping level and, so it seemed to me, enjoyed each other’s company in the simplest possible fashion.

Just being around people for whom you need put up no sort of front at all is such a holy relief. Having people you can see for the first time in two years and pick up with as if it were last week is a blessing.

When you’re isolated from your friends, it can feel as if the wellspring of your being is being choked off. Certainly the most satisfying, nurturing and just plain pleasurable things in my life come from connections with other people. Unfortunately, making and sustaining connections is not my natural mode of operation.

I had friends at school and lost these when I went to college. I lost all but one of my college friends when I went to university. Through a combination of circumstances, I also managed to lose all my university friends over the five years after graduation, the space being taken by friends I made through ultimate frisbee. Now I don’t play ultimate frisbee any more, and so my connections are beginning to crackle and fade. I miss them badly.

Where I live, I could cover a radius of 60 or 70 miles counting the people I have known for more than ten years and, discounting family and workmates, I would only need the fingers of one hand. And not all of those. It’s a poverty.

So when I drove over to see my friends this morning I knew it was rare time and that the only way to make the most of it was to pretend that it wasn’t. Keep cracking the same old gags, keep probing the same old sore spots, keep comically playing up the same flaws and weaknesses, knowing that in this company all those things are permissible, expected.

You never know what you’ve got until it’s gone. I love where we live, I love what we do, I love the people I spend time with, in and out of work, but my heart has been compensating for the fact that my old old friends are so very very far away by growing hard to that fact. Instead of dealing with it by contacting them, finding ways to spend time with them, staying in touch in a meaningful way, I’ve subconsciously focussed on closing off that part of me and imagining that it doesn’t matter so much. And that sucks really badly.

As an aside, this morning also forced home the sense that two hours of meaningless waffle with my friends is worth more than a year of thumbing up and down a screen, wondering what they are up to and whether any of them remember me. I deleted Facebook from my phone this afternoon. Not because I think it’s an evil but because checking, rechecking, thumbing, is a drag on my mind and every time I do it, it reminds me, in some very small degree, about the real friendships I’m not looking after.

To all you lot out there, I really miss you.

Advertisements

I Give Up: Everything Else

Standard

Football, Twitter and eating every day have gone.

What else?

As I look back over the last couple of years I see a trail of pockmarks, craters and holes where things big and small used to sit in my life. None of these smaller divestments were as sudden or as intentional as the big three, and perhaps not as permanent, but they all involved significant aspects of my milieu.

I can’t believe I just referred to ‘my milieu’. I should give up being a ponce.

Fiction

I’ve been a committed reader of novels since I was 15 or 16. They have shaped my sense of self, drawn me into places and positions I would never have occupied otherwise and essentially formed a central part of what I thought myself to be. I still read, and although the last few years have been a little slower than those which preceded them (less time on my hands, no public transport commute), I still managed to get through 25 books in 2013, which seems like a decent pace, all things considered.

However, I was taken aback to realise in retrospect that none of the books I sat and read this year were fiction. In fact the only two novels I consumed this year were as audiobooks and one of those, The Picture Of Dorian Gray, was a re-read.

I wrote about this here. This seems to represent a shift and I recognise some of the underlying currents, but it’s been largely sub-conscious.

Music

I love music.

Let me restate that. I love music.

Nothing has shaped my sense of who I am more than the music I happened to seize upon as a teenager and the places that music has taken me. I’ve spent many hours and years writing about music, talking about music and every year since I was a school kid listening to music.

I couldn’t give it up. If I say it’s a part of me, that’s not just a tired phrase, it’s a physiological truth. If i’m not actively listening to music (like now) I have songs playing on my Head Radio (currently ‘Sweet Jane’).

Nonetheless, last year when various things were pretty sketchy I had a significant wobble. I found myself needing to hear podcasts and books, specifically to have people speaking about things which would require second-by-second concentration. I wrote a little about it at the time as it crossed over with the 2012 Music Diary Project. At the time I knew it was a form of avoidance. I didn’t want the space that music affords the mind, didn’t want to wander. For several months I found myself deliberately turning away from music, putting on headphones and carefully, worriedly, needily digging for something spoken-word to play.

An aberration then, but even that seemed seismic at the time. 2013 was more balanced. Loads and loads of new music, but also loads of really enjoyable podcasts. There’s a connection here, perhaps, between me giving more time to non-fiction reading and non-fiction listening.

News

I stopped listening to the Today programme every morning at around the same time.

Now, fair enough, there are good reasons to do so. The adversarial he-said-she-said interviews. Even worse, an interviewing approach which seems aimed only at getting the subjects to make or admit to a mistake which they can then be taken to task for, rather than joining with them in search of, you know, the truth. I genuinely believe that the fear of saying the wrong thing on Radio 4 has led directly to a generation of politicians who deliberately, and incredibly irritatingly, say nothing at all. And hey presto! Our political life is broken.

I didn’t cut myself off entirely. I still listen to Five Live around the house, and PM kept me interested for a few months afterwards, but as I fell under the sway of various podcasts, so these came to replace my listening on the way to and from work.

And then I stopped commuting to the news completely, as a deliberate decision. How would it be, I asked myself, if I just decided NOT to engage with these irritating people? These horrible, intractable situations? With the uncontrollable outside world?

It turned out it was fine. I feel guilty for being out of touch, although I’m not sure I am terribly. As with Twitter, I felt a brief concern that I was retreating from our shared reality. And then I got over it and started feeling comfortable in some different realities. I’m still not sure it’s the right thing to do in absolute terms, but it feels like absolutely the right thing for me to do right now and ultimately I have to go with that.

Ultimate

I’ve been an ultimate frisbee player for 20 years now. I started late, which means I’m now hanging on really, really late. Sooner, not later, it will be time to call it a day, and I’ve started thinking about it almost exclusively in those terms. A couple of years ago I wrote about how it feels to know that something, perhaps the only thing, you’ve ever been really good at is coming to an end. I don’t necessarily feel so dramatically about it now, but I sure do wonder whether any other pastime will ever get that time, energy and dedication from me.

Cycling

I have cycled a lot in the past few years and got a great deal from it. I love it, but I don’t do it any more. There are good reasons for this, and it’s not a conscious move away from something, but perhaps mentionable as another thing I thought I couldn’t live without that I’m living without.

Social contact

Now, this sound both dramatic and self-pitying, but over the last ten years I have basically moved from having constant contact with a network of family and friends all within a few miles to having no-one at all, except my wife. The relocation was quite deliberate (it’s a tricky thing to pull off by accident) but the isolation was an unwelcome side-effect. I still feel it, quite intensely at times.

I know lovely people where we live, and spending time with them is great, but we have some way to go. I want this to be different, but there are no easy fixes. In the meantime I could draw a 60 mile radius around my house and it would only contain one person I can call a genuine old friend.

Playing Ultimate gave me semi-regular contact with a big share of my best friends, but that’s going soon. Social media isn’t the same, and even that seems to be going too.

I’m not sure what’s happening. Maybe nothing, maybe something.