Monday, 14 November 2016

How are you

When you're in your 20s, most friendship groups form because of some uniting cause. You're all single, you all like tequila and sequins (in that order), or you all memorised Roald Dahl poems as a kid.

Whatever it is, you're all in the same situation, you can relate to each other in some way. You rely on each other, talk about your tumultuous dating lives and relationships, your fears about the future, or absolutely nothing at all.

Out of that, a sort of day to day dialogue emerges. You have a casual, almost unremarkable routine of checking in with each other, and popping round, and it's a sort of barometer: you all seem to know how everyone is.

But at some indeterminate point in your 30s, slowly that begins to change.

And you know it's inevitable, natural even: but that doesn't stop it feeling strange when your good friends no longer come to you with their day-to-day stuff.

More often than not, they've got someone at home who can listen and take the load off their mind midweek, rather than nipping round to yours, or for a quick one in the pub.

For me, this year's heartbreak hasn't been a romantic relationship dwindling. It was realising that little by little, my friends no longer need me in the same way they did before. And in turn realising that I, being single, still need them in the same way I always have.

Which was the thought process running through my mind a couple of weeks ago, when winter was in the air, and my mood was dogged down one day mid week.

My next planned social event - because now, they are almost always planned - was still a couple of days away, an impossible work situation was feeling impossible, and family matters felt like they mattered a lot.

What I really fancied was a quick chat, something to perk me up: but my last failed attempts at rousing the gang on Whatsapp for a spontaneous drink were ebbing at the confidence to make the same suggestion again.

I knew, if I was to send a message, or an email, or make a call and say I could do with a chat, that responses would come and someone would be there.

But when your mind is telling you that everyone else has somewhere else they'd rather be, then the simple call or text that would fix things can be the hardest one to make.

So I didn't, and the day trundled on, along with my mood. Until just before the end of the day, when a text message arrived.

The name surprised me. It was a friend who had largely disappeared this year, leaving one of the biggest gaps of all. But there she was - as if she knew I needed her - with just two words:

Dinner soon?

And that was all it took. We chatted away, she asked how I was, and we arranged a Sunday afternoon out. Little by little as the inane back and forth continued, my brain lifted itself out of its slump.

It reminded me just how restorative a simple how are you can be. That friends are still there, but they need to know that you need them.

And single or not, I think that reminder works both ways.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

It was a very good day

We are in his room, and outside it, the sun is setting on the weekend.

'I need to go home' I say, because it's Sunday, because we've got work tomorrow, because it's 9pm, because at some point all good days must come to an end.

'I need to go home' I say again, half an hour later, and this time I reach down and put on my shoes.

'We should do something proper. Go for dinner. Without hangovers.' he says, looking directly at me, smoothing down strands of my hair.

'Yes, we should. Let's do that.'

'Let me know when you get home,' he says, once, then twice, 'Check the number works' he adds with a smile.

And then we kiss for a long time at his front door, and then, finally, I leave.


***

At a friend's birthday the night before, it's late when he passes me his phone.

I read the words I'm going home soon. I was wondering if I can I have your number? he's written in the message field, and I nod, then we sneak off to the kitchen, and my stomach flips as we kiss.

Night rolls into morning, morning rolls into a walk to my house, my house turns into the park, Bloody Marys in a pub garden, and it's afternoon now: we sit on a park bench in the sun.

'Tell me things about yourself,' he says, 'Tell me things you like.'

The park bench in the sun turns into a slow, arms-round-eachother amble along a canal.

We stop for food; hands held across the corner of a square table for two. We walk, we walk, we walk back to his for a film, a nap. Full circle.

Back again, he said, like it wouldn't be the last time.

***

I wait for the bus, I let him know that I'm home.

A couple of messages from him is all it takes, and the light feeling in my chest is replaced by one that is more familiar to me.

The next day, confusion.

Perhaps I imagined it, I think.

A week passes of nothing, then two.

***
It's awkward, isn't it? It's not the ending you expect.

You want the love story, the follow up, the excitement, the dates, the things that are meant to happen after a good day.

As a love story, it's lacking. But as a good day, it's pretty much complete.

To look at good days in anything other than isolation is silly; I don't take them too personally any more.

Good days are like good dates; there'll be another.

He was another, after all.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Travel when you can

When you're bored, and single, or you don't have anything pinning you to where you feel you should be: book some flights, and travel.

Get pushed back in your seat as the plane takes off, and leave everything that was worrying you or stressing you, or niggling at your heart, on the runway at Heathrow.

Resign it to lost property.

Do not ask for it back.

Stay in the sky for hours, a day and night, longer than most people will ever spend above the clouds. Then land, and wash your face, and get back on and do it again.

Arrive on the other side of the world, your concept of time gone topsy-turvy. The sun is shining and you're shedding layers outside the terminal; there goes your hoody, you're holding your coat.

Spend some time with friends.

Have decision-free days that revolve around brunch and booze, and beach, then gently excuse yourself from the slow moving group.

Split off from the comfortable, go-with-the-flow, someone-else-will-do-it mentality, and get on a different flight.

Hire a car, pay for a GPS.

Throw your backpack in the boot, start the engine, and feel the familiar what the fuck am I doing nerves you always get when you arrive somewhere on your own.

Pull over whenever you fancy it, watch the river for as long as you want. When you get going again, realise you've left your anxiety by the side of the road.

Do not turn back.

Drive to places you know, and places you don't. Book single rooms with communal living spaces, and sit where people can see you - on a sofa, in a kitchen, outside a library, in a cafe - and wait. Put down your phone. Smile at someone and say hello, how's your day been?

Talk to strangers. Do whatever they're doing the next day.

(Alone doesn't always mean being alone.)

Swap the conversations of home - relationships, and property, and careers - for stories about travel, and countries, and plans.

Sit on surf boards and count the waves that come in threes, sit on cliffs and point towards the next body of land.

At night after a few glasses of wine, sit on a wall, look down and talk about the size of the splashing, glittering fish.

Listen to lives that sound like the one you want now, instead of the one you left behind. Meet the sort of people you always look for in London, but never seem to find.

Spend time by yourself in the car, or in your room, or standing knee deep in the sea, and think about all the things you want to do.

Stop feeling too old to do them.

Eat fish and chips on a bench by the sea by yourself, with your sun-tinted face tilted upwards to sun, and your feet sticky with sand, and feel very much like you don't want to share any of it:

The experience, the photos, the chips.

Get back on the plane, curl up across two seats. Take your perspective home.

And make sure the next time you can, you travel, and even just once, or sometimes, or here and there, that you do it alone.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Handwritten

I carry the letter inside, curious. I'm playing the guessing game usually reserved for Christmas and birthdays where you search the front for clues.

My name and address are handwritten, the stamp is first class, the envelope edges sealed shut with a protective layer of sellotape.

Inside there's a printed old style world map and two sheets of paper with the same design, writing covering each plain side.

Look, I say to my housemate, someone's sent me a proper letter
How cool, that's exciting, she replies, peering over, it's beautiful paper. Who's it from?

Details, details. The fact that there's a letter at all is enough.

For a while now I've been sending cards to my friends randomly throughout the year, just to say hello. Occasionally I get one back, but not very often.

And often, to be honest, that's not really the point.

Send all the emails, texts, and Whatsapp messages you like: there's nothing like a letter, not even close.

If you want to let someone know that you're thinking of them - really thinking, and you mean it - you should always write.

It doesn't even matter what you say.

Like when I wrote to someone on the other side of the world because I'd been feeling like an inadequate friend, but couldn't say as much or find the words.

I couldn't say "things are bad for me, so I'm struggling to be there for you" so I sent her two sheets of handwritten A4. Musings, random things, arbitrary stuff, and a bullet point list of things that are good.

But this letter is different, it does a better job of getting to the point than I could be brave enough to do.

It's the sort of letter you send when you won't see the person for a while, a level of honesty you might get to in the early hours of the morning, on a big night, but drifts into fuzzy memory the next day.

It's rare, the sort of letter you imagine yourself getting one day but don't ever think you will: a proper one, full of nice things: encouragement, observations, appreciation, advice.

I don't know where to put it, so I keep it in plain sight: on the table, next to my bed.

And in this time when so many messages are sent quickly, filed, pushed down by newer things and forgotten, I know that this one will be kept.

Aside from everything inside it, it's handwirtten, and designed to be re-read.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Too much talk

I've always been a firm believer on changing things you're not happy with, no matter what the time of year.

The test is simple: if there's an issue that comes up in most conversations you have, and you're not getting paid to go on TV and talk about it, then either make it happen, or make your peace.

It's not always easy to do.

Actually, fuck that: sometimes it is easy to do, sometimes change is made out to be this big thing when all you need to do is stop yourself, or put a bit of effort in, or find another topic to talk about.

Otherwise, another year goes by and you realise you've been throwing your wishes and aspirations against a wall like paint - and they look so bright on there, so vivid, and so different to the blandness of day to day life, that it's easy to think you're making things happen just by chucking it up there and saying it's so.

Talking about all the things you'd like to do, and the way you want things to be, feels good as you do it.

But unless you actually act on these things, do what you say you're going to do, follow through, you might as well not say anything at all.

It was an unexpected gift from my best friend at Christmas which reminded me that of all people, I'm as guilty of this as anyone else.

I've spent so long talking about going back, going away, putting pin points in the world. But bar a few European trips, that's all it's been: talk.

A few things have stopped me, mostly it's just being comfortable. Yet all this time my world been shrinking; quietly getting hemmed in by panics and aspirations (own the house, meet the man, have the wedding, make the kid, get bigger house) that have never, really, been mine.

And then a few days before Christmas, there it was: part present, part reminder to do what I keep saying, part peace offering after a year of rocky friendship:

A beautiful leather travel wallet, engraved with my name.

*

It's nothing, really, just a baby trip. A couple of days extra holiday than the contract says you're allowed to take at once.

But it's a start; a toe dip in significantly warmer water.

Make this year as the year you do the things you always say you want to do, or stop saying it and talk about something else.

I choose to put the travel wallet on my shelf where I can see it, and book the flights.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Storm free

Blonde gave me another prompt (eye of the storm) which I started writing about and then went off course. But the theme's in there somewhere, promise. 

For someone who sends cards all year round for no particular reason, I'm surprised by the amount of effort it takes to buy, write and post them for Christmas.

But this year the effort seems necessary, because this was the year things changed.

It was the year that my friends and I grew up, just a little bit, with a wink: made lifelong commitments, created human beings, chucked it all in and went abroad; broke down, broke up, and realised as a few things crashed that right: so this is how life's going to go now.

So this year, there'll be cards: and it starts with me, in bed on a Saturday morning, making a list of names.

The list surprises me, and so it should: because throughout my childhood and teens, friendships were stormy things. Never calm for long, always a battle to maintain.

They were precarious, and worrying: something that could, and often would, be messed up at any moment (usually, it seemed, by me).

Almost no one on the list comes from my school days, which at one point might have seemed odd.

But now, it seems obvious: if you go to five different schools, you'll be constantly interrupting, re-jigging; trying to squeeze between friendships and groups that were, in that classic, cliquey, school-like way, already formed.

I wish someone had told me back then, in the middle of one of the storms, that I'd make the best of my friends at university, and at parties, and at work, into my late twenties and beyond.

That when people ask how we know each other, there'll be furrowed brows and longwinded explanations, of friends-of-friends and introductions here and there.

That when they arrive, the friendships won't end up fitting a defined shape, or group, or neat number at all.

That one day I'd make friends to get really, stupidly drunk with, who'll drive me home the next morning while I'm being sick into a plastic bag, and laugh when I say "see, this is how I know you're good mates, because I'm not even ashamed".

That I'll have friends that are strong minded and friends who speak up, and friends who I can honestly say "mate, you're being a complete nightmare"; and instead of it causing a storm (and I'll never quite shake the fear that it will) they'll say "I am, I am. And that's why I love you, because you'll always let me know".

That I'll make friends whose priorities will change from nights out to nappies, and whose lives might take a different direction to mine, but one day I'll sit on my bed and write a list with their names on and feel happy.

Because my main worry when it comes to friendships now, is remembering to post their cards.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Starting small

We decide to give each other a little prompt.

Because when life is too big, too much, too overwhelming to write about, but you know you need to write; what you need isn't a pen or a keyboard, or book, or blog, it's somewhere to start.

The subject delivered via text message is "an item that brings you joy", so I sit on the bus and I think about all the things I own, and I try to assign them a value. 

First I think of the ring on my finger. Three different types of gold interlinked, and given to me by my parents on my 16th birthday.

It's not just a ring, of course: it's a comfort when rolled back and forth, a poker-tell that I'm nervous; a heart fluttering novelty when taken and worn by someone else on their little finger (and it has been, twice).

Then the diaries come to mind. Altogether there are twenty, perhaps, although to be fair I've never counted.

Notebooks of different shapes and sizes filled with a script that changes, but retains some element that has been unmistakably mine since the first entry in 1991.

Occasionally, I like picking one and reading through; feeling whatever feeling it is that comes - but is it joy?

And then because I'm on the bus and thinking about diaries, and memories, inevitably I think of the thing I need to write about the most. Would diaries help? If she'd kept them, would things be different?

I begin to open tabs and Google this new idea before stopping myself, and coming back to the task at hand: the prompt. This is why we're starting small. 

Because life gets in the way, because writing means processing what's happening, because sometimes you just need to write something, anything, and start there: do it, write it, no distraction.

And that's when I realise the item that brings the most amount of joy is, and always has been, a pen, a keyboard; whatever I can use to write with. 
 

Blog Template by YummyLolly.com - RSS icons by ComingUpForAir