Internet-Only

“Ayo! I’m tired of using technology. I need you right in front of me” ~50 Cent

I don’t always use air quotes when I speak of my internet-only friends. Sometimes I say it straight, as if they were my regular friends, as if we met at the bar every Friday night for a shot, or a beer, or both, or many. Sometimes I imagine what it would be like if we swapped recipes in my kitchen, or played Madden together like everyone did in the ’90’s. Sometimes I wonder if we would even be friends if we talked all the time, if our kids would hate each other on sight.

There was no way I could have imagined this world when I was a kid. If you knew people they were your parents’ friends, or they went to church with you, or they were both. Their kids were your de facto friends, but that was it. That was your sphere, and you never had any occasion to step outside of it, like the metaphorical box we are always begging people to think outside of these days. Back then, though, we weren’t supposed to embrace new people from far away.

Those were the days of “stranger danger,” which is funny because most people get hurt by those they know. But we were told to steer clear of the windowless van, the man with the mustache who looked just a little bit off, anyone who lived more than a block away, or didn’t know your first name. That was the age of not too many strangers, and when they were around we knew them. It was like the red-suited crewmen on Star Trek. You knew them because they weren’t household names. You knew when you saw them that they would be dying on the away mission because they were different, because they were “strangers.” Continue reading “Internet-Only”

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Where Are You Now?

“Where are you now? As I’m swimming through this stereo, I’m writing you a symphony of sound.” ~Jack’s Mannequin [“The Mixed Tape”]

no_looking_backDo you ever wonder where they are? I mean all the people you’ve left behind, or the ones who’ve left you behind? I sometimes do. In the darkest shadows of the night, when I should just move on, I can’t seem to do it, because they come to me, like ghosts, vestiges of the persons they were when I knew them, when we were new and unblemished. But this distance, it blemishes them, it stains them with broad brush strokes that I wish I could unsee.

And I guess you can say I’ve been stained too, that I am not the same person I was either, that some of that is my own fault, or even if it isn’t, it’s fair to say me feeling that way makes it so. It’s even funny in a way because of all the things I could regret in life, some of the biggest regrets are the ones I don’t even remember, because something, in some way, alienated people from me. I shouldn’t even care. I should say that it’s their loss, but I somehow can’t bring myself to look at things that way. Maybe I’m a masochist.

I hear songs that we shared and I think of them. I listen to the melody and I can’t help but relive the memories that we still share, except now separately. When my phone vibrates I still think on some level that it might be them, that they might be texting to make amends, or at least to explain. Because the lack of an explanation is what makes it all so… incomplete. The lack of an explanation is the difference between the shadowed nights with ghosts and a good night’s sleep. When my phone vibrates I keep hoping that it’s the one line that will bring me closure.

“It was never you; it was all me.”

“It just wasn’t the right time for me, emotionally.”

“You never listened to me, and I couldn’t deal with it anymore.”

I firmly believe that some people are only in our lives for an age to teach us lessons, to be there for that moment, to be a brief impetus in our lives, and that these people inevitably move on. But I can’t bring myself to think when the time’s up that only one of us would know about it. Maybe I’m just not the kind of person who can move on to the next thing if something is left unsaid, even if I know the time has come to separate from whatever I’ve had with someone else.

Now that I’m older I’ve taken to reminiscing an awful lot. I find myself seeing time ago through some colored lenses, letting the blacks, whites, and grays blend together to form a kind of muted rainbow. I find that I think back a lot less, but that when I do it’s for those people I really thought would be around my life forever, either because they said they would or because, to me, it was merely understood. And for those ghosts I can’t help but hear specific songs and get brought back, every single time.

In spite of myself.

Sam

Learning to Listen

“Listening is an art that requires attention over talent, spirit over ego, others over self.” ~Dean Jackson

listening-manListening is a lost art. Believe it. There’s something to be said for sitting still, giving eye contact, and nodding along, not because you’re waiting for a chance to speak, but because you care enough to be there. I know too many people who are waiting to jump in, to offer suggestions, and to tell their own personal stories that may or may not be relevant to the issue at hand. But sometimes, sometimes listening should be just that — listening. Being there. Proving it.

And believe it or not, but someone you just met today can be a better listener than the friend you’ve had since diaper days. Someone who just walked into your life can be the friend to whom you can be most vulnerable and just let it out. Sometimes that’s better because you have no preconceived notions of them, and they have none of you. They can come into it as a fresh page ready to receive the scribbles of your soul.

I’ve had too many friends over the years who used me as just that sounding board, from those who I had known a while to those who I had just met, but something that was common to the vast majority was the assumption that there would be no reciprocation. I know this because these friends were never really there for me when I needed them, were never truly listeners for me because every time I saw them they were too busy talking.

Beware those who can’t keep their mouths shut long enough to listen. Odds are that if you let them in on your secrets, they won’t be secrets for long. And if they’re constantly interjecting their own thoughts how can they possibly be there for you? I know a few people who are always comparing whatever I’m saying with something that has happened in their life, even if there are absolutely no parallels, instead of just letting me vent, or get out my thoughts. They eventually moved on to other friendships, which was okay with me.

Because often that’s all I need is a pair of ears, a soul that obviously cares, and eyes that look into mine with empathy, with caring, with a firm commitment to be there for me. And that’s what I try my best to give to my friends who need me in turn. And it’s not reciprocity, the idea of “tit for tat.” It’s just being a good friend, no matter how often they may need me, or no matter how often I need them. They don’t keep score. They don’t disappear from my life, and I don’t from theirs.

Learning how to listen is a skill that is dormant from way too many people’s lives. It might have to do with the selfishness social media breeds, or it could be something else entirely. But whatever the reason, we need to bring it back. We need to empathize with others, to give them the gift of our time, because nothing is more precious.

Sam

When a Friendship Ends

“When a friendship ends, people don’t always give it the same amount of thought that they do relationships. With an ex-boyfriend, there are discussions of bad timing or different expectations. But most of the time, friendships end in a different way — slowly, and without declaration. Usually people don’t really notice until a friend has been gone for a while and then they just say they grew apart, or their lives became too different.” ~Jennifer Close (The Hopefuls).

235571-oI’ve given it a lot of thought, this idea of endings. Obviously every relationship has a beginning. These starts are generally demarcated by introductions or shared initial moments. They are definite. Sometimes only one person remembers the exact particulars, and sometimes neither one does, but you do remember when you weren’t friends. Then something shifted.

But endings — well, they do tend to be gradual among friends. At least that’s what I’ve noticed. One friend can’t make a lunch date on a Tuesday. Two weeks later the other one is too busy to take a phone call. Before you know it so much time has gone by since you even texted each other that now it would seem a bit awkward to text out of the blue. So it stretches on. Then when you’re relaying a story to someone else later, a memory of the two of you, you realize it’s all in the past tense. The entire relationship. That it has all been in the past for quite some time.

Don’t get me wrong. Not all friendships are created equally. That’s just the nature of the beast. Some friends are meant to be transitory, to fill a void in your life at a particular time when you need someone there, then they’re gone. Sometimes you’re that friend for someone else. Most times you both know it, but you go with it because it’s beneficial for everyone involved. Those can be very sweet friendships. But other friends seem like they’re in it for the long haul, so what happens to derail them?

It’s honestly a combination of a few things, in my opinion. A good friend needs to be 1) a good listener, 2) able to be empathetic, and 3) there in times of need. And it needs to be reciprocal. You can’t expect these 3 things from someone else and not be willing and able to give them in return. It’s this last part that I think dooms so many friendships because they end up being lopsided. One person gives and gives, the other takes and takes, and there’s never any time for reciprocity.

Beware when you’re the friend who is always there for others because you’ll get that label and it will stick with you. When others befriend you it will be because they need something from you, because they know you’ll be a good friend to them. And you will, because you’re the giving type of person. But eventually you will need something, and others won’t be there, because they don’t know how. Because you’ve allowed them to be takers for so long that they don’t even know where to begin when it comes to giving.

See, it’s those friendships that are reciprocal, the one when both friends give and take equally, that last for a long time.

I’m not saying it’s your fault you’re such a good friend, but usually those kinds of friendships end when you stress the point, when you need them and they’re not there for you. It can be devastating when the realization hits that your entire support system is built on yourself as the sole support. It’s true that we need others in order to be stable, healthy human beings. No one is exempt from that.

So they disappear, or you are the one who vanishes, stuck in the cycle that can’t possibly sustain itself. See, it’s those friendships that are reciprocal, the ones when both friends give and take equally, that last for a long time. Those are the easy ones, where both friends ask how the other is doing more than just dropping more drama on each other. It’s so much easier to be there for each other than to simply expect the other friend to always be there for you, and not expect the same in return.

When a friendship ends someone is left holding the torch. Either it’s you, or it’s the person on the receiving end of your ambivalence. Everybody needs friends, people you can lean on when the going gets rough, but who are also just there for you when you need to share good news, or you need a piece of advice. We all need a pick-me-up in the middle of a particularly difficult day, an ear that will always listen to us, yet someone objective enough to always tell us the truth, even if we might not want to hear it.

When a friendship ends there is a fracture in the system of our lives, whether we know it or not. I often think of those who have disappeared, those who used to wander these halls with me but who have now moved on to new halls in new buildings in their lives. And I don’t blame them. It takes two. They just weren’t ready to be that second person. They weren’t equipped to be that two-way street. And it’s okay. I need people in my life who are.

Sam

Black Friends

“It’s hard for me to make black friends.”

11965720-friend-friendship-relationship-teammate-teamwork-society-icon-sign-symbol-pictogramI saw this on my Facebook newsfeed today, but it’s always been just as true for me. For those of you who don’t know me, who are reading my blog for the first time, I am black. I say this because I think it matters in the framework of the above quote. A white guy said this on my Facebook newsfeed, but it’s just as true for me.

I grew up in an entirely black neighborhood, I was a member of an entirely black church, and I went to an entirely black elementary school, but that didn’t make it any easier to find black friends. There were many black people around, so I had many black acquaintances, yet I didn’t really get close to anyone. It may have been some combination of my initial shyness, my lack of common ground with them, and/or my low opinion of myself.

Or it could just be that too many black people are too familiar with too many other black people without really knowing them. That has always been a pet peeve of mine. I would love to get to know you, but when you assume that you already know everything you need to know about me I bristle. Maybe it’s just because I’ve never felt normal, whatever that means, so I hate assumptions of normality.

But I shouldn’t generalize, right? As I very much know, not all black people are the same, even if the culture calls for over-familiarization when it comes to other black people. Getting through the initial assumptions, though, they’re tough, especially when the over-arching societal structures don’t allow for getting beneath the surface when you meet someone new.

Besides that, I don’t meet very many black people these days, which makes it that much harder to make black friends. I made the decision to live where I do, to work where I work, and to be where I am, so that’s partially a byproduct of those decisions, but I have to be honest. Even if I met a slew of black people every day, what are the odds that some of them would be my friends?

It’s hard for me to make black friends, even though I’m black. Maybe even because I’m black. But I guess it’s hardest for me to make black friends because for me people are people, because it was difficult for me to even put the term “black” in front of so many nouns in this post. It’s hard for me to make friends, period, which is okay. I’m an excellent friend once you get to know me, once you get to trust me, but not many take that opportunity.

Which is okay, because I hear that quality of friends is so much more important than quantity of friends, no matter their color.

Sam

To Be Needed

neededThere have been very few times in my life when I truly felt like a part of something, like I was intrinsically involved in the inner workings of a cause, a movement, or even a group of people. I have always been a catalyst, for sure, because of my boisterous personality, but what has that done for me when it comes to feeling necessary?

Others often look to sports as a way to feel a part of something, as a means to an end, but even on that front I was always lacking. For some reason I always chose the sports that weren’t really a team concept, like tennis, and golf, and I left the group mentality to those who needed the push and pull. But I need the push and pull too. I guess I just didn’t realize it back then.

As I’ve gotten older it’s been about friends for me. Maybe I just wasn’t meant to be the friend type in this society because for me to feel like a part of a friendship I need a lot of contact. So, of course most of my friends throughout the years have always been the type who aren’t contact people. I seem to attract the type of friends who are content with sporadic communication, and that’s not me.

Even my sister was an enigma to me. For years I was jealous of her, which hampered our relationship. It always seemed like she made friends easily, the type who were there for her early and often. It always seemed like she had it all down, that people flocked to her without her even trying, that she was an integral part of the world she inhabited. I was jealous that it wasn’t me, that I didn’t have whatever she had to make myself necessary to others.

But it’s not about her. And it’s not about the friends I chose to surround myself with off and on for years. It’s really about me and my expectations. When I think about the times when I felt like a part of something I inevitably go back to my poetry groups, to the first one in Philly so long ago, and to the one in Utica now. For some reason, even though poetry isn’t my first love when it comes to writing, it brings something out of me that makes me feel necessary, like I’m a part of something so much bigger than myself.

I expected nothing from either poetry group, and they gave me everything. Funny how that happens. And I wonder if that’s how I should be when it comes to other situations and with other people in my life. Maybe I should stop beating myself up over lost friends, or over time between conversations. Perhaps I should instead spend my time getting rid of expectations, just living for the moment and seeing who comes along for the ride.

That’s a very renaissance kind of attitude for me, but I’m feeling a renaissance kind of feeling right now, so it fits. I feel like approaching 40 is making me see things in a completely different way than I ever have before. If I want to be a part of something I need to let it happen organically, to just explore my interests and let things come to me. And stop blaming others for not fulfilling that need.

Because it’s all up to me, and it always has been.

Sam

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