the current

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“Most of us believe we are who we are because of the decisions we’ve made, because of events that shaped us, because of the choices of those around us. We rarely consider that we’re also formed by the decisions we didn’t make, by events that could have happened but didn’t, or by our lack of choices, for that matter.” –An Unnecessary Woman, Rabih Alameddine

“No loss is felt more keenly than the loss of what might have been. No nostalgia hurts as much as nostalgia for things that never existed.” –An Unnecessary Woman, Rabih Alameddine (more or less the same idea as Kierkegaard: “The most painful state of being is remembering the future, particularly the one you’ll never have.”)

My father gave me only one piece of valuable, if obvious, advice in life, and it happened many years ago. Nothing he said before or after that has been useful or indeed true. Long ago I had a friend – a best friend, whom I loved to pieces. But this friend was also, possibly, the most unreliable person I have ever known. Once, after a particularly harrowing series of experiences that tripped over each other in their increasing lunacy and inconvenience, much of which blew up because of this friend’s inability to commit or follow a plan (and these kinds of debacles happened often enough that I found myself exasperated more often than not), I complained about it to my dad. I never have conversations with my father; the fact that I spoke to him about this indicates the level my frustration had reached. Before I got very far into my spiel of disappointment and anger, he stopped me and said, “Look, if you want to continue with that friendship, if you value the good parts more than you are put out by the bad, you have to accept that this is the way it is.”

I think of this frequently because it’s true in almost all cases with people in our lives. I’ve struggled, like all people, not to be judgmental – not just in the sense that I don’t want to judge other people’s flaws, faults, journeys, decisions or lack of decisions – but also in the sense that I don’t want to attach expectations to their lives and ‘progress’. For example, while I don’t judge an alcoholic in my life for being an alcoholic, for struggling with it constantly, and ‘falling off the wagon’ repeatedly, I also have to let go of any idea that change is required in order to care for him. He tries; he makes incremental steps in a positive direction, but this progress is constantly undermined and undone because after a month, or three months, or some period of sobriety, he slips back into old habits, and the drinking begins again and erases not just the sobriety but the stability he achieves on other fronts in his life (the parts I invest a lot of time in helping him with). It’s always back to square one, and this is inevitably disappointing.

But then I realize: this is its own form of judgment. I have to, if I continue to be a support to this person, discontinue all notions of ‘square one’ and ‘progress’ because, for him, it really is literally one day at a time. (“Self-regulation does not refer to “good behavior” but to the capacity of an individual to maintain a reasonably even internal emotional environment.” – Gabor Maté) I can’t hold these ideas about how he was doing ‘so well’ up as a kind of yardstick, measuring how far he has moved forward from last week or last month because it can all be wiped out in minutes. It’s that precarious, and no one hates himself more than he does when it all goes awry.

Life (and its series of relationships) is defined by, as we are aware, our choices. The alcoholic chooses to drink, even if there is something that drives him to do it that is beyond his control. My friend from years ago chose somehow not to be reliable, or at least not to be reliable for me. I choose, for example, to be (hopefully) an enduring friend, even to those who may not ‘deserve’ it (if I were tallying up some sort of score card). I choose to eliminate any notion of a score card or insistence that friendship always be a two-way street. I have written about it many times – there is often an imbalance, but to be a good, compassionate person or friend, it is not about what you get back from the people in your life. In an ideal world, you would not just give and give without getting something back. But it is not an ideal world, and as it happens, you get what you need from other sources.

Life is also defined by our non-choices, which is something we don’t consider much until we get older. I have had many conversations on this topic recently. In my younger years, I actively chose to continue difficult friendships, even when they were painful. I chose to believe in things that I knew were doomed. But each choice concealed a non-choice. I didn’t choose my own comfort at every turn. I didn’t choose to pursue or complete specific actions, which let outcomes float aimlessly toward wherever the current pulled them. I have been carried by life’s current to places I would not have consciously chosen if I were trying to make a plan.

Sometimes this path has been enlightening and joyful, and sometimes quite painful. And often leads to considerations of the paths not taken, by chance or by choice and all the infinite possibilities those paths pose(d).

 

Photo by Gemma Evans on Unsplash

friends or… work friends?

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In almost every job I’ve had, I gained one of the most valuable possible things: not just a work best friend (along with many nice acquaintances), but lifelong friendships that developed from these close work friendships. When I look at jobs in which I didn’t make friends (particularly close ones), I recognize exactly how empty those jobs were and how much harder it was to feel as motivated. Yes, as a recent HBR article maintains, these friendships can indeed be tricky. And I suppose that is why, as the article posits, only something like 19 percent of those surveyed (Americans, by the way) reported having close friendships with a colleague. This is framed as at least partly cultural (non-Americans may be more trusting, collaborative and less “fiercely independent” or bent on personal privacy?).

I have seen some of this dynamic in action. When a global company in which I worked all came together for a global meetup in Europe, the European and Asian colleagues became a more cohesive group, while the Americans seemed standoffish, less social, more formal and “observational”. That is, two years in a row, the American contingent seemed to stand on the sidelines and make observations about how the activities we were engaged in would never be allowed in the US, how we’d have been required to sign liability waivers (in case of injury, etc.). It may also depend on other demographic features (age, etc.) but the Americans’ uniform reserve always struck me as an interesting given how “loud” and “outgoing” Americans are generally perceived to be.

But this is a diversion.

One of my best friends started off as my “office nemesis”. For a year at least, we disliked each other but eventually ‘warmed up’ to become, incrementally, friends.

Another best friend became a friend almost instantly. We went out for dinner together on her first day working in the company, and we lost track of time until the restaurant owners were staring at us, waiting for us to leave so they could close. It was an immediate and deep connection that has only continued to grow, long after our lives changed, long after we stopped working together. And we have since become colleagues again. I cannot imagine my work life – former or current – or, more importantly, my life at all – without her.

I’ve never experienced the ‘tricky complications’ as outlined in the HBR article, but I can recognize that many of the points made could be issues. I suppose for me the depth of the friendships has always been valuable and deep enough that the relationship mattered so much more than just a job. In that sense, I guess, these friendships transcend the idea of a “work friendship”. I happened to meet these people through work, but our friendships had no real connection to the work itself. And you can feel and see a difference. Another good friend, whom I met through work, is a fabulous and intelligent person, and we are still good friends despite not working together any more. But there is a sense that the piece of the puzzle that bound us together closely and gave us something in common is missing, even if we still have a great time together. The impetus and intensity can be driven by the mutual passion or misery created by a job/project.

Overall it seems interesting because friendships are reportedly difficult to make in adulthood, and I suppose they are – where else can you make them than work? Unless you are involved in activities outside of work, or end up being forced friends with, for example, your kids’ friends’ parents or something, it is not exactly like a social smörgåsbord out there. I am not particularly social but don’t feel like I’ve done too badly…

じゃまた

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Many random thoughts today. Where, indeed, are the transparent palaces we were meant to build?

Friends (-Adam Zagajewski)

My friends wait for me,
ironic, smiling sadly.

Where are the transparent palaces
we meant to build—

their lips say,
their aging lips.

Don’t worry, friends,
those splendid kites

still soar in the autumn air,
still take us

to the place where harvests begin,
to bright days—

the place where scarred eyes
open.

Lunchtable TV Talk: Feed the Beast

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Feed the Beast is one of those kinds of shows that could go either way. Based on a loosely classified ‘Nordic Noir’ Danish show (Bankerot) about a restaurant and the criminal underworld around it, it could have been quite a vehicle for storytelling and talent. It also appears on AMC, which has a history of mostly quality hits rather than misses (with a few exceptions, of course). But then, even though the show is watchable, it feels like it is always on the edge of comedy, and I don’t think it is supposed to. Maybe this is because everyone in the show feels like a caricature.

First and foremost, David Schwimmer plays, Tommy, a slightly angrier, more bitter and grief-stricken version of whiny, pathetic Ross from Friends. It’s not that he is incapable of something else – it’s just that this role requires it. And we know from the 12 or so years of Friends that he has mastered that role (incidentally I read an interesting take on Friends’ Ross and how he – and how he was treated and turned into a kind of cartoon – mirrors the way society treats and views intellectuals. And Schwimmer is probably underrated in general; as far as I was concerned, his performance in The People vs. OJ Simpson – as Robert Kardashian – was one of the highlights of that program). In any case, despite Schwimmer’s capability, his presence in a role that so closely matched the Ross role on some levels distracts and inevitably leads the Friends-soaked brain to scream out: “comedy”.

Tommy’s best friend, a low-level conman – and chef – “Dion” (an effective Jim Sturgess), who “bobs and weaves” his way through life, also feels comedic, mostly because his egregious actions don’t seem to lead to real consequences. Sure, he went to prison, but in his own estimation, he enjoyed it there because he got to cook. When he crosses bad guys, he gets a beat down, but nothing he doesn’t just walk away from. He keeps getting chances – and maybe that is what I find unbelievable, even if in real life I see people who get more chances than they deserve and more chances than I can count. It is not unrealistic at all; it just seems that way to me because my own view of the world is linear, and I am not a conman who counts on wriggling and wiggling my way out of every scrape. (And of course these scrapes the character gets into are all his own making; all get worse because of his propensity for piling shit on shit and promise on promise – none of which he can keep.)

The two friends reunite and open a restaurant, Thirio (‘the beast’, apparently, in Greek), which had been their dream along with Tommy’s deceased wife, Rie. This explains Tommy’s grief and anger – and increasing alcoholism, which he tries badly to mask (with his career as sommelier); the only thing keeping him going at all is his son, who has not spoken a word since his mother died.

Naturally the restaurant opening is much easier said than done and ends up involving Dion’s connections and obligations to underworld criminals (the main one is played by Michael Gladis, who is best known as Paul Kinsey from Mad Men – a character who always struck me as near-caricature tragicomedy, which contributes to my feeling about Feed the Beast) and Tommy’s racist, hateful father (to whom he has not spoken since sometime before he even got married). It all makes for what could be a compelling story – but it never quite does. I keep watching because I do get drawn in; yet, it’s never quite as good as it could be. I suspect this is because of this aforementioned hint of comedy I keep getting the scent of (and shouldn’t be).

Restorative power of global friendship

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Since publishing my last post about priorities, disappointment and the disparity between words and actions, I have been reminded multiple times that there are always dear, honest, trustworthy people who will lend an ear, emotional support, time and their last dime to show their support and how much they love you. It is easy to get stuck on the handful of bad moments or experiences and not see the wealth of beautiful people and what they offer unconditionally.

Friends in France, Seattle, Iceland, Norway, England and beyond have all reached out and had lovely things to say, lovely offers to help – words that, if needed, would be backed up by action.

Thank you, world of friends.

 

Spring soundtrack ready to go: Muck of Spring 2012

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Old friends and old standbys: Snickerdoodles, M&M cookies and Daim cookies

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