Categorical Friendship

hand reaching out

Friendship is a strange strange thing. People associate it with values like happiness, and love, and closeness and success. To have friends is a big social positive and to be friendless is to be an outsider, a misfit.

Like everything in the world, friendship is hierarchical. Best friends are seated at the top of the pyramid. The rest shift spaces in the levels below according to circumstances in life, as priorities change. There are close friends and old friends. New friends and groupies. School friends and colleagues. Then there are friends of friends and acquaintances. Pen friends and confidants. Facebook friends and LinkedIn friends.

The mentor and the roommate. The bus ride friend. The “special” friend. The clever friend, the goofy friend, the artistic friend, the funny friend. The talker, the listener. The whiner, the consoler.

So many titles. So many types. So little meaning.

Ever since we’re kids, we fill out slam books, or whatever they’re called today, and one of the first few questions is, “Who is your best friend forever?” I get asked so often, “How many friends do you really have?” Well, I have no best friend. And it’s way too naive to talk about ‘forever’ so loosely. And I don’t count. Putting a number on it reduces the beauty of an abstraction like friendship to a mere digit. The number doesn’t matter.

I have a few close friends. And others that are friends with a purpose. They may be neighbours, or they went to the same school or college as me, or we share the same interests. But they all are just that. Friends. People. This makes the world a lot more inclusive and open to show understanding, empathy and compassion towards others. Without categories and ranks and labels.

Labels inherently come with cognitive effects. The effects could be good or bad, strong or weak, but they’re immensely limiting. We are complex beings and to typify and label someone as one or the other is just plain wrong. Words have the power to define what we see in others. They potentially block the mind to see the other person as something else, something more or something the complete opposite of what we ignorantly make them to be. The labels become our lens of perceiving a thing or person.

Once, a friend of mine told me about someone she knew, who was going through a tough time at his office. It was a simple matter that could be sorted with some help. I urged her to help him out if she could. Maybe just listen to the problem and serve as a vent. And while she was sympathetic about the matter, she eventually said, “it’s not like we’re best friends or anything” with a wave of her hand, implying that she might’ve helped her best friend in a similar situation, but she didn’t care enough for this particular person, who is just a “colleague”, to go through the trouble. This is the kind of labelling that deprives us of seeing a person as a person. And not a best friend, or neighbour, or colleague or stranger. Or husband, or wife, or mother, or son. Or white or black or brown or straight or gay or rich or poor. Or man or woman.

We talk about people and things in an either-this-or-that manner, ignorant about the fact that they can be both. And much more. When we say, “he’s a rich white guy,” a stereotypical image takes form in our head. We see through the lens of race, colour, social status, political and economic standing, and gender notions. When a friend of mine said, “she’s too man-ish for a girl,” we ended up having a long, heated discussion on her judgement of a stranger whom she knew nothing about. That girl could’ve been extremely feminine in reality; or she could’ve worked really hard on her muscle strength to play her favourite sport. And who is to say what is right and what isn’t? But we refuse to lift that blanket of tags to see what is underneath.

I recently watched 2 really impressive talks by Ash Beckham at TEDx Boulder, one on having hard conversations, coming out of the closet (and not just the LGBTQ closet) and having the courage to open up, and the other on gender roles, duality and identity. (I recommend everyone to watch them. It’ll certainly make your life better. They’re worth several listens!) So, at one point in the talk, she says, “the opposite of polarity is duality.” It is not one extreme or the other. It can be both, in simultaneous, peaceful existence.

Language is so powerful in shaping someone’s identity. Labels aren’t always problematic. They help describe people and things and place them in a socio-cultural setting. We know who we are (Self) because we know that we’re not someone else (Other). But to stretch it too far, to chain our thinking and cage our behaviour is unfair and dangerous. Give people a chance. To amaze you. And to grow.

We could all do with a little more openness. I’m trying to rip off the tags that I and the society I live in have stuck to people’s heads. It’s possible and it constantly amazes me to be able to see the goodness around me. I’m slowly letting my guard down and opening up my world to you and everything you are.

Be my friend?

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To throw

Growing up, I left behind certain traits that I had as a kid. I outgrew some clothes as well as some actions and started being adult-like, very consciously. To carefully sit, to steadily walk, to be compulsively polite, to ‘act’ rather than to ‘be’ – these are the things adulthood gave me. Recently, I realized how I, like everyone, am carrying this baggage of being a grownup and it is stressful. I didn’t realize when this transition took place. Having the responsibility of my actions and of being who I am made me cautious, extremely careful and finicky, and not in a good way.

Today, I felt a strong urge to throw. Just to make a propulsive movement out of joy. Like I did and could, heedlessly, as a kid. Maybe, knowledge stopped me. The knowledge of who I am, what I am and where I am. I rather wish to not know.

Throwing my bag on the street to run and hug someone – I know that if I could do this, everything else would fall into place. It would make my day. It would give a nudge to the child in me. It would lighten the baggage. It would do me justice.

Every once in a while, I’m going to throw. A person needs to throw sometimes.

Nostalgia

Every time that bus vroomed, it was her sign of time fleeting. She did not want to go. Ever. Just the sight of that bus made her furrow her brow and grimace. Even when she wasn’t supposed to be on it, yet. She did not like the destination or the journey. That sound she heard was her source of nostalgia. Every other month, she would leave home and board that bus to go 220 kilometres away. And every single time, she hated it. Not the idea of leaving home, that – she could handle. But the place she was going back to – not. Three years is what that place took from her. Three years of an environment of dullness, discouragement, and zero lifelikeness on strange faces that never got familiar.

She was back home that day, driving gaily on the roads she knew so well, humming to the tunes of her favourite songs after a good day when she saw that bus a second after she heard that sound. It was about to leave. Passengers were waving goodbye till the bus left and they were no longer visible. She thought of the feeling she would unmistakably have when it would be her time to go, again. She frowned.

It took her a moment to realise that that time, that day, was never going to come. This time, she was back, for good. That phase of disdain, that journey, that motion sickness, the dullness on the faces of those people she had to see, was not a part of her worries any longer. It was finally over. She grinned at the word ‘over’. After a long time, that bus – no matter what sounds it made – did not give her wrinkled brows and a feeling of nostalgia. She drove away and nothing could bother her – not even the uncontrollable traffic that usually made her swear at it, a lot. In that moment, she gulped down the realisation of a change of path for a better, newer journey; to a destination she knew was great, and unknown.

Blocked

Something stirred her awake. Maybe it was the neighbor’s cat again. The wooden table wasn’t a comfortable headrest. It took her brain a few minutes to go from blankness to sight. Every muscle of her body screamed ache. With half-opened eyes, she stares at the screen. A blank page. White. It makes her eyes hurt. The cursor blinks. And blinks. And blinks. The clock reads 3:23am.

She strains her head to reach out to somewhere. Somewhere that inspires her to do that, which keeps her alive. To create. She waits for that click. Nothing.

Coffee. That’s what she needs. Dragging herself out of the lazy chair, she pulls her legs to where her coffee-maker lies. Black. Beautiful. Coffee has never failed her, she thinks. Black. Strong. Brew it right and things start falling into place. She takes a sip. It burns her tongue numb. With a gasp, she takes her mug and places it next to the screen with the blank page. She thinks of the previous night. And the night before. And the one before. She shrugs. She is right on her routine. She has a loyal memory, which is dangerous sometimes. She remembers every work that she produced in all its glory, as it hits her in the face. Every word, every line that she wrote spoke to her once. It doesn’t anymore. There’s a block somewhere, that can’t be undone. Gulp.

The coffee is gone. Yet, the cursor blinks away. It drives her crazy. It has been months, and still there is no thought that makes her brain effortlessly weave out beautiful stories out of her words. Her imagination, once needed to be tied up, so that it wouldn’t outrun this world and its reality. Now, it lazes around, hitting an idea or two, and collapses to the ground again, in chains. Writing came so naturally to her, she never thought of the process. She does now, but can’t figure it out. There was nothing that escaped her wit and sensibility. She penned down everything she thought was worth conscious anamnesis. Reading and writing constituted the center of her life. 4:34am.

Staring out of the window, impaired, she realizes, with wide open eyes, her worst nightmare. The day she could no longer write. The block, so insistently heavy, it makes her gray matter spew out all sense. Her creativity dies in an experience so foreign to her, she finds it worse than physical death. Something snaps, like a twig. In that knowledge, she finishes knowing.