Updated: Nov 9, 2021
Michael K Laidlaw About 3 000 words
#406 3524 31st NW Calgary, Canada T2L 2A5
I want friends. There is a difference between friendship and transaction, or ‘business’ as S calls it. My mother seems to believe I do not give in return, do not enact friendship, that only now am I learning to do this, but I have always, always asked what I can do in return and the answer has always been Nothing, don’t worry. This seems to be honest. I do not want to offend, to insist what is offerred, help or coffee or anything, must be no more than transaction. That I refuse their gesture of friendship. That I do not want their friendship. That people could do things for me ‘out of the goodness of their heart’ rather than in expectation of return. And of course I do give in return, if not immediately, if not equivalent, because we are friends, but my mother remains skeptical. Which spurs me to wonder if there is in fact anything I can offer, if I am worthwhile, if my friendship needs have concrete displays of sincerity to be real. Real if not actual, ideal if not abstract.
I just want friends. Am I not worthwhile, I want to ask my mother, that people would want my friendship. Do I offer nothing in return, even if I think what I offer is no big deal, is friendliness, is politeness, is intelligence, is kindnesss, is only the minimum my mother would expect, but far too few people offer. Am I only worthwhile as person in transaction, that those others who would be my friend are exceptionally kind and in some manner I should not depend on their continued generosity. Am I only worthwhile in deception, by misleading others to believe I can offer something, anything, that my friendship is honest and will persist, that neither they nor I need constantly enact some transaction to affirm it. Am I only worthwhile on a superficial level, that is, as acquaintance, as friendly if not friend, that I recognize faces, remember names, remember details, give the impresssion the other has affected me at least once. Am I only worthwhile that others will like me, that is, do I have no value in myself, do I need transactions, am I only real through the friends I have and have known. Am I only worthwhile if somehow I do not disappoint my mother.
I just want friends. And do I need tansaction to prove something to myself, to prove I am worthwhile, to prove I have qualities to garner friends, after all, should I not be able to be friends with anyone, or at least transact in friendly manner. I want to be friends but am I asking for some sort of transaction from them, that they are only valuable to the extent I can say speak mangled French, that we can speak or rather they can listen to me speak about Art or Literature or Philosophy, that I am confused about why I am friends with someone who is simply friendly to me. O buys me and brings over sandwhich from the bakery but refuses payment in kind, R offers to buy me coffee, again for nothing more than smile and gratitude, but I hear my mother scolding and skeptical that I do nothing apparent for them. S insists he does things for me because I am his friend and it is not ‘business’ but I keep wondering what I can do for him. Ri tells me I give him an intellectual moment that none of his illustrator friends offer, and he gives me graphics, I give him books, and so we balance in this way. N helps me set up my exercise bike though I have not done anything yet in turn, T helps set up the computer and I may need his help once again in October, but the best I can do is give copy signed to me of Aunt Alice’s work, and I have not done this yet. All these people have done things for me and I wonder whst I can do in turn but use them as names and characters in my writing, and offer some kind of extended mortality, to the extent anyone ever reads this work. Do I disappoint my friends, have I promised more than I can give, have I offered nohing but illusion, am I mistaken, these questions come to me in each next line written.
I just want friends. It seems I am able to introduce myself, that I am not shy, that sometimes others sre even charmed by some aspect of my behaviour, myfriendliness, my politeness, my intelligence, my kindnesss, but I should be modest about such results, maybe I am remembering when I few times succeed rather than many failures. For I do fail, I do misunderstand, I do misapprehend, I do misread what the other thinks is clear and distinct, and they have to confusedly reappraise my nsture, and perhaps I am doing so in this essay. I must know my sense of comic is not widely shared, my sense of the absurd, and only through many years have I learned to err on the side of reserve and politeness, rather than believe we have made common understanding where the comic or the absurd is apparent. And sometimes I make a bigger deal out of certain events thsn warranted, I want friendship to be love, or sometimes I make less of certain events thsn warranted, I want love to be friendship. Friendship is more thanromantic love many times.
I just want friends. Friendship is more than romantic love, which can overwhelm then recede, energize then disappoint, whereas friendship naturally ebbs and flows and is best seen from perspective that includes time. For loyalty and reciprocity are functions of friendship that I would call timeless, or at least spread out through time there and here, then and now, as I see time in the faces of my friends, in my and their familiar acts, in our somewhat shared memories. Ineed my friends to understand me in ways lovers do not, for they have known melonger, they have known me in many if not all situations, they have more complex model of who I am to the world and not simply to them alone. I have freedom to be myself, whoever that might be at any given moment, I have implicit belief that I will be understood if not entirely approved or even forgiven for my errors in friendship, for anything I am at any moment, anything I say or do, is seen against my entire friendship history. And is this anything less than I offer in return, in my friendliness, my politeness, my intelligence, my kindnesss, in nearly absolute acceptance of the other. This is the reciprocity that matters, the loyalty that friends enact over friends, that they will not talk down or betray each other in confidence or action, this is the best I can offer which is friendship and not transaction, this is the best expectation friends should have of friends, and when this is broken an entire world may be in danger. Yet friends may forgive friends such breaking and wounding and this will perhaps strengthen their bond, as long the other does not see this as license for their own misbehsviour or betrayal. Indeed I might argue the gift of forgiveness is the greatest gift friends may offer each other, in any situation, at any time, and is strongest as any when it is most clesrly not simply transaction but gift.
I just want friends. Friendship is more than romantic love, but can and has for me led to something like romantic love. I think of my first serious girlfriend A and my obsessive fixation on drawing her, of even so somehow ‘improving’ the model, though when I look at her photo now I must claim she is already beautiful, though we are both young University students who might have no other models in mind, though by my age now youth is in itself attractive and needs nothing more. I am her friend at first but at this age eveything moves swiftly and it is not long before we are making out every chance and place we get. I am an artist as she is an artist and we have something to talk about, though I do not remember talking to her much, only everything else, only kissing and so on. When I am young I do not yet know my expectation of girlfriends and how these are different thsn of male friends, I only know I have certain urges toward her, certain ideas of her, and these might best be known as physical in one case and romantic in the other. When I am young I do not talk with my peers and come to know either urges or ideas, and here is another place friends might have been beneficial, might have saved me the awkward social cauldron of those years, but I am young, I do not know what to ask or who to ask. I have friendly interactions if not friends, but this is no more than the usual experience of those youth, I am alwaysinnocent, I am always shy, I am always certain everyone else knows something thatI do not.
I just want friends. Friendship is more than romantic love, but can and has for me led to something like romantic love. I think of the girl C with whom I lived for two years and my obsessive fixation on ‘improving’ her, which was her desire as well, for she was indeed modelling and this was not accident of fortunate appearance but achievement for her, though by my age now youth is in itself attractive and needs nothing more. I became her friend first by accepting her genre romance novels. I take them seriously and somehow give the idea I know how to ‘construct’ one, though in fact I have never written anything long, I have never written a novel, and this is all theory. In fact, I do try to write with her, something that is transparently fantasy for her, something about calorie-less chocolate and successful model beauty and great money and romance, but I lose my interest in this story as it becomes clearer shaped as fantasy and I do not identify with characters or goals. And then when I live with her I do my own writing, my own ‘constructions’, which are fantastic-themed and experimentally written and opaque not to her alone but most anyone but myself. At this time I would have best have had friends, literary friends, writing friends, with whom I could have shared and talked with about our art, but I was withdrawing from all social contacts and aside from C there was only one friend with whom I played tennis. I had withdrawn from University and the possibilities of meeting others there who shared similar interests. I thought if I just concentrated hard enough I could write, the only other things I tried to do was keep C happy, so I taught her to cook, I encouraged her modelling, I told her she was beautiful, but none of these things were difficult or against my nature.
I just want friends. Friendship is more than physical love, but can and has for me led to something like physical love. I come to have passionate discussions with W about writing, about the arts, about philosophy, the sort of talk I want with closest friends, but we are young and not wary of how this is seduction, whoever begins the act, which in this case is me. I should have refused to seduce her, refused to kiss her, I would have retained both dignity and friendship in refusal, I would have retained a friend and this is always and always more than fleeting or lasting, muted or intense, physical love, this is more but it is only later that I will realize this. Yet there is some difficulty in ever returning to pure and platonic friendship once I have crossed over that invisible barrier that has proved too permeable, too flimsy, for either her or me to establish or honour again. I just want friends but this mistake has ensured W can no longer be my friend, not least that she talks in her sleep and believes her now husband knows of us, though her guilt has already consumed her and so reflectively consumed me. I do not wish to be a bad friend but of course I have been. Physical love can be romantic love can be friendship can be no more than transaction, but those who are engaged in this must have clear understanding of which sort of meaning given.
I just want friends. In some ways this is mistaken if not pathetic claim, for the kind of friend I want would somehow embody all those aspects, all those natural expressions of friendship, and this would ask for no less than love. This may be mistaken, this may be demand exceding probability if not possibility, for there is some question of what love I can return, and whether I am asking for more than I can offer. This may be pathetic, this may ask for the implausible if not impossible, for surely others enact friendships with more reasonable expectations of each other, surely part of friendships are exactly those more reasonable expectations, that true friends will do as asked by friends but true friends will not ask the unreasonable, the mistaken, of the true friend. This is moving target, this is judgement that may be ascertained each demand, each reply, and true friends allow generosity on both sides, such that the movement is within ranges and nothing very surprising. I call this implicit trust, for I do not even have to demand, I do not worry about rejection, and again this asks for no less than love. I suggest there must be some leeway or generosity on the part of true friends of what is indeed implicit and this can only be established through time of somewhat shared memories. I believe it is pathetic claim towards love in friendship and not actual friendship, if I cannot know that I have implicit trust.
I just want friends. And then there is question of whether I disappoint myself, if I am all ilusion, if I am all mistaken, if I am not friendly, or polite, or intelligent, or kind, and I really have nothing to make even a minimal deal out of my character. I try to believe there are some positive quaities in me, I try to believe I am true, I am not illusion, that the mistakes I have made are all to the purpose of gaining wisdom, that I have never purposefully hurt anyone. And of course this is not entirely the case, for I have overstepped boundaries of friendship, I have stepped out of my commitments, I have enabled the betrayal of others and through this hurt them and yet other others. I try to believe I have only done what is asked of me, but perhaps I should have refused, perhaps I would have retained both dignity and friendship in refusal, and it is not enough to know in these cases I act like a child, and a child cannot refuse, a child always desires to please. And of course is this unique to me, is this ever-receding blame on previous incarnations of myself, is this anything more than bad faith, this erroneous belief my past determines my present determines my future behaviour. I can say this past has burdened me with an irrevocable belief I was a bad person, so destined to bad behaviour, so refusing to recognize any positive actions I accomplish, I can say this but surely by now this is absorbed and no longer major motor in how I relate to other people. I can say this but it is not true.
I just want friends. So my mother is my guide to moral being. It is not enough to be human but I must be the best human, I must be the moral human, I must befriendly and polite and intelligent and kind. I think my mother is often skeptical I am any of these. This is asking too much of my mother, that she unreservedly affirm me, that she love me not simply because I am her son, for I know she does love me, she has been the best mother I can ever imagine, she has been better mother than that of certain friends, that I do not know what I will do without her. My mother is concerned that I develop friendships and perhaps I have understated how fortunate I have been in forming several and that it has only been the lockdown which has isolated me. I am regular at given coffehouse, I know a few close friends but not too many, and this is the paradox, the problem I face, which cannot be too unfamiliar at least to artists. I want friends. I need solitude. I am a social being as anyone is, my friendships necessarily reciprocal, my acquaintances transactional, and I need to see people I know even if just by sight not name. I am a social being and try to be friendly and polite and inteligent and kind, even if I fail at one or two or more of these behaviours the effort is sincere. Of course, as any artist, I also treasure solitude, and this can be conflict with my desires for friendship, though at least with Ri we have learned thst some days the other just does not want to talk, it is no rejection, it is no anger, it is simply the way of being in the world at the time. I want friends.