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Your Catfish Friend
toon
lilmissnever
If I were to live my life
in catfish forms
in scaffolds of skin and whiskers
at the bottom of a pond
and you were to come by
one evening
when the moon was shining
down into my dark home
and stand there at the edge
of my affection
and think, “It’s beautiful
here by this pond. I wish
somebody loved me,"
I’d love you and be your catfish
friend and drive such lonely
thoughts from your mind
and suddenly you would be
at peace,
and ask yourself, “I wonder
if there are any catfish
in this pond? It seems like
a perfect place for them.”

--Richard Brautigan

Never start with poetry. Who even reads poetry anymore?

I have been thinking about friendship, partly because I read this fantastic piece in The Awl about the friendship between two female surrealist painters. It is a post that contains everything I hold dear: they have adventures, one of them "assembles cats," they have elaborate in-jokes, they insert each other (ancient, with a beard!) into stories. There is an escape via submarine. One of them goes through an extraordinary number of husbands. One day I would like for someone to write about my tiny and intense friendships like this.

Stop me if you are about to fall over from the shock of it, but I am not one of those people with a lot of friends. I have a wide range of acquaintances, the people that I am polite to at parties, and a tiny group of people that I white-knuckle clutch to my bosom because they are mine. And maybe I never stopped being a brain in a jar because my friendships are made of words--chat logs and what are you reading and did you see this and I wrote this thing the other day. Sometimes we make art and sometimes and I stand still and S paints me and sometimes we publish security research and sometimes we put each other in stories. Sometimes we make worlds so small that there is no room for anyone else in them. J and I have so much shared experience that we don't even need to talk anymore. We can sit companionably next to each other and grunt. But I also have strange and complicated friendships with long silences. There are friends I almost cannot see in person because our expectations are so high that we simply end up fighting. I have friends I don't even need to see because their simulacrum exists inside my head and I can't stop seeing things that would bring them joy, or hearing their voices in my head.

I've been thinking about friendship because I read this piece my painter wrote "in praise of prickly thistles" about loving difficult people. I am probably not the easiest friend to have. I'm not an alcoholic or an addict or a thief, but I have a little in common with the person that S used to be. I am not nice. I am no one's source of comforting praise. I am chilly and hard to read. I have a temper. I don't believe that I will ever stop thinking mean things, but I hope that one day I will catch them before they come out of my mouth. I don't think that we have to be perfect. I don't need my friends to be perfect--I love my strange and flawed imperfect people--but I do think that we should try, both of us, to be better than we are. 

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Maybe don't start with poetry... unless it is Brautigan.


There's a lot of good poetry out there, but I suspect that enjoying poetry is deeply unfashionable. If I start a post with poetry, almost no one will read it, not even to get to the bits after the poetry. It is a cruel and uncaring world we live in.

Perhaps more than unfashionable it's divisive? It's pretty unlikely that someone is going to like a specific poem that someone else suggests. (At least based on my reaction to most poems other people seem to talk about.) And then we've also generally been polluted by thinking that poetry is what we were force-fed in the three day unit on poetry that we had in high school, so as adults there is I think a fair amount of unlearning to do before it starts to make any sense whatsoever as something to be appreciated.

I am one of those people with no close friends. There are people who are closer than others, and a huge bevy of acquaintances, but I've been able to say I have a "best" friend for maybe 8% of my life. I don't know what to do about it; my therapist and I are discovering it's mostly to do with my mother, and overly dramatic friends in my young life.

(I am just now catching up on the fact that you've been posting here, as I've wanted to for a good year and change and failed to do because Reasons.)

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