Wednesday, February 3, 2010

On friendship.

It’s funny how certain topics present themselves. Here I am following a schedule that more or less goes like this: wake, eat, run, work, run, eat, sleep, rinse and repeat. I don’t have a ton of extra time, in other words, for-- well, let’s be honest-- anything. When I train, family get-togethers, dates and long talks about literature over coffee are things I put aside. I’m not bragging-- it’s just the way I am. When running 60-70 miles a week (and doing the supplemental training that goes along with that) I have to stay focused and to do that I become a kind of runner-hermit-girl. I’m sure there are others who don’t resort to such extremes and I applaud them for being able to have a “normal” (or normative, anyway) existence while training. I’ve found that I cannot.

So how in the heck did I start thinking about friendship? Well, the subject kept appearing. A great friend of mine, Elaine, is a person I call a friend but whom I never see. We were undergraduate students-- English majors-- together at the University of Nevada, Reno. We both had dreams of becoming writers and of going to MFA programs in creative writing. We applied to many of the same programs and then, were both rejected by those programs. Sigh.

But why don’t we talk anymore; or, not in person, anyway? And how come we still call each other friends? I don’t know, really, but she started a foray into barefoot running, I wanted to follow her progress (and her blog, which you can find here.) And she, thank heavens, actually reads this thing now and again. So, we are friends.

But what is friendship, exactly? What are its parameters (or should I ask, who are in its parameters?) I can’t explain it, but the first thought which comes to mind is: Elaine’s with me, especially when I’m writing. She isn’t really-- but I can sometimes imagine her suggestions and encouragements when I’m drafting something new. A “what about this?” when I think the plot can only move in one direction or, “maybe that’s a bad idea” when I think of adding something odd, like say, a post-apocalyptic scene in which a walrus and a poodle engage in philosophical conversation about the existence of God. Or, “I totally think you should” when I’m wondering if I really ought to send another short story out for rejection. And then, because I think she’d say to try it (what harm can one more “Hell No!!” do, anyway?) I do.

The only think I can say about this is that I carry people with me. I’m not crazy or anything. I don’t actually think Elaine is hovering over my shoulder, or that past coaches are on the sides of the road, telling me I can do it and that I just have to believe I can when I’m having a difficult run. It’s all in my mind, I know. But somehow, that’s what friendship-- or the importance of it-- is to me.

When it’s mile 15.5 of a 17-miler and I’m all alone with no water, no goo and pain in my chest, it’s that memory-- or a modified one, anyway -- of Scott Young (whom I worked with prior to running Boston) or Kirk Elias (the UNR Coach who got me down to 2:54 and is, perhaps, the nicest and most tolerant coach I’ve ever met) saying “I believe-- do you?” that gets me to place one foot in front of the other over and over again.

It’s my mom, who I imagine waits for me at the finish line to tell me how proud she is that makes me push extra hard to get there.

It’s the protagonist of my novel, Jeanne Leroux (a person I made up!) who says: “hey, if I did it, you can definitely can, too.”

I suppose I’m posing an argument that runs contrary to what we, as a society, define friendship as. Michel de Montaigne in his essay on Friendship said that: “what we commonly call friends and friendships, are nothing but acquaintance and familiarities, either occasionally contracted, or upon some design, by means of which there happens some little intercourse betwixt our souls. But in the friendship I speak of, they mix and work themselves into one piece, with so universal a mixture, that there is no more sign of the seam by which they were first conjoined” which means, essentially, that friends are present beings that act as mirrors, complimenting us in ways more than skin-deep. And yet, here I propose something new: can a friend be an idea? Or, more precisely, the idea of a person?

I feel the shaking of my reader’s head from here. No, you say, no a friend is a flesh and blood person, one we admire, yes, but also one that inspires and that contradicts. One that challenges at times, and one that has a very real -- tangible -- shoulder upon which one could, if needed, cry upon. Yes, I acknowledge that, too. But what of the notion of “carrying people with you?” I mark my true friendships -- the relationships that have, in one way or another, changed me personally -- as the sort I feel daily regardless of whether I “see” or “touch” the other person. Regardless, even, if the other is still alive.

Perhaps that is why I value imagination so much as to attempt to make a living out of it. There are so many instances in life when one is alone; when one fights horrible “battles” (financial, romantic, athletic, what-have-you) and you often find yourself alone. Utterly and completely alone. And yet, the idea of a friend can sometimes-- or oftentimes-- be enough to get you through it supports my thesis: friendship is a thing contained within, not necessarily without.

Even Montaigne admitted so much: “There is no action or imagination of mine wherein I do not miss him; as I know that he would have missed me: for as he surpassed me by infinite degrees in virtue and all other accomplishments, so he also did in the duties of friendship...”. Though he does not directly say so, Montaigne imagines his friend missing him-- and that longing inspired him to write about friendship.

I’m not sure where this post is going, if anywhere. I only know, perhaps, as runners (us solitary beings on the shoulders of roads) need friends, just as any other human being does. And so, I would like to believe it is not wholly wrong to imagine a smiling face when you need one, or an encouraging word when the going gets tough. It might be smart to, actually.

And so, thank you, to all of you I carry with me. I love you dearly and am gracious to have known you, even if for words you never said.

1 comment:

elaine said...

Rebecca, wow, I feel totally honored! :) But I also completely understand what you're talking about. I carry friends with me too, some whom I haven't seen for years. Sometimes I wonder if it makes sense to still love someone when you don't know if they're happy, sad, healthy, nearby or far away. But it's a positive emotion so I don't argue with it. ;)