An Eclectic Human
A newsletter about design, community, and being a human

1.10 Dissolved in the white ocean of his loyalty

Matt wrote the following in response to last week’s letter about friendship:

It’s honestly hard to say sometimes what I’ve truly learned from personal experience. For one thing, I’m constantly changing, and that changing has accelerated since I’ve been in college, and that acceleration has accelerated in the past few months. Perhaps it’s finally slowing back down, but in the meantime it’s hard to keep tabs on what was really a permanent change in my thoughts or behavior. I used to think that I became closest with the people I lived with, but in reality I’ve never lived with the majority of people on my various best-friends lists throughout my life, and I’ve lived with plenty of people who have never made it on the list. Although the place where I happen to eat and sleep is perfect for “proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other,” it has been neither the sole nor the prime source of close relationships for me.

So in the past two decades of my life I don’t know if I’ve learned anything significant about making or keeping friends that I didn’t already know from the beginning. But I still feel like I know what a friend is. It’s just someone who’s okay with me. Being alone with a stranger is awkward, but being alone with a friend is natural. You’re allowed to let your guard down, you’re allowed to not be your best, and yet with them you want to be your best because they make it so easy.

I like this definition of a friend. It reminds me of a piece by Frank Crane called “Definition of a Friend”. Here’s one stanza:

With him you breathe freely.
You can take off your coat and loosen your collar.
You can avow your little vanities and envies and hates and vicious sparks, your meanness and absurdities, and in opening them up to him they are lost, dissolved in the white ocean of his loyalty.
He understands.

Let’s also re-read something Maria wrote back in October:

We have this intense desire to hide our mistakes and imperfections behind a mask of cultural appropriateness to avoid the judgments of others. But if we all stopped hiding our mistakes, stopped overreacting to others’ mistakes and our own, wouldn’t everyone be better off? Knowing that everyone is broken as well, would we not be kinder to each other, more content with who we are and the progress we are making? … Perhaps knowing that others have weaknesses and faults would allow us to recognize our own faults, instead of attempting to hide them in fear of others’ judgments. Would accepting our progress not then allow us to forgive our past selves, our past mistakes, and look forward with the knowledge that we can, in fact, improve? I like to believe it would.

Friends let you be who you are, broken and imperfect, and they make you want to be better. Having a friendship like that is liberating.

• • •

This will be the last newsletter of 2014, and we’ll resume in January. In the interim, let’s talk about stories.

Last month in a lovely newsletter called Uncommon In Common, Timmy wrote the following:

There is a house on Route 661 in Ohio that I often pass. Driving north: the southern face of the house has four windows, three of the shutters are grey, one is pink. The top left window is pink. I’ve often thought about that window, who lived there, what their story is. I bet it is very mundane. The child told their parents he or she wanted pink shutters outside his or her window. A friend gave them some cheap shutters and they didn’t want to waste them.

And yet I can’t help but think this window as an embodiment of something much, much more. I want the story, but if I went through that window, it wouldn’t exist anymore. To have the story is to have the distance.

It’s a fun thought to consider what the story is behind something like pink shutters. It reminds me of a type of storytelling that seeks to give just enough information to convey the story but leaves out things for your imagination to fill in and make the story come alive in your own mind.

The Twitter account @VeryShortStory is one example of this style. Many of the stories are dark and sardonic, hearkening to Edgar Allen Poe, the account’s avatar. Here’s an example:

Gerald cared for his mom’s neglected plants. Grateful, a fern felt compelled to speak, “Thank you.” Terrified, he got rid of the plants.

These 136 characters have the capability to paint a world in your head as you fill in the holes deliberately left by the author. Does Gerald frighten easily? Is he normally very difficult to startle but this crossed a line and he didn’t want to live it down? Why does his mother neglect the plants? Does she travel often? Is she bedridden? Merely forgetful but otherwise loving? Are these indoor or outdoor plants?

One of my professors had us write these kinds of stories for a class exercise once, limited to the length of a tweet (140 characters). Here are a couple I wrote at the time. The first details one of the strange aspects of meeting in person for the first time someone you only “know” via Twitter:

He sat across the room, his face familiar, his voice strange. Despite resembling his avatar, this man could speak more than 140 characters.

The second deals with living life through a screen.

She danced gracefully while I watched through a 3.5” piece of glass. It’s all in 1080p video, but I missed the higher-def live performance.

• • •

So for the next two weeks while you’re enjoying the holidays, I’d like you to think of some stories you could tell in 140 characters. Draw a mental framework for us and leave open the details that you think we should paint in ourselves. I look forward to reading what you come up with!

Happy holidays, and I’ll see you in 2015!

—Steve

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1.09 Friendship