building

A photo of two people sleeping in the back of a car

S and T, then

I met S in 2005. By that point, I was already friends with T–S was her boyfriend. He was a freshman and I was a sophomore. I’d already known S and T finished undergrad and moved to Seattle. S got a masters of public finance. He works for a startup. T is getting a Ph.D. in statistics and is at the top of her class. I think they’re both pretty awesome

S & T, now

One of the things about S is that he and I have very little in common. Our lives diverged completely since 2009. In three years, he’s found a life for himself in Seattle, got a full time job, and is married. He and S, who’ve been a unit for a long time, only began (from my experience) to define themselves as adult individuals in 2008. They’ve been doing it solidly since then.

A and me, then

One of my fondest memories of S is from 2008. T was spending a semester in London, which forced them apart. He was going to visit her for spring break. A week or so before he left, we were sitting around in the living room. S looked down and ran his hands through his hair, making it stick up as he is wont to do. He looked up and said “I think I should ask her to marry me. I should just do it.”

A with a mandolin

A, now.

He didn’t ask her until the next year, but that was sort of a defining point in my knowing him: He was the kind of person who would get married. Not in a “we should get married” kind of way, but in a surprise proposal diamond ring popping the question kind of way.

A few weeks ago, when I was out west, S and I spent some time together. T was out of town, much to my own sadness. We wandered around Wallingford and the U District (I think) with W, had Korean dinner, and wandered back to the apartment he and T share with each other and no one else.

After W and I were on the bus headed back to Capitol Hill, he said “It’s nice you can still talk to each other.”

The fact is, S and I are completely different. In fact, all of my close friends from then–A, B, G, S, and T–are different from me.

A photo of m. eating butter.

me, now. Philadelphia Folk Festival, 2012.

As we were talking down the Burke-Gilman, I took off my shoes because they were uncomfortable. I suggested–mostly jokingly–that S and T start going dumpster diving. He scoffed at the idea. He commented on how lucky he is because he was able to go to Japan on his honeymoon.

He had a honeymoon.

The thing is, we aren’t really all that different. There are lots of surface differences, but I was always sort of the weirdo of the group. We have many similar values–some he is more extreme in and some I am more extreme in–and very different ways of expressing things. This is because S and I helped build each other.

G sitting on the Cathedral lawn

G, then. I took this picture of him in 2005.

We all helped build each other. KK, another friend of mine from then, and I appear to have even less in common. She is married, pregnant, has a mortgage, is getting a Ph.D. in bioinformatics, and is Catholic. We still have a shockingly similar set of values and can still talk.

Life is about building things. Relationships are about building things together, and the relationship itself is something you build. When these relationships are during your formative years, you’re not just creating the space between the people: you are, in a very inescapable way, creating each other.

A Jewish wedding, showing attendants holding the chuppa.

G, now. Holding a chuppa at a wedding.

I don’t think I was really a person until I met G. He helped build me by calling me a jerk when someone needed to. A was there for me during several crises. T reminded me that other people matter to me. B taught me about making decisions. S showed me what it means to love another person.

Of course we had other experiences. The structures of our relationships are grand, but the pieces that make them up are the nights sitting around watching the X-Files and all those movies, the days cooking whole meals, midnight rides to the one Dunkin Donuts in Pgh, mornings waiting in line waiting for a seat so we could eat pancakes.

So much of who I am was built by these people, through our shared experiences, that I don’t worry about what will happen with us knowing each other. I don’t worry that I won’t be able to talk to them, not just talk, but understand, communicate, and have new experiences together. They built me and I built them.

*B doesn’t take pictures of himself. None of these photos belong to me, so they are exempt from the CC-BY-SA license.

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Self

Three or four years into my tenure as an electrician at the Philly Folk Festival, we were sitting around in a rum circle. The rum circle is a fine tradition of Fest. It’s pretty simple: we sit in a circle and pass a bottle of rum—preferably clockwise and never widdershins. I like the rum circle. At this particular one, JG slided up next to me and draped an arm over my shoulder. She said something to the effect of:

At first I thought you were just one of those people [they] bring who comes for a year or two, does no real work, and flakes out. But you’ve really proved yourself. You’re crew.

After getting over my initial discomfort at the idea that I was “just another flake” (not denying I am a flake—I totally am), I found comfort in knowing I was (am) crew.

Being crew is like being in a family or a gang—it doesn’t matter how long you go without showing up, whatever else you do, you’re crew. There is a history, a lineage, you become a part of.

We are by no means close. As far as I am aware, there are few close relationships outside of the several weeks we spend relying on one another entirely. (I understand that everytime someone foots a poorly balanced ladder that holds me 25 feet off the ground, I am trusting them to keep me alive.) There are occasional e-mails and facebook posts. My experiences with these people are fairly isolated.

My relationship with the crew is the same as some of my other important ties. During the brief times we are together, things are as they always have been. In this particular case, our physical location reflects our psychic one. The site is isolated from the rest of the world, it’s own special place, and our home beneath the stage is separate and hidden, it’s own magical, safe realm. The space creates a static reminder of who we are and who we can be in relation to each other and that this is separate from everything else.

Not to say the rest of our lives don’t matter.

Place, geographic, has always been important in how I think of myself. People create a different kind of space. Without us, the area beneath the stage is stark, cold, quiet, and empty. With us, it’s home.

I was in Seattle two weeks ago. Seattle is a strange place I don’t know how to interact with. G visited once as an undergrad and fell in love with parts of it in a rush of lusty passions for something different and a great glass library. S and T moved there after graduation and I went out when they got married.

Seattle and I had a whirlwind reminiscent of Celine and Jesse’s in Before Sunrise. Our time together was marked by the Burke-Gilman, dumpsters, eating from trees, bikes, getting lost in the woods and bay, and feelings of desperation, love, and loneliness.
This recent trip was more subdued. Instead of our initial intensity, we had a much delayed day-after trying to figure out how we could interact with each other—or even if we should. I went to different parts of the city with different people: I was with people I like quite a bit and don’t know how to be around. People I don’t know who I am around; people I don’t know if I’m able to be who I am around.

And then there was S and suddenly I was home and me and everything in the world made sense. For the first time in months, possibly a year, I was m. again. I knew who I was because the strangeness of Seattle now had S, who turns a stark, cold, quiet, empty space into a place I belong to. S and I, the crew and I, have spent seven years building places together. In these places, there is nothing to be except for ourselves.*

*These statements reflect my feelings and interpretations of the world.