Saturday, November 13, 2004

Down for Whatever

"Down for whatever" is a lyric from an old hip hop joint, and at this early hour, I can't recall it. Hope one of you hip hop fans can remember and drop me a line.

That pretty much sums up my view on friendship. Sometimes I feel guilty about having one group of friends I share one set of activities with, and another that I share other activities with. I used to panic at the thought of having them all together at a party -- what would my sober friends do with the potsmokers? I'm quite sure my straight friends would get along with my gay friends (they'd be outnumbered, at the very least). The vegetarians are alright with our restaurant choices, and find something to eat on the menu, and the White folks are evolved enough to not put their foot in their mouths with the people of color. The bottom line is that everybody is really cool. I wouldn't swap any of them. There are some friends I see more often than others, and some I probably won't be close to forever, but none of that matters. Everyone is down for whatever.

To have good friends, you have to be a good friend. For about 7 years, I counted as one of my best friends a smart, funny, lovable, incredibly talented writer who was also deeply troubled. Our stories were pretty similar; we both came from middle class, Caribbean families, we both were well educated, and we were both out to our parents, not a small thing if you know anything about Caribbean families -- they taught Guilt 101 to Jewish parents. Where we parted, however, was the parent pleasing syndrome. I believe in respecting and revering your parents, biological, and adoptive. They made it possible for you to walk the planet, so hate your life if you must, but thank your parents for bringing you here. I do not, however, believe in living your life to please them at the cost of your peace of mind. Being able to lay your head down at night knowing you're comfortable in your own skin is priceless. My dear friend never figured out that sometimes your folks will agree with you and sometimes they won't. Sometimes they'll throw an emotional dagger you weren't prepared to dodge. Sometimes they'll provide conditional support. Sometimes they are just not likeable. Artists are tortured enough by the chase for perfection in their craft, and that chase is like "feenin'" for crack. You'll sell your ass, you'll sell your soul for it. Every part of your life, from your non-art work, to your relationships suffers. Caribbean parents are wonderfully disciplined, and instill good values in their kids, but are not exactly forthcoming with the warm and fuzzy, especially between mothers and daughters, but that's the subject of another post.

This sweet soul was tortured by everything, her writing, her lack of success in love, her lackluster response from her parents contrasted with the phallocentric worship of her younger brother. As a result, she needed help, but instead of turning to therapy, she turned to me, and not at the best times. Every conversation for the last several months of our friendship was rife with woe, and I offered the best advice I could, but how about some support for me? My relationship at that time was in shambles and it took all I had to support the woman I was with and her 2 children without wanting to blow my brains out (or hers). But my friend didn't see that, or saw it and didn't care. Eventually, I had to stop speaking to her because I couldn't do crisis intervention anymore because I needed it.

I have mixed feelings about that event. On the one hand, she needed me and I wasn't there. On the other, I needed her and she wasn't there, but a lot of our friendship was based on need. Once that need isn't there, if you don't have other things to cement it, the friendship just falls apart. I wanted to be a friend, but in retrospect, neither of us were particularly qualified to be friends, and it is what it is.

Having put a little maturity in my belly, and having things settle down in my emotional life, I recognize that friendship is an ever-changing mishmash of feelings that are hugely imperfect, but require consistency. If I call you in tears at 3a.m., I need to know;no, I fully EXPECT you'll answer the phone, and after cursing me out for the lateness of the call, listening to me. I would do the same for you. We may not share the same interests all the time, and life changes like children, new relationships, new work schedules, may force us apart for a period, but know that I'm still down for whatever. And to my new friends, the ones with whom I've recently discovered joyful and poignant encounters, shared instant intimacies and unexpected commonalities, welcome to my inner sanctum. I cherish my friends like I cherish my life. My outside may not look perfect, but I treat my insides well. Believe me when I tell you, I am down for whatever.


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