Becoming the Living Poet

In Denmark & Feeling A Prelude To Homesick

Posted on: June 16, 2009

Driving by John Newlove

You never say anything in your letters. You say,
I drove all night long through the snow
in someone else’s car
and the heater wouldn’t work and I nearly froze.
But I know that. I live in this country too.
I know how beautiful it is at night
with the white snow banked in the moonlight.

Around black trees and tangled bushes,
how lonely and lovely that driving is,
how deadly. You become the country.
You are by yourself in that channel of snow
and pines and pines,
whether the pines and snow flow backwards smoothly,
whether you drive or you stop or you walk or you sit.

This land waits. It watches. How beautifully desolate
our country is, out of the snug cities,
and how it fits a human. You say you drove.
It doesn’t matter to me.
All I can see is the silent cold car gliding,
walled in, your face smooth, your mind empty,
cold foot on the pedal, cold hands on the wheel.


In the week I’ve been in Denmark I have added updates to Facebook and Twitter. I have taken over 100 photographs. I have posted photos to facebook and emailed photos to friends. I have bought postcards which I plan to write, address, and send before the week is out. Am I more afraid of forgetting or of being forgotten, I couldn’t say, but there is an urgency to my communications as if a bridge across a river that cannot be forded is being swept away by a flood and I am trying to send across my last few messengers before the bridge is gone completely.

I think it will take time to trust that there is a full life waiting for me in San Francisco. I know there is a creative life waiting for me, but if I am going to keep my commitment to being honest with myself, I have to admit that I am not a solitary person. I need time to myself, time to write and think, but I also need people. I need people to care about and people who care about me, and while I couldn’t find the writer’s community I was seeking in San Diego, I had the most wonderful friends that anyone could ask for.

In the past month or two I’ve been doing a headcount of all the people in my life. Who am I good with keeping in touch with? Who is falling through the cracks? Who have I been out of contact with for too long to contact again? Everyone I met in high school falls into the latter category save one. Two years shy of the high school reunion and all but one of my closest high school friends will be strangers before I see them again.

I fear that in a few years many of the people in San Diego whom I have confided in, comforted, and shared my life with will hardly know me. They will be strangers to me again as if we had never met.

I’ve struggled with this concept a lot in the past. If people drop off your radar does that mean it was not the right time to maintain a friendship, the necessary conditions were not present and no amount or forcing it would have made a difference in the outcome? Or does it mean that some part of you failed to care enough to make the person a high enough priority to keep them in your life?

It’d be easy to say that it was always one or the other. The first interpretation is seductive because it neatly liberates both parties from suffering any of the responsibility for the death of the friendship. The second interpretation is tempting for me in a different way. It allows me to place all of the blame for every person left behind neatly atop my own shoulders and thereby understand the universe in the simplist possible terms. Friendship doesn’t last forever because I’m too selfish to allow it to.

A friend whom I lost contact with a few years ago once told me that it was not a tragedy that people drifted apart, it was a miracle that they connected with each other at all. He also contended that our friendship was unlikely to withstand the test of time, but that knowing that it would end did not detract from its value.

He was right on both counts.

We eventually lost contact because he became very self-destructive and at times rather cruel and I eventually decided that the pain of having him in my life out-weighed the value of the friendship. This is a very dramatic example of the death of a friendship. Most friendships fade rather than collapse. I bring it up because I think it neatly illustrates that the interest of both parties in continuing the friendship is a part of the conditions that make a friendship possible.

When that friendship failed I felt I was abandoning him at a time when he most needed me. With distance and a change in perspective, I perceive the way the events unfolded much differently. In a sense we both stopped caring and ceased to put forth the effort that maintaining the friendship required, but it wasn’t necessarily because we didn’t on some level still care about each other. It was because our priorities had shifted due to the different directions our lives had taken us. He was at a point in his life where he saw his friends as a captive audience and himself as a performer. I was at a point in my life where I needed to stop casually allowing myself to be hurt by other people simply because I had a reasonably high pain threshold. I didn’t realize it at the time, but having someone near him who refused to challenge his inappropriate behavior was the last thing he needed to make positive changes in his life. As for me, I understood on some level that I couldn’t make any progress in convincing myself that I had value if I continued to devote time to people whose behavior towards me contested the theory.

I guess what I’m getting at is that the people who are in my life right now have remained my friends because they are good for me and they think I’m good for them. That wasn’t always true in the past, but it’s true as of right now.

The most common reason for a friendship to end is that the mutual benefit of the interaction has been lost.

In some ways I hate the connotations of the word benefit. I worry that it implies mutual exploitation, and would like to clarify that a benefit can be as simple as enjoying another’s company or feeling inspired by someone else’s thought processes. Once we put aside the idea that benefits have to be material; it seems perfectly obvious that mutual benefit has to be a part of the friendship equation. Mutual harm is not a friendship, its a form of very sophisticated abuse. A friendship where only one person is benefiting will eventually lead to resentment and thus one or both parties will eventually be harmed. The resenter will want restitution or the resented will feel threatened and attack preemptively. A friendship where no one benefited would seem to contradict the universal maxim that friendships are valuable.

The take home point here is that I can let go of my fear of losing my friends in San Diego because, as harsh as it sounds, if I lose contact with a friend then in all likelihood one of us is probably better off for the loss because the benefit of the friendship was no longer apparent.

In moments when I can separate myself from my own abandonment issues, I find it somewhat comforting to acknowledge that if I lose touch with someone it will most likely be because time is finite and there were other things taking up that person’s time (or my time for that matter) which offered more immediate benefit. In a situation like that it is right that the friendship fade gracefully rather than that one person force it to continue.

That isn’t to say that I’m not going to cling and grasp like nobody’s business to try to stay in touch with the people who are close to me. I will do what I am able, but some people will inevitably be lost to me in this life transition. They will go on to meet new people who will fill the niche I used to fill in their lives and I will probably do the same.

That’s not a tragedy. That’s part of the beautiful resilience and adaptability of human life.

I will remember my friends because the time I spent with them left a permanent imprint. I think that’s part of what it means to be a ‘true friend,’ to make a positive impact on a person that may be subtle, but is nevertheless unique, personal, and non-transitory.

My favorite friendship quote:

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival. — C.S. Lewis

A good quote for the occasion:

Can miles truly separate you from friends… If you want to be with someone you love, aren’t you already there? — Richard Bach


1 Response to "In Denmark & Feeling A Prelude To Homesick"

You must certainly will not be forgotten. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve almost picked up the phone to call and see if you want to hang out before realizing that you’re miles away. You are very loved.


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