Friendships, Change and Memories

Sometimes I think about all the good friends I made online over the years, ever since I first got on the internet in 1996. A few of them I’m in touch with, many others I lost all traces of. Most of those, I have no way of reaching: I may not know or remember their full name, or they may have moved, or not be very active online. Most importantly, they may not even remember who I am, or may not care. So I don’t even try to contact them: what would the point be, anyway?

But I do think about them, especially when I’m feeling low, or around the time when people start feeling festive. Most of those friends I never met in person, or I may have only met them once, yet those friendships did matter to me. They were never just “names on a screen”. They were real people, with whom I shared a part of my life.

And so, as yet another year goes by — a year during which so many things in my own life have changed, yet so many other things could not change despite my plans and hopes — I can’t help but wonder: how are they doing? are they alive and well? has life treated them fairly? did they make the right choices for themselves? I think about them fondly, even those with whom I had disagreements or whose friendship ended abruptly, not just because we simply drifted apart as life got in the way.

It’s amusing, in a way, how we never know whether we’re going to speak with someone again. When I think of all the people I lost, I try to remember when I last spoke with them, and what we talked about. I really can’t remember any such conversations, as much as I would love to, because we weren’t even aware that we would have never spoken again. Maybe we just stopped using the same software or the same server, or perhaps we kept postponing going back indefinitely, and just never did.

One thing I learned is that sometimes we — I do, at least — feel the need to take a break from everything, collect our thoughts, and focus on more urgent matters. We strive to put the world on hold, while we do what we must to handle whatever life has thrown at us. But it doesn’t work like that: we can’t tell the world to wait. It’s not that we’re not important enough: nobody really is, and that’s the point. We may delude ourselves into thinking that the universe is on our side, that we’re somehow special, but the truth is that life is a video game that you just can’t pause; at most, you can mark yourself “afk” (away from keyboard) but everyone else is going to keep doing their thing. And when you come back, well, things may not be the same. The world may have changed. People may have left, or moved on. And when that happens, accepting the new status quo is tough: was I selfish to take some time for myself? why didn’t they wait for me?

For those of us who are not blessed with an innately social disposition, it can be disheartening. Memories pile up, coated in nostalgia, hand in hand with an ever-growing sense of guilt: it is our fault, we did want to put the world on hold. We should have known better, but we were selfish; and that is why we ended up ruining everything. But did we?

It is only human to feel overwhelmed, and we all have a different threshold for tolerance. Further, we are not all on the same page. Not only we react to things differently, but we also go through wildly different experiences, ever since the day we are born into the world screaming, till the day we draw our last breath and fall forever silent. To think that two people would react the same way to the same events is naïve at best, hypocritical at worst. Assumption, after all, is mother of all mistakes. And we make many mistakes, especially when it comes to dealing with ourselves, even before considering our relationships with others.

Daniel Sloss, a Scottish comedian, talked about how we approach others and how rare it is for two to “click” for real on a deep level, since we all have different sides that most often do not match, and require reaching a compromise. His shows are on Netflix, and I urge everyone to watch them. While he mostly refers to love and couples, I believe that the deeper issue remains true for all sorts of relationships, even among friends. It is not exactly rare for long-term friendships to eventually die out, often spectacularly, under the weight of seemingly minor issues. Whose fault is it?

Our mistake is expecting that others will never change, yet everyone changes all the time. I’m not the same person I was a year ago, let alone ten years ago; nobody is, and that is just the way it is. We simply fail to notice it, much like we don’t realize how much our pet is growing because we live with them, yet someone else immediately notices and surprises us when they point it out. We only see the change in others; and we find that unsettling, because we are blind to how we change ourselves.
Even the mightiest buildings come crashing down when they’re built incautiously, without taking into account how external forces may and shall affect them over time. Constructions ought to be strong to withstand hurricanes, yet flexible to survive earthquakes. And even those that seem destined to rise above the horizon throughout the ages may fail and be destroyed before we have time to blink. Strong foundations, while absolutely necessary, are never enough on their own.

The same goes for friendships, and indeed all relationships. Some may only last a short while until circumstances change very slightly, others may thrive despite long periods of absence and apparent carelessness. Others yet may just run their course, however brief or long that may be, but that doesn’t make them any less important for the parties involved.

And so I think back on all the people I met over the years, mostly but not only online, whose current whereabouts are unknown to me. I think about them, and I do indeed wonder: how are they doing? are they alive and well? has life treated them fairly? did they make the right choices for themselves? Whatever the answers to those questions may be, and whether our paths will ever cross again, I’m glad that we got to walk side by side, at least for a while, along this insane road that is life.

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Next week will be less busy

I’ve been meaning to start writing again for a while now, but I felt like I never had the time. In a sense, that’s the truth: I never felt like it was the right moment, so I kept waiting and postponing.

There is a joke that says: adulthood is thinking “next week will be less busy” until you die. It’s funny because it’s true — but it’s also quite sad. And it’s not only about work, because life gets in the way in many other ways.

I’m not going to go into details, but the last few months have been a rollercoaster as a close family member has been dealing with a medical situation. It involved a lot of driving, seeing multiple doctors, a one-week stay away from home while a complicated surgery was performed; and amidst all that, all the practicalities of day-to-day life with the constant background of the pain and issues that comes from them. I even stopped posting on social media, something that (perhaps not surprisingly, but that’s another story) most people didn’t even notice.

At every step along the way, I kept telling myself: I’ll start writing again when this next milestone is reached and I can breathe. Yet no milestone ever coincided with being done, quite the opposite. Suffice it to say that the surgery solved one problem, but opened up a whole new Pandora’s box. We’re now looking at weeks, or likely months, of more appointments with doctors, therapies, and whatnot. And of course, other things in life don’t stop. I still have to work, buy groceries, walk the dog, and handle everything else as it comes along.

As I bookmarked the millionth webpage I will never have time to properly read through, I realized one thing that should have been obvious all along: the perfect conditions may just never come together. Let’s be realistic: all these family issues aside, it’s extremely unlikely that every single piece of the puzzle of life will fall into place at the same time. And even if it did, it probably wouldn’t last long enough for me to be able to write all I have in my mind, or take all the photos I have planned, or whatever it is that I eventually want to do.

It seems clear in hindsight, even trivial. But it’s one of those things that’s easy to lose track of. Chalk it up to my being a perfectionist, maybe, or to an innate (and pointless) sense of guilt whenever I do something I enjoy. Even then, though, I know that I’m not ignoring what ought to be done for others, nor am I putting pleasure before duty. So if I do enjoy myself in a rare moment of downtime, where’s the harm? Besides, who knows how things will be in the future? We tell ourselves that next week will be less busy, but it never is. By extension, I may only have a little time for myself now, but at least I do have that little time. Why postpone enjoyable things indefinitely, if it doesn’t harm anyone and doesn’t distract me from what I’m supposed to be doing?

Furthermore, and I’m perfectly aware that this is a little morbid and fatalistic but bear with me here, who knows what the future will bring. These last few months have really gotten me thinking about how little time we have in general. It’s another cliché, of course it is. But the thing about clichés is that they are true, and sometimes you need to figure them out for yourself.

I’ve always been one who saves up, be it money in the bank, ammo in a video game, or projects to work on. Saving up, at every turn, because it’s better to have it for later if you don’t need it now. It’s a good approach and it’s served me well in times of emergency. But I’ve also denied myself many things and experiences in the name of “this is not the right time”. Yet, how do I know when the right time is? There’s no discrete amount of rightness, rather an infinite spectrum. And you get used to it, so it’s harder and harder to let go and loosen up.

I sometimes joke that “at any rate I have to die” when I do something somewhat hedonistic, whether that’s eating another chocolate croissant or buying a drone. It’s a joke, but lately I’ve been giving it some serious thought. I don’t mean this to be creepy, but then again it’s my stream of consciousness, so who cares? The point is: it’s exactly like that, at any rate I have to die. Again, it’s a cliché, but it’s a whole different experience when you reach that conclusion independently, instead of just reading it on a motivational poster.

I do have a finite number of days left in my life. I did start dying the moment I was born. Those are facts, and they apply to everyone, like it or not. Now I do not dwell in the delusion that I’ll accomplish something great that will change the course of humanity, nor that my own life is special to others in any way. But it is true that I only have so many moments to do something I enjoy, or something good, ideally both. It’s not even a matter of “I just wanna live while I’m alive” (Bon Jovi), because “there [are] worse things than dying” (Eric Bogle).

I’ve wasted many useful moments so far, and have no doubt, I will be wasting many more. Dealing for many years with certain things I don’t want to talk about is part of the reason, and I’m working on that. But my congenital sense of guilt? Well, I’m working on getting rid of it entirely. I may not be popular with others, and that’s fine. I just need to be popular with myself. I’m the one who’s always with myself (Max Pezzali), and I’m the one who needs to take care of myself. That means also taking the time to do something for myself, whether it’s writing, or taking photos, or recording a podcast. Even if time is limited, even if I can’t do it as well as I wish. A little is a slightly better than nothing, better than waiting for the perfect time, and much better than regretting the wait.

I look back at the things I was doing a few years ago, and I feel like I slowly lost track of those creative endeavors. Life got in the way, that’s for sure, but I also progressively distanced myself from them, as if growing up — or perhaps growing old — meant sacrificing myself in the name of some greater good. “I’ll do them when things get better” is a honest-to-god approach, but it also ultimately leads to nothing. And I can’t afford to lose myself even more.

I want to write, take pictures, record podcasts, try painting, make a movie, hack machines, create things. Not to be popular or famous, or god forbid rich; rather, just because I enjoy doing those things. And that’s all the reason I need, really, especially as I become more and more aware that time may be infinite in the universe, but is extremely scarce for a person.

So here’s the plan. I’m making no commitments, because life can and will get in the way. I’m not even giving myself a tentative schedule. But I’ll try to at least start writing more often, and hopefully post whatever I write on here. They may my thoughts and streams of consciousness, rather than “articles” or something useful. They may be rants. They may be politically incorrect and extremely biased. I don’t know and, to be completely honest, I don’t even care. Nor do I care whether one or a million people will read them, or even nobody. That’s not the reason I’m doing it. I also want to start picking up my photography again and doing a million other things I’ve put on hold until now, but that’s a whole different story.

And if the end result is not perfect, then who cares? I’ll try again and fail better: “I know the streets are cruel, but I’ll enjoy the ride today.” (Dream Theater)

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