Friday, February 25, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 32 (Jay McInerny)

McInerny, Jay
Bright Lights, Big City

I have no idea where (or why) I acquired this book. I read it. I disliked it intensely, mostly, I recall, because I found the conceit of writing a novel in the second person distracting to the point of distraction. Actually, I think I bought this and Less Than Zero (which I also hated) at the same time, feeling I should at least take a look at some of the books that were supposedly defining my indefinable generation. I never got around to reading Generation X, but I don't feel like I missed anything. I kind of like the cover, though, with it's 80's drop-shadow sans serif title font, and the image of the man in the trenchcoat heading towards the neon glow of the Odeon, the Twin Towers glowing in the background. I wonder if those have continued to appear in subsequent editions. I somehow doubt it.

I had more I wanted to say yesterday about friendship, but my mind is feeling a bit muddy this morning and I don't quite remember what it was. I can see it there, a fuzzy little cotton ball on the edge of consciousness, but every time I turn to look it disappears. So maybe I'll just start writing down some random thoughts on friendship and see if it makes an appearance after all.

First, most friendships are based on two things: physical proximity and duration. Proximity is the most important element. When two people are put in the same place over a period of time, they develop relationships. What kind of relationship develops in this way almost certainly depends on how much time they share the same space and for how long.

If two people spend an entire day together, occupied by a shared activity, say a retreat or a conference or a meeting of some sort, they develop a specific kind of relationship. Usually this relationship has an intense quality to it. If they dislike each other, this feeling grows quickly and powerfully throughout the day. The same is also true if they have positive feelings toward each other. The fact that they know they will spend the day together makes them intensely aware of the fact that this is only a temporary situation. The haters regret every minute of it, the lovers mourn the passing of the day because they know this fleeting friendship will pass.

If two people go to the same place at the same time, for instance if they are taking a class together, then the intensity of the initial relation is weaker. If they dislike each other, they can comfort themselves knowing the person will be out of their lives at the end of the class, at least for a period of time. If they like the person, the fact they only see each other during class allows them to step back from the friendship a little, to observe it from the outside and determine whether their feelings of friendship are genuine and reciprocated. They can reveal something of themselves, and also save a little for next time. When this more extended period of shared time comes to an end, they can either say farewell or attempt to continue the friendship beyond the expiration of the class.

Then there are the relationships that have a more permanent aspect to them, wherein two people share space over long periods of time. Neighbors, school mates, office mates, and so on. In these relationships the knowledge that proximity and circumstances are not likely to change suddenly or quickly has a very different effect on the relationship. Time plays a very powerful role. On the one hand, if a friendship develops, it can feel like it has a kind of permanence to it, a solidity. It can come to seem as if it had always been there and always will be. It can be more easily taken for granted.

If a negative relationship develops, then what to a friend feels permanent and significant to an enemy can feel like a prison sentence. Hence the particularly nasty antagonisms that develop between neighbors over seemingly minor details like the placement of trees, the building of fences, and so forth, or the way that office or department politics so often devolve into blood feuds.

I would say that most friendships arise due to circumstances covered under the preceding three varieties of proximity and duration. But what about other forms of friendship? Whence do they arise? And how sustain themselves?

I'll think about it overnight and talk about it tomorrow.

from Bright Lights, Big City

You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy. You are at a nightclub talking to a girl with a shaved head. The club is either Heartbreak or the Lizard Lounge. All might come clear if you could just slip into the bathroom and do a little more Bolivian Marching Powder. Then again, it might not. A small voice inside you insists that this epidemic lack of clarity is a result of too much of that already. The night has already turned on that imperceptible pivot where two A.M. changes to six A.M. You know this moment has come and gone, but you are not yet willing to concede that you have crossed the line beyond which all is gratuitous damage and the palsy of unraveled nerve endings. Somewhere back there you could have cut your losses, but you rode past that moment on a comet trail of white powder and now you are trying to hang on to the rush. Your brain at this moment is composed of brigades of tiny Bolivian soldiers. They are tired and muddy from their long march through the night. There are holes in their boots and they are hungry. They need to be fed. They need the Bolivian Marching Powder.

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