how to make friends

Being new in an unfamiliar city can be difficult, namely because you can no longer rely on the support and companionship of your friends; something which we often take for granted. Recently I realised that if I was going to properly enjoy this venture, I would need to form some local friendships; a concept which to me, is entirely intimidating.

I suppose I could be described as socially awkward; I never know what to say in group situations and as a result, often wind up saying the wrong thing, or else sitting mute and being considered quite peculiar. For this reason (among others), I’ve never been awesome at making friends. The few mates that I do have I’ve known since we were fairly young, and I couldn’t tell you where I found them, or why they’ve stuck with me for so long. On the rare occasion that I have made a friend as an adult, it’s gone swimmingly until the moment that I’ve realised that my newest bosom buddy is in fact a psychopath. At which point, I’ve been obliged to walk briskly in the opposite direction. True story.

So suffice to say, the necessity of making friends has left me feeling both bewildered and slightly nervous. In response to these feelings, I did what I always do when I need answers; I looked it up on the internet. Fortunately, the articles I read made it all seem fairly easy; basically, you just have to find people with shared interests and act friendly and approachable. (Though I must admit, I did wonder as to the intended audience of the stuff I was reading when one concluded with the slightly disconcerting suggestion that if you can, you should refrain from ‘pressuring others into being friends against their will’. Umm… )

Even so, I was left with the impression that there mustn’t be much to it, and that once I’d warmed up and got the knack, forming new friendships should be a fairly simple process; especially taking into account my blossoming confidence and new found willingness to climb out on the proverbial limb. In my head it went something like this:

Step One: Find people with whom you have something in common.

Step Two: Bond over said thing that the two of you have in common.

Step Three: Become the best of friends.

Unfortunately, what I’m finding (and this could be a result of the previously mentioned communication retardation), is that making friends is every bit as difficult as I’d originally expected.

In truth, approaching strangers can be an intimidating operation. After all, we’ve all experienced rejection by our peers, and unless we’re crazy, we’re unlikely to want to risk a reoccurrence of such an event.

One occasion in particular has left me scarred for life. It was when I was ten years old, and my dad and I were waiting for something or other beside a group of girls. I guess he’d seen I was looking lonely and, noticing the children nearby, urged me to go and introduce myself. Suitably wary of kids my age, I told him they seemed to have enough friends, but he said I was being silly; that you can never have too many friends. Braced by his optimism, I approached the girls and, as expected, was met by raised eyebrows and a pout that stated quite clearly: there’s something hideous standing quite close to me and I can’t figure out what it is or why it hasn’t gone away yet.

If you were wondering, I didn’t make any friends that day.

I reckon there’s a lot to be said for the argument I put forward almost two decades ago; people only need so many friends. As a result, working your way into an established clique can prove quite difficult. For the past few weeks I’ve been making a concerted effort to mingle, in an attempt to make some mates. Perhaps it just needs more time, but I’ve gotta say; so far, people haven’t been terribly receptive.

 

Do you agree that it’s difficult to make new friends, or do you find it fairly easy? Got any hot tips for this socially awkward individual?

 

When it comes to forming friendships, I’m about as clueless as Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. Watch him figure out and then apply an algorithm for making friends. Oh, if only.

 

Advertisements

the fruit of courage

On Monday I delivered my very first spoken word poetry performance at the local pub’s fortnightly meeting of Passionate Tongues. I think it’s fair to say I’ve been on a natural high ever since. That I had the courage to stand on a stage in front of many dozens of people and share my words is a concept that’s hard to fathom. It’s not that I wasn’t scared; I was freaking terrified. But I’d told myself this was something I could do and I needed to know that I was right.

‘I’m new to Melbourne; fresh from Newcastle, NSW’ I told an audience of raised eyebrows. ‘If you’ve never been, it’s the kind of place where if you write poetry, you mainly keep it to yourself.’ Back when I was at university, I wrote a lot of poetry. I enjoyed the way you could be sparing with your words yet still say so much. But after being awarded a measly credit by my creative writing teacher, I decided poetry clearly wasn’t my calling and turned to wordier varieties of self expression. Nevertheless, poetry has remained a guilty pleasure, and when I discovered that Melbourne was home to so many awesome poets, my excitement was tangible.

I was the tenth speaker on the open microphone, which meant I was beckoned after the stage had been warmed by feature poet Skye Loneragan and several other established writers. After a weekend of nervous anticipation, suddenly all eyes were on me. To my complete surprise, I remembered all my words and performed two poems entirely from memory. When I finished, the room began to applaud and I was consumed by an absolute euphoria. I felt as if I was on fire. Members of the audience and fellow poets were patting me on the back, praising my efforts; it was the best feeling I have ever had.

My personal pride at this achievement goes beyond being happy that I was able to perform for a crowded room. Since ever I was a kid, I’ve been afraid of letting people see me; ignored the pilot light burning within and it’s longing to catch aflame. All my life I’ve allowed insecurities to govern my actions and struggled with an inability to show others my whole self. Now I see exactly how limiting this has been.

After performing my poetry for a full bar, I’m pretty sure I can do anything. I’m no longer willing to keep a leash on my hopes and dreams, withholding that buzz for fear of failure. I’ve tasted the fruit of courage; watch as I eat my fill.

 

 

an uninvited house guest

When you move to a big city and the only people you know are your sister, her partner and your ex boyfriend, it’s easy to feel a little isolated. For the first month I enjoyed the seclusion, revelled in the quiet and the knowledge that I didn’t have to please anyone but myself, immersed myself in my writing and the harmony of words. I guess I’d classify myself as an introvert; I enjoy my own company and don’t require frequent socialisation to exist contentedly. But if you spend too much time on your own, what I’ve found is that slowly, almost immeasurably and without you realising, your contentment equilibrium steadily drops, and you begin to feel heavier. Introvert or not, people need people.

So inevitably, after a couple of months the Loneliness moved in. She took to sitting at the end of my bed, all droopy shoulders and forlornly upturned eyes while I worked on my computer. Or she’d wander in while I was in the bath and sit dejected on the toilet seat, full of sighs and heavy heart. When I was in the kitchen she’d linger at the breakfast bar, staring indifferently out the window and forcing me to question why I would even bother to fix a meal when she didn’t eat and I was no longer hungry.

Soon I began to wonder, whether as a result of her constant mumblings, or my own mind’s manifestations, why I bothered moving to Melbourne in the first place. After all, I was spending the larger part of my time alone in my little studio, secluded from the goings on of a city that was just outside my door. Until now I’d been telling myself that I was choosing to stay pent up; it meant I was being productive. But if productivity was my sole purpose, I needn’t have bothered changing states; I could have written words anywhere. The truth was that I had no idea how to discover or access the activities the grand metropolis had to offer.

I was feeling pathetic and totally dejected; an inevitable side effect when you begin taking life advice from an abstract embodiment of your own emotions. Clearly it was time to get out. Meet some people. See some things. After all, it was fairly unlikely that anyone was going to knock on my door and enquire as to whether I’d like to join them for coffee. Besides, that would be strange and slightly creepy. I’d have to take matters into my own hands. Order my own hot beverages.

If you’ve struggled to shake off the company of Loneliness, you know that she can be a nasty hanger-on. But over the past couple of weeks, I’ve managed to find a number of activities she doesn’t enjoy so much. I don’t want to speak too soon, but I think she may have moved out.

What I’ve learned is that Loneliness hates to help people (she really is a selfish piece of work). Seeing that they needed assistance, I started volunteering twice weekly at Lentil as Anything, which is a local vegetarian non for profit restaurant. This place offers three meals a day, serving a combination of vegetarian and vegan dishes. It’s not a soup kitchen; guests from all walks of life frequent the eatery. The philosophy is that once you’ve enjoyed your fill, you’re invited to pay whatever you feel your meal and experience were worth, depending on your means.

It’s an awesome place with terrific food and an inviting atmosphere, yet when I was preparing for my first shift, Loneliness made it very clear she had no intention of coming with me. In the end she climbed grudgingly into the passenger seat, but when we pulled up she refused to get out of the car. After a fantastic first shift, I returned to find she’d given up on waiting. It was days before she showed up on the door step, wandering in wordlessly and without any explanation as to where she had been.

The more time you spend with Loneliness, the less you want to; she is quite the wet mop. Perusing the markets with my sister a few weekends back (Loneliness hates group activities. Like a jealous lover, she resents having to share you, so she stays at home, sulking), I stumbled across a woman who described herself as a spoken word poet. It turns out Melbourne has a thriving performance poetry scene. Basically, some dozens of people meet in any number of pubs throughout the week to drink beer and perform their poems for an audience. Once I began getting involved with the spoken word, Loneliness gave up on me completely.

Which brings me to a rather terrifying share; tonight I plan to deliver my very first poem at one of the local poetry gigs. I say ‘plan to’ because waves of nausea have already begun knocking the wind out of me. By the time tonight rolls around, I imagine I’ll be too comatose to leave my apartment, let alone mount a stage. But last week I witnessed firsthand the performance of Sarah Kaye, an American performance poet who I’ve been following for the past few years, and I decided I needed to try. Besides complete public humiliation, what’s the worst that could happen?

 

So spare a thought for me tonight, but for now, enjoy a performance by the gorgeous Sarah Kaye. x

 

 

bad television

 

In our house growing up, we were never allowed to watch commercial television. In fact, it’s almost true that I was unaware stations other than the ABC and SBS existed before I was old enough to begin sleeping over with friends. In any case, I was completely ignorant as to the content they broadcasted. Dad was insistent that if we were going to watch tv, the things we viewed be educationally beneficial, or at the very least wholesome. Starved of the sensational, we’d rise on Saturday mornings before he was out of bed and with the volume down, flick through the channels to watch the programmes aired on other networks. At this time of day it was only ever cartoons, but nevertheless the niggling guilt would gnaw at my grey matter; it was commercial garbage and it was destroying our minds. Nowadays  I don’t own a television, but if ever I find myself watching something intellectually redundant, whether it be a poorly scripted film or a mindless video on YouTube, the all too familiar voice my head loses no time in informing me that I’m polluting my brains and wasting precious time.

Increasingly over the past month that nagging madness of my conscience has returned with a chorus of modified chants, demanding I articulate exactly what I’m doing with myself and to what end. I guess I should be thankful for the respite offered by the two month grace she gave me for settling in after my move, but she’s well and truly arrived now; baggage in hand and expecting answers. The year is lapsing, she points out, yet I’m still unemployed and no closer to discovering the meaning of life, or whatever it was I’d come here so adamant about finding. So what exactly have I been doing?

I’m growing anxious again and the self doubt is back by the bucket load. Is it wrong to be seeking? Does whatever it is I’m hoping to discover even exist? Is this year going to pay off, or is it nothing more than an epic waste of my time? I keep thinking that if I’d worked this year, rather than running off on some kind of self indulgent pilgrimage, by the year’s end I could have saved a house deposit. And all the while, the ceaseless mantra of my inner voice drones on. She’s pulled up a pew in the shadows, and from there she rehearses her extensive, hugely repetitive and less than pleasant back catalogue; something about time and wasting it. I feel like a kid again, guiltily waiting to be sprung watching Home and Away commercials while there’s an informative documentary on another channel.

I went home for a few days last week with all of these worries bubbling just below an apparently stable equilibrium. But after confiding my concerns to an old friend, he told me quite simply that what I need to do is stop fretting and just be. Heard aloud, it seemed blaringly obvious. Surely I just need to get busy living and wait for the moment of dawning and epiphany to rock up to my awesome party.

Meanwhile, though I have no answers, it’s fair to say I’m feeling closer; if to nothing else, then to myself. And for the most part I’m having an excellent time, filled with new experiences and good vibes.

I’m coming to terms with the fact that since she’s stuck around for the past twenty seven years, chances are the voice in my mind is with me for keeps. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Because even if I choose to ignore her, even if she’s rarely right, even if our entire dialogue consists of her criticising and me justifying, it can’t hurt to have someone who’s armed with probing questions and an endless scepticism to keep me from becoming static. Regardless of the fact that she’s just another voice in my head.

I’m also realising that the most likely way of figuring it all out is by calming the heck down. What I’m investing in this year is time. There’s little to be gained by tripping over myself, unsettling everything in my path in my desperate plight to uncover some illusive and precious thing. For me, this will be the most difficult lesson; to go steadily, sit quietly, wait patiently, listen.

 

just another four letter word

It cannot be refuted that as a species we are uncannily resilient and endlessly optimistic in love. It doesn’t seem to matter how often desire dies and our hearts are broken; even as we kiss goodbye one lover, our soul somehow allows itself to mend, enabling us to be wrapped in the arms of another with renewed vigour and a sense of boundless hope regarding how we’ll fare this time around.

It wouldn’t be fair to say I’ve been unlucky in love; harping on about one’s romantic misfortune seems fitfully reserved for those among us who’ve suffered heavily at the hands of the opposite (or same) sex. Thus, for me to complain would be altogether ungracious, as actually, I’ve been loved by some fantastic men over the years. Yet despite their many collectively admirable qualities, at one point or another, something’s gone awry, and here I am, journeying bumpily through the years and tears alone.

Recently I’ve spent a deal of time pondering the nature of love. It really is a deceptive beast; the way it colours each romance with the genuine shades of passion and devotion, making it feel like the real deal. For myself, I can’t help but wonder whether I might be an especially foolish breed of  romantic, as rather than learning to look where I’m going, I carelessly walk face first into the condition, repeatedly mistaking that concussed cluster of spinning stars for universal bliss.

I met my first heart breaker when I was in high school. I fell hard and hopelessly for this kid when we were fifteen, and as sure as day follows night, I was convinced we’d be together forever. Of course, with an attitude like that, I was in big trouble.

What I’ve found over the years is that although you can dive over and again into the very depths love, our hearts only truly break once. After that point, you’re already in pieces. Sure, lovers may come and go, shattering you shamelessly and taking the best bits with them. But although you may be left once again with the slow and arduous task of picking up the scattered pieces, wandering aimlessly in an effort to locate the things you lost so as to become whole again, that original smashing pain only ruins you once.

Needless to say, things didn’t end well with my high school sweetheart. He ripped me to shreds by dumping me over the phone one night, just days before what would have marked our fifth year together. It took weeks and an endless stream of bad television before I could finally crawl out of bed and begin to function again. At the time I resented the fact that I had to break while he could simply hang up the phone and get on with things. Now I realise that it’s only during that wretched process of putting ourselves back together that we’re gifted the rare opportunity of seeing our inner most components and the stuffs of our cores. As strange as it sounds, it wasn’t until that awful breakup that I grew to know myself.

That first time around I experienced the piercing glory of naive adoration. It was the tender type, founded on friendship and grieved like a loss. While the pain of it ending was sharp and deep, the wound was clean and healed well. Other varieties of love aren’t so harmless.

The kind of which you need to be particularly wary is that based principally on physical attraction, as this type comes partnered with the smack and reek of addiction. Knowing it was a bad idea, when met by the opportunity for this breed of love affair, I pushed against it with all my weight for many weeks, before waking one morning to find I’d fallen head first into the messy thrill of it. This guy was bad news; the sort who gave it away for free until the moment that I was hooked, at which point I began to pay the optimum price with my pride and humility. This is the kind of love that coats you in its sticky sweetness until you’re completely stuck. Worst of all, you don’t even mind that you’re slowly drowning in its saccharine syrup; it tastes so good! I guess that’s the nature of lust; accompanied by sleepless nights and melancholy, a complete abandonment of self respect is inevitable.

Perhaps the hardest love to bridge is the kind that seems as if it was never supposed to happen. When you’re hopelessly romantic, it’s these initial difficulties that concrete the idea of it in your mind. After all, anything that’s so hard to come by, but for which you’re willing to fight anyhow has to bare some kind of meaning. When I was faced with impossible love, I assumed I’d found my soul mate. Maybe I had. But while I’d concluded this meant spending eternity together, actually, a soul mate is simply a mirror; someone who shows you to yourself in all your flawed glory. This guy shook me up, giving me courage and introducing the notion that I could be a better version of myself. Unfortunately, once he’d done that, the love seemed to fizzle to no more than a soggy version of its former fireworks, and despite my sadness and regret, it was time to walk away.

Love is a curious thing. Every time you curl into that other person’s side, in your mind it’s for the first and the last time. I suppose therein lies its beauty; we’re able to bounce back and give each partner the real deal, regardless of how many lovers came before and how many may follow.

Perhaps the truth is that when it comes to the raw, untameable chaos that is love, our mind and our consciousness have nothing to do with it. It’s our souls who choose one another, and whether they bind for a year or a lifetime, it can never be discounted as a waste of time or energy or heart.

Maybe this is the reason behind our ability to revive like we do. Despite what our minds may think, our spirit is never defeated or cheated by a transpired love affair; some integral part of us knows that whatever the union was supposed to achieve, it fulfilled its purpose. But when our heart needs something other, we must permit it the freedom to seek it.

So I guess there’s no such thing as being unlucky in love; no matter its duration or motive, it’s a gift and a growth. And afterwards, there’s nothing to be done but gather our missing pieces so that in our entirety we can look forward to the next time our core connects, for as long as it will, with another.

 

the ‘no offence, but…’ pandemic

‘No offence, but…’ is a phrase which is slowly but surely sweeping the globe. An increasingly common method of insult which allows an individual to guise deeply personal criticisms as casual observation, ‘no offence, but…’ is used to create humour at the expense of a typically unsuspecting and undeserving victim, for the benefit of a non committal audience.

This expression is basically a self served license to insult someone by stating something typically personal and often irrelevant to the ebb and flow of the current conversation. The phrase is used as a flag, a method through which one captures an audience’s attention; say ‘no offence…’ in any social setting and everyone within earshot will pause to hear the outrageous and insulting quip you are about to discharge. The beauty of the term is that as well as removing any possible guilt or remorse from the mind of the insulter, the very wording of the phrase simultaneously forbids the subject from becoming openly offended. Since no offence was allegedly intended, the victim is expected to take it on the chin, to the point that any serious response or reaction on the subject’s behalf will immediately appear both unwarranted and uncool in the eyes of bystanders. After all, can’t you take a joke?

As a high school teacher, I have been gifted a rare insight into the dynamics of the adolescent social clique, and I am pained to witness on a daily basis the many cruel ways that children treat one another. Girls, I am ashamed to say, are the most vicious. I have seen boys literally knocking each other flat as a result of a ‘ya mum’ joke that went too far, but a hard and fast smack to the eardrum does a lot less damage to an individual when compared to the drip, drip, dripping of malicious insults, tapping slowly and torturously onto the forehead of another. Of course, the issue on which I am basing this rant is by no means confined to young people; there are countless adults who can be as callous, if not more so, than the children for whom we are supposed to be setting an example.

So how should we respond when this septic term is uttered, whether as the victim or a member of the audience? At the outset, it needs to be noted that anyone who uses the phrase is a spineless tool, and for two good reasons. Firstly, if the person in question wants to say something insulting to someone, they should be brave enough to own their comment, rather than hiding behind a pathetic preamble. Secondly, if the individual feels the need to put someone else down in order to make themselves look good, they are probably neither nice or interesting.

Unfortunately, as a victim of the pandemic there isn’t a whole lot you can do. I would suggest falling back on your humility with the consolation that everyone present who possesses half a brain realises the speaker is a cretin making a cheap shot at your expense. As the audience however, you have a bit more power in this scenario (no one has instructed you not to take offence, after all). One thing I have found to work particularly well is aiming a ‘no offence, but…’ back at the speaker. In doing this, you must be very careful to ensure that your retaliation has both more bite than the antagonists, and that it references their ridiculousness (so that those people within the circle of conversation who have a even a hint of intelligence can witness your outstanding wit and superior sarcasm).

So next time you hear a fool making a shallow and unreasonable statement in order to boost their own ego, close them down. Because if we can’t get rid of idiots, we can at least shut them up.

 

 

Footnote: ‘Nothing personal…’ is the evil twin of the above phrase. Ironically, this term is only uttered as a preface for something profoundly personal. Unfortunately, the irony is typically lost on the speaker, who isn’t trying to be clever, just mean.

 

how to be seen

On the occasional blue moon throughout my childhood, our mother would appear unannounced on the door step. Possessed by a sudden wave of bashfulness, we’d stand staring out at her from the hall, with no words to draw her across the threshold. Then, grinning like a Cheshire cat, she’d break the shocked silence with a gregarious gesture and in an instant a silly excitement would sweep through the house. Regardless of how long she’d been gone, we were always devastatingly pleased to see her. After all, she was our mother.

Never one for answering uncomfortable questions, she’d coat us with her sticky charm in order to avoid having to admit how long she planned to stay. So we’d hang on her every word, for fear it was her last, and furtively cancel our plans, knowing from experience that it would be while we were away that she’d surreptitiously take her leave. Of course we couldn’t avoid school, so after a few days we’d inevitably arrive home to learn that she was gone. Flattened with disappointment, we’d grieve our loss anew. She never stayed long, but knowing that did nothing to ease the sorrow.

As a result of her sporadic and unpredictable pattern of visitation, I developed an agonizing obsession of imagining every car turning into our street was hers, and I spent my early adolescence sneaking shameful glances down the road. It was all I could do to disguise this secret longing for someone I knew would never come. The painful truth was that as hard as I tried to will her to me, she and I were never connected.

For me, our mother’s visits were both glorious and wretched. While my siblings would willingly open their hearts like well worn books to the page on which she’d last written, I would covet mine in bitter defiance. I was angry that she could come and go as she pleased while I remained here, needing her. I’d learned the hard way that like a wild wind she’d no sooner arrive than she’d be gone again, and I couldn’t bear it. So during these rare and short lasting visits I kept her at arm’s length. I thought I was protecting myself from further hurt, but regardless of how detached I appeared the pain when she left was no less raw.

Since the earliest days of my childhood I’ve struggled with feeling vulnerable. What initially stemmed from a combination of pride and self preservation with regards to my mother is now an integral part of who I am. Perceiving emotional dependence as a brand of personal betrayal, I learnt to greedily guard my weakness. Now I’m wondering whether, had I been more like my siblings, who gladly offered theirs like a gift in open palms, I might possess more peace and contentment.

On Saturday I was at my weekly writing group in the city. A broad spectrum of individuals who write for both pleasure and profession, we meet weekly to discuss what we’ve been working on, offering suggestions and constructive criticism to one another. After having completed a five minute warm up writing activity, we’d commenced moving around the table and sharing what we’d written. Before long everyone’s eyes were on me. I didn’t want to share; what if they thought I was dumb? But I choked down the foul tasting fear and the words of decline that were dancing on my tongue and I began to read my work. Against my instincts, I permitted myself to connect. It felt good.

I’m realising that if I’m ever going to experience freedom in all its brilliance, I’m going to have to allow myself to be fragile. I know I can do it; I’m courageous. I just have to let go of the fear.

I think of how my mother looked as she stood on our front step, giddy with cheerfulness. I couldn’t understand how, after twenty five months of absence, she could show up and act so exuberant. But now I recognise that performance for what it was; a facade behind which she was sheltering her own vulnerability. While standing alone on the other side of the door, a part of her must have worried whether this time she’d be turned away. And she couldn’t bear to let us see how much that would sting. For all those years, I was incensed by her superficiality, but only now do I understand what was happening behind the veil. My mother, like me, was afraid to be truly seen.

I’ll close with an offering of wisdom spoken by Brene Brown, a lady who’s spent years researching the subject of vulnerability and whose uplifting and informative presentation I have included for your pleasure. It’s worth a watch; she’s quite the funny one.

There’s another way. We need to let ourselves be seen; deeply seen, vulnerably seen. We need to love with our whole heart, even though there’s no guarantee. We need to practice gratitude and joy in moments of complete terror and to just be grateful; feeling vulnerable means we’re alive. And we need to believe we’re enough. When we work from that place, we stop screaming and start listening. We are kinder and gentler to the people around us and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves.