Other people’s words about connection
[My friend] Maeve took a strand of my hair and smoothed it into place as she talked. I was afraid of her leaving [to work in Vietnam]. Her breath was warm on my neck, her fingers easing through my hair. I depended on all of her small intrusions of affection. In Vietnam it would be hot, and I would be lonely in Sydney without her.
From ‘The Inland Sea’
by Madeleine Watts
I met a friend I hadn’t seen for several months for a walk on the beach recently, and we walked and talked and laughed and commiserated with each other, and I thought again how I miss her when I don’t see her for a while, and how sad that feeling of missing her is. But I also thought, knowing that I would miss her again when we’d walked away from each other that morning, that what I feel in missing her, mixed in with my sadness, are gratitude and joy for having met her, and for knowing her, and for seeing her when I do, and for talking to her when I can.
This, for me, is what Madeleine Watts means when her unnamed narrator says, of her friendship with Maeve, that she depend[s] on all of her small intrusions of affection. It is such a lovely phrase to describe that connection we feel with the people we love, such a perfect description of the way we bump into our friends and then ricochet away from them and then bump back into each other again.
This morning, as my friend and I walked, she touched my shoulder from time to time, and I in turn bumped her elbow a moment later. Sometimes she spoke too softly for me to hear her — because that’s something she often does, speak softly — and I was too embarrassed to keep asking her to repeat herself. And then sometimes I spoke for too long and was worried I was boring her.
And this, too, I think, is what Watts means when she speaks of those small intrusions of affection from our friends — without which, I sometimes think, it would be impossible to live.
A morning together.
Lately I’ve been reading …
- Good art and a kind of fragility do often go hand-in-hand—but then, so do bad art and fragility, and indeed no art and fragility: Bridget Collins on the so-called connection between art and self-destructive madness.
- Like most women who write, I live my life according to the firmly stated judgments of literary men: Alyssa Harad on why, yes, Mrs Dalloway is a good novel.
- If you create an identity out of swiftly pleasing others and focusing on their desires more than your own, and you take a vicarious pleasure in fulfilling these desires, and you experience their gratitude as validation, even derive self-esteem from this role, it is easy to imagine that this is you you are, because who you are is never the subject of your thoughts: Alexander Chee on having the courage to write in your ‘own voice’.