Ode to Friends Lost

Today I was lamenting in my journal about writing. It feels like I used to have more to say and a more entertaining way of saying it. I had a regular column in an online photography magazine, posted to my website, wrote articles. I had an interesting and fun photographic life about which to laugh and write. But all that suddenly changed about 2 years ago when a friendship ended. I have adjusted, as one must, and I’d say that overall my life is better–a little more lonely perhaps, but artistically both deeper and more productive.

Making the decision to keep certain things to myself, things that deeply affect me, means that I severely limit what I can say. This in turn means that columns are harder to write because I have to leave things out. Sometimes events can be obliquely referenced, and I have done that, but trying to honestly delve into the process of how a project panned out or even came to be means that because of my censorship the story is missing important facets. I will not out the people who have hurt me, nor those from whom I have walked away myself, and yet my refusal to do so has an effect on the content of my writing–and that part I do not like.

There are people who had a big influence not only on my thinking, but on my activities, but who are no longer in my life. When I shoot large format I may think of them; when I analyze a negative I can recall what they have said; when I find a new location I might wonder what they would have thought; when I post new work I sometimes miss their comments, encouragement, and opinions. If I choose to write, then, about a new location, I have to leave out what I imagine he or she would have told me; what he or she would have found compelling; what he or she may have advised for good exposure.

Friendships end for one reason or another, but I find their influences do not. I have ended some myself and some have been ended for me. In some cases the aftertaste is sour and in some it is still sweet, but in all there is a period of mourning. There is always something I miss–the banter and jokes, the staunch support, the wealth of knowledge. Weeks or months may go by when I do not give these old friends much thought and then suddenly I am met by the shades of our friendship and I feel a poignant loss, even if I still recognize and accept the reasons we are no longer close.

I don’t believe anyone gets away clean. In some alternate universe I am still friends with all those with whom I no longer engage. If I still think about them, it follows that they still think about me, and the interactions in their thoughts must meet the interactions in mine somewhere. I’d like to think I am getting along better with them in that place. With some I would like to explain a few things and with others there are answers I seek. If it is all about checks and balances–karma–strung out over this and perhaps many other lifetimes as well, then loose ends are to be expected. Nevertheless, it is perhaps this incompleteness of ended friendships that bothers me the most.

People come in an out of my life and there is something to learn from each of them. Some are members of my tribe and I recognize them instantly, even if it is the first time we’ve met. We may be on the same path just briefly as though the helix we each travel intersects for a moment. Other people I really want to like but it never gets off the ground—despite much in common, the conversation is always stilted. There are also the folks who push for friendship and I go along with it until I can’t anymore.

Friendships, good and bad, stick around because there is still something in it for one or both parties. They end when the benefit disappears. Perhaps the pattern of the friendship is no longer to one’s liking; maybe the pressure on another friendship that one values more forces one’s hand; could be that various risks accelerate; or one party can fundamentally change. To me it all boils down to cost: when the price in emotion, money, time becomes too high, one person walks. When an inequity becomes intolerable, people take action—in all the extremes that that entails.

It’s not always nice to be on the receiving end of an exit, but we have to grant our ex-friends the grace to go so that we might do the same when we need to. Knowing that I cost too much to more than one friend continues to give me pause, and encourages me to be more vigilant myself about to whom I extend my hand. Still, friendship is a risk, but always one worth taking.

I don’t know where realizations about friends takes my writing, except several steps away from where it used to be. I can continue to lament it, or I can find another way to write, one that is less about outings and funny events and my ineptitude and more about what actually means something to me.The underbelly of those kinds of experiences, you might say. That scares me, and that is good.

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