The ramblings of a freelance writer, novelist and avid reader.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Changing My State with Kings

I’m having a serious relationship with Mumford & Sons right now. It’s been going on for a couple of months. I think Chris knows. I keep singing along off key when I think he’s not in the room—only to realize he’s standing right next to me trying to ask me a question. It’s not at all surprising that I like a folksy/alternative group from the UK; try to contain your shock. Still, I find myself saying, “Yes. Exactly!” out loud, repeatedly as I walk around with my iPod plugged in.

Mumford & Sons recently released their second album, and it’s good. I, however, am obsessed with their first album, Sigh No More. Without doing a lot of review reading, I’m guessing most people agree the first and titular song is heavily influenced by Shakespeare—that rat bastard. Using actual lines from Much Ado about Nothing, kind of makes that critique a given. A quick interwebs search—I do like to have my own opinion after all—reveals a generic view about literary works as inspiration for this album. I get that. But I have to tell you: Every time I listen to this album I’m transported back to a college Shakespeare class—like for every single song. In my mind, each song evokes a Shakespeare play or sonnet.

Listen to “Awake My Soul”:

This song makes me think of Shakespeare’s sonnets on friendship. I’m of the opinion that his first 126 sonnets are about friendship—many are on the bandwagon with me, but I know not everyone is. Choose to disagree and we can have awesome Shakespeare rants on my blog! Do it! You know you want to. All the cool kids are having awesome Shakespeare rants. Really! 

Yes, yes. These boys are obviously strong in their religious faith as well; didn’t miss the obvious, promise. But a good song, like a good book and a good painting, has layers of meaning and plenty of room for listeners, readers, viewers to find their own way. It’s also up for a little critical analysis.   

Was that a really long way to go to tell you I’m writing about friends and friendship in this blog post? Listening to that particular song and thinking about Shakespeare’s sonnets led me to thoughts on friendship. That led me to the old adage, and also Harper Lee quotation below, about friendship:

“Atticus says you can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family, an’ they’re still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge ‘em or not, and it makes you look right silly when you don’t.”
                                                                                                --To Kill a Mockingbird

Combine all of these thoughts and ideas and you get to the crux of my current dilemma. It’s not so much a dilemma as a question:  Can you really choose your friends? 

You think I’m just plain silly now, don’t you?  But, honestly, can you?  I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this and walking through a list of my friends. Literally, I looked at each of my friends on facebook; and not quite so literal, when I left a school or a job, which friends stayed with me and which friends were probably just acquaintances? It gets tricky pretty quickly when you combine your literal and non-literal lists. Quite a few people show up in both my “just acquaintance” column and my “Facebook friend” column. Another dilemma; does social media clutter our lives with people who don’t need to be there? If you are tweety-twatting, the answer is yes. Of course you are. But then I’m a little biased. Although, truth be told, I’m wearing down on the Twitter-­is-all-bad front. Possibly—if you know how to be non-boring and monotonous—Twitter is a good place for you. Like if you are Steve Martin. I’ve actually almost joined Twitter to get his tweets. There is only one Steve Martin, so I think 90% of you are still just telling me the color of your couch (something I did in a Facebook status update just last week…dammit). Alright, one dilemma at a time, please:  Can you choose your friends anymore than you can choose your family? I just don’t think you can. I know I’m crazy, but I think I might also be right. 

I’m not saying our lives are pre-ordained or anything; but I do think, sometimes, people come into our lives when we need them or they need us. It’s happened too many times in my own life for me to chalk it up to coincidence. And those “just acquaintance” people I mentioned before sometimes turn out to be actual friends you just don’t need to talk to that frequently. You know these people. You run into them randomly after months or years without talking and you pick up like you’ve just had a conversation. It gets really weird when you compare notes and realize you’ve been living somewhat similar lives on opposite ends of the world—or, similar lives almost next door to each other. I tell you: this is why we invented cyber stalking. To keep track of the friends you don’t get to see often, but who’ve somehow managed to have a deep impact on your life. Just to make sure they’re doing OK, they got that career they’ve always wanted, wrote that novel, finally met the one; accomplished those things in life that brought out the true potential you always knew was there.

But did you choose that person to care about? Because that’s what friendship is to me.  That’s what Shakespeare is writing about in those sonnets and Mumford & Sons are singing about in those songs. You support your friends, you care about them, you listen when they talk and you share when they want to listen.

I am lucky enough to have a ridiculous amount of support in most things I attempt, and a fair number of true, devoted friends who listen to me babble (at best, bandy words about willy-nilly, really) without repercussions. There are at least 4 people I can say anything in the world to and they won’t hold it against me. There are a handful of others who support me, but call me on the carpet when I do or say something I shouldn’t. You need both kinds of people to survive. I truly believe this.

Currently, I’m spending most of my spare time trying to get the box store murder mystery manuscript to a completed second draft status so a call-me-on-the-carpet friend of mine can read it while she sits through her chemotherapy. This is proving to be a crazy task, as I keep breaking down whilst writing. It’s too close to home. My friend, in her seventies, has uterine cancer. This same friend was quite helpful when I was having my own uterus trauma and then went and contracted the disease herself. It’s a horrible sort of irony I still can’t quite wrap my head around. And there’s my guilt again, right on schedule. I shouldn’t be. I didn’t give her cancer. Feeling guilty just puts my ego into her disease, and I really have no place there. It is her fight and battle. But really? Seriously? Why do some people have so much on their plate? Why are the good ones not safe from horrible diseases? Why am I asking cliché questions there’s no good answer to?

When I’m overwhelmed with the writing and the tears, I do what anyone else would do, I turn to a friend and vent. I do it like everyday though. I vent to another friend every day. And for some reason, the friend I choose to vent to is the exact opposite of a 70-year-old woman: he’s a twenty something guy I can say anything to. I like the dichotomy; it’s somehow reassuring and sort of balancing. And, you know, good friends listen. Or read, as most of my venting/word vomit comes in the form of Facebook messenger chatter. So, yeah, if I were choosing my friends I’m not so sure I’d be spending most days worried about, caring about, thinking about and talking to an older woman and a younger man.   

In a nutshell: I think both Shakespeare and Mumford & Sons are trying to tell us you can’t actually choose your friends.

Sonnet 29

When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts my self almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
   For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
   That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

I may not be able to choose my friends, but I can certainly thank them for their support and general awesomeness. I am one lucky girl who gets more than a little help from her friends.