Sunday, January 25, 2009
"Sir, the worst way of being intimate is by scribbling."
The Doctor is right, as he so often is. But then Boswell had the benefit of Johnson's conversation; as they walked the Hebrides, or home from the Club, or simply up the stairs to take tea. I have their conversation too, in their books, but all at second hand. It is a joy to me, but I have no part in it. I am a spectator only, an eavesdropper, a looker-in. I think it safe to say, even were I somehow to go back in time to be with them, my role would not be other than it is. Johnson was a public genius, he took an audience as his due, and rightly so. Boswell was a bold little man and made his friends as others might make resolutions; with the best intentions and from motives of self-improvement, if not to say self-advancement, but also with a true heart. His name has come to mean devotion. And unlike the resolutions I make almost daily, Boswell kept his friends -- for the most part -- better than most of us keep even so light a responsibility as our diets. (You see how I evade the first person, just there at the end?) It is no easy thing, keeping friends. It requires a genuine resolve. And it requires conversation.
The difficulty that confronts me here is that my friends, in their numbers, tend to be elsewhere. I know them from work, but not at home. I've left them behind us when we've moved. I have been negligent. For many years, I wrote letters, as often as I could to as many as would take them, but few people now have the habit of regular correspondence. And even the few that do, have proved no more reliable than I have, so that a letter, of whatever length, often as not has gone unanswered for so long as to make any response irrelevant. I have been the worst of friends, even in the mails. I studied too long in my letters, fussed and rewrote, and failed to send even the things I haphazardly scribbled. Many a letter ran to multiple pages, with multiple dates, and to little or no point, until, at last, whatever was put down was either sent undone or put away.
But now, at least here, I have some chance to redeem myself. Finally finding my way to the digital page, and without even the rudiments of understanding the how or the what of what it is I'm now doing, I have begun again to write, here and on "walls" at what is called a "social networking site." A wonderful thing has happened as a result: I have found many of the friends I had lost, abandoned and neglected. I have been put back in touch with people so long gone from my life as to be all but strangers to me now, or memories at most. Some, many, have children as old as the silence was long. Some have retired. Some have found new loves, earned degrees, entered recovery, grown up. I am hungry for all their news! I am glad to have it by any means, and if that means I must write in a strange and new paper-free medium, without permanence, and abide by a new etiquette I only imperfectly understand, then I will learn, I will change.
To have so many of the voices from my past again in my ears, to have not echos but greetings! and to see again the faces of so many I've loved and thought lost to me, has been my newest joy. And if the new intimacy is not as the old was, if our "conversations" come only, for now, as scribbled notes, so be it. Forster said somewhere that "love generally gives out whenever we move away from our home and our friends." But he also, most famously, urged us to "only connect," and if that connection is now only possible by typing away my afternoons at my desk, then at least I will have made a start. This is a new intimacy for me, and perhaps an inferior one, but what I have. I am so glad of it.
And one last quote from dear old E. M. F., which I will probably misstate as I may have done above -- I haven't checked a book as I should have done and would do were I not so anxious to keep going and be quick -- in an essay I read many years ago, before I kept a proper commonplace book and sourced these things, Forster said: "One must be fond of people and trust them if one is not to make a mess of life."
Whatever mess I may have made, I trust that those of whom I continue fond, most fond, will forgive me and take the little I do now as a sign of good intentions and true resolution to be a better friend than I have been.