Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Sandpit

Friendship, how it begins, how it ends, and what it means to me

“The park?” she enquires hopefully, but it’s more of a statement than a question. You’re three-years old, since when do you get a say? And anyway the park is perfectly fine with you. It has a playground, and in that playground is a sandpit. The last time you were there you met a boy, around your age. He’d been brought to the park too. You’d been shy at first, but you so wanted to play with that truck. You sidled up to him, communicating in that garbled nonsense only three-year olds understand, and offered him your Action Man. He accepted, gleefully, but he hadn’t realised the truck was part of the deal. Now he had both, and he planned on keeping them. You grabbed and pawed in protest, but to no avail. Your only remaining option was tears. Mammies came - strangers to one another but brought together by their feuding Sons -  and restored order. You got your Action Man back. Crisis averted. But then something wondrous happened: he offered you the truck, “Here,” he said, “you play.”And you did, because it was a fine truck. You played and played until it was time to go home and time to give the truck back. You waved goodbye to “the nice boy” as instructed and hoped you’d meet again. You didn’t realise it but you’d just made your first friend.

Sadly, in spite of numerous visits to that sandpit, I never did see that boy with the truck again. He was probably hanging out at other sandpits, with other boys, talking about that cheeky little fucker with the Action Man who tried to steal his truck. But not to worry, I made other friends. Because at that age it’s easy to make friends, alliances are formed and disbanded at the drop of a hat, yesterday’s sworn enemy becomes today’s blood brother and loyalty only stretches as far as the contents of one’s toybox. In short, kids are friend-sluts, drifting from one person to another, enjoying the good times but then disappearing without so much as an explanation, only to be seen laughing it up with a new group of pals just days later. You’d feel hurt by the rejection were it not for the really cool pair of lads you befriended the day before.

And after all that, after all those japes and tomfoolery, you’re lucky if you end up with more than a handful of close friends by the time you reach adulthood. “Whatever happened to whatisname, that lad we used to play football with? The fella with the big teeth who smelled of turnips?”, but you can never recall his name, he’s consigned to history with all the rest of them. Dozens, nay scores, of forgotten faces who all, at one point or another, played an important part in your coming-of-age. Where are they now you wonder as you enter their name into Facebook - your trip down memory lane ruined by the anguish of debating whether to add them or not.

Maybe you’re different, maybe you still hang around with the kids you grew up with, but most of my close friends were added to the cause somewhere in my late teens. Indeed my longest lasting friendship began at the ripe old age of twelve, by which point I was a veteran of at least five-hundred best-friends-for-life relationships gone bad. Because somewhere around the onset of puberty the rules change, how they change is unknown but they do, the criteria you look for in a friend alters drastically. They have to be cool now. Cool? Who the fuck cares about being cool? Everyone, that’s who. If someone mentions heading to the sandpit for a day of rolling trucks around and making vroom vroom noises they’re out. I’d hazard a guess and say that for the majority of you most of your solid friendships were formed during those difficult, angsty teenage years.

And then, just when you’re getting a decent crew together, it all changes again. School finishes, responsibility beckons and people suddenly expect you to grow up. Fuck sake, it was only getting good and all. The friendships you’d worked so hard to maintain face a new challenge, the transition from boy to man isn’t quite complete yet but by the time it is you will have lost some of those friends. But chin up eh, ‘cos this is where the fun really starts. You can drink now, even take drugs if you like, you’re going to meet all manner of exciting people over the next few years. It’s like being back in the sandpit all over again, pubs and nightclubs full of giddy revelers every one of them a potential buddy in the making. Sessions, house-parties, gigs, festivals, the opportunities are endless, and I haven’t even mentioned work, college or the social welfare queue yet.

For me this period of time - my late teens to my mid-to late- twenties - was something of a merry-go-round. I clambered on every Friday night and by the weekend’s close I could be found stumbling in the general direction of my bed, white-faced and dizzy. The sounds and sights of the previous forty-eight hours reverberated around my aching cranium, faces and voices passing in and out, some lingering but most taking up residence in that part of the brain reserved for “I know that bloke from somewhere” moments. New types of friendships were forged, ones based on alcohol and other substances, ones that in actual fact couldn’t exist without some sort of stimulant. Until someone decides to permanently step off the merry-go-round and the one thing you had in common ceases to exist.

I’m patently aware that while reading this you may see certain references and wonder are they directed at you. Well you can rest easy, they’re not. Because although I cemented many a bond during that booze-fueled, hedonistic part of my life I am happy to say that lots of them have remained in place beyond it. Nothing like ten cans of Dutch and a handful of yokes to make you open up to one another eh? Because that’s what it’s all about, feeling comfortable with those around you. If you can speak your mind and open your heart without fear of censure then you’ve found the right people. You can’t be sure how you got there but it definitely wasn’t fate. Fact is you all gravitated towards each other, you left old friends behind, extricated yourself from other groups so that you could be here. Because these are your birds of a feather, and now you can all flock together.

The final shedding (there may be more ahead, I just haven’t got that far yet) comes in your late-twenties. Again we’re forced to do yet more growing up, when will this shit end? When will I be just grown? Your requirements change, things you were once content to overlook become glaring issues, it’s not enough for someone to just be a good laugh, they need a bit more substance if they’re going to stick around. And then one day you look around and find that you’ve got maybe a handful of close friends, a dozen good friends and the rest are mere acquaintances. But you like it like this. Those who remain have been through a lot with you, they know you, the lines are clearly drawn. It feels good to be with these people, they’re here for life now, or at least you hope they are.  
But in truth I myself should have been shed long ago. I no longer ride the merry-go-round, and I rarely see those I class as close friends, or those I class as good friends for that matter -  for all I know I might have been shunted down to acquaintance status by those I’ve categorised in a higher group. God, maybe I should make a few phone calls, y’know catch up, see where I stand and that. Obviously there’s mitigating factors here, people move away, your responsibilities change, some of us get all sensible and knock the partying on the head. The older you become the harder it is to maintain these bonds. Your partner, your wife, your husband, they become your best friend, and then the baton is passed to your kids, how can you find time to catch up with your old pals with so much going on?

Well however hard it is you should make the effort, how does the saying go “Friends are the family we choose for ourselves.”And while we’re stuck with our family no matter how hard we try to get away from them friendships can easily fall into disrepair if left neglected. And who do you think will be there for you if that marriage of yours breaks up? Or your long-term partner runs off with the kids? Who you going to turn to then? Your family? Fuck that, they don’t wanna listen to your whinging. It’s your friends you’ll seek out. They know you better than anyone, they’ll be prepared for your heartache, they’ll most likely offer shit advice and suggest heading out on the lash to help you “forget all about her/him”, but that’s just their way of showing they care.

Of course things have been made easier, too easy you might say, by the birth of social media. Now we’re all fuckin’ friends. It’s one big massive sandpit and everyone is invited. Is it impersonal? Does it devalue the true meaning of friendship? Perhaps. How many of us, upon seeing a plethora of birthdays on a given day, bash out a set of identical wishes for each recipient? Where’s the effort there? But social media is a tool used to connect people, and a lazy, misspelled birthday greeting is much preferable to another friendship crashing and burning through lack of communication. With many of our generation littered across the globe Facebook and its ilk have become invaluable means of strengthening those ties strained by distance.

But real, lasting friendships will outlive Facebook, the Internet and most of your relationships. If you can reach your early thirties with a few strong friendships intact then you’re probably stuck with those bastards for life. Like me you might not see as much of these people as you’d like but when you do it all falls back into place as if by magic. I recall an occasion last year when me and three of my closest mates arranged a night of fun and hi-jinks based loosely around the Superbowl. We hadn’t had such a night in many a year, and I couldn’t help but wonder if it would still be the same. But it was. It felt like  slipping on a comfortable pair of old shoes, it immediately felt right, as if the intervening years had never even happened. And at one point, while high on emotion,  I marveled at how easily we’d assumed our old roles, to which one of those present replied, “Sure why wouldn’t we? We grew up together.” And he was right, we had. I hope we continue to do so.


As an added bonus here's a little story as to how this particular blog entry came about:

The origin of The Sandpit...

Everyone is on Facebook these days right? And those who aren't only avoid it due to some weird, unfounded fears about the government tracking their movements which, ironically enough, only involve a walk to the shop every morning and an occasional sortie to the bookies. Every now and then though you get a friend request from someone who you genuinely hadn't thought about in years: a person that you knew before the dawn of social media, and someone who, for reasons only known to them self, had waited until 2014 to join Facebook.

Well that happened to me recently, a one-time friend - or an acquaintance if we're being honest - added me on Facebook and I happily welcomed him into my online world. A couple of days later he messaged me. He had been busy since we'd last spoken, so busy that he'd
only gone and made an album for himself. His query? Would I be so kind as to listen to some of his music? Why of course I would. From there we spoke about our respective projects - his desire to express himself through various artistic mediums, beginning with music, and my ailing attempts to complete my first novel - and we discovered that contained therein were many common themes and ideals. He's a people person, "most of the time" he felt, and his close friends mean a lot to him. I'm more of a people-hater but my friends mean a lot to me too.

This got me thinking, not just about my own friends and the nature of our friendships, but about writing something on this topic, maybe we both could? We spoke about it on the phone, excitedly. It would be a collaboration for the ages we said, a meeting of minds, a real think-tank. And then in the end we'd send our thoughts and ideas to the place where all good thoughts and ideas go to die…Social Media.

Our collaboration, while important to us, will most likely be discarded in a mere fraction of the time it took to put it together, but it's not all bad. He was once someone I only thought of as an old acquaintance, a face from the past. But now I consider him a friend. A talented friend whose music deserves to be heard and you can do so by following the link below. Before you do that, and if you've got any time left, you can read what the Social Media novice had to say in his startling letter below...

Dear Reader,

In the words of the great Robert Power, " I am Human ". In the words of the even greater, some would say, Morrissey, " I am human, and I need to be loved ". So, what am I on about? Well, let me try to explain. Just recently, a part of my soul was released into the world, in the shape of a collection of songs known as 1. Though it felt great to finally share it with the world after years of working on it, there was also the natural, for me anyway, feeling of fear and panic at how it might be perceived amongst those who knew me, or at least felt they knew me. Thankfully it has been a mostly lovely experience whereby some complete strangers, vague acquaintances and old friends have come to me with messages of love and support for the music, which is wonderful and really makes a difference.

As part of the whole endeavour of releasing any artistic product, there is the task of promotion and " making connections ". This, for me, has been both the best and worst aspect. In my mind I just wanted to reach out and say " Hey people, I have something to share and maybe you'd like to hear it, share it too and who knows, maybe even buy it ". The reality, however, was different. Not having ever been in any type of social media loop ( I joined Facebook in January…2014!!! ), of any kind, meant, in some ways, I was starting from scratch. Trying to contact as many people as possible through a medium in which I had never operated on was daunting and at times frustrating, compounded by the natural feeling I had that the whole " social media " world was not for me.

So, I set about opening up the can of worms and reached out completely, indiscriminately and full heartedly. At first I felt that it was a brilliant way to connect with people and I really loved it. Then, slowly but surely, as time went on I began to look at my list of " friends " as a poor reflection on me. Not that there was anything wrong with any of the people on the list. Far from it. All of them were now, seemingly, these fully formed, media savvy, new age journalists, beating their path through the mundane and fascinating of life, and always with a slight pinch of salt attitude, which I loved. So, the problem wasn't my " friends list " at all. It was me. I didn't fit in. Nor did I want to. Not with all of them anyway. It broke my heart in a way. How can I fix this I asked myself? Surely I've got to try to be friends with everyone? If only I could sit and have a cup of tea, a beer or a romantic meal with each of them, one on one, at some point. That would surely cement our friendship and I could sleep better at night.

Having assessed the situation, and the time available, I thought it best to find another solution. Thankfully, I found it. It was simple. I should only be friends with people who are actually friends of mine or supporters of what it is I do. It might seem selfish, but why? After all, this is to be my world right? A place, though virtual, where I can engage with friends, like minded individuals and/ or an audience who care or, at some point hopefully, might care. All I want to do really is to share my work and engage with said like minded individuals - if there are any ;-). It was never going to be a case of me posting pictures of my dog, dinner or dog's dinner attempt at social commentary. Those type of posts are for the full blooded social media warriors and die hards, one of which I could never be. My agenda is too straight forward in a way. Share my life, through my work but not to share my life through my life, if you catch my drift. So the realisation that a lot of my new found " friends " were not really going to be a part of my world was kind of hard to take. What it boiled down to for me is that though they might be great and fine people, because of the disconnect in the connection, so to speak, why should I deserve to see their posts and pictures in my timeline or newsfeed etc, if I cannot truthfully call them a friend? In the same way, why should they be getting posts from me about this or that? Thats what a mailing list is for right?

The whole thing had me confused and I had to clean up my act, fast. There would have to be a cull, for want of a better word. So, before I began my Social Media rehab I decided to call an old friend of mine whom I had only had several conversations with in life but would certainly feel comfortable enough to call an old friend or, at least, acquaintance. He was entrenched in the world of blogs, posts and tweets and I knew he could shed some light on the situation for me. We spoke for an hour or so about the pro's and con's of social media and, more so, the nature of friendship. I asked him if he might send me a piece on the subject that could maybe help me see things more clearly. I thought, well, if he can write something and I can respond to it, then between us we might have something worth sharing with others. Whether its worth sharing or not is never, much like music, determined by the writer. In the end it is always the reader or the listener who makes the call on the merit of any piece. Even then, it is always a matter of personal opinion or taste. The writers only job really is to try to get it down and finally, when he or she is ready, put it out there. That is both the end and the beginning.

Anyway, to cut a short story long, I finally, after a few weeks of pondering and more pondering, came around to the conclusion that I should stick with, or to be more accurate, get a little more involved with, this Social Media thing, as it is " where it's at " these days, in many ways. I also thought it best to do it through my own page, channel etc and that is the plan. For sure, I need to enlighten myself a bit more on Social Media etiquette, here and there, and get used to the casualness of it all, but in general I think things are pretty much as vague in the virtual world as they are in the real world.

So, to conclude, I am feeling slightly more at ease with the gun Simon has placed at my head, and am allowing ( I had no choice ) him to press go or whatever the button is on his blog, and I await your apathy with an equal measure of my own.

If you get a chance and have some loose change, in your loose, or perhaps not so loose, jeans, why not take a trip over to my little part of the world wide web and take a chance, take a chance, take a chica chance chance on 1, the album, by…me.

Oh, and feel free to CONNECT :-)

Yours sincerely,

The Great (ahem)... Robert Power

the link…

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