To friend or not to friend

facebook-friends-3211

Every year, usually after I’ve been on holiday, I get the broom out on Facebook and sweep the cobwebs away.

You know the cobwebs I mean, the people who were initially acquaintances who had the prospect of becoming friends, but they never actually did progress that far, so they end up just hanging there on the periphery of your online friendship sphere forever and a day.

Depending on how you treat Facebook, and social media in general, you may have a 100 or even 1,000 “friends”. Some people friend all and sundry, and are quite happy to update relative strangers with their every movement – including probably their bowel movements.

Some people use Facebook to build their profile for business or creative purposes, but then sometimes realise that their real friends have become lost in the fray of an assortment of groupies and hangers-on who salivate at each of their status updates no matter how pedestrian.

In an ideal world I would have been more proactive and created a Facebook page to support this blog and my profile as a writer but I didn’t because, as you are know, I am a technophobe and let’s face it I am also just a little bit lazy. The vast majority of my Facebook friends are exactly that. They are people, some of whom I have known for decades and some for mere months, but they are all human beings I would happily have a coffee, a beer or go on a bender with.

However, my recent island holiday gave me plenty of time to reflect on lots of different things, some were helpful, some were fanciful, and some were just downright vulgar. But one thing I pondered was the nature of my new Facebook friends – I don’t mean my real friends – but the ones who I had let into my inner sanctum in a moment of weakness, madness or perhaps just blatant horniness.

So it was on return from my holiday that I realised that over the past six months not all of my Facebook friends fell into that true friend category. I acknowledged that the twists and turns of life had meant that I had accepted requests from people who I normally wouldn’t have if my life had been just a little more even of late.

Maybe it’s my generation – Generation Triple X – that makes me hesitant to share my inner most thoughts on social media. I must admit that sounds like an oxymoron, considering for the best part of 20 years I have been doing just that on the page and on this blog. But having readers who are essentially anonymous provides some level of (perhaps deluded) comfort that what truly makes me “me” is shared only with those people who I trust and admire the most.

So on my first day back from holiday, I got out that metaphorical broom and, admittedly with a tiny bit of trepidation, swept out all of those people who I knew didn’t need to be there. Now I didn’t use one of those trite calculations about who sent me a happy birthday message or who had responded to one of those ridiculous status updates which actually threatens you with eternal Facebook banishment from that particular person if you don’t post how you met them, what colour hair they have, or why you love them. No, I intrinsically knew who needed to go.

It was nothing personal and didn’t insinuate that they were dodgy (most of my real-life friends and certainly my family are dodgy – that is why I love them), unfriendly or just plain odd. Most of them, I’m sure, will never actually know that they no longer receive my irregular witty musings and hilarious anecdotes about a life well-lived. Some were the final disconnect from a relationship that ended years ago. Others had the potential to become something special until I realised that I could not compete with 20-something-year-old backpackers with boob jobs and a penchant for breaking up marriages. And others were from possibly my last, and somewhat desperate, attempt to get back into the dating game when my heart wasn’t never really in it.

It is very rare these days that I send a Facebook request to anyone new or receive one in return from someone who surprises me. So it was with a huge smile on my face, two days after clearing out my Facebook deck that I received two requests from two men who I love with all of my heart. They were not old flames or even old friends who had got lost in the ether of time. They were my 14-year-old nephew and my 69-year-old father. The requests were half-an-hour apart, so I’m guessing that the former helped the latter put together his profile. And so it was at moments like that, that Facebook reminded me about the connections that really matter.

The lessons we learn in the air

image

Her name was Deb. I could tell she had plenty of stories to share from the moment she sat down beside me. Over the course of the six-hour flight this vivacious woman, whose language was peppered with words such as “awesome” and “far out” and who played in a rock’n’roll band in Salt Lake City, Utah, shared just a little of her soul with me.

Sometimes when you fly you’re not in the mood to talk to anyone – no matter who is sitting next to you. But I’ve meet some very cool people on planes, some of whom are now firm friends and some I’ve gone on to do business with. I guess in the end, I generally just like to hear other people’s stories and it sure beats sitting there daydreaming about the plane crashing as I am often unhelpfully prone to do.

Deb had flown from Salt Lake City that day and was transiting through Brisbane with her husband as they headed to Bali for a business/pleasure trip. Bali was on her bucket list but Deb was no insular American traveller. She’d travelled and lived and loved and lost and then learned how to live all over again.

She was about 20 hours into the journey and had already flown from Salt Lake via LA and Brisbane to get to Denpasar that day. While her husband wisely slept beside her, we shared much about our lives and soon found many synergies even though we were from very different places and have lived very different lives.

Deb is the mother of five children. Her first-born was adopted out to a childless family the teenaged version of herself found through her doctor. They sounded like good people, she said, so after the baby was born she handed the child over and walked away, knowing the professional couple could give the child a better life than she could as a very young mother with few prospects at that point in time. That was more than 35 years ago.

And it was 30 years ago that Deb got sober. She spent the best part of her teenage years and her early 20s in the dirty, tight grip of substance abuse. A violent father and some other undiagnosed issues meant she tried absolutely everything. It was before HIV, she said to insinuate to me the life she had led for a time. I nodded that I understood and she told me her wild stories with good humour and no shame.

But unlike so many others, she had the willpower and the will to live a good life to stop. She soon had a wonderful husband and four beautiful children. They started a successful shipping broker business, went snow-skiing in their backyard and reef diving in exotic overseas locations. She joined a rock’n’roll band and life was good. Then her eldest son lost his long fight against mental illness when he accidentally mixed his medication and everything changed.

That was seven years ago. She mourned him for three years. She wanted to join him, she said, even though her family still needed her and she loved them all with a passion. In her more selfish moments she wanted him back even though his life had been mired by mental health issues for years and he knew he had no fight left in him.

Then a chance encounter with a woman, who had been in and out of institutions and had no semblance of a life to speak of, changed her thinking. She said she recognised that her son was in a better place and that his life would have always been one of struggle and one of torment. And then finally she learned to breathe again.

Deb told me this story as we both flew to paradise. As her husband softly snored, she smiled at me with her wonderfully bohemian aura and with tears in my eyes I smiled back. I think we both knew the connection we made that day was more than just a coincidence. It was definitely far out and more than fabulous too.

Every time I come to Bali, I learn life lessons – either in the air or on the ground. As I write this today, the 11th anniversary of the Bali bombings and the terror that struck this wonderful place and its peace-loving people, I know that Deb’s story will be part of the next life journey for me. And without a doubt that is freakin awesome.

Vice-ridden gnomes

 

Gnomes

“Christian, you may see me only as a drunken, vice-ridden gnome whose friends are just pimps and girls from the brothels. But I know about art and love, if only because I long for it with every fibre of my being.”

Now this blog is not in defence of love or art as Toulouse-Lautrec spoke of so earnestly in the film Moulin Rouge. No, this blog is in defence of drunken, vice-ridden gnomes. Specifically, where the bloody hell have they all gone?

Ask any of your mates and I bet at least one of them will be on some type of health/fitness/food allergy kick at the moment. Maybe they have given up sugar for a week or decided to be sober for a month or committed to a punishing exercise regime as they want to take part in a 3,219km ultra-marathon in a year’s time. Fun times ahead.

Before I go on, I must confess that I write this blog after completing a vigorous weights session at the gym and having eaten a dinner stacked with three serves of veges and an unusually delicious vegetarian unmeat concoction.  However, the weights session is because I am vain and single at 40 – and I like to perve on the blokes while I am there – and the over-the-top healthy dinner is because that is what I actually like to eat. I can thank my step-mother very much for that.

Recently I did 62 days without drinking (did you notice?) and learned yet again that I am just as crazy with or without alcohol. That doesn’t mean I want to stop it forever though. I also, finally, said goodbye to my chocolate addiction, which was surprisingly easy and depressing at the same time, because if I’m going to get the teeth of my bank manager’s dreams, I should really stop eating so much crap.

But sometimes I still hanker to be a vice-ridden gnome – even if only momentarily. Indeed, two weeks’ ago, I wandered around Brisbane’s nightclub district on a Friday night dressed as a clown, complete with face make-up, after a 40th finished too early for me and I didn’t want to go home. Not after so much effort with my costume. But part of me just wanted to see if they would let me in (three out of four nightclubs did) and part of me just wanted to see people’s reaction.

I also have to admit that part of my motivation that night was my long-lost love of being a party animal. These days the opportunities are just less and less but the attraction still burns just as bright as ever it did. But it’s the better appreciation of my own mortality that is usually the only thing that stops me from over-indulging in absolutely everything. These days, alas, the only thing that goes up my nose is a pair of tweezers.

I asked my best friend on Friday whether she remembered us sitting around smoking ciggies and not even considering them a vice at all, let alone giving them up. She smiled as she nodded and we both reminisced fondly about those carefree days, when vices were not vices they were just super-fun habits which we would sort out one day when the time came. That day of reckoning was long ago and we did what we had to do.

Now ciggies are not something that I ever want to be acquainted with again, but not because they’ll kill me. No, it’s because they made me feel like crap. One of my favourite quotes is from American writer Kurt Vonnegut who once said that smoking cigarettes was a more classy way of committing suicide. Unfortunately, he didn’t live long enough to find out, because he fell down some stairs (probably pissed) and died of massive head injuries. A very literary way to go out in my opinion.

Kurt was a vice-ridden gnome, so was Hunter S Thompson, and William Burroughs too. Unsurprisingly they also are the writers who I admire the most and try to emulate, with a feminine twist, wherever possible. They are all dead because of their vices and I do know that’s not the way I want to go. But becoming a yoga and quinoa devotee is not going to make me a better writer – it will just make me boring and thin.

So here’s to vice-ridden gnomes everywhere. Even if they only come out of hiding every now and then, and then disappear back to where they came from to lick their hungover wounds clean.