To all of you, wherever you are,
Sometimes I think life was immeasurably easier when we all lived together in that grotty house in South London. When I remember that house I forget how foetid it was, and how the mould encroached upon our personal space, and how we were all a huge house of depressives going to therapy on alternate days. When I remember it I remember it like this tiny haven hewn out of south London suburbia. The basement fog-hazed by cigarette smoke, the garden grey/blue/gold with beer haze, over cast days and trampoline, our rooms all interjecting from each others like small doors, all of us happily co-existing except we were unhappily existing together happily. Symbiotic. I felt I didn’t need any other friends because I had you.
Life has separated us, now. It’s been seven years since we lived in that house together. We’re still close, I love you all like the brothers I never had; but there’s a sense we’re aging out of eating takeaway pizzas and putting our cigarettes out in old beer cans watching Brazil or the Orphanage or every single Bond film in order of preference. Perhaps we did a long time ago. Or maybe not. Whatever it is, I hold the rest of my friendships up to yours for comparison, because you were the first friends I had who never asked me to be anything but myself. You have all been open windows onto the world, you’ve all brought new things to the fore. Despite the trials of that year, of turning twenty, of being young and foolish and sad and happy and crazy; it was a divine moment, held in amber like a charm for times in which I feel friendless.
There’s this poem called the friend by Matt Hart that I read once, and have been thinking of recently because I am sad to be isolated from my friends, now, and I am especially sad to be absent from oath edged cigarette tinged chats in someone’s kitchen, or around pub tables, or in the middle of the night walking from in house to another, or on drab beige sofas in the dark. So this poem, “the friend”:
The friend is indefinite. You are both
So tired, no one ever notices the sleeping bags
Inside you and under your eyes when you’re talking
Together about the glue of this life and the sticky
Saturation of bodies into darkness
It’s a conversation or a series of conversations between friends many or singular about the difficulties of being alive and the ease of sharing that difficulty with each other or the difficulty of sharing it or the ease of understanding. It sounds to me like the conversations had in the early hours when you’re finding things hard. There are things inside us that are talking to each other, like we’re not communicating but the things inside us, that recognised each other as kin before we built friendships, are. I wonder if that’s the bit that misses, and not our conscious selves so much.
Bataille says, in the inner experience that life has no meaning if you only give it a meaning you understand alone. “Each being” he says, is “incapable on his own, of going to the end of being”. Because by going there alone, you can never share the experience with anyone else. If you went to the end of being alone it may as well mean that you never went at all. For me, I think this means that to have lived a life without friends is hardly to have lived at all.
You are all at the touch of a button but the yous of then aren’t somehow. I don’t know. I think I prefer the now to the then, but I miss doing nothing but being your friends. Even though I spend my days now doing as much nothing as I did then.
I normally write these letters about art but I haven’t been to see any art because all the museums are shut and even if they weren’t I’m not allowed outside and even if I was it’s really hard to see art in Paris if you’ve reached the haggard old age of 26. In a way I wonder if the picture I’ve painted in my mind, patched over by Wetherspoons carpet tiles, labels peeled off beer bottles, and the open handed leaves of London Plane trees is the real work of art.
You are all there like a really shit Renoir impression that I’ve further bastardised by sticking their teenage memories to it like a suburban bedroom wall. What a tall story this is, really. How young we were. How young we are. How different things will be. I’m getting morose in my isolation. You’d probably all tell me to stop being stupid, and one of you would come with me to red star wine to get a red good for just drinking or another of us would go to dominics pizza and another one would eat his left over crusts, and I would smoke through an entire 10g pocket of 2.99 Pall Mall red, and one of you would have my lighter and swear on your life you hadn’t seen it before pulling it out of the left breast of your pale blue shirt to light the cigarette you’d just finished rolling.
I wonder what group are sitting in our basement now, cackling some diatribe of artspeak, or watching terminator 2 half way through a joint. Maybe there is no community of slackers sitting in that basement now. Perhaps it is empty and the ghosts of our conversations chase each other around the room and come to rest on the ghosts of those gross leather sofas one of us found on the side of the road and brought home. I wonder if other ghosts of other groups keep us company. I wonder.
I wonder if this is a letter to you all at all, or if it’s a love letter to rose tinted glasses. I just know I’d probably walk back to London if there was the promise of a pint in a pub with all of you, as we were, as we are.
I think, maybe, that none of you will read this anyway, and it will be an unmailed letter, like those that old man posted in his local dogshit bin instead of the letterbox, despite the fact I’ve posted it to the world.
In his book Friendship, Blanchot also says that friendship is something “into which all the simplicity of life enters”. It’s nothing more than brief moments of beauty, snatched conversations, and that we can’t talk of our friends, only to them. It’s why I’ve written this letter to you and not about you. We greet each other through our estrangement, we are always separate and we are always together until the ultimate fissure unties the bonds that we built between us. Friendship is the simplicity of life. Bataille says the same thing. That you can’t live your life without sharing it with friends. I can’t imagine my life without you. And this, in the end, is the grief of having friends, that friendship inevitably ends. But I will be your friends until I enter the void myself. I will be your friends until I am myself a ghost, chasing the tails of old conversations in a room that has no windows.