Thursday, February 14, 2013

Absent Friends

Within the space of less than a year, you have seen two of your closest and longest-term friends reach the end of their life.  Gets you to thinking.  Not so much about lifespan as about the nature of friendship.  In most cases, we can plan on a use-by date so far as life is concerned, knowing from other experiences that having a statistical probability of reaching Age X is no guarantee.

In one way or another, Death is always jostling you in a crowded mall or during intermission at a concert.  Death is in metaphor the denominator of existence.  You started playing around with your relationship to it at about age thirty, looking about for clues, arriving now at the acceptance (and hope) that your own use-by date will arrive finding you in the middle of a project.  Those who care about you may even find three by five index cards with future projects listed.  These blog paragraphs may well contain some got-to-finish project that seemed to keep you moving along, inoculated with curiosity for the outcome and enthusiasm to get at it.

Friendships, especially these, James Digby Wolfe, and Barnaby Conrad, bring you to a place where you consider your day-to-day behavior with the friends still in your life and the potentials for as yet unformed friendships to begin.  In many ways, you were pleased but baffled that these two should seek your friendship, to the point where you'd begun with each to fear you were not bringing enough to the table.

Both were excellent raconteurs.  In many ways, Digby Wolfe was able to do with a rhyming dictionary what a Chinese businessman did with an abacus.  Conrad could--and did--hold an audience spellbound for long moments.  Both were gifted, splendid writers.  You were--well, you were you, trying to unravel secrets you felt were braided into story, trying to find ways that would make story stand up and wag its tail.

You'd been in Santa Barbara less than a month when you'd been invited to participate in a Career Day program at the Cate School in Carpinteria.  Conrad, an old boy from Cate, seemed to have had some function that day, you were never quite sure what, and when you asked him later, he could not remember.  He approached you.  "You used to come into my saloon in San Francisco,"  he said.  "You always brought the same underage girl, whom you described as your ward.  I always remembered that."

At this point, you'd read everything he'd published, and gone off into central Mexico to follow the bullfight circuit and write a novel called The Wrong Arena.

Three of four months and two parties later, he told you of a Writers' Conference he and his wife ran.  "We should find a place for you."

The "place" was the basement of the auditorium at the now defunct Miramar Hotel, where you ran or were run by the late night fiction workshop, sometimes staggering out of the basement at four or five in the morning, hopeful of some coffee from the kitchen.

Digby appeared in one of your classes at USC, bearing an outline for a television drama, which you, without any idea who he was, because, given your sour experiences with television, you "didn't watch television."

You suggested it had momentum for a mini-series,  Two weeks later, your pockets bulging from an HBO check, you discovered he was the originator and head writer of Laugh-In, and had a number of Emmy Awards for such things as The John Denver Special, a Frank Sinatra Special, and several other dramatic ventures.

Of course you had other friends at the time.  Because of your ongoing wonderment about why Wolfe and Conrad should bring you into their spheres, you found yourself opening doors of reserve and discovery with those individuals you'd come to recognize as individuals you loved.

Being a writer entails a certain amount of an introverted, inner life wherein you find it easy to convince yourself you are a witness more than a participant.  Conrad and Wolfe had things to contribute.  You watched, wondering what you could possibly bring forth.

Well before each of them died, you began to see what items they in fact brought to the table and it came to you because of your closeness to them to see what these things were.  You bring love and respect and friendship.  You listen.  You bring books and music and enthusiasm to the table.  Both men were involved with living, with ideas,notions, causes, effects, and enthusiasm.  You can be a good friend by bringing these as gifts, as Conrad and Wolfe brought them to you.


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