Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Just quietly hanging out

Over the Easter weekend, Lily, who is my oldest and best friend, messaged me a link to an article all about how freeing it is to socialise in silence. That might make it sound like one of those po-faced manifestos of minimalism, but it's not. Anyway, it's really stuck with me and as I'm going to be talking about it here - you can read it first, if you'd like. 

I've had a manic few weeks of packing up my stuff, moving from our houseshare and filling a storage unit in Bermondsey, London with furniture and things I won't need for a few months. It was a noisy process. Not just the endless sound of affixing brown tape to boxes, but also the constant noise in my head - of making decisions about what to keep and what to throw. Thinking and feeling guilty about how much stuff we accumulate as humans and what a waste it is. (Never an efficient thought process when you have a moving deadline.) I gave away old magazines, stacking them on a chair outside our house. I topped up the pile when it depleted, and bought the chair inside whenever rain was forecast. 

I've been relishing quiet. There were six of us living together and I was really, really ready to not be living in a houseshare. My tolerance for small talk or, to be honest, any social interaction I did not want to have, was incredibly low at this point. I was easily snappy, which made me feel crappy. I just wanted to live somewhere that felt like a real home, rather than a beneficial set-up in an expensive city, for people with different lives, thrown together for economic reasons. I craved a home that was familial, and I suppose to me that means coming in from the city and being able to read my book, or write, or concentrate on a film in an peaceful, unspoken silence.  

It's fair to say then, that this article about a New Yorker looking for silence suited my mood:

"In a poetry class in college, I learned that Wallace Stevens shared an apartment with his wife, but they would often not talk for long stretches of time, circling about the same space in their separate spheres. This struck me as my ideal way of socializing. I immediately told my best friend about this and we began trying it. I would go over to their house and read on their front porch, while they painted their nails in the bedroom, and then we’d converge hours later, maybe make a meal together. Sometimes we would walk to the narrow, wooden pedestrian bridge overhanging the train tracks and wait to feel the train surge beneath us, taking it all in wordlessly."

It's funny because for months I've been thinking about friendships and wondering what is the best way to hang out with people without feeling tired by the interaction. It's not like spending time with people is inherently tiring (though growing up an only child I admit I favour solitude more than many of my friends.) But living in a city, it's common to socialise in ways that begin to feel unromantic through necessity. Because friends are so often busy, seeing them becomes this diarised 'catch-up'. Unlike at University, where we were inexplicably always together, finding ways to see each other can feel like arranging a meeting. You go to a pub, or a bar, or a coffee shop, or some neutral space where you pay to eat and something to drink. It means you can leave when you want, and nobody outstays their welcome. Conversation is like a game of tennis, back and forth, question and answer. Sometimes I return home thinking: "If I stay at home tomorrow, maybe I won't feel as tired."

Writing this makes me feel sad. Why is everybody so tired? I didn't think it would be like this! And honestly, it isn't always, but I do sometimes think it was better when everyone was more collectively skint and socialising meant just - hanging out, and not much else. Once in a blue moon, I have dinner at a friend's and everything feels more generous. We feed each other, we pour ourselves drinks and even better - we get to nose at each other's skin products as we wash our hands in the other's bathroom. But because we're all so tired by - what exactly? - it never happens as often as it should.

I started writing this, thinking it would be about silence. But the more I write, the more I realise it's about home. And how important home feels when you live in a big, costly city. When I think about how I'd like to spend time with my friends, it involves a long table, a home-cooked meal and raucous conversation. It's me inviting people into my home, rather than shutting them out. And it's a sofa! A glorious, deep squishy sofa which is all mine. Not one that's falling apart and holding us hostage, like the sad, broken-down Ikea sofas of houseshares.

The dream sofa (and all it represents) might still be a way off yet, but memories of socialising in silence has given me a much-needed jolt this week. There was the whole evening me and Rose spent making our Halloween costumes in Manchester, she fashioning a bloody bull's horn, pushing a cummerbund through her sewing machine for her gory dead Matador costume, while I papier-mached black crows to attack my Tippi Hedren. We listened to the radio, and we didn't ask each other about work. We didn't look for ways to fill the gaps, and it felt like home.

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