Tag Archives: Friendship

My Irish Weekend Part 4: In Faeries’ Wake

Ireland is very much in touch with its ancient self. I think I mentioned this in part one. It feels old. It feels ancient in a way my home country doesn’t. The U.K has plenty of ancient things, but they’re all at odds with everything else around them. And that’s the difference- Ireland feels like an ancient land.

DSC_0071

DSC_0095

Elizabeth and George would take me down to the lake at the back of their country house. We’d sit on a large rock with our feet in the water and drink beer. There were no boats out on the lake and no cabins and no docks. Just the reeds blowing in the wind and the faint outlines of mountains on the other side. George smoked his pipe while Elizabeth pulled bottle after bottle out of her dungarees like a magician performing a circus trick. There were no paths leading to the lake and the whole place was just so natural and untouched. It was awkward making our way through the undergrowth; it was a place wholly disinterested in catering to the desires of Man- and that’s what made it special.

DSC_0102

DSC_0104

DSC_0105

There are no shops or amenities of any kind near the house. No footpaths and no communities. Only farms, and one or two other such isolated cottages. We made our fun just walking down the roads as far as our legs would go, talking tirelessly about everything from political ideologies to petty gossip. We stopped at several pastures to boop the animals that greeted us.

DSC_0109

DSC_0117

DSC_0124

We found a path made wholly of daisies that led into the woods, that supposedly was left there by the faeries. We followed it and came out the other side in the shadow of a small castle. It was completely deserted and uncommercialized. Past the castle a different side of the same lake. The lake is too big, and we had walked to far, for us to be able to see the house. At this point we had been walking for about two hours. We continued to follow the shoreline, passing an empty football field and a few country homes. A local gentleman greeted us and chatted briefly with Elizabeth about the unforgiving Wisconsin winters.

DSC_0130

DSC_0131

DSC_0132

We found ourselves next at some ruins. There had been a chapel here or something. Centuries ago. I took a picture of Elizabeth wearing the Hungarian scarf I had bought her in Szentendre. She grinned at the camera as she stood beneath a stone archway, and I realized that she has the same smile as her mother and her sister. It’s very distinctive. It dominates the face, and speaks to a hereditary sweetness.

DSC_0137

DSC_0138

DSC_0140

The next day George dropped Elizabeth and I at a pub on his way to work. It was a small place and the menu only had two options. We decided to get ourselves a roast dinner, and I opted for my first ever Guinness. I figured I had no choice really. When else would I be in an authentic Irish pub? I got a photo of me with the foam mustache like the trend-following social media whore I’ve become. Elizabeth and I did some people watching as we drank our beers and ate our gravy-lathered beef. It was the only place for miles around, with no municipal body to call home except a crossroads through the bogs. It served the farmers and country folk around it, and in its own way the pub was the center of community. Most of the people there were watching a sport known as Hurling, which I had never heard of, but which I have since come to learn is 4000 years old. It’s kind of like Gaelic lacrosse I guess? But with the temperament of Canadian ice hockey; the old lady at the bar was quite animated, dropping F-bombs left, right, and center.

DSC_0169

DSC_0176

DSC_0152

DSC_0147

The pub has an adjoining convenience store with a few things for sale like scratch cards and onions. I said we should get George something to surprise him with when he gets home from work. I asked Elizabeth what her husband’s greatest vice was.

DSC_0183

DSC_0184

DSC_0177

DSC_0172

“Jaffa Cakes,” she said instantly. Jaffa Cakes. They power him like a punch card activates an animatronic Abe Lincoln at Disney World. They are to him what a murdered uncle is to Spiderman. Or something like that. Anyway, we got him some Jaffa Cakes, and walked home.

DSC_0194

DSC_0198

DSC_0185

Advertisements

My Irish Weekend Part 3: Ode to a Compost Converter

As I stated in part one, any discussion of my trip to Ireland is impossible if not told through the lens of my friendship with George and Elizabeth. No blade of green Irish grass exists, without the framing device of these two people, upon which it depends. There is no smell of gorse, there is no twinkle in the eye of curious dairy cows, and no flicker of church candles, unless given life from George and Elizabeth. Ireland is opened up through them; there is no other way in. And this is because, unlike Budapest, I was not in Ireland on official Tumbleweed business. As I said- I was desperate to see my friends, and in that sense my trip was wholly self-serving. There was no mission statement; I was just following an urge- a gnawing, biological impulse- which is the need for companionship and the redress of separation anxiety. I wasn’t buying plane tickets with the excitement of seeing windswept castles and jagged white cliffs. I was very much going there to soothe an open wound, to cauterize the ache that comes with missing people to whom you form strong attachments. I’m not really ashamed of that. And it’s worth pointing out this self-centered motivation, because I don’t want to do Ireland a disservice- nor indeed my readers- by pretending that this is a focused and objective account of the country. It’s not. As I told Elizabeth- I would have visited her if she and her husband were living in a Wampa ice cave on Svalbard, with nothing to do except get cozy in the slit-up abdomens of walruses while eating curried reindeer. The place was not a factor to me- but, I knew that wherever they chose to settle, it would become one of fascination to me, whose aesthetics I would attach inexorably to George and Elizabeth’s personalities. I would cherish these rows of gorse and miles of peat bogs, these tranquil lakes and cutesy farmyard animals, as playing a role in their continuum as a couple. Therefore it was inevitable that whatever I saw, I would in some way romanticize it.

DSC_0054

So, unlike Budapest, I didn’t have a bucket list. I just wanted to soak up as much of their personalities as possible. I wanted Elizabeth to do as many theatrical comedy routines and tell as many shock-value “pipefitter jokes” as she could. I wanted quintessential, vintage Elizabeth at her rowdy best. I was not disappointed. Throughout the whole five days I was there, the three of us talked without pause from sun-up to sundown. By noon every day my throat hurt, but I went on talking anyway. The entire trip was a five-day conversation, in which the only moments of silence were the hours in which we slept.

2

3

We spent our time at their house, sitting by the lake, or going for walks in the surrounding countryside. The house, to me, was a symptom of George and Elizabeth’s romantic worldview. When I got out of the car, I knew that there could be no other house for them. This place was straight out of a fairy tale. It could have been one of those ceramic miniature cottages you see for sale in gift shops. The thatched roof, the hanging kerosene lamp, the cobblestone walls, the little red gate, the Dutch door with its bottom-half shut, the lilacs growing down the wall like Nature’s tapestry, were all qualities that spoke to George and Elizabeth’s collective identity.

DSC_0030

As we stepped inside I told them that the house reminded me of the holiday homes from my childhood vacations to places like Wales, Devon, and Normandy; the downstairs a single room, no TV, windows flung open, a few troublesome houseflies, great wooden roofbeams holding up the ceiling. There was no TV and no Playstation- instead; there were boxes of audiobooks and old board games. It gave me the feeling of being on vacation, and Elizabeth echoed this sentiment, saying that the house had a vibe not unlike that of her family’s summer cabin in the Wisconsin northwoods. It was just so charmingly disconnected from urban life. Aside from its romantic, rural qualities, I was also struck by how “lived-in” it felt. They had really furnished the place into a home, a place of their own, a place of love. The house was brought to life by the little things- the tins of spices and teas on the old shelves, George’s handsome collection of tobacco pipes, the framed photos of them together that made ascension of the staircase a timeline of their relationship- which caused me to think of the house as a house of marriage. Elizabeth delighted in showing me their honeymoon photos, kept in large old school albums underneath the wooden coffee table. We drank beer that she and George had brewed themselves. When the horse in field opposite the house started staring at us through the window, we cut up some apples and went out to feed him. We sat on a large rock by the lake and marveled that all this was even happening, ticking off all the coincidences on memory lane that contrived to bring a country girl raised in the shadow of Lambeau Field and a kilt-wearing Oxfordshire Brit to building a life together in the western Irish countryside- as well as the little coincidences that facilitated my humble cameo to their story. It’s quite a thing, I said.

DSC_0043

DSC_0044

Staying with them in this house, I got to know George and Elizabeth on a deeper level. I was really experiencing them for the first time as a married couple, as homeowners, and as a family. And they revealed themselves at once to be gracious and natural hosts. I always get embarrassed when I’m being waited on hand and foot, but I couldn’t help enjoying seeing them this way. George and Elizabeth love to entertain. Throughout my whole stay I was lovingly tended to; scarcely a moment passed when I was not handed a beer or outfitted with an extra cushion. Knowing as intimately as anyone my history of mental health issues, they enquired often about how I was feeling. At one point I was even set up in a hammock, and brought a plate of sausages that had been boiled in cider and barbecued. Now this is living, I thought, feeling the sun warm on my closed eyelids and the fresh, country air rising in my nostrils. George and Elizabeth made me feel like the Sultan of Brunei, treating me with such affection that they resisted all attempts on my part to give a helping hand. One of the highlights of my trip was our adventure to the hardware store. We excitedly purchased one of those massive, Robby-the-Robot-shaped compost converters and hurried back to the homestead to assemble it. When it was ready for use, we each pinched our noses with laundry pegs (which fucking hurt like a sonuvabitch I might add) and proceeded to dump as much rank waste inside as possible. With the lid open, George held up the garbage bags while his wife tried cutting out the bottom with rusty garden shears. When Elizabeth started making a series of retching noises, I insisted they let me help.

“WE COULDN’T POSSIBLY.”

“Liz, you’re about to barf,” I said.

“OKAY.”

So I took the shears from her and finished the job, stabbing at the swollen black refuse sack like a Jedi Knight would the pregnant gut of a pot-bellied rancor. After penetrating the bulging sack I had to act fast as the smell of rancid trash grew ever thicker- as though the mortally wounded beast aimed to take us down with her- and I cut crossways with the shears. An immense feeling of accomplishment and self-worth came over me as the entrails burst forth, and our mission was complete.

Lamb Boobs & Spanish Typewriters: My Weekend Part One

The first weekend of 2018 turned out to be pretty rad. My dear friends Elizabeth & George came to visit me on Saturday- and it was the first time I had seen them in person since I served as the photographer for their wedding in March of last year. I’ve written in the past about my experience of and obsession with the Greek concept of Philia– the love of friendship, and having two of my closest companions drive all the way to Nailsea of all places, getting lost in Bristol on the way, just to visit me, definitely gave me an emotional rush. The friends my 2012 student exchange in the USA brought me have now become old friends. We’re basically family, and the small network of Wisconsinites I’ve been adopted by treat me with the same openness and give me the same feeling of importance as if we were blood-relatives.

The town I grew up in- while boasting a population of about 20,000 or so- is nonetheless small in regards to its infrastructure and facilities. It’s kind of like one big residential area, an endless labyrinth of semi-detached brick houses and prickly hedges. The streets are quiet and empty, save for a few grey hunchbacks who cross the road at the speed of a banana slug dying of boredom. But then just when it seemed as if the town itself might be taken off life-support, George and Elizabeth’s beat-up “pimp-mobile” in dire need of an exhaust pipe replacement comes roaring through the sleepy afternoon and oh hot dog I feel like Harry Potter when the Weasleys show up in that flying car.

“Your town is so cute!” Elizabeth likes to say with her palms against her cheeks, looking to the cobblestone walls, the church spires, the old fish & chip shop, and the suspicious stares of the townsfolk in flat caps walking dogs.

I decided to take my friends to the best place in town to get some hearty food- the pub I’ve been working at these last few months. It was strange to walk in as a customer instead of an employee, and I wondered as I approached the door if my entrance would be like that scene in Goodfellas where Ray Liotta is snapping his fingers at all the wiseguys he walks past, strolling with effortless confidence and a cocksure swagger to the best seat in the house, stopping only for all the people coming up to him to shake his hand and pay respects. No such thing happened. In fact, the place seemed pretty deserted. There were a few other patrons, talking in hushed voices because the place was so quiet. The only folks on duty were the bartender, a waitress I hadn’t met yet, and my friend Daniel who cooked our food, and came out afterwards for a chin-wag.

My friends seemed very impressed by the pub and we enjoyed a good meal and many drinks. I opted for the stuffed lamb breast, one of the fancier dishes on the menu.

“I’m just imagining a massive boob on a plate,” Elizabeth said and started laughing hysterically.

“I can just see the little lamb teat pointing upwards,” her husband chuckled.

“Sheep have udders, right?” I said, not very sure myself what lay beneath all that wool. When Elizabeth first visited me in England 3 years ago, she was entranced by all the fluffy sheep in the fields. It’s something my parents and I remember so distinctly from her stay. I guess sheep aren’t exactly a common sight in the northwoods of Wisconsin, and they’re everywhere here. That’s one of the things that happens when you host a foreigner in your country- they point out things you never thought twice about. You begin to look at your surroundings in a different way.

During our meal, we talked about everything from Ed Gein to the chocolate shops of Gent. Elizabeth started hiccupping loudly and I thought she might startle the nearby pensioners into the prone position. George fetched her a glass of water as his wife swore like a sailor after each new quake. I really got the sense that we were now old friends, and after pouring through our shared memories we began to talk excitedly about the future and the creation of new ones. 2018 so far feels like a transitionary period, in which the past and the present seem almost equally large. I feel like I’ll look back on this part of my life as an in-between stage, an intermission between two big acts. My choice of clothing represented the past- I deliberately picked the fringed suede rancher jacket that Elizabeth had helped me afford one day in the summer of 2015 at an antique store on Eau Claire’s Water Street. We talked about three of the weddings we’ve been to together over the years (including their own), before moving irresistibly to the weddings to come- such as Elizabeth’s brother Aaron and his high school sweetheart Anne-Marie.

It always seems surreal having my American family in the town I grew up in. It shouldn’t, because this is the fourth visit I’ve hosted in Nailsea, but it does. My life in the US and my life in the UK have always felt so separate. I swear my sense of reality gets warped and I feel like George Constanza ranting about “worlds colliding”. As always, the visit was a resounding success and it lifted my mood immensely. One thing I have definitely discovered about myself is that I like having something to look forward to, to work towards. If I haven’t got anything on the horizon I get super-restless and create something to look forward to. Itchy feet have resulted in many a purchase of plane tickets, assuming I was able to swing it. But what made Saturday’s visit so significant- and worth blogging about- is that it’s given me my first indication of the shape 2018 might take- the potential it has for personal growth and what it might come to mean in years’ time. Weddings, thanksgivings, new year’s eve celebrations. We talked about the lot, and the trip ended in the most amazing way possible. George is a collector and frequent user of typewriters, and decided to gift one to me, given my love of writing and desire to write in different places. I was over the moon at this wonderful gift- a Spanish typewriter no less- and Elizabeth suggested I feature some scanned typewritten blog posts on TumbleweedWrites, so stay tuned. In conclusion, the visit left me feeling very loved and more than a bit excited for the future.

Making More Friends in the USA

I’ve written in previous episodes of this series how I made friends with an Aaron Rodgers lookalike and his Malaysian roommate, and having finally found a friendship group of my own, latched onto them like a lamprey eel. But that’s not the whole story. It’s true that I spent almost all of my time with them, but I was also blessed with some other friendships during my 2012 student exchange. After years of loneliness in Bristol and Winchester back in the UK- where I’d sit on benches eating alone, staring at a group of friends walking past, telling myself that would never happen for me, that any form of companionship was denied me- the few friends I made in the USA seemed like a lot. For the first few weeks, it seemed as though friends were falling into my lap, and I wasn’t even doing anything proactively social. As I’ve stated before, just being British made me an exotic novelty- no matter how boring and pathetic I thought I was. One of my British friends asked me recently if I thought he could make friends if he went to the USA. And the answer is of course. If I can, any of you can- no matter how low your self-esteem is.

Midwesterners- Wisconsinites and Minnesotans especially- are renowned for their cheerful, kindly demeanor and affability. By and large their culture celebrates openness and politeness. Around the same time I was practically becoming adopted by Akbar and Aaron, I was making friends with two other lads who lived a few doors down the hall from us. For the purposes of this blog we’ll call them Jimmy and Zeke. Both of them were freshmen with a wild thirst for adventures. I met Jimmy first. He took it upon himself to befriend me, approaching me several times during my first week to make me feel welcome. My initial impressions of him were as someone who hung out with jocks but was extremely nice. I thought he looked like what I imagined a baseball player looked like, and I categorized him as someone who hung out with the cool kids in high school, but was universally liked- someone with a sense of schoolyard honor. Jimmy was also from Minnesota, and I feel like my entire impression of The Gopher State was grafted from his personality. Because Jimmy was such an easygoing type, I figured that all Minnesotans are similarly laidback. Whether there’s any truth to that, I’m not sure, but I haven’t had an experience that’s disproven my “chilled-out” image of the Minnesotans.

The first thing Jimmy taught me was that Midwesterners can be forward without seeming rude. Jimmy asked me if he could watch the Vikings’ season opener in my room because he had nowhere else to watch it. I was delighted to host him, although the TV wasn’t really mine. It was my roommate Brad’s, but he was out and hadn’t previously given me any indication I couldn’t use it. Jimmy figured out how to work the TV and we watched the Vikings. It was the first time I had sat down and watched American football. Jimmy explained the rules to me and my initiation into the sport I would soon come to love came from him. For some reason I was nervous about Brad walking in, even though I knew logically that he wouldn’t have a problem with what we were doing. Back then I wasn’t ruled by logic, but baseless fear born out of a lack of social exposure. I had already agreed to meet Aaron on lower campus and got ready to leave. Jimmy seemed cool with this and asked if he could stay in my room and watch. I trusted him and I was eager to please, so I said yes and left. As I walked down the hill to lower campus I kept thinking about what would happen if Brad came back and found some guy sat on the futon watching sports. It was an interesting little moment for me, as I wondered if such a thing would be awkward in the USA. My takeaway was that Americans feared social awkwardness less.

I first met Zeke a few days later when Jimmy and I grabbed lunch at Hilltop. Zeke was different to Jimmy, but the two of them made an interesting pair as roommates. I clicked with both of them instantly. Zeke was harder to categorize into a stereotype like everyone else. Jimmy was the kid in the movie that offered help to the bullied runt, teaching him how to throw a ball and swing a bat. Aaron was the guy that got the girl in the end and took her to prom. I even categorized myself- think of me as the Neville Longbottom type. But as for Zeke, I wasn’t sure where I had seen his face before. Out of everyone I met he had the most fervent zeal for collegiate adventures. He was intellectually-curious and more or less seemed to want to try everything. He grew up in a rural part of Wisconsin in a town of about three houses, that for some reason I always pictured looking like an Amish hamlet, complete with a working gristmill. As we ate lunch that day he eagerly engaged me on my religious and philosophical views. I wasn’t offended by the interest, but I felt I had to choose my words carefully. These fellas were still new to me, and I didn’t want to alienate potential friends by making myself look like the Antichrist. I just said I wasn’t sure about all that stuff, and they said that “most campuses are pretty liberal”. From that moment forward we became comfortable exchanging ideas throughout the semester, and both seemed very interested in what I had to say. They made my thoughts feel legitimate and they made me feel like I was not only smart, but interesting.

The last significant interaction I want to discuss is a friend I made in my Creative Writing Workshop class. We’ll go ahead and call him Calvin. My friendship with him follows the pattern of people finding me intriguing and going out of their way to make friends with me. Calvin had blonde hair and looked kind of like a young, Scandinavian Stephen King. He was a senior, and a fellow writer, so that made him different to the other friends I made. I remember him sitting near me, and seeing that I was shy, going out of his way to include me. Just like Zeke and Jimmy, he made me feel interesting. He often encouraged me to share my work and complimented my writing on several occasions. We agreed to meet up to see a visiting writer give a talk on campus one evening. That writer was actually Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and playwright Ayad Akhtar (See American Dervish & Disgraced). After watching Akhtar speak about the writing process and Sufism for an hour, we exchanged numbers. Later, when my 20th birthday came around, Calvin gave me a call and asked if he could treat me to a coffee or something. Unfortunately I was busy at the time, but I promised him we could hang out in the near future. The interaction is significant because it’s another example of how forward Americans can be, and how the experience of having people proactively seek out my friendship contributed to my development as a person and my overall impression of the Midwest. It was little moments like these that really made my exchange.

My idea behind this post was not only to highlight what my behavior therapist roommate would call “social initiations”, but to establish these three personalities for further posts going forward. In many ways, this piece is a necessary foundation for the next few posts in my student exchange series that I have planned. Be sure to catch the next episode tomorrow! Thanks for reading.

Philia: My Thoughts on the Love of Friendship

I’ve been spending some time relaxing on the Greek island of Crete recently, and I’d be lying if I said my time spent exploring nearby Minoan ruins and getting my feet chewed up at the local fish spa hasn’t limited my ability to get some writing done. So I’ll leave you with a short piece about what’s been on my mind today. Hell, I’ll do better than that- I’ll open my damn heart to you. Greece is a romantic country. I’m not talking about the sexual kind of romance per se, although that’s certainly part of it. The people that populate these lands of olives and seashells and turquoise are an emotive, expressive bunch. They communicate in such a poetic way, weaving their hands in graceful gestures of innate rhythm, the cadence of their voices songlike and theatrical. The Greek language itself is a point of fascination for me; perhaps more so than its fine food and dancing, the ancient language of these islanders is so indicative of a culture that has persevered through thousands of years of outside oppression and occupation.

What I’m interested in most of all is love. It’s easy to mock the cliché of it all when taken at face value, but when you sit down and think of it, the concept of love and what it is and what it means is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the human experience. And at the end of the day, that’s the only thing worth talking about- the human heart in conflict with itself, as Faulkner put it. Every society that’s ever existed, every culture from the mountains of Peru to the frozen taiga of Irkutsk, has an idea of love and has tried to refine it through various means of creative expression. But it’s an elusive thing. Of course nothing is outside of the realm of science and it’s based in chemical reaction, but it’s such an overpowering, arresting phenomena that we can’t help but think of it in more lyrical and fanciful terms. It exists as much as an aspect of human biology as it does as an idea- and one that can be approached in many ways, over and over again throughout history.

I find that very compelling, the way science and art are intertwined, the way poets and musicians have tried to reduce the immensity of it into something sharp, simple and memorable down the millennia. The Greeks have six words for love. They communicate their concept of love in a way that’s entirely their own. The kind of love I’ve been thinking about today, in the breeze of salt-water that swoops off of the Aegean, is what the Greeks call Philia. This is the love that exists between friends and comrades. I’ve been fortunate enough to experience this in my life, and it’s not a word I throw around lightly. To me, love has a pretty strict distinction from just liking or being friendly with someone. We all know people in our lives that we like, whose company we enjoy, but how many of these can we say we are in love with? It’s a word that people- especially men- are hesitant to use in the context of friendship. Perhaps it makes people uncomfortable. I think a lot of people think you can’t really express Philia, or that it isn’t really meant to be expressed; it simply exists and we should stop thinking about it and just exist in it. But to me it’s such a powerful, such an extraordinary sensation, that I can’t really call myself a writer and not discuss something that is so integral to my life.

I knew from the beginning that a post like this would run the risk of being so sappy it’ll leave my readers puking their lungs out all over their keyboards, but bear with me. To me, the difference between a friend I like and the experience of true Philia– a friend I love- has everything to do with what I think love is. For me, to love someone is to discover a part of yourself you never knew quite existed. When you miss someone, when you feel their absence as a literal ache, that is when a person is a part of you and when you know love exists. I think it works the same for friends, family and sexual partners in that regard. In my definition of it, it’s a great joiner. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced genuine love in the sexual sense; for sure I have liked girls and been driven to acting stupid because of that attraction, but as for deep, romantic love- no, that’s not yet emerged in my life with any clarity. I think if you have experienced any kind of love at all you can consider yourself lucky. I know I do, because of my experience of Philia.

I started thinking about all of this because of the book I was reading today. It triggered a memory from last year and gave me a fresh interpretation of love that I can’t get out of my head. I’ll post the extract for you below. I love how the character’s definition of love captures so well the way we perceive it and how it makes us feel.

01

I’m going to respect the privacy of my personal life that must remain separate from my blog, but I will say that the passage above perfectly described the feelings I experienced a year ago in Barcelona when my two best friends got engaged. When a relationship is as strong and inspiring as that of my two friends, and when those in love with each other mean so much to you, the relationship itself takes on a larger meaning. In a way it feels as if on some level it belongs to all those who love them, and that we are partaking in some small way on their journey. I remember distinctly the sights and sounds and smells of Barcelona that day and it will forever be attached to what happened there between them. Like Greece and much of the Mediterranean, Catalonia is a romantic place full of romantic people. I might even go as far as to say that Barcelona is the most beautiful city I have ever been to. I am unable to see it as anything but the city of love. The soft glow of the lamps above the narrow, Gothic streets seem to scream romance. The experience of seeing each of your two best friends find such happiness in one another has been the most rewarding and profound sensation of my life. It’s worth writing about.

 

*

 

Thank you for reading! As usual I went a little longer than I expected with this one. Let me if you like this kind of content and if you think it works. Don’t be shy! I’d love to hear your thoughts. Of course, if you did enjoy it, I would really appreciate it if you Liked or Subscribed!

Making Friends in the USA Part 2

You may remember from my first post in this series that in American colleges, the dorms are monitored by R.A’s. I decided to give my R.A the pseudonym Akbar, because he spoke Tamil and the Mughals once ruled India. I figured that was more badass than just giving him a replacement Indian name like Sanjay or something. Anyway, I remember that throughout International Orientation Week I consciously tried to get on his good side. I hinted that I had no friends and no one to eat with, and Akbar, whether he detected my overtures of friendship or not, invited me to play a few soccer games with him and his mates, who were from all corners of the planet. Akbar knew I was shy, and one time he asked me to come eat with him and a few of his friends. I said very little, but I remember him introducing me to two Americans, who were the only other white people at the table along with myself. They had these very sarcastic expressions on their faces and I got the impression they were constantly making fun of the others. They reminded me of New York comedians like Jerry Seinfeld. There was the cool, confident air about them and they sat back very relaxed (in contrast to the highly animated Malaysians), very much waiting for some poor soul to test their wit. One of them lived on lower campus, and for the sake of this blog we shall name him Bart. The other was Akbar’s roommate (I didn’t even know R.A’s had a roommates!), and he was a sophomore that we shall call Aaron (due to his striking resemblance to Aaron Rodgers). The first thing Aaron told me about himself was that he was an “asshole” and that I should be fully prepared for him to make fun of me and any point moving forward.

I believe this encounter took place on September 4th, a Tuesday, and at the time it did not seem too significant. It is however important for this story going forward. Despite joining them for dinner that time, I resumed my routine for the rest of the week of grabbing takeaway boxes and rushing back to my dorm. You might wonder why I didn’t pursue Akbar’s friendship further, but his inviting me to dinner was just one incident in a whirlwind of experiences that week. This was the first week of classes, and I was like a little puppy exposed to a sudden influx of stimuli from every direction. It took all my energy just to keep up with everything.

The UW-Eau Claire campus is huge. At the time I was in awe of the giant dormitory buildings and the wide open spaces. It was in stark contrast to the University of Winchester, which seems almost entirely localized in the parking lot of a hospital. The UWEC campus is often praised for its greenery, its woodland aesthetics, and the clean, open areas. However by American standards it is considered a small college, with a student body of no more than 12,000. It was still a massive change for me however; as the number of students enrolled at the University of Winchester at the time was about 6,000. There seemed to be no end of things going on at the campus. There were the damn religious zealots, running around campus shouting about Jesus, there were the political factions who decided to spray-paint the sidewalks with partisan propaganda like they were playing real-life Overwatch, and every now and then you would see a phalanx of white girls in flannel shirts and beanies chanting “No ifs, no buts!” remonstrating with placards in front of Schofield. I quickly became used to the idea that every time I stepped outside I might get approached by someone for one reason or another.

One night I walked with my roommate- let’s call him Brad- down to lower campus to meet up with a friend of his from high school. The night was full of activity, but it was a completely different atmosphere to Winchester. Every night in Winchester you would hear the drunken singing of three lads with their arms around each other or some basic bitch puking in a bush somewhere, but in the U.S there is strictly no alcohol permitted on campus. Suddenly, I was underage again. It didn’t seem to bother me as much as it did the other British students in Eau Claire, since even when I was of age back home I didn’t seek out the party scene. Instead, there were more wholesome forms of entertainment; on the big grassy area behind Putnam on lower campus a huge cinema screen had been erected and was playing the first Hunger Games movie. Brad had disappeared to Skype his brother from North Dakota, and I spent the evening with his friend Kathy and her friend Bridgett. We sat down for about 5 minutes on the edge of the crowd before wandering off to this photo booth. A bunch of students were there taking pictures with their new friends, and as we waited in line, we ended up talking to this group of girls. I remember thinking I was doing well, and I really didn’t have to offer much for these girls to seem impressed.

“Start talking,” they demanded.

“I don’t know what to say,” I flat out told them.

“It doesn’t matter. We just want to hear your accent,” they said.

The first week was full of random social events like that. I remember early in the week I had to get up one morning to partake in this icebreaker exercise with a classroom of people that neither included those on my floor nor those in my classes. It was completely random. The teacher gave someone in the first row a clean roll of toilet paper, and told them to take as many or as few squares as they wanted before passing it on. Soon everyone had differing lengths of bogroll in their hands and we were informed that we had to tell the room a fact about ourselves for every square we had. I think I took a medium amount- perhaps 5 or 6 squares. I was the only foreigner in the room. I did not feel confident whatsoever, as my stomach had been rumbling loudly this whole time and I was super paranoid that everybody knew.

I remember being amused that the guy before me- a skinny, pasty looking chap with rectangular spectacles and an N7 hoodie- stood up with about 15 squares and absolutely no trace of shyness and declared “I love video games, mostly recently the Mass Effect Trilogy”. I respected him for it but watched eagerly the faces of everyone else in the room, as back then I didn’t game too much- it was more something of a casual, infrequent indulgence that I hid shamefully. But this guy didn’t give a flying fuck. He just straight up broadcasted his love for Commander Shepherd and didn’t give a second thought to the pretty, German-looking ladies of the American Midwest. The whole experience of being around different kinds of people and watching them interact was very interesting to me, and contributed in no small part to my growth as a person.

However I was still missing what I had craved, what eluded me at Winchester and in Bristol, which was a friendship group to belong to, that would take me in wherever they went. I was having a lot of positive interactions but they were isolated incidents. I had no hope of attaining this dream, and at the end of that first week I consciously told myself to be prepared to be a lone wolf once more. The sights and sounds of the New World would make it an improvement over another year in Winchester. I tried to tempt people to befriend me by leaving my door open and playing my iPod through Brad’s stereo, which consisted at that time almost exclusively of Elvis Presley songs. I sat at my desk, doing homework or creative writing exercises and listening to “Don’t Be Cruel” and “His Latest Flame”. People would smile at me, say hi, but they walked on past my open door. No one took the open invitation.

It was Friday, September 7th and about 12pm noon. It was a clear day and summer had carried over from August. I removed my iPod from the stereo and sat in silence for a while. Then, all of a sudden, there was a knock at my door. I looked up. It was Aaron- Akbar’s roommate, the Aaron Rodgers lookalike. Out of all the people I had met and spoke to, he was one of the last I expected to show up here. I had barely spoken to him that time at dinner, and he seemed like someone who had it all together. I remember him being the laidback comedian of the group; he was entirely unlike the other Wisconsinite guys I met who were more enthusiastic and forward in their pursuit of friends. They were all like “I’m so happy to meet you! I love England! What’s it like?” whereas this guy didn’t seem to be impressed so easily. However, as I looked up and saw him leaning coolly in my doorway, I saw for the first time that this guy had a friendly side to him and now I wasn’t threatened by his unforgiving humor. He asked in casual way, as though he expected me or whoever else he chose to be fully expectant for this kind of interaction, if I wanted to “grab some lunch”. I jumped at the opportunity, since I thrive best in one-to-one scenarios, and we walked over to Hilltop and sat down. It wasn’t too busy. We got to talking, and pretty soon I was convinced that Aaron was my best friend.

That might sound strange, but hear me out. Sometimes friendship is more of a gradual progression, but at other times it’s like lightning- it’s perfect and it happens all at once. There was no sense of awkwardness or contrived conversational tactics. We clicked instantly, and I was as comfortable talking to him as I was my closest friends back home, or my family. We ended up talking for 5 hours, just sitting in the cafeteria like two brothers who had known each other their whole lives. I already knew that I would never have to eat alone again. We exchanged numbers and he told me he expected me to come along to a screening of the Packers season opener against the 49ers that Sunday, and that he would teach me the rules of American football. Eventually we got up as he had to go to class or something like that, but he told me he would be in touch about hanging out later that evening.

Finally, I thought, I had somewhere to belong. I was already getting on well with Akbar, his roommate, and I knew they had a group that played soccer regularly, and would be sure to welcome me again.

*

Want to know what happens next? I’ll release the next episode in this series by the weekend!