Mind the gap...

Everyone keeps asking, what’s it all about?
I used to be so certain and I can’t figure out
What is this attraction?

[duncan sheik]

Welcome back. Life returns, the friends go home, the cats relax, and my fingers start tapping almost of their own accord. They make it clear that whether I want to or not, it's time to start writing again—not because I should but because I must.

"And I could stand here waiting
A fool for another day
But I don’t suppose it’s worth the price, worth the price
The price that I would pay"


Put the music on. Don't turn on the light. Listen to the cats in the next room, industriously tussling each other in brotherly fashion. Despite the fact that no one is here but me, I attempt to physically hide the fact that I am writing—because, of course, if no one knows I'm writing, no one will know to ask me whether or not I was able to finish what I started.

I worried about how things would go after this weekend's geekfest was over. To a certain extent I still do—how, after having most every person I care about here in one place, at one time, would I accustom myself again to the solitude of a daytime house? Mercurial, yes, I am.

"…Sometimes it's strange for me to realize that my friendship with you (which I initially expected, way back when, to be brief and transitory) has outlasted almost every single close friendship I've had then…or since. You've managed to turn over six years' worth of emails, sporadic phone calls, and visits into a friendship I care a lot about."
[a recent letter to a friend]

How do people come into your life, and why do some stay? Why do some slip away, but some (almost without announcement) take up residency in your life, and defy your predictions? These questions occur to me as I slowly catch up on the sleep deprivation axiomatic with a good geekfest.

Rarely does a gathering of friends go by that does not provoke some kind of questioning in my mind. I have two particular people in mind this time—one, she and I, having met in high school, recognized similarities in each other. We ended up being college roommates for about a year and a half, after which I think my immaturity and odd habits contributed to her decision to move in with a mutual friend of ours. Yet we remained good friends afterward.

I accidentally introduced her to the person she later married.

The weekend I met Jeff, I drove back to campus. I sought her out; I knew that something incredibly important had just happened to me, and for some reason, it was right that I tell her first.

Yet I cannot think of the last time that she and I talked. I called her, I think, about six months ago; I wanted to hear about what was going on in her life and she in mine, but the separation in our lives showed itself in the silences, the silly questions.

We knew how to talk to each other, but we had lost our starting point, our frame of reference.

Yet…yet… Look at this weekend—another friend, he who shared none of those experiences she and I had, is the one that I call a couple of times a month. I give him hell over losing at squash—no, better yet, let me be more simplistic and just point out that I know he plays.

He sat in my living room and I did not have to ask for the six-month recap of what had gone on in his life since I'd seen him last. What makes the difference?

"Mind the gap," according to the London Underground—more correctly, how can we forget it? Humanity abhors a vacuum—present an adult with an empty space in their heart and they will automatically look across it to see who stands on the other side. It leads us to think of them, wonder how they're doing, look up their home phone number, dial it halfway, and hang up—because the thought of embarrassedly explaining your motives ("I just wanted to know how you were doing") would do nothing but point out the yawning, empty space between the two of you.

"And nothing mattered, nothing but the moment
Some days made perfect sense, some days never fit
But there was room in my heart for you
Room in my heart for you…"

[jonatha brooke]

It is easy to think of the heart as an organic thing, growing separate from the rest of our bodies—after all, who hasn't experienced the dissociation when your heart thinks it needs something that the rest of you knows, intrinsically, is bad for you?

I tended my plants this morning; foremost on my mind was my ailing thyme plant, closely followed by the peppermint plant that sorely needs a larger pot, and soon.

While tending my garden, I think about many things. This morning I batted around the things I wrote here, and I found myself coming back to the peppermint plant. Invasive, they are—spreading by rhizomes.

It occurred to me that for many years I had perceived my heart and my affections as a zero-sum game: reassessing who was in my life and reassigning care and affection to the people who were currently an active part of my life.

Look instead, I thought, of it as this plant. Feed it, water it, love it, and it expands to fill the container you put it in. Division does not kill it—instead, given more time, love, and nourishment, you will quickly have two robust plants, both the size of the first.

It is infinitely more satisfying than thoughts of a zero-sum game.

It seems I have enough room in my heart for all of the people in my life—both currently active and inactive friendships and loves. Or, at least, I'm trying to make room. I pictured my heart as a quiet, peaceful room, with every new person in my life represented by a box with a name on it. Some were small. Some were large. Open the lids to find memories, images, laughter, quotations. A finite volume of space for the boxes. After a while, some of the dust-covered boxes would be cleaned off and moved away to accommodate new ones with new names.

But now…a clay pot, a plant with deceptively strong stems, a gentle whiff of a familiar scent.

I like this better.