I could tell from the second I saw him that there had been a shift. It was in the way he strode towards me, in the glare in his eyes, in the way his jaw thrust upwards. Nevertheless, knowing we are each filled with emotions which can rise to the surface unannounced, I greeted him in my usual bonhomie manner. When his voice responded, I realised something churned inside his head and when he confronted me with a forgotten and unimportant incident six months old, I understood he'd indeed shifted.
Only a week previously we'd had one of our usual meetings, this time upon a plateau struck by winter winds which froze us both. But, as normally happens when we chat, we exchanged amiable words and ideas, basking in the sunshine of positive communication. Realising he was freezing, I encouraged him homewards.
Then this. Confrontation, aggression, accusation. He is younger, bigger and now tougher than me and his stance showed he knew it. I'm not one to back down when bullied, so I stood my ground, refusing to step back in response to his forward movement. I looked him in the eye, stepped forwards, smiled and stepped sideways saying something complimentary.
It has always worked for me and it threw him. He stuttered slightly, regained his composure, responded to my positivity with a confused muddle of thoughts and strode away.
His changed attitude to me has continued, so I've taken to being polite, evasive, uncaring. For some strange reason, my disinterest in an idea of his many months ago, has emerged to destroy the genial relationship we'd built up over time. He has history of this sort, and that doesn't bother me, for I take him as he is, enjoying his mind when it is positive.
I have two friends - equally talented, one vibrant, amusing, charismatic; the other quiet, confident, self-absorbed. The first promotes himself, loves mixing with people, ought to be successful. The second loves his own company, is no good at self-promotion.
Throw in luck. The first, though he lives and plays his guitar for a week each year in a Sultan's palace, has hardly any money, although he has concerts all over the world. The second, who plays in local pubs and cafes, is now wealthy because, out of the blue, a TV programme used one of his records as it's theme-tune and since then he is regularly top of the sales figures in that country.
Yet, arguably, my first friend has more adventure in his exciting music and ought to be a hit, for he is the rock-star with a classical guitar. Looking at them both, you'd bet he, not my other equally talented friend, would make it.
So there you are, luck at play. I too have not had good luck and this became clear in a business meeting yesterday. A woman who has been an editor at two of the world's most renowned publishing houses looked at my work. She said, "Editors would love you! Not only can you write, you can draw, but more importantly, you are organised, you think outside the box, you have unique ideas all the time, you keep to deadlines, you have so many editing, writing and presentation skills. You could pick up ideas and turn them in to books."
Had I met somebody like her years ago my life would have been utterly different. But now I'm too weak to stand such pressure. There's luck for you.
Our friend, a calm Buddha like woman, was in a flap and had red eyes, a tear rolled down her cheek. "I'm in a fix, could you help me," she gasped.
This was unusual for her and she told us one of our neighbours had scolded her for being an idiot parking where she had. "I was turning round and got stuck in the mud."
"Come, let's sort this out," I said as I went outside to find a stout rope.
We walked to the village common where I drove my van into position and tied a rope between it and her car. The neighbour emerged from her house as soon as I was safely inside my van and she started to berate our friend. I jumped out, walked over and said, "There really is no need to be rude to a visitor to our village."
"I've not been rude!"
"Calling her an idiot is rudeness. She was unaware of these muddy conditions." I walked back to the van without waiting for a reply and our friend climbed into her car. It was easy pulling her out and as we returned to our house, I apologised for speaking to the woman. Our friend said, "I hate confrontations."
"I hope I wasn't being confrontational."
"No, you were politely assertive, but being typically English, I'd rather just walk away from such situations."
"The woman needed to be told off. Anyway, it was really about your car being where her husband likes to park."
"I hope it doesn't cause you any trouble in the village."
"I'm sure it won't and if it does, I don't mind."
ARTY FARTY ME.
A visiting friend looked at work I’ve been doing to kick-start my art and she limited her comments to this new economic project. This is a woman who knows excellent artists, that she said nothing about my creations made me doubt my prospects of artistic revival. The next day, I woke wondering what, if this concept I’m working on isn’t good, I could do to make the money we desperately need.
After my regular 10 minute stepping up and down our incredibly steep garden and an eggy breakfast, I picked up where I’d left off before her visit. It wasn’t easy. The sketches I’ve developed over the past five weeks now looked pathetic, my first brush strokes were weak, being colour sensitive was tough, even my lines were wonky.
“What am I doing?” I asked myself. My friend’s apparent disinterest generated self doubt in bucket-loads and it was hard laying down paint, but I kept on, hoping I could break through.
Giving up simply makes things worse. I picked up a new sheet of paper, started a new sketch. And another. Four useless works later things were starting to look up. A little. So I went back to the first hopeless painting and reworked it, moved to the second lousy one, the third. By the fourth, I was flipping back and forth between the paintings and sketches and it was then that I decided to write this blog.
Writing helps put things in perspective because you have to work out, step by step, what happened and put it down as honestly as possible. It is a process which helps you stand back from emotion, self-doubt in this case, and the inevitable human desire to portray yourself in a good light. I saw that my friend had merely been worried my own plan might not be as viable as I hoped. Nothing more shadowy.
I also recalled her looking at a widely lauded book I wrote and illustrated and that she had made no comment, even though the drawing on the specific page she looked at has been constantly praised. Her non-comment wasn’t anything to do with the quality of my work. She is used to discussing great works-in-progess with great artists, this is how she deals with it. And why should she like my current work? Although I'm trying my best to be true to my artistic instincts, it is designed to make me money. Furthermore, we aren’t friends for this reason, we connect on a much deeper level.
It was all in my head. In his Guardian column, Oliver Burkeman often quotes research which shows most of us are so lost in our own heads the we hardly notice what's happen in another's. I had hoped for praise, I got advice. Shifting my aims a little, I carried on painting.
Being an 'analogue', as she called people like me, I listened to her attentively. That's something she was incapable of doing, her mind flitted from one subject to another and she kept peeping at her phone as she chattered. She was complaining about a syndrome which afflicted her and she was absorbed in her own existence, and the phone's.
She talked in sound-bites. When I pointed this out she laughed, "Twitter makes you think in 140 symbols, so that influences everything you say."
I said this is why people now snap-chat. She laughed, "Brill, I'll use that phrase on Twitter! Thanks."
She was in a hurry, "I'm doing something retro, actually meeting a friend in a cafe. Imagine, how analogue!"
Like talking to me in person, I said. I referred to the old couple who met in the pub and later arranged to go on a cruise together. She laughed, "I use Tinder for that. It's safer, you analyse the person before committing."
Or you assume you know them through the words and images they wish to project. She laughed, "You can tell within seconds of meeting if that's the case."
So why not meet in pubs as the old couple did? She sniggered, "Totally analogue! You don't get the numbers to sift through."
Maybe that's why you are stressed, your mind inhabits your phone, real life, which is where your body resides, is then too unpredictable. Screen life is determined by your intentions and desires, you engage with what you wish to see. In the real world, the unexpected happens continually, which stresses you because you have let go of the skills to deal with this analogue environment.
She screamed, laughter tears streaming down her face, "That, Mr Analogue, is so Retro It might be a funky video to explore!"
Yes, life seen as a game certainly is a constant thrill, but it creates psychological problems such as those you're having. Her face dropped, "I know, but us millennial are all addicted to this digital world."
I suggested she go down the pub or cafe more often. She nodded, "I'll look up Trip Advisor to find a trendy one popular with people my age."
I recalled such a pub, it was filled with people clutching illuminated screens. She laughed, "Perfect. I must dash."