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Hostile Platitudes

March 15, 2013

It is the ides of March. It’s been a year since the former friend I now call “the ghost of Facebook Past” (for the way I can’t see what she is saying in conversations with our mutual friends there) did her inexplicable vanishing act and our basement flooded. Digging up the front yard is scheduled to begin again later this month (after the small flood of January caused by the freezing of the pipe from the pump installed last March). I’m still tamping down the grave on the friendship.

I make our mutual friends uncomfortable when I mention what I’m still doing to try to deal with the loss, so I try to keep quiet. In return, they do me the courtesy of not repeating many of the platitudes they might find appropriate to the situation:
“It’s in the past.”
“Don’t dwell on it.”
“Own it and move on.”
“Time heals all wounds.”
“Just let it slide off your back.”
“You just need to get over it.”

I repeat my own platitudes. The first line of Stanley Plumly’s Sonnet:
“Whatever it is, however it comes, it takes time.”
Part of “I Have News For You” by Tony Hoagland:
“There are some people…
who do not yearn after love or fame or quantities of money as
unattainable as that moon;
Thus, they do not later
have to waste more time
defaming the object of their former ardor.”
Two lines from Philip Larkin’s “Poetry of Departures”:
“He chucked up everything
And just cleared off.”
The line from Dorianne Laux’s “Antilamentation”:
“You’ve traveled this far on the back of every mistake.”
The part of Richard Siken’s “Litany in Which Certain Things Are Crossed Out” where the speaker says “I’m sorry/it’s such a lousy story.”
Even the introduction to Mika’s song “Grace Kelly” (which a reader of this blog informs me is from the 1954 movie “Country Girl” starring Grace Kelly): “The last time we talked, Mr. Smith, you reduced me to tears. I promise you that won’t happen again.”
And now, a poem by Natalie Shapero:

Hostile Platitudes

The walk-through model of the working heart
will scare you—stay away. It is most honest

to speak in truisms if you also think
in truisms, though if you dream in them,

to speak becomes dishonest once again.
Because a stranger drinking and watching you sing

will likely pity you, it is wise to request
a karaoke number full of sex

and kick. A heartsick plaint: a sorry scene.
If I’ve learned anything, I must be certain

nobody cares for folk tales. All they like
are hostile platitudes. Nobody wants

a history lesson, especially not now.
In ancient Rome, a prisoner brought to death

could be released if he met a vestal virgin
en route to execution. Had to be

by chance. The guys get hot for anyone
who shows up like she didn’t plan to come.

It doesn’t make it better to know that what happened might have been by chance, that we had both been recently hit by loss, that someone said something that was misinterpreted, that the Ides of March really were unlucky. Nothing makes it better. In this way, our mutual friends’ refusal to talk about it is absolutely right. As the speaker of Shapero’s poem says “If I’ve learned anything, I must be certain/nobody cares for folk tales.”

Looking back, I see that five years ago, before this long, strange trip even started, I said:
“These days, it seems we want all uncomfortable truths brought out into the light, in the belief that this will resolve their uncomfortableness. What we want is the ending of the Simpsons cartoon ‘A Streetcar Named Marge,’ where at the end of their musical version of Streetcar (when Blanche is led off by the doctor from the state mental institution murmuring ‘I have always depended on the kindness of strangers’), all the Simpsons characters sing ‘A stranger’s just a friend you haven’t met!’”
Now that I have seen a friend will herself into a stranger, the extent to which Blanche takes her longing for transformative magic is more explicable and scarier, and my former friend’s comments on my old posts have become hostile platitudes.

I am left with what we sometimes call a “black hole of a joke” in my family, something said out loud that’s so not funny it leaves everyone silent for a few minutes. It’s the ironic resonance of the joke Eleanor made on December 30, 2010 when we had just met my “imaginary friends” (which is what I call people I know only over the internets) and she said “you know, I could see them, too.” Well, all but one.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. March 15, 2013 5:24 pm

    I’ve considered sending you a sympathy card. Partly in jest, yes, but also in seriousness. You suffered a loss and you still feel it. Who cares what the rest of the world thinks, it’s your loss and you feel it.

    • March 16, 2013 8:57 am

      Of course, it is most honest to speak in Hallmark if you think in Hallmark… Seriously, I’ve marked the occasion and am now resolved to appreciate all my other imaginary friends. Sometimes I think of you and me like Frodo and Farmer Maggott, who met when Frodo was young and didn’t become friends, but then found how much they liked each other when
      Frodo and the rest of his friends were old enough to have adult conversations.

  2. Jo Walton permalink
    March 15, 2013 9:22 pm

    _Imaginary Internet Friends_

    They are the voices
    in your head
    voices saying:
    “I loved that book too!” and
    “You think up great quizzes,” and
    “Autumn is coming to Melbourne.”

    They are hands
    at distant keyboards,
    hands busy typing:
    “There’s going to be a sequel,” and
    “I don’t know anyone else who reads her!” and
    “Sometimes it’s hard going on.”

    They are words
    reaching through the screen
    inscribed in glowing pixels:
    “Thank you for posting,” and
    “I hear what you’re saying,” and
    “I feel like that too!”

    When a voice becomes silence,
    of death or of shunning,
    lacunae leave echoes
    “I reached out, but nothing” and
    “The gulf spreading open,” and
    “You’re gone. I still miss you.”

    Jo Walton
    (For Jeanne Griggs, the Non-Necromancer, 15th March 2013)

    • March 16, 2013 9:03 am

      I especially love the voices that say “I loved that book too!” and “there’s going to be a sequel!” and “I feel like that too.” Your last stanza also shows that you feel like that too.
      Thanks for being an imaginary friend.

  3. March 16, 2013 1:32 am

    Your post touches me deeply. I am so sorry that you lost a friend, and that you aren’t able to get the space to grieve for it with other people. the ones who would normally hold your hand, are stuck in the middle. I’ve been through something similar, including the mutual friend who doesn’t say anything ever, for 10 years now, about it. It’s so awkward, and it’s caused a break for us too. I hope some of your mutual friends find their way to being able to let you talk about it.

    I really like the poem Jo Walton wrote for you! Especially the last line.

    • March 16, 2013 9:13 am

      Thanks for being the kind of imaginary friend who says “I feel like that, too!”
      I love Jo Walton’s poem because it’s about how we feel when we talk to the internet and no one answers, and I love Natalie Shapero’s poem because it’s about choosing to sing a less personal number when we know people are listening– at least less personal in terms of what is over and done with.

  4. March 19, 2013 11:06 am

    Do you think its easier to lose touch now we’re all told how connected we are all the time? I seem to spend so much time becoming unconnected in order to be somehow healthier and can end up maybe feeling that because I could talk to someone its the same as actually talking to someone…if that makes sense.

    On track, I’m sorry you lost a friend. It’s a hard time when someone won’t talk to you and you really want them to.

    • March 20, 2013 8:16 am

      Yes, my other friends who started out “imaginary” and I talked a lot about the ways we think we know each other when this happened, and I think there was some feeling that the way this person presents herself online doesn’t match the way the people who have met her in real life know her to be.

      I’m so over wanting her to talk to me anymore. What still bothers me, though, are the missing bits of conversation on FB and the disconnect in the comments on the blogs we both still read.

  5. March 21, 2013 9:02 am

    I love Jo’s poem! {{hugs}} Ya know, I often wonder if I come across online a ton more nice than I really am. I know I attempt to present my best self and edit well. Or do I? duntDUNTdunt duh…
    I think you are pretty darn cool. 🙂

    • March 21, 2013 9:14 am

      It is easier to edit the way one comes across online. Even your name is an attempt to come across nice, isn’t it, Care? And you definitely do. You are the one I chose to write a letter to about that whole upset when it first happened.

      A while ago, I was reading at 3rsblog about a Myers-Briggs type analyzer for blogs, and I ran NNP through it, discovering that the blog comes out on the side of “feeling” whereas I myself, when I take those tests, always come out on the side of “thinking.” Interesting, isn’t it?

  6. Jenny permalink
    March 26, 2013 11:38 am

    You must already know it, but your stash of poems on the subject reminds me of Alden Nowlan’s “He Attempts To Love His Neighbors.”

    So sorry about this.


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