Who we keep in our orbits

I fall out of touch with the people I care about.

Without sustained effort and energy, without the two it takes to tango, without mindful attention or being present, I trend toward knowing less about the people I once knew a lot about.

Facebook (when I was on it) and Instagram are a crutch. They aren’t peepholes that grant us unlimited access (unless you ARE Facebook…) to friends and former flames, co-workers and castmates of high school productions of Fiddler on the Roof. I still need people to share what they’re working on, who they’re with, and what they’re thinking, because if they don’t… I have to ask them myself. That takes time, of course, and as I move on from broader friendships and relationships to deeper and more sustained ones, I invest my time in those, while hoping that the orbit of social media keeps me just in-the-know enough of the friends from past lives. I know less about more people, and more about my people.

Then news comes from the outer reaches of my galaxy, about the people I used to share my world with but who are now in that more distant orbit. Good news and bad, professional and personal, insignificant and life-changing, I pay attention again to that comet streaking across the sky like it does every few years.

A few years ago, I was reading the Talk of the Town section of The New Yorker, and I saw my old roommate Mark’s name in connection with a movie about to be released, and I was so happy. That I could feel happy at that point is a far cry from the emotions I used to harbor, of how jealous I used to be. He was (and, clearly, still is!) a writer, like I wanted to be at that time, of film and TV. While I struggled in the bowels of a daytime television beast, clipping magazines and eating Pretzel Crisps and writing spec Modern Family scripts at Barnes & Noble for hours while waiting for the traffic to die down, he got to stay at home, already having sold scripts and setting himself up toward a career. Then, I’d get home and find him playing board games with my other roommates, and I, tuckered from work and writing and driving, was none-too-pleasant to deal with, turning down invites to join them with exasperation and slammed doors.

I recognize now my immaturity.

What I couldn’t see was the work he was putting in. What I didn’t know were the sacrifices he’d made before I’d met him. What I didn’t realize was that his success didn’t come at the expense of my own. We weren’t mutually exclusive. And yet, I was jealous of what he had, and that jealousy was made all the easier by not understanding anything of his journey.

As I grew to know him, I began to see how hard it was to understand someone else’s journey from the outside. For a creative career, I had my own metrics, my own efforts, my own goal posts. At the time, I compared his successes with my progress, but that is a fool’s errand. Would a marathon runner compare their training runs with a professional’s best race time?

(No, at least, not without spiraling into a depression of donuts and hate-following the Coconino Cowboys.)

Likewise, how do I take in the other journeys friends go on, be they educational, romantic, professional, or otherwise? When the news flashes across the sky of their new degrees, paramours, and accomplishments, how do I receive it?

To me, the facts come first with a reaction. Here are some of my most recent exclamations:

  • He has a wife? (But… what about his ex-girlfriend from last year?)
  • They have a house? (Well, I just hung up a poster in my apartment!)
  • She sold a show? (I sold a TV on which one can watch shows!)
  • They had a second kid? (The only buns in ovens connected with me are actually biscuits.)

I was surprised by each of the facts, but as I sat with them, and compared my own kid-less, show-less, house-less life to theirs, I wondered what emotions would bubble up. And as they did, I asked myself the following questions:

  • Do I even really know him, apart from his ex? (No, so who am I to say he moved on too quickly.)
  • Did I know they were saving for a house? (No, but they’re two professional people, so why wouldn’t they?)
  • That she was writing non-stop, pitching even more, and got a new agent? (Yes!)
  • They’re married with a kid already, and hadn’t they talked about another? (Oh. Right. That’s how families work.)

In thinking about my personal distance to each of these facts, and perhaps how little bearing their news had on my life, I found myself happy for all of them.

I wonder about how to share moments and progress from my own life, things that may be personal but still have outside interest and impact. Some of the news I’ve shared recently has been universally well-received. Other news has not been. The impact of the latter seems to be more of a function of where in their orbit I fall, rather than the news itself, and I catch myself questioning how to move forward. Is it better to have shared, and in doing so been open? Is not sharing, at least in some sense, lying by omission?

I don’t have an answer, really (do I ever in these letters?), just a belief that we all keep going, despite who or what you are mindful of in your own galaxy. Planets keep spinning. Comets keep orbiting. The universe keeps expanding. Whether you chart their paths regularly and understand something eventful is about to happen, or only react when everyone else says “Eclipse!”, we all keep going.

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