A poet friend sometimes sends the slightest of messages, a single word.
And I’ll offer one back.
Weeks later, repeat.
Sometimes our call-and-response is more than a hand’s worth.
distillery, usher, lucent, tamarisk tree, spume, eel
peen, hasp, smudge, aglet, philtrum, nape
Sometimes my one word elicits a list.
compadre companion tandem resonance
amity abacus dolmathes avgolemono
I would call this my quietest perpetually present friendship. She and I go months without speaking, weeks without writing, but somehow a quiet presence abides. These wee word-lists are one of our bonds, a form of play I share with no one else.
Now that I think about it, there’s so much that is playful. First, to send just a word. It says both “I am thinking about this word” and “I am thinking about you.” It is, like the simplest definition of play, purely for enjoyment rather than toward a purpose. It expects nothing back, but it hopes. It wonders, “What will you make of this?” And the recipient responds — with surprise, with pleasure in receiving such an odd message, with gladness for the gift, and with reciprocity.
What word shall I give? The one most on my mind at the moment? Something alliterative? Same part of speech? Same degree of unusualness?
Sometimes these words make it into sentences and poems and paragraphs. But we rarely send those. Our exchanges feel a little like the times we’ve spent sitting in a tea shop or a living room together, reading, writing, working, mostly in companionable silence, grateful for each other’s presence.
If we analyzed all of our exchanges, we could probably discern some complex, unwritten but tacitly agreed-on rules and make it a game. That would squeeze the life out of it. It’s different every time (number of words, time of day, length of exchanges, whether it grows into conversation or is its own poetic sandwich embreaded by silence). Yet it’s the same (sort of like tossing a ball back and forth, if the ball were a large and unbreaking soap bubble, transparent, barely visible, moving at wobbly breath-speed rather than hand-toss velocity, pausing, hovering, waiting to be breath-blown back).
They come in texts, in private messages, on postcards (tautologous, pullulate, cantata). They give peeks into a mind at work and play, always wondering.
I’d guess there’s an element of play in all enduring friendships. In some of my friendships we send each other photos or links and sometimes gifts related to a shared enthusiasm (ALDI bargains, parades, chickens in the news). In others, playful teasing and shared jokes bind us and weave the fabric of our friendship stronger.
Perhaps this play is one of the things that determine whether an acquaintanceship will cross the invisible boundary into solid, for-keeps friendship. We don’t plan it or force it. It just happens. And even if the form of play is similar in some friendships, the texture of each is as distinct as a fingerprint.
To Discuss With Friends (Or Use in Personal Journaling)
1. What common elements of play do you see in your friendships? Is there a way you tend to be playful in friendship?
2. Think of specific enduring friendships and the elements that hold each one together. What playfulness is involved? Do you remember how this just-the-two-of-you play began or evolved?
3. What words, common phrases, shared jokes do you and a friend share?
4. How do you keep in playful contact with friends you might see only once a year or less?
5. Is silence a steadying or structural element in a friendship? How so?
If you choose to write about any of the above, feel free to come back and share a link to what you’ve written. If you don’t have an online writing space, then drop in an excerpt for our community to enjoy.
Photo by 白士 李, Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Laura Brown.
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