Just a little misunderstanding

The other night I went and sat in a park in the dark because I thought a long night walk would be good for me after a long day.

This week I’ve definitely been more house-bound than usual; I think the end of lockdown is making me feel very anxious. I don’t want to sit 2m apart from a group of friends in the park, I want to hug them. I particularly don’t want to sit 2m apart from a group of friends when it’s clear all the other groups of friends, families etc. are not sitting 2m apart from each other in the slightest.

The stress of being able to touch friends rubs up against the stress of seeing other people touching their loved ones. In public places I frequently feel like the drunken missionary in Zulu – a classic Shakespearean fool – yelling at stoney faces from the back of a stagecoach: “You’re all going to die! Don’t you realise? Can’t you see? You’re all going to die!” Walking at night, usually an experience with its own anxieties, has felt like a more calming option.

In the middle of a wide field, I laid on my back directly under the Plough, the words of two friends playing out in my mind in different intonations. Earlier in the evening, just two or three sentences put to me by two separate friends had begun their soak. Having unsettled me for a few hours, even as I distracted myself with an old favourite podcast episode, I decided I needed to remove my earphones and roll my tongue around the words for myself, taking moments to feel the ground beneath my back and head, the dew on my hands, and trace the big bear in the sky between sentences.

They were just misunderstandings really. Not of the same kind, each big and small in different ways, and I don’t want to talk about them. I took each in turn, unpacking it verbally, examining it from different points of entry, as if adopting different positions in a room around an object. The exercise made me feel a little better, but still disquieted.

I suppose no friendship can ever be without misunderstandings from time to time. It feels perverse, then, that they should always feel so raw, particularly when in most friendships they are such rare occurences, and rarely even that consequential in the great balance of things. And yet. Here I am, lying on my back in the middle of the night in a deserted park, half wondering how long it would take for a passing police car to question my choice of recreation, half asking the universe face-on to help me understand better, or help friends understand better, I don’t know which.

As it happened, later in the week one misunderstanding was dealt with and squared away quite quickly, the other parked for another time. Still, the experience made me think about friendship, and understanding, and what it means to know a person, if anything.

Some of what I’ve written above was written that night in the park. Brain still fried, but having at least satisfied myself I had talked aloud into the darkness for about as long as I was willing to, I wrote it in a message to a new friend and thought about how friendships often seem to emerge from shared understandings rather than shared knowledge of each other.

Call it my outsider complex, but I rarely think anyone knows me very well. It’s a different set of thoughts, but it’s something I’ve observed as long as I can remember. But at any given time I do think my closest friends understand me, which is something quite different. As I think of it, it’s really tempting to draw up a graph – ‘know’ on one axis, ‘understand’ on the other. I do have a small number of friends who know me very well, but it’s striking to me that one who comes to mind hardly understands me at all – the source of a certain strand of hilarity in our years-long relationship. Understanding seems like a very different type of knowledge; it feels like the ability to intuit things about another person beyond what is known, such that when they express new thoughts or stories or facts, you can see how they sit within the weave of a person.

Maybe this is why misunderstandings hurt so much when they concern friends. Something unexpected nicks the fabric of familiarity and suddenly it feels impossible to avoid. Walking home feeling a little lighter, my mind went to The Contours’ northern soul banger ‘Just a Little Misunderstanding’. Although descriptive of a misunderstanding completely different from either of my own, these lines stood out: “Our love, surely can we mend it? / It’s just a little misunderstanding / That’s all it is / We’ve been loving so long / It just seems wrong / That our love could never be”

I might have more thoughts on this, but I don’t actually feel hung up enough to commit any conclusions now. “Better not kick the arse out of it,” as I said through stifled tears of laughter in a ten-minute call with my mum earlier in the week. We’d been reflecting with amusement on the fact that despite the emotional closeness of the triangle we share with my sister, we don’t actually talk very often.

Ah yes, we reflected. Our unbreakable bond. Three people in different cities across two countries who share a sense of humour and the same pet peeves about washing up. “My world 🌍”

What I’ve been watching

Bit of a quieter one this week; I’m painfully aware both Mubi and Netflix have got loads of new stuff (and I’m missing some things I’d wanted to see on the former) but I just haven’t found the time. Still, this weekend it was good to watch one of my all-time favourites Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Paul Greengrass’s Bloody Sunday, which only gets more powerful on repeat viewing. Reviews will be up when I get around to it on my Instagram film blog.

Over on the ‘Tube it’s been a similarly quiet week for me, but the standouts were Kumail Nanjiani giving Men’s Health an insight into his MCU workout regime (he’s a really personable screen presence; The Big Sick was a really lovely find the other year ), Normal People‘s Sally Rooney talking a bit about Marxism, and a horrific but compelling short video of a guy getting a broken nose reset.

I hate reading

I got to finish Empire (#376 Summer 2020) in the park yesterday. A sweet little ‘Comfort Zone’ piece on Planes, Trains and Automobiles encouraged me to put it on, and this edition’s ‘The Ranking’ on films from 1999 made me think about how mind-blowing The Matrix was at the time. As Dan Jolin puts it: “That was one of those movies where you walk out of the cinema afterwards and go, ‘I think I’ve got superpowers!'”

Next up is Sad By Design by Geert Lovink, and I really must get back to Class Power on Zero Hours.

Keeping me company

The 301 Permanently Moved deep-dive continues apace; it’s really such a good project. After a bit of a break from politics chat I did some catching up with the FT Politics and New Stateman podcasts after the Dominic Cummings stuff. As ever, they’re determinedly OK. Much better was Friday’s episode of The Burner, because frankly everything about it is just better – but the closing section on political hope especially.

I was disappointed that Kermode and Mayo were off from Wittertainment this week, and even more disappointed that Edith Bowman was filling in, but Simran Hans had her first outing in Kermode’s place and I thought she did a really good job, so I look forward to hearing more of her. I think she’d make a good B-team pairing with Ben Bailey Smith, so I hope that happens sometime.

I was glad when the new Empire podcast dropped this week, but I couldn’t help feeling Chris Hewitt had lost a little of his verve. He sounded sad, and with Helen O’Hara really having to carry an interview with Eliza Hittman it felt like a bit of a patchy episode. I hope they’re all okay – I think it’s really hard to be a content presenter at the moment, especially when the audience is relying on you to be chirpy.

Finally, I ought to mention the Novara FM episode on nightwalking I took to the park. As I wrote on Facebook at the time:

I think about this episode a lot. I think it’s almost certainly the most unapologetically literary thing we’ve ever done, and for someone as unfamiliar with 18th/19th/whatever century literature it’s a bit of a plunge pool of references, but it’s so so rich and every time I’ve listened to it I’ve taken something new away. I’m as guilty as anyone of being a bit of a philistine about proper art/culture, but I also think it’s important to be really defensive of the notion that there’s really nothing that is ever totally mentally inaccessible to people whatever their level of education.
I know it sounds odd to say this as someone who’s formally gone about as far as you can go in the education system, but I’ve only really gone that far in one really narrow set of things, and I think there’s no shame in admitting what you don’t know yet (and kinda wish more people would be up for doing so). I’m certain my ability to analyse a poem won’t have progressed beyond whatever I could do at school, and has probably slid backwards if anything. But I think if anything that means I get even more joy out of listening to something a bit unfamiliar and challenging – at least about a topic (nightwalking) that I’m interested in – and feel even more rewarded for learning new things rather than only ever listening to things I already know about or agree with and somehow being satisfied with that.
I suppose I’m saying isn’t learning a properly lovely thing? To coin a phrase: death to anti-intellectualism, freedom to the learners! Lol.

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