Making Friends The Hard Way

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Gill has been feeling rather lonely since she moved to Bristol. Oh, she’s made friends with her work colleagues and quite likes them, but she has yet to find the offbeat, weird types that appeal to her own offbeat, weird personality (her evaluation, not mine, although…)

She has, until recently, relied on her old cadre of friends from London. She ‘imports’ them to visit her in Bristol or invites herself to theirs in London of a weekend. But even she realized the need to branch out and find new people. The first logical step was to go to a meeting of fellow struggling writers. Now, she’s tried this trick before and it never ends well. They may see themselves as brilliant writers, on the cusp of discovery, fame and fortune, but let’s be honest…there is a reason they are undiscovered. This particular group consisted of young male nerds, science fiction geeks all the way. She was raised in an entire city filled with such people. This is just Tuesday around here…and as such, boring.

When Gill was young, she struggled with shyness. I tried to encourage her to be outgoing, go up to other students in school and introduce herself.(If you did this in today’s schoolyards, you might be knifed, bullied or ridiculed online using the obscene picture the kid just took on his Blackberry). But  she did manage to find several good friends — some of whom are still friends to this day. But it’s not something she does naturally or easily…she hates change, new situations and new people.

I wracked my brain back then to think of groups she could join to find friends: girl guides, sports teams (soccer and swimming), piano lessons. I suspect I may have been trying to relive my childhood attempts to make friends that way. It was an abysmal failure for me as it was for Gill. We are not joiners. But one way to combat the shyness, the loneliness, is to stand out from the crowd, draw attention to yourself, make people laugh. And so Gill was something of a class clown…which explains a lot about her current behavior. You may think she’s timid and withdrawn — until she starts telling stories or acting out funny things that have happened to her. Then, all of a sudden, she’s Robin Williams doing standup.

It stands to reason that, with this sort of ‘different drummer’ personality, she’ll attract a different breed of people who want to be friends. Her current best friend in Britain is ‘The Artist’, a former colleague who flounces around the city in Victorian clothes, affecting the attitudes of that time. He has, as I understand it, attacks of The Vapours upon occasion. He is a brilliant sculptor, graphic designer and painter and is the perfect foil to Gill’s boisterous, loud, sarcastic self. He sounds wonderful and I must meet him sometime. He was actually in Australia when I was there, so I gawked at every VW hippie van left over from the 60s in hopes that it was him. Sadly, no sighting. She has another good friend who does upholstery for a living and joins groups like the Gravediggers society, claiming that their parties are the best ever! And then we have the expert violin maker who lives in the country with his lovely Japanese wife and killer Jack Russell dog — that would be the one always dripping with blood from a fresh pheasant kill.

So Gill’s latest attempt to meet people is a storytelling group that she has agreed to help organize. And tonight she gets to stand in front of a mic and tell her funniest story — the story of Newton (her parakeet) and his battle with the chipmunk — the one that left his foot paralyzed. It’s perfect since it will include, no doubt, a jab at me. Newton was in my care at the time and so proves her point about my ‘unusual’ parenting style. It also gives her an opportunity to discuss gay, interspecies avian relationships (always a party favourite), and it embellishes her already widespread reputation as being ‘The Crazy Bird Lady’…oh, wait a minute, that’s me! Well, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

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