I came home happy and in good cheer from the birthday dinner of my very good friend and personal style maven Jor-El Espina. While waiting for my meds to kick-in, another new friend, Topher was chatting with me online. I am scheduled to fly to Manila next week to be with him and spend some time bonding.
It got me into a pensive and reflective mood. This friendship thing is really amazing! Jor-El and Topher are contrasts, if length of time is to be the basis.
Jor-El and I have been friends, way back when he was still in College. I may not exactly remember how we became friends, but we have always been friends and I can barely recall us ever even getting into a fight or misunderstanding. It just worked. It has also endured absence and distance. I have always been very very proud of him. He was just a struggling young conceptual jewelry maker, stringing together beads and jeweler wire. When he joined the Robinson's Iloilo Design Lab Competition, he was adjudged 1st Runner Up because his designs were too conceptual and way out there, which is what I loved about him. He has brilliant, brave, bold ideas, and he is very passionate about what he does. The reward for his hard work and dedication is his growing atelier with numerous clients, and his being recognized by the fashion industry, being featured in glossy magazines and being named as one of the top young designers of the country. I have watched him rise to where he is right now and I have always been proud and will always believe in him. Our friendship has this quaint quality. We do have a lot of common friends within our circles, but we have always yearned for 'our' time. I would visit his shop, we would grab coffee or Batchoy or Halohalo at the nearby wet market. No matter how many of our circles meld, we always make it a point to be with just him and me.
On the other hand, Topher is a relatively new friend. We are members of this online group and I first noticed him when he lauded a comment I gave on a certain thread in that group. He then added me on Facebook but never really picked up and connected from there, not until I discovered that he sings and sings well, so I requested him to sing a favorite song, which he obliged. We then agreed to meet one time I went to Manila, and from there, formed this amazing bond that I do not understand. It's just so light and so right! Very natural and fuss free! We just clicked! Just like that, and now he calls me his BFF, much to the jealousy of some of his long time friends, and mine too. I cannot really explain how it happened. It just did!
Jor-El and I has this recurring conversation about the quest for artistic integrity and how to harmonize it with the demands of the industry. We are both fans of each other's works - his designs and my writing. Of course we do talk about the little things - such as the detractors and the scums of this planet. And it is so much fun!We inspire each other and drive each other towards artistic excellence and achievements. We celebrate each other's successes. There is nothing sweeter for me than seeing a friend succeed and reach for his dreams, and see him do it!
Topher and I share talks about his passion for singing. I cheer him on as he has decided to embark on the very difficult decision of giving up his stable corporate job to follow his dreams of being a singer and performer. We are both fans of each other's craft - his singing, my poetry and acting. Of course we also gossip about, well, personalities we both know in the community and of course, flings, flames, and exes, and yes it is so much fun! He adores my humor and wit. I adore his bumbling openness. It is very refreshing.
THE COMMODIFICATION OF FRIENDSHIP
During dinner, Jor-El's effervescent Mom was talking to me. I adore her! When I came in, she wanted me to be seated beside her (which by the way killed off a potential flirtation with one hot guest who kept checking me out, but what the heck) and she engaged me in talks. She talked about Jor-El and the friends who came, some she did not know, some she knew for a long time and how she said I shouldn't call her Tita, but that I should call her 'Mama'! It warmed my heart and I genuinely adored her! She said that she felt my friendship with Jor-El, as she thinks it is genuine. It made me proud. She remarked that some friends come only when you are already successful, and on top. And the more success you gain, the more 'friends' you attract.
It lead me to ask myself how these friendships work. Of course I have had other friendships worth years that did not withstand the tests of adversities, some, intense as they were, but forgotten, set-aside, non-active and even ended. I had my share of cutting loose some long standing friendships that were no longer working and are more of a liability than an asset. It got me thinking how these friendships I still keep could work, with not much presence and not much effort on both our sides. I have a very busy life and I keep many circles. Sometimes I am amazed and jealous of those 'groupies' who are forever within each other's reach. I do not have that. I have circles yes, but I do not have a permanent fixed group so to speak so I wonder how the many friendships I have could work and exist, and how some could just wither and die off.
Whether we admit it or not, somehow, there is this 'commodification' of friendships nowadays. How we keep friends for the benefits they have in our lives and what is in it for us. Jor-El has made me a number of outfits, and yes, will make more for me. He has never asked me to pay for any one of them! NOT ONE! And if I would insist to pay, he would be hurt and insulted, I know that! I understand how the atelier is a business, and that he has bills to pay, materials to buy, workers to give wages to and all that, but he just refuses for me to pay him! He just tells me to treat him for lunch - or dinner- or coffee. I do not know. He is just like that with me! It has never been a question and money has never figured in our friendship.
Topher on the other hand is hosting me in Manila next week. He wants me to stay at their house and his Mom is thrilled to be meeting me, making him clean his room and making sure I have beddings and comfort and all that jazz. They are not exactly well to do but the hospitality is just overwhelming, and he is even picking me up from the airport! He is also looking forward to my staying with him when I relocate soon.
It got me thinking - do we keep our friendships based on the 'utilitarian' purposes of such? Even if we do not admit it to ourselves, do we value friendships because of the 'junkets' that they could provide for us? Have we commodified friendships, and those that pleases us are those that can 'do something' for us. It certainly feels good if a friendship benefits us not just in psychological presence and support, but also the 'worldly material' support and favors we get from them. Admit it or not, a free meal is a free meal. A free outfit is a free outfit and free board and lodging is free board and lodging. When we make friends, will the value of the friendship be a consideration? Do we value those friends who can 'do more' for us than those that would 'require more' from us? Scary questions, but valid ones, I should say. And this is what I asked myself tonight.
VALUE BEYOND VALUE
I am just proud that my answers, after careful thought, honest soul searching and reflection is in the negative. While it is true that a junket is a junket and it does make us feel good and add value to us in convenience, I could safely say that it is not me to be that.
Jor-El has been a friend even before he could be 'valuable'. The outfits he makes for me are made with my tastes and personality in mind. I could buy myself a good outfit for special occasions that call for it, and yes I do have an existing wardrobe. He just wants to do it because he wants to, and validate our friendship. He has been a friend even before he could do anything for me.
Topher has been a friend even before he offered his house for me to stay at in Manila. I could afford to pay for a budget hotel, and yes I have done that. In fact, I would be sacrificing my own 'comfort zones' by staying with him. He just wanted to spend more time with me on this trip, because we would only see each other for a number of hours for coffee if I stay in a hotel, He wants more time with me and having a spare room just happens to be a convenience.
So's with my other friends! They just happen to be doing something that I happen to be in need of at one time or the other - it just happens that they draw, and I am looking for sketches for my book; they just happen to be photoartists and I am a vainglorious GGSS feeling model; they just happen to be working somewhere with a gallery when I wanted to mount an ambitious poetry exhibit; they just happen to own a restaurant when I want to celebrate a birthday or a whimsical poetry reading event; they just happen to be driving a car when I needed a lift or to transport certain things; they just happen to work in Boracay and I need a break and I love the beach; they just happen to be in Davao and I want to go to Samal Island; they just happen to love coffee as much as I do; they just happen to harp on the same things that I do; they just happen to - all incidentals, but not the point of the friendship at all!
It's just that I am a writer when they happen to need a story line concept for their collection; I just happen to write and train for speeches when their siblings need it in school; I just happen to be giving poetry workshops when they need an activity for children in school; I just happen to be good in grammar when they need their theses to be proofread; I just happen to know some people they need for this and that - INCIDENTAL!
This friendship thing - it's amazing! It's a lot like falling in love, but even better. It's like family, but not by accident or pre-ordination but by choice. Explain as I may, I would never be able to fully understand how this one works and that one does not. It's a lot like magic.
I am just happy that I have been blessed by real people and real friendships - because really, you just cannot tell! There is no way of knowing when a friendship happens to be a masked deceitful thing that only seeks to glorify one party and use you in more ways than one. There is no protecting yourself as there is no hard-fast rule written to base and judge a friendship by. You just have to wing it! I am lucky to have friends whom I can count on through thick and thin, and well - thickest and thinnest! And yes I am very lucky to still attract more friendships that will be true to me, time notwithstanding.
I am lucky and blessed to have Jor-El and Topher - and many other wonderful, beautiful friends!
I am lucky and blessed with my friends - and doubly lucky and blessed knowing that they too, feel the same way about me!