There are many different kinds of friendships one makes in life, not the least of which is the kind made with the authors of our favorite books, though we may never meet them or exchange a word with them. As Wentworth Dillon, the Earl of Roscommon said, “Choose an author as you choose a friend.” One might equally well reverse the equation and say, “Choose a friend as you choose an author.” Then, there’s the more remote, hail-fellow-well-met kind of human friendship and goodwill which Sam Walter Foss had in mind when he said “Let me live in my house by the side of the road and be a friend to man.” And there’s a connection between these two ideas, if you’ll grant me the time to expound upon it.
Perhaps, however, the most significant idea which I want to put before you today is that from Anaïs Nin’s Diary, in which she says (as I quoted in the title of my post), “Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” Each friend we meet is thus an opportunity to extend ourselves further into the human equation (if I may use so dry and mathematical a figure for so “moist” and fulsome a reality). Whether we are meeting a friend of the mind through a book or a friend of the heart in a café or private home, or whether our friend is the result of some combination of an intellectual and emotional friendship, we are witnessing and participating in the birth of a new world, and this new world causes us to grow and develop human characteristics that were perhaps formerly shut off from us, as we had never encountered the need or the use for them in ourselves or others.
In essence, we become a new person in relation to our new friend. A new human quadrant or area, the area of the Venn diagram formed by the overlapping of the two circles (us and our friend) now exists in the world, and it is, one hopes, for the enriching of the overall human being, that being spoken of in the quote which above mentions being “a friend to man,” in the general category of humankind. For, as the interior growth we experience causes us to be able to understand other people better, so it is that “tout comprendre, tout pardonner,” as the French say, or “to understand all is to forgive all.” Though possibly forgiving “all” is a bit much to imagine, the sentence is generous and tolerant and conveys quite adequately the sense of latitude it’s meant to. And it is through our understanding of our own dilemmas that we come to understand those of our fellows and vice versa. That is, often in looking for the solution to a personal conundrum, we can find illumination in the situation of a friend and how he or she has handled something, just as surely as if we had received advice from them given from the heart.
Those of you, both friends and acquaintances, who have been following my column for some time and have been wondering just what this possibly preachy or in some other manner showy little disquisition on another aspect of friendship has to do with creative writing will now get your answer: for it is one of the main ways we create characters, through the employment of our pictures of ourselves and others, that shows that we have a true connection with the human equation, as I previously called it, always assuming that we have created well and truly. That is that we imagine: we imagine beings, sometimes partially like ourselves, sometimes partially like our friends, to inhabit our worlds. Even our villains must be drawn from this pool in order not to be just stock “flat” figures, but to have body and life. We must be able to imagine their internal struggles too, just as we do those of the more positive characters. So now, we have come full circle in our examination of this view of friendship, back to the point where I started, selecting books as we do friends: for even our favorite authors supply us with models we can use for our characters, to be followed in a rough way, not slavishly, an idea I’m sure you will find a truism entirely, since so many famous writers have commented upon the influences on and sources of their works. Make sure that you too select both your friends and your favorite writers by a revised sort of Golden Rule: as you would want them to select you: because they sincerely admire/respect/want to imitate well your being with their own. My preachment is over, and for those of you who may be pondering what brought it on this time, it is the effect of reading about a serious quarrel between two fiction writers in a letter written by another (memoir) writer, and wondering how they all came to be friends in the first place. And no, I won’t tell who it is, chances are you’ve not heard of them, and I’m feeling foolish now that I have! But there may be a day when I have to create some rather silly villains, and I’m saving up a non-specific, very generalized, and non-libelous set of characters, and you can guess whom they’re based upon.