Last night I got a call from an old friend. My friend Matt Boyer.
As I mentioned in the chapter of this blog entitled Could Be A Whiskey Bottle, But Isn't, Matt has been a friend of mine since fifth grade. It's not uncommon for me (though I forgot this year) to call his parents on Father's or Mother's Day. They were there for nearly as long as I've been around, and are remarkably level headed people given the stresses of all of our lives.
Well, they surely brought my buddy Matt into the world with more than his instincts intact. He remains a talented musician (who can actually perform in the real world without being laughed at, to some extent, unlike me.) And he's a lot of surprising great things. When we were kids I'd be awed at how he could kind of crack the room up with a kind of blond flash of winning humor that every last kid in the world would like (that remains in him, in spades.)
Like everybody, the darkness and sucking sound of innocence over a drain, got to him later on, and far less recklessly than me, but none the less unmistakably the happy kid felt real hunger for the first time in his life. And what else is a real man hungry for than all the forms of the knowledge of good and evil? Matt (and this is crucial for what I see in the man, my friendship with him aside) navigated the dangerous territory of good and evil as if he had a crystal ball. And showed his parents love in the decisions he made. He did a lot of surprising things (many of them deliciously adventurous) but always with his self at the apex of the experience and never submitting to anything he didn't believe in. Never.
This is a rather rare quality in people from what I can tell. Most of us will prostitute ourselves at various levels based upon the people we are eager to manipulate. If the person we're manipulating is someone we regard as "important" then we don't even regard selling ourselves off as a sacrifice. Just the ritual we natives do, for the higher purpose of being considered important ourselves. A pretty cynical way to regard playing well with others, I know, but while thirty-five years is too young to die, it's too long to fail to see a bunch of kids get "All Grown Up." In the Elvis Costello sense.
"And you don't care anymore
And you hate all the people
You used to adore.
You despise all the rumors and lies
Of the life you had before,"
Matt's seen a little more of the truth of things than we are meant to. Just refer to the statistics on depression and you'll get a grasp of how effective our desire to keep it real is at keeping an unrealistic dream (like happiness) a permanent feature of the innocent world we're too cool to return to.
Funny thing about him is that he recognizes the darting beauty of happiness and beauty all the same. There is a yearning about him and the art of his life that is hard sometimes to see for what it is. A kind of unflappable and very calm realization of what's important in life. A rather difficult man to con in that sense. He was always pretty good at calling me out on my rather heavy burden of bullshit. And you'll never guess what happened when he did it. I felt lighter, 'cus I put it down.
You see people all the time in the world who are wrinkled and rough hewn, but who's eyes scan the thousand yards they see too quickly to take your own off of them. You want to ask them, "How did you earn that quality of seeing, of looking?" Dying people, and the infirm, yet still ok in the head have this directness. I see people all the time, in fact feel blindsided by them more often than I wish, who have a whirling machination of a life, and their eyes look far, far, off to some strange place (probably the next item on their list.) I'm not making fun of them, life is long, hard and complicated for folks who don't just up and die. For the lucky ones who got enough that they can get up out of the dirt and work and push themselves. Oliver Morton wrote in his unbelievably thoughtful book Eating The Sun about the set of "values" scientists work toward, and how it would probably be more appropriate to remember that even scientists working on Cancer or Global Warming or Stem Cell Research could more reliably be imagined to be satisfying their desires than following a virtuous path. He even wrote that many of them are almost certainly hiding in their labs from the world. I think he was talking about scientists, but really describing all of us.
When I describe these whirling dervish people like I described above (machinations...) what I leave out is just about everything. I see them in public and very probably doing something they don't care much about (like getting a cup of coffee, or getting ready to go to work if I am in their house.) Their work, if they are lucky (and this is the basic injustice of the entry level service worker. Their soul is right there, next to their blue apron.) beckons them to a heavy couple hours in the Zone, where they can exhaust themselves on questions that they may not have an answer to every day, but that certainly have an answer and one that deliciously has nothing to do them. You know what I mean? There are people, of course, who love work that they consider to have everything to do with them (entrepreneurs for example. But the people I am talking about should NOT be such a thing, I'm guessing.)
What's this got to do with Matt? Most of us would kill to know the future, about ourselves or anyone really. But what I've seen of Matt's life, his character, his friendship, his treatment of his parents, and his raw synthesis as a creative person and technician is simple: they are prescriptions for stable, resilient, meaningful, and rich happiness. None of us know these things about ourselves of course, but who among us doesn't know one person (usually a woman, at least if your me, a man. Even so, I think usually a woman,) who carries themselves with a certain degree of authority? The phrases associated with this sort of person are things like self esteem, or poise, or confidence, but probably no better phrase than self possession.
Now, I am many things, maybe even many wonderful things, but I am most definitely not self possessed. People think I am sometimes since they see me sawing away at the branch I'm standing on and they can't help but swear to themselves, "He's nothing if not committed." Yeah, that's for sure.
The only way I managed to avoid complete oblivion of my person was by near constant self endangerment. This is arm chair psychology (or even Lazy Boy...) at its most earnest, but seriously, I know people and have friends who are self possessed. It's sad, because even though they are sheer magic (not in every category, of course, but on the subject of themselves....) life has no fucking taste. So it dispenses with the good, and the bad, and the ugly, at more or less the same rate. Fools know why people suffer, then fail. Which is good since someone would be taking care of them, if they didn't have their soft and fluffy certitude. Then again slugs of certitude usually have some sort of entourage. Like I said, life has no fucking taste.
Matt is self possessed. Perhaps he knows this. Charming people usually don't, which, one supposes, is why they charm in the first place. And thank God for that.
I've read books by the sort of people who spend all their time working with the clinically depressed, and due to such exposure (especially to so called bi-polar individuals) have come to regard all forms of behavior seeking appreciation, or love, or being charming, as strongly indicative of not so good pathology. I think that stacks up. From what I know about myself.
Though I am not so sure my friends and lovers over the years who have asked me more times than I can count, "Why do you care about me?" would appreciate learning that my illness made me do it. I'm rather comfortable that my melancholy that I have suffered from at times is an important part of my life (and yeah, I know a lot of crazy people think their illness is inseparable from who they "really are". I am not crazy, I just act that way.) I certainly was preening and fairly desperate for attention as a kid, and that hasn't changed a great deal, though I love being lied to to the contrary. And I always will.
My point is that Matt has seen in me some of the gifts of my melancholy. He's pretty much always regarded me as an extremely worthwhile if not crucial part of his life. And how do I know this? He told me. Many times. In fact, he just told me last night.
I'm not going to repeat our conversation, since I regard it as very near to sacred, but when we talk, we both know what the other needs to hear, which is a little like needing to be listened to, and hearing someone say what you don't know how to say. Kind of astonishing.
Whenever I have been tempted to think there is something terribly wrong with actually feeling life for better, or for worse, I just think of Matt, who admires such a life tremendously, and again enter the circle of grace that it is to know him.
I was talking to my sister Mary last summer. Mary is a fairly straight shooter, compared to me. Not boring at all, but I mean she has very deep feelings and longings that arise from an innate moral center. So whenever we are together and teasing one another, a least a portion of our laughter and the whetstone of our cut ups usually comes around to my rather tricky make up over the years. Which is another way of saying I have lied a lot in my life. I'm sure my sister has lied, but she's always been more hesitant to do it then me, and in any case, stopped, more or less, after she got tired of getting caught (as a youngster.) I was an extremely late bloomer as regards that. Sometimes, I am a bit sensitive about being analyzed by my entire family, as regards my past, for obvious reasons. But when it's one on one, I feel like I can hold my own. At some point in the conversation I think I said something like, "For a few years in my late teens I just didn't want to deal with anybody else's opinion of how I should live my life. So, if I knew the answer would be judgement, or 'No,' then I just lied." I don't remember what Mary said, when I said this. What I remember was her mirth and acceptance, and support of my self analysis. Since I wasn't really thinking much about what came out of my mouth (a near certainty when you use the words, "I lie.") her reaction to what I said, always measured (she's Mary) kinda encouraged me to think about what I'd said for the whole trip home.
I knew from Care of The Soul, that book by Thomas Moore, that a lot more was going on when someone cheats on you or you lie, than just immorality suddenly being your own personal credo. That's why I don't hate myself for forgiving the unforgivable. And lord knows people have employed such rationalization when thinking about me. But what was it that had changed my point of view in my twenties besides the obvious stuff like knowing your going to spend the rest of your life with someone (and feel a relationship is sacred.) Aside from not wanting to fart in Church, figuratively, I guess what changed me were a series of old friends. And Matt was right there, dead center. Here was me, insecure, colorful, fairly desperate for attention and love and admiration. And here was Matt, telling me like some people must fantasize about (I know I have), "Andy you are an important person I look up to and admire. And I hear people say wonderful things about you all the time." Shit, even if he made it up, works for me.
People tell you your worth something often enough, there is some chance you might be fooled into believing them. Even if you "know better." A fair amount of my "pathology" was this knowing better. And it runs in the family. Yet that very thing must have informed my parents love, they told me how, not just what. They didn't just love me. They loved me for a reason. I was a somewhat hysterical and extreme case, so while I wish they could have seen they got through to me a long time before I kind of realized my value on this planet, that isn't how it went.
The story, of course, isn't over. I think people forget that pretty much every day. Life can't be like the movies, 'cus in life we seek to uncomplicate, whereas in the movies without complication, there'd be no plot, and thumbs would go down. Character, and happiness to a great extent is a thumbs down business bedded in a serious environment of thumbs up love. Matt was always willing to tell me why I was great, and why I shouldn't bullshit him. In some ways it could be said, that he told me not to bullshit him 'cus he couldn't bear to see Andy Coffey do that. Pretty nice mix of creativity and techne, don't you think.
Just a small list of the things he's done before I salute:
Bicycle Mechanic for many, many organizations, from the top of the field, to Dick's (retail.)
He deserves to own a Stratocaster. He can play, and toured Europe with Sun Kill Moon.
He has written hundreds of songs. And will play them in front of you.
He worked for a bicycle touring company, in France, and befriended real wine loving people in Bordeaux. I know people who like wine, but Matt has lounged about with the people and their terroir, asking them intelligent questions and drinking their life's work. He is such a scrupulously centered man that I guarantee you he drank more while doing that job than he has at any other point in his life. Carpe Diem.
I'm not going to go into it, since it isn't even my business, but I have never seen such loyalty in a son, and such skill in giving to each of his parents their due, in my life. There is no other example I can think of that matches it. And I have a bad habit of finding my friends parents as interesting as my friends (try not to do that to people, by the way.) So I know how they treat their family. That's one way I know who to waste my time with, or not. I'd waste a year of my life on Matt, with a smile on my face.
That ought to paint the picture. Everyone loves their friends. I guess I'm no exception. Some people change you though. Matt changed the way I thought about my self and my family. He encouraged my interest in music, which growing up I was far too insecure to embrace. He has consistently lived a more balanced, healthy, and broadly applicable life, while maintaining connections to the people who matter to him. He recently lost a friend he had not talked to in some time and his reaction to his loss spelled his character in very large, bold type.
When I die, I'd be surprised if anything save my name, age, and medical problem were typed up in black and white. It goes without saying, but is much deeper than that, that my family, like all great family, would suffer horribly at my loss. Beyond that, who would speak my life into the brittle fabric of tales that keep us alive beyond the grave? I need not tell you my guess.