On Friendship and Ham
a follow-up to Remembering Larry...in which I talk fondly about (human) friends I have known. And ham.
A few weeks ago, a wise friend directed me to a concept called the negativity bias.
Becoming any kind of professor usually makes a person think they’re automatically approximately twenty times smarter than they actually are—I don’t know if there’s a name for that concept?—my friend didn’t say but let’s call it the smarty-pants bias.
Turns out I suffer from both, a dangerous combination.
Communications Studies prides itself on being an amalgam—sociology and psychology and anthropology and English Lit plus a dash of whatever you have handy in the cupboard of your head all in one only better. It is the grand buffet of the Arts. It’s easy to forget that imagining you know psychology because you’ve taught introductory lectures that mention Freud and Lacan is like believing you are qualified to operate a commercial hog farming operation because you are comfortable identifying and consuming several varieties of sliced ham.
Keeping in mind that I’ve just explained the extent to which I am not an expert in this… a negativity bias is a tendency towards remembering things as being much, much worse than they actually were. Apparently, it is the natural and/or learned inclination of the species, apologies for hog-butchering this so badly. We don’t remember any of the ninety-nine good things that unfolded sweetly over the years. We can’t stop seeing the terrible, horrible one can’t-take-it-back moment, on repeat, forever. Ultimately, if you’re not aware of the bias and able to course-correct your memory accordingly, your highlight reel of life becomes a grotesque inquisition in which the worst version of you endlessly torments the most pathetic version of you with a whole gallery of useless past yous eager to shame and shush any mention of good things, friends and times.
I was an impetuous fool for huge swathes of my adult life. Some of them were even age-appropriate phases. Despite this, I have been lucky to have known and been friends with the most amazing people. Seriously, the best people have endured me, celebrated me, loved me, forgiven me, laughed at me and with me and the (human) friendships I’ve had everywhere I’ve ever lived have made my life so much richer than it ever could have been otherwise.
What I can saying is growing up, as I did, in the absence of family, in an environment where being given away to an institution was called an act of love, I was starved for love and human connection. In retrospect, I can see I crushed a lot of friendships with my insatiable need to be needed. You know—like that scene in Of Mice and Men. Where the character played by John Malkovich accidentally squeezes his pet to death by crushing it too closely to his chest? I should probably look that up.
Another wise person, alright let’s call them semi-wise, once wrote that you should hold onto your friends. It sounds like good advice. But, really, in my experience friendship is more liquid than that. It’s not something you can really hold onto. Permanence is not in friendship’s nature nor is it how it should be rated or judged. Friendships come and friendships go. A lot of times they just fade away. My tendency has been to let all of the good times those friendships contained fade away also. I’m learning that that’s my negativity bias hitting me hard, and that it doesn’t need to be like that. People grow up and they grow apart, but it’s like they always say, we’ll always have Weyburn, no they can’t take Baños away from me or however that saying goes.
I wish all my friends, all my former friends, wherever they are, nothing but health and happiness. I’m aware of all the hurt I’ve caused in this world—those memories are never meant to fade, those are the chains you get to wear forever. In choosing to trying to remember the good moments I’m trying to remember to re-create the conditions for happiness in my present life. You would think that these things should be obvious, but the negativity bias seems to be not only accumulative and pervasive but highly contagious as well. It can have you believing that your entire existence, every ham sandwich you ate, every bus that was late, was an act of irrepressible misery that you singularly orchestrated because you were a bad person—what another wise, old friend of mine used to refer to as a ”Negative Vibe Merchant.”
Speaking of ham sandwiches, while I was a journalism student at SAIT, a friend wrote a parody store about a classmate of ours named John Hamm. (not Jon Hamm of Mad Men, John Hamm with a ‘H’, from a time before the aitch-less Hamm became a household name) It contained this sentence: “In an ironic twist of fate, Hamm ordered a Ham sandwich.”
I don’t know why but that sentence has been replaying in my head at least one a week since 1989. I don’t know, dude, but I still chuckle out loud every third time I think it.
Ron Wall, who commented so kindly on my Remembering Larry post, was a classmate at SAIT. He was also the editor of the Entertainment section of the SAIT Emory Weal, and was one of my first editors. One thing I think all readers of Portesaintmonty can agree on is how badly I need an editor. Ron Wall would never have let my uninspired prose run around as reductively and counter-productively as it inevitably does when left to its own devices. So many people taught me better than this, you know, but what are you going to do? SAIT Journalism was largely an exercise in being taught a series of valuable skills, priceless and immeasurably useful…in 1972. It was like being trained to make fire in survival situations, and hunt wild boar as a mandatory two-year pre-requisite program for becoming a short order fry cook.
David Pike, our English teacher at SAIT, was the exception to this. He was such a positive that it’s not hard to believe that the whole point of SAIT, for me, was to meet him. Also to meet Ron Wall. Also to have read the sentence, “In an ironic twist of fate, Hamm ordered a Ham sandwich.”
I thought it was Hamm-sandwich level ironic, well, ironic in an Alanis Morrissette kind of way, that Tasha, a former student of mine at Okanagan College posted immediately beneath Ron Wall because the nineteen-year-old Colin could never have envisioned that he would go on to become a professor, let alone one that anyone would remember, let alone positively, let alone that phrase now Colin—that is my inner-Ron wall intervening, thank you. And I never would have, without the example David Pike set for me. Without me even realizing it. For me it was like, ten years after the fact and I was like, “Holy Shit, that guy who talked about Farley Mowat an awful lot, you know your college English teacher, he encouraged and challenged you so much that you are halfway actually modelling your adult self after him, you know, that guy what’s his name, Peter Trout? Jonathan Livingstone Barramundi? (Fish jokes! I say, we need more of them, I know salmon among you may disagree! Oh my God, that was so catch and release.)
Anyway, Tasha—you may or may not be from Edmonton (is this not, I ask, in some way true of ALL of us?) and if so, you may/may not appreciate this. I am not trying to pin any blame on David Pike. But I did write him, probably over ten years ago now. To say thank you. I’m not saying anything only that shortly after I received a response from him, a new word entered my lexicon: “SAIT-ANIC.” But I have a pretty broad media diet and I know a lot of people, so I could have picked that up anywhere.
Two further points to be de-boned from David Pike. One, I am very bad at maintaining personal correspondences. I owe scores and dozens of letters to all of the best people. I wish I was better at writing letters. Right now, in lieu of letters I just want to type the names of a few people who are my dear friends and whose names, like that of cherished Virginia ham, are in my mind all the time.
Marci Driggers my friend from the ninth grade (for me) at Santiago Christian Academy—yes, really—now residing in Austin, Texas is one of the most amazing people I know. In 1989, just before I moved to Calgary, I was back in Chile after high school. Marci was, like the only person still in the city who I knew and she is one of a couple friends who wrote to say encouraging things about Lieutenant-Colonel David Davis. Receiving a note like that, out of the blue, from someone from three decades earlier, really makes that negativity bias suck a bag of sweaty balls in a big hurry.
Speaking of sweaty balls, David Moore.
Just kidding, but seriously David Moore, an occasional reader of these pages, who I met in Calgary in 1988 because we were members of the same Foothills Alliance Church Youth Group—yes, really—stands out as one of the best and funniest people I’ve met anywhere. I just keeping thinking his name a lot these days. Speaking of ham sandwiches because that is what you do when you are writing a lengthy life confessional, I once told David Moore that I like to put ketchup on my ham sandwiches. He told me that was ridiculous and disgusting. I told him the ham-ketchup sandwich was “a classic.” Dave Moore has forever since made fun of me by imitating my voice and saying the words, “It’s a classic.” According to Dave Moore’s version of me I sound like a deep-voiced, discontentedly fey goat? Please do not answer.
Derek Hannah, finally and in conclusion, who went by various nicknames during the mid 1990s in Calgary when he was a bass player in the band Brass—steelman, soulman, soul brother #1. Derek’s influence on me is so vast that I hardly understand it myself. We have not lived in the same city since something like 1996. For some reason, the whole time since then, Derek has seemingly had a direct and private telepathic connection to my soul. Repeatedly, my entire adult life so far, Derek has seemingly known when I need help. At my darkest hour, Derek Hannah, from Scotland, now living in Auckland, who taught me more about the history of popular music than I ever learned in school, has lifted me up so many times that it’s pointless to imagine I could ever repay him adequately for the hope and help he keeps giving me.
Heidi Fischbach, finally and in conclusion part deux, and I used to be passengers together on those dread flights from Santiago to Quito when us unfortunate Christian & Missionary Alliance missionary kids were separated from our parents twice a year. Heidi was one of the first people who enabled me to talk about the reality of what the Alliance Academy was. (I have no negativity bias about living in the dorm in Quito. That was a negative experience. People made lifelong friends at Alcatraz, too.) Without Heidi’s help, I would not have been able to begin to start my own healing process. Heidi lived in Temuco, Chile and now she lives in Boston (last I heard) and I haven’t seen her since the 1980s. But mentally and emotionally I would still be stuck in a dorm in Quito without Heidi first helping me understand how to leave all that behind. I never forget that.
Friends, former friends, former students and teachers. They’re spread out all over the place, maybe we never see each other again. Still the friendships were real. The ones I’ve named, the ones I haven’t, it’s all love and appreciation from me. Please forgive me for being isolated, silent, non-responsive and all the other things I’ve been and done. Or don’t. Just wanted to say that from my end of things, I am happy to have known you.
Larry taught me more about humanity than any human. And the one thing he taught me more than anything was that love is unconditional and forgiveness never runs out. These are not lessons you can ever really learn, I guess. But they’re aspirational. And I’m trying to orient myself correctly for whatever time remains.
There were good times. Lots of them. I remember them all, I remember y’all.
Please note that I no longer eat ham.
Colin, what a wonderful recollection. David Pike was an amazing teacher, one of the very best i have ever had the pleasure of learning from. I still have the copies of his extensive notes and pieces of inspiration. A remarkable man! But meeting you and becoming friends at SAIT was one the highlights of those two years. And you were there to watch me get stupid drunk at my 30th birthday party. I think you were the one to introduce me to Kids in the Hall! “That’s fucking good ham, dad” https://youtu.be/w3OopIJW12g
I laughed out loud when I read this despite the transition from sweaty balls. I hadn’t thought about that memory for a while but it’s now locked in again. I tried re-enacting the scene to my daughter when she heard me giggling. She did not seem to find it as funny as me. There are so many other memories that I regularly think of. It’s improbable it all began from my sister telling me(and me listening) to go say hi to you that fateful Sunday evening service at Foothills. You were a seminal influence on me with music, writing, and things alternative. I feel you are still one of my best friends and I think about you a ton. I would love to be able to chat and see you again.