10 - Tales of a dinner party
And other notes on growing up.
I’ve had many thoughts lately about what it means to be a grown up.
This may be because I often sit idle on public transport looking at other grown ups. I sit and wonder: Who are all these grown up humans with whom I am sharing this tube ride? What binds us together? Usually, it is just the state of being a grown up.
It may also be because, as you may recall from previous posts, I can drive now, just like a real grown up. Driving means you can make your own decisions about where to go and where to stay. Now, I can drive ten miles to buy some bath salts or because I want sushi. These feel like very grown up decisions.
Autonomy is very grown up.
I also went to a dinner party on Saturday night, just like a real grown up.
It was a bring and share, which gave everyone an opportunity to judge the contributions of everyone else. This is an occupation in which grown ups excel, I find.
Anyway, everything about the dinner party was VERY grown up. It was a masterclass in easy understated wealth, from the wrap around plate glass dining area to the cozy wood stove to the squashy cushions in the designated wine drinking area. When I asked where the loo was, the hostess explained where the nearest loo was. In my house, it would just be The Loo. She also told me how the dining table was made out of reclaimed cart wheels. I heard “cartwheels” and was visibly confused like a complete twat, imagining ten year olds turning cartwheels on a lawn, until she gently inflected cart. wheels.
Anyway, the dinner party was actually a farewell party, being held on occasion of the hostess family relocating (temporarily) to New Zealand for a year (which is also a very grown up thing to do, isn’t it). It was kind of them to invite us, seeing as we’ve really only just landed in the village ourselves. In that sense, it was kind of a hello, goodbye (but see you in twelve months). So we have simultaneously commenced - and frozen - our friendship.
I am intimately familiar with this act of departing a place and the leaving of friends. Experience of place is shaped entirely by the people met there. In all but the rarest cases (maybe western Mongolia), it is the people that make the place.
I have people scattered around the world that I know and love.
A best friend in Copenhagen - for years now, monthly hours-long phone calls standing in place of actually being able to see each other.
A pal in the mountains in California with whom I will always ache to be in Burning Man or out in the open air or on the pass up to Yosemite listening to some bluegrass.
Friends in Myanmar and Thailand with whom I would grab a meal in the night market in Mae Sot or a beer on 19th Street in Yangon tomorrow.
Andrea, in Singapore; Mari, in who-knows-where-now; Matt and Lauren, on the way to Australia. And so on.
And then of course there is family. In America, aunts, uncles and cousins I would give anything to see for Thanksgiving dinner this month. In Paris, a sister, niece and brother-in-law. In Dublin, parents. All of whom I wish lived across the street.
This was very much the theme of the grown up dinner party. There was much talk over pudding about how lovely the gang of grown up humans around the table was, how lucky the hostess felt to have such great friends in the village and how much she would miss everyone. She mourned the loss and said she couldn’t imagine finding such a cool group in New Zealand.
And I said something that felt helpful at the time, three glasses in, but that was, in hindsight, wildly uncouth.
Something along the lines of: you’ll be surprised, you’ll find an equally cool group over there, there are cool people everywhere. She demurred politely, but I persisted (🤦🏻♀️).
No, it’s true, I said, I didn’t imagine when I moved to a tiny Cotswolds village that I’d find cool people (🤦🏻♀️🤦🏻♀️).
But look here, find them I have! A punk guitarist teacher with a background in philosophy and politics; a wild swimming environmental impacts consultant; a physicist. I stuck to my guns. There are cool people everywhere. Move somewhere else and you’ll only find new cool people!
And eventually everyone got over the feeling that they were just another shifting stage set of interchangeable cool people and we all got still drunker.
Now, whether I am right about there being cool people everywhere is still up in the air. And whether there will still be a place for me among all the cool people at her cartwheeling table when she comes back from Noz, dear reader, is a question that awaits only the passing of time.
But there is still more to this being a grown up thing. The dinner table consisted of couples and, being in a couple, the kind of couple that throws dinner parties or gets invited to dinner parties, also strikes me as a very grown up thing. When it comes to relationships (and trust me, I am no expert), I think being a grown up is the thing that is required in fostering a lasting connection. A constant childish chasing after the moon (the honeymoon, that is) is a cycle of perpetual disappointment. The grown up takes the long view, doesn’t expect to make one person their everything nor to be everything to that person. The grown up is ok with somebody seeing them as a flawed individual, but loving them anyway. This is one of the hardest things about grown-up-ness, I think. To let someone see you at your worst and then (the trick!) to stick around long enough to see if they still love you anyway. That is also a question that awaits the passing of time. Like my future dinner party invite.
Anyway, where I’ve landed is that I think I may have the beginnings - but only the beginnings - of an answer. (Have I asked a question? I don’t remember. Another feature of grown-up-ness).
And that is this:
Being a grown up is a gradual coming to terms with the inescapable fact that you will never be able to have all the cool people you’ve ever met and all the great food you’ve ever eaten in one place. I yearn for Singapore hawker market noodles and my 2008 pals in Tuolumne in (almost) equal measure. But I’ll never have them both together.
And, just like the lasting relationship, crossing paths with all of those cool people and all of that great food is ultimately determined by exactly where you choose to go - and exactly where you choose to stay.
Loved it! Grown-up-ness is also fine-tuned depending on culture. In my parent's generation in India, you stick around with that same spouse FOREVER. Come hell or high water. (Another feature of grown-up-ness is to have a fast-fading curiosity. How the hell did high water get the same dangerous status as hell? Anyway...)
A downside of autonomy as a grownup is the need for stability. While you look for cool-ness in a person, I look for situations where people break bad. We may differ in our views, but we need people to show us colors that we agree with. Finally, until that 4th vodka shot (or the 1st for me), we are expected to hold our tongue (my landlord's 6-yr-old's most brutally honest feedbacks have been forgiven.) Since autonomy needs accountability, we act less. Or at least we do so in a measured way. I like how Robert Brault puts it -- "Ill tell you what's sad. It's sad to see little kids grow up and lose all their superhero powers."