Odd Pieces

Last summer, Mannion wrote a pair of lovely posts about human connection and its being one of the great mysteries of the universe. Connection is one of my favorite topics; I could endlessly discuss the many ways that humans find to connect, and all the little intricacies of connection—what love feels like, how love between friends feels different than love between a couple, coincidences of meeting, the strange things that happen among people of like minds and souls. I love stories of meeting, of how great friendships and affairs and marriages came to be, because they are so often rich with mystery and providence, gilded with an intangible promise to abide, the inducement of which cannot be recognized.

Perhaps my fascination is driven by whatever it is that makes me identify with something once expressed by Oddjob, who said, “The repeating story of my life is never quite fitting,” which reminded me of something I hadn’t thought about in many years. It was just a faded old coffee canister in my grandmother’s house, but, for me, it held within an understanding of myself.

My grandmother was a passionate jigsaw-puzzler, with hundreds of the things crookedly lining overstuffed shelves in her cellar. I can’t see a jigsaw puzzle without thinking of her, recalling the ever-present card table with a semi-completed puzzle on its top that she would carry from room to room. I have in my closet a 500-piece panorama of the skyline of New York City—the city she called home her whole life—that I bought her the Christmas just before she died. It’s so many years ago now that the skyline still includes the World Trade Center, but when I look at the box, still in its wrapper, it’s my grandmother that I miss.

Sometimes her puzzles would have an extra piece that didn’t go anywhere; the puzzle would be done, but there would be this one odd piece. It was almost always a middle piece, instead of an edge, so it wasn’t until the puzzle was complete that the odd piece out revealed itself. She kept these odd pieces, throwing them all into an old canister, as if one day, perhaps, they’d all make a puzzle of their own.

I’m a bit of an odd puzzle piece. But I don’t mind. My life has become a canister for collecting other odd puzzle pieces, and if we don’t fit perfectly anywhere else, we are nonetheless joined by the inscrutability of how such odd pieces came to be. Among odd pieces, the awkwardness of not fitting anywhere else takes a new shape, a sort of sameness, a warm familiarity. Or so it seems to me.

In his posts, Mannion isn’t necessarily talking about odd pieces, but he does mention a friend whom he met on the internets, which have a peculiar but wonderful way of connecting people, many of whom probably consider themselves odd pieces. “Before it happened to me,” says Mannion, “even for a long time after, I’d have said it was impossible to become real friends with someone you never touched.” I was once as dubious as he was about the ability to forge friendships via the internet, also before it happened to me, but the man who herein has been dubbed my Londoner Andy and I have now been friends in almost-daily contact for seven years. The frustrating distance that separates us means we don’t get to see each other very often; in fact, it has been nearly five years since we last spent a languid evening talking nonsense over dinner together.

We didn’t need to touch each other to form a fast and enduring friendship, although, now that we have, I miss it. I miss the scratch of his five o’clock shadow against my cheek as I hug him. I miss our bumping into each other as we walk down the street, like two pinballs bouncing back and forth. I miss his reaching for me, or me for him, in a tiny, cramped London bookshop, pulling the other toward ourselves gently with lingering touches and leaning our heads together as we look at the same book, standing more closely than the confined space really demands.

Meeting someone in person after connecting with them online heightens the corporeal once it’s finally available. If the connection persists offline, there’s an urgency to touch, to make it solid. The surrounding air feels electric when you do. It’s magic, that first time you lay eyes upon, smell, touch the skin of someone about whom you already, inexplicably, care. Though we may not need that physical presence to make a connection, we miss it nonetheless, even if we don’t realize it.

And once we’ve had it, we can’t help but miss it actively, consciously, and desire more.

To this day, Mr. Shakes and I hate speaking to one another on the phone, as the sound of our voices over wires reminds us too evocatively of the time when those wires were all we had for so very long. The sound of his voice on the phone conjures a memory of longing that I cannot bear.

It’s this—this human craving for the sensual, for presence—which makes Mannion say that before he knew people who fell in love online, and whose love persisted in the real world, he believed that “If it’s love, we love all the time and everywhere. This means that love is dependent on circumstances. In order to love someone, we have to love their circumstances. We love them for where they are and we love them for the people around them, even, sometimes, for the things around them.” That’s what he would have said. Wouldn’t we all?

But the truth is that humans are adaptable creatures, and if you give them a new way to make a connection, even one that lacks a lens into precise circumstance or physical contact, they will find a way to make a connection. Not all of them. Surely there are people for whom falling in love with someone the way I did, before I ever even saw his picture, or forging a lasting friendship, is simply not possible, for one reason or another. Maybe such things are dependent on a transcendent imagination. Maybe they bloom in the soil of need.

Odd pieces tend to struggle with connection, which can be brutal—watching the beauty of connection lay itself across the faces of people to whom it comes so easily, over and over, and always just out of your reach. But the experience can be informative. Odd pieces uniquely appreciate connection, and thusly connect in a different way.

The surrounding air feels electric when you do.

I was maybe six when I tried putting all my grandmother’s odd puzzle pieces together. “If you stick those together,” she told me, “they might not come apart, because they weren’t designed to fit.” She was right. They were tough to connect together, but even tougher to break apart again.

[Originally posted in similar form at Shakespeare’s Sister, July 2006.]

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19 Comments

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19 responses to “Odd Pieces

  1. Beautiful.

    It is posts like this that made visit here the second time.

    And the third, 500th, etc…

  2. katecontinued

    Speaking of connections . . .

    I often (like just now) get only two sentences into one of your posts and a lump forms in my throat. You have an uncanny ability to connect to my heart. Odd.Puzzle.Pieces.

  3. This was found by my new and lovely friend and so much more, and we have reached across 2300 miles to find each other … thanks Karyn !!!

  4. Arkades

    I’m a bit of an odd puzzle piece. But I don’t mind. My life has become a canister for collecting other odd puzzle pieces, and if we don’t fit perfectly anywhere else, we are nonetheless joined by the inscrutability of how such odd pieces came to be. Among odd pieces, the awkwardness of not fitting anywhere else takes a new shape, a sort of sameness, a warm familiarity. Or so it seems to me.

    There’s a wonderful sense of homecoming, when one finally does find a place where one feels one fits. It’s what transforms a group of individuals into members of a community.

    She was right. They were tough to connect together, but even tougher to break apart again.

    Beautifully said.

  5. Em

    Goddammit, Shakes, I didn’t need to cry today.

  6. Melissa: This is a wonderful piece. This is why I feel at home here in Shakesville.

  7. A piece like this could easily topple over into sentimentality and lose its punch. It is wonderful how are able to walk this line so beautifully as a writer, sis.

    You walk many different lines over and over in so many different kinds of writing that you do, and each time I am floored by the skill you possess.

    Thanks for sharing your writing with me. I value its presence in my life greatly.

  8. Melissa, you are such a gift to so many odd puzzle pieces, myself included.

    Irony: living life as an odd puzzle piece offers the opportunity to experience deeper connections and a more exciting and vibrantly-alive life than most of the conformist puzzle pieces can even imagine. We are blessed.

  9. RowanRising

    Another beautiful piece Melissa.

    My four closest friends were made over the internet….through our love of Anne Rice and a cheesy bravenet forum. Five years have passed, the forum is gone, but we all talk every day through email. We’ve met up several times…and there are moments when it’s excruciating to not have them in my presence. They know me far better than I ever could have dreamed. They are my dearest friends and I would be lost without them.

  10. Anonymous

    Melissa, this is why you are my favorite blogger evah.

    Beautifully written…

  11. Interesting that you posted this today as I was thinking along much the same lines, prompted partly by an incident I was involved in last week and then by this article that I read this morning.

    Besides being an Odd Piece, I was also horribly shy as a child, so forming friendships was a challenge, made more difficult because we moved all the time and I was always the new kid in school. All of my closest friends are ones I’ve met in my adulthood (once I could control the stability of my home life and form relationships that my mother couldn’t break by moving us away) and many of whom I’ve met through the internet.

    Over twenty years out of my childhood, I still find myself learning how to be comfortable being myself around people, which makes me cherish all the more those friends who love me for who I am.

    I’m also grateful for the other Odd Pieces who can articulate my feelings about this so much better than I can!

  12. I love this post, Liss. It’s one of my favorites. It goes right to the heart of how wonderful you are. And how lucky we are that you’ve created something so special as Shakesville. It’s your love, honesty, passion, generosity of spirit, clear-sighted vision and wicked sense of humor that makes it all happen!

    (It also makes me miss all the people I’ve loved who are no longer with me, and sadly, there are many.)

  13. Hippodameia

    This is a wonderful piece.

    I met my best friend over the internet seven years ago. I’ll tell her to come read this — she’ll love it too.

  14. nan

    Thank you, Melissa.

  15. Chris

    I have, on occasion, imagined myself as more of a spare part for a machine that passed into obsolescence before I was born — something crafted well enough for its intended purpose but stranded out of context and utterly lacking in utility.

    And I have reached a level of comfort with who I am, where I am — by birth, circumstance and choice.

    Funny thing, that.

    Despair, for me, comes infrequently, in spite of all the reasons I might find to habitually indulge in it. Because, every now and then, there are moments, glimpses…

    The simple gift of connections, however and whenever they are created, are enough to bear me up from day to day.

    “The surrounding air feels electric when you do.”

    Amen. And thanks.

  16. Doktor Wankenstein

    Soooo… when the book coming out, then?

    Notes From the Coffee Can

    I can’t have the intertubes handy wherever I go, so that would be the next best thing.

  17. Oh, this is lovely!

    And I’d just like to point out that less than a month ago, I totally texted my best friend “OMFG, I just got a link from Melissa McEwan! She read my blog! She knows who I am!” Really did not expect to be turning to Al a few weeks later and casually saying, “Yeah, so Liss and I are talking about meeting for drinks…”

    Some of my dearest friendships have been maintained, if not started, online. So much of this rings true for me.

  18. OMFG, I just got a link from Melissa McEwan!

    LOL! Okay, this is even more hilarious since I like just sent you an email that included my actual fucking weight in it.

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