Walk #18, with: Emily (born 1982)
Date: 9 July 2016
Where: Near Llandiloes, mid Wales
For the last year or two that I was in London Emily and I met every other Wednesday after work, usually for ale and the particularly good chips at Holborn art deco pub The Duke or at my house for wine and a vat of pasta fit for a cycle courier. Though I've missed all my friends in the past year this regular meeting with Emily - and the easy, ongoing conversations it enabled - is one of the things I've missed the most. Though we both have tons of experience of maintaining friendships over a distance I can't help but feel anxious when I don't know how Emily - who isn't a Facebook user - is doing from one week to the next. We've emailed and Skyped of course, but on returning to the UK I was looking forward to staying with Emily for six days at her home in mid Wales as an opportunity to really catch up. I hoped to use the Personal User Guide I'd been working on as a springboard for a conversation about how best to sustain our friendship across various types of distance.
Towards the end of my visit a sunny day prompted a brisk, early evening walk through sheep pastures to the top of 'The Celyn' hill, overlooking the quiet valley where Emily lives, the upper reaches of the Severn, and Montgomeryshire beyond. At the time of our walk Emily was in the final stages of preparation for her second Transcontinental Race which she went on to win, riding about 3,800km in just 13 days. On the way up the hill we talked a bit about Emily's pre-race ambivalence, which stemmed partly from her characteristic self-doubt and partly from her distaste for very hot weather (she much prefers extreme cold).
At the top of the hill we sat for a while consuming the chocolate and beer we'd brought with us. Emily pointed out some steep trails where she recently rode a mountain bike. Finding the wind chill factor a bit much we moved and tucked ourselves out of the wind while we talked a bit about families, specifically Emily's recollection of how members of her family responded when she - the eldest of five children - was bullied at school.
On the way back down the hill I told Emily I'd been reflecting on the tendency of my mother to make any expression of vulnerability on my part be in one way or another about herself, and my resulting struggle to feel my real feelings and hold on to my own story. I said that after reading Harriet Lerner on how patterns recur in families I'd started to wonder if I might have acquired the same propensity to somehow muscle-in on others' vulnerability in a way that can make them feel similarly engulfed (if indeed that's a tendency for them). I said I thought this might have been a contributing factor to a lover's sudden avoidance six month's earlier. Astutely, Emily asked if I thought anything similar had happened with other people. This line of conversation did not continue, but it is one I'd like to resume another time if it rings true with Emily. I'm aware that my desire to accelerate intimacy with my friends through these kinds of intense conversations can feel a bit overwhelming at times.
Clambering back over a series of stiles and fences we returned home in time to prepare supper for ourselves and a conceptual artist who was staying for the weekend while turning Emily into a work of art.
Thank you Emily for hosting me this summer. I miss you.