This blogThis blog is called A Few Kind Words because the word kindness originally meant being kin, or kindred, or of the same kind. And since we are all humankind, we should remember to be kinder to one another when we communicate. The alternative is to be unkind, to use language which fails to connect or even alienates. The choice isn't hard.
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This week I’ve been in London, putting the finishing touches to the book that John Simmons and I have been writing together. Called Room 121, it’s a conversation that takes the form of alternating blog posts, and it will be published in the summer. Although its theme is the way we use language at work, it’s as much about the way we respectively see the world as it is about the craft of writing.
We’ve got to know each other well, John and I, over the last half-dozen years. Along with our partner, Stuart Delves, we’ve taught Dark Angels courses together in Scotland, England, Wales, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden and Poland. We’ve been on a writing retreat in France. Occasionally we’ve even had to share a room. We’re at a stage in our lives where we’re both fairly clear about how we want to focus our energy through the years ahead. Our friendship is rooted in the fact that we not only like each other and enjoy one another’s company, but share an understanding of how the world is shaped by language, and a vision of how that can be used to the good. You could say that we met at an age when our ideals had begun to settle and mature.
In the bigger scheme of my life, however, John is a new friend. Janie I first knew in my early thirties. Late last year, I was amazed and delighted to hear from her again via Facebook. Back in the early Eighties we were both recently married and living in London with young families. We came to know each other through the world of commercial radio, where she worked as a press officer and which I wrote about as a journalist. On Tuesday we caught up for a drink and, despite an absence of nearly three decades, were able to pick up again almost without missing a beat. Naturally, much has happened in our lives, not least the fact that we both have new partners and, in my case, more children, while Janie has made a tremendous career at the BBC. We spent an hour-and-a-half of glorious story-swapping and I left with the warm glow of a connection rekindled.
The previous night in London I had stayed with David, whom I’ve known since childhood and would consider my oldest friend, if not chronologically, at least in the firmness of our friendship. Brought up in rural Scotland, we were the only two boarding-school boys within a wide radius (although we weren’t at the same schools), and we hung out together staunchly throughout our teens. Our lives since have gone in very different directions – David is now a statesmanlike figure on the property scene – and there have been long hiatuses, but each time we meet it takes just a few seconds for the years to fall away as the timbre of his voice, a facial expression here, a quirky little physical movement there, reassert themselves, so familiar, so reassuring that we could easily be teenagers together again.
It’s been a week of friends, three in forty-eight hours (more in fact but I don’t have room here to write about them all), each from a different period in my life. And I realise more and more that these friendships, new, renewed or constant, are among the most precious things we possess because they not only bring us affection and pleasure, but connect us with ourselves; they help to complete the continuously unfolding story we tell ourselves, the story of our lives.