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The Artificial Family

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! May 12 2012 · 87 views

Essays, Not Rants! 008: The Artificial Family

I grew up on a ship. Well, not really grew up exactly, more spent four very key years of my youth onboard a ship. It’s a long story. The thing about living on a ship, though, was that with only two hundred people on board it was a small community. Smaller still were the number of kids on board. I’m not kidding when I say there were a handful. Out of necessity we became more of a family than a group of friends. Life’s changed and gone on, but even though it’s been several several years since those days I still find myself drawn to stories about that sense of community, about building that group of people who aren’t so much friends as they are family.

There’s this Japanese word, nakama, that has no proper English translation. A rough rendition of it means something to the effect of a deep friendship not unlike family. Everyone can think of people fitting that description. And if not, well, I’m so sorry, you’re missing out.

This concept of friends who are family is everywhere in literature. Like Harry, Ron, and Hermione in Harry Potter. Once they became friends nothing stood in their way. They fought with each other, but, when they chips were down, they were there for each other. They were those good friends who came out on top. You’ve got the protagonists of Zombieland, or the members of the Bartlett administration in The West Wing, the heroes in Chuck, Drake and Sully in Uncharted, or the Fellowship of the Ring. It’s that group of friends who, even if they don’t always like each other, will stick together through it all.

Lost shows just how strong that relationship is. The survivors on the island don’t get along. They fight, they steal, they kill; they really don’t get along. But the relationships that form over time are real. They might not always be friends but throughout the six seasons they come to be something like a (highly dysfunctional Arrested Development-esque) family. Their bonds are to the point where in the end, it’s all that really mattered, and as long as they have each other, they will be content.

So what draws this people together? CS Lewis describes friendship as “the moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one!’”. There’s this movie out now called The Avengers that you may have heard of. The titular Avengers are all lonely people in their own way; Joss Whedon said so himself. Their connection that forms comes from being lonely together. Tony Stark and Bruce Banner - the two scientisty characters - have a conversation about it; about having something that is both a blessing and a curse. It was their moment of realizing they weren’t the only one alone. The seed of friendship, leading to that team, that community of people who can’t be broken.

Then there’s Community (did you really think I’d let that semi-forced transition slip by?). The Study Group has the common ground of all being students Greendale Community College. Over the seasons they’ve grown closer and had their moments. Like all of these artificial families; they break at the edges. But the heart of it is simple: they were all at Greendale lacking something, needing someone, lacking stability, or any host of reasons. They found what they needed in each other, creating that familial bond in the process. Yes, they are (in their own words), a dysfunctional and incestuous family, but they are one all the same. A, you know, community. Hence the name.

Firefly, another one of Whedon’s creations that I love, is another example of this bond. The crew of Serenity have been with each other through a lot. They’ve seen the best and the worst of each other and they definitely don’t always like each other. But since they’re there together on that ship, they have no choice but to reconcile and stick with it. They can’t walk away from it because they’re in it together, no matter what. Like the members of Community’s Study Group and the Avengers: they’re alone. They’ve left their lives behind and are wandering the black alone together. By the time the film Serenity rolls around they’ve gone beyond just being crew members who live on the same ship.

So yeah I’m drawn to the story of the artificial family. That sense of building a group of friends who will stick with you through it all. People who find what they need in each other, finding strength in their bonds.

A few months ago I met up with some of the others who had been kids on the ship the same time I was. Most of us hadn’t seen or hardly spoken to each other in years. But when we sat down together it was as if we hadn’t missed a day. Life went on and our ship was gone, but our connection was still there.

Makes sense though, we’re family.

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:kaukau: Maybe it's not artificial after all. Maybe it's all the more real because of that.

Growing up, I didn't have any friends. Heck, I'm still kind of on my own, and there were only a few moments that I've ever felt like I wasn't a complete loner. Those moments that I didn't were brief, because I knew that the friends I made weren't going to last, and we parted ways.

The fondest memory of mine is ironically the traumatizing experience of my parent's divorce. I was alone, as always, except even more alone. Then my mother went to a shelter, and I found myself among kids who were in the same boat. They were nice to me. They cared for me. I thought the world of them. Living under one roof, it was sort of like we were one big oddball family. Those were the best two months of my life, and I will always miss them.

Now I try to recreate the experience. Looking at my upcoming graduation party in my grandmother's garage, I know that not many people will come, and I'm saddened that I have only one picture on the wall with a friend outside of family, whereas my cousin has literally hundreds for just as many unique and fun occasions. I wish I could have hung out with friends after school and spent my personal time as an accepted friend. In real life, suffice to say, the experience hasn't been recreated, so I resort to imaginary friends.

Ian, Ivan, and Io. Io's also known more truly as Mary. She's like me, because she often feels like two different people, because sometimes I'm Ike and sometimes I'm Monosmith. I have plenty of other imaginary friends, from Buzzy to Nixie to Lucy to Euthy, but perhaps my best will always be Ashley, who's based on the best friend I ever had. We sit at the table together. I have imaginary conversations with them. I pretend that these imaginary friends have problems that are just as real as my own and that they care that I feel for them. I need them, but beyond that, they also need me.

No one has ever told me that.

It's a bit sad that the only family I really have is in my head, but I guess that's the way the world turns. I suppose that knowing what I'm hoping for is reason enough for hope.

Your quoting of C.S. Lewis, by the way, was perfect. Or rather, Jack put it perfectly and you're great for recognizing it. That's how I feel about relationships. I basically put it as one of the most important things I look for in a wife, right behind a couple of religious prerequisites.

Thanks for writing this essay.

Your Honor,
Emperor Kraggh
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Purple Devil
May 12 2012 06:30 PM
Sadly the two friends I truly feel this way about, one of them moreso than the other, are both moving away at the end of May.

To make things worse the two other friends I felt this way about also moved away so yeah.
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Ta-metru_defender
May 12 2012 10:45 PM
Dude, Kraggh, yeah. I've moved a lot in my life, left friends and struggled to make new ones. The 'family' I have now I only really settled into during the months up to and after my High School graduation. I then proceeded to leave the country the September of that year.

Go figure. But I've come back to this town and we've picked up right where we left off (well, it's been a bit bumpy, but hey). I guess what I'm telling ya is it gets better. Sounds trite, but yeah, there's always hope.

And dang! You brought up one point I should have hit on: mutual necessity. The feeling of needing someone and being needed in return. The whole idea of being needy. I mean, I sorta mentioned it but that's one whole other thing to add. Very astute of ya.

Onarex, well, yeah. On the ship kids would leave all the time. Gah, I remember some really painful goodbyes. I guess the thing to cling to is that if/when ya'll meet up again, things don't really change.

I dunno, I'm fumbling my way through this life thing too.
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Its nice to see something like this on blogs; definitely not the usual.

I definitely understand what you're saying here, and agree with it. The comments also are interesting. I can't really relate much to friends moving away; I've stayed in one place most of my life, and the handful of friends I have never really moved away. Of course, I had the disadvantage that for a goodly portion of my life the only friends I had lived out of state.
I guess I never had it too bad friendwise; probably my main problem was being a dreamy, extremely introverted kid most of my life.
I have a strange definition of friends, as well. Most people use acquaintance, friend, and close friend. For me, close friends are friends, everyone else are acquaintances. that combined with the fact that i don't really know many people leaves me with hardly more than a few people I can call friends. I don't mind it though, although I probably would if one of them moved.

The essay was definitely thought provoking, and well written as well. Thanks for posting it.
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josh

twenty-three


grew up on a ship


studies Storytelling

at New York University


frequently found writing in a coffee shop, behind a camera, or mixing alcohol and video games

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