When I look back at the last decade and a half of my life I see something that appears to be somewhat insectile in its style and metaphor. In the beginning I was a kind of larval worm, sludging through the undergrowth and muck of many towering, complex philosophies that I didn’t ever truly understand. Eventually I grew wings and transformed into a –well, perhaps not a butterfly, but maybe one could call me a– moth, fluttering ever closer towards the flickering glow of unreachable enlightenment. In the middle I was something else: a metamorphosing soul in the emotional mindset of a pupae, wrapping myself in that transformational stage of a hardened shell cocoon and surrounding myself with the rich nutrients to feed that change.
It was during that pupal stage that I acquired the attentions of the irrepressible Radek.
To be clear, Radek would eagerly shrug off any attempt at labeling him that I might try to muster here. To call him indefinable in this way is probably the closest approximation to a label one could honestly apply. He is not indefinable. No one is. But he would hate that he could be labeled either way: in fact he is rich in trialed opinion, flush with knowledge both trivial and academic, tested in the arts of verbal defense of his own thoughts, and claims no sacred ground in the dominion of friendship.
I am not actually sure the tendrils of our relationship could be called a friendship. In fact, in the ten years since we have met Radek has shown no interest in the common tropes of behaviour for someone who I might call a friend. He couldn’t tell you where I live. He’d be pressed to remember the names of my family. We have never traded text messages, nor have we talked on the phone.
That said we have split more than one pitcher of beer. We have defended each other online. We have wandered the streets late at night in a far away city and snapped photos for each other posed beside people of both mutual curiosity and common fame.
These were snapshots of different kind, the moments of that pupal transformation where if anything could be called closeness between myself and Radek, it would have then been at its most notable. A moment past. A mere memory.
We met for the first time in a cafe. It was a meeting of neither chance nor happenstance. Instead, I had followed a digital scent through a maze of social media invitations and found myself buying a coffee on a Saturday afternoon in an independent cafe in an unfamiliar neighbourhood. Of the two dozen people who would eventually arrive, Radek and I were the most punctual. We shook hands. We joked about some now-long-passed political firestorm that was burning through the news cycle that week. We compared notes on our creative efforts. We drank our coffees. And I passed some kind of unspoken test, qualified for ongoing participation in the highly selective and uniquely discerning attentions of this new acquaintance.
Radek is a writer. At the time of our first meeting he had also been trying his hand producing low-budget videos on the web, videos wherein he would tackle a topic of his never-idle curiosity each week and broadcast it to a snowballing list of subscribers who shared his overtly and strictly rational worldview. He was, then as now, a creative polymath on a speedboat mission of critical thought evangelism, and I was happy to be swept up in his wake.
Yet like any pupae, the chrysalis eventually cracked and the moth in me dried my new wings and fluttered up and out of the undergrowth, up and out into a new kind of foliage of other bigger and even more complex ideas. It isn’t that Radek was left behind because, well, I’m not sure he is or ever was part of that same insectile transformation process that had enveloped and changed me. Instead the metaphor fell short and the moment and the memory tapered into a fine silken tendril of acquaintance –friendly attachment– reaching down into the darkness below, below where Radek still leaps between the branches of the tangled thickets pursuing his own unlabeled, half-defined ideologies.