Sorry for being out of touch

This is not a “sorry for not blogging” post, because I swore I’d never write one of those. It is, however, a “sorry for not talking to you lately” post to my friends and family. I’m not depressed or withdrawn, but for some reason I’ve been feeling lately the need for solitude. I don’t know why. All I know is that for the last few weeks whenever I’ve seen anybody, there’s a part of me that’s felt like I was distracting myself from something I need to do.

In my case, this need for solitude has also extended to Facebook and this blog. I’ve been posting less and the quality of my posts has also gone down. Sorry about that! It’s just something that had to be done. I can’t say that I’ve been necessarily on a roll with my writing. I’ve been trying to work on a novel, and I’ve thrown out tens of thousands of words in this time. Today I wrote five thousand words, and I’m almost positive that tomorrow I’ll wake up and realize they weren’t quite right.

And yet…in the past I’ve posted on here, I know, that I was missing the sense of longing that needs to power all fiction. “The heart of longing” is what I called it. And right now I have that! For some weird reason–and this has never happened to me before–I’ve caught hold of the heart of longing, but not of anything else. I don’t have a character or a story, all I have is pure and unadulterated longing. Now, trying to stuff this longing into a novel has proven to be very difficult, but I feel like I am closer to getting it right than I have been in years.

And for me, for right now, staying away from other people has proven to be the best way to keep hold of this feeling. So that’s where I’m at.

Went reading through my own backlog today

Because I’ve been writing so many stories lately (and because I just sold a recently-written one to Lightspeed!!!) I became somewhat interested in my own ouevre. After all, I’ve written 225 stories (out of which 51 have been or will be published). For most of my writing career I put these stories into two categories: a) genius (i.e. anything I’d published or which I was working on right now); or b) trash (i.e. anything over a year old that hadn’t sold.

However now that I’m thirty-one, I’ve started lately to wonder what it is that I stand for as a writer. Do I have anything to say? Do I have a style? A subject matter? I mean I’m a nobody short story writer, but I meet all of this up-and-coming writers who’re like, “Wow you’ve sold to all these places.” Once I even fielded an offer from a small press publisher to put out a short fiction collection (I declined, because I didn’t think I had enough good stuff to fill one).

And now I’m like…does any of this mean anything? Does it amount to anything?

So first I went through some of my trunked stories (i.e. the unsold stories I’ve given up on submitting). There are approximately 160 of these, so I obviously couldn’t read them all. But the very first one I read, from 2011, was surprisingly good! This is a story I’d never submitted, evidently because I thought it had too little plot and structure. But I found it to be lyrical and inventive. I was like omg what if this archive is full of GOLD!!!

That did not prove to be the case. Most of the other stories I read were not very good. I mean they weren’t terrible, but even I had no desire to read past the first page (and I wrote them!) Often they had the hallmarks of journeyman fiction: a certain lack of immediacy, specificity, and stakes. It’s hard to explain, there’s just a certain line-level lack of density that makes a reader immediately go: “Nope!”

It’s not anything you can revise for. You just need to write a better story!

Keep in mind, though, that most of the trunked stories I read were from 2011, 2012, and 2013, which were years when I was ALSO (albeit infrequently) selling stories to pro magazines. So I was like, wait, were the stories I sold really so much better?

So with that I delved into my own short fiction bibliography (link), and I started randomly looking into stories that I thought might be not terrible. The first few I read weren’t amazing. “Tomorrow’s Dictator” had, from the very first paragraph, this feeling that this was just the sort of story I wouldn’t normally bother to read (published in Apex, this is about a cult leader, and master of brainwashing, who’s recruited by the human resources department of a large corporation). I mean it felt both broad and shallow. A story that was punching below its weight class, basically.

“A House, Drifting Sideways”  was a lot better (published in GigaNotaSaurus, this was one of my MFA application stories; it’s about a near-future Paris Hilton type who believes that without her partying the fabric of society will fall apart). It at least had voice and hints of something interesting, but again it felt like it was lacking a certain element of…I don’t know…fun? The story seemed too slow. I was like…why do I even care?

So I was definitely feeling a little bit down on my own output, but then I read the third story: “The Days When Papa Takes Me To War” (originally published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, this answers the age-old question: “What if Hemingway had fathered a daughter, during the waning days of World War II, with a gigantic ant?”). And I found myself genuinely intrigued! I didn’t really remember how the story turned out, and though this is one of my longest, I kept reading, anxious to find out. So go me!

Satisfied that I have, in my life, written at least one good story, I ended my quest.

However this did remind me that for reasons I don’t really understand Strange Horizons did a one thousand word review of this story! I never read it, because I don’t read my own reviews, but I figure now enough time has passed so I’m gonna go check it out!

Oh no the review is negative!!!!!!! Except that reading it made me like the story more. I was like, “Yes, I am subtle and brilliant! And yes, I do leave these questions open-ended because I am amazing.” Also, I had way less sympathy for Ernest Hemingway than, apparently, this reviewer did. Which is just par for the course with me, sigh. I am so misunderstood: everybody likes my villains and hates my heroes.

Sometimes loneliness can be really good

Ironically, right at the moment when I started to write this blog series, I also started to feel like maybe I was too connected. I also write fiction, as you might know, and I’ve been trying for years to write a book about loneliness. I spent yesterday wandering around the Mission District, just sitting in cafes and watching other people, and something about channeling my own loneliness felt really productive. Sure, I could’ve dispelled it by making a few calls. And the feeling was certainly not pleasurable. It didn’t feel like solitude. It didn’t feel life-affirming. I felt disconnected. But those are the feelings that I need to write from. Anyway, just wanted to leave a note on here saying it’s not all bad!

The easiest, and often best, way to make friends is to befriend an “includer”

Okay, I almost hesitate to write about this topic right now, because I know a lot of you are gonna read it and be like, “What the fuck? He’s basically telling us it’s all luck.”

But I want you to read carefully and see what I am and am not saying. I do think having a vibrant social life involves a lot of luck, but I also think that if you know what you’re looking for, then you’re gonna be able to maximise that luck.

As I was saying yesterday, in my brief time writing this column, I’ve heard from others who have built strong and vibrant social lives out of nothing, and the same sort of stories keep cropping up: one woman met someone seven years ago on OKCupid, went out with them, just as friends, to a barbecue, and she’s still friends with some of the people she met at that barbecue; another woman found a friend on livejournal in 2001 and became friends with that person’s entire friend circle, such that even now, after the original friend is largely not around anymore because she’s had a child, my respondent is still friends with the remainder of the circle.

In my own life I’ve experienced this in pretty dramatic ways. I lived in DC for two years after graduating college, and even though it’s the place I grew up, and it’s a place where I still had plenty of high school (and college) friends, I never really built any kind of friend circle. I saw people one-on-one or in small groups, but it was always at an interval of a month or a few weeks, and it never turned into anything bigger.

Then I moved to Oakland, CA, where I knew precisely one person: my former college roommate, B. He’s a person I was very close with in college, but whom I hadn’t spoken much to in the intervening two years.

However I immediately began handing out with him five days a week, just chilling in his living room, shooting the shit. Gradually I became close with his two roommates as well (they more or less had to start liking me, given the amount of time I spent in their house), who were also his close friends. His one roommate had a circle of close college friends who all lived nearby: I got to know all of them. B also had a circle that included a lot of his coworkers, and he took me out to their Friday happy hours. I became close with them, friended them on Facebook, and they started inviting me to events. B was also part of the local folk music scene. I went out to a number of house shows with him, and I became familiar with people that way.

Now, five years later, I can look at my wedding invite list and see a whole slew of people I wouldn’t know if it wasn’t for B. Some of them he didn’t even know well: I was introduced to them as a second-order, by people B knew. It’s gotten to the point where sometimes somebody will ask how I know someone else, and instead of saying, “Oh, they’re the business partner of the husband of the roommate of my former college roommate,” I’ll just go, “Ehh, just through the Oakland scene.”

And I have numerous, though far less dramatic, stories like this.

General Principle #4 — The best way to find a social circle is to befriend an “includer,” somebody who finds joy, whether they know it or not, in integrating other people into their friend group.

The point I’m trying to make here is that not all friendships are equal in their fertility. Most friendships won’t make you part of something larger. Even if the friend does belong to some bigger social scene, they’ll often, largely for reasons of comfort or lack of confidence, fail to integrate you with that scene. Whereas a minority of friends are includers, and these are the people you need to know.

But that’s a general principle. Let’s get back to our lonely person sitting in a room. How can they use this advice?

Well we’re talking about social opportunities, and I’d say the number one social opportunity is an includer. If you befriend a person, and they start inviting you out to gatherings, brunches, potlucks, etc, where you don’t know anybody else (esp. ones where they’re not the host) then you’re probably dealing with an includer.

Now, I’m not saying you need to use this opportunity. Often you’ll go out with this person and find, well, you don’t actually like their friends. In that case, you don’t need to keep doing it. Just because somebody’s an includer doesn’t mean they’re including you in something you necessarily want to be part of.

But consider it.

And when you survey the people you know, think about who might be includers. I find that includers often fold in people from their work, and befriending a coworker who’s also an includer is often the best way to segue from a work-based social life into something broader.

(Note: you can’t turn someone into an includer. Believe me, I’ve tried. It’s just something that’s part of their normal psychological makeup. They derive some joy from including people. So if you’re friends with someone who’s not like this, don’t try to force it.)

Alright, so befriending an includer is the easiest and most common way of generating social opportunities, but let’s say you can’t do that. Let’s say you have just moved into town, because, umm, your partner has a job here. And you’ve no job. And you’re not into geeky stuff or some other social grouping that’s easily penetrable by outsiders.

In my next post, we’re gonna talk absolute rock-bottom basics.

Well this blog’s name is now the WAR ON LONELINESS

Since it’s now nine years since I started this blog in the summer of 2008, the truth can be told about its name. Blotter Paper, while it does carry literary connotations (in college I wrote the police blotter, for instance) was primarily a reference to my favorite drug at the time: LSD.

Now that I’m seven years sober, I feel less connected to that name, and less connected to blogging about the travails of the new writer life. I changed over the name to THE WAR ON LONELINESS and revamped the site’s look because, well, I just wanted a change.

For awhile I thought I’d blog exclusively about friendship-making topics, but I’ve come to realize over these past few weeks that I don’t really want to do that either. I don’t think my blog is every _really_ going to change. Or, rather, its change is gonna be continual. Once upon a time the blog was mostly about books, but I eventually grew tired of that. Who knows what it’ll be about in a year or two or three? I’ve also given up on the idea that this blog will ever have a huge audience. If it happens, then it happens, but I’m not convinced it ever will.

However I do appreciate the thousands of followers and fans that this blog _does_ have, and I also appreciate the community and the opportunities it’s brought to me. At times it’s seemed like a burden, but for the last few weeks, when I haven’t really been posting, I’ve also missed it. So from now on I’m going to post regularly, but perhaps less systematically in the past (I do have _many_ more WAR ON LONELINESS posts coming up though).

Anyways that is what’s happening here.

In me-related news, I’ve been writing a lot of short stories lately (seven in the last two months). After years of frustration with myself over what I am or am not writing, I’ve started just sitting down at the keyboard and seeing what comes out. And my new stories have already started picking up rejections, so really nothing’s changed from this blog’s first days…

Making friends isn’t an easy or mechanical process

Okay several weeks ago, I told you I was going to compare finding friendship to a salesperson generating leads. But when I sat down to write this, I realized I knew nothing about sales except what I learned from Alec Baldwin’s speech in Glengarry Glen Ross, and I remembered that that movie is literally about how hard it is to find good leads.

But I’m gonna attempt to make this work anyway.

I think it’s helpful here to talk about what a social opportunity is. Basically, when I talk about social opportunities I’m talking about any window or doorway that’ll lead you into a situation where friendships are being actively formed. Basically, there are places in this world where almost nobody is making friends. People aren’t making friends on the bus. They’re not making friends at protests. They’re not making friends in cafes. By and large, they’re not making in bars. They’re not making them in most meetup groups and in most workplaces.

And then there’re places where friendships do get formed: parties, conventions, some volunteer groups and jobs, some bars and cafes, concerts and festivals, classes, and many, many other far-less-formal groupings of people. Some of these places are free for anybody to enter, while others require permission.

The frustrating about my advice, I think, is that I can’t just sit down and tell you, “Go to this club” or “Check out this website” and mechanically follow these three steps, over and over again, and you’ll find friends. Because the truth is that finding friends isn’t like finding a romantic partner.

What I mean is that the internet has revolutionized the way lonely and/or awkward people find romance. You can go onto Tinder or Hinge or OKCupid or Match and just grind through your matches, following a few techniques to optimize your profile and your messaging style, and eventually you’ll probably find the love of your life (this is what I did to find Rachel, btw). I mean it’s not guaranteed to work, but if someone came to me wanting advice on how to find love, that’s what I’d tell them, because the alternative (developing the real-life ability to flirt, make good impressions, and approach the people you’re attracted to) is a very difficult thing to teach.

However I do not believe (and I am welcome to be proven wrong here) that finding real-life friends on the internet is a particularly simple or mechanical process. Can it be done? Yes. Of course. I know many people whose entire social life came from the seed of internet friendships. For myself, the internet has proven to be an invaluable tool in meeting some of my friends and in maintaining most of my relationships. Almost everybody all my friends in the young adult writing world started from a single: “Hey, anyone out there in SF or Oakland want to hang out?” tweet.

So it can definitely work.

Buuuuut…it’s not simple. There are caveats here. If you’re interested mainly in bonding over geeky or fannish activities, then you’d be a fool to not get involved in online fandom. The main source of entré into many occupational, hobby, or sexual fetish circles is also likely to come from involvement in online activities.

General Principle #3 — Making friends is not a mechanical or simple process, it requires you to build up a complex set of real-life skills.

Okay, so to get back to the main topic, which is generating social leads when you don’t have any, I’m gonna say this is one of the two hardest things for a lonely person to do (the other is turning a casual acquaintance into a close friend), and you’re going to run into a lot of failure here.

What I’m going to talk about in my next post is something that I think will crop up a lot in this series, which is the concept of “includers.” When you drill down deep into most peoples’ adult social lives, you will frequently find that, at their core, there is or was an includer.

But more on that tomorrow.

Will continue the WAR ON LONELINESS series tomorrow

This has been an extremely hard month for me. I’ve been depressed. It’s a thing that happens. Don’t worry, it’s getting better. That’s why I’m posting here.

I’ve been watching television, which is something I normally never do, and I’ve been reading Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil. Nietzsche is great! At times the man makes a long of sense; at other times, you’re like, welp, that sounds like fascism. But even when he sounds like fascism, you’re totally allowed to be like, “I disagree with you, Nietzsche, and I think you’re totally wrong,” and he’s like, “Err, that’s okay, I’m just stating my own truth, dude.”

Because the great thing about Nietzsche is that his philosophy is an indictment of traditional moral philosophy. He’s like, you know what? All these philosophers who pretend that you can use reason to figure out a system of morality? They are totally full of bullshit. All they do is decide first upon their philosophy, and then they create this whole big wobbly logical argument to support it. So really, why don’t we just skip the logical argument and instead shoot directly from the hip. I’m gonna sit here and tell you, in pithy, beautiful sentences, exactly what I think about the world, and I’m not gonna support it or argue in favor of it AT ALL, because it’s all just a result of my own intuitions.

Which is really, when you think about it, the only sensible way in which to moralize.

Nietzsche is extremely sexist. There’s a whole huge section in one of the books about how women are only concerned with looks and appearances, and that they shouldn’t bother to try to aim at anything higher than that. Reading it, I was like, “Wow, I wonder what it’s like to be a woman and read this? Does it severely detract from their enjoyment of the text?”

But then in the very next passage, he became extremely racist, spouting off all these generalizations about the East and the Orient and about how these semi-barbaric peoples are this and that. Admittedly, semi-barbaric is almost a compliment when it comes out of Nietzsche’s mouth, but still, it definitely came from a place of severe othering (as if to be like, well, no Indian person could EVER actually be reading and understanding this book).

And that kind of shit happens all the time, not just in nineteenth century literature, but in modern literature as well. And you know what? I simply ignore it. Because those guys were racist, and they were full of shit. So what? I’m capable of taking the good and leaving the bad.

Not gone, just depressed

I have more “War on Loneliness” posts written up already and scheduled for next week. I’m not gonna be the writer who posts that April is the cruelest, but there is some truth there. When the weather is great, heavy spirits can really weigh you down.

How to get invited to parties =]

Many self-help books have an essential superficiality that’s revealed in their opening chapters because they go on and on with caveats and general principles, and they never get down to the nitty-gritty of what you, a person sitting alone in front of your computer, can do right now to help yourself out. So I’m actually going to abandon my original topic for today, and I’m going to give some serious thought to first steps.

For me I’d say the first step is to go to gatherings of any sort. I recommended a few posts ago that you only go to gatherings where you’ll find people who you actually like, but now I’m gonna contradict myself, because guess what? People are really shitty at knowing who they’re actually gonna like! This is what makes online dating so frustrating! There’s guys out there who’re auto-rejecting every lady who isn’t tall and blonde, and when they finally meet the love of their life she’s short and brunette, and everybody in the entire world is like fuuuuuck you dude, we could’ve told you that hair color didn’t matter at all! But he’s happy now so let’s not pick on him.

Similarly, I think it’s hard to know who you’ll like. I’m generally pretty open to anybody. I can be friends with Republicans, investment bankers, rich people, bitchy people, whatever. So long as I have chemistry with them. (This was my approach to dating as well). So although I do make decisions about where to direct my efforts (for instance, as noted before, I don’t put a lot of faith in geeky gatherings), I also go to a lot of effort to attend events I’ve never been to before.

Like if I’m ever invited out by someone who’s never invited me out before, I usually attend, even if I don’t want to, because I know that I have this deep-seated in-born aversion to new things and new situations, and that in this case the startup energy required to go someplace new is so high that unless I force myself, I’ll never muster it.

I also find that once I’ve actually gone to a place or gone out with a given crew, it becomes easier to see them again (assuming I want to). So that’s my first concrete piece of advice:

Concrete Advice #1 — If you’re invited to something, you should go.

Okay, but that’s simple, because it assumes you actually have somebody in your life who’s inviting you to things. What if you don’t? Well, the next step is to drum up some invites. Here’s one thing I’ve tried doing that does NOT work: asking people to invite you to shit. Unless someone’s your very close friend (or they’re just the kind of person who likes to keep people connected), they’re not gonna invite you to someone else’s event.

What works slightly better is texting people to ask, “Hey, is anything happening tonight?” But even that’s more of a next-level friendship maneuver, because if somebody invites you to something where you don’t know anybody, they’re going to feel responsible for you, and it’ll end up feeling awkward if you’re not already at least somewhat close.

I’ll say that the absolute best way to get invited to things is to throw a party of your own. I throw probably a larger than average number of parties and brunch-type events, and I generally cast a very wide net, inviting almost everybody I know who lives in the area. And for me the purpose of these events isn’t to see my close friends (they’re already my friends–I can see them whenever I want), but to see my acquaintances and to reconnect with old friends. What I learn from who shows up to my parties is something very simple: who out there wants to be my friend?

If you come to several of my gatherings, it gives me a pretty decent idea that, hey, this person probably wants to be closer to me.

But, even more importantly, it tends to get me a lot of invitations in return. I don’t know the psychology here, but I think people often find it too difficult to go to the party of somebody they don’t know well, but when they’re having an event in turn, they feel like, hey, maybe I should return the invite.

And that to me is the real point of throwing events. It’s the reciprocity. In return for me allowing you into my home, you’ll allow me into yours.

Concrete Advice #2 — Have a brunch or something and invite everybody you know who lives in the area; in return, some of them’ll invite you to their shit.

(Note that when I talk about throwing parties, I’m talking largely about doing it through the medium of a Facebook event. Since we’re mostly talking about people in their late twenties, thirties, and forties, most of us are on Facebook. But I assume similar principles would apply, albeit with a slightly narrower net, when it comes to inviting people via text or in person).

Okay, but even that only works if you already know some people. What about if you’re at the absolute rock bottom, and you know nobody. Then what?

Tomorrow I’m gonna talk about how a person can generate social opportunities in the same way that salespeople generate leads.

All self-help, of any kind, should come with this sort of disclaimer

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Source

A guy I knew in high school had a brain aneurysm at age 19 and dropped dead. He was incredibly smart. Really friendly. Probably had a great future ahead of him. Now he’s dead.

Somewhere in the world, someone is being murdered. Or they’re dying of starvation. These things are terrible, but they happen.

And some people are doomed to never find the friendship that they deserve.

That’s a tough thing to hear. But I think it should be the standard disclaimer on any sort of self-help. Some people will never find friendship. Others will never find good love (or any love at all). Some of the newbie writers I know will never be successful. And you or I could drop dead of a brain aneurysm tomorrow.

Misfortunes happen. I think we should do everything we can, as individuals and as a society, to prevent and alleviate those misfortunes. But we should never forget that terrible suffering is always a possibility. And, further, that life is not at all fair. Some people live a charmed life. I am so aware of how lucky I have been when it comes to friendship. A person who entered adulthood the way I did (with crippling social anxiety that both caused and was exacerbated by my alcoholism), and who followed that entrance with, at times, some very poor physical hygiene and with frequent physical moves that left me isolated, should not have as rich of a social life as I do now.

And I’m very aware that all of this is possibly temporary. My fiance could get a job tomorrow in, I dunno, Gainesville, FL, and I’ll be stuck eating every single word I’ve written here.

Because this shit is hard! It’s not hard to make ‘friends.’ But it’s hard to find life-sustaining friendship. The kind of friendship that makes you less, rather than more, lonely. It is so hard to find your people.

If you’re embarking on a journey to find your people, however you define that term, you’re doing a thing that has high odds of failure. Now, some of you might get lucky. Maybe you’ll walk into a party and a charismatic stranger will see you and descend upon you, like in a YA novel or a buddy sitcom, and they’ll hang out with you every day and squire you around town and introduce you to everybody, and you’ll have this marvelous, charmed existence.

But for many of you it won’t be that way. You’ll experience this as a real struggle. As a constant attempt to give away something–your friendship–that the world simply does not value. And my heart goes out to you.

All I can say is that there is (probably) nothing essentially wrong with you. If Charles Manson could find his family, then probably there exists some circle of friends in which you could find solace. Too often I find that people have constructed these elaborate theories in their mind about why they are uniquely terrible and uniquely unattractive to other people. That’s BS. You’re probably fine. And if you follow my advice and you’re still having trouble finding friends then: A) my advice might be terrible; or B) perhaps you’re just suffering from your own strange inexplicable misfortune. It sucks, but it’s not your fault! Some people too have just a naturally more difficult time than others. If you’re in some place where your values are not aligned with the people around you, then it’s gonna be hard to find friends. If you’re the only Republican in a small town where everybody else is a Democrat, you’re gonna feel uncomfortable. If you’re the only religious person in a town full of atheists, you’re gonna feel alone. And if you’re the only MBA-type in an industry full of hoodie-wearers, it’s gonna be hard to connect.

Okay, now if all of my advice has been too vague and general for you, tomorrow I’m going to get down to the nitty-gritty of how to generate social opportunities.