I have to apologize. A few years ago I got really excited about writing this series of articles on how to make friends, and I wrote up this whole huge outline and planned a big series of posts and rebranded my entire blog and even wrote many of the posts, but then I stalled out and drifted away.
The problem, I think, was that while I knew a lot about the topic, I didn’t know quite enough. The thing I was missing was the final ingredient. Not how do you make friends, but how do you make best friends. How do you find the people who will offer you succor in your darkest times? The people who will loan you money, give you shelter, lie for you under oath, and ride out, sword in hand, to avenge your death.
To be honest, I wasn’t entirely certain I had friends like that myself. Although I think highly of friendship, at times I feel like Proust, who repeatedly, in Remembrance of Things Past, talks about how friendship is mediocre and narcotizing: “The whole effort of [friendship] is directed towards making us sacrifice the only part of ourselves that is real and incommunicable (otherwise than by means of art) to a superficial self which, unlike the other, finds no joy in its own being, but rather a vague, sentimental glow at feeling itself supported by external props, hospitalised in an extraneous individuality, where, happy in the protection that is afforded it there, it expresses its well-being in warm approval and marvels at qualities which it would denounce as failings and seek to correct in itself.”
The problem with friendship is that there’s a sort of glow that comes from being around other people, and this glow is rather pleasant, though not overwhelmingly so, and it encourages us to look outward, to turn away from ourselves and from our own deepest concerns, and to, essentially, turn off our brains for hours at a time.
Relationships with other people are sustaining. And, as with Proust, they provide most of the raw material for my work. Friendship, more than romantic love, is one of the main themes of my fiction, and perhaps because of this I’m aware of its paradoxes. Most friendships are weak and easily broken. Most conversations are banal and repetitious. Hours upon hours can pass with your friends and yet disappear instantly, even from your memory, without leaving a single trace. And most of the good feelings we have towards our friends are shallow. Friends abandon each other at the slightest provocation, not even because one has imposed on the other, but merely because one is afraid the other might impose.
Two way exist for closing the loop on friendship and creating something of durable worth. One is the mystical ‘best friend.’ Your ride-or-die friend. Your one true pairing. The person you would call if you needed help burying a body. I believe this person exists. And I have thoughts on how to find them. But it’s a hard thing. The route from here to there is pretty circuitous, to be honest.
The other way is through community. I’ve always been struck by how people in the Indian-American community will go to great lengths to help out other people they might not even like. Indians will think nothing of asking almost total strangers to put up their kids while they’re in college in America or write them recommendations or loan them money or co-sign a mortgage. And oftentimes the other person will actually do it! There’s a sense of solidarity there that’s almost mystical. There’s a feeling that well, I’ll do this because other people will do it for me.
I’ve observed this within the science fiction and fantasy community too. People in SFF will help each other out. They’ll read each others’ books. They’ll blurb each other. Recommend agents. Even when some total goober comes up to you, and you’re like, this guy is never gonna be a real writer, you treat them nicely and invite them to sit with you and try to tolerate their presence, because that’s just how it is.
Whereas within the community of young adult writers, it’s not like that. People are in it for themselves. There’s a perpetual status-consciousness at play, and unless you’re on the up-and-up, people don’t have time for you.
Which is not to say that there’s no status-consciousness within the SFF and Indian-American communities! Far from it! There is perpetual kow-towing within both worlds. But there also exists a sense of responsibility that’s somewhat absent in the YA world.
I can’t speak to what makes some communities strong and other communities weak. It’s not about liking. To be honest, I tend to like the YA community much more than I like the SFF community: the former is full of cool, sophisticated women, while latter is primarily comprised of people who make cringe-inducing jokes about the TARDIS (from Dr. Who) every time they’re in an elevator. But I recognize the YA world’s deficiencies, and that’s why I maintain my ties to SFF.
So the search for ride-or-die friends, seems, at times, to be a mirage. If you want true support, emotional or otherwise, you’re better off finding a strong community to be a part of.
And yet…one does desire that intimacy. And I’ve spent the last several years slowly developing thoughts on how to find it. Which is why I’m posting here again.