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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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.

It’s hard to _try_ to make friends; what’s more productive is to find situations where friendships will form naturally

Awhile back there was a New York Times article that said, essentially, the key to making friends is “proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other.” And, personally, I’ve never found a better summation of the issue than that. Trying to make friends is a fool’s game. What you need is to enter situations in which friends-making happens naturally.

Which is something many people intuitively understand, which is why they’ll recommend that you join some sort of club or organization in order to make friends.

But here’s where the advice breaks down, because they’ll be like, “Go to meetup groups! Join a book club! Volunteer for something you’re really passionate about!”

No. This is the advice of somebody who’s not thinking strategically. Because the goal here isn’t to read more books or to help people; it’s to make friends. And if you’re going to do that, then you need to do two things: a) hang around people you actually like; and b) do it in a place and time in which friends-making is possible.

For me, that rules out most Meetup groups, for the simple reason that: a) they’re incredibly formal and awkward; and b) they’re full of lonely, friendless people. You don’t want to be having superficial interactions with other lonely people who’ve been thrown together by chance. You want, ideally, to be making your first steps into joining some sort of social group that will become your new community. A meetup group, unless it’s a very special place, is never gonna be a community.

There is a reason that one of my first pieces of advice on this topic was to stop hanging out with people who bore you. It’s because the key to making friends is selectivity. This is going to be an excruciating and terrible process, which means that the reward needs to be worth the risk. That’s why you need to sit down and think, “What kind of person do I actually like? What have my current friends been like? What sort of life do I see myself leading?”

I’m not saying that friendship should be aspirational (in fact, the idea sort of repulses me), and I’m not advocating any kind of social climbing. Ideally I’d like the friendship search to be free of status considerations. Indeed, I think this is uniquely possible when it comes to friend-finding, because when you choose a friend group, you are also choosing a set of values. For instance, I’ve spent much of my life hanging out with slackers, and for them it’s a mark of pride not to have a normal full-time salaried job. To the rest of society they might be at the bottom, but in their view, they’ve figured out something all the salarymen haven’t.

Anyway, I can’t tell you exactly where you’re going to find the people you want to be friends with. But I can tell you some of my experiences in this vein. For instance, because I write science fiction and fantasy stories, it’s relatively easy for me to go to geek events and science fiction conventions, and for awhile I thought this would be where I found the majority of my adult friends.

But over time I came to realize…I don’t actually get along that well with fan culture, because, on a fundamental level, I’m just not a fan. I don’t watch that much TV. I don’t play video games nowadays. And, more importantly, I just don’t want to talk about that stuff. There’s a limit to the amount of time I can spend talking about superhero movies and Game of Thrones and whatever else is on TV.

Not that my conversation is particularly highbrow, but what I do like to do, which is gossip and tell stories, often makes geeky types uncomfortable, because in geek circles you often don’t talk about your emotions or social lives. Which is totally fine, but it’s not for me.

So at some point I decided I’d stop prioritizing attendance at geek events, because although it’s a great place to make friends (many people talk about a feeling of ‘coming home’ when they first encounter fan culture), it’s not a great place for me.

However, this did make it harder for me, because the people I like to hang out with aren’t really joiners. Like, this ‘join clubs and organizations’ advice is difficult, because…this isn’t the 50s. Most people aren’t down with the Rotary Club or the Kiwanis or whatever we’re talking about. Most people, if they have any sort of community, have either: a) a professional community; or b) a loosely-organized circle of interconnected friend groups that nevertheless form some sort of distinct ‘scene’ (think Girls or Sex and the City).

And that shit is tough to break into! And there’s no guarantee you’ll succeed! Which is why tomorrow I’m going to post down-to-earth disclaimer about the advice I’m offering here.

Don’t listen to all the terrible clickbait friend-making advice out there

Most clickbait advice is written by people who’ve never actually tried it. Either that, or they’re terribly unobservant. That’s the only explanation I can give for all the articles you’ll find if you google “How do I make friends as an adult.”

Don’t click through! Don’t even give them the satisfaction! All of those articles are like, “Go to meetup groups! Find people you like! Invite those people to chill! Keep making plans with them!”

Which sounds great, until you think: “Is this how people actually make friends?”

Because it’s really not. Most friend-making happens slowly and unconsciously. You see someone around a few times at a party or some big gathering. You find yourself drawn into conversation with them. Then maybe you’re going on an outing of some sort, and they tag along. Perhaps you’re in their part of town and you text them to see if they want to get coffee. Then maybe a few months pass, during which you run across them only occasionally. Maybe a few years pass, and you move to a new town, and they’re in that town too, and you reconnect. You get really distraught over something, and they’re the only person on Twitter so you talk to them over Direct Message for a few hours. Then one day you’re looking for brunch plans, and you text them, and they’re surprisingly down! You have a great time, and maybe you go to a movie afterwards. You start texting them more often. They become your go-to stop when you’re lonely. Maybe you carpool to work or something. Or you park your car in their garage when you’re out of town. They come to you crying about some shit with the guy who broke their heart, and you tell them they’re amazing and he’s an idiot. You tell them about all the guys who’ve broken your own heart. They invite you to parties, you meet their friends.

And then there’s the ebb of friendship too. Maybe they move a few miles away. Or they get a more stressful job. Or you do. Maybe they get really into roller derby, and you don’t hate it, but you’re just not into it. Suddenly all they can talk about is roller derby, and they can’t hang out, because they’re always derbying with the derby girls. You’re like, hey…that shit is dangerous. But they’re like ohhh that’s good old cautious Rahul–he’s so staid, he’s just totally not down to snort cocaine all night and throw trashcans into the street like us derbiers are. And now you only see them once a month. Or once every six months. Maybe at some point they’re only a picture on Facebook.

But imagine how this would go if you followed the clickbait advice. You’d go to a friend’s housewarming. You’d meet someone cool. You’d be like, “Oh hey you’re awesome, let’s hang out!” Then you’d text them, “When you wanna hang out?” And they’d comb their schedule, and you’d find a date maybe three weeks from now, and maybe you’d make it, and you’d sit across the table from each other, being like, what the hell do we talk about, we are two strangers! Or perhaps, because you don’t really know each other, you’d feel no need to be good to each other, so you flake out, first one and then the other. And you try to reschedule, but it never really happens.

And you’d think it was your fault! Or theirs! You’d be like, wow, this was such a boring person! Or such an asshole! And you’d keep trying to follow this terrible, time-consuming, and self-defeating advice until, if you were lucky, you connected with someone who was charismatic and together enough to do the work of friendship for you.

The problem with clickbait advice is that it’d have you believe that the way you make friends as an adult is in some way essentially different from how you did it in high school and college. But it’s not. Adults aren’t that different from teenagers; we simply live in a different social environment. And the trick isn’t to flail our arms and brute-force our way through our environment’s limitations: it’s to find ways to change that environment.

Which is why, although I’ll have plenty of advice here about person-to-person interactions, my primary lesson is that the main thing you need to do is find groups of people to interact with.

General Principle #2 — You’re not just looking for individual friends, you’re also looking to be part of a community.

Okay, but that leads us to a piece of fallacious clickbait advice that I’m going to attack tomorrow. This idea that you just need to “get out there and join some groups.”

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The first step to gaining friends is to stop hanging out with people you don’t actually like

Loneliness activates some panic reaction in us. We don’t sit back and think, “Hmm, what do I do?” In fact, we often don’t think about it at all. That’s because the implications of loneliness (“I am so worthless that nobody could possibly love me”) are so catastrophic that if we were to confront them, we’d need to destroy ourselves.

For this reason, our response to loneliness is often driven by instinct. Most commonly, this leads us to cling to whatever group of people we can possibly find. Often, this is the first group of people we stumbled upon when we came to a new city.

Personally I hate foreign travel, precisely because of the sense of loneliness, but I have a friend who loves it: she’s spent years living in Argentina. And not on a study abroad sort of deal. She just packed up and went there. And during her travels she always seems to form magical and intensely meaningful connections with people.

So I asked her, “What’s your secret? How do you do it?”

And she said, “Well, the main advice I can give is: if you don’t like a group of people, don’t hang out with them.”

I laughed, since that seems sort of obvious, but she clarified that oftentimes when you land up in a country there’ll be other expats there who’re also terribly lonely, and you’ll gravitate to each other. But now, because you’re together, you’ll have closed off the space into which somebody new would’ve come. The main thing, she said, was to dare to be alone and to trust that something good will happen.

Years passed before I realized how true this advice was. It’s a really hard thing to explain, because on some level it’s not intuitive. How can having friends prevent you from making other friends? Sure, this group of people might mostly spend their time talking about football and office politics, but they’re nice, aren’t they? And they seem to really like me! Why should I give up on what’s basically the only pleasure in my life? And it’s not like I’m in an exclusive relationship with them. Surely I can find other people at the same time.

And the reason is…well…it’s basically a matter of time. Oftentimes these groups of people are closed-off, self-sustaining bodies that fulfill all the emotional needs of their members. Thus, they have activities often enough that they’re gonna fill up a lot of the time when you could be meeting new people. Secondly, finding new people is uncomfortable. It makes you feel really bad. And if you’ve got this other group to fall back upon, you’re gonna do it.

Which isn’t terrible! Not at all!

But…it’s self-defeating in the end. Because if you don’t really connect with these people, you’ll never become close with them. And they’ll sense it. Over time, you’ll have to work harder and harder to stay connected with them, and you’ll still be left with nothing, except you’ll also have wasted years.

Sigh.

What a sad image! So that leads us to the first of (what will hopefully be many of) my general principles.

General Principle #1 — Don’t hang out with people who bore you, or who you, for whatever reason, don’t really click with. In this case “good enough” really is worse than nothing.

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(Note, I’m not talking about getting rid of toxic friends. That’s something different! I’m talking about ditching people who, although they’re perfectly fine, are just not your people.)

Okay, so now that you’re considering dumping this group of friends, I’m gonna get more into the specifics. But one thing you might’ve noticed from these three posts is that I always talk about friends in the plural. Isn’t that weird? I mean most people aren’t greedy. They don’t want to be social butterflies. They just want a few close friends. And, for this reason, most friend-making advice is geared around making a few close friends (“Find someone you like. Invite them out for coffee. Sit awkwardly with them for an hour. Go home and cry into your pillow because it was so awkward. Then do it again.)

I think that’s bullshit, and that making friends one-by-one is a terrible and self-defeating idea. Tomorrow I’ll talk about why.

[Note: This blog is part of an ongoing series on making friends, which I call “The War on Loneliness,” and I’d love your input. Share your own stories, experiences, and feelings in the comments! Or if you want to be more anonymous, email me at rahulkanakia@gmail.com. Please let me know if you have any questions you want answered. And if you like this, consider sharing the link. Or click through to the Medium or WordPress versions and share or recommend that instead.]

I’m not an expert in making friends; I’m an expert in fighting loneliness

Yesterday I closed by writing about loneliness. Now, I could wax poetic about the nature of this loneliness, but one of my favorite passages in all of literature (it’s from Zoe Heller’s Notes on a Scandal) puts it much better than I could:

Being alone is not the most awful thing in the world. You visit your museums and cultivate your interests and remind yourself how lucky you are not to be one of those spindly Sudanese children with flies beading their mouths. You make out to-do lists—reorganise linen cupboard, learn two sonnets. You dole out little treats to yourself—slices of icecream cake, concerts at Wigmore Hall. And then, every once in a while, you wake up and gaze out of the window at another bloody daybreak, and think, I cannot do this anymore. I cannot pull myself together again and spend the next fifteen hours of wakefulness fending off the fact of my own misery.

People like Sheba think that they know what it’s like to be lonely. They cast their minds back to the time they broke up with a boyfriend in 1975 and endured a whole month before meeting someone new. Or the week they spent in a Bavarian steel town when they were fifteen years old, visiting their greasy-haired German pen pal and discovering that her handwriting was the best thing about her. But about the drip, drip of long-haul, no-end-in-sight solitude, they know nothing. They don’t know what it is to construct an entire weekend around a visit to the launderette. Or to sit in a darkened flat on Halloween night, because you can’t bear to expose your bleak evening to a crowd of jeering trick-or-treaters. Or to have the librarian smile pityingly and say, “Goodness, you’re a quick reader!” when you bring back seven books, read from cover to cover, a week after taking them out. They don’t know what it is to be so chronically untouched that the accidental brush of a bus conductor’s hand on your shoulder sends a jolt of longing straight to your groin. I have sat on park benches and trains and school room chairs, feeling the great store of unused, objectless love sitting in my belly like a stone until I was sure I would cry out and fall, flailing to the ground. About all of this, Sheba and her like have no clue.

When I read this passage, several years ago, I cried, because I knew exactly what that felt like. When I wrote yesterday about the three categories of adults, I wrote with authority, because I’ve been in all of them. And sometimes the switches between them have been so rapid that they’ve taken me utterly by surprise. I’ve gone from cities where I knew hundreds of people to cities where I knew nobody. I’ve had the small, intimate group of friends that fell apart and left me with nothing. And I’ve sat or stood for hours in parties and in convention halls where everybody knew everybody else, and where nobody wanted to know me, and I have wept. I have felt, sometimes for years at a time, as if my friendship was something so worthless I couldn’t even give it away, and I’ve had the other experience—I’ve turned down friendship overtures from desperately lonely people who I just didn’t click with.

But I’m not an expert at making friends. I’m really not. I’ve met experts. People who start off as the funniest and wittiest people you’ve met in your life, and then, in a second, focus on you such an intense wave of compassion and interest that you feel connected to them like you’ve felt connected to few other people on this earth.

That’s not me. I’m sometimes witty, but I’m also frequently tongue-tied, and I still embarrass myself all the time. I can’t even say that I’m good at making friends. It gets harder and harder as you get older, and I’m only thirty-one. If I ever move (I currently live in San Francisco), I’ll have to start over just like anybody else, and I might once again feel the loneliness that Zoe Heller wrote about.

What I am is an expert in fighting loneliness. And in my years of struggling against this enemy, I have learned a few things, and my intention with this series of blog posts is to try to convey them to other people in an orderly and systematic way.

These posts are intended for a person who wants to expand their social circle, make more friends, and make better, more intimate friends. Some of the advice will be things you’ve heard before (yes, joining some sort of organization is often a good way to meet people). Other advice will be radically different (for the love of God, don’t go to Meetup groups—you can’t build a robust social network by socializing only with other lonely people).

A lot of this stuff will be just as applicable for people who have lots of friends. The holy grail of friendship is intimacy: finding a person who you feel an enduring bond with; somebody with whom you can share your feeling and rely upon. For years I knew how to make casual friends but not how to find intimates. However in the last year or two I’ve started to crack the code on this question, and that’s why I finally feel qualified to write this post.

My next post is going to sound like a misnomer, because it’s about the importance of ditching friends. More specifically, it’s about the biggest barrier to making the right friends…

Anyways, more on that tomorrow.

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How to make friends as an adult (even when you’re not particularly interesting, attractive, or charismatic).

 

So far as I can tell, most adults have no roots in the area where they live. They didn’t grow up there. And, if they went to college, their college was in some other place. They often relocated to their current metro area either for a job, graduate school, or with the aspiration of leading a cool and awesome life. They often work hard, but not quite hard enough to disguise the emptiness of their lives. During the day, they’re friendly enough with the people they work / go to school with. After work, they might go out to a happy hour with those people. Then, if they’re lucky, they go home to a significant other. Otherwise, in the evenings they exercise, go on dates, watch Netflix, play electronic games, or browse the internet.

It’s only in the residuum of their time—their weekends and the few weekday evenings they spend with friends—that these adults diverge.

About one third of adults have a large, diverse, and vibrant body of friends that includes both nodding acquaintances and very intimate friendships. They have a friend circle large enough that they won’t spiral into loneliness if they lose one or two people. On weekends, they have things to do (or with some effort they can drum up some things to do). They’re not immune from loneliness, but objectively speaking, they have it pretty good. Many times this group of friends is a loosely-organized group whose nexus is the friends they made in college. But often enough the group has a different basis. Sometimes it’s made of people they met through work (either at their current or at previous jobs). Other times it’s something that grew from a hobby (pen and paper roleplaying or folk music, for instance). Sometimes it’s anchored by formal membership in a group (often true with political activism), but more often it’s not. There is just this sense that there is an ‘us.’ They have community, is what I’m saying. One third of adults have some sort of community.

Another third of adults has close friendship, but no community. What I mean is they have between two and ten people they call “friend,” and that they see at least some of these people regularly. However, the group is fragile. Often it’s held together by a few people who do a disproportionate amount of effort. If they had children or moved, it’d fall apart. Now I’m not saying that this tranche of adults suck at life or that they’re less interesting or gregarious than people in the first group. Sometimes when you have a smaller group of friends it’s a matter of time or inclination: these adults might be working demanding jobs that leave them with little free time, or they might just be introverted and find it difficult to be around new people. Oftentimes people with little groups of friends aren’t even unhappy. What these groups are characterized by, frequently, is a large amount of intimacy. Everybody in the group knows each other well, and because of this, they can meet each others’ emotional needs. However, what worries me about these groups is their fragility. They’re closed off, which means they have no ability to replace the people that the group loses through natural attrition. When people with small groups of friends experience disruption, they have nobody waiting in the wings to replace the friends they’ve lost, and they find themselves falling into the final group.

And, finally, maybe somebody out there will dispute this, but as far as I can tell, one third of adults have no friends. Oh, they might not characterize themselves that way. They’re not freaks. Perhaps they made close friends in college or high school, but those friends live in other cities now. And they might have friends on message boards or in an online game. Many of them have significant others with whom they’re very close. These connections are all absolutely real, and if they satisfy, then I’ve nothing further to say.

But oftentimes these adults are lonely. They know they’re missing something real: the tangible, physical experience of another person who enjoys your company. They’re missing laughter and teasing and jokes. And they’re missing intimacy. Somebody who’ll visit when you’re sick. Somebody who’ll notice when you’re looking withdrawn. Perhaps these people have a friend or two from college who lives in the same town, but it’s hard to make schedules mesh, so you only see each other once a month. Perhaps they’re part of a meetup group, but those people are only one step up from strangers.

This is the loneliness that drives people to suicide, and it’s this loneliness that I want to try to combat. Oh, I’m not saying that the other two groups don’t have something to learn from me, but I am so tired of walking through this city of mine (San Francisco) and seeing so many desperately lonely people. And when I see these people in the streets and in the bars, I always find myself thinking of the other people: the ones who never make it onto the street. The ones trapped in their apartments, because they know—right down to the core of their bones—that they have nothing to offer anybody.

Okay, so this was my intro post for what I hope’ll be a new series here that I’m calling “The War On Loneliness.” Tomorrow I’m gonna write a little bit more about my intentions and about how I expect this is gonna go.

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I’m trying to take this blog in a slightly new direction, and I’m interested in what people have to say, so if you’ve any additions to make or disagreements with what I’ve said, please leave a comment here or email me at rahulkanakia@gmail.com. I’d also ideally like to have an advice columnist aspect going on here, so if you’ve any questions or issues, send me an email!

Hurt myself skiing. Trapped at home. Feeling low. Watching BREAKING BAD.

Sorry there hasn’t been much activity here lately. Two Sundays ago I hurt myself skiing. It was a stupid injury. Was the end of the day, was on a green slope, coasting towards the ski village, and my ski caught some slushy ice and sent me falling. The other ski didn’t detach, instead it twisted my knee and sent a sharp pain through it. Since then I’ve had pain when I walk, particularly down stairs. I’ve been icing it, compressing it, elevating it, staying off of it, using ibuprofen, etc. My plan is to do some hardcore resting in the hopes that it’ll heal, but it’s just really depressing to be trapped in your apartment right at the beginning of spring, when the weather is, for the first time, just unbelievably warm and beautiful. The flowers are literally blooming and birds are literally singing and I can’t go outside!!!!

I’m going stir crazy is what I’m saying. It’s a problem.

I’ve also had some professional difficulties lately (it looks like I’m going to be parting from my publisher), and in general I’m not in a very good place.

So I’ve been watching Breaking Bad!

Generally I have a lot of trouble paying attention to television dramas. I don’t know what it is: they just bore me. I think they don’t demand enough from me. Say what you want about comedies, but there is usually something happening every minute. And books require you to, you know, actively read them. Dramas though…well, okay this is just my opinion, but I don’t think they require the full brain.

However right now my full brain isn’t really available for use, so I’m totally in the mood for dramas. I’d started, four years ago, watching Breaking Bad, but I found the first three episodes were way too intense for me, so I gave it up. Then, a week ago, I started watching Better Call Saul, and I found it so compelling that I was like, maybe I should give Breaking Bad another chance.

Well the joke’s on me, because the first three episodes were an aberration. The rest of the series (at least so far) is way less bloody and way less intense. I’m liking it, though I’d be hard-pressed to say why. Walt is so awful. No anti-hero I’ve ever written has been nearly as selfish or thoughtless as he is. And what’s interesting is that he’s awful but he also has an element of impotence. I mean he’s obviously doing better in the drug game than most people would, but it’s also clear that he’s only alive because of luck. Every episode sees Walt operating right on the edge of his abilities and just barely scraping by.

Which is different from most antiheroes. Many antiheroes are pretty blatant power fantasies: what would it be like if I could do anything? kill anyone? sleep with anybody? charm people with my magic words? or kill them with my crowd of thugs?

Walt wants those things, but he can’t quite get them. And yet he comes close. It’s a really fine line, and I’m surprised that Breaking Bad managed to walk it. What I would expect from this show is that most viewers would be turned off, not by Walt’s selfishness, but by his general patheticness. He alternates so frequently between superman and schmo that sometimes you get whiplash from seeing it. But that very conflict is at the root of the show’s appeal.

 

Trying not to think about writing except when I’m actually writing

My very talented writer friend and former grad school colleague, Courtney Sender, was recently a guest at the New Orleans Literary Festival (chosen because she won a short story contest) and at the conference she heard Robert Olen Butler give this intensely revelatory lecture on writing that in many ways encapsulated a bunch of the things she and I have discussed in our conversations with each other.

She got so excited that she called me up and gave me some snippets of the talk: “Writing doesn’t come from your head. You can’t intellectualize it. Writing comes from the place that dreams come from”; “Peer criticism (i.e. the workshop) is vastly overrated; it’s the blind leading the potentially-sighted”; “The way you’re taught to read in an English class is anethema to a writer. A writer doesn’t write books that’re meant to be thought about and analyzed. They’re meant to be experienced. You want a book you can thrum to. A book that in some way resonates emotionally with you.”

There was a lot of stuff. I was sad to miss the talk. Luckily he wrote a book that’s nothing more than a collection of many of his lectures. I bought the book last weekend for the Kindle, and I tore through it.

In many ways the book is stuff I’d known before. Writing comes from the unconscious. Writing needs to involve deep yearning (what I call “the heart of longing”). But what interested me most was his emphasis on the specific. He reiterated that the core of writing is the image. In some way, writing involves a collection of images that encapsulate these deep yearnings which are often, in some way, ineffable or deeply internal.

This is something I’ve heard before, obviously (it’s the core of “show, don’t tell.”) But something about the way he presented the idea made it seem not only intuitive but necessary. The best chapter, in my opinion, was one where he had his students attempt to tell anecdotes from their lives, and during their tellings he constantly interrupted them and forced them to get more specific.

This is exactly the problem I’ve always had with my line writing. It’s not specific enough. And the scenes I create often don’t feel one hundred percent real. It’s not something I can actually see. Instead it’s more like shadow puppetry.

I’ve tried to remedy this, at times, by using things that’re drawn directly from my experience, but that’s tended not to work either. The scenes have come out feeling limp, misshapen, and wrong. And Butler has an answer for that too. He talks about how it’s better for writers to experience life…and then forget it. Because when you forget, your experiences get de-composed, and then you’re free to dig into your imagination and recompose them. When you do this, it feels, in many ways, like remembering. But it’s not. You’re making up something, but the thing you’re making up is something that feels incredibly real.

Anyway, the book was only of limited help when it came to matters like: “How do I capture the heart of yearning” (Butler says, until you’ve got hold of a character with real human yearning, you might as well not bother to write) and “How do I get into the dreamspace.” But, oddly, I’m not frustrated. One thing I’ve done in the two days since reading this book is start logging my dreams. Not in terms of broad outlines or narrative, but simply in terms of images. The moment I wake up I write down a bunch of words, usually nouns, that describe whatever I most remember seeing. Then, later, I transcribe it into my online journal, and I attempt to turn the words into a concrete image.

The results have been great! In my dreams I manage to catch hold of the heart of longing almost every time, whereas with my writing it’s more like 1 in 100 times. At least one of my dream images has turned into an actual story I’m writing, but I think the broader purpose of this is simply to train my brain to realize what the heart of longing looks like.

(What does help, though, is that I dream very vividly, and I often dream about people who aren’t me. In fact, many of my dreams take the form of movies I’m watching or books I’m reading, so the narrative comes premade. But whatever, I should hope that thirteen years of writing and nine years of selling professionally ought to have made me at least a slightly better dreamer.)

Anyway, I highly recommend this book. It’s the best book on writing I’ve ever read.

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Drank coffee for the first time in three years!

Today I drank coffee for the first time in three years (1023 days, to be precise). Not sure why. I woke up at 5 AM and drove down to Los Altos to speak in their writer’s week. I got 6 hours of sleep (I normally sleep like 8-9 hours), but I felt really tired, really out of it. I decided to drink just a splash of coffee, which really did pep me up. Then I drank many more splashes, and now here I am sitting at a Philz with my heart hammering.

I stopped drinking coffee, all those years ago, because I realized: a) it was interfering with my sleep; and b) I can always power through and do what I need to do, no matter how tired I am.

But this time I really didn’t feel like I could.

EEhh, I dion’t know. Writer’s week went great! I don’t do that many school visits, but I always enjoy them. I keep it very unstructured. I just give a little spiel and then take questions for the rest of the period (anyone who knows me knows I can speak extemporaneously for as long as I need to).

I do feel like sometimes I disappoint the English teachers when I speak, because they expect me to say, given the subject of my book, that getting into college is no big deal, and that you shouldn’t stress out about it. They expect me to say you should be intrinsically motivated (by sheer love of the material) rather than extrinsically motivated (by the prospect of getting acclaim and going to a good college). But I mean, come on, let’s be real. If you’re motivated only by love of learning, then getting As is not a good value proposition. What you ought to do is study enough that you know the material, and then you should move on and look into things that interest you. But that’s not the world we live in. You go to school, and your grades matter. The college you go to matters. You close off future opportunities if you don’t get good grades. Now, do I think you’re a bad or stupid person if you don’t get good grades? No. Do I think you’re a failure if you don’t get into a good college? No.

I think the three* main determinants, in life, of success are: a) luck; b) connections and class privilege; and c) the ability to shrug off failure and keep trying. The first two are things that aren’t innate to you. And the third thing is something you only acquire by actually failing. By definition, people who get into elite colleges have not been tested by the crucible of failure. So no, I think what college you go to has absolutely no bearing on who you are as a person.

But I also think it helps with most things. Given that you have to go to school anyway, if you have any kind of aspirations in life, it doesn’t hurt to shoot for the top.

*There’s also an invisible X factor of course: the spark of genius. But it’s impossible to know whether you have, or will ever have, that spark of genius, so I just class it under “luck.”