A few weeks ago Lisa Olivera sent out this newsletter about how she has 460,000 Instagram followers and not many close friends. The whole piece is really really worth reading but this line specifically hit home for me: “Sometimes it feels embarrassing — like it shouldn’t be that way. It feels like I should know or do better, like I should have friendships figured out by now.”
I thought it was a brave piece like all her work is and this one especially because I feel embarrassed about how little connection I have, too. I have a small handful of extremely close friends, the kind that you put in your will and donate your organs to and talk to on the phone like your thirteen and using three-way for the first time, but most of them live far away or have their own busy lives, their own families. And then I have other spheres of connections: acquaintances I’m friendly with, friends I’m acquaintancely with, people I need to text back, all of you here, and so on. By appearances, I have so much, and I do. And yet.
Since leaving college, I have not had a group of people, a gaggle, a flock. I kid I’m a lone wolf, that this is some kind of choice I’ve made and it’s just how I am, but that’s not the truth. The truth is I’m a lonely wolf who cannot figure out how to create a sense of community for herself in the actual course of her non-working life. I spend most of my time by myself.
Moving to Los Angeles has only intensified all that. Living in the woods during a pandemic is a good excuse to not have people, to spend your days talking to your cat or baking a chicken that lasts you a week because it’s just you eating it. But if you can’t breed community where there are MILLIONS of people and events on events on events and more restaurants than you could ever eat at and beaches and hiking and running clubs and yoga classes and whatever and dozens of your friends live here and your family even fucking lives here, then maybe there really is something wrong with you. And that’s what made Lisa’s piece so comforting, so relieving. Because this feels embarrassing. It feels like some kind of tell, like the ultimate red flag about what kind of person I am. To be this lonely feels like a shame you’re supposed to hide.
When I did one of my yoga teacher trainings, which had a large breath work component, I learned, at least in the lineage I was training in, that holding your breath out for extended periods of time (exhaling it all out and then holding it out) is a way to conquer your fear of death. It triggers the response you have when you’re dying (life ends on an out breath!), and I loved those practices so much. I loved riding right up to the edge of my ability and all those nerves firing in my body like I was being held underwater and staying with that twitchy, panicky feeling until I got calm in it. The opposite practice, taking the breath in and holding it in for long periods of time, as a means to conquer your fear of life, was fucking hell. I didn’t even want to try those practices and I avoided them. They felt like the most unnatural and terrible thing you could ever do to yourself.
In a different yoga teacher training I learned that falling forward helps conquer the fear of life, falling backward helps conquer the fear of death, and at 44 I can still do back drops, have absolutely no issue diving back into the unknown, the unseen. But after 22 years of a dedicated practice I still can’t do a handstand without a wall. I still can’t plunge forward without completely freaking the fuck out. So I don’t.
Creating intimacy with people one-on-one is effortless for me. I make friends easily, and I always have, because it doesn’t feel risky to me, it’s always felt natural to be close, to be known, to be a friend. But having a group of friends, and figuring out how to create and maintain a community of people I belong to, feels like it’s some kind of herculean task I’ll never get right.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, why it feels easier to, say, write to tens of thousands of people about how you feel like a fucking loser about not having community feels easier than, say, inviting three people to your house, and the only thing I can really come up with is because for me, building community is a kind of falling forward, a living. To have a party for myself on my birthday, to ask for help in not just a one off way but in a “come help me move and I’ll buy everyone pizza” kind of way, to risk people not coming to a book talk or a dinner or something I organize, for no one to show up when I’ve tried, feels like the handstand I refuse to try. There’s a specific kind of vulnerability to it that might expose something about myself that I don’t want to suffer the truth of, which is that I might not be worth the trouble. It could potentially reveal so much about me I don’t want to know.
I explained all this to one of my friends the other day, like it was a really big revelation that people are more afraid of living than they are dying, and he laughed and basically said doyyy. But it is a revelation to me, and one that applies to various areas of my life where I hold back, where I freeze, where I choose numb and stuck and tomorrow over the consequence of forward movement. That second book I’m writing but not writing at all because it might really suck. The trips I don’t take because I should be writing the book I’m not writing. The waiting for some ready-made group of friends to invite me to apartment 20 instead of, you know, creating my own.
Jokingly last night on the phone to one of those few close friends of mine who has their own community—who has this part figured out by luck or by nature or by effort or some combination of those things—that this was a lot like that Anais Nin quote. And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. We laughed and laughed and then I stopped laughing and said, But I mean it.
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Fourteen Things Right Now
Canada dramatically changes its drinking guidelines, too many alcohol articles to list, a few really good books I’m reading, all the books I want to read, other people’s discipline is bullshit, Kate Manne writes again, keeping yourself organized to keep yourself from being fucked up, SAD lamps.
Related to this week’s topic, this newsletter by Rina Raphael on loneliness as wellness capitalism’s next mark
Canada changes its drinking guidelines big time; two drinks per week are now considered low-risk consumption. My friend and mentor and Canadian Ann Dowsett Johnston was quoted all over the place and next week we’re recording a short podcast on why this is a big deal, and why now the media is paying attention to it
One of the best books I’ve ever read was by Kate Manne (Downgirl: The Logic of Misogyny) and she has an infrequent newsletter and it came out today for the first time in a while and its on toxic gratitude and it made me so happy to see her words again
Booze stuff: Big Alcohol cares about us / still talking about something we’re still not doing / when are we going to sue them already / how is it still news that a depressant causes depression / etc. / etc. / etc. / etc. / etc. / etc.
As a self-identified tornado person, I have found that keeping things neat is one of the ways to manage myself and my mental health. I wrote recently about an article in The Cut and how being a late person is sometimes just ADHD and you can’t always habit your way out of that shit; in this case, forcing myself to keep things clean and straight and neat by habit and against my nature has proven to be a profoundly important skill worth its painful acquisition. Would love to hear from other ADHD/neurodivergent people on this fine line between allowing yourself to be yourself and creating compensating practices that genuinely make your life better?
Related: Someone else’s discipline is just bullshit which reminds me of the time I posted on instagram about how I am not disciplined and one of my very well-meaning very disciplined non-tornado friends posted a how-to on discipline in response lol
A round-up of the best SAD lamps (I use an out of production Verilux, but haven’t this year because haven’t had SAD, I think)
Books: I just finished Maggie Shipstead’s book of short stories You Have a Friend in 10A and I am so SAD it is over (the talent! the range!); started Sam because my editor sent it to me for free and I can’t put it down; The Perfectionist’s Guide to Losing Control by the brilliant Katherine Schafler which I’ll say more about in a later newsletter
Watching: The Last of Us because please yes give me all the post-apocalyptic stuff and plus I live in Hollywood and you cannot drive anywhere without being brainwashed into watching every single new series
Courtney Maum’s weekly writing routine
A psychedelic-assisted recovery program (co-created by one of my friends) is open for enrollment
Lithub creating my reading list for the next year
15 Titles To Try If You're Curious About Living A Life Without Alcohol with two of the books that saved me up top; WaPo/Lesley Alderman on the rise of Quit Lit genre, an article I gave an interview for (correction: I read this Allen Carr book, not this one)
I want to note that there is so much in here and so many things to drill into; our general disconnection and loneliness especially post pandemic and in this specific time and place; projections onto others who we think have something figured out that we don’t who probably feel a lot like we do; the importance of truly getting to know what Pema would call our hot loneliness or something. Those aren’t the things that interest me, at least in this essay. This piece could be summarized as: I value community, and I don’t have it, and I am so tired of spending more time feeling bereft then actually doing something to change it, and facing the risks associated with creating the kind of connection I crave and need.
Oh Holly, I'm so with you on this. I make friends easily, socialize comfortably, and yet I'm a "lone wolf". But at 64, I've decided it's just the way I'm hard wired. Yes, I feel lonely sometimes, but that's not the worst feeling in the world. Especially when I read what you just wrote and know there are lots of us lone wolves out there. Maybe we should celebrate how we are instead of saying we "shouldn't be that way". 💕
Great questions!! Same with me, epic phone calls with long-term besties are easy, but no friend groups.... and that too is an ADHD thing, at least for me. Group convos were always hard for me to gracefully participate in, it might be a brain-function/focus thing, that "switching" function that is so miserable for ADHDers. I also recently realized that when I started drinking (at 17) was the first time I ever felt comfortable in groups. I've apparently relied on alchohol to be at ease in groups my entire adulthood (I'm now 51, newly sober). Even though the next day I always woke up mortified at being so relaxed and open in front of mere acquantences. I went to a cocktail party sober a week before xmas, my first time ever doing this, and it was ok, but yeah it takes huge EFFORT to converse with a group.
As for adulting with ADHD, yeah I too have built up my organizing skills and I truly enjoy tidiness... but I'm still late to everything, no matter how hard I try to change it.