drafted in late November
Flora: Am I still your “most likely to grow up to be a serial killer child”?
Flora: You’re not sure?
Jane: I’m sure, but I’m not sure what answer you want to hear?
Flora and I are walking briskly in the cold-not-cold November air from her house to mine (it’s still a mindfuck to me that this is a thing: her house, the kids’ house not being the same thing as my house). She’s going to watch my friend’s neurotic dog while the friend and I go out for sheesha (a perfectly legal act during this weird-ass non-lockdown, yes it makes no sense, yet, it’s totally fucked, but there it is). And suddenly—OMG—shiny things! A lawn of an apartment building strewn with treasures. Incense and Tarot books, candles, scarves, so many pretty things. Flora and I plunge into their midst.
“Are you moving?” I ask the woman who, from the safe distance of the balcony, tells us to take what we like and donate what we can, either into the jar or via etransfer.
“Just downsizing, decluttering, passing stuff on,” she says.
Her book collection is great, and lots of the odds and ends and knick-knacks make me smile. I introduce myself and tell her, “You have so many lovely things here. Also, I love your books. We should be friends.”
In another time—by which I mean, in a time unravaged by this modern plague—we’d exchange phone numbers and make a plan to meet for coffee tomorrow, probably at Vendome. Or maybe I’d ask her if she likes sheesha, would she want to come with me and mine to Cafe Med sometime, maybe even today? But in this time, in this stupid semi-lockdown, we just look at each other with hungry eyes. I make a note of the apartment building address, her balcony. Maybe in the spring, I’ll ask her to hang out. If we can, if it’s “safe.”
Flora and I resume our walk. She seems a bit perturbed. And, here it comes:
Flora: If that’s the way you meet people, no wonder you’re friends with so many weirdoes.
No one as judgemental as a teendager—no one as easily embarassed by a parent as a teenager either. Still. This is, to be fair, one of the less antagonistic things she’s thrown at me these days; almost an invitation to dialogue and conversation.
I take it.
Jane: I love my friends and they’re amazing. What? Who’s weird?
Flora: You’re friends with like, anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers! And people who are in cults!
Also, one of my friends is married to a Flat Earther. But I don’t think Flora knows that.
Jane: I only have one friend in a cult, and it’s not really a cult, more like an intentional community with cult-like overtones, and she’s one of the most loving, thoughtful people I know.
Also, I didn’t meet her on the street. I met her in cyberspace, which I suppose is the 21st century version of talking to strangers on the street?
But I digress—Flora and I fall into what is now a common conversation for us, in which I tell her I think it’s important to spend time with, to listen to, to try to understand all sorts of people. Hanging out exclusively in a silo of people who think just like you is bad for the brain and bad for the heart—bad for the world, actually. It makes you lazy and narrow-minded and…
She doesn’t exactly disagree. She just doesn’t see the value of my point. She’s in the throes and the enthusiasm of that stage of life at which she’s just starting to find her people. With whom she’s forming a cohesive, supportive cohort from the safety of which she can judge all those are people… who aren’t like her.
Jane: It’s boring to just hang out with people who think just like you, right?
Oh, the look she gives me—only a fifteen year old can give you a look like that. It’s not boring for her. Not yet. It’s new, and so it’s intoxicating.
We seem to, right now, as a society be failing to grow out of this normal, natural, necessary adolescent stage of development of surrounding ourselves with like-minded people… and only like-minded people.
This is harmful, to our personal development and to meta-social development of our culture.
I hear this all the time, and I bet you do too: “I want to be surrounded by like-minded people.” To be sure, who doesn’t? It feels nice. And we all need our safer spaces in which we can relax, and not be the culty weirdo.
But we also need spaces, relationships in which we are challenged, uncomfortable. Excited by the different, inspired to try to understand the inexplicable, oppositional, contradictory.
My most rewarding relationships have always been with the people who are not very much like me. They’re interesting to me. Hanging out with intellectual and emotional copies of me is very, very… dull.
While Flora babysits a neurotic poodle, I spend time with a friend who is not very much like me at all—we share some commonalities but more differences, and that’s what makes our friendship interesting. Later that night, all three kids come over for supper and the teenagers argue over—well, everything. And make Ender cry. I navigate the emotional storm as best as I can; walk them to their house in the dark, thinking about the complexity of relationships.
On the way back I pass the lawn strewn with beautiful things. A couple is going through my future friend’s treasures in the black of the night. I turn on the flashlight on my phone for them.
“Is there any incense left?” I ask. “I was kind of thinking of getting that earlier in the day.”
“Yes!” the woman says. She introduces herself as we scavenge, six feet apart, and feel each other’s vibe.
She’s kinda like me.
“We should be friends,” she says. I ask her where she lives, and she’s not in the hood anymore, but her guy lives just over there. I know the house—I think, in another time, I’ve sat on its porch…
In another time, they’d invite me over for a drink and a joint, right then, right now. Tonight, we each make a mental note to find each other in the spring. Maybe.
They might be my kind of weirdoes. Or cultists. Conspiracy theorists? Or some other kind of animal altogether. I don’t know.
I’d like to find out. I think I’ll like them.