If we’re ranking mental health salves, enchantment is as close to a natural benzodiazepine that I’ve found. I spent the first five months here talking to trees, sharing giggles with squirrels and apologizing to surprised porcupines like we bumped into each other coming and going from our local coffee haunt. Oop! Sorry, you go! No, no, you go! Ooh, oops, haha! We’re both going! Laughter paired with an embarrassment so mild it feels only like an unexpected warm breeze.
This connectivity kept me company, but the trees are, for the most part, napping. The squirrels and porcupines are only evidenced by their chaotic drawings across the snow fields from one pine well to another. Only a peppering of magpies remain at this elevation, save for the few songbird calls I can hear when I pause the unfathomably loud swishing of my snowpants against themselves. I sing back, but it falls flat against the snow and I am alone again.
It’s been six months since I moved here, and I am lonely.
There’s an inevitability to loneliness in moving. Like exercise brings sore muscles, it’s built in. And in a way, it’s required to become a member of a community. There needs to be a drive, a desperation to break in to a dance very much in progress, to show you are the kind of troupe mate who makes dancing weightless. I have not accrued enough desperation to try this dance, and I am more Darcy than Elizabeth in this regard — crippled by my fears and not yet sufficiently encouraged by my hopes to give in.
This has been a persistent issue for me. Multiple people at multiple company Christmas parties have said verbatim, “You’re way more fun than I thought you were,” like my whole personality has resting bitch face. The reality is much, much lamer: I’m scared. Like a street cat, it’s not that I’m incapable of being friendly, it’s more that I don’t trust other people to be friendly back, which often leaves me waiting for them to be friendly first, repeatedly, before I engage. But also, I still look like this:
A person who gets me some 4,600 miles away joked I should put an ad in the classifieds requesting friends, reminding me of the once heavily advertised but now suspiciously quiet Bumble BFF. The reviews of Bumble BFF are bad because making friends is awkward. When romance is involved, there’s always the good ole fall-back of “you’re not my person,” but with friends? It’s so much more brutal to be like, “you’re not one of the thousands of people I’ve connected with in all sorts of situations and places over the course of my whole life, and honestly, I have more deeply enjoyed conversations I was forced into with strangers on planes than I did doing something we agreed upon in advance with you.” I mean fuck.
I wish making friends was as easy as a Classified ad because I like thinking about what my “friend profile” would say. Sometimes I actually fantasize about what a dating profile would say now that I know myself so much better. I think I’ve narrowed my entire personality to this:
I take the stairs at the airport, I use my turn signal when no one’s there, and I always return my grocery cart.
To me this conveys I am annoying, I am paranoid, and I think convenience is a pretty word for the laziness that continues to disintegrate the community values so many of us are desperately craving. But also that I am annoying.
You don’t need classifieds here, though. You just need to go outside. In a city, if you don’t get someone’s number the first time you meet, you are relying either on FBI-level stalking or kismet to connect again. Here, all you have to do is quite literally go outside and you are contractually guaranteed by the Law of Small World Likelihood to run into that person again. In fact, it’s harder to not see someone than to see them. Which means if you’re having a bad day, you better cheer the fuck up or the next time they see you they’re gonna be like, “there’s the girl with resting bitch personality.”
If you’ve been reading since the beginning, you might recall a girl I encountered on the trail — an encounter that made me feel small and like I was somehow a traitorous snake without ever having met her before. Well, I ran into her again and I report with dishonor that she was incredibly nice. Maybe that day we met she was having a bad day. Maybe (harder to admit) I was the one having a bad day. But in a small town, you need to have grace for the people around you and plead they have the same for you.
I am lonely, but I should be. It’s winter in a cabin in a pandemic in a town of 180 people where I have lived for 6 months, most of which I spent sitting at a desk. And upon close inspection, friendship is probably only a few more months away. Since my avalanche class, I’ve run into three people from the course. Each one remembered me by name. They’re not my friends, but they could be! I ran into a neighbor I’ve been hoping to have dinner with for months, wondering why she hadn’t texted back — can you guess why? It starts with 2020 and ends with learning to make sourdough.
But there is a swirl, and it is pulling me.
Imagine LA or New York or London for the oceans they are, you know, the seas where your aunt says there are plenty of fish. And there are — there are fish fucking everywhere. Shitty fish, loud fish, secretive fish, fish that you’re like “that fish is bad news” while you put a worm on a hook as your friends say, “you’re literally allergic to that fish,” and you say “hm?” as you cast the line. But this is a pond, and somehow that is much scarier. No one notices you in an ocean! You’re just another dumb fish! But here, I’m a scared ass little fish who doesn’t smile and because I work from home and just moved here, I am under a rock, not even going out for food because my partner fish does that, so only a few other fish have even noticed I’m here. And they’re like, “the fuck is with that reclusive new fish?”
Even in the seas of a metropolis, there are those people you don’t technically know, but might be the first person you’d talk to if your subway car was trapped underground. You’d be like, “look we’ve been riding this train together for 3.5 years, and you’ve never done anything weird like huff glue or fondle your balls, so do you want to form an alliance in case shit gets weird?”
Those people still exist in small towns — the ones who share your paths and your routes and your elevators and your favorite Thai place. They’re called everyone. You see everyone over and over here, and you sniff them out because anyone who isn’t everyone is a tourist. That, or they’re also a weird fish hiding under a rock, too yet scared to dance.
We went to the vet the other day to take care of a cat injury. While waiting in the truck, a technician came out with an excited mid-sized black mutt, returning him to his dad. They made small talk and she headed back to the building, but as she opened the front door, she turned back to him.
“Hey, tell your wife that Brandy says hi!” She yelled through her mask, holding the door open with one hand and gesticulating with the other so the mask couldn’t be held responsible for obscuring her from his attention.
This is the siren call of the small town. If you don’t know me yet, someone you know does. There’s an occasional implicit so watch it but usually the only thing implied is I’ll be seeing you at the grocery. Every person comes with clues. Sometimes they’re easy, like:
“Oh you live on Spruce St? Do you know…”
But sometimes they’re small town chaos:
“Excuse me, is your dog’s name Cooper? I ran into a friend on the gondola the other day, and he was telling me his ex-wife Sarah — they’re still friends — was starting a new business over on Fur St with her best friend Liz, and that Liz had this woman helping her with her social who’d just moved to town and that she had this great dog, and he showed me a picture of it, and I think it’s this dog.”
This happens with Cooper and is not a stretch. People know Cooper, notably all the children in this tiny town. When it’s a nice day and Cooper is outside being a dog, I hear children I’ve never even seen before call his name to come play. Cooper has more friends than I do by what I would consider quite a large margin.
But the tides, the swirl, are pulling me from my rock. The Law of Small World Living and Likelihood will tickle the doorknobs of even the most reclusive, and you can’t help but peek out the door to see who’s there. Here are some examples:
Our neighbor’s little sister played high school soccer with Ben’s cousin.
That neighbor’s daughter goes to a school in Colorado where Ben’s uncle taught.
Ben’s closest friend in LA went to a wedding a month back where the best man at the wedding is actually building a house in this town — this town of 60 odd houses.
One of my best friends in Topanga, her ex-boyfriend (who moved from LA to the midwest) is now dating the butcher here, and they just moved to this tiny town, too. What brought him here? Well friends of his moved to this area four years ago, and he visits them. So do we — they were the ones who introduced us to our realtors. They were acquaintances in LA, but fast friends here. Not to mention the realtors they introduced us to now text about grabbing beers.
One of my other dear friends from Topanga, living in New Hampshire for the season, struck up a conversation with a friend of hers and our tiny town came up — that friend said, I know someone there! I know one of those 180 people! My friend texted to prompt an introduction, but you know who it was? The postponed-by-Covid dinner friend. I texted her immediately, house-to-house some hundred yards away, and she was already texting with her friend about it.
Not to mention the fellow LA bike scener who has a place on the other side of town (hi Kevin!) or the gal who also moved to this area in July and was forwarded this newsletter by a friend over the range saying, “this girl needs friends.” (Hi Dévon!)
Somewhat foolishly, Western culture all agreed that the most lifeless time of year was the best time to reinvent ourselves, to expand our horizons even as the actual horizon is only lit for a sad few hours a day. These dark days, built for hibernating and cocoa, they don’t exactly lend themselves well to expansion and growth. Even in sport, we’re cocooned into layers and backpacks and helmets and goggles. Meeting people isn’t easy. It’s never really easy, but it is somehow easier when everyone is in tank tops. But the swirl continues, even if slowly, and the tides are pulling me from my rock as the cold has slowed the dance enough that I can begin to see the steps.
So I’d like to contribute to the swirl. Here is my Be My Friend Profile so the Law of Small World can carry it on the wind. May it tickle every doorknob in a 30 mile range.
I am only softly and gently rad. I love memes. I love taking pictures and word puzzles and self-improvement challenges. I was a cat person until I met the right dog. I’m still a cat person, but that one dog made me love all of them. I am allergic to dandelions and bananas. I love glamour and if you want to dress up, I was hoping you would say so. I will say yes to running errands, going for walks, multi-day hikes, bike rides, skiing, coffee stops, animal shelter visits, physical labor including shoveling, mucking stalls, cleaning the house, stacking firewood, washing cars, raking leaves, and closet cleanouts. I like being useful to people. I mostly read non-fiction, but will always forsake it for ambitious and adventurous sci-fi, fantasy, and adventure. I love finding new music, and I love dancing to music so loud that you can get completely consumed by it and find yourself crying with release. I like friends who hold my hand and hug me even though I flinch at being touched. I am extremely passionate about workers’ rights and am not afraid to get fired for arguing about it. I will talk for hours about how stupid I think the 40-hr-work-week is, but I will help you with your resume and practice interviewing you. If I am alone, I am talking to myself. If I am at a party, I am with the pets who live there. If you ask me to sing, I will say no twice, but hope you ask the third time, because then I will, and I’ll feel so proud and full of joy. I hate vodka and love mezcal. Chicken tenders are still my favorite food. I genuinely think I look cool in my pick-up. If you ask, I will tell you. If you need help, I will come. I am at my worst when I feel trapped, and I am at my best when I feel like the whole world is in front of us.
Oh, and I take the stairs at the airport, I use my turn signal when no one’s there, and I always return my grocery cart.
May the swirl carry it far, and may my courage to dance swirl right along with it.