Truth Isn’t Always True

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Several years ago, I was asked to speak at a bible camp in southern Michigan. It wasn’t my first time speaking there, and I’d been a youth group leader at our local church for years, so my talk wasn’t vetted before I was allowed to speak to a couple hundred teenagers. And no, I didn’t actually do or say anything that was inappropriate – but my talk affected me far more than any of the teenagers who heard it. Because I inadvertently deceived them. All of them.

If you’ve been given the opportunity to speak to groups of people, you probably know that using stories is one of the best ways to engage an audience. Stories reveal our humanness, and bridge gaps in our experiences. Even if you haven’t experienced the same things I’ve experienced, when I tell a story, you get to join me in my joy and pain and ultimately in my life. For the brief moment when I tell you a story, you become me, you walk my path, and my experiences become a part of who you are too. Really, stories are amazing.

Fictional stories can do this too. They really can. Just like you can live my experiences if I tell you my stories, we can all live experiences told in fiction, and better understand the human condition in scenarios that never actually happened! Heck, Jesus himself did this with parables. There was no actual woman who lost a coin and then partied when she found it. It was fiction. The important part though, is that people understood Jesus was telling a fictionalized story. He didn’t say, “My Mom Mary lost a coin once, and oooh boy did we have to search for it…”

The Three-armed Sweater

So back to Bair Lake (the camp I where I was speaking). I honestly don’t remember the particular lesson I was teaching, but based on context, I’m guessing it was a lesson about grace and kindness. And as a young(ish) youth group leader, and a speaker known for being fun and animated, I decided to tell a story about a funny situation regarding a Christmas gift. I was a pretty crafty writer and storyteller at the time, so this story was almost certainly funny and engaging, while driving home whatever point I was tasked to teach. And heck, I was using a parable, just like Jesus! The talk was bound to be legendary in the annals of Bair Lake history. Sadly, I made a fatal mistake.

My “parable” was about a sweater I received one Christmas from my beloved aunt. My aunt (whose fictional name is lost to me now) was in mental decline, but spent a large portion of her time knitting sweaters for all her nieces and nephews, so she’d have Christmas gifts for all of them. As her mental acuity waned, the sizing and consistency of sweaters declined as well. One Christmas, the sweater I received from this beloved aunt had a third arm. I don’t remember the details, but I’m sure the fictional me was gracious, and appreciated the time and thoughtfulness knitted into the garment which I’d never be able to wear. Heck, there was probably even a situation where I had to wear the sweater, and somehow honor the aunt while also protecting her from ridicule. But it’s not the story I remember about that summer. It’s the effect it had on the teenagers.

See, it worked. I’d managed to teach my lesson, and pull their heartstrings, and even offer them a glimpse at the joy which only comes from serving others. They learned to be gracious, and kind, and in turn they were kind and gracious to me. They asked me about my aunt. They wondered if I had pictures of the sweater, not to mock, but so they could share in the story even more. One of the other leaders asked if they could share my story with their own youth group back home, because it resonated with the group of campers so well.

But it was all a lie, and I was the only one who knew it.

Fiction Can Teach Truth, But a Lie is a Lie

I didn’t set out to deceive anyone. Truly. But like I said, I was a fairly good storyteller, and the story of my aunt was compelling. It honestly never occurred to me that someone would think the story was a real situation from my life. I crafted it like a parable, or so I thought, and just like there was no actual prodigal son who slept with swine, there was no Aunt (Gertrude? I honestly don’t remember) who knitted me a three-armed sweater. But I told the story as if it were true. So people believed me.

It’s possible the story of my aunt is still being told by people at that bible camp who were particularly moved. And for them, it’s a story that works. For them it’s not a lie, it’s a story. It’s a story they once heard, and its basis in fact is no longer what matters. But for me, it made for a terrible week of camp. Because every time someone came to me and asked about my aunt, I had to tell them that I didn’t really have an aunt who made sweaters, it was just a story I made up to illustrate a point. And they were crestfallen. A story that gave them hope and clarity, helping them to understand grace and kindness instantly turned into them feeling duped and betrayed. All because I didn’t frame the story correctly.

Good Stories Can Be Fictional, but They Can’t Be Lies

That experience still haunts me. I’d like to think it made me a better person, but the cost was painful. Stories are what bind us together as humans, and with good intent, I broke whatever trust those campers had in me. Rather than learning the lesson I intended, those who found out it was made up learned I was a scam artist. I’d fooled them with my storytelling skills, and they felt dumb for believing me.

Could there have been a follow-up lesson on forgiveness? You bet. Heck, it probably would have been a pretty great talk about consequences from unintentional wrongdoing. The speaker could use my situation as a way to explain how forgiving someone benefits you as much as the person you’re forgiving. But it’s not a lesson I could teach, because for that group, I was the guy who lied about the sweater.

Stories are powerful. Fictional stories can be just as powerful as real stories. But even fictional stories have to be honest. Because while truth doesn’t have to be true, it does need to be honest.

Just Do the Next Thing

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I often think about Charlie Brill and Mitzi McCall. If you aren’t familiar with the married comedy duo, it’s not surprising. They were the act who followed the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show back in 1964. How could you possibly follow that?!? Thankfully, Justin Bieber didn’t recently make Linux training videos that I have to follow. But the thing is, this past week has been a surprisingly good week with regard to the things I’m creating being appreciated by other humans. (And maybe robots, I’m ok with that. Meep morp, y’all. How ’bout those electrons, am I right?)

The problem is, one success feels like setting the bar for the next thing. And a big success makes for a really high bar.

After this blog was shared by a super popular friend of mine on Twitter (the same friend who often shares my comic… he’s basically my ex-naval fairy godmother), and then one of my youtube videos was showcased in a Hackaday article by another friend, the traffic and popularity of my stuff has stepped up a bit. No, I’m not an influencer, or a YouTube celebrity, or parking a Tesla in my garage… (or, you know, having a garage) — but I crossed the monetization threshold on YouTube (the process of which apparently takes about a month, and then I could make DOZENS of cents a day!) I was sent a tech product to review without me asking or buying it, and there are actual conversations happening in the comment sections of my stuff.

OMG, I’m Too Good Looking, and My Wallet is Too Fat…

I know, I know. Complaining about a modicum of success is pretty douchey. I mean, isn’t being successful exactly what I’m intending to do with all this writing and newslettering and podcasting and videoing and cartooning and… everything? And Shawn, if you can’t handle a video getting 1000 views without feeling overwhelmed, you’d better hope you never actually make it big.

And yeah, I get all that. And I do hope the success continues. Heck, my lofty aspirations include the need and ability to actually hire people to join me in my endeavors. The problem I’m mulling over now is that I find it difficult to do the next thing when the last thing was deemed “worthy and good” by the masses. I think as humans (or robots, still love you guys) we tend to look at a very narrow slice of time. Heck, we practice “living in the present” as a way to stay healthy in mind and body. But the road to success is long. For some of us, very long. And while intellectually I understand a video that gets 10,000 views isn’t 100 times better than a video that gets 100 views, it sure feels that way. Let me get very specific. I’ll use my YouTube channel as the example, because this week has some prime examples of what I’m talking about.

The Hackaday Debacle of Awesomeness

One of the many things I do, is to occasionally co-host on FLOSS Weekly over at TWiT.tv. One of the OTHER occasional co-hosts is Jonathan Bennett. We don’t know each other in meat-space, but I consider him a friend, and if we were at a tech conference, we’d totally hang out and be nerdy. Anyway, he’s a writer at Hackaday.com — and last week he included my SSH Tunnels video in an article he wrote. It sent a flood of users to my tiny YouTube channel, and quickly elevated that video to like 7,000 views in the first week. Most of my videos get about 100 views in that timeframe. It also brought in lots of new eyeballs, who subscribed to my channel, which increased the views on my other videos, and there was a snowball effect that gave my tiny channel a boost.

Again, my channel is small. We’re not talking fame and fortune, we’re talking a cool growth acceleration. Like I mentioned above, it even bumped me over the monetization threshold, so that approval process started.

But HERE is the crux of the situation. My brain tells me that SSH Tunnelling video must have been the cream of my video crop. THAT VIDEO is what will breed more success. Whatever I did there is what I need to do every time, and improve on. Because for some reason, my brain says, “This is a video of a creator that has 3,000 subscribers. If you want to increase to 5,000 subscribers, you clearly need a video that’s about twice as good.”

Now I KNOW that’s not how it actually works. Heck, even my observation of older videos getting more views proves that it’s not a single video that raises the bar of adequacy. But as I often point out, brains are not logical. They’re emotional, fickle, jiggly think-meats which assume the worst and never appreciate the best. And so, I didn’t make another video that whole week. The week where I was getting more and more people interested in my channel and my content. I was crippled with fear that I’d release a video that wasn’t better than the SSH Tunnel video. And people would know that the apparent “star quality content” was a fluke.

Brains suck. (I actually accidentally typed “Brians suck”, and autocorrect was just going to let me insult innocent Brians everywhere. C’mon robots, I thought we were friends?!?)

The week went by, and the popularity boom waned. I still garnered quite a few new subscribers, which was incredible, but instead of riding that incoming wave, I floundered and released no new content. On Friday, I felt so terrible about not releasing anything, that I threw together a video on Linux Certifications, and posted it. I figured it would flop, but at least I was trying. (That video is honestly doing really well, which is weird, because it hasn’t been boosted by anything external. So who knows.)

So What Have You Learned, Shawn?

Honestly? I have no idea. Here’s the thing though — it’s pretty common with anyone who gets a bump of success, that they struggle with their next endeavor. One-hit wonders, authors who write a successful book, middle-aged men who get a compliment on how their hair looks… we all flounder with how to meet or exceed whatever we did that was deemed “good”.

The only advice I really have is that maybe we shouldn’t try to outdo ourselves. Just like it’s unhealthy to compare our success to other people, comparing ourselves to the most successful thing we’ve done is just silly. I’m just as good as that guy who made the SSH Tunnel video, because I’m that guy. I wasn’t trying to specifically make a stand-out creation, I was just doing what I love. Greatness isn’t a thing we do, it’s the way we do the things we do. Trying hard to be a more perfect self seems silly. We’re already exactly ourselves.

So just do the next thing. And in the words of Paul McCartney, Let it Be.

Doing One Thing Well, or Not

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When I started this “be a professional creator full time” adventure at the start of 2022, I got lots of advice. And as a quick recap for those who don’t know about my “Big Year” (sans birds), which is honestly most of you, because I didn’t really shout about it from the mountain tops, here’s the deal:

For the past decade plus, I’ve been a trainer for CBT Nuggets. Many of my videos are still in their catalog, and most people would have no idea I’m not working there anymore. I’m currently a full time sysadmin managing a bunch of Linux systems in various datacenters around the western US. But a couple things made me want to do more than just my DayJob.

  • The pandemic proved that jobs are not a sure thing. So many folks were laid off, or lost their jobs entirely, it was a scary wakeup call. A single income stream, even a really good stream, is scary if it might disappear.
  • I really really miss making training videos.
  • I really really miss writing for Linux Journal.
  • My kids are grown now, so I have a little more time on my hands.
  • My kids are grown now, and they’re currently trying to survive in an economy where surviving, much less thriving, is difficult. I want to set an example on how to diversify income.

Anyway, for those reasons and probably more, I decided to go “all in” for the entire 2022 calendar year. I still have a DayJob, so this means lots of after-work work. But again, it’s a good time in my life for that sort of thing. I’m not missing anyone’s basketball games, etc. As of right now, I’m about a third of the way through the year, and I’ve learned a few things.

There’s no Right Way, but Lots of Wrong Ways

My biggest focus thus far has been with YouTube. Yes, a 46 year old man becoming a “YouTuber” seems like a sad sort of midlife crisis, but I actually have a lot of experience making videos. And I’m a bit of a camera whore (I really like being on camera/mic). So YouTube actually makes a lot of sense. But oh my goodness are there nuances with the platform. For example:

You Must be Genuine

I think I do OK with this one. I’m not good at being fake. But… I’m a fairly weird dude, so maybe I should strive to be genuinely Ryan Reynolds… but Ryan Reynolds already does that, so y’all are stuck with me. Seriously though, I think people assume that unless they’re super charismatic, they’re too boring. That’s honestly just not the case. I’m a pretty boring guy. But when I’m passionate or excited about something, that’s when I light up. And everyone is like that about something. I tend to get excited about a LOT of things (more on that later), but the common adage to, “write what you know” works for YouTube as well. When you’re excited about something, that passion is contagious.

You Must be Unique

This is really a carryover from the previous point. If you’re genuine, you’re unique. Because no one else is like you. When I started taking YouTube seriously, it was tempting to emulate other successful people on the platform. There is some value to seeing what works and doesn’t work but it’s important to only emulate what they do, and not who they are. It’s hard to be genuine or unique if you’re trying to be just like someone else.

Those two “rules” are the most important, at least I think so. Look, I’m not a professional at YouTube, and this isn’t an article on how to be a YouTuber, but I think without following those two ideals, it’s impossible to be happy as a content creator. The next points are important to be a financially successful YouTuber though. And I like them much less. 🙂

You Must be Specific

This is the whole idea of “niching down” on a subject. The narrower you focus your content, the more people you draw in. This seems backward, because a broader array of topics would capture the interests of more people. You know, a bigger net catches more fish. But since there are an almost infinite number of YouTube channels, people tend to gravitate toward the ones where every video hits their sweet spot. If you branch out, the number of people your particular eclectic tastes match will dwindle quickly.

For example, a few of my passions are Linux, A/V equipment, Birdwatching, Renewable Energy, and Kool-Aid. Any one of those subjects might resonate with people. But if I made a YouTube channel with all those topics? Very few people would subscribe, because while they might like one or two of those subjects, they’d get annoyed by videos popping up in their feed on the less desirable topics. So, they look for a channel that has videos on their specific likes, and subscribe to multiple channels. So a person with my particular tastes would subscribe to a Linux channel, a birdwatching channel, a few A/V review channels, and an 80’s retro beverage channel.

That’s difficult for me. Because while I intellectually understand why having a specific niche is vital for YouTube success, it feels very limiting. And honestly, I get bored. Even if it’s one of my passions, if I don’t feed the other beasts in my head, they get restless. And that is sorta where the point of this whole post is going. Because the last “rule” of YouTube is…

You Must be Consistent

Oddly enough, posting videos every day isn’t 7 times better than posting once a week. Sure, you get marginally more views, but more importantly than number of videos you produce is the consistency with which you produce them. But honestly, even this is extremely flexible.

The consistency you MUST strive for is having consistently good content. Releasing regularly is also good, but not as important as having consistently good quality videos. And look, what “good quality” means is very much up for debate and evolution. For example, most people agree that having music in videos keeps people watching. But… I generally don’t, because it feels contrived for my style. I just talk into a camera, demo stuff, and try to teach complicated topics in a way that makes them easy to understand. A soundtrack seems to detract from that, so at least for now, I don’t add music.

Bonus Must: Audio

This isn’t YouTube specific, but just a tip for anyone making video. People will look past questionable video quality (to a point), but audio quality is king. If you’re going to spend money, spend it on a microphone first.

So What’s My Point?

I started the year making lots of videos in pretty short order. That was partly due to me really missing the training process. But also, I wanted to have a backlog of videos in place that new viewers could “binge” and get a taste for my style. So I worked hard to get a full “Linux Essentials” course created, making multiple videos a week, and publishing them in rapid succession. But that came at a cost.

At a mere 2 months in, I started to feel some burnout. This is not because I don’t enjoy teaching, or because videos aren’t interesting. It’s because some of those YouTube rules above are really oppressive. I understand my YouTube channel needs to be mostly Linux focused. But as a person, *I* can’t be all Linux focused all the time. So while the idea of doing one thing and doing it well is good advice, when it comes to creativity, it doesn’t always work. My inability to be disingenuous works against me here. If I’m genuinely miserable doing one thing, that one thing I’m doing will be a miserable version of the thing.

I Need More Irons, and More Fire

Toward the beginning of my “Big Year”, I tried to follow the standard advice of not having too many irons in the fire. If I do lots of things, it spreads my time and talent thin, so everything will be mediocre at best. And even reading that last sentence, it makes sense. But human meat sacks don’t always follow logical rules. I’m starting to discover that if I don’t put lots of irons in lots of fires, my one big fire will burn out. I know that is stretching the metaphor hard, but basically, I can’t focus all my energy on one thing or that thing suffers.

So as I enter the second trimester of the year, I’ve decided that I need to do more things. Even if I do those things a little less regularly, the things should end up being better in general. This rekindling of my blog is a prime example. I miss writing regularly, and the best way to scratch that itch is to write. Where better to write than in my own personal blog, where the only rules are ones I make up? I’m doing other things too, and will probably write about them here eventually, but off the top of my head:

  • Reading this blog as a “blogcast”, which is a word I made up. I think. It’s like a podcast, but is just me reading these words out loud.
  • Reviewing things on my review site.
  • Adding a video aspect to those reviews, probably on a new YouTube channel (not yet created).
  • Video blogging on a secondary YouTube channel (INSIDE The Brain of Shawn)
  • Speaking at events (virtually for now)
  • Drawing my comic
  • Learning Spanish
  • Constructing a micro datacenter at my farm
  • Trying to go outside more

My point is, rules are important, but they should always be examined and revised. Plus, the definition of success varies for the individual. I hope this “Big Year” of mine proves to be the start in a life long pursuit of passions and revenue streams. But if at the end of 2022 I discover that I really don’t like the whole “be a creator” thing? That’s valuable too. I’d rather be absolutely certain I don’t like something, than forever wonder what could have been.

Learn everything. Do what you love. And most importantly, be kind.

Jelly is Lonely

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And of course I mean jelly people are lonely. Jealous people, that is. Actual jelly people are never lonely because they’re sweet and sticky, and people either want to lick them, or are stuck to them. And that’s weird, so I’m gonna stop.

Sometimes it’s easy to avoid being jealous of someone. Particularly when they’re really good at something that you are super bad at. For example, I am not jealous of:

  • Olympic athletes
  • Basketball players (Olympic or otherwise)
  • Professional cake decorators
  • People with exotic taxidermy collections
  • Cave divers
  • Antique furniture collectors

Ok, it’s beginning to occur to me that it’s easy to avoid being jealous of someone who is good at something you don’t want to do, regardless of skill level. But I still argue it’s easier to resist jealousy when someone else is really good at something I’m bad at doing. Here are some more examples, these I’m maybe envious of, not not really jealous:

  • People who can draw
    • (Yes, I see the irony and/or hypocrisy because I literally draw a web comic, but it doesn’t mean I can actually draw — just that I’m unwilling to let my lack of skill stop me…)
  • Really good photographers
  • People who understand how semicolons work
  • Physically attractive folks
  • Singers who can melt your soul with their voices. (I’m looking at you, every member of my immediate family)

And then there’s jealousy of possessions, which isn’t really about the person who has the stuff, but more about your own lack of stuff. Maybe this is covetousness? I think that’s just another flavor of jealousy though, so it counts even if it’s a bit different. And we don’t really need a whole list, because it’s usually:

  • People with money
  • The things people with money have and do

And I really can’t help with that last list, because wanting more and more and more is a much deeper issue, and I think it’s rarely solved by actually attaining those things. Although, having more money is honestly usually nicer than being poor. So while it might not be the solution to all life’s problems, it’s nice to have central air and a heated garage than to not have those things. (Or so I assume, I have neither) But that middle list of things you wish you could do, but other people are better can get ugly pretty quick.

If you are good at something, or you are trying to do well at something, and someone else is MUCH better than you at it — it’s easy to get bitterly jealous. Especially when the other person is able to accomplish such things with minimal effort. And no, I’m not talking about people who work hard for years and then get accused of being overnight successes when they finally make it big. I mean those people who are like, “Oh wow, I’ve never even tried waterskiing before. Check out this sick flip!” Thankfully those people are rare, and nobody likes them. Nobody likes you Dave…

Take my friend Jim, for instance. Jim and I actually have a lot in common. We’re both old, we’re both grumpy, we’re both incredibly unattractive.

Ok, that went sideways. Lemme try again. Jim and I have quite a bit in common. We’re both writers. We both like taking photos of birds. We both want to support ourselves and our loved ones using our creative abilities.

And Jim posts photos like this. ALL THE FRIGGEN TIME. And he’s able to support himself using various creativity-based revenue streams. And he can grow a real moustache. It would be easy for me to be jealous of what he’s accomplished. Even though I know he’s worked for YEARS to build the skill required to do what he does.

Because jealousy isn’t rational. And it’s not even about the other person. Jealousy is frustration and disappointment in yourself and your situation. And to come back to my original point — jealousy is very lonely. And I use Jim as an example here, because I’m not actually jealous of his accomplishments. I’m honestly super happy for him. But there are people who turn me green on a regular basis.

I’m not going to specifically mention any of them here, because giving light to those demons only makes them stronger. And some folks might tell me, “oh you’re so much better than them, they suck” — or, “you shouldn’t compare yourself to other people”, and those responses aren’t really helpful even if they are true. Friggen Dave. Because jealousy isn’t rational. So what I do, and what I recommend everyone consider their own version of, is to steal from those people.

I should probably elaborate.

How to Steal Like a Winner

The nice thing about other people getting successful before you, is that you can learn from all the bad choices they made along the way. This actually works for both those people you’re jealous of, and those you’re not. For example, if he could do it over again, Jim would probably never befriend that annoying guy from Michigan. *ahem*ME*ahem* Seriously though, there are so many things I’ve learned from Jim’s success. The frustrations of social media platforms, the importance of personal online security (he gets death threats on the regular), how important it is to disregard hateful feedback, etc. Heck even his moustache — he taught me how to blow my nose when I grew my own sad face-caterpillar.

I have several friends who have published books. Some have self-published, some have used traditional publishing, and some have used multiple methods AND multiple publishers. I have very smart and successful friends. But even though I haven’t written a book yet — I already know the pros and cons of each method, and I know what publisher I absolutely wouldn’t use even if they wanted me. No, I won’t tell you the company. But you can still learn from my thievery — before you agree to publish with a company, talk to some authors who have already worked with them.

I’ve been hitting YouTube pretty hard recently, and the nature of YouTube means you can see the progression of successful creators as they build their channels. I know a few personally, but even if you don’t know the individual people, you can see what things work for them and what things don’t. This one has been invaluable for me. Because I’ve learned that I really hate the “narrow niche” required for YouTube success. That doesn’t mean I can’t be successful on YouTube, but it means I have to put energies elsewhere too. This blog, for instance. And my review blog. And various podcasts I contribute to. And secondary YouTube channels. And silly tweets. And web comics. All of those things help me to “niche down” on my main YouTube channel without feeling like I’m stifling myself. I wouldn’t have known any of that if I didn’t watch other successful creators and how they managed to be successful.

We can learn so much from those who are ahead of us. Even if they leapfrogged us getting there. From people I don’t like, I learn what not to do. And from those I strive to emulate, I learn from their successes and their failures. Heck, in many ways it’s better to let other people blaze the trail so it’s easier for us to get where they are going. But even that isn’t the healthiest way, in my opinion, to deal with jealousy.

Just. Enjoy. The. Beauty.

This isn’t as difficult as it sounds. If we can focus on appreciating how well other people do things, we can pretty quickly turn our jealousy into admiration. This even works if the people don’t “deserve it” in your opinion. Thank goodness they got lucky, right? Otherwise they’d be struggling forever. Those photos you wish you could take? Hey, you’re getting to look at them. Photos can be magical, and sure, being able to take them is incredible — but you still get to experience the magic first hand when you look at someone else’s work.

We already do this. Have you ever watched the Olympics? We are SO excited for those athletes who have devoted their lives to excellence. We will never be as good at their craft as they are, but that’s OK, we get to see them be great. That isn’t reserved for olympians. Are you jealous of Miley Cyrus’ voice? Maybe instead focus on how great it is to hear her sing. Do you wish you could dance like… um… I don’t really know any dancers. But if you have a dancing person in mind, isn’t it great to see them dance?

The point is, jealousy is a very strong emotion. But many times it’s easy to flip that strong negative emotion to admiration, which is a strong positive one. And that makes you a better person. One that someone might, you know, admire. 🙂

I Love You, Uhh… Thank You.

It’s a funny trope in sitcoms. One person is in love with another person, and so they confess their love, only to be given a “Thank You” in reply. We cringe. We hurt for the confessor, and we feel bad for the one not in love. We are also impressed by the thanker, because it would have been easier to lie and say they too were in love, letting FutureThem deal with the fallout.

But it’s awkward. That is undeniable.

Thankfully, I found my person over 25 years ago. I love her, she loves me (and I’m really lucky she does, because I can be a LOT, y’all). But if we take that situation down a notch, I suspect there are many more mismatches. ESPECIALLY when introverts like myself are in play. Let me elaborate…

There are probably 5 people who I consider my very best friends. Then maybe a dozen who are way more than acquaintances, and I consider close friends. The next group in my expanding circle of indifference (is it a circle of indifference if the ones I care about the most are in the middle? Maybe it’s my circle of fading “difference”? But “difference” does not feel like the opposite of indifference, so maybe I’m using terrible words here. And because some of my friends read my blogs via translator to their native language, I have NO idea what this will imply because now I’m confused in English. And English is the only language I’m moderately confident with…)

I’ve decided to abandon the notion of an expanding circle, and I’ve decided to abandon that entire paragraph. My new geometric metaphor will be a pyramid. OK, in my head it’s actually a triangle, but since it will be stacks of friends, I’m not sure how they’d stand in a two dimensional stack, but I also don’t have NEARLY enough friends for a pyramid of people. But basically there are five or so people on the tippy top of my FriendAngleMid. Beneath them, are probably a dozen people who are close friends. These people I’m usually very comfortable around. Being with them doesn’t drain me emotionally. (Well, if I were with ALL of them at once, it would be horrible, and I’d be hiding in the bathroom texting my 5 cake-topper friends about how miserable I was at this stupid party I should have never thrown for my cat…)

Anyway. The next layer (we’re doing cake now, please keep up) is larger, and actually sort of fluid (not like we’re changing metaphors again, I mean they aren’t a solid group of people I could list). These are the people I don’t think about on a daily basis, but when I am near them, or interact with them, it’s enjoyable and I’m glad they’re in my life. Honestly, this is a large group. But because my brain is kind of a jerk, I couldn’t possibly name them all, because here’s the thing — when I’m with people in this group, they BECOME part of the dozen or so top-cake-layer friends. It’s weird, but this group of people is really really great. And I enjoy being with them and talking to them at least as much as my top layer friends. In fact, because I’m not with them often, in the moment, they’re pretty much temporary cake toppers. And not “pretend” cake toppers, but actual, bonafide Smurf figurines on top of my friend cake, celebrating our time together.

This is not the direction I thought this blog post was going. (I’m very happy with the cake metaphor though, we’re keeping that. Even though I’m more of an ice cream person. OH, and sprinkles would be perfect for the topper metaphor, except I want way more than 5 sprinkles… So we’re sticking with cake. Maybe Donna can be the ice cream. Because she’s like the ice cream, my favorite part — PLUS sprinkles, which makes ice cream even better. Yes. Donna is the ice cream, and she is COVERED in sprinkles.)

NOTE: This is why when I write professionally, I have an editor. Jill — I’m so sorry this is going to press. And I know you’re not technically my editor anymore, but you’re the only editor I’ve ever had, so when I think of an editor, it’s always you. Don’t get creeped out, I CLEARLY never think of editing. (Except I do, and I miss working with you, and OMG we should totally play on top of the cake metaphor soon.)

So, anyway most of the people I consider my friends are in that huge group of people that most people would call acquaintances. But I don’t consider them that, because I really, truly do love the people in that huge group. And in the moments I get to interact with them, I’m fully engaged, and fully real, and wouldn’t rather be anywhere else in the world. It takes emotional energy to spend time with these people, but it’s energy well spent. It’s like the reason I keep as much energy available as possible, because exhaustion from spending time with people you love is the BEST type of exhaustion.

It’s those people that make me both happy and sad in equal measures. I want them to be in my top cake layer, but I don’t interact with them often enough for me to feel comfortable leaning on them. They don’t know me well enough (very likely my fault) to lean on me when things get difficult. I WOULD totally be there if/when they need me, and I’m pretty sure they would be there for me — but again, I’m so bad at letting my guard down, that most people I consider friends don’t fully know me, and in turn, I don’t fully know them. And maybe that’s just how things work. We can’t have 1000 besties. Yet, to say these people are “less good” friends is just not true. Friendship is weird, and I’m not terribly good at it anyway. So perhaps I don’t really have any friends, and I just have human interactions, sorta. But I’m just gonna stick to my cake metaphor and say that the bottom layers of my friendship cake has a LOT of wonderfully sweet layers.

Oh, acquaintances. For me, these are people I tolerate, and I’m friend-LY with, but they’re the people with which I’d probably talk about the weather. (And not awesome weather conversations, just generic crap) These people are the raisins in our cake. They’re not like finding an eggshell in the batter, but you avoid them if you can.

And I’ll close with what I was going to write about in the first place. For introverts like myself, especially those of us who spend most of our time interacting online — it’s almost certain that my cake-topper friends, and my top-layer friends have no idea where they reside on my friendship cake. And I am very unlikely to be on the cake top of many people, or honestly even in their top layer. And that’s OK. Relationships don’t have be built on equal significance. People have different amounts of energy they can invest, and as long as the friendships work for both parties, it’s usually OK. Sometimes there is pain when we discover we don’t live on each other’s cakes at the same layer, but since everyone’s cake is different, direct comparisons don’t even make sense.

My only request is that you not pretend your raisins are sprinkles. Don’t lead raisins on. Be kind to them, but don’t make empty promises about how much we should “totally get together and make raisin bread soon”. It really hurts to discover you’re a raisin when you thought you were a cake topper.

Now I’m hungry. But not for raisins. They’re gross.

PS: Please don’t tell me where I live on your cake. Plus, out of context, that’s a really weird thing to tell someone. And I won’t tell you where you live on my cake either. But unless you’re a raisin, whenever we interact, you’re playing on top of the cake anyway. 🙂