First Tape

(Soothing tones.) A good way to not make friends is to never make demands of them. A good way to ensure that people don’t think of you is to pretend like you were never there. A good way to discontinue a conversation is to add nothing of value to the conversation. A good way to show someone you disrespect their opinion is to cut them off while they are just beginning to formulate their ideas. Hello. Do you have trouble making friends? Then you have come to the right place. This is the first tape in a four tape series about finding interpersonal success, entitled “Being the Best You, Always: Friendships”. By following my method you can improve your love life, your career, your personal happiness. There is no limit to the ways your life can improve. Your family will notice, your friends will notice, your boss will notice. And all you have to do to get this result is follow my “Four Steps to Success in Friendships”. Sounds easy, right? Well, it is easy, and that’s what makes my system so successful. In fact, I don’t even need four tapes to outline my process, since I can read the steps out in about thirty seconds. I’ll show you. 1) Do not do any of the things I mentioned in the intro. That should be obvious, but if you want you can go back and rewind the tape to make sure you don’t miss anything. I’ll wait. 2) Relax your body and your mind. Maybe you’re not getting enough exercise and you need to exhaust that anxiety building up. Try running, or tennis. Perhaps do yoga? Above all, do not relax to the point of incontinence. 3) Go somewhere where people are and make an effort. If you’re sitting at home every night, crying into a pint of Hagen-Daas while you screen a marathon of Two and a Half Men (a show you don’t even like), you will not make friends. This is so obvious, I shouldn’t even be saying it. 4) Do not buy any more self-help products because if you spend too much time on self-improvement you will have no time for others. And then you will end up hanging yourself from the rafters like our mutual friend David Foster Wallace, who reportedly spent a lot of time and money on self-help books. And that’s it. You can turn the tape off now. I’m serious. Turn it off or rewind it to the beginning, we’re done. You can also pull out the booklet and follow along, if you haven’t already. Anyway, I wasn’t lying before. I’m basically ranting through the rest of these tapes. You think I’m kidding? Well, you’re wrong. Earlier, I referred to David Foster Wallace as our “mutual friend”, but I didn’t actually know Wallace, and I assume you didn’t either, although yes, I felt close to him, like anyone might feel close to an author they have read closely. You might not even know who he is, but I’ll continue as if you did, since I’m mostly ranting to myself here. I understand that he was troubled, but I often wonder if he killed himself because he forgot his debt to society. I think Aristotle would agree with me on this one. No, I haven’t read The Nicomachean Ethics, but I’d like to, and I think that’s where Aristotle would have made it clear that DFW reneged on his debt. I’m not a poser: I’ve expressed a sincere desire to read The Nicomachean Ethics in the past. Not, perhaps, on tape, but that doesn’t matter because I don’t need to prove it to you. Why is this on my mind? I can’t forget Jonathan Franzen’s New Yorker essay about going to the island where Alexander Selkirk washed up (or another island near the island). No, I don’t like Franzen normally but in this article he talked about his friendship with Wallace and it was kind of honest and emotional, unlike the self-righteous commercial paff he usually churns out. I haven’t read any of his fiction, just his non-fiction. I know I’m confused in referring to the essay as “honest”, that authors aren’t necessarily “honest”, that maybe they are the opposite of “honest”, but they do say what’s true, don’t they? Isn’t that enough? For an author to be worth anything they have to say what’s true. Or what seems true. Or what is obviously untrue. There are probably some exceptions. I think Sheila Heti said that when she was finished the first draft of The Middle Stories she went over it again to take out everything that wasn’t true. I relate to that. That’s what I did with these tapes, which is why when I signed the contract with the studio and the distributor, it was for four tapes even though I eventually realized I would just need one, and not even an entire one. So, anyway, yes, obviously my relationship with writers is necessarily complicated by the idea that they don’t have to, or simply don’t, always relate things honestly. I don’t care, as long as what they’re writing seems “true”. Where was I? Right, Franzen’s essay. About the only thing I can remember from the essay, except some vague descriptions of tropical scenery, is something Franzen said about Wallace. Specifically, he said he could only think about him as if he were two people: his friend, who was sincerely interested in literature, in people, and in writing to become “unlonely”, and the asshole who decided to kill himself and in the process made himself into a literary saint. This is a valuable insight and it makes me wonder if I’d like Franzen’s fiction, even if most people say it’s bloated and doesn’t pay much attention to language, both of which are important to me. Franzen said it was the same for his wife: she loved the man she remembered as her husband but hated the one who committed suicide and maybe gained from committing suicide. And put her in the spotlight by committing suicide. How fucked up would it be to suddenly become “DFW’s widow”? Have you ever considered that? You know, excuse my ignorance, but I didn’t know who Wallace was until he killed himself. I might have heard of his books, but I didn’t spend any time seriously thinking about him until after he died. So they’re not wrong in that sense—his “legacy” gained through Wallace’s death, even if he robbed the world (and most importantly his friends and family) of his presence and future actions. I know that Wallace’s is not the first literary suicide and it probably won’t be the last, but it’s probably impossible not to think of his suicide as selfish because our culture is so commercial. His death resonated in a way that it couldn’t have fifty or one hundred years ago—I mean, resonated, like soundwaves in an echo chamber. Not that he materially gained, because he didn’t, he couldn’t, but something connected to him gained, gained a lot. Some writers slip into obscurity, Wallace slipped onto the best sellers list. In addition, he didn’t kill himself for any particular reason, or not for a particular reason I know of, and his suicide seems actively opposed to everything he stood for in his fiction, so you can’t even really excuse it based on principles or on mental illness. It seems lame for him to have given up so easily after all of that work and so in some sense it even undermines his fiction. Maybe time smoothes over everything but it’s not like Gogol starving himself to death, because Gogol seemed to do it vaguely out of principle or in service of some higher ideal. At least, that’s what I remember, I could be wrong. I’ll talk about this more in the future, maybe in the next session. These tapes aren’t even very long—in order to save on costs, and to make them easier to rewind, I chose the smallest amount of recording material per cassette. And they tell me in the studio that material is coming to an end. If you’d like to continue hearing me rant, follow me to the next tape. Otherwise, once this tape is done, flip the tape over (it’s the same on both sides) and concentrate on my four steps to success. Remember: they’re not hard, and they will help you in every avenue of your life. That’s a guarantee. Not an actual guarantee, because my contract doesn’t allow that, but really—this isn’t rocket science. Even the most degenerate people have friends. Even Hitler had friends, believe it or not. Even the Unabomber had friends, despite his singular name. At least in prison he had friends. You just have to get out there and meet people until you find someone who sticks. It’s like proteins and enzymes. Don’t waste your time with an enzyme that doesn’t work, move on to the next one. Or if you imagine yourself as the enzyme, don’t waste your time with proteins that don’t fit. Whatever. The important thing to remember is that making friends is older than human history. Even monkeys do it. You can look it up: even monkeys make friends. At least, I think I heard that somewhere. Anyway, don’t worry so much. Just get to it. That’s all. Thanks for listening. I’ll see you on the next tape. Or maybe not. It’s your life. Do whatever you want. I mean that. (Soothing tones, tape clicks.)

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