i know a place where we can go


A couple days ago, I made my thousandth “friend” on Facebook, and it happened to occur right before my birthday – an event that FB makes shockingly easy for the well-wisher, yet utterly delightful for the receiver. It’s one of those transactions you can complain about until it’s your turn, and you realize how wonderful it is.

The two events occurring in the same weekend gave me pause: do I really have a thousand friends? As I’ve said before, I tried to calculate my friend number around 1999 or so, when an inner voice told me – at the depths of my despondency, mind you – that I’d already met the girl I was going to marry. That turned out to be right, of course, but my “number of actual friends” estimation was 500.


Granted, we’ve all met a lot of people in the last 14 years, but how inaccurate was that number? Let’s start by defining what a “friend” is, regardless of how it might happen on Facebook. I’ll say that a friend is defined by at least one of the following:

• someone with whom you’ve exchanged ongoing meaningful dialogue, whether it was work, financial, platonic or romantic in nature

• someone whose personality, habits, quirks, or secrets would allow you to differentiate them from all others

• someone with whom you have a shared history, or having gone through a similar ordeal, or having been through a meaningful event in the same place at the same time

Or perhaps you want to make it simpler, such as “someone with whom you have mutual respect/understanding because of past contact.”

We all have a different idea about what “friend” means (and I’d love to hear yours as well), especially when it seems as though social media and the internet have abused the concept, or at least stretched it into meaninglessness. On Facebook, friend counts are frequently absurd: you can forget about people in high school and college who have friended every member of their graduating class, and half of all the others.

Others with insanely high numbers are those who use Facebook as a means to some other end, a business venture, a band, or a following. And of course, there are those folks, especially in Hollywood, who get bombarded with friend requests because “knowing” them may offer some career advantage.

I concede it’s all very silly. But upon arriving at 1,000 it seemed like it was time to take back the notion of friendship. Make it mean something again, at least to me, and to celebrate the people who have affected my life so wonderfully.

So here’s what I’m going to do. I am going to write at least a couple of sentences about every “friend” I have. I won’t do it on every blog, and I’ll never do more than 3-4 at a time, but I have a pretty fucking good memory, and I promise none of them will be boring. Nor will they paint anyone in an unflattering light, because this is all about LOVE LOVE LOVE, baby.

Like all of you, I have some FB friends that I don’t know, or I do know, but need to be reminded. So if you hear from me, and I ask how we know each other, don’t immediately think I’m a dick. There’s plenty of time for that later.

I shan’t be embarrassing anybody, nor outing strangers, or making this a self-involved ego trip. I just want to try forging an actual connection between the concept of “friendship” and the reality of people who have impacted our lives. And if that ain’t cool with you, let me have it.


14 thoughts on “i know a place where we can go

  1. Amy S.

    That’s so cool, Ian! A couple Septembers ago, when the FB onslaught of birthday wishes began, I decided I would comment on every one with where/how I met the well-wisher. I loved doing it, and I really did feel like it redeveloped the connection between us.
    (There were several for whom I was like, “Uhhhh, I have no fucking clue.”)

  2. Just Andrew

    This sounds like about a two year project. Will you be going alphabetically? By height? Is this just a ploy to drive readership to the blog?
    And not sure if your song quote is from the Lemonheads’ “Into Your Arms” or if you are channeling Petula Clark, but you reminded me of one of my favorire Lemonheads songs – “Postcard” – the chorus being:
    “I know that it doesn’t matter much
    But I hope we’ll, keep in touch.
    I know that we won’t go on as such
    But I hope we’ll, keep in touch.
    Could it be that hard,
    To send you a postcard? ”

  3. Ehren

    I think that “friend” once just meant “fellow citizen” or “person who isn’t trying to kill you this very minute.” Or at least those have been acceptable definitions at times.
    “Say, friend, can you tell me where the dime store in this part of town is?”
    “Stop right there. Be ye friend or foe?”
    You get the idea. Just like at one point “happy” just meant “lucky.”

  4. kent williams

    There should be a different word for Facebook Friends than ‘friend.’ Face-ends?
    I have 1301 Face-ends. I do have a goal, beyond keeping track of the people I actually have an interactive relationship with: Trying to keep up with the extended community of writers and musicians to which I’m connected.
    It’s not friendship, it’s face-end-ship. It can be a way to make real friends. Say I manage to make it to Barcelona or Paris or Berlin or Florence or Osaka — there will be a cohort of people that I know well enough to connect with. That feels good.

  5. CM

    There are people on FB who are friends of friends, and a few who read my goofy book. Can someone be a friend if you’ve never met them in person? What if they probably would have been your friend had you crossed paths? I think there’s no trespass in calling someone a friend just because they like you (or ‘like’ you).
    I like the saying, “There are no strangers, just friends you haven’t met yet.” Maybe it devalues it, but maybe not. So, hi to all my friends!

  6. Piglet

    I passed the 900 FB-friend mark a month or two ago. Of the ones there, I’d call about 50 of them deep friendships, and at least 700 fir one or more of the criteria you give. I have a long memory, and I sent out requests to absolutely everybody who ever fascinated me in my life–high school, college, summer camp, grad school, extended family, church, a couple of usenet groups I hung out at in the 90s (one of which is how I know Ian), former jobs, the filk community where I go to conventions (that category is about a third of the total, since we ALL know each other. If I get a friend request from someone with more than 100 friends in common with me, I know it’s a filker), a few niche celebrities I’d always admired and now get to have conversations with online, and some friends of friends who become actual friends over time spent in mutual comments sections. The only people I don’t network with on FB are the ones I know through my job.
    About ten people have died since we became FB pals, and only one of them had his page taken down. Several of these, I found out about their death via FB, and at least one, I had shared a goofy link on his page after he died, before I found out. Awkward.

  7. Lee

    What a great idea!
    I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, too. It’s funny… the past month or so if I’m on FB (not so much lately though) and it happens to be someone’s birthday and I don’t feel like I either a) know them well enough to say hbd or b) like them enough to say hbd -high school!- then I’ve been just going ahead and unfriending them.
    Kent is right in that there should be another word for a FB friend.
    Fun project!
    I’ll say for you that you do a great job of building up people around you and especially friends. You could be any one of your friends very own PR firm. You’re extremely brave to put most of your introspection out there for others to chime in as it’s hard enough to do that work without thousands of people giving you their two cents (and some extra chump change, too). I know that you know that if it helps one person feel like they can relate and feel less isolated then it’s worth it to you. Those of us in your friend circle are fortunate to be in it!

  8. Ian

    Lee lee, your sweet. <– written in high school
    Piglet, Im now fascinated by the Filk movement. Did you guys have a collective org-spasm when the end titles of “Game of Thrones” a few episodes back was a punk version of the lilting folk song they’d sung in the episode? I thought that was awesome.
    Just Andrew, I don’t know how long it will take, and good stories can combine up to 10 people, I’d bet. And I don’t know about driving readership to the blog – the confusing thing is that page hits here are as high as they’ve ever been, despite FB siphoning off what used to be great conversations. It’s like the fundamental state of the internet has morphed a little in the last 5 years, and especially in the last 2. But that’s just my anecdotal musing.

  9. Caitlin

    Thank you, Ian, for creating some of those meaningful events that allow people to gather in the same place at the same time. That’s the glue of friendship. This is one reason that you have so many friends, on FB and off: you make an effort, beyond what most people can muster, to create the conditions that nourish those friendships — new and old.

  10. Anne

    This move is guaranteed to raise the number of daily hits on your blog. We’ll all be checking to see if it’s ME ME ME you’re mentioning. LOL Is everything about ego when you come right down to it? I’m not sure. Maybe only for me.
    Anyway, I like the idea of mentioning friends and even “friends” in blogs and social media in general. I may just do more of it myself.
    Cheers, Ian. You are a good friend to many and — perhaps a more interesting tribute to your influence — you have introduced me via this comments section to fabulous peeps I now consider true online friends and frequent FB conversational buddies. Never did I expect to become connected with so many UNC alumni! –until I met XTCIAN. :-) Thank you for that.

  11. Tammy O.

    I’m increasingly interested in Linkedin, where my connections almost outnumber my Facebook friends. That feels right, especially at this time in my life.
    I find the descriptions of users across platforms to be fascinating: friends, connections, followers, favorites, subscribers, fans. We tend to focus on Facebook and how we believe it’s changing the notion of friendship (as if that’s been an immutable thing) but I think when you look across all the social networks, it says less about how things are changing and more about how complex and interconnected our relationships and networks always have been. Now, though, we’re confronted with the opportunity to make these relationships surface and come to life in active and always-on ways. In some ways, I think we’re just cavepeople with smartphones: we’re going to always be drawn to the fire and the safety and assurance of other people, but we’ve never it on demand.

  12. Piglet

    My filk org-spasm re Game of Thrones was more like, I thrilled to the “Daenerys in the slave market” subplot, and wrote it down to the tune of “Shake Shake Shake Senora”.
    Now I keep imagining Wynona Rider levitating over the ruins of Astapor.
    I’m messaging you the lyrics over on facebook.

  13. heike

    oh Ian. i am reading this on june 10, and just a couple of days *after* i learned how terribly ill you are and it comes home with a pang to my heart. i just want you to get better. you are such a wonderful friend and so is Tessa and you fill so MANY people’s lives with meaning and light and love and barbequed stuff shipped from North Carolina. I want this illness to go the fuck away. I have this image of you tilting your head and pulling up one corner of your mouth – and your lower lip, somehow – one eyebrow goes up and your entire body says “oh reeaaally”. and with all the challenges to rethink my life that you’ve thrown at me over the years, I just want that face back. And Tessa, you beautiful, glowing, wonderful woman– David and I are so deeply touched by your LOVE and the way you care and share and we just love you and miss you all and wish weren’t on the other side of the planet. sending you virtual ensure-grasshopper-leaves-fruit-herbs-and-all vegan milkshakes, and all our love, heike and david


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