I have some very good friends and I cherish them, but only recently did I come to appreciate the value of a good acquaintance. Yes, with friendship comes comfort, a shorthand developed over years of shared dramas and good times, but it also brings with it some measure of expectation. You can't hide, create another persona, or act irresponsibly. Your friends are counting on you to be...well, you. They know all your secrets, and can predict with a level of certainty how you're going to react to most anything. You can let it all out with a good friend, you won't be judged and your actions will not be held up to microscopic analysis, but you might just fear disappointing them. You might not want them to think less of you because what they think of you matters.
I have made a fair number of acquaintances recently, mostly through my writing workshops. I'm fond of them in the same way as if I had chanced upon a fellow New Yorker while exploring a foreign city who turned out to be refreshingly wise and fun. I am Facebook friends with many of them and we cheer each other on from afar. It is a relaxing and enervating way to keep in touch and up-to-date. And best of all, it's pressure free.
There's a scene that I love in "Pretty Woman" where Julia Roberts finds Richard Gere playing classical piano in the breakfast room at 5:00 AM. She asks him if he performs because he's so good, and he replies: "I only play for strangers."
I so get that.
I am often asked what my husband and children think of my writing and am met with surprised looks when I say I don't let them read my books. As writers, we pour our souls into our work. We may be writing about characters but make no mistake, there are shades of ourselves hidden in there, and sometimes not so hidden. The freedom to expose part of ourselves and our innermost thoughts is best achieved in anonymity. It is easier to send our words out into the atmosphere and have them fall on strangers...strangers who can't nod knowingly or smirk in recognition of an idea they've heard before.
Many well-known authors write under different pen names because once they've established themselves in a genre it might be hard for readers to shift gears with them. They want to be taken seriously in the new role they're playing, i.e. J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith when she elected to try her hand at a hard-boiled detective novel.
But the illusion of anonymity coats both ways. Interestingly enough, not that many readers were interested in Ms. Rowling's attempted anonymity, she only sold 1500 books until news leaked that she was the author. After that revelation the book hit the bestseller's list.
A past or a present with someone, friends or family colors our relationship and this shared history carries with it a lot of baggage. Very often it is positive and sometimes, not so much. At that point a chance encounter with an acquaintance is just the ticket for a fresh perspective and renewed spirits.
Start a conversation with a fellow commuter you see everyday on the 7:52 train...she just might have something very interesting to say.