Meetup: A great way to build a core of diverse friends

This summer I went to the Fete de la Musique with a large group of friends.  Though it originally started in France it’s now a worldwide annual event.  As the evening closed out at our fourth musical venue out of hundreds we could have chosen, I took a moment to be thankful for a platform that has connected me with so many wonderful people.

Meetup is a company that started in NYC in mid-2001, but really gained traction after 9/11 as New Yorkers tried to connect with people who wanted to talk and process the disaster that had befallen their city, their nation, and the world.  It has grown quickly in the US, and as a result it can cost north of $100USD/year to start a group.

For those who aren’t familiar with the concept, Meetup is a “just add internet” for any type of group.  Want to “jog on Wednesdays” or “knit on Tuesdays” or “club on Saturdays”?  There’s a group for you to join.  Can’t find the group you want?  Start your own.

For the casual browser it’s a dazzling arena of fun activities with strangers who might become friends.  For the organizer type (comme moi) at only 12€/year to start up to three groups, it’s a bargain that pays back massive dividends.

I created Paris Culture Lovers as a way to find people like me – who love art, film, books, conversation, food, and day trips.  We are closing in on our first year as a group and have done almost 90 events, some of which were among my most treasured memories of 2015.

So what’s the bad news?

  1. Many groups are ephemeral.  People get enthusiastic, start a group, never do an event or do one and give up.  That’s okay.  It happens.
  2. Because Meetup has created a “buffet” culture, and because of society worldwide becoming less accountable about events and invitations, many people feel they can no-call and no-show an event they have RSVPed for, or cancel hours or minutes before an event, for frivolous reasons or for no reasons whatsoever.  You might not do that to friends but you may be inclined to do that to strangers (At PCL we have invented a ranking system that measures and ranks you by the number of events attended and gives senior members priority for events).

But neither of these things are dealbreakers and as this year ends, a group of the core of Paris Culture Lovers have become good friends and strong acquaintances, which means a lot to a stranger in a strange land – even more so to the type like me, who isn’t seeking to surround himself with expats to build an anglo island in France.  There are meetup groups for that…if that’s what you want.  But when I want to feel like America or be with Americans…I visit that country.

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PS I should note that I had two Meetups fail due to lack of interest – a casual kick around soccer group and a chess players group.  But you have to try in order to see what works 🙂

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I live in a different Paris than you do…

“And you know, Paris is all metro and work and the run-around.”

He used the famous idiom “Metro-boulot-dodo” which is a colloquialism that is literally “subway-work-sleep” that indicates the grind of life for many in the City of Light.  We were high in the French Alps, not far from the Italian border, but quite a distance away from home, and yet the complaint was similar: “I used to think Paris was magic, but now it’s just a place I work and pay bills.”

I tried to hide my dismay at hearing this, because no one should live in a place that one doesn’t love, if it can be avoided.  It’s socially acceptab2014-04-08 13.57.40le to tell people you moved to a dreadful city for a job but it’s some revolutionary concept to tell people you moved someplace for the city and who cared about the job?  It would come.

Now, I’m not pretending that everyone can have a great amount of time wealth/lifestyle in the world’s finest cities, but if you are going to bother to live there, to “put up” with the cost of living, it’s surely a great shame if you can never enjoy it.

Now, the first time I heard this complaint was from a lady who attended my Paris Culture Lovers meetup who rather sourly 2014-03-28 13.24.00complained about her schedule as I described my own, which included grocery shopping, visiting parks and museums, and riding a Velib during “off hours” – when everyone was at work from 9-5.  While I was a bit taken aback at her tirade, even though I’ve become very used to the French complaining (it’s a national art and sport), especially since she chose to move to Paris 15 years ago – for work – I avoided what would have been a typical American retort: “Well why don’t you do something about it instead of just complaining to 10 near-strangers about it?”  I said it another way to my friend Julia last month: “The French as a people would rather complain about what they don’t have than take responsibility for building their dreams.”  Instead, I just managed to stutter, “I guess…I guess I just live in a different Paris than you do.”

Since my current conversant was French I decided to take a different tack and asked him how he planned to break the cycle.  He shared some great ideas, but unsurprisingly, had not done any real research into those ideas.

2014-04-14 12.29.22***

Okay, Stephen, so people quit their miserable city jobs, then what?  Look, I don’t know.  I’m not advocating that everyone quit his/her respective jobs.  I’m just asking the serious and adult series of questions: what is the life you want for yourself?  Are you living it now?  If not, why not?  Do you have any plan or timeline in which you will be living the life you want?  Does it solely hinge on money?  Have you rethought that?

Surely life is more than paying rent or a mortgage.  Our time on this magnificent planet is too short and brief to spend focusing on the life you don’t have.  Start creating the life you desire and marvel at how much the journey alone will prepare you to enjoy what awaits your sacrifices.  I’m reminded of the words of Marcus Aurelius:

The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.

The obstacle is the way.

2014-04-18 19.48.52-2The photos are all ones I took this time last year, when Spring had definitely arrived.  For now they are consoling me that we are almost there, as Winter is staying too long this year.

The loss of Netflix and Hulu, or “How I started reading again”

I’m an early adopter.  Not the “have it first” type, but the “that’s really cool I’d like to try that” type.  Sometimes this works out well, other times one accepts bad experiences as the cost of being among the first to try them.

Those of us in our 30s are not “digital natives.”  Email and the internet really hit their stride after our undergraduate years.  But it doesn’t mean we take to “appification” any less, particularly ones that involve video.  Some of those video apps that I have particularly become attached to in previous years include:

Amazon Prime

Hulu Plus

NBC Sports (meant I could watch Premier League matches)

Netflix

Pandora

I knew before I arrived in France that none of these applications were ordinarily available and had started to cogitate about work-arounds or (gasp!) the possibility that I would simply “go without” while I was in Europe.

My degree is in Literature and I have thousands of dead-tree books carefully collected through years of library book sales, out-of-control spending at Half-Price Books, or at any other known honeypot for a bookhound like myself.  The smell of those pages – old and new – were pheromones for me.  They woke me up – excited me – made me simply happy.

However, in the final two years of my residence in America my reading pace had slowed to a trickle.  Instead of the usual 2-3-4 books a month I had slowed to not even finishing one book per month.  I would sometimes go a week or longer without even touching a book.  It wasn’t until I was out of the warm comfort zone that was my American existence (that I created for myself – I don’t blame anyone else!) that I realized what had happened: Netflix and its imitators.

It wasn’t entirely Netflix’s fault.  I should say it was the fault of having easy access to a nearly infinite library of video titles.  While I’m happy to doff my hat to the era of television that played host to the original Twilight Zone or produced my beloved The Prisoner, I have to say that the current era of television is perhaps the finest in history.  If we look strictly at script and writer-driven shows, like Boardwalk Empire, Treme, The Wire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Justified, Luther, Sherlock, and the like, we are witnessing the marriage of what any reader loves, whether he/she knows it or not: real, meaningful stories combined with expert costuming, cinematography, and directing.  There are many moments on any of the series I’ve listed above where one could freeze a frame and give an hour-long lecture on everything occurring in that sequence.

In a sense, I didn’t realize I had abandoned reading because I was still occupying my time with ideas and stories and concepts that mattered to me.  It was only when I had to confront having to get a VPN workaround (I hate the name of my service, but it works) and its own challenges – like only working 85% of the time – made it so that I accepted that I would just go without for a while.  There’s always time to catch up on those series at some point in my life.

What happened in that going without?  Reading, like the waters of spring coming forth from a snowmelt, burst in through all the well-known streambeds of my free time.  Public transportation facilitated this by giving me countless chances to get in a “quickie” with some novel or work I had downloaded for free (because it was in the public domain) and read on my Kindle app on my iphone or ipad.  That led to even more reading (I was foolish enough to bring a number of dead tree books with me to Europe) and before I knew it, the old paradigm had reasserted itself in my life: free time spent in large part reading, with a tiny bit of TV via the free Fox app and a weekly movie in the theaters.  Unwilling to pay for any premium services like Netflix, I simply enjoy Pandora (I still haven’t converted to Spotify, but I am open to listening to you tell me why I should) and the occasional guilty pleasure of Masterchef or Hell’s Kitchen (I love cooking and I love Gordon Ramsay).  Last week my mother told me I should watch the new Jack Bauer 24 series and I haven’t yet told her that I already watched the first episode, having failed to stop watching 24as I should have – after the 3rd season.  Remind me to tell you about my feelings on the art of non-finishing some time.

So, can I ask you to try something?  Something that can be done from the comfort of your own home?  Give up Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu Plus for one month.  Watch what happens.  I’m not on a crusade here.  I just want you to experience what I wasn’t able to until I left everything I knew to move to a place where I only knew a handful of people.  All those programs you’re terrified you’ll miss will still be there for you.

If you ever go back.