Issue 3 out now!

There’s an account on Instagram with almost two million followers and a message in the bio. “Warning,” it says, “Feelings may arise.”

By Hadassah Penn.

“I view questions as an art form,” says Koreen Odiney. Odiney is the creator of We’re Not Really Strangers (WNRS), the card game and the accompanying Instagram account, “I don’t enter conversations hoping I have the right things to say. I try my best to focus on how I can ask the best questions.”

Questions like, what’s the most pain you’ve been in that wasn’t physical? What is the most toxic trait that you can admit to?

How are you?

No, how are you really?

“During my lowest moments in life, the thing that’s continuously saved me is realizing I wasn’t alone in what I was going through,” says Odiney, “the only way to arrive to that is through honest connection with others, where the good and bad is presented.” Honesty isn’t easy, though. Neither is connection.

That’s where We’re Not Really Strangers comes in. Odiney’s card game has three stages: perception, connection, and reflection. It can be played with close friends or perfect strangers, and the questions are designed to start simply and get progressively deeper, in order to encourage a natural progression of opening up and developing a feeling of closeness.

In the process, you won’t just share your vulnerabilities with others, you’ll also learn to listen. That’s the give and take that Odiney calls a “meaningful connection.” “It’s that extra curiosity to not only want to open up to others,” she says, “but also giving others the space to reveal things to you that may take time to unpack.”

In other words, it’s the perfect mission statement for our own trying times. Accordingly, in addition to keeping the physical card game available for online purchase, Odiney has released a special bite-sized isolation version of the game – free, digital, and available for instant download. The digital file features 20 brand-new questions developed just for quarantine, including “what do you think I’m binge-watching these days?” and “how can I best be there for you during this chapter?”

Those questions and others offer a gentle opportunity for reflection and connection – a welcome balm for the loneliness, anxiety, or fear that many feel at this time. “One of the most healing things we can hear is that we’re not alone,” says Odiney.

Solidarity can’t change the fact that we are alone, but it can certainly ease loneliness. “We all have those things, or at least have had those things, that made us feel shame, or that we were crazy. When you’re able to be open about those things, we can find others who’ve felt it too. And from there healing can take place,” Odiney says.

One wonders how We’re Not Really Strangers has managed to carve out a cult of sincerity in a world where extreme emotion often feels performative. Odiney suggests that, in spite of their carefully-curated social media accounts, all people really want is to be known for their true selves, “when we see ourselves reflected in something it becomes an extension of us. You want to share it because it communicates to others who you are.”

The emotion promoted by We’re Not Really Strangers feels real, not contrived, and that’s partly because Odiney herself is willing to be vulnerable. She has called the Instagram account her “public diary,” and it certainly feels that way. “The art I make on WNRS is very personal and often reflects a mood or thought I had just the day before, sometimes even the morning of,” says Odiney. Her posts vary from day to day, but the tone is consistent: reflective, emotional, and a touch melancholy. She says things about self-worth and relationships that you’ve been needing to hear, or perhaps dreading. “I think people feel the honesty and relate. I make art as personal as possible and found that the more specific the emotion, the more people tend to resonate,” she says. And it’s true – her posts make great journal prompts.

A final piece of advice for creating meaningful connections during quarantine? Use social media in ways that are positive, not wasteful. “I’ve met countless friends, business contacts, creative contacts, etc. through social media,” she says. “I’ve also mindlessly scrolled for entire days of my life, when you add all the hours up.”

And, while social media and technology have been helpful in the past few weeks, try to remember that in-person connection is key, “I think challenging ourselves to embrace awkward silences or boredom can be a good thing once we’re back to socializing outside after quarantine” Odiney advises, “challenge yourself to connect with more than just the wifi.”