Connected

When you live far away from your friends, it’s hard to stay connected.  Facebook used to be good for this: as long as people were posting updates, I could feel like I wasn’t that far away.  Lately though, it seems like the people I know have stopped using Facebook so much, and consequently a lot of my news feed is taken up by George Takei, whose posts have taken a downturn of late.  He used to post pretty funny, sometimes subversive stuff, now it seems to be just another aggregator.  But I digress.

The point is, I loved Facebook when people used it.  I get to see birth announcements and wedding announcements and keep up with my former students graduating and going out into the world.  Now more people use Instagram or Twitter, but those aren’t very helpful for keeping up with more personal news–they feel too public to me.  And more problematically in this scenario, my closest friends don’t seem to use Facebook very much.  In fact, when my son was born a couple of months ago, one friend looks at Facebook so little that she didn’t realise I had him.  Meanwhile, I relied on Facebook too heavily and didn’t send a birth announcement email.

Such is the difficulty in staying connected in the modern age–we can access each other instantly across the whole world, but everyone has to agree on the platform.  I have kept some of my oldest friends because we don’t have a constant need to stay connected–we were happy to reunite after a semester of college and catch up on everything.   Even today, they’re happy to meet me when I’m in town and we catch up on everything.  It’s just that those visits are few and far between, and so right now I only know half stories–one friend moved to Brooklyn when I thought she would never leave Manhattan–I’m dying to know why that move happened.  Another has finally managed to get her own place on the Upper East Side and I’m curious to know if living alone suits her as well as she thought it would.

The obvious answer would be to write an email, as that’s how we mostly communicate.  But I’m at the point now where there’s so much to say I hardly know where to begin.  I’ve always felt more connected to people when I know the little details, and it’s been so long there’s only time for broad strokes.  I miss those friends though.

All too often in my life, I’ve let connections fall by the wayside.  I’ve left letters unanswered and never replied to emails, and thus people I very much wanted to keep close I lost–my friend Travis who was on my study program in France, my colleague Maureen who was kind and who I had great respect for and loved talking to.  Rather tritely, I suppose the answer is to simply make time and write that email.  After all, I’m writing this blog, so…

Of course the problem is the cycle: I have a queue of emails and texts I’ve needed to answer for ages but haven’t.  I want to write and send them, but then there’s the embarrassment–it’s been too long.  How do I explain that?  If I don’t have an explanation, do I have any right to send a message as if I’m not completely thoughtless?

Alternatively, I could just chill out and write, couldn’t I?  And ultimately, that would probably be the best course of action.  If I get a message out of the blue, I’m not reproachful, I’m happy.  So why shouldn’t I apply the same logic to messages I send as well as receive.  And while I’m writing those emails, maybe it would be good to agree on a communication platform so I could What’sApp them more frequently.

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Source: Connected

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You’ve Got a Friend in Me…Have I Got a Friend in You?

 

Friend is kind of a thorny word for me, because I lack so much confidence.  I’m not naturally confident anyway, most especially in social situations, and of course as a preteen I suffered some hard knocks as the unpopular kid.  Being the unpopular kid in a small school (my 6th grade class had 13 kids in it) is particuarly hard because it’s not like there are other outcasts you can hang out with.

I remedied this by going to a high school where I was no exceptional nerd–in fact I graduated dead middle of my class and was revered by it.  Of course THHS had its spectrum of cliques and social groups.  There were definitely ‘cool’ kids and ‘popular’ kids.  I don’t know how these kids would have fared in your standard 3,000 kid NYC public high school, but it didn’t matter.  What was nice is that there were very few outcasts, it felt like.  I was no longer the weird nerdy one.  My friends read just as much–or more–than me.  Several were smarter, which was kind of a nice feeling.  Even better, I found a group of friends who have been my friends for life–I have now known them more years than I’ve not known them.

In college I went back to being the nerdy kid, but this time I had a foundation of friendship and there was a larger student body, so I went on to make friends despite not being anything even close to popular.  I had a rocky start where I went on a trip to Europe with a bunch of kids who thought I was the teflon to cool, as in, it just slid off me, but when I got back I had friends waiting.

What amazed me was when actual cool people, or people I deemed cool, seemed to like me.  Even today, when they laugh at my jokes or want to talk to me, there’s a part of me that’s like ‘Wait–you do know I’m a giant nerd, right?  I mean, I sit around writing fan fiction, for God’s sake!’  I try not to let my freak flag fly, but I’m always afraid someone will discover it, and then judge.

In a weird way, I suppose this means a lack of trust in the people I call friends, and especially people in general.  Because a bunch of snotty 12 year olds walked away from me when I tried to talk to them, I think that everyone wants to do that on some level.  As I type this, I realise how dumb that sounds–aren’t we all at our worst at 12?  And maybe I’m not completely cool, but there are some things about me that are cool.  For example, people here really dig that I’m from NYC, even when I get itinerant about bagels and pizza.  And then I think about one of my coworkers too–he labels himself as awkward, but actually as I’ve talked to him, I’ve never really thought of him as awkward.

I did have a friend who I bared it all to.  We met on a Narnia fanfiction site, and not only was I able to completely geek out with her (although she wasn’t the first–I met some pretty awesome girls through Les Mis as well), we also forged a creative partnership.  And, looking back, her friendship was addictive.  She threw her all into it, and because of that I responded, and we were able to form this Sex and the City, gal pal friendship that you only see on tv.  We would send each other huge missives and talk to each other on MSN messenger virtually every night.  We swore we were best friends until the end.

Until…we weren’t.  The reason those sorts of friendships only exist on tv is that they’re unsustainable.  We sacrificed so much of our personal lives to be the very best of friends to each other.  I didn’t go out with my NYC friends, the aforementioned ones who I had been friends with since 14.  I didn’t try to go out on dates because I didn’t want to give up the close friendship we had.  She in turn let her marriage suffer and didn’t let her social circle expand.  And because we had given up so much for each other, we grew jealous of each other’s separate lives.  It didn’t help that she lived in England and I lived in NYC, so we could never really bring those social circles together.  When I made new friends and went out with them, she confessed her jealousy.  When she declared she wanted to rekindle her love of acting, I fretted about the loss of our creative partnership, even though that hadn’t actually happened yet.  It did eventually, but I think it was more self-fulfilling prophecy.

And so the friendship soured.  Her last great friend deed was to introduce me to my husband.  If you’ve so much as glanced at this blog, you know the end of that is me moving to England.  I thought we might feel better being able to have a more ‘normal’ friendship, not scheduling around time zones and work, but it wasn’t to be.  We became competitive with each other about parenting since we each made opposite choices: I would go back to work, she would stay at home. She was very much about child led parenting, I favoured sleep training and schedules.  She would post links to articles on facebook where people would rant about how sleep training is child abuse (what), and I would take it personally.    She started to go through post-natal depression and I only half recognised the signs, so instead of helping her and supporting her, I wound up criticising her for her lack of friendship.  (I have a whole lot of thoughts about friends with PND and what it means to witness it and how better to support it, but that’s another topic for another time).  She continued to act and I wasn’t very supportive.  I didn’t like the plays she was in for the most part, but instead of focusing on her performance and how she was, I focused on the play and my opinions of it.  Not v. supportive

A year ago we were still clinging on, and I went to see another friend who told me for what it’s worth, you can’t pick and choose things about your friends.  You either have to take all the crazy or none of it.  I thought about this and realised picking and choosing was exactly what I was trying to do, attempting to tailor make our friendship to what it used to be.  I thought perhaps we should redraw the boundaries of our friendship.  After all, the SATC thing was exhausting and not how functional adults behave.  That said, I had a number of highly successful friendships that meant the world to me.  And she did too, so maybe we ought to retry.

I don’t know where things went wrong.  I didn’t go to the play she was next in.  It was the day after I got back and although I love me some Arthur Miller, I was far too exhausted after traveling with a toddler to contemplate the deeper meaning of the American Dream.  Maybe that was the last straw for her.  Maybe she felt I couldn’t mean anything but criticism for her when I suggested we reevaluate things.  Maybe that phrase is scary.  All I know is that when I suggested a discussion and outlined why I wanted it, she unleashed a tirade.  She accused me of saying and thinking things I never meant–or said, or implied.  I guess she had a lot of anger, and it wound up getting released in a fireball of destruction.  I wound up saying she should contact me when she wanted to talk things over.  She unfriended me on Facebook and I haven’t heard from her since.

I don’t know now how I feel about all this.  I do often miss her.  But she seems to have replaced me with a new, intense best friendship.  She did help shape my life in some valuable ways, and it was at the very least flattering to have someone so devoted to me and our friendship.  In some ways it was even enriching, and it gave me confidence.  I could be the nerd and it didn’t matter.  Except I all the times she said she would always be there, no matter what, proved false, and in the Venn diagram of our social circles I see she has already replaced me with a new bff flavour of the month.  If it were not for her entrance into my life, I would not have met my husband.  Yet she completely ignored the birth of my second child–there aren’t many clearer messages than that.

I still struggle with the conclusions I should draw about all of this.  I know now that if a friend is all-consuming, that’s probably not a good idea.  However, that friendship did provide me with some valuable things and it’s sad to see it evaporate completely.  I know that high maintenance friendships are best left to tv shows where the characters only exist in very tiny spheres.  But do I see that friendship as a productive thing?  Would I be friends with her again?  Have I made peace with the experience?

Not yet.

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Source: Friend

Incomplete

Occasionally, my husband will bug me with: ‘So where is your best selling novel?  Why haven’t you written it yet so we can live a life of luxury and I don’t have to work anymore?’

I guess some people might find this obnoxious, but I find it funny (it’s partly down to tone).  I also like it because it reminds me of my life dream.

I had several years of childhood existential angst where people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I never had answer.  What did I want to be?  (Note to adults: don’t ask kids this.  They don’t know.  And if they are sure they want to be a sparkle princess firewoman, they’ll tell you.)  Then in 6th grade I did a story writing unit and on the bottom my teacher scrawled ‘This is great!  You should be a writer.’

Thanks to Mrs. Garwood, suddenly everything made sense.  Hadn’t I been scribbling and composing stories since before I could write?  I even had some proto-fan fiction drama in a notebook: a hilarious crossover between The Legend of Zelda and The Little Mermaid.  I don’t know how offhand that comment was, but it changed my life.

I devoted my life to becoming a writer.  Well, kind of.  I was never a tortured artist who was consumed by her art, but I did everything I could to be a better writer–I penned my first (terrible) novel at 15, and wrote one complete sequel and half of another.  I took the creative writing electives at high school and majored in English with an emphasis on Creative Writing in college, damned be the expense and impracticality.  I kept filling up notebooks with further novel attempts, planning out a family saga in four parts–but I never finished the first.

It turns out that writing is pretty easy.  Finishing a piece of writing is hard.  Figuring out what makes me finish something is harder still.  After about five years post-college dithering with one novel, I discovered that fan fiction was an actual thing.  No, I was not weird for spinning further stories about my favorite books–or if I was, I was in very good company on the internet.  Inspired by the fact that I wasn’t alone and a renewed spark of inspiration for the Narnia books which had fired my imagination so much as a kid, I churned out a good half dozen multi-chapter and short stories in the space of three months.

I also met my a writing partner, someone who was as caught up as me.  We started writing fan fiction together, and I abandoned my serious literary attempts to write about fully copyrighted characters.  We mused often about how we would go somewhere with our stories, but at the same time, we were having so much fun we didn’t ever want to finish.  We did some good work and I honed and thought about my writing skills, but I never seemed to finish much of anything.

Yet all through these years since I had been told I should be a writer, I never doubted that I would be.  I would write, no matter what.  Even if I wasn’t producing, I knew that one day I would, and that was enough.  After all, I spent every night writing for two plus hours as my writing partner and I spun stories for ourselves.  There couldn’t be more dedication.

Then things started to change.  I met my husband and started building the dream I didn’t think would come true–getting married and starting a family.  My writing partner had a kid, then I did.  We didn’t have as much time for writing, and then the fights we had been having from such an intense friendship and creative partnership became too much to get past.  I got a job teaching, and marking and planning took up a lot of my time outside work.  I did manage to write a play and even get it performed at a small am-dram company, but lately, I struggle.  Instead of the absolute certainty that one day I will write a best-selling novel, I start to wonder sometimes: do I have to?  I’m already so happy.

This line of thought scares me.  I always swore I wouldn’t be the type of person who gave up on their dream, yet here I am, sometimes on the verge of doing so.  It is hard to fit in writing when I have one kid–very soon to be two, and a job that is full time and then some.  It’s easier to mooch around on Facebook and BuzzFeed at night instead of plodding through typing to find my inspiration. But actually finishing is hard, and I’m teetering on an edge, given my present feelings and my past history.  I always thought that without writing and achieving my goal to be a published author I would feel incomplete.  What’s scary is to realize that incompleteness wouldn’t be a gaping hole but more of a niggle that I could live with.

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Source: Incomplete

Friendship defined

I have had a lot of cause to think about friendship lately, both good and bad.  The bad is a bit too close to home and far too unresolved to delve into here, but the good has really stuck with me.  I just went home to NY to visit family, but also got the opportunity to see my friends, and because of the bad side of things, their fantasticness struck me anew.  Thus, it got me thinking about what makes a good friend and a bad one.  Rather than dwelling on the bad, I’m going to focus on the good.  It’s my policy not to mention people directly by name on this blog, but I hope my friends are a) reading and b) recognize themselves in this list.

I’ve recently come to realize friendship is:

  • definitely not being a kid person by any stretch of the imagination, but always asking about my pregnancy and my baby, and even being eager to meet not just me, but both of us, on a European jaunt.
  • meeting up after ages of not seeing each other or talking much and being able to chat just like it’s old times, as though minutes and not months have passed.
  • showing up to a baby shower after not seeing each other for literally decades just to wish well after reconnecting on Facebook.
  • hosting said baby shower and letting some of the guests stay five hours past the time everyone else has left.
  • Driving an hour each way and paying a toll just to hang out with me for an afternoon–with two kids under four.
  • Working an extra chance to see me during lunch hour in between meetings.
  • Listening to me go on and on (and on and on and on) about a problem that keeps niggling at me and offering up some honest sympathy.
  • Going to Target with me just because, and then buying an outfit for my baby when I decide buying 3 is too many because it’s too cute to pass up.
  • Remembering that my husband (who they’ve only met a couple of times) had a thing for calling our kid Velociraptor, and buying tons of dino stuff accordingly.
  • Dropping off some tasty pastries at my door after I did her a tiny favor.
  • Being reluctant to say goodbye after spending an afternoon together.
  • Finding, somehow, a baby book version of Romeo and Juliet because of my obsession with Shakespeare (FYI: it leaves out the double suicide).
  • Calling to ask with vested interest how I am doing in my pregnancy.  Sometimes I forget and wonder why she asks so enthusiastically how I am, and then I remember that I’m pregnant, and well being is something of a moving target these days.
  • Being really concerned when the fried chicken place I really wanted to go to was closed and listing other restaurants we could go to so I could get my fried chicken fix, despite it being just a passing pregnancy craving.
  • Though this isn’t recent, it’s still something that strikes me: being willing to travel across an ocean and spend a ton of money on plane tickets and a dress to be a bridesmaid in my wedding.

In my life I have been incredibly lucky in friendships.  I made friends for life in high school and just added to the list as time went on.  My husband would hate this post because it’s all about feelings and is very soppy, but all of this is nevertheless true.  If I can make one new friend over here who is half as good to me as these guys are, I’ll consider myself very lucky indeed.

Review of The Great, Wide World Part 1

The prompt: Write a review of your life as if it were a movie or a book.

The Great, Wide World: Part 1 is, at heart, an existential story of self definition.  The protagonist is not as iconic as Holden Caulfield, but then she is not as petulant either.  What makes her tale unique is that unlike many journeymen protagonists, she has a clear mission from the start–live life as a story.

She is half successful and half not.  Her misadventures consist of years of passivity and an acceptance of the status quo which can only be described as irritating.  When she makes a career decision to teach in her early twenties, she spends several years floundering in admin assistant jobs.  When one of those jobs shows her gallingly disrespected, our heroine doesn’t stand up for herself, she lies down and takes it–until she gets fired.  Everyone wanted to see a scene where she stands up for herself, but instead she lets things continue on other people’s terms, and that is where she fails as a heroine.  Heroes are meant to be in control of their decisions, if nothing else, no matter how misguided those decisions may be.  Romeo may declare himself ‘Fortune’s fool’ but he’s the one who draws the sword on Tybalt.  The protagonist often leaves her weapons of defense and attack safely sheathed, leaving the audience hungry for more conflict and less whinging. Continue reading

Red hot exhaustion

**Disclaimer:  So, obviously, this blog is based a lot on my personal life.  In this post, I reference a real event, and real opinions of my friends (though I have made every endeavor to keep them anonymous).  The debate I reference got quite heated, and to any of my friends who may recognize themselves or their points of view–I’m not taking sides.  I’m just ruminating, because it’s an interesting debate.

Two days before the wedding, my sister-in-law (in two days) was driving me and three of my bridesmaids who were staying with me back from the rehearsal barbecue we had just days before the wedding.  She and I were chatting inconsequentially when all of a sudden the volume of the conversation in the backseat rose by a volume of about 15 decibels.  I caught snatches of it, and being a naturally inquisitive (read: nosy) person, I was dying to know what was going on.  But I was marrying into a British family, and  the Brits excel at a) not making a fuss and b) pretending a fuss is not happening.  (Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever fit in. )  So we carried on talking about teaching.

Eventually, I found out that the source of the debate was this: one friend was explaining how she wanted her relationship to be full of lifelong passion, and the other was saying that is an unrealistic expectation.  In so many words.

Of course this got me thinking, as I was about to enter into a lifelong relationship.  What did I hope for in my marriage?

The friend arguing passion had expressed this feeling to me before, and in expressing that opinion said, essentially, that she didn’t want to be friends with her partner, that she had plenty of friends, and if he wanted to tell her about his day, maybe he could feel her up while doing it.

I have the good fortune to have some truly amazing friends (like the ones I’m referring to in this post), and in that I see her point.  I don’t *need* another friend.  That is one area where my life is full.  But still…the husband and I are friends, and in a lot of ways that’s really nice.

Part of the draw of being with someone is that you don’t have to be alone anymore.  When you are in any form of serious relationship, there’s a comfort in knowing you won’t come home to an empty house.  Or even more, that their lives are tied up with yours.  Someone else cares just as much when the internet goes out, or the tv dies, or dinner gets burnt, and that makes you feel a little less alone.  And if you’re going to be going through life together, it’s nice to know that the person by your side is a comrade-in-arms, a friend who can be confided in and relied on.

More than that, it’s fun.  Passion is an important part of life, but it’s a very specific one, and unless you have some seriously jumped up hormones, nobody feels passionate every waking moment of the day.  So when you’re not feeling passionate, if that’s the basis of the relationship with your partner, there’s not a whole lot left to do together.  My husband and I can sit around watching Wonders of the Solar System or play Rock Band or just sit and have a chat.  Last night we ate dinner, watched a couple of episodes of Community and Grand Designs, played a bit of Rock Band and read in bed.  Nothing hot about it, but I loved reading in bed together, because we’d read funny bits to each other, or turn and smile at each other, and the simplicity of that made me really happy.

Moreover, constant passion is exhausting at the very least, if not unsustainable.  To wit: one of my other friends was telling me how a coworker’s marriage seemed to be falling apart due to some Facebook craziness.  I was shocked, but then as she went on to explain, they were crazy for each other but would fly into jealous rages and follow each other to make sure of where they were going, and interrogate each other over who’s posting what on whose Facebook wall.  There was lots of slamming doors and sleeping on the couch.  That to me is a side effect of a passionate relationship.  Yes, the highs are very high, but nothing in life can be a constant high.  Eventually there’s a crash, and in a relationship that means bitter arguments, perhaps a lack of trust.  Perhaps even (and this may be a controversial hypothesis) passion causes mistrust, because when one partner isn’t feeling amorous or passionate, the other can easily come to believe that they’re getting satisfaction elsewhere.

Also, if passion is constant in a relationship, when it’s good, what room is there for anything else?  I remember a friend (the same one who was reporting on her work mate’s problems) telling me about her first relationship, a deeply involving Edward and Bella sort of affair (her comparison).  She told me that after the whole thing ended her family expressed sheer relief.  Apparently, they hated the guy because not only did he not even address them, but he also totally distracted her and drew her in.  We’ve all been there, but the point is would you want that for the rest of your life?

The husband and I discussed this debate while on our honeymoon, which turned out to have its very unromantic moments.  Ultimately, I’m glad we’re friends and glad we can support each other when we’re feeling ill or upset.

But this is a double-edge sword.  It is so easy to be friends, and so comfortable, that a danger exists.  While constant passion is unsustainable, it is all too easy to forget about it altogether and sink into the comforts of married life.  We’re going through this a bit now, I think.  There’s no more drama, no more separation, no more big wedding, and so while we have our nights where we do stuff together, there are also nights where we’re in the same room, but engaged in our own activities.  It is blissful to do nothing, and sometimes it’s tempting to not bother with passion and romance, because they are a lot of work.  But the thing is that when you marry someone, while it’s necessary to be friends, you’re clearly not *just* friends, not if you married for love.  There is an attraction there, and that shouldn’t be forgotten because things are familiar and comfortable.

I think the thing is that keeping passion alive does take work.  If it happens too naturally, then you get a very tumultuous relationship that exists only around passion.  But humans are essentially lazy, and once the chase is over would rather rest than keep running.  Of course, all this is well and good to say, but the trick is to find the things that will keep the spark alive.