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

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Misstep, or past employment fails

When I left school, I was shockingly underprepared for the world of work.  I had done some work study and some temp jobs while in college, and I thought all jobs would be like that: show up on time and reliably, do a bit of good work but also mess around on the internet, and everyone would be cool.  I also thought it would be really easy to get a job, since I had fallen into one job after another from the moment I started working.  To top it all off, I had no idea what kind of jobs were out there.  I had a degree in English and French and couldn’t think of a single thing to do with it other than write or maybe teach, a possibility I was considering at the time, but didn’t have the money for.  It was a long road to get to teaching, the career I have today.  Even then, I had to start my career from scratch when I got to the UK.  So here is a brief catalogue of my missteps on that road:

Interview disasters

Nobody told me about interviews, and what to do, and how to behave.  I thought it was actually kind of fun–sit down, talk about myself, be honest, and they would hire me.  I candidly told more than one potential employer that in 5 years I saw myself as a novelist.  I also neglected to read up on companies before interviewing with them and didn’t take notes.  When I didn’t get second interviews I was utterly baffled.  Thinking back now, I shake my head at myself.  Sometimes I start to go into an embarrassment spiral, but I talk myself out of this one: really, how was I to know?  I spent four years at college sharpening my mind, not honing my business acumen.  I could write 20 page papers in French, but I had to be taught how.  Similarly, interviewing is a skill which must be taught, and nobody had taught me.  I was lucky that when I interviewed for teaching posts, my candid answers were exactly what principals wanted to hear.

Job fails

My first full time job out of college was when I was living in North Carolina.  It was for an education non-profit (as close as I could get to teaching without a master’s) and the people were noble minded and lovely.  And I totally took advantage of them by spending most of my day on the internet and doing a bit of work.  My boss had to give me a real dressing down, but she was so nice about it I didn’t really take in the lesson.  In retrospect, she probably should have fired me, she was just too nice.

My next job was when I was back in New York, and my friend got me the job.  I continued in my entitled ways, and they were a lot less understanding.  Although to be fair, I wasn’t nearly as bad because I had barely gotten my foot in the door before they fired me.  And I burst into tears, both in front of my boss and the HR lady, and then later on the subway.  I had never been fired before–I was 22 and was used to getting praise for my work.  But high flyer in the English and French departments of a small liberal arts college doesn’t translate to anything in NYC offices.  I have to say though, standing over me while I packed up my stuff and escorting me out of the building was a little much.  I mean, they were basically firing me because I was acting like a stupid kid.  What did they think I was possibly capable of carrying away?  It would have been humane to at least give me a minute to pack up my stuff and gather the shreds of my dignity.  The random people on the subway were much nicer.  As I sobbed uncontrollably, two people dropped a note in my lap, which read ‘Don’t cry.  Everything will be ok.  From two people who love you.’

I then embarked on a year of temping, which went great, but of course people expect very little of temps so I was a superstar.  They did interview me to go permanent at one place, but  weren’t keen when I told them I wanted to be a writer.  My next permanent job was for a linen company, and honestly one of my bigger missteps was not holding out for positions which were better suited to me.  Seriously–let this be a cautionary tale because there are so many mistakes.

The linen company had some really cool people working at it and I did get to talk to Connie Chung on the phone once, but my boss was awful, and we basically spent 9 months in passive aggressive warfare.  She clearly thought I was being an entitled kid but didn’t give me any real direction about what to do better or what her expectations were.  God forbid I sharpen her grammar when she gave me a handwritten letter to type up.  Eventually she fired me too.  In the end, I was so frustrated I didn’t cry.  I saw it as a mercy killing, especially because I had already applied to become a NYC Teaching Fellow.

Finally, success. Ish.

The Teaching Fellows accepted me, and I started on a proper career, one I loved from the very first day.  I made missteps aplenty my first year of teaching.  I didn’t quite know how to teach the level of the kids, so I wound up teaching kids in Harlem like they were college students.  I didn’t know how to put together a unit or assess their skills.  But I loved literature, and I loved them from the first time I met them.  I would not say I was universally beloved, and I still wouldn’t say that of my students, but I bonded with enough kids that I thought this job far exceeded anything I had done before.  So I learned how to assess them, and tailor my lessons to their needs.  I came home and cried because I couldn’t express the full range of my anger at school, and then the next day walked on air because the kid I had kind of wanted to kill had actually learned something.

Eventually I left teaching in the inner city to teach at Townsend Harris, my alma mater and a specialised high school for the humanities in NYC (read: only smart kids go there).  And I thought as I signed out the copies of The Odyssey and Things Fall Apart that my classmates had used, that that was it.  I had reached the last step in my career, and I would work at good ol’ THHS until I retired.  I was barely in my 30’s, so that felt a bit weird, but I was also very happy.  No more missteps.  I knew THHS as a student, which helped me know it better as a teacher.  I had confidence because I had security.

Until I didn’t, because I moved to the UK.

Beginning a career I’d been doing for 10 years

I didn’t think it would be very hard to switch from teaching in the US to teaching in the UK.  After all, I had worked in a really tough school and a really good school in NYC.  I had seen it all.  But that wasn’t quite true.  I was used to dealing with underprivileged kids who felt that the system was doing them wrong and privileged kids who bought wholeheartedly into the system.  I had never dealt with the kids in the middle.  I hadn’t ever had students who were apathetic.  And most importantly, I had never taught students younger than 14.  I quickly found you can’t treat those kids as adults.

My first UK job was a maternity cover/ general cover job.  I had less prep periods than I should have had because I was constantly on call to cover classes.  Nobody told me about the differences in systems, or what was expected.  I had a coworker, who I felt was always trying to catch me out on grammar.  She’d say things like ‘Oh…I can’t remember all the modal auxiliaries.  I can think of can, may, might, could, would, will… What are the others?’  But in the US, no one uses the term modal auxiliary. At least, no one that I knew of, and after majoring in English and French and taking two other language classes besides, I knew a fair bit of grammar.  Meanwhile I interviewed for a permanent job and there was an A level component.  I barely understood the difference between A level and GCSE, and mining through and understanding what exactly AQA meant by genderlect in their English Language spec was a bit beyond me, particularly because in America, English is English, and there’s no distinction between language and literature.  I still cringe a bit when I think of my interview lesson reviewing genderlect.  I definitely took more of a lit crit approach than I should have done, and didn’t mention any of the theorists I am now so familiar with.  Basically that grammar quiz teacher was sitting in the classroom internally rolling her eyes and me and thinking I didn’t know anything about my subject–humiliating, because I know that isn’t true.

If you’re going to move forward, you’re going to make missteps

Now I’m working at a 6th form college, which is another job I’ve come to love, especially since it consists of teaching only 16-18 year olds and teaching mostly English Language, which is essentially linguistics focused on English.  I want to be as confident as I was at THHS, but I don’t think that’s going to be possible again.  I’m not foolhardy enough to be that confident.  Moreover, switching systems continues to have its issues.  I’ve wrapped my head around the differences, but not everyone believes that.  I have students who fret that I’m not preparing them for their (all important) exams because I haven’t spelled out how *every single lesson* could be used to answer a question.  Meanwhile, Ofsted inspected us last year, and the inspector didn’t like that they had an ‘inexperienced’ teacher doing GCSE–even though that was my 10th year teaching.  It took me ages to figure out what administrators wanted in an observed lesson.  So while the learning curve is, as ever, extremely steep, I know there are still going to be moments where I go wrong, or where people think I’m going wrong.  Not quite the same thing, but with the same effects.  The key is taking it in stride–a lot easier said than done.

 

 

 

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Source: Misstep