Happy National Friendship Day: A Tribute

In the past two months I have written two short stories about a single woman looking for love.  One, specifically; the other, well, she sort of finds love by accident.  (Well, she meets a couple of dudes, we don’t know that she loves either of them.)  Neither of these stories would accomplish the wretchedly simple job of passing the Bechdel Test, a test I find important, but not as important as representing “real” women, whatever that means (see my post about Thor v The Avengers).  But neither story is about female relationships (although one could analyze the female relationships in the first story).  I tend to write about what I’m currently going through and my mind was heavily on my own hetero-romantic relationships while I was writing them.  Because those are in a constant state of flux.  I didn’t write about my female relationships because my female relationships are solid.

Today is National Friendship Day, or some such nonsense, and it’s got me thinking about my most significant friendships.  Weirdly, or not so weirdly, the older I get the more important my female friendships are to me.  I still love my boys and my life would be sad without them, but it’s my girls, if ‘importance’ were a scale, who are the most important.  There are specific women from various points in my life who have greatly impacted me and continue to be my friends despite my wildly narcissistic and transient lifestyle.  And, the beauty of these women is that they are all different.

My oldest friend is someone who has always been supportive of me.  We met in the third grade in violin class and I have valued her opinion and her esteem and her friendship very highly ever since.  We had a small period of separation in college, but managed to reconnect afterwards and are still very close.  A very confident woman, she is also confidence-inspiring.  I never feel more encouraged, more empowered, than after I speak with her.  She took me clothes shopping for a “professional” outfit when I was temping, she sends me information on writing retreats and contests, she buys me dinner a couple times a year, and a birthday present even when I want to ignore my own birthday.  Always so career driven, she has served as an inspiration in my own professional life, making me believe I can forge ahead with the notion that I am a writer and might actually get paid one day to write.  I was happy to be a part of her wedding party when she asked.  She and her husband are one of the coolest couples I’ve ever met and have never, even inadvertently, made me feel badly about being single.  Their daughter is five months old and I know they are going to be excellent parents because they’ve been practicing on me for years now.  Every time I visit with them they feed me, give me career advice, and counsel me on my most recent romantic disaster.  When their kid is a teenager they’d be wise to remember how they’ve advised me over the years.

In high school I met my Best Friend (technically, all these women are my “best friend”, after all, like Mindy Lahiri says “best friend isn’t a person, it’s a tier”, but this one is my Best Friend).  My Best Friend is a funny woman.  She’s very analytical, enjoys making lists, and loves setting “life goals” — she was the only teenager I knew with a five-year-plan.  We met in a church youth group when we were sixteen and have been friends from the moment she introduced herself to me.  I don’t really know what drew us together initially, but a desire for a certain sort of connection kept us together.  Best Friend is a friend with whom I can discuss Important Topics.  From the time we were juniors in high school, she has been the friend with whom I discuss books, articles, philosophy, current events, the political impact of music, education, careers, travel, and religious matters.  We rarely talk about boys, men, love, or sex.  It was never a subject either of us brought up in high school and we rarely bring it up now.  Only occasionally have those subjects arisen, and mostly when she’d first met her now-husband and wasn’t sure how she felt about him.  Our friendship not only passes, but defines the Bechdel Test.  Which is odd for a Best Friend relationship, one might think, in stories it’s always the best friend who the protagonist goes to for sex or love advice.  It’s an entire category of movie character, usually played by Judy Greer or Jeremy Piven.  But our friendship has never been of that sort.  In high school it was sort of a relief, because there were plenty of other girls who were happy to talk about those topics ad nauseam and nothing else.

College.  So many significant things happened to me in college.  One, I learned that I am smart.  Highly intelligent, even.  Not like Mensa intelligent, not like best-friend-from-college smart, but of above average intelligence.  I also learned how to drink alcohol, kiss boys, and to travel independently.  Sophomore year I met previously mentioned best-friend-from-college at our tiny college, in our even tinier English department.  Originally an equine major, she moved to the dark side after taking a seminar on Tolkien freshman year.  She and I wound up in almost all the same classes Sophomore year, including a Theater History class where, I feel, we really bonded.  Self-centered moron I am, I didn’t realize how close our friendship was until after the opening performance of Fahrenheit 451 when she ran up to me, gave me a huge hug, and told me how well I’d done.  Starting then our friendship deepened significantly.  We were travel buddies during our semester abroad, she was there the first time I got really drunk, the first time I got really hung up on a dude, the first time I went home with a guy.  And I was there for her when she underwent similar foolishness.  We saw each other be incredibly silly about men, and make unbelievably wise decisions about our education and work.  We are each other’s favorite theater-going friend and she is still one of the first people I will talk to about dating woes.  All the things that brought us together in college — literature, theater, writing — are still our favorite topics.  She is lovely, generous, and supportive.  I see her the least of the four women I’m writing about today and, therefore, I miss her the most.  But I am always incredibly proud of her.

The friend I’ve seen the most lately is technically my boss.  We work for a seasonal outdoor education program where staff live all together on site, and recently I’ve shared a house with my direct supervisor.  We started working together in the spring of 2014, before that we knew each other a little, mostly by sight.  That first spring we worked together, however, our knowledge of one another turned from knowing a little about each other, to knowing everything about one another.  Staff relations that season were a little tense and few came to our house (even though that’s where the food is).  The Boss and I found ourselves, many nights and weekends, the only two hanging out.  A fun, friendly, chatty woman she and I quickly opened up to each other about a whole many things.  I used to lament that I didn’t have any Sex and the City friends, no group of women with which to discuss life, dating, and sex over brunch.  Suddenly, amongst other things, I had this: a woman I regard highly to whom I could unburden myself when feeling emotional, or frustrated about anything (not just men or sex).  She is a friend who would drink whisky with me when I broke up with someone and get excited with me when I met someone new.  The twelve months I was 29 turned out to be a particularly trying twelve months.  I was getting down about all the bummed out things that happened, sure nothing good happened that year.  But then I remembered the new friendship I’d developed with my housemate and colleague.  If there has ever been a bright spot, it has been her.  I am certain I would not have struggled through certain things as well as I did if it weren’t for her friendship.  I am happy she is there when I need her and I am more than happy to be there when she needs me.

The Girl Scout Law commands that one tries her best to “be a sister to every Girl Scout”.  Growing up with three older sisters, Girl Scout sisters, and, once I started school, a number of girl friends, I’ve always felt that line applies to all girls, all women, I chance to meet.  Sometimes those relationships don’t last, but others remain strong even when far apart.  That isn’t to say the latter is “better”, or “more real” than the former.  As Cher Horowitz says “all my friends [are] really good in different ways.”  I love all my friends for those things that make them good.  These four women, in particular, are friends whom I am exceptionally lucky to have because my life would be significantly different without them.

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“You are a snob and a half!”

I have been a book snob, I can admit it.  I was never the horrified book snob, nor was I the shocked book snob, and there was no fear that I would try to convince you that you needed to be more like me and start reading books, any books.  I wasn’t going to waste my time trying to find a genre you might actually like.  No, I was the sarcastic judgmental book snob. 

I have been the sort of person who judges you for not being inclined to read fictions, literature, or books of any sort.  I have made disparaging remarks about your person and your intelligence.  You were a non-reader, then you were, basically, a vapid waste of a mind.  You were a person without curiosity or knowledge.  You were boring.  You might have gone to all the cool parties I was never invited to, drank wine coolers and peach schnapps while I was sipping Mountain Dew and coffee, you might have been having sex while I was reading about other people having sex, and you sure as hell thought was the boring one, never knowing I thought you were as useless as tits on a bull.

I was such an asshole.

And a hypocrite.  Because if you did read books, like any good book snob, I judged you based on the books you read.  Only read non-fiction?  Boy have you lost the magic!  Only read Harry Potter?  Did you know there’s a whole diverse world of books available to you?  You thought Romeo Romeo and Juliet was so romantic sneaking into Juliet’s bushes like that?  Coward marries her in secret rather than using his backbone to stand up to their families!  You read Bridget Jones’s Diary but didn’t see the Pride and Prejudice connection?  Hello, his fucking name is Mr. Darcy!

High School.

And I would have loved nothing more than to tell this person:

“Actually, he, Frankenstein, refers to this character as “The Creature”, not the “monster.”  (What a twat!)

But then I went to college, and while I reveled in finding other people who read, other people who (for class) were reading the same things as I, who had also read other books I had read, who encouraged me to read other “good” books, who took my advice when I recommended books, other people who understood what Natasha Rostova, Amy March, Elizabeth Bennet, Hester Prynne, and Nora Helmer have in common, while all this was wonderful and validating and empowering and great, I learned, too, that judging people for not being readers, or reading certain things, was stupid.  

There were two things that didn’t happen for me in high school, well, a lot of things didn’t happen for me in high school, but specifically I didn’t know how smart I was, and I wasn’t challenged.  I did what I had to do to pass my math and science classes (including crying, failing, and taking the “dumb” math classes), but I breezed through my English and Social Studies classes mildly bored and reading the other stories and chapters of the textbooks that we didn’t cover in class.  My boredom and lack of peer understanding led me to pass judgement on my classmates.  Once I had that understanding, once I found my people, I cared less about what other people were reading, or whether they were reading or not.  I had finally found acceptance.

There are many, many posts on the Bookernet about being tolerant of others’ reading choices and I fully believe that anyone can read whatever they want to read.  But there are also an absurd number of posts about Book Snobbery as if being an asshole about reading is acceptable.  This piece on Bustle, which I like because it’s funny (and because it makes book snobs sound like the jerks they are), is also a little tedious.

Although it is a little strange that people who can read choose not to read.  Especially when there are so many people worldwide, including the USA, btdubs,* who either don’t or aren’t allowed to learn how to read.  It seems a little arrogant to not read when there are people (women) who want to read, who wished they could read, so they can better their lives.  I’m not saying people need to read Tolstoy, or Stephen King, or Jane Austen, or Dickens, or Bram Stoker, or Eudora Welty, or Anias Nin, or Joanne Harris, or Shakespeare, or Neil Gaiman, but to say you flat out do not like reading is a mite smug; you are not above the written word.

Today we read more than ever.  We have the Internet, email, text messages, street signs, store names, price tags, and expiration dates.  The ability to read is essential to Western Culture, and there are members of this culture who have fallen through the cracks.  Learning how to read is seen by many as a privilege, when it needs to be a right.  I’m happy people read, and read a lot, and are confused when people who can read don’t.  But what I truly wish is that the people who hate reading because they struggle with it weren’t left behind.  Illiteracy is an issue that doesn’t deserve censure or mockery.  It requires action and compassion.