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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SOPA and PIPA

These bills are all about censorship.  Legislators want to censor the Internet.  They claim to want to stop “foreign criminals” from pirating movies and TV shows and putting them on the Internet.  The Motion Picture Association of America is all about supporting the bills.  Major American entertainment corporations have funneled money into lobbying politicians to back them.  They’re claiming that SOPA and PIPA won’t affect Americans.

But this isn’t true, is it?  Americans post other’s “intellectual property” all the time.  We put up pictures from TV shows and share songs from our favorite artists, we write quotations from novels and newspaper articles and magazines.  We share information and entertainment like never before: Publicly.  We didn’t have blogs or email twenty years ago, if we wanted to share something with a friend we either had to write it in a letter, or call them on the phone or physically bring the tape over to their house and put it in their tape player.  If you had two VCRs and a blank tape you could copy movies or record television and no one would know.

I agree with Google when they write that piracy wouldn’t stop with the passing of these bills: “Pirate sites would just change their addresses in order to continue their criminal activities”.  People would find ways around it and what is the government and The Motion Picture Association of America going to do then?  Crack down even more until the Internet becomes some sort of Utilitarian Dystopia?  Is it too Conspiracy Theorist-y to say that these bills are the slippery slope to America becoming a warped version of a Neal Stephenson, Ray Bradbury, or Suzanne Collins novel that will eventually push us into Soylen Green territory followed by Dune?  Seems extreme, yes, but it also seems plausible.

Besides, if we learned anything from the McCarthy Era and Blacklisting, the thing or person being censored doesn’t go away.  Dalton Trumbo continued to write screenplays, just under another name.  The books that were banned still existed and were distributed.  The Captain in Fahrenheit 451 owned a large collection of books he never read and rebel Book People lived on the fringes of society memorizing collections of works so they wouldn’t be forgotten.

Censorship has never been met well.  People will always protest being censored, whether its for personal reasons or on principle.  Stopping the free exchange of information is a travesty, its unjust, its dictatorship.  The protests happening today, 1/18/12, by Wikipedia, Tumblr, WordPress and other major sites, is not, as it’s been said, a “gimmick”, but more like Susan Brown Miller, it’s jarring on purpose.  It’s a little over the top so it will catch your attention.  Yes, SOPA and PIPA are not going to completely take away “free knowledge”, the abrasive language Wikipedia is using, but it is going to put a limit on free exchange.  And putting limits on free exchange is historically bad.  Limiting knowledge has led to things like Nazis, Communism and the French Revolution (it might not have changed anything, but I am convinced Louis and Marie Antoinette didn’t know a damn thing outside Versailles).  Limiting the public’s access to information is not generally considered a good thing.

In the BBC article by Leo Kelion about the Internet protest has many comments from Chris Dodd, the chairman of The Motion Picture Association of America, speaking against the protest and in favor of SOPA and PIPA.  The entertainment industry is estimated to lose hundreds of dollars every year because of Internet piracy and yet Disney’s Net Income in 2010 “increased 20% to $3.96 billion on a 5 percent rise in revenue to $38 billion.”  I don’t think Disney is really hurting all that much.  Also, let’s look at what the entertainment industry is charging us these days: 10, 12 dollars for a CD; 10 to 30 dollars for a DVD?  And they’re wondering why people are turning to other means in order to obtain their entertainment?  Maybe if they stopped putting money into buying politicians they could lower their prices and people would stop supporting piracy?  Just a thought….