Sunday, September 23, 2007

the difference between ten and twenty-five

"I hate you. I want to breakup."

This was a what was scribbled on a note that Becky U. slid across my desk when we were in the fourth grade. I think I still have that note somewhere, buried in a box of childhood memorabilia. I still know the text by heart because I documented it in my youthful chickenscratch in one of the stack of journals now resting on my bottom bookshelf.

I remember how confused and angry I was when I read those words. Confused because I didn't know what I did to make her suddenly hate me. Angry because she was more popular than me, and because a rejection by her meant that none of the other girls in the class would talk to me for the rest of the week, if not longer. And of course, I was deeply hurt that my friend had suddenly decided that she hated me and didn't want to be friends with me any longer.

Yes, some things never change. But I never, ever thought that fifteen years later I would be on the receiving end of virtually the exact same written message. I never imagined that after seven years, one of my closest friends would end our friendship with a four-line email.

When you're ten and your friend tells you she doesn't want to be your friend any more, you cry. You cry, and you let it distract you from school and you go home and tell your mommy and try to listen when she says that sometimes friends say things they don't mean.

When you're twenty-five and your friend tells you she doesn't want to be your friend any more, you cry. You cry, and you let it distract you from school, and you call your mom from your car sitting outside your now-ex friend's house, trying to get it together enough to drive home without falling apart. And you try to listen when your mother says what you rationally know, that this was a long time coming. That, for all intents and purposes, you moved on from this situation a long time ago.

Still, you get angry. You get so very angry that you've spent years apologizing for growing up and moving on and getting a life. For the wasted years you've spent feeling you had to justify and defend who you are. So deeply crushed that despite your best intentions, there are things beyond your control and that even though you never wanted it to be like this, it is irrevocably like this. You yell things, things that you would never say to anyone but your mom, and only from inside the protection of a locked car.

And you know that even though this is a conflict between the two of you, other people will choose her side and you will lose them. That even if you don't lose them-lose them, her response to the situation has ruined your other friendships. This is bitter pill to swallow. It is brutally unfair. And yet, if there is anything you know by now it is that life and love rarely have anything to do with fairness.

Oh Lordy, you will be tired. You'll be utterly spent from the denouement of finally accepting what is instead of what should be or could be. You'll be angry and relieved and devastated and liberated, and lo, it will be a mess. With hard edges.

So when the nastiness has been purged, you drive to the liquor store, buy a fifty dollar bottle of champagne and go out with friends. Real friends. People who are forgiving and funny, people who you never feel guilty around, people who encourage and listen and confide and bitch and banter and smile.

You quietly drink a toast to the end of an era you're not sorry to see gone by. And when you drive home with the windows rolled down, Springsteen blaring and midnight breeze blowing your hair back, you sing along with gusto that it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive.

Friday, September 21, 2007

terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week

It's now 4:24. I am going to spend the next thirty-six minutes writing a post on how, without any exaggeration or overstatement, this week has sucked hairy donkey nuts.

The friend to whom I semi-apologized yet called on her own behavior on Monday? Never wrote back.

Work, where I am doing great things and getting great results and everyone except one fairly important person loves everything I do? It's getting more and more like Sybil every day. Tune in Monday to find out what personality we encounter today! I should start placing bets. 2-1 odds on Doting Mentor over Faye Dunaway channeling Joan Crawford!

School? Have read over 400 pages in the last four days and am nowhere near close to done. All I want to do is spend the weekend drinking enough vodka so that I never feel feelings again. Instead, I will put in a token appearance at tonight's happy hour to drink a Diet Coke and will spend the rest of the weekend reading about the British rape of sub-Saharan Africa and American imperialism masquerading as development aid in the Middle East. It would have been so nice to have been a grad student before revisionist history came into vogue. For a White Liberal Guilter like me, studying has become an exercise in self-flagellation, a constant reminder of the myriad ways in which my country has consciously and systematically fucked the rest of the world for the ill-defined goal of "bettering American lives."

My holiday in Turkey? Cancelled. The friend I was going to go with bailed on me. I will now spend Thanksgiving in the small Midwestern town where my parents live, playing host to a family reunion. Because after four family weddings this year, I'm just dying for more quality time with people who think I'm a spoiled, alcoholic, snobby, bitchy slut.

Plus, the Wolverines still aren't that great and I'm very scared for the Penn State game tomorrow, I'm fighting a cold and tomorrow I have to go buy skinny jeans, an activity sure to plunge even Kate Moss into a turgid, foamy sea of self-loathing.

But on the plus side, now it's 5:00. And I think I will have at least one little gimlet at happy hour, after all.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

not sorry

Heyyy... so... it's Wednesday. Must be time to blog!

The snarky bitch in me (who takes up between 71 and 86 percent of my personality, dependent on what time of the month it happens to be) finds it really amusing when bloggers apologize for not blogging so long. For one thing, guy bloggers never do it. It's always the ladies. Maybe because women just naturally apologize for everything, using "I'm sorry" to preface everything from "would you repeat that?" to "I don't love you anymore," overuse to the point where the phrase really loses any meaning.

And it always tends to be the ladies who write about their lives on the Internet and then apologize when they infrequently and irregularly post. We say "I'm sorry" but there's not exactly regret involved. It's just a way to start when we can't think of anything else to say and diving in without an acknowledgement that we were gone for a while feels awkward and blunt.

So I'm going to buck the trend and not apologize for having three posts in three weeks. Primarily because, well, duh. Your life has somehow managed to go on. But also because I recently didn't apologize for something. Or rather I did apologize for something, but then qualified the hell out of it, placing it in context and standing up for my behavior and response. And it felt effing awesome.

I usually detest qualified apologies, and there's no phrase more likely to get my blood boiling than "I'm sorry you feel that way." It's dismissive and hostile and has nothing to do with trying to fix the circumstances that led to hurt feelings. Saying "I'm sorry," and following it with "but..." rarely leads to anything good, and I dislike that combination so much that I'll go out of the way to avoid it. I've apologized for things I wasn't really sorry for because it was easier than trying to explain why I felt the way I did, or groveled when a simple "you're right, I won't do that next time" would have sufficed.

I was also, shall we say, a rather dramatic person in my younger days. My wonder years saw unending Brenda Walsh-style fits of righteous indignation that no one would EVER understand me and the whole world and everyone in it just SUCKED, LIKE, GOD. Naturally I've come to realize how incredibly off-putting it was and am proud to say that I'm no longer such a raging bitch to be around. However, my retrospective embarassment at being so high-maintenance and defensive when I had something to apologize for has left me overanalytical. Even though there are very few people in my current life who knew me at 16, thank sweet baby Jesus, I carry the memory of how difficult it was to be around me back then. Where I once made blanket statements, I now scrutinize and second-guess to death. I doubt myself, and don't stand up for myself as much as I should. To pummel an innocent metaphor, I fear drawing a line in the sand too soon, and so I frequently leave the beach altogether.

This is especially the case when the question of my being a good friend is involved. I haven't always been. I can be selfish and thoughtless and narcissistic, I'm terrible at remembering names and faces and birthdays and I suck at making personalized crafts and presents, which for midwestern-bred gals is actually a not-insignificant thing. I'm perpetually ten minutes late to everything and I tend to take out my bad moods on the people who love me the most.

But despite these bad traits, I have some things going for me. I assume everyone I meet is a potential friend and am always, always open to getting to know new people. I will go on wacky adventures and I will do the mundane, tedious stuff like helping you move. I will never ever tell you that you need to stop talking about a certain subject, person or thought because I know what it's like to endlessly dwell on things that you rationally know are bad for you and sometimes talking it out, even over several years, is the only way to purge the bad stuff in life. I will understand when we can't get together for months on end because life keeps getting in the way. I will buy your mom shots and I will go to the hospital with you and I will cancel whatever I had going on to pour tequila down your gullet when a boyfriend breaks up with you. I will proofread your resume and your online dating profile, I will link to your blog and I will never, ever be mean to you and then try to couch it in a cowardly phrase like "I'm just being honest."

So, when I recently apologized for offending a good friend two months ago, I apologized for the hurt feelings and then basically told her to get over it. There was a miscommunication involved, it turns out-- an email she sent that I never got led to further hurt feelings on her part, quite understandably-- but in my opinion, the punishment did not fit the crime. And I called her on it. For the first time in a really long time, I qualified an apology. I told her that I never meant to hurt her feelings and was sorry that I had, and that while I was glad she had come to me about it, that the incident in question was so small and such a long time ago that I felt she really should not still be holding a grudge. Honestly? I'm still a little shaky from writing this to her. I keep checking my inbox to see if she's written me back. So far she hasn't. But twenty-four hours later and I don't regret a word of what I said.

I may be sorry for things that I've done, but I am done apologizing for being who I am. Not just because I'm better than I used to be, but because like most other folks stumbling around this rock, I'm a good person who occasionally does stupid things.

And here and now I promise you will never again see the phrase "I'm sorry for not blogging" anywhere on EJ Takes Life.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

first impressions

On my first night of class, I announced to the class that I thought the notion of informal empire was like porn.

I elucidated reasons. Everyone has a different definition for what constitutes one but they know it when they see it, the mere notion of them elicits strong emotions in audiences, and they will exist as long as there is free market capitalism.

But still. For the rest of the semester I will be The Girl Who Compared an Economic Dimension of Foreign Relations to Porn.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

more people you meet in grad school

The Professor Who Thinks He's Still Teaching Undergrads

This professor will have watched many, many episodes of Saved By The Bell and yet does not grasp that Mr. Belding is more a Touchstone than a Confucius. He wants to be your pal. He wants to put the "FUN, YEA!" in "iF yoU waNt to put a name on it, this course is prettY much just mEntal mAsturbation." He will accomplish such a goal of FUN, YEA! through the extensive use of Xeroxed Far Side and Hagar the Horrible comic strips that tangentially reference the subject matter. And slides. Lots of slides.

He will repeat the most basic and obvious points ad nauseum, so that by the end of his forty-minute long "brief illustration" of the difference between A and B, even the most hungover new freshman would be able to articulate the distinction. While underwater. In Korean. While simultaneously finding a cure for Alzheimer's and developing a strategy for making Democrats likable.

It's not that this professor is a bad person, or even a bad teacher. He's so into what he's saying that it's hard not to respect his enthusiasm. You probably would have loved having him AS a hungover freshman. But now you're a cranky twenty-five-year-old who is paying her own tuition and has to go to class after a long day of work. If something is going to take you away from kickball and The Hills and half-priced happy hour gimlets, it had better be mentally stimulating, dagnabbit. You've been doing this grad school thing for a while, and in a department where you're snidely viewed if you can't toss off bon mots in Farsi with your peers before class begins. Your standards have been raised, your innate snobbery has been validated by the badassery of your program, and despite this professor's obvious command of the material it's impossible for you to get behind a guy who passes out handouts that quote Star Trek.

You will think this blogger is exaggerating for dramatic effect. You will be wrong.