Politics Rant Think

Two Cents

When I heard last night on TV that Ralph Nader has thrown his hat into the presidential race again, I was appalled, again. Can’t the man take a hint? Doesn’t he realize that he and his dreadlocked, patchouli-stinking minions are the reason we’re stuck with George W. Bush? In an ideal world, perhaps his politics would be nice, but the plain truth is that he’s unelectable, and due to the fact that he’s an independent candidate and won’t be weeded out through delegate process, he’ll be in the final race if he chooses to be, which means that every vote cast for him is a vote cast for the Republicans. I can’t figure out if it’s pure egomania that keeps him going for it, or if in his delusional little mind he thinks he has a chance to win–or if perhaps he’s just a really good Republican decoy.

I’m almost as liberal as they come, and I’m damn ready for a change in our government, but I’m also smart enough to realize that change is not going to come from Ralph Nader. Unfortunately, there are a bunch of tree-hugging idealists who are not smart enough to realize that when they vote for him they’re voting for exactly the opposite of what they want.

Give it up, Ralph. The limelight’s shone on you one too many times, and it’s high time for you to do something that will help your supporters see the change they’re looking for: walk away.

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Tonight, it was proven to me why I want to move back to Martha’s Vineyard, at least for a while. For the past week or so, two of my good friends have been organizing a benefit concert and dinner to raise money to help me pay for my father’s services and expenses. It’s something my friends did on their own, from finding bands to play for free, to booking the space, to organizing people to bring food and serve it. The newspapers offered free ads, a local cornware merchant donated plates and cups and plasticware, the radio station advertised, a bunch of people stayed afterward to clean… the outpouring of generosity was astounding. 

More people came to the show than I could ever have expected, and the benefit raised over 1900 dollars. Because I don’t feel right about taking the money outright, I’m going to donate a matching amount back to the community, after his estate is settled, in the form of a Scholarship Fund in my dad’s name for high school students who want to pursue metal working.

 I’m completely overwhelmed with gratitude and a sense of community–this wouldn’t happen anywhere else I’ve ever lived. I don’t really know what to say, except Thanks, Martha’s Vineyard–Thank you for caring, and for remembering my Dad so fondly. Even if I only end up staying a month or two and leaving in the spring, I’ll know what it was that brought me back, and will continue to bring me back throughout my life. The Vineyard, as twisted and backwards as it can be at times, has a firm grasp on what it means to be a community. This island helps its own, without asking why, and every one of its children is raised by a lot more than a village. Even when you leave for years, it will remember you, and it will be there when you need it to be. Thanks again, islanders. I won’t forget to give back.

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A Torpor Only Joyce Can Induce

I had thought, with the terminus of Robinson Crusoe, that my sentence of terrible British literature had been served, but I was mistaken. I didn’t realize that Defoe could be outdone in the realm of boring, redundant and pointless prose–that is, not until I tasted Joyce. I have just spent the past six and a half hours reading A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man. For those of you who aren’t familiar with my reading speed, I could have read all of Jane Eyre (some 500 pages) in the time it took me to take down this thin little wisp of a book. Though I have barely moved the entire evening, I am exhausted from trying to derive meaning from what is supposedly a great book. The only truth I have gotten from it is this: Anyone who willingly reads Joyce is either a zealot (religious or aesthetic), or a masochist, or both. And to think, people actually read Finnegan’s Wake, which is easily four times as long.

Everything hurts, and the Vicodin is not helping. I’ve wasted an entire night for the sake of a sophomore class in which I currently have a C. I’ve never had a C in my entire college career. If I ever sign on for another class in British literature, someone please have the decency to smack the shit out of me.

That is all.

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Lament For The Death Of My Pen

Going to school for writing has all but killed the writer in me.

Throughout my adolescence and into my early adulthood, I was a writer. Any chunk of spare time I had, I devoted to writing. I wrote poetry, short stories, letters, journal entries–I even attempted to write plays and screenplays. I did all of this without prompting or purpose–I did not write with the intention of getting published (though it was always a fantasy of mine) or because I had an assignment, I wrote because it was what I wanted to do, all the time. I stayed up late almost every night, writing and collaging journal entries, or typing out letters on a second-hand typewriter I’d borrowed from a friend. I composed opening lines of poems or short stories in my head as I walked or rode the bus from place to place. I looked forward to the end of every shift at every job I ever had because I had something in my head I wanted to commit to paper. Everything I read inspired me to write.

My poems were mostly bad, and my short stories were worse, but the words, terrible as they may have been, came out of me as though a geyser had been loosed. I had no control over them–they were there, and they had to be committed to paper. Though I did have temporary bouts of writer’s block when I was too happy–I’ve always written better when depressed–for the most part, I was never without inspiration. I carried a journal or notebook with me always, and for many years not a day went by when I did not write something in it.

Going to school for writing was an eventuality. Writing is a profession that requires–unless you are stricken with an exceptional innate brilliance, which I was not–at least a college degree. Unfortunately, that eventuality appears to have taken the writer in me and put her into severe hibernation, without a foreseeable date of release. With the exception of this blog, which is usually nothing more than narcissistic ranting, I do not write for pleasure anymore. Though I am always up late at night, usually it is for work, or drinking, or the excessive consumption of inane television. The 8 1/2 x 11 hardbound journals I used to carry around and tape all sorts of things into have given way to a compact black journal which is mostly neglected. I haven’t filled a big fat journal in years. I don’t write poetry anymore–not for years.

The amount of time that I must devote to studying and reading for school has made pleasure writing a thing of my past. I write assignments at the last possible moment before they are due, and with the utmost resentment for their necessity. I frequently have ideas for short stories, and even novels, but I force myself to abandon them because if I were to sit down at my computer and attempt to commit them to writing, I would be taking up time that should be devoted to schoolwork, and I’d fall behind in my classes. I have learned to look at writing with a practical approach–what do I reasonably have a chance at getting published?–and have almost forgotten how to write creatively and without abandon as I used to do.

Right now, in fact, I am ridden with guilt over the fact that I should be working on a paper that’s due Thursday instead of sitting here with this delicious glass of Pinot Noir and typing this blog. The guilt is the culprit, I know. The fact that I have learned this regimented approach to learning, with its deadlines and due dates and page requirements, has killed my ability to write and read spontaneously and for my own enjoyment. The threat of bad grades and irresponsibility–something I never considered before I embarked upon the “college experience” has made it impossible to approach writing as I once did. Right now, with this glass of wine in hand, I could sit on my porch and type for hours, and create something either beautiful or terrible–but I know that I have to get up early, hours before my class, and do the reading. Then, after class, I have to write a paper for a different class. After that, I have to get up and go to school all day, after which I’ll be too tired to endeavor anything creative, and the next day I begin a weekend chock-full of work.

How is it that when I was no more than a waitress or a retail employee, I wrote five times as much as I do as a writing student? And why did the writing process itself feel so much better? Have I made the wrong choice in attempting to make this love of mine into a career? Should I have pursued something entirely different and not requiring of an education in order to afford myself the time and mental tenacity to write?

When I think of myself in the abstract, I see a rebellious girl, or woman, sitting in near-dark with a glass of wine or whiskey, with either a big book or a notebook in hand. I see a woman who lives entirely by her own desires, a hedonist who bends to no one’s wishes. I see a romantic, a person willing to live on nearly nothing in order to be able to create. But that is not who I have become. I have become a “normal,” a person who prioritizes responsibility and deadlines to the crushing expense of her inner desires. For the first time in my life, I’m depressed, and I cannot write because I keep convincing myself I have more important things to do with what little time I’ve got. I watch TV because it requires little participation, and I’ve come to a point where I’m too tired to participate. I don’t craft anymore. I don’t collage. I sleep, and when I wake up I’m always late for something.

I miss the girl I used to be, and I don’t know how to get her back without quitting school and abandoning the path which I’ve always thought to be the only one worth pursuing. I’ve come too far, and it’s cost me too much time and money to give up now, but when I get this degree–this expensive degree that I’ve worked so hard for–will it have been worth my time? Will I be so destroyed as a writer and creative person that I’ll just take the paper and walk away to a life of office work or bartending?

How do I get me back?

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No Wonder Sir Thomas More Was Beheaded

Someday, and I hope it is soon, someone will give me a legitimate and sufficient reason why, pure sadism aside, college professors routinely insist on assigning to their students the most laborious and unreadable muck. Often these assignments are preceded by something along the lines of, “well, it’s a bit dry and not very engaging, but…” Well, if it’s dry and not very engaging, then why the hell should I subject myself to the task of reading it?

I have, as of five minutes ago, officially given up on reading Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, for which our class was granted a total of two days. I am a fast reader, and I take down Shakespeare like it was the Bobbsey Twins, but I liken the attempt to read More’s tireless manifesto to riding a bicycle through wet cement.

The great irony here, too, is that in another class, Magazine Writing, the text insists that one must be as concise as possible in writing, and avoid unnecessary and arrogant clutter. Yet, in my British Literature class, in which I expect to be reading the “greats,” all I have gotten so far is clutter. Of the 110 pages I’ve read so far (and the book is about 145), I would guess that the whole of More’s statement could be conveyed in no more than 50 pages, and that would be generous. His sentences are so long that before you reach the end of them, your eyes begin to cross and you must return to the beginning to recall what exactly he was talking about to begin with.

I know that as the class progresses, and the timeline moves forward, the reading will get to be less tiresome, but I like to think of myself as a diligent student, and it pains me to cast aside an assignment out of frustration in only my first week of classes. Were this the only time this has happened, I would not be so annoyed–but it has happened multiple times, and I’ve started to notice a trend. While I understand that much of 16th century writing is thus cluttered and long-winded, I’m sure that there could be chosen another example of the time period which would at least engage a reader to the point of completing it. I can only imagine the trouble this awful book has given the other students in the class, mostly sophomores, some of whom undoubtedly read more slowly and retain less than I do. I finished Tristram Shandy (which, for those of you who don’t know, is a 700 page book with neither plot nor point, which moves around at random and has a jillion footnotes) and I think I was the only one in the class who did.

If I can take down Sterne as I did, then my inability to finish this godforsaken piece of (completely irrelevant at this point in time) political rubble should be recognized for what it is: proof that More’s writing is dull, overly puffed-up ego-tripping. So what if it was a stab at Henry VIII? So what if More was beheaded for it? I’d behead him, too–and not for the insult. So what if he was sainted by the Catholic Church? I find myself in direct disagreeance with nearly everything the Catholic Church has to say. His complete madness should be evidenced by the fact that he wore lice-ridden hairshirts and whipped himself, for fuck’s sake. And this is someone whose teachings I’m supposed to be enlightened by? No one who purposely mortifies his own flesh with goat hair should be taken as anything less than a lunatic.

So there. Now you all know what I’ve been doing, and why I’ve been so silent lately. I have gone back into “school mode,” which due to my self-defeating class choices means that I will have very little time to write long-winded, puffed-up diatribes of my own.

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A Sad Little Group Of Buoys

I once described being motherless as “like a buoy cut loose and floating, directionless, belonging to no one.” This is, I suppose, the best way to describe the way I’ve been feeling lately. There is only so much stress and nervousness the body and mind can process before it goes, “Fuck it,” and you end up wearing a slack face and saying “uh-huh” a lot.

 I took a few days this week, as I did last week, to visit the Island Of Misfit Toys in hopes of raising my spirits, or at least relaxing a bit. And, as happened last week, I got a phone call from my dad the day after I got here, saying that he was being admitted to the hospital again. I suppose it’s the up-and-down that’s wearing me out; it seems the good days, the days where Dad says, “I feel better,” or “it’s been a nice day, the weather’s good,” are always followed by something not so good. I’m hoping that this surgery is the exception–I don’t know how much more up and down Dad can handle either.

 This time around on the Rock, a couple of my friends have been pretty depressed, too–and that’s hard for a number of reasons. You can’t expect a depressed person to cheer you up, and if you’re depressed, you can’t do much for them–so you end up as we did: a sad little group of slack-faced buoys, sitting stoned together in the same room and not talking much. It’s a little more comforting than being alone, I guess.

 I feel like every downswing has to have its upswing, and for the sake of my father, and my friends, and myself, I hope our upswing is coming. I also hope I cry soon, because I absolutely need it–and I actually found myself envious of my one friend, who says he’s been crying all week. A good, cathartic cry can go a long way.

 Really, I just want to see the happy twinkle in my Dad’s Santa Claus-blue eyes again. I miss the person he was not so long ago–the energetic, talkative, stubborn genius that I’ve known all my life. I know he misses that person too, and I hope we get him back real soon.

 I’m done blathering. I’ve run out of things to say. The muscles in my face are starting to atrophy from disuse. Oh, bother.

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Five Pound Book Wanted; Short Bespectacled Wizard-People Need Not Apply

For the past several days, since its long-awaited and much-hyped release, my roommate has been tirelessly reading the latest (and purportedly final) installment in the Harry Potter book series. He sits for hours on the porch, absorbed–he doesn’t speak unless spoken to; in fact the only sound he makes is the occasional chuckle, which is directed, of course, at the fictional characters within, and not at any human within his proximity.

On one level, I understand his rapt intensity: I have been a reader of this sort my entire life. When I was in my early twenties, I read all of Alexandra Ripley’s Gone With The Wind sequel in a single sitting–eight hundred pages in seven or eight hours on Christmas night. When my sister came down in the morning to make coffee, she saw me sitting at the kitchen table, where I’d been when she went to bed. You’re up early, she said. No, I replied, I’m up late. I closed the cover of the book and pushed it across the table at her. You’re kidding me, she said. I shook my head. I am no stranger to picking off a book in one go, regardless of the length of the thing–provided I have the time. Les Miserables, of course, took a few days, maybe a week. I am also very familiar with the sort of exclusionary hypnotism a good book provides–particularly a good book of fiction. Unfortunately, due to a monumentous school reading load and an inability to get back on the horse after the semester finished, I can’t remember when I was last in that trance.

On the other hand, I can not relate to my roommate’s unrelenting consumption of pages because I seem to be the only adult woman alive who has not even opened the cover of a Harry Potter book. I haven’t seen the movies, either. All I know about Harry Potter is that he’s a pint-sized wizard, he’s got a dorky redheaded friend and a cute one and maybe one other, and apparently they’re all enrolled in some magician school of sorts. Something about Warts. I know that the people behind the merchandising empire have found a way to make a little bag of jelly beans cost seven dollars, and I know that the woman who wrote the books was facing homelessness before they were picked up, and now she’s a bazillionaire.

The reason I haven’t read Harry Potter is simple. I was an underpaid employee at Borders in Monterey when the first book came out, and the second. If that’s not telling enough, let me elaborate: For weeks on end, I answered the same question, moved and re-moved thousands of copies of the same book, directed people to the same area of the store, tendered the exact same transaction. Though Christmas is gift-wrapping season, and Potter was not released at Christmas, I gift-wrapped hundreds of copies of it in a matter of less than a month. I went through this horror twice–at an astounding pay rate of seven dollars an hour (jelly beans, anyone?). So no, I had no desire to read the thing myself. As far as I was concerned, it was a thirty dollar paperweight. Kindling, perhaps, but not worth my precious reading time. In addition, I assumed that as I tend not to be enthralled by what everyone in America is obsessed with (Britney Spears, The Matrix, The Arcade Fire, etc.), it would be an expensive waste of time anyway.

However, I find myself strangely envious of my roommate. I want a book that will do that to me again.

Truth be told, I could probably pick up book one, and within a day be finished with it–and likely enjoy it despite the fact that I’m convinced it’s probably a Tolkien rip-off but with younger, more kid-friendly characters. Once I’d finished the first book, I’d devour the second, the third… and then I’d be waiting with the rest of America for the next installment. I went through that routine once with the Robert Jordan series and I gave up after the second book. And of course, there’s the whole loyalty-to-principles issue–I’ve stayed with my Potter boycott so long that I don’t want to give up now.

I could re-read the Lord Of The Rings trilogy–but I know how it ends, and that would take away the magic. Similarly, I could re-read Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead, two books which had me so transfixed that I finished the former while sitting in a bathroom in a motel in Memphis because my father insisted I shut out the light in the room. Then again, I know how those end, too. I want a thousand pages of someone else’s imagination that will so wholly seduce me that I will forget to go to work, eat, and sleep–and I just can’t find it.

So I beseech you, dear readers: Give me an alternative. Recommend to me a well-written fictional book or series that a) is not Harry Potter; b) has more than five hundred pages; c) is not written by a depressing Russian, d) does not involve months of anticipation for a sequel; and most importantly e) will hold me in a state of such singular awe that I will unknowingly make wide-eyed faces like the one my roommate just made, laugh out loud, cry real tears, and lament having reached the end too soon.

Until then, I’ll be reading Lester Bangs’ and Chuck Klosterman’s essays, one at a time, on the train.

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The Inexplicable Draw

It’s mid-July, and I’ve been out of school for more than two and a half months. Initially, I was relieved not to have to wake up in time to get to class, to have my evenings to myself instead of devoting them to homework, to be able to read whatever I wanted in whatever time I felt like reading it. I like spare time, a whole hell of a lot–and I’ve had enough of it to read several books, go to the Vineyard a few times and screw off, and idle in my papasan chair to my little heart’s content.

But I’m ready now. I’m ready to have a purpose again; a reason to get up, and something that requires my attention in the insomniac hours after work. I’ve been vaguely inspired to write lately, but not enough to complete any work worthy of submitting to either a professor or a publisher–I’m in desperate need of deadlines. Similarly, I’m reading two books at the moment, but without a specific time frame in which they must be finished, I’m stagnating–either reading trash magazines or doing a whole lot of nothing instead of reading. It doesn’t help that my new tattoo prevents me from going to the beach and sunning myself silly with a good book.

I have another six or seven weeks until the semester begins, but I’m already looking forward to it with happy anticipation. There’s something about having to be in the heart of the city every day, with a mission to accomplish, that’s strangely addictive. I know that once I’m in the throes of it, I will resent the lack of spare time, but right now, I miss it. Each night I open my computer and stare blankly at its screen, wishing that I had something which needed to be accomplished with it. I have this fantastic new machine–the machine I should have bought in the beginning of last year when I realized my old computer was shitting the bed–but beyond this blog and the sporadic checking of email, it’s being sorely under-utilized. I even have a peaceful place in which to concentrate, with multiple porches on which I can hibernate and get my work done, only I don’t have any work to get done.

Theoretically, I should write anyway, but that’s not the way it works. I either have a deadline and an assignment, or I do not write anything other than this pathetically narcissistic blog. I wrote a page of a short story tonight (which I actually assigned to a friend and she hasn’t written because she’s having too much sex to bother writing, damn her), but as I only know the setting and a bare-bones idea of the character, that’s as far as I got. I’ve got all the time in the world to make love to these keys, but I’m totally blocked. In November when I’m waist-deep in required reading and a manic ball of collected stress, I’ll be brilliantly inspired and I’ll sacrifice even the tiniest bit of sleep in order to get the words on the page. Go figure.

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How Not To Be An Annoying Flake–a long-winded note to self.

1. When your alarm rings, get up. Do not hit the snooze button, and if you find you simply must hit the snooze button, make sure to do so no more than three times.

2. Calculate how long it takes you to get to whatever destination you need to be headed for, and leave five minutes before your calculations dictate that you should, NOT five minutes after.

3. Before you leave the house, check to make sure you have everything you need: wallet, sunglasses, KEYS… and check again once you’ve gotten to your destination (so if you happened to forget your KEYS, you can call your roommates early and not have to wake them up at 2 a.m.)

4. When you get a bill, write a check. Do not wait until the absolutely last day it can be paid without being late and pay it by phone while you’re walking down the street, five minutes late for wherever you’re supposed to be.

5. Go to the bank and make deposits frequently, so that you will have the money to write the check when the bill comes so you won’t end up on the phone at the last possible minute (whew).

6. Look at your calendar every day before you get started. You know you’ve written things on it that you need to do (like returning the library books that were due in May), and you’ll forget them if you don’t look at the damn calendar. Set reminders in your cell phone if you have to, just RETURN THE DAMN BOOKS.

7. Spend the money to get a new cell phone so that when you forget to put your phone on vibrate and you don’t want to answer a call, you can silence it, rather than forcing everyone in the room to listen to Beethoven’s fifth at top volume three times in a half hour just because your crazy sister won’t stop calling and you can’t shut off the ringer.

8. Never choose Beethoven’s Fifth as the ringtone for anything. Stay away from Gnarls Barkley, too.

9. Do your errands when you have time–say, during the time that you usually spend reading books of little literary merit and consuming ridiculous amounts of black coffee–so you don’t have to do them on your way to work, thereby making you late.

10. If you’re a waitress, use a pad and pen and write things down instead of trying to be a showoff and remember a table’s entire order in your head. Just because you can achieve this monumentous mental feat most of the time doesn’t mean it’s not a pain in the ass when you come back to the table thirty seconds later and say, “I’m sorry, what did you order?”

11. For fuck’s sake, go to sleep when normal people do, that way you won’t be so damn tired and forgetful all the time, you bloody nincompoop. Get stoned. Drink wine. Do whatever the hell you need to do to make your eyes stay shut for more than five hours at a time so that you can wake up before noon and NOT BE A FLAKE.

12. Take your goddamn keys with you. Wear them around your neck like a necklace, hang them from your bra strap, fold them into the leg of your pants, embed them underneath your skin, just BRING YOUR KEYS WITH YOU, ASSHOLE. Nobody wants to talk to you at 2 a.m., least of all your roommate who was peacefully sleeping but was rudely awakened because you forgot (again) to BRING YOUR KEYS WITH YOU. While you’re at it, remember to buy cigarettes when you’re running low too, jackass. And if you’re gonna smoke, carry a frickin’ lighter.

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Of Triangles And Train Wrecks

Every once in a while there comes an incident or a conversation which makes you re-examine your own behavior and beliefs, and indeed your own memory. Memory is, after all, largely associative, and completely connotative. What we remember is colored by how we felt about a certain situation, or how we wanted to feel–our own interests often dictate what parts of an occurrence we choose (subconsciously) to remember. Sometimes we think we remember things we don’t actually remember because we’ve heard stories about them so many times that we start to believe we remember–for instance, I’ve heard it said so many times that I was bald as a baby and mistaken for a boy, that I can picture myself there in the stroller, gender-misidentified, as though I actually remember it, which I decidedly do not. Similarly I remember a fight between my parents which I’m sure I was too young to remember, but which I’ve heard described so many times by both of them that I can visualize it. I was there, but I was too young to have cognizantly recalled the fight the way my mind paints the picture. The power of suggestion is amazing.

That said, I’m digressing from my original point.

I have recently come back into contact with an old friend from whom I’ve been estranged for nearly a decade. We did not have a single falling out; it was more like a series of miniature falling-outs which were never mentioned or dealt with until finally the whole thing unraveled, leaving me perhaps more bitter than I should have been. After all, none of the things over which we clashed were worth the effort–certainly not the man who turned out to be the catalyst of our friendship’s slow self-destruction. As she said in her email to me today, “we both did some really bitchy things to each other,” which is entirely true–however, I think I’d forgotten about the bitchy things I’d done because in our little petty, worthless competition, she turned out “victorious” (she won a whole lot of asshole), and I ended up spurned, nursing my wounded pride and having lost not one friend, but two. Our friendship, and in truth every relationship in our fucked-up little triangle was, to use her words, a trainwreck–and neither of us tried to right the damn train.

What I failed to take into consideration in resenting this friend for years afterward, was that though I was feeling hurt, deceived and eventually cast aside, I never once stood up for myself, or addressed the fact that I knew our friendship was falling apart. I didn’t fight for it. I resented my friend silently, and I never told her how hurt I felt by her behavior. I was content to think I’d been trampled on, but I was too chicken to say so. In addition, we BOTH violated the cardinal rule of friendship–we put the attention of a guy that we both knew wouldn’t last before friendship.

When I received her first email–she was the one who made contact after all this time–I neglected to consider that there are at least two sides to every story, and that my own jadedness may have prevented me from seeing that she didn’t have a grand time of it either. I never got her side of the story because I never asked for it. In truth, it’s all irrelevant now, because we’re both ten years older, and if age teaches us anything, it’s that high school doesn’t matter once the cap and gown come off. Still, it’s refreshing to get a wake-up call sometimes to remind you of your own folly.

I know that it will take time to get back to where we once were as friends, if it happens at all–but I’m willing now to take the time, and I’m willing to suspend my reservations and get to know her again. In her email, she reminded me of how much fun we used to have before it all went to hell, and I’m hoping we can get to that point again. One thing that I’ve learned in the ten years since we’ve seen each other is that you can never have too many friends–and that friendship is something that requires reciprocation and effort–upkeep, essentially.

So here’s to old friends becoming new ones, and to letting old bullshit lie in the past where it should.