The exploding fortune cookie of internet wisdom informs me that today is International Day of Friendship. There seems, increasingly, to be a national or international day of everything—coffee, chocolate, margaritas, hotdogs—why not friendship? Without friends, whom would you share your hotdogs and margaritas with? (Notice I don’t mention coffee or chocolate. I typically don’t share precious commodities, the noted exception being an exchange in which I’m given alcohol to drown my sorrows over parting with my chocolate).
Friends share secrets, rejoice in your successes, commiserate over your failures, and insist you eat the last chocolate chip cookie on the plate (unless, again, you’re me, in which case, you arm-wrestle for it). Literature, film, and television are all inundated with famous fictional friendships: Holmes and Watson, the Doctor and his (or her) companions, the great trifecta that is Harry Potter, Rom Weasley, and Hermione Granger. Here, then, are four of my favorite (and admittedly random) quotes to celebrate International Day of Friendship.
1. “So you’re saying that friendship contains within it an inherent obligation to maintain confidences? Interesting. One more question, and perhaps I should have led with this, when did we become friends?”- Sheldon Cooper, from “The Big Bang Theory”
Yes, Sheldon, that’s how it works, although it’s also wise to confirm that the friend in question in fact has the ability to keep a secret. Once, during high school, I confided to a friend that I had a crush on a certain guy; if this story ended well, I wouldn’t be telling it. Somehow, the guy in question discovered my feelings (probably because I don’t do subtlety very well). The resulting conversation with my friend went something like this:
Friend: so he pulls me aside and says, “I need to ask you something. Does Fran have a crush on me?”
Me (already contemplating changing my name and fleeing the country): And…what did you say?
Friend: I told him of course you didn’t, obviously.
Me: Oh, thank God. You’re the best.
Friend: Yeah, well, there’s something else. I should probably tell you I’m a terrible liar.
I don’t know what ever happened to that girl, but it’s probably safe to say she didn’t pursue a career in espionage.
2. “If we have friends, we should look only for the best in them and give them the best that is in us.”- Anne of Green Gables
Spoken wisely, Anne girl, as always. We can’t expect others to look past our faults and love us anyway if we can’t be willing to do the same. (And, okay, I do agree with Anne; sharing chocolate does give it a sweeter taste, but if it’s chocolate and peanut butter, it’s all mine. Deal?)
3. “We’re with you whatever happens.”- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Simple yet profound, and not at all coincidental that Hermione makes this promise to Harry just after Dumbledore’s funeral. Hard times bring out the best in some and the worst in others, and we can all agree that Ron and Hermione fall into the former category. Battling three-headed dogs, breaking into the Ministry of Magic
, and camping all over England looking for bits of Voldemort’s soul that might or might not have been stashed God knows where aren’t jobs for the fair-weather friend. To paraphrase Sheldon Cooper, friendship—real friendship—involves certain “inherent obligations,” but sometimes, if you’re lucky, you’ll find a few friends who take these obligations way beyond the call of duty.
It takes a special friend to drive you to the emergency vet at 8:00 on a Sunday morning when your dog is displaying alarming symptoms of what could either be an intestinal infection or the result of accidentally swallowing nuclear weapons. (Not that I’m speaking from my own experience, but the less said about that the better). Sufficed to say, a friend who willingly takes crap from you—in more ways than one—deserves all the love and respect you can give, mixed with vodka. A lot of vodka.
4. “As Tom said, if Miss Havisham had had some jolly flatmates to take the piss out of her, she would never have stayed so long in her wedding dress.”- Bridget Jones: the Edge of reason
In other words, friends don’t let friends wallow in the pain of a broken heart—or, you know, spend 50 years in a wedding dress, wearing one shoe, counting cobwebs and waiting to die. Friends will allow you to shed the tears necessary to cleanse your soul of the emotional toxins that breakups cause. They’ll help you scoop up the shattered remnants of your relationship and let you sob over the pillow that still bears traces of your ex’s aftershave before wrestling it from your hands and tossing it into the trash where it belongs. It’s said that a friend knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you’ve forgotten the words, and this involves knowing when to remind you that life, however challenging, does go on.
So, what are your favorite friendship quotes? Who are your favorite fictional friends?
I smell cookies. How is a person supposed to write while smelling cookies? I think one of my neighbors is baking, and I’d venture a guess that they have no intention of sharing, even though I’m sure not sharing cookies with anyone within smelling distance of said cookies violates the Geneva Convention…or the International Declaration of Human Rights…or something.
Not my neighbor’s cookies, obviously, but if I’m going to pretend I have cookies, they might as well be pretty cookies.
So we’d talk about that if we were having coffee. Then I’d spend the next ten minutes worrying about the fact that I might have inadvertently turned my parents into Netflix addicts.
“There’s actually a lot of stuff on here,” Dad said after I’d shown him how to log in and browse the content.
“There really is.”
“And how much does it cost?”
“$9.99 a month.”
“And how many movies can I watch for that price?”
“It’s unlimited; you can watch as much as you want, as many times as you want, for as long as you want.”
You’d have thought I told them Narnia is an actual place. Netflix is the new Narnia, except with snacks and WIFI. The problem is, they can’t find their way out.
It’s been roughly a week, and my parents have already mastered the fine art of binge-watching, casually throwing around phrases like “We’re going to make dinner. Then we’re going to Netflix and chill.” I did warn them that Netflix is dangerously habit-forming, and I granted them access to my account with the caveat that I expected them to view responsibly. In their defense, though, the autoplay feature does tend to rob one of any autonomy, and even the strangest shows become morbidly addictive—like black Mirror, for instance. What happens when technology allows you to replay your own memories? Can that guy really return from the dead? Is the Prime Minister really going to do that to the pig? (Spoiler alert: it almost never ends well). It’s like rubbernecking on the highway; you know you should look away, but you just can’t.
If we were having coffee, I’d ask you what you think a person’s Google Alerts reveal about their priorities in life. Mine are full of dead authors, my favorite TV shows, and my imaginary celebrity boyfriends. What do the president’s latest Twitter tantrums matter as long as I got to watch Colin Firth complimenting Halle Berry on her ability to hold her whiskey at Comic Con? (Judgement-free zone here, remember?)
A person’s Google Alerts reveal a lot about how they prioritize information. Why isn’t this a Buzzfeed quiz yet? “What do your Google alerts say about you?” Maybe No one else has ever equated Google Alerts with character assessment, and I’ve just unnecessarily outed myself as stranger than you already thought I was. Besides, I don’t vouch for the accuracy of any of those online character quizzes—except for those Hogwarts Sorting Hat quizzes that tell me I’m a Ravenclaw. Those are the real deal. You can’t take that away from me. Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure!
So, now it’s your turn; what have you been binge-watching on Netflix this week? What do your Google Alerts say about you? There’s still coffee left in my mug.
If we were having coffee, I’d gush about my discovery of the #weekendcoffeeshare blog prompt that is obviously going to give both my blog and my writing in general a much-needed caffeinated and creative boost, effectively launching me to internet celebrity status (not really, but a girl can dream). I stumbled across this ingenious idea via Part-Time Monster, where I was led vicariously via Gin and Lemonade, because I am a curious Alice, and the internet is my rabbit hole. Also, go read her. Just do it.
I teach writing; therefore it must follow that I write—or at least, profess to write. I expend exorbitant amounts of energy endeavoring to keep that myth alive. I also experience an adrenalin rush when I discover a new writing prompt to try that I imagine must be similar to a master chef’s excitement over a new recipe. This analogy, I realize, incorrectly implies that I am likewise a master of my craft. I no longer labor under that misapprehension.
If we were having coffee, I’d rhapsodize about saturating my life with all things Jane Austen this week, in honor of the 200th anniversary of her death. You’d probably point out that saturating my life with all things Jane Austen is just business as usual around here, but you totally wouldn’t say it in a judgy way, because if you were that sort of person, we wouldn’t be having coffee.
We wouldn’t discuss politics, because I make a habit of not flavoring my coffee with bitterness and the tears shed over the fall of the human race. We will instead discuss the fact that we now live in a world where someday, the list of professions open to my future daughter can also include timelord. It’s a beautiful time to be alive.
The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.- Northanger Abbey, 1817
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen’s novels are some of the most widely-read in all of literature. Her work regularly appears on popular must-read lists, is a staple on English literature syllabi, has inspired tabletop and online role-playing games, and is even invoked by the U.S Supreme Court in quibbles over language. Austen has also notably saturated the literary and film/television markets with a flood of adaptations, spin-offs, prequels, and sequels ranging from Andrew Davies’s iconic 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (yes, that one. Take your time. *cue daydream music*) to the web series “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” and last year’s successful retelling of Lady Susan in “Love and Friendship.”
Today mark’s the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, and many readers and scholars across the world are reflecting on the reasons for her longevity as a literary phenomenon. For many of us who return time and time again to her novels, the answer lies in the fact that they resonate with universal truths about the human character and the joys and sorrows of life, at once encouraging us to laugh at ourselves and challenging us to scrutinize our failings alongside our admirable qualities. I myself have written about how my exposure to Austen at a young age shaped my reading tastes and taught me what it meant to be a feminist before anyone had even formally introduced the word into my vocabulary. Today, then, as we reflect on the life and legacy of Jane Austen, here are 10 life lessons her novels can teach us.
1. A runaway imagination rarely leads in the right direction
Northanger Abbey (1817) is often dubbed Austen’s satirical foray into fanfiction via young Catherine Morland’s fascination with Gothic Literature. When Catherine, captivated by the Gothic novels of Anne Radcliffe, receives an invitation to stay with her new friends, the Tilneys, at Northanger Abbey, she’s quickly carried away on a wave of mystery and intrigue, convincing herself that General Tilney has secretly murdered his wife. While she does still manage to snag the generals son Henry for a husband in the end (because of course), accidentally accusing one’s would-be father-in-law of murder isn’t the best way to win his affection. Here Austen satirically cautions us not to fall victim to our imagination and let fancy override good sense.
2. Pride goeth before a fall.
“Pride, where there is a real superiority of mind, will always be under good regulation,” declares Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice (1813). Unfortunately, however, he fails to keep his own pride in check during his first ill-fated proposal to Elizabeth: “Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections? To congratulate myself on the hope of relations whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?”
Who could accept such a charming declaration? Good day, sir. I said good day. If Darcy learns one lesson here, it’s that thinking too highly of yourself won’t endear you to anyone. Never approach a goal in life as if it’s a settled thing; work hard to earn the respect of your family, your friends, your colleagues and, of course, your spouses.
3. Never presume to know what’s in a person’s heart better than they do themselves.
Emma Woodhouse, the titular character of Emma (1816) thinks she’s doing Harriet Smith a favor when she tries to separate her from the gentleman-farmer Robert Martin, with whom Harriet is in love, and match her up with the vicar Mr. Elton. Little does she know how deeply Harriet and Robert care for each other. While everything turns out well in the end (as it usually does in Austen’s universe), Emma’s interference comes with much heartache and embarrassment for all parties involved. Support the decisions of your friends; voice your concern when appropriate, but never presume to tell anyone what to think or how to feel, particularly in matters of the heart. Not to mention, when you spend so much time looking into the hearts of others, you risk silencing the still small voice in your own. All’s well that ends well, of course, because to paraphrase Sarah Vaughan, whatever Emma wants, Emma gets.
4. Hold fast to your right to make your own decisions.
Fanny Price, the heroine of Mansfield Park (1814), often gets shunted to the side in discussions of Austen’s heroines; she doesn’t possess Lizzie Bennet’s wit, Anne Eliot’s self-command, or Emma Woodhouse’s charm. She cowers in the presence of her uncle, Sir Thomas Bertram, is practically her aunt Norris’s personal servant, and doesn’t even voice any objection when Mrs. Norris insists that Fanny doesn’t need the luxury of a fire in her room because she must remember her place. Yet when she truly thinks herself in the right, Fanny possesses just enough self-confidence to stand her ground, even if she’s shaking in her shoes as she does so. Consider the moment when she stands up to her uncle when he insists that she accept Henry Crawford’s marriage proposal. Lucky for her that she refuses, since Henry later runs off with Mariah Bertram not long after her marriage to Mr. Rushworth, plunging the family into scandal. Close call, Fanny. Timid she might be, but Fanny Price still reminds us to stand firm in our convictions and protect our interests.
5. Learn when to hold your tongue.
Yes, we’re looking at you, Mr. Collins. Nobody likes a windbag. His excessively eloquent speeches in Pride and Prejudice do little more than fill already stuffy ball rooms with more hot air. Likewise, Miss Bates, Jane Fairfax’s maiden aunt in Emma, prattles away to the amusement (but more often irritation) of her neighbors. The danger of mindless chatter is, of course, saying too much, as when Mrs. Bennet speaks so loudly and presumptuously about Jane’s possible marriage to Mr. Bingley that she unwittingly harms all of her daughters’ chances of marrying with her uncouth manners. There is a time to speak and a time to be silent, and learning the difference between the two is a social survival skill worth cultivating.
6. Keep your head in a crisis.
Anne Eliot knows all about this one; anyone who has read Persuasion (1818) will recall Louisa Musgrove’s ill-fated leap from the cob so that captain Wentworth can catch her in his arms, only to wind up with a nasty head injury. While everyone else flails in panic, fearing Louisa is dead, only Anne has the sense to remain calm and give directions about carrying her to the nearest inn and fetching a doctor. While being the only one in the group to keep your wits about you means that everyone is apt to rely too heavily on your judgement, you at least have the satisfaction of knowing that when cooler heads prevail, you can solve problems more easily.
7. Never underestimate the power of a well-written love letter.
You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone forever. I offer myself to you again with a heart more your own than when you almost broke it, eight and a half years ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant.
Yes, Captain Wentworth, this one goes out to you. When Anne Eliot and Captain Wentworth reunite at the conclusion of Persuasion, more than eight years have elapsed since Anne broke off their engagement, acting on the advice of her godmother, lady Russel. If we think her unwise, we can forgive her because, after all, she was only 19; nor can we entirely blame Captain Wentworth for being, in his own words, weak and resentful. She did chuck him, after all. Fortunately for them, he swallows his pride and pours his heart and soul into a love letter with an offer that she really can’t refuse. In this age of social media, emojis, and online dating, when the love letter seems to have become a cultural artifact, it’s worth remembering the value of a few well-chosen words.
8. Don’t let your emotions get the better of you.
This is basically Sense and Sensibility (1811) summarized in one concise sentence. When Marianne Dashwood discovers that Willoughby, the young man who has been paying her attention, is actually engaged to another woman with a larger inheritence, anyone with an ounce of human sensitivity can’t blame her for feeling crushed, but walking about in the rain and intentionally catching such a severe chill that it nearly kills her seems a bit extreme. No man is worth that much. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wearing your heart on your sleeve, but over-dramatization and self-martyrdom never does anyone any good. Still, once again, more sensible heads prevail in the end (we love you, Colonel Brandon, flannel waistcoats and all).
9. Sisters before misters.
Elinor Dashwood, who plays sense to Marianne’s sensibility, would probably have quite a bit to say about this contemporary maxim; while Marianne is wringing her heart out over the worthless Willoughby, Elinor is secretly and silently nursing her own heartache. She spends several months during the course of the novel concealing her knowledge that Edward Ferrars, whom everyone, including Elinor, believes to be attached to her, has been secretly engaged to one Miss Lucy Steele. Her silence speaks volumes about her loyalty both to her own sister and to the bonds formed when women share confidences. Cautioned by Lucy not to breathe a word of the engagement, Elinor solemnly keeps her word, despite being none too fond of Miss Steele.
Marianne speaks sensibly, perhaps for the first time, when she declares, “How barbarous have I been to you! You, who have been my only comfort, who have borne with me in all my misery, who have seemed to be suffering only for me.” That’s right, Marianne; the sun called, and you are not, in fact, the center of the universe. She, not to mention the rest of us, could learn a lesson from Elinor about self-sacrificial love.
10. Live life according to your own dictate.
Lizzie Bennet says it best when she refuses to promise Lady Catherine never to become engaged to Mr. Darcy not only because she shrewdly suspects that he’s still in love with her (which, you know, he totally is), but because she refuses, in proto-feminist fashion, to let anyone else decide her destiny: “I am only resolved,” she declares, “to act in that manner which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to anyone so wholly unconnected with me.” The takeaway here is simple yet profound; never allow anyone to dictate the choices you make about your own happiness. Of course, it’s worth pointing out that Lizzie’s self-determination here carries tremendous risk given that, as Mrs. Bennet continually reminds her, her fate and that of her family depends largely on her ability to secure a rich husband. That said, Lizzie can still remind us never to sacrifice self-respect for the sake of pleasing others, and to never allow anyone to convince us that we’re undeserving of the best life has to offer. (Can we say mistress of Pemberley, anyone?)
Once again, it’s Blogging Against Disablism Day—a day when people all over the world take time to write about their experiences with disability to dispel stereotypes and challenge attitudes of ableism. Every year, this date creeps up on me like a stealthy shadow that tip-toes up behind me, suddenly grabbing me and yelling “Boo!” This has largely to do with the fact that BADD inevitably falls in the thick of end-of-semester grading for me, when I can’t tell if the headaches are the result of too much caffeine, not enough caffeine, washing down comma splices with shots of Peach Schnapps, or some combination of all of the above.
Then too, this year, I haven’t written a single blog post in…a while—I don’t know precisely how long it’s been since my last post. Periods between blogging for me have become like the periods between going to confession; bless me readers, for I have sinned. I don’t know how long I’ve been away, but my conscience tells me it’s time to return. In past years, I’ve hastened to cobble together deeply philosophical reflections laced with humor about what I’ve learned from my life as a person with a disability; I’ve written about how my disability has made me a better teacher; I’ve written about the dos and don’ts of interacting with a blind person. This year, however, I dipped into my bag of writing tricks and came up empty, my excuse being simply—and albeit lamely—life.
What, you may ask, have I been doing? I’ve been teaching my classes; I’ve been advocating for the improvement of local public transportation for people with disabilities in my community; I’ve been playing fetch with my dog; I’ve been sharing laughs and bottles of wine with friends; I’ve been watching my nephew grow, marveling at how quickly, how eagerly he’s grasping with tiny hands at this big, big world. In short, I’ve been living, and this, quite simply, is the story that we tell every year on this day.
All day, every day, people with disabilities find themselves the recipients of some form of pity. “Life must be so hard for you,” someone will say. “I don’t know how you do that,” a passer-by will declare when we unlock a door, bend down to pick up a book we’ve dropped, or tie a shoe. All the while, we live; we go about our daily routines, performing these and many other tasks, large and small, in various ways. I don’t mean to minimize the challenges that we do face—difficulty accessing buildings, getting disoriented in unfamiliar places, or depending on the kindness of those around us when our adaptive equipment fails or our service animals are sick, just to name a few. Yet our life experiences are not altogether different than anyone else’s. I teach; I write; I make spaghetti sauce while dancing in my kitchen to the “Mama Mia!” soundtrack. I take long walks with my dog; I bake cake from scratch; I go on dates; I cook dinner for friends; I flirt with the cute bbarista at Starbucks; I drink cheap wine and cry during Colin Firth movies. I live a relatively healthy, relatively happy life, with the added twist of doing it all without looking. All of these rituals and routines, so seemingly mundane, testify to the fact that every day, everywhere, people are barreling through the barriers of ableism simply by living. Can you beat that? No, I didn’t think so either.