Internet Friends

262872_10151055031855698_432420098_nIn the years since my pre-teen fingers hooked the telephone line up to the computer only to hear the garbled static of the dial-up tone, I’ve formed many friendships via the magic of the World Wide Web. It’s like having the ability to pick ‘n’ mix your friends, weeding out the fried eggs from the jelly worms. Instead of situation-enforced friendships with people who you don’t necessarily connect with, you have a whole world of potential friendships that are formed through mutual interests. These friendships don’t occupy a physical space, but a metaphysical one. It is the ideal solution for anyone with introvert tendencies and niche interests. For me, that’s a check and check.

 I came to know my best friend, Hannah, after happening upon some of her creative writing online. It was our own platonic version of love at first sight. A writing crush quickly developed (and has since snowballed), and I shyly reached out to her expressing my respect and admiration for her obvious talent. Having written many different pieces for online publication myself, I know how daunting it can be and how far a kind message can go. That one little email ended up being a life-changer. After exchanging a few messages, we added each other on Skype and kept in contact over instant message, often participating in group chats to live-heckle West Wing episodes together – one of life’s great bonding activities.

 At the time that this all occurred, I was going through a particularly tough time personally. I was deeply depressed at university, facing the reality that after two years of work and a scary amount of money, I hated my course. The idea of accepting that was terrifying, but I knew what I wanted to be doing: I wanted to be writing. When I met Hannah, it felt like the world was giving me a whopping great sign and a best friend to boot.

 We were chatting via Skype instant messenger in the early hours of a Friday morning, still on student sleep schedules, when my finger clumsily hit “call”. It was 3:30am and we had never spoken on the phone before. I assumed her reaction would be to shut the call down and say goodnight. She assumed I was so excited about what we were discussing that I had intentionally called her up to continue. It was 20 minutes before I admitted my mistake as she obliviously extolled the virtues of Donna Moss. At 7am, I heard my brother and parents waking up for their days of school and work respectively but Hannah and I were still going, drifting cyclically between drowsy and hyper.

 We talked about The West Wing, where to find the best cookie recipes, the US election, an obscure miniseries that Bradley Whitford was in once, words for vaginas, our differing accents and a thousand other topics, as though it was all of the utmost importance. And it was. It was urgent that we knew each other inside and out. For me, coming out of the toughest period of depression I’ve ever experienced, it was invigorating. The emotional lethargy that had developed over a number months seemed to lift overnight and every person I knew commented on my immediate shift in mood following that day. I had found the best friend I had always been looking for. That phone call ended at 8pm the following night, lasting a total of 15 hours (ignoring a few connection failures). We slept, we washed, we ate and then we called each other again. The next day, we began bouncing around ideas for my application essay for a new university course. Sometime during our first week of incessant phone calls, I accidentally referred to Hannah as my best friend in what felt like our premature “I love you” moment. Thankfully, she felt the same way.

 Two weeks later, she visited me for the first time – a mere seven-hour journey. The day she arrived, I received notification that my course change had been accepted and I was to start studying English the following September. We celebrated together, my victory sweetened by having shared it with my brand new best friend. Hannah was meant to stay for three days on that trip but it ended up being nine. It would probably have been even longer were it not for her pesky graduation ceremony and the fact that she had to keep buying more underwear.

 Ever since, we’ve spoken a little or a lot (mostly a lot) every single day. We are constantly travelling to see each other, having logged many hours napping on stuffy coaches travelling up and down English motorways. Even without the luxury of time spent together in person, our hours together on Skype ensure that we are, at least metaphorically, inseparable. There will be times where we go long periods on the phone without saying a word, as though casually hanging out in real life. There will also be times when conversations don’t start with a hello, but a “Here’s a thing that happened – tell me your thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams!” Though we live on opposite sides of our small country and are apart most of the time, we aren’t really, aside from those times when Skype refuses to co-operate. The internet giveth and the internet taketh away, I guess. For us, though, it has given most generously.

 When I graduate this year, it will be in no small part thanks to Hannah. From helping me perfect my application, to sending me a “What Would Donna Do” necklace as a ‘first day’ present, to supporting me every step of the way, I owe my best friend an enormous debt of gratitude.

 While meeting friends online is still a taboo, as I know well from the many times people have asked Hannah and I how we met, it has enriched my life immeasurably. It doesn’t matter how you meet people, it only matters who you meet. Having a best friend strengthens every other relationship because you have someone that takes care of the heavy stuff, enabling the best version of you to shine through for everyone else.

 I am my best self thanks to my best friend.

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Pawnee Forever: A Farewell to Parks and Recreation

fdgfParks and Recreation is the last remaining of NBC’s beloved, though criminally under-watched, sitcoms from their old Thursday night comedy block, but soon it too, hot on the heels of The Office (ended), 30 Rock (ended) and Community (rehomed), will conclude its run. I have to admit, I write this post with more emotion than can usually be found on this here page. As the finale date draws closer with alarming velocity (anyone ever told you, you’re the worst, NBC?), I am struck by just how missed this comedy will be. It’s rare that a cast of characters is so universally warm, energetic and loveable, reiterating the message, time after time, that no one achieves anything alone. That is Parks‘ heart and soul.

If there is one thing to take away from the critically acclaimed comedy, it’s the value of creating rich relationships with every combination of characters that you have in your arsenal. I imagine half the fun of writing this show was pick-‘n’-mixing character pairings for subplots. I mean, think about it. Think about any two characters and, if you’ve seen the whole series, you’ll know their dynamic. From Ben and April (“She’s like the little sister I never had, because the little sister I do have is normal and not terrifying.”), to the mutual respect between Leslie and Ron as they settle their differences over breakfast foods, to the juxtaposition of super-fit Chris and, well, Andy, to the inspiring masterminds behind “Treat Yo Self”, Tom and Donna, everyone fits together and, crucially, provides an endless source for comedy. One relationship above all others really steered the show and that was the friendship between Leslie and Ann, unique in its platonic nature as the focal relationship. Given how female friendship has been portrayed within the media when it’s portrayed at all, Parks was a rare treat, celebrating the way that women can support and inspire one another – often over breakfast food. This started with Leslie and Ann but quickly seeped into every female dynamic the show has to offer: the mentor relationship Leslie has with April, the love-hate-but-secretly-just-love between April and Ann, and the ladies’ casual and constant admiration for Regal Meagle.

The reason these friendships are all so special, of course, is because the characters that make them up are a wonderful bunch of weirdos, just as any comedic cast should be. When shows end, often it can be hard to say goodbye to a beloved favourite character. How do you keep it together when you’re saying goodbye to so many favourites at once? If anyone knows, share with the group. I’m desperate here. As I haven’t figured it out, here are my heartfelt goodbyes to each one of Pawnee’s finest…

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Timehop is the Enemy.

As you can see, I've undergone a Walter White style transformation over five short years.

As you can see, I’ve undergone a Walter White style transformation over five short years.

Apps are a particularly fickle world of trends, with games and features going from de rigueur to old news faster than your average celebrity. It’s easy to tell which are riding the wave because the notifications will lay siege to any and all of your social network feeds. Recently, the app that seems to be flavour of the month is Timehop, the poor man’s Tardis. Given my penchant for nostalgia, it didn’t take me too much convincing to download the popular time travel app myself. Oh, what a fool. A foolish naive newborn baby. Timehop, as I learned firsthand, is the enemy.

Let's not.

Let’s not.

A few years ago, I abruptly stopped writing status updates on Facebook in the casual manner that I once had, suddenly self-conscious of my own inanity. I had forgotten that I had ever used the social media platform so liberally, but a result of my recent radio silence on Facebook (and the logistical issues connecting up my Twitter feed) has been that the only Timehops I see are five-year-old Facebook statuses. These contain two surprises of note. The first is that more than one update comes up per day. Baby Me is the very person I mock for unnecessary social media over-sharing! Instead of the sparse, amusing anecdotes that I like to pretend I am providing, it is garbage nonsense. It’s not even sparkling garbage. It’s just mundane, weird, pointless excerpts from my day! I wasn’t even dressing it up. Re-reading some of these posts, I imagine this is what people go through when they discover childhood journals. I feel incredibly detached from, and embarrassed by, these posts. I’ve changed a lot since I was 17. I can’t think what right now, but a lot. Trust me. Ooh! I got one, I got one: I don’t have a fringe anymore!

The second surprise has been that many, and yes I’m talking plural here, of these statuses have been about Glee of all things! I don’t even remember ever liking Glee! It was a six week period in a long-forgotten past and I had blocked that shit out. Now, all of a sudden, I’m being confronted by the mistakes of yesteryear. My brain was trying to protect me and now Timehop has undone all that good forgetting. No one wanted this, Timehop. Can’t you develop a filter to protect me from myself?

The worst thing is, while I have the app downloaded, I can’t just avoid it. Timehop sends me emails to make sure I don’t miss out on the entries for each day. I get friendly reminders that, oh, it’s been five years since pointless status #567: “is crying with laughter.” Do you remember when third person statuses were a phase? I hope they were a phase and that wasn’t just me.  Here are some recent updates I’ve had from Timehop, also known as the ghost of my terrible past:

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Firstly, I’d like to point out that I was treating myself before “Treat Yo Self” had even been created. I think maybe you all have me to thank for the sacred occasion. Secondly, this status is so weird and mysterious. Why am I doubting my worth as a Treat Yo Self celebrant? Was I always this whiny? Just treat yo self and own it, Jessica. Get your shit together and wipe your eyes. What is wrong with you, girl? Damn. Honestly, the most interesting thing about this status update is that it was once 7°c on a Wednesday. Share this? Timehop, have you read it?! Why would I want to remind people that I once bought unidentified boxsets five years ago?

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Five years ago, I was clearly clinging to the ailing Myspace because no one had told me that the world was over it. Why was I giving Myspace a second chance? What did Myspace ever do for anybody? To be honest, cringier than my pathetic attempt to gain Myspace friends is the omission of a comma in that sentence. Also, it’s good to see that even though I’m making multiple updates in the same day, they are really worthwhile. I mean, who didn’t need clarification of my feelings for Jim Halpert on January 30th 2010? FYI: they are unchanged.

The only way I think I can move forward now is to delete the app and hope that one day I forget my Glee phase all over again. The only reason I haven’t deleted it yet is a part of me really needs to assurance that I’ve done something – anything! – at some point that is worth remembering with fondness. I want to believe that it’s not all just, “The time has come… GLEE!” Pray for me.

A Healthy Obsession

Running-ShoesAfter you get past the first hurdles of taking up running, i.e. you manage to get into a regular rhythm of jogs without giving up, it becomes very easy to develop a preoccupation with stats and goals. I can personally attest to this. PBs, splits, handicaps, etc. all somehow become super interesting once you get broken in a little bit. The stats are addictive. It’s human nature to want to progress and after the initial training wheel phase, it becomes important to set attainable and specific goals to reach that damn fine potential you got going on. Often, pursuing those goals all comes wrapped up in weirdly fascinating personal data.

Runs can be long. Even a 5k, for me at least, uses up nearly half an hour. That’s a long time to keep your head in the game, so to speak. While the body is being tested, it helps to give your mind something to do besides wonder whether that really is a stitch coming on. Naturally, you get to thinking about times, and goals, and pace (and sometimes just what you’re having for dinner, to be totally honest). This is why, at race start lines, you often see a huge number of runners equipped with various forms of wearable technology. It’s the new black. In some cases, it literally is black. Would this be a good time for me to mention that unless the goth-vampire aesthetic is your vibe, I really think it’s boring when people go for black when there’s so much colour available in the market of wearables and kit? Whatever, though, you do you. (But seriously, spice up your life.)

The technology available for tracking training is vast, ranging from fancy gadgets like my mother’s beloved Garmin watch to the free app I have on my phone to boss me about. The reason they’re all so popular? The technology is invaluable. It does wonders for managing health goals. Oscar Insurance, a health insurance company in New Jersey and New York, is just one example of a company promoting and using this kind of technology to help members manage their health and fitness. All Oscar members get Misfit bands that they can use to set personal activity goals, sync with the company’s mobile app to keep track of their progress and then get cash rewards at the end of the month for reaching their goals.

In the case of my Runkeeper app, I can have it set up to give me a playlist and interrupt my music to tell me my pace at certain intervals. It allows me to obliviously listen to the whole TSwift catalogue and the app will let me know if I’m on track, pacing my runs for me while I’m getting in some much-needed music therapy. The times keep pushing me on to race my previous bests while my music offers a valued distraction from the aching in my, well, just about everywhere. It’s a great system. Added to the help it gives during the run, all of my times and splits get logged and recorded to enable a wealth of resources when mapping out future fitness ambitions. It’s perfect.

Alongside the pacing, informing the training is the creation of personal goals to enable steady progress. Those goals have varied from a simple 5k personal best to being able to run a new distance to trying to match up split times, or more recently to get a 8.0+ handicap improvement through the last annual year (check!). Tracking my runs is always integral to that; it enables you to become your own personal trainer. Or, in the cases of some of the technology, the recording of the nice lady announcing your times becomes your personal trainer. I talked in a previous blog about my quick burst of progress through the end of 2014, culminating in my ‘Best Improved’ title in December. This was a direct response to recognising an attainable, specific goal and pushing hard for it. Along the way, I was constantly checking my graphs on runbritain.com, looking to see how my progress was coming along in terms of the statistics. There is nothing more motivating than seeing results, and being able to chip away at my times little by little allowed me to keep my streak of success going strong.

Ultimately, running comes down to what works best for each individual, I think. I’ve been keeping fit through my training for over a year now and, after my initial progress, I found that I plateaued for a long period of time in mid-2014. The best answer to that was goal-setting. By the end of last year, I felt unstoppable, smashing PB after PB and far exceeding the goal I had initially set myself. I think it starts with one attainable goal, and then comes the momentum. Once you have the big mo, you’re set.