There are other truths, too.

I’ve had a hard few weeks. Unsurprisingly, for those who know me, marking 10 years since my father died wasn’t an easy milestone, and while the day itself was filled with silly fun with my 5 year old, the days which followed were like trudging through thick mud in boots two times bigger than your actual size. Difficult, slow, cumbersome, and with a constant fear of falling and exacerbating an already precarious situation into something much worse.

While I’ve written in the past about grief, I usually write from the middle of it, from the trenches of it, while the bombs are going off around me and I’m struggling to keep myself hidden from target. Ironically, I’ve come to realise that if I’m writing about it from within the walls, if you’re hearing my war reports, the danger isn’t too great.
In this case, no news is not good news. When I can’t hear myself think to write beyond the sounds of gunfire, when there’s nothing to write because the fog is too heavy? That’s when I’m going to need the artillery sent in behind me.

So here I am, out the other side, tilting my head with interest at the woman who looks so much like me, but couldn’t feel more different. And there must be something I can take out of this, by examining her. Or do I just have to sit and wait helplessly for it to take over again, and then wait for it to pass another time, in a cycle of highs and lows that I’ve come to accept is the very nature of grief itself?

Academically I can say I have been miserable. It sounds like a word for a small child, and I suppose in the loss of a parent it fits. Worse still, this year it’s triggered a realization for me that while I have built for myself an incredible family of people who love me, the ones who are supposed to be there unconditionally just… aren’t. I haven’t spoken to my mother in several months, my father is dead, my siblings are… absent. I don’t have extended family around who have taken me under their wing, I don’t have living grandparents or kindly uncles and aunts. It may seem like a strange concern for someone who is an adult and has their own kids and home. But if you’re game, take a moment to think about the people in your life who have to love you. The ones who may dislike you from time to time, who you could make it your life’s work to ruin your relationship with, but would still be family after all is said and done.

I don’t have that.

Last week, and the week before, it was the only thing I could think about, on the forefront of my mind. It pushed aside all other thoughts and plans. Tears came easy, and cold shivery hopelessness too. The truth of it was overwhelming. If this is true, that I have no family, no people who will be there no matter what… how will I ever feel better again?  I reasoned with myself, and I knew it to be true, that I would never feel free of this burden.

And then…. it lifted. Like our good old English summer, the sun re-appeared through a storm cloud like the rain had never existed in the first place, and I felt warm again. Does this mean that I was wrong? That what I thought to be true wasn’t true?
Absolutely not. I have no real family. Not the kind other people have anyway. But while last week that truth was dehibillitating, this week… *shrugs*.

That shrug isn’t self pitying or sarcastic. The tunnel vision which comes with misery and hopelessness has passed, and I can see other truths as well as that one. My amazing husband, my beautiful kids, the fact that the summer holidays are almost finished and I can soon work during daylight hours again. The truth that I work in the field I love and can be entirely flexible with it, my two best friends who I would choose over blood sisters any day of the week. I couldn’t see those truths last week, and yet the weight of them now crushes any depression over a lack of family down to a mere concern at the back of my mind, a shrug in the same way I might say ‘sure, it would be nice to have some more disposable income’ or ‘imagine how great life would be if school took over teeth brushing responsibilities.’

I feel lighter. And yet simultaneously for next time, I feel slightly better armed to go into battle too. This mantra is a weapon, of sorts. Whatever may or may not be true in my life, there are other truths too.

The Last Time

There’s a lot of emotional stuff going around the internet about how you never know [insert event here] is going to be the last time until it’s the last time. You never know it’s going to be your last kiss with someone, or the last time your baby falls asleep on you, or the last time you tell someone you love them, until you realise you can’t do it anymore.

I recently had a last fight with a friend. I didn’t know it was the last fight. I didn’t even know it was a fight at all until we were right in the middle of it. I hadn’t planned it, and I’m not sure they had either. It wasn’t one of those fights where it brews for ages and then finally someone has to say something and it’s taken badly and it escalates. No no. It was more like, here we are having a conversation via WhatsApp, and oh you seem to be getting upset and I’m not sure why, and now suddenly you’re telling me you’re in floods of tears and oh okay,  now I haven’t heard from you in 3 months and we aren’t friends anymore. Haven’t we all had those? No? Not normal? Oh.

Regardless of whether you’re worth working it out for or if the death knell is ringing on your relationship, isn’t there a kind of friend etiquette that means you have to have a post-fight conversation?
I understand the Fadeaway. I’ve watched Garfunkel and Oates. I’m not talking about that. We’re not having a discussion about a brief friendship or a new relationship where it’s kind of awkward to say it out loud but they’re just not that into you. We’re talking about the better part of a decade here. Plenty of meals at each others homes. Cuddling each others kids. Long breaks and then picking up where we left off. Y’know. Friendship. And now… nothing. No final message which says why they want to take some space. No euphemistic let down about why their life is so crazy right now and how it’s not me, it’s them. Not even an angry outburst that I deserve to lose their friendship due to all my terrible character flaws. I can’t get in touch when I hear good news, I can’t thank them for all the times they’ve been a most excellent friend and neighbour, and I can’t turn to them if either of us are in need.

It’s kind of… insufficient.

I know what you’re thinking. Maybe I should make the first move! They’re probably embarassed. It’s been a while now, no contact, they aren’t sure what to do. Let me stop you right there. The first move has been made. I’ve sent multiple messages, via WhatsApp, Facebook, even tried calling on that old fashioned medium called the telephone. Christ I even got in touch with their spouse in the hopes that they just hasn’t checked their own phone in a few days or perhaps seven weeks. Short of turn up unwanted on the doorstep, I’m not sure what else I can do.

The one or two people (everyone who will listen) I’ve casually (obsessively) mentioned it to all say the same thing. Not worth it. Get over it. Move on, they obviously aren’t going to get in touch. And they’re right. I’m clearly not going to get any understanding of why this seemingly quite trivial argument signalled the end of our relationship. And I can’t work out whether expecting some kind of closure is my admittedly often sky-high expectations, or completely understandable. I don’t want to fight, I just don’t want to pretend we’ve never heard each other’s names, or that 8 years of friendship can dissipate without gratitude or feelings on the matter.

Maybe it’s a symptom of this over-sharing thing I’ve got going on, but I would say there’s enough ‘last times’ we aren’t going to get to enjoy as it is. If you know the door is closing on our relationship, give me a quick wave through the window as you disappear and give me a chance to say goodbye, and thank you, too.

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The Usual Suspects of the Buy/Sell Groups

Social media has opened up all kinds of new ways to communicate with absolute strangers, and there are some real characters out there. While I’ve written before about the mums forums, I’ve recently become active on the selling groups, and the personalities I’ve found… they’re certainly worth a post all to themselves.

1. Embarassing Haggler

As buyers, we all love a bargain. And as sellers, we’re all just hoping to get rid of some clutter quickly and easily, and preferably without needing to get out of pyjamas. No one minds if you ask for a bit of a discount, but come on folks, try not to take the mick.

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2. Cant Take a Hint Seller 

Boy Facebook is in for a treat today. This guy has something they’ve found in a cupboard unused, and is willing to sell it on at an amazingly reasonable price! Some lucky individual is going to be benefitting from what is now completely useless to them.

But wait, what’s this? It’s been up on the group for 45 minutes already and no one has commented. Just bump it, I’m sure you just chose an awkward time for people. Hmm… Ok, try reducing the price. Maybe people want pics? This is strange. It’s SUCH a bargain! Oh wait, that’s it- people probably think it’s gone already. Three letters, S…F…S. That’s bound to do the trick.

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3. Time Waster

Have you ever actually bought or sold anything Time Waster? Or are you just here for the show, and to ask annoying questions? Do you enjoy being on the cusp of a purchase so much that you do this in bricks and mortar stores too, stand in line at checkout and then have a sudden change of heart while you’re reaching for your wallet?

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4. The Difficult Customer

Some people seem to think that the buy and sell group is the equivalent to Argos online, appearing on the group with what may as well be a product number to search for. Filled with details about what they’re looking for, they’re rarely pleased and could benefit from a a point in the direction of Amazon.

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5.  Junk Seller

Not every item needs to be brand new with tags, and we all know the expression “one mans trash is another mans treasure”. However sometimes, if it looks like rubbish it’s probably exactly that. The chances of someone else wanting your daughters’ used trainers? Pretty slim. The likelihood of a rush of volunteers to come and pick up your almost finished Berry Cherry lipgloss? Nil.

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Any firm favourites I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments! 

Tell a friend they’re fat day? Hell yes.

Steve Miller has suggested something which sounds cruel, preposterous and unnecessary. He claims that on Wednesday January 7th 2015, we should all find a chubby friend and let them know they are a heifer. Tell a friend they’re fat day would be an annual event, and would kick start people’s weight loss in what he hopes would lead to better all round health, as well as raising awareness of the obesity epidemic worldwide.

And then the internet broke. Twitter filled with indignation as people argued right left and centre that this was a nasty scheme by a man who had no right to dictate to people on weight and health, and plus size advocates everywhere took to their blogs to let us all know how dangerous this kind of attitude can be for anyone with an eating disorder or any kind of weight issues. That it is the same as bullying, that it is nothing more than ‘fat-shaming.’

And three years ago, I would have agreed with them. But then again, three years ago, at 5”1, I was also nearly 200lbs.

I’ve never found weight particularly easy. And by this I don’t mean that I was always fat, as I don’t think that’s true. Photos of me as a kid are pretty standard, and even as a teen, although I distinctly remember feeling bigger than my friends, I wore size 10 (UK) jeans at 16, so I suppose that wasn’t the case either. I mean I have never had a good understanding of what I look like. The scales never seemed to ring true to me, and even when I saw them go higher than my peers, I tended to excuse it as my shape or my curves. Maybe I was right. I was 160 lbs at my wedding, and felt slim and beautiful, even while knowing I had been 20lbs less than that two years previously. I’ve recently had someone look at a wedding photo of me and express surprise by how much larger I was.

Even after I had my son I was sure I had ‘dropped the baby weight’ right away, and yet a year later, I was standing on the scales for the first time in 2 years, shocked that I weighed in at 198 lbs. Wasn’t I still a size 12/14? Yeah, I had bought that size 22 dress, but wasn’t that just so it fit over my bust? I know I got that denim skirt which was a 20, but I’m wearing it low, and some shops just have ridiculous sizing…. don’t they?

Somehow, I had become obese, and even at that point, I didn’t believe it. No one had ever told me. I had definitely said things to test the waters, to compare myself to other people and see what my friends thought, and no one had ever told me I wasn’t just your average curvy girl. I suppose people were embarrassed to point it out to me, they didn’t have the tools or the language to be sure of not upsetting me, they just didn’t know what to say.

I started my weight loss journey, which is still ongoing, but involved losing around 60 lbs over around 18 months. I worked on portion control, food groups, my eating habits-including time of day and self control, exercise, and most importantly, the underlying emotional issues which most overweight people carry around on their person just as often as they might carry a KitKat. No part of me regrets stepping on those scales and being woken up to the reality of what I was doing to myself and my family, and the future I was building for us by letting myself be morbidly overweight. Can someone that is a size 10 be as unhealthy as a size 24? Of course they can, but then you have an obligation to tell them that too. Steve Miller has made a day that perhaps should be called “Tell a friend they’re unhealthy day” but as massive an issue as obesity is in this generation (no pun intended) I can see why he has zeroed in on one clear issue.

So do I think you should randomly walk around on January 7th pointing at everyone with a double chin and yelling out “fatso”?! No, I most certainly don’t. People are more complex than you could imagine, and it takes knowing someone truly well to be able to approach them about such a multi-faceted issue as weight. So maybe the flippant sounding title of the day should be addressed. But if you have a friend who is more than just your average curvy girl, who doesn’t have an underlying physical or emotional disorder, and who has never told you that they know they are fat, who never mentions starting a diet, and describes people far smaller than themselves as larger…. and you care about them enough to worry about their health, is it really so cruel, preposterous or unnecessary to have a quiet and sensitive word?

I wish someone had had one with me.

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August 2011

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April 2014

The Fine Line of Friendship

It would be wrong to say that we’re now not friends any more.

We haven’t been for years.

They say there is a fine line between madness and genius, between love and hate, between pleasure and pain. There’s a blurriness there, A haze where you cant quite tell which state you’re in. I think that happens in friendship too. We definitely used to be friends. Oh yes. I remember that part clearly. Lots of laughter, lots of sharing, lots of making the choice to spend time together, to meet up between classes, to wait for each other after the final bell, to awkwardly save each other a spot on the bus ride home, That familiar sensation of shifting your bag across two seats and hoping no-one else asked to sit down before the other one showed up.

And then school days finished, and it took more effort to see one another. But we made plans, we used the lack of awkwardness when we saw one another as proof of the strength of our friendship. We hardly ever see one another, but when we do-it’s like no time has passed! We never wondered whether that was because we only ever lived in the past, with a brief “how’s the husband, how’s the job?”

How long has it been since you were excited to see me? How long has it been since I didn’t wonder about the benefits of our friendship and weighed up whether seeing you was a ‘worthwhile’ use of my time? It must have been years since you made me feel good about myself, since I got home after a night out feeling refreshed and invigorated rather than beaten down and used. I’m sure the same is true in reverse. I’m not the person you call when you need a shoulder to cry on. I’m not the name you search for on your contacts list to share good news. I’m not the spontaneous night out, the I was just passing by, or even the saw this and thought of you. 

And life is too short for that kind of functional friendship, which survives because of a history of existence rather than continued building and fortification. I’m past the fear that if I let go of friendship I won’t find a replacement. The nervous voice inside me that lies, in whispers of “you cant make new old friends” when the truth is, you can meet a soul mate at any age. So I should thank you really. I’m glad that we don’t have to waste time any more. I’m glad that you made the choice for us. You chose you. You made it clear that I’m not worth fighting for, I’m not worth keeping in your life when you clearly need so much space for yourself.

There’s a fine line between friendship, and not. But the real pretence is in the assumption of loss when you move from one side to the other. The idea that when you cross that line you take on a heaviness or a pain that wasn’t there before. In reality that must come earlier on, almost without you noticing. At some obscure point you quite cant put your finger on, that was the moment of loss. Because now? Moving over that fine line into not caring one bit about you?

I’ve never felt lighter.

Do as I say, not as I do?

I saw a post on a forum recently that made me think. The lady in question was asking for advice on making friends. She is a stay at home mum, and lonely. The friends she does make, she feels like it is only ever her who is making the effort, and they disappear if she stops doing so. She joked, in the way we all do when something is too painful to address head on- that when is she unwell or out of action, the only people to notice are her parents.

We tell our kids to be nice to everyone. We chastise them for leaving someone out in the playground or for excluding one of their peers from a birthday party list or a play date. And when they come home and say that little Jane Smith is not their friend, or remark that they don’t want to play with Billy Jenkins, we are full of ready encouragement to build bridges.

“I’m sure she is lovely when you get to know her”

“It’s not nice to call someone boring. Maybe they were just shy”

“Give him a chance, I’m sure you have lots in common.”

If our children become openly rude, or ignore us, we often resort to threats.

“If you aren’t nice to people, they won’t want to play with you.”

“Remember, you won’t get invited to Sally’s birthday if you don’t invite her to yours. And her mummy says she’s having a Frozen theme…”

But at what point do we change the rules? As adults we readily accept we can’t be friends with everyone. We hoard our free time zealously and portion it out to the creme de la creme of our social circle, the people who make us feel fabulous, who bring out the fun in our lives, the ones who really understand, those who are in sync with what makes us, us.

We might not be as blatant as the average four year old, but don’t we all have our ways of saying ‘you can’t play with us’?

It wasn’t a big deal, I just had a few people over.

Oh, I didn’t see you or of course I would have invited you to join us!

I didn’t know you would be interested in coming with, definitely next time, remind me.

Some of us are nicer than others. We make the small talk, we invite those along who would obviously feel left out or hurt. But at the end of the day, life is busy. We all have kids and jobs and homes and responsibilities, and our time is never our own. We all repeatedly choose one thing or person over another, even down to as simple a choice as whether to call back a friend, or use that precious time for 5 minutes peace and a cup of tea.

I don’t have a judgement to make. Although I have been a victim of it from time to time, generally I’m probably one of the worst culprits of this cliquey behaviour. I make snap judgements about people, I hate it when friends invite a third person along on an outing, regardless of how nice they might or might not be, I just don’t really want new people in my life most of the time. I have zero patience for those that for completely arbitrary reasons get on my nerves, and probably the worst of the list, I don’t dislike any of this about myself. I have no desire to be a nicer person or to be the one who goes out of their way to make the new girl feel welcome.

I just wonder what I will say when I have a 4 or a 5 year old. When R starts deciding he has an opinion on his birthday guest list. Can I in good conscience tell him he has to play nicely with everyone, when I don’t follow my own rules? And why bother anyway, when it’s only a matter of time before he learns the euphemistic language necessary to tell people to go away in a socially acceptable manner.

In fact, maybe I should just teach him that instead.

It’s almost worth it for the day I receive that call from his teacher.

“Mrs Sokolic, your son has told one of the other children that ‘Usually I’d be happy to include you, but we’ve had this game of hide and seek organised for a while now, and I wasn’t the one to set it up…. so….'”

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Let’s Be Honest

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For a brief period during university, I had my only ‘student’ job, face to face fundraising on the streets of London, or as its more commonly (and delightfully) referred to as, charity mugging, or chugging.

It taught me a lot. About the business side of charity, about the psychology of working for a good cause, about the actual charities I was working to raise money for. But most it all, it taught me about lies.

Like many aspects of life, it is best summed up by quoting Chandler from Friends, this time as he explains to his wife: “It’s always better to lie, than to have the complicated discussion. … except with you!”

There is no doubt that lies are convenient. Need to get off the phone? Oh, my battery is dying. Need to get out of an awkward conversation? Hang on, I just remembered I have to meet someone. Forgot to reply? I never received your email.

In psychology, these kind of lies are referred to as ‘Butlers’. They stand between you and the person you are talking to, as a middle man, making the excuses for you,. Lies are essentially buffers so that you don’t have to hurt people’s feelings by telling the truth, which is more often than not simply, “I don’t want to talk to you.” And socially, there isn’t really anything wrong with that. If we went around telling everyone how boring their boyfriend drama was, or how little time we wanted to spend hearing about their kids new nursery…. We wouldn’t have many friends left to lie to.

But these white lies have become human nature. And what surprised me so much as a chugger, was how many times I was lied to daily, and for no social convention whatsoever. After all, I was never going to see these people again. I wasn’t a relative, a friend, or even an acquaintance. We share no mutual friends, I don’t know what area they live in or even their first names. We are as much strangers as you can be with another human (who you actually know exists) and we will probably spend no more than 3 or 4 seconds out of our lives in each other’s company. Additionally, I wasn’t asking them a personal question, or for their opinion on my choice of footwear or my haircut. No one needed to worry about offending me. Fundraisers are very clearly working, and while often need the sign ups quite desperately to hold onto their jobs, are rarely if ever personally offended by the 99% of people who keep on walking by. (To put this into perspective, if we achieved around 4 or 5 sign ups between 10am-6pm, the day was considered extremely successful.)

And yet without any understandable psychology behind it, 9/10 times people choose to lie. So let’s put aside all the BS for a minute and just be completely honest. I’m off duty, I’m out of the fundraising game, and to be really straight with you- I just don’t care. But whether you are reading this on a tablet or a phone, or on a computer or a laptop, at home or at work, here is a fact. The amount may vary from household to household, but we can all afford to donate per month to any given charity.

You just don’t want to.

We said it! It has been said. We’d rather have the beer with our mates, the coffee with a friend, the subscription to the magazine, the cleaner or the childcare or the wrap from the cafe across the street. In some rare cases, it may take more of a sacrifice, but we still choose to have the extra item on the grocery shop or the variation in our wardrobe choices.

And here’s the amazing thing, no one cares! No one minds. In fact, everyone agrees! We all make choices about our money and where we want it to go. These are all totally reasonable choices, necessities or extras alike. We all believe that we should treat ourselves, or our kids or friends, often before we look elsewhere. And every human on the planet weighs up whether something is a good enough cause to be worthy of our time and certainly of our money. After all, the greatest philanthropist in the world does not give arbitrarily to anyone who asks.

Everyone has their own personal soft spots, myself included. (I wouldn’t go giving me any kind of precious object to look after for example, without being aware I may well pawn it at some point to buy a homeless teenage boy a three course meal.) I am clearly not a cruel heartless person. But I will freely admit here in front of all my millions of avid readers, that I would rather go to Starbucks than save any kind of animal species on a monthly basis. If you stop me in the street and expect me to start welling up as you tell me about abandoned puppies, you have severely misjudged your audience. I am already planning on asking for extra hazelnut syrup.

And before I had worked in face to face fundraising, I probably would have done exactly what you do. Pick up an imaginary phone call, bark out that I’m late for a meeting, tell the fundraiser that I would stop and talk to them on my way back down the road. Or on the off chance that they got me in conversation for more than those few seconds, argue that I really couldn’t afford even £2 a week, which was such a shame as it sounded like an excellent cause. I would look it up on the internet when I got home, and discuss it with my other half. Did they have a brochure or a card?

Now, I save us both some time and say something revolutionary. “No thank you.” If I’ve started talking too early and don’t have to break my stride I may add, “I’d be wasting your time.”

It costs nothing, it doesn’t offend, and best of all-it’s the truth.

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Do you need to see my tax return?

Advice please faceless crowd of the Internet. I’ve offended someone, and although I’m certainly not to blame, I’d love to try and help her if I can. My friend has approached me, armed verbatim with various comments I’ve made recently, and she’s hurt and annoyed.

As long as I’ve known her, she’s wanted to be a career woman. She worked hard in high school, studied the relevant subjects, got into a great university, got a fantastic degree, completed various summer work experiences, and obtained the certificates necessary to practise her vocation. Then began the hunt for a job.

She called me one night a few months ago, excited. She had just heard about an interview opportunity in her field. “I’m sending off the application now” she bubbled. “Hmm” I replied. “How much does that pay?” In hindsight, she deflated, and mumbled a reply. I wished her good luck, although apparently by focusing on the money I wasn’t being supportive.

Another time, she told me about some temping she was doing, picking up the odd shift here and there, honing her skills, working from home, making contacts. I was baffled. “But what are you DOING all day?” I asked genuinely. I mean come on, how can it be a REAL job if it isn’t 9-5 in an office right? That one wasn’t my fault. She’s just being over sensitive.

I didn’t see her for a while after that, and then our paths crossed at a social function. After catching her up with my life, the drudgery of finding childcare and commuting and never seeing my spouse, I asked her how her work was going? Had she found a job yet? She seemed nervous to talk about it, but told me she had a few different part time jobs going on, working for various different employers, bit of this bit of that. She told me it gave her the chance to see her kids, be home for her spouse in the evenings, make time for friends and hobbies, and that she’d never been happier.
Not wanting her to feel bad about her clearly flailing employment status, I smiled. “As long as you’re keeping yourself busy eh?” I sympathised, hoping for her sake that one of her ‘part time’ dabblings would become something concrete at last.

Later that week, I saw an admin job advertised online, and kindly sent her the link. Full time, in a proper office, with proper holiday days and benefits. Minimum wage, but beggars can’t be choosers eh? I thought she would be delighted to have someone in her corner, showing her what she was capable of if she just took the plunge into the real working world.

Now she’s sent me this email, telling me I’ve been condescending, patronising, unsupportive, rude even! But how can she call herself a professional? She never knows how much work she will have from one month to the next, she never knows how much she will be paid, she doesn’t even have real colleagues, or a desk to call her own. Sometimes she’s clearly so unfulfilled that she even works for free. But not ‘real volunteering’ for a charity or something worthwhile. She just obviously isn’t good enough at her job yet to deserve being paid.

I feel terrible for her. I’m trying not to take her harsh words to heart, as I’m sure it mainly comes from jealousy, and maybe some embarrassment that I’ve seen through the brave face she puts on when we meet.

A tragic story, I’m sure you’ll agree. And entirely not my fault.

Any leads for her gratefully received, so she can finally give up this “writing thing,” and get a real job.