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What Are Friends For?
■ Marion Winik
Marion Winik is a poet, freelance writer,
radio commentator, and writer of essays. She
was born in 1958 in New York City and
grew up on the New Jersey shore. A graduate
of Brown University in 1978, she earned her
MFA from Brooklyn College in 1983. Her
first literary efforts were two books of poetry
published by small presses: Nonstop (1981)
and BoyCrazy (1986). After being contacted
by a literary agent, Winik published Telling (1994), her first col- lection of essays, some of which were previously published in Texas Quarterly, Parenting, American Way, the Austin Chronicle, and the Houston Chronicle. She wrote about her marriage to her husband, Tony, who died of AIDS in First Comes Love (1996), which became a New York Times Notable Book for that year. She followed it with an account of life as a single mom, The Lunch-Box Chronicles: Notes from the Parenting Underground (1998), and a book of advice, Rules for the Unruly: Living an Unconventional Life (2001). Her last two books are another col- lection of her essays, Above Us the Sky (2005), and a book of very short essays in which she remembers people important in her life, The Glen Rock Book of the Dead (2008).
In the following essay, first published in Telling (1994), Winik classifies her friends, among them Buddies, Relative Friends, Faraway Friends, Friends You Love to Hate, and Hero Friends.
Reflecting on What You Know
Think about your friends. Do you regard them all in the same light? Would you group them in any way? If so, on what basis would you group them?
Iwas thinking about how everybody can’t be everything to each other, 1 but some people can be something to each other, thank God, from
the ones whose shoulder you cry on to the ones whose half-slips you borrow to the nameless ones you chat with in the grocery line.
Winik / What Are Friends For? 471
Buddies, for example, are the workhorses of the friendship 2 world, the people out there on the front lines, defending you from loneliness and boredom. They call you up, they listen to your com- plaints, they celebrate your successes and curse your misfortunes, and you do the same for them in return. They hold out through in- numerable crises before concluding that the person you’re dating is
no good, and even then understand if you ignore their good coun- sel. They accompany you to a movie with subtitles or to see the div- ing pig at Aquarena Springs. They feed your cat when you are out of town and pick you up from the airport when you get back. They come over to help you decide what to wear on a date. Even if it is with that creep.
What about family members? Most of them are people you just 3 got stuck with, and though you love them, you may not have very much in common. But there is that rare exception, the Relative Friend. It is your cousin, your brother, maybe even your aunt. The two of you share the same views of the other family members. Meg never should have divorced Martin. He was the best thing that ever happened to her. You can confirm each other’s memories of things that happened a long time ago. Don’t you remember when Uncle Hank and Daddy had that awful fight in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner? Grandma always hated Grandpa’s stamp collection; she probably left the window open during the hurricane on purpose.
While so many family relationships are tinged with guilt and ob- 4 ligation, a relationship with a Relative Friend is relatively worry-free. You don’t even have to hide your vices from this delightful person. When you slip out Aunt Joan’s back door for a cigarette, she is already there.
Then there is that special guy at work. Like all the other people 5 at the job site, at first he’s just part of the scenery. But gradually he starts to stand out from the crowd. Your friendship is cemented by jokes about co-workers and thoughtful favors around the office. Did you see Ryan’s hair? Want half my bagel? Soon you know the names
of his turtles, what he did last Friday night, exactly which model CD player he wants for his birthday. His handwriting is as familiar to you
as your own.
Though you invite each other to parties, you somehow don’t 6 quite fit into each other’s outside lives. For this reason, the friend- ship may not survive a job change. Company gossip, once an infal- lible source of entertainment, soon awkwardly accentuates the
472 CHAPTER 18–DIVISION AND CLASSIFICATION
distance between you. But wait. Like School Friends, Work Friends share certain memories which acquire a nostalgic glow after about a decade.
A Faraway Friend is someone you grew up with or went to school 7 with or lived in the same town as until one of you moved away. Without a Faraway Friend, you would never get any mail addressed in handwriting. A Faraway Friend calls late at night, invites you to her wedding, always says she is coming to visit but rarely shows up. An actual visit from a Faraway Friend is a cause for celebration and binges of all kinds. Cigarettes, Chips Ahoy, bottles of tequila.
Faraway Friends go through phases of intense communication, 8 then may be out of touch for many months. Either way, the connec- tion is always there. A conversation with your Faraway Friend al- ways helps to put your life in perspective: when you feel you’ve hit a dead end, come to a confusing fork in the road, or gotten lost in some crackerbox subdivision of your life, the advice of the Faraway Friend—who has the big picture, who is so well acquainted with the route that brought you to this place—is indispensable.
Another useful function of the Faraway Friend is to help you re- 9 member things from a long time ago, like the name of your seventh- grade history teacher, what was in that really good stir-fry, or exactly what happened that night on the boat with the guys from Florida.
Ah, the Former Friend. A sad thing. At best a wistful memory, at 10 worst a dangerous enemy who is in possession of many of your deep-
est secrets. But what was it that drove you apart? A misunder- standing, a betrayed confidence, an unrepaid loan, an ill-conceived flirtation. A poor choice of spouse can do in a friendship just like that. Going into business together can be a serious mistake. Time, money, distance, cult religions: all noted friendship killers. . . .
And lest we forget, there are the Friends You Love to Hate. They 11 call at inopportune times. They say stupid things. They butt in, they boss you around, they embarrass you in public. They invite them- selves over. They take advantage. You’ve done the best you can, but they need professional help. On top of all this, they love you to death and are convinced they’re your best friend on the planet.
So why do you continue to be involved with these people? Why 12 do you tolerate them? On the contrary, the real question is, What would you do without them? Without Friends You Love to Hate, there would be nothing to talk about with your other friends. Their problems and their irritating stunts provide a reliable source of
Winik / What Are Friends For? 473
conversation for everyone they know. What’s more, Friends You Love to Hate make you feel good about yourself, since you are obviously in so much better shape than they are. No matter what these people do, you will never get rid of them. As much as they need you, you need them too.
At the other end of the spectrum are Hero Friends. These people 13 are better than the rest of us, that’s all there is to it. Their career is something you wanted to be when you grew up—painter, forest ranger, tireless doer of good. They have beautiful homes filled with special handmade things presented to them by villagers in the remote areas they have visited in their extensive travels. Yet they are modest. They never gossip. They are always helping others, especially those who have suffered a death in the family or an illness. You would think people like this would just make you sick, but somehow they don’t.
A New Friend is a tonic unlike any other. Say you meet her at a 14 party. In your bowling league. At a Japanese conversation class, per- haps. Wherever, whenever, there’s that spark of recognition. The first time you talk, you can’t believe how much you have in common. Suddenly, your life story is interesting again, your insights fresh, your opinion valued. Your various shortcomings are as yet completely invisible.
It’s almost like falling in love. 15
Thinking Critically about This Reading
Is Winik talking about classifying both female and male friends in her essay, is she speaking only of female friends, or is it difficult to deter- mine whom her subjects are? Support your answer with evidence from the essay.
Questions for Study and Discussion
- How does Winik’s opening paragraph set up her division and classification? (Glossary: Beginnings and Endings)
- What is Winik’s purpose in this essay? (Glossary: Purpose)
- How does Winik illustrate the types of friends she presents?(Glossary: Illustration)
- Why do Friends You Love to Hate need you as much as you need them?
CHAPTER 18–DIVISION AND CLASSIFICATION
What are the special virtues of a New Friend?
What is Winik’s tone in this essay? Is it appropriate to her pur-
pose? Explain. (Glossary: Tone)
Classroom Activity Using Division and Classification
The drawing on page 475 is a basic exercise in classification. By de- termining the features the figures have in common, establish the gen- eral class to which they belong. Next, establish subclasses by determining the distinctive features that distinguish one subclass from another. Finally, place each figure in an appropriate subclass within your classification system. You may wish to compare your system with those developed by other members of your class and to discuss any differences that exist.
Suggested Writing Assignments
- Review the categories of friends Winik establishes in her essay. Do the categories apply to your friends? What new categories would you create? Write an essay in which you explain the types of friends in your life.
- In her essay, Winik appears to focus on the types of friendships between women. (Glossary: Focus) What about friendships be- tween men, one of which is represented in the cartoon on page 476? What statement does the cartoon make about the nature of men’s friendships? (Glossary: Comparison and Contrast) Using Winik’s essay as a model, write an essay in which you divide and classify the friendships that you as a man have with other men or that you observe men to have. Interview others, if you find it necessary.
- Music can be classified into many different types (such as jazz, country, pop, rock, soul, rap, classical, big band, western, blues, gospel). Each of these large classifications has a lot of variety within it. Write an essay in which you identify your favorite type of music as well as at least three subclassifications of that music. Explain the characteristics of each category, and use two or three artists and their songs as examples.
Winik / What Are Friends For? 475
476 CHAPTER 18–DIVISION AND CLASSIFICATION
REAL LIFE ADVENTURES © 1998 GarLanco. Reprinted with permission of UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE. All rights reserved.