family, musings

On being a black sheep who isn’t missed…

This is kind of a depressing post… but although I wrote it a few years ago, I found myself saying almost the exact same things last night. And although we had a fun evening at the wine stand, I started thinking about this stuff that I probably shouldn’t. I also think I need to see a doctor… but I can’t bring myself to make an appointment. The thought of seeing a doctor fills me with dread and anxiety. And, to be honest, I also don’t really feel like I’m worth the effort. Just the idea of asking for an appointment and getting there seems overwhelming and pointless. I worry that it will set off a cascade of other appointments that I don’t want to deal with. I probably feel this way because of the way I was treated when I was a lot younger.

For much of my existence, I’ve gotten the message from various important people in my life that who I am isn’t okay.  I was always too loud, too opinionated, laughed too much, weighed too much, said too many weird things, overshared too much, offended too much, and simply needed to be taught how to be a lady of some sort.  Many of the people who shared this message with me, either verbally or non-verbally, were close relatives.

I don’t know what Joanna Connor’s life is like, but I relate to her.  I suspect people have the same opinion about her they did about Susan Boyle, before they heard her sing… and the way some people do about me before they get to know me.

The most hurtful messages came from my own father, who often criticized me.  More than once, he left me with the message that no man would find me attractive and I would never make more than minimum wage.  Then, sometimes he’d reverse that comment and say I was “good looking” (after assuring me that he didn’t have to say that even though he was my dad) and, sometimes with surprise, he’d say I was smart.  Although I do remember a few times when he genuinely seemed proud of me and my accomplishments, other times, he acted like I was an embarrassment and a huge pain in his ass.  

Far from having a protective attitude toward me, my dad sometimes actually put me in danger.  I still have physical scars formed in childhood that were a direct result of his boneheaded decisions.  I have a deep scar on my left arm caused when he forced ten year old me to use a box cutter to break down cardboard boxes.  I wasn’t very adept at using the box cutter.  It’s not like he gave me a safety lecture beforehand.  Before long, there was an accident.  The blade slipped from the cardboard and punctured clean through all of the layers of skin on my arm.  I should have gotten stitches, but he didn’t bother to take me to the hospital.  I said I didn’t want to go, and he didn’t insist.

A couple of years after that, my dad took me bike riding.  He wore a helmet and I didn’t.  I had a pretty bad accident when my tires hit some gravel on the side of a busy road (Rt. 14, for Gloucester people who know the roads).  I fell and slid on the pavement, in front of several cars.  I got road rash, sprained a pinky, and had gashes on my face and legs.  I still have a three inch linear scar on the back of my thigh caused by the large sprocket on my bike cutting into my skin.  A nice lady picked me up in her car, while another passerby put my bike in their truck and drove me home. 

Dad rode home on his bike and, once again, neglected to take me to the hospital, even though I had also hit my head.  The next day was the first day of school and I went, looking and feeling terrible.  I remember I made a bad decision to wear an angora sweater.  Little hairs from the sweater were stuck to the huge road rash I had on my side.  There were other situations like this, where I was either neglected or forced to do things that weren’t age or experience appropriate.  I suffered the consequences while simultaneously hearing that I hadn’t been wanted and was a source of shame.    

I also think my dad was very jealous of the fact that I can sing.  In fact, I think he sometimes tried to compete with me.  Like, for instance, in 1998, when I decided to start studying voice privately again, he decided to take lessons from the same person.  He’d bring my mom to his lessons.  When I left the area to go to graduate school, he quit the lessons.

When I first told my dad about Bill, he made jokes about the fact that Bill was LDS.  In fact, everyone in my immediate family seemed to have doubts that I could be dating a really nice, good looking, gainfully employed man.  They also seemed concerned about my competence in picking my own mate.  I got comments from family members who said things like, “I’m surprised at how cute Bill is.” and “Are you sure you want to be dating an Army guy?”  More than once, I heard from my sisters about how unhappy my mom was as an Air Force wife.  They apparently wondered if I had considered her unhappiness when I made the decision to marry Bill.  

Evidently, despite seven years of post graduate education and two years spent living abroad, I wasn’t competent to think about these potential issues.  My mom was nineteen years old when she married my dad.  I was thirty when I married Bill.  Curiously, I don’t remember anyone in my family being concerned about Bill’s psycho ex, who has been the real source of any discontent I’ve experienced (and it’s been pretty minimal, actually).  Later, after we did get married, they mostly seemed to like Bill better than me.  Especially, my dad, who toward the end of his life, clearly preferred Bill’s company to mine.  I don’t blame him for that.  Most people prefer Bill to me.  I’d rather spend time with Bill than almost anyone else, myself.

Later, I’d hear criticism about how Bill and I spent our money (Are you sure you can afford a Mini Cooper?), my looks (Oh my God, you’ve gained weight), my behavior at age 30 (You’re causing a disturbance!), and how I spent my time (Why don’t you get a job while Bill is deployed for six months?).  Sometimes, family members would try to manipulate me into doing things instead of making respectful requests (How long does it take to drive from Atlanta to Durham, North Carolina?).  This was a question I was asked by a sister who felt she knew how I spend my time and wanted me to hop in the car, drive to North Carolina, split a hotel room with another sister, and put in an appearance at my dad’s hospital bedside so she’d feel less guilty about living in Minnesota, where plane tickets and time off from work are too dear.  Instead of asking me directly, she tried to be manipulative.  When I called her on it, she got nasty and accused me of being selfish.  

I’d also get criticized for the things I wanted to talk about beyond trivial subjects like the weather (Why do you always have to talk about such personal things?) or the way I dressed (Why don’t you put on some makeup and fix your hair?  Wear something nicer than what you have on?).  Often, when I’d call home to talk to my mom, I could tell she wasn’t interested.  Then, they wondered why I didn’t want to spend time with them and quit calling home so often.  Oh… and a lot of people in my family hate the way I laugh.  My dad said I sounded like a witch.  My sisters said my laugh sounded fake.  Even my grandmother complained about my laughter, which I will admit is distinctive.  I can’t help it, though.

As I got older, I started to recognize the same attitudes I got from my immediate family expressed more subtly by my dad’s side of the family.  Most of them are Christian Republicans who engage in very black and white thinking.  I didn’t used to notice it because I was surrounded by it all the time.  Then I moved away and started getting to know other people outside of the family.  It changed my thinking and a lot of my previous attitudes.  I started clashing with certain people in my family.  Others just simply seemed to stop talking to me.  In fact, the last time I went “home”, I literally felt like a stranger.  Like… there were family members who literally didn’t seem to recognize me.  Who wants to spend thousands of dollars on a plane ticket and hours of uncomfortable time on a plane to be treated like that?   

Some time ago, I noticed that a beloved cousin of mine, close to my age and someone I used to play with when we were little kids, kept commenting and responding to posts by other family members.  But she ignored me.  Like, I’d see her “like” something posted by one of my sisters or even one of their friends, but I never got so much as a “fuck you” from her.  It made me feel shitty to have to keep seeing that.  It’s not even like it could have even been a “two way street” situation, since she clearly looks at social media, but doesn’t post anything herself.  Or maybe she has me restricted.  In any case, repeatedly seeing her respond to other family members’ posts and not mine made me feel bad, so I decided to delete her.  It wasn’t easy to do that, but I think it was the right decision.  In fact, I doubt she’ll miss me.  

I deleted another cousin for whom I’ve had some hard feelings for a long while.  Some years ago, I discovered she inexplicably had me blocked on Facebook.  I’d see her at family events and she’d be nice to my face, but then I’d notice some shittiness leaking out that she thought she’d kept well-hidden.  In this case, I think it’s yet another situation where there’s some jealousy and insecurity.  Like me, she’s a musician and used to be the only “singer” in the family.  I sense she resents that I am also a female musical type and, while I don’t play guitar or write songs like she does, I have a much better singing voice.  That sounds like bragging… and you know what?  I don’t really care.  It’s the truth.  (ETA: I wrote this in 2018. This cousin died in 2020. I don’t miss her.)

A few years ago, when my dad was on his death bed, this same cousin, who once had me blocked, re-friended me on Facebook.  It didn’t take long before I began to realize that she mainly did it because my dad was her uncle and I was the most active Facebook poster in my immediate family.  It was like she wanted in on this particular chapter of family drama– to make a show of caring, probably because she thinks it’s the “Christian” thing to do.  I soon realized that even though she’s my cousin, she doesn’t like me.  And frankly, the feeling is mutual.  If we weren’t relatives, I definitely wouldn’t choose to be friends with her.

There were a couple of other cousins and relatives by marriage I deleted mainly because of a total lack of engagement or a subtle air of disapproval.  They’d become names on a friends list rather than “loved ones”.  A few years ago, I deleted a couple of cousins because they refused to do anything but argue with me about politics.  They weren’t interested in anything else.  Or they’d post smarmy, condescending bullshit about my being “loved and respected” while they proceeded to insult my intelligence. 

For instance, one cousin wanted to know what my master’s degree in public health (with a health administration focus) has to do with knowing how health insurance works.  He insisted that his time as a former life insurance agent meant he knows more about health insurance than I do, despite my having an advanced degree in the subject.  I certainly wouldn’t discount his experience and basic knowledge about how insurance works, since he used to sell it, but why couldn’t he acknowledge that I also have knowledge of the subject?  Maybe he’s just one of those people who thinks college is for chumps.  But you’d think he could at least recognize that I do know something about health insurance.  I didn’t buy my degree from a diploma mill.  My guess is that he sees me as a simple female, which automatically makes me inherently dumber than he is.  

For years, I’ve tried to be a bigger person about this stuff.  I’ve ignored subtle disses from family members.  Except on this blog, I’ve not really acknowledged that no one from my family of origin values any input from me.  I’ve tried to detach from the drama and mostly tried not to take things personally.  I think I’ve finally just gotten to the point at which I’m ready to be done with the stupidity.  Maybe there will be no one at my funeral.  Maybe I won’t even have a funeral. 

It makes me sad to see people with loving family relationships because I don’t really have any myself.  What I’ve had is basically a facade of a loving family.  Underneath that facade is the unspoken message that in order to fit in, I need to change who I am.  I’ve tried to do that and it just leads to major depression and anxiety.  So I’ve decided that the picture below is my new motto.  

Seriously… because a lot of the stuff that pisses me off is stuff that shouldn’t matter.  It’s better to cut bait and be done with it… and them.

I’m done with swallowing criticism from other people, especially those who aren’t even involved in my life.  From now on, I’m going to do what I want to do.  It may mean I’m done with attending all family events, once and for all.  But, I’ve had it.  I live thousands of miles away and it costs a lot of money and time to visit my relatives.  They don’t value my presence in their lives, so fuck them.  I’m going to spend time with people who actually want to spend time with me.  So far, that seems to be mostly Bill and my dogs.    

You probably have to go to YouTube to listen to this, but this song pretty much sums up how I feel today…

And here are the lyrics by James Taylor… a man who knows the trouble I’ve seen.

I was raised up family, man, I’m glad I’m on my own.
I was raised up family, man, I’m glad I’m on my own.
I mean, God bless the child that can learn to live alone, yeah.

Thinking about my cousin, what it was that did him in.
Could it have been that whiskey, rotgut, bootleg, bathtub gin?
It’s like it took a lot of liquor just to let him live in his own skin.

Back in Raleigh, North Carolina, you got to ride it on back in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The ship set down on the shore of this uncharted desert island,
me and my people fanned out, I guess we settled down a little while.
Ah, but the devil came with the dark days of winter, man, the children ran wild.

I used to know why, no, I don’t know why anymore.
I used to know why, no, I don’t know why no more.

I get to wonder at the Kundalini thunder, down under my floor.

You got to ride it on back, take me back.
Back in Raleigh, North Carolina, yeah, do you wanna go?
Way back in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Well… in my case, it’s Natural Bridge, Virginia.  But you get the idea.

Standard
family, modern problems, politics

Nothing says “I love you” like a thirteen year old falsely attributed email forward…

I still have a bit of writer’s block today… Well, maybe I don’t have writer’s block per se. There’s a lot I could write about. I just don’t feel like getting into what’s on everyone’s minds right now. I would rather complain about something else. Today’s topic is not as much of a problem as it once was. In some ways it’s a relief. In other ways, it’s kinda sad. The title of today’s post is recycled, but the content is mostly fresh.

I grew up with a large, extended family on my dad’s side. I have three sisters, and we all have the same parents. My sisters are much older than I am, though, so in some ways, they seemed more like my aunts. My father had eight brothers and sisters, and seven of them made it to adulthood. My aunts and uncles each had either 2 or 4 children, so there are 22 grandchildren– 11 males and 11 females.

When I was growing up, I thought I had a really awesome family. And, I guess I do… except for the fact that I feel like I no longer belong. Looking back on it, though, I realize that I probably never really belonged. I used to fight with my younger cousins a lot. Now that we’re adults, I’ve found that I’m a lot more liberal than most of my family members are. I didn’t used to be this way. I used to identify as a Republican. I now realize that was because I didn’t know a thing about politics or politicians. I simply voted the way my family and a lot of my friends did. It took leaving the nest to find my own views. And it’s taken several more years for me to have the conviction and confidence to defend my opinions. Sadly, I think that’s taken a toll on some of my relationships.

At least I’m not getting so many of these anymore. Even my more enlightened family members sometimes sent these.

Today’s blog post title was originally used on a post I wrote in 2016 about certain members of my extended family mindlessly sending me falsely attributed emails that parroted their conservative views. On the original post, I wrote about how one of my favorite relatives, now sadly deceased, had sent me an email supposedly written by the late Andy Rooney. I grew up watching Mr. Rooney on 60 Minutes. He was famously cranky, curmudgeonly, and witty. Sometimes, he had controversial opinions. Still, I couldn’t believe that Andy Rooney would have written an email that espoused the racist views in the email sent to me by my relatives. I checked Snopes, and sure enough, my hunch was correct.

In my 2016 post, I wrote that I was sad for a couple of reasons that I had received that forwarded email. Rooney was a talented writer and expressed himself gracefully.  Would he have really written something along the lines of “It doesn’t take a whole village to raise a child right, but it does take a parent to stand up to the kid and smack their little ass when necessary and say ‘NO.’?” And even if Andy Rooney had written the email and did agree with its sentiments, why on earth would people in my family think I would appreciate or agree with that tripe? I figured they must not know me very well. I wrote:

I could sit here and dissect that email forward for its very hateful messages.  Instead, I’m just going to make a comment to the people who actually know me and follow this blog (or the other two).  First of all, I am not a political conservative.  I don’t agree with a lot of conservative views.  I am probably more of a centrist than anything else.  While I am generally not a fan of political correctness being forced down people’s throats and I place a high value on the freedom of expression, I also appreciate civility and empathy.  I try really hard not to be cruel to people, even when I feel angry enough to be cruel.  While I would never say that I’m a bleeding heart liberal, neither am I a crusty conservative.  And I would never align myself with the attitude presented in the email forward I received last night.

What really surprises me is that the people who forwarded that email to me are a couple of my favorite relatives.  They have always been good to me… probably even better to me than my own parents ever were.  They are genuinely kind to everyone.  I hesitate to send a negative response to them, even in a loving tone, because despite hating the constant forwarded emails, I do love them very much and don’t want to offend them, even though they’ve offended me.  I respect them as my elders and as people who helped make me who I am. 

I ended my post wondering what I should do. I didn’t want to be offensive, but that email was offensive to me. It didn’t speak to me. And while I’m sure I could have crafted a kind response to them and a request not to mindlessly forward conservative political bullshit to me, I’m not sure that would have been received in a spirit of fun or goodwill. I wrote this in my 2016 post:

Part of me thinks it’s easiest to just ignore and delete the emails.  Another part of me feels like I should say something about them.  I’m torn between not wanting to upset people and feeling like I need to call bullshit.  I wonder if it’s worth the hassle and if my saying anything would change anything.  It’s not that I don’t want to hear from my family members.  It’s just that 99.9% of the forwards, even if they aren’t hateful and racist, are just plain useless and/or stupid.

I have heard people say that when you get a forwarded email from someone, you should take it as a sign they were thinking of you.  If that’s true, how am I supposed to take it when I get an email that really doesn’t connect with my beliefs or world view at all?  And it’s not even something my relative wrote from the heart– it’s ripped off crap written by some anonymous identity thieving hack.  If I had received an original email from a family member that contained the same sentiments in the so-called Andy Rooney hack job, I probably still wouldn’t appreciate it much.  But at least I’d know the email was somewhat original and written for me.  I would at least have a sign that the family member was communicating with me personally and not just poking me with rehashed crap that has already been spread to the masses.  What the hell is the point of forwarding shit that has been forwarded ad nauseam for over a decade and identified as not being authentic?

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I’ve been trained to be “nice”. I grew up with a father who believed in “smacking my ‘little’ ass” whenever he felt it was warranted. Of course, when he did that, he was usually angry and sometimes intoxicated. So his judgment about whether or not physical discipline was required was probably a bit skewed. The end result was that when my father died in 2014, I was kind of ambivalent. If I’m honest, I have to admit that I don’t miss him very much, even though I thought I loved him when he was alive.

Yesterday, Bill and I were talking about his dad, who died last November. I never got a chance to know my father-in-law well. I saw him in person a handful of times. I always thought he was a nice man, albeit a little bit simple. I say “simple”, but that doesn’t mean I think he was “simple-minded”. He was just not one to fuss with complexities. He had a tendency to be nice to a fault, and he let people steamroll him… to include Bill’s ex wife. He didn’t know Bill that well, because he and Bill’s mom divorced when Bill was very young. Bill visited his dad, but due to the nature of visitation, it was hard for them to bond or have a relationship in which there was more than a “vacation” mindset. Then Bill’s mom moved to Arizona and later, Texas, while Bill’s dad lived in Tennessee. So that made it even harder for them to really bond.

Bill missed his father’s funeral, thanks to COVID-19. He did manage to tell him he loved him, thanks to Skype. Bill’s dad’s last words were a request for Bill to be kind to his wife, Bill’s stepmother. The one thing Bill’s dad said to me, during the few times I met him, was that Bill had exceeded his expectations. He said that he hadn’t thought Bill was tough enough to be in the Army. But Bill had proven him wrong. I think he meant it as an expression of pride, but it was actually kind of a backhanded compliment. But at least Bill’s dad wasn’t a believer in physical violence to get his point across, as my father was. I wish they had known each other better before time ran out.

Ain’t it the truth… and it sometimes takes awhile before people get the message.

Nowadays, I don’t get those forwards from my relatives. What ended up happening is that another relative went way too far. And I got really mad and cussed him out. It happened in February 2017, when Bill and I were vacationing in France. My uncle sent a pro Trump/Pence forward to me. Feeling a bit saucy, and more than a little fed up by the constant political bullshit, I sent a polite response. Seriously, it initially WAS polite. I simply wrote back that I wasn’t impressed with either Trump or Pence and thought they both needed to go. In a blog post from that time, I wrote this:

My uncle came back and accused me of being a “nut case”.  He said that in two years, I’ll be “cheering” for Trump.  He assumes I voted for Hillary Clinton.  I didn’t vote for Mrs. Clinton, but I would much prefer her to Trump.  At least she’s competent and knows enough not to act like a goddamn psychopath on Twitter. 

So anyway, being called a nutcase by my uncle pissed me the fuck right off.  So I wrote back to him and said, “No, Ed, I really will not [be cheering].  You need to stop sending me this crap.  Unless you want a verbal ass kicking, you’ll take me off your email list.” 

My sister saw what I wrote and said, “Oh no, now you’ve done it.”  I explained to her that I’m rapidly reaching a point at which I am about to disassociate with people who resort to mean spirited personal insults over politics, even if it’s a family member.  She implored me to calm down, probably realizing that since I live overseas and don’t miss anyone, it would be all too easy for me to simply drop out of the family fold altogether.

He responded and once again called me crazy.  He also said “GET OVER IT!”  Just like that.

I wonder, does he really expect me to just “get over it”?  He knows where I come from.  I have a lot of the same qualities he has.  In fact, being outspoken is what makes me a family member of his. 

Anyway… I wrote back and said, “Ed, I’m warning you.  Leave me alone.  Stop sending me political bullshit.”

He may write back today, after he’s had a few belts.  If he does, I will probably shred him.

As I recall, Ed did send me a few more political emails, but there were fewer of them. And now I don’t get so many anymore, partly because some of the worst offenders are now dead. And partly because I finally got angry and told the still living ones to knock it off. But now I don’t really hear much from them anymore…

Yesterday, I told Bill that I still love my family, but I don’t feel like I can go home again. I don’t think I want to spend a holiday with them like I used to, when I was younger and more pliant. The political forwards weren’t always bad, though. Sometimes, they inspired me to be creative. My uncle sent me the below forwarded poem back in January 2018. Try not to gag (even though of COURSE I honor our vets– I am married to one).

Re: Fwd: Fw: A TERRIFIC POEM /Our Vets.

I’m honored to have the opportunity to pass this well-written poem along.

He was getting old and paunchy
And his hair was falling fast,
And he sat around the Legion,
Telling stories of the past.

Of a war that he once fought in
And the deeds that he had done,
In his exploits with his buddies;
They were heroes, every one.

And ‘tho sometimes to his neighbors
His tales became a joke,
All his buddies listened quietly
For they knew where of he spoke.

But we’ll hear his tales no longer,
For ol’ Joe has passed away,
And the world’s a little poorer
For a Veteran died today.

He won’t be mourned by many,
Just his children and his wife.
For he lived an ordinary,
Very quiet sort of life.

He held a job and raised a family,
Going quietly on his way;
And the world won’t note his passing,
‘Tho a Veteran died today.

When politicians leave this earth,
Their bodies lie in state,
While thousands note their passing,
And proclaim that they were great.

Papers tell of their life stories
From the time that they were young,
But the passing of a Veteran
Goes unnoticed, and unsung.

Is the greatest contribution
To the welfare of our land,
Some jerk who breaks his promise
And cons his fellow man?

Or the ordinary fellow
Who in times of war and strife,
Goes off to serve his country
And offers up his life?

The politician’s stipend
And the style in which he lives,
Are often disproportionate,
To the service that he gives.

While the ordinary Veteran,
Who offered up his all,
Is paid off with a medal
And perhaps a pension, small.

It is not the politicians
With their compromise and ploys,
Who won for us the freedom
That our country now enjoys.

Should you find yourself in danger,
With your enemies at hand,
Would you really want some cop-out,
With his ever-waffling stand?

Or would you want a Veteran
His home, his country, his kin,
Just a common Veteran,
Who would fight until the end.

He was just a common Veteran,
And his ranks are growing thin,
But his presence should remind us
We may need his likes again.

For when countries are in conflict,
We find the Veteran’s part,
Is to clean up all the troubles
That the politicians start.

If we cannot do him honor
While he’s here to hear the praise,
Then at least let’s give him homage
At the ending of his days.

Perhaps just a simple headline
In the paper that might say:
“OUR COUNTRY IS IN MOURNING,
A VETERAN DIED TODAY.”

PLEASE,
If you are proud of our Vets, then pass this on.

I was so tired of my uncle’s conservative political forwards that I decided to rewrite this “well-written” poem… I don’t remember if I sent it to him. I probably didn’t, since I was trained to be “nice”.

He was getting old and senile
And his mind was failing fast,
Uncle Ed sat by his computer,
Sending emails from the past.
 
Of politicians he agreed with
And decisions they had made,
Of their exploits within Washington;
Slashing Social Security and Medicaid.
 
And ‘tho to some of his relatives
Ed’s emails were mostly bunk,
They resolved to just ignore them
Cuz’ they figured he was drunk.
 
Sometimes the emails are racist
and often they offend,
And my mood’s a little poorer
when Uncle Ed hits “send”.

He’s worked and raised a family,
And managed his travails;
Yet on the day he passes,
I’ll only recall his emails.
 
Although I’ve always loved him,
his children, and his wife.
I tire of his political bullshit;
which often causes strife.

For many politicians are selfish,
And people think they’re fake,
Others forecast their passing,
And the policies they’ll make.
 
The media tells how their choices
Badly affect the old and the young,
And the way they screw the veterans
Goes unnoticed, and unsung.
 
Is the greatest contribution
To the welfare of our land,
An uncle who sends political emails
And disturbs his fellow man?
 
Or the ordinary housewife
Whose nerves are worn and frayed,
Fighting hard to still the impulse
that make her words cut like blades?
 
The hapless housewife’s stipend
And the style in which she lives,
Are often disproportionate,
To the lack of a shit she gives.
 
About her uncle’s politics,
Republican and all,
His insights regarding morality,
And how America will fall.
 
It is not the lowly relative
With patience, grace, and poise,
Who wins respect and gratitude
When her drunken uncle annoys.
 
Should she find herself angry,
The latest missive on her screen,
Wouldn’t she like to respond,
To his ever-venting spleen?
 
Or would she just sit quietly
Again holding her piece,
As her dad, Ed’s big brother Bill,
Taught Ed’s very clever niece.
 
She’s just a common cousin,
Daughter, sister, niece, and female,
But her life is worth just enough–
To receive masses of forwarded email.
 
For when old men are online,
In the darkest hours of the night,
One never knows what bullshit
They’ll send via kilobyte.

She cannot block his postings
And he will not volunteer,
To stop forwarding ridiculous emails,
That won’t inspire cheer…

Perhaps in a simple reprimand
her response will someday be:
“I’M TIRED OF YOUR FORWARDS.
STOP SENDING THAT CRAP TO ME.”

PLEASE…
If you are sick of mindless email forwards full of conservative politics, then pass this on.

Maybe it’s kind of mean to be rewriting this classic piece of poetry that so touched my uncle’s heart.  However, I think I’ve historically generally been pretty patient with him. At the time I posted this, I asked him to stop sending me this shit a year prior, and yet he persisted.  I might as well have a little fun with it.  After all, a gift for words is something passed down from his side of the family. It’s like being related to a bunch of southern styled Archie Bunkers.

Ah well… We’ll see if and when I ever go home again. Maybe I’m better off over here with Bill. Maybe it’s a lucky thing that I see things more clearly now than I used to, even if my eyes get more myopic and astigmatic by the day. It’s probably true that you can never really go home again. And sometimes, even your relatives don’t really know you.

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book reviews, family, mental health, overly helpful people, psychology

Repost: A review of When Difficult Relatives Happen to Good People…

I originally wrote this review for Epinions in 2006. I am reposting it here as/is. I had reposted it on the original version of this blog, but that post included a time sensitive anecdote that is no longer relevant. So here’s the review on its own, as it was originally written fifteen years ago. Maybe this book is still as helpful as I found it back then.

I realize that since the holidays of 2005 have already passed, this review of Dr. Leonard Felder’s 2003 self help book When Difficult Relatives Happen to Good People: Surviving Your Family and Keeping Your Sanity might be a tad tardy. On the other hand, the month of January has always seemed to me to be a time custom made for personal change. With the idea of personal change in mind, consider the following questions. Do your relatives make you crazy at family gatherings? Do they harangue you about the way you look, your job, your marital status, or your place in life? Do you find it unbearable to spend more than a few hours with your family? Do you feel like you’re out of the loop when it comes to important family decisions? Do you dread the holidays because it means you’ll be expected to hang around your family for long periods of time? If you can answer yes to one or more of these questions, Dr. Felder’s book might be a big help to you.

Dr. Leonard Felder is a Los Angeles based licensed psychologist and co-author of another family oriented book, Making Peace With Your Parents. I had never heard of Dr. Felder prior to finding this book, but he’s appeared on Oprah, CNN, CBS’ The Early Show, NBC News, A.M. Canada, National Public Radio, and ABC Talkradio. I discovered When Difficult Relatives Happen to Good People quite by accident. I got an email from Barnes and Noble alerting me to a large post holiday sale. I’m a sucker for sales and I’m always looking for new books. I managed to pick up a brand new hardcover copy of this book for about $4. Considering the fact that I’m a public health social worker by training and someone who has a hard time hanging around my own family, I figured it would be a fine addition to my personal library. Having just read When Difficult Relatives Happen to Good People, I can understand why Felder is so popular. He has an easy to understand, conversational writing style that I found easy to relate to. He also offers advice that is both easy to follow and practical, while still reminding his readers that they can’t control other peoples’ thoughts or emotions, but they can control how they react when relatives start to pluck their nerves.

Dr. Felder uses interesting and realistic scenarios to get his point across to his readers. I often found myself nodding my head as I recognized some of the situations that I’ve found myself in when I’ve dealt with my family. For example, I have three older sisters who are driven career women. All three of my sisters keep themselves looking beautiful and polished most of the time, as they pursue their lofty professional goals. I’ve often caught a lot of grief from my family because I’m more of a housewife than a career woman.

I work as a freelance writer on an occasional basis. I’m more comfortable in sweats with my face unpainted and my hair unstyled. My lifestyle works for me and my husband, Bill, but that doesn’t always stop my family members from harassing me about the fact that I’m not like them. Consequently, I often find myself avoiding family get-togethers and hating every minute of them when I can’t avoid them. I love each individual member of my family, but not when we’re all together and personalities start to clash. Dr. Felder offers constructive ideas on what to do if you have a sister who is narcissistic and obnoxious, or a father who gets on your case about your employment status, or a mother who picks on you about your weight. He also offers assurance that family troubles are not unusual. There’s no reason to feel like a freak because you can’t get along with the people who created you. It happens to a lot of people. Dr. Felder’s book offers hope and a chance to make those visits with family more bearable and constructive.

One thing I did notice about When Difficult Relatives Happen to Good People is that it does seem a little bit skewed toward those of the Jewish faith (which I am not). Dr. Felder is himself a Reform Jew, so he sometimes uses examples that will be more familiar to those who share his religious preference. However, I will note that Felder is careful to explain whenever he includes a cultural term with which his audience may not be familiar. For instance, when he uses a Yiddish term like mensch, he explains to his readers who may be unfamiliar with the term that mensch is a Yiddish word for “good person”. Felder’s explanations make the book accessible to everyone, but they also reveal that the book is slightly bent toward people of a certain culture. It’s only natural, though, that writers tend to write best when they focus on writing about what they know; Judaism is certainly something about which Dr. Felder knows.

When Difficult Relatives Happen to Good People is divided into ten chapters that are dedicated to certain common issues. For example, Felder devotes whole chapters on dealing with religious disagreements, family battles about food, weight, clothes, and appearance, getting past drugs, alcohol, and other addictive behaviors, and relatives who are just plain intolerant. At the end of the book, there’s an appendix as well as a list of suggested reading and sources. I was happy to see that Dr. Felder suggested a book that I read and reviewed last year on Epinions.com, Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood inside the Fortress by Mary Edwards Wertsch— an excellent book for people who have family in the military.

The 2005 holiday season is now a memory. If you’re currently breathing a sigh of relief that the holidays are over because you found hanging out with your family stressful this past year, I urge you to read Dr. Leonard Felder’s book, When Difficult Relatives Happen to Good People. Even if none of the scenarios in this book apply to you, you may find yourself comforted at least in the knowledge that you’re not alone. There’s no need to feel badly just because your family makes you crazy. As Dr. Felder points out in his book’s title, it happens to the very best of people.

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language, musings, politics

“Chickenshot…”

It’s amazing how quickly things can change. Looking at memories on Facebook is a reminder of how, in just a year’s time, our focus can shift. A year ago, people were up in arms about people in cages at the southern border of the United States. I was in Sweden with Bill, and we were going to pick up our brand new Volvo. Meanwhile, we spent a couple of heavenly nights at Gothenburg’s best hotel, the Upper House.

This year, we’re contemplating a quick weekend away in Gerolstein, a place two hours from us in the next state. It’s known for its mineral water, which I used to buy when we lived in North Carolina. It’s not Sweden, but I’ve been wanting to go there for years. And now that we live somewhat close and have a good reason not to travel far, it makes sense to consider a trip there.

Anyway… this topic comes up because as I was looking at my old memories, I ran across an epic argument I had three years ago about an ad the NRA had put out that was pro Trump. As of this writing, it’s still available.

She’s easy on the eyes as she spits out how evil liberals are…

As I watched this NRA ad again in 2020, it does seem oddly predictive. There have been a hell of a lot of protests lately, some of which have gotten violent. She seems to think the answer to this is a police state and everyone armed to the teeth, even though Trump is unraveling more and more by the day. It’s disturbing to watch him disintegrate. He’s supposed to be a leader, but I expect him to collapse and go into a fetal position any day now, a la Jim Bakker back in 1989 as he was convicted of fraud and sent to prison. Jim Bakker was initially sentenced to 45 years behind bars, but was paroled after almost five. You can now find him on YouTube, eagerly peddling doomsday “food” slop in buckets and stumping for Donald Trump.

This is an entertaining and disturbing video.

The NRA ad attracted a number of comments from my friends, including one of my conservative cousins (and I have a whole lot of conservative cousins). My cousin Timmy (not his real name) had to chime in on the NRA. Timmy is a dedicated gun owner and gun rights proponent. Despite having been arrested a time or two when he was younger and wilder, he’s very much in favor of the police. And yet, despite all of this bad-assery, my dear cousin will no longer say the word “shit”.

I’m not sure exactly how or why this change came about. I know he used to drink a lot. In fact, he is partly responsible for my very first drunken episode when I was fifteen, because he kept giving me bourbon and Cokes at a family party. I remember getting very sick in my hotel room… It was definitely not my finest hour. But I was a teenager at the time, while he was an adult. I later heard that alcohol had caused Timmy a lot of problems and he had finally sobered up. Now he’s exchanged booze for conservatism, legalism, and religion. And he won’t say “shit” anymore, probably because he thinks it offends God. Instead of “chickenshit”, he says “chickenshot”. Instead of “bullshit”, he says “bullshot”.

I’m not Facebook friends with Timmy anymore, because we had one too many contentious arguments in which he became overbearing, snide, and insulting. It reminded me of dealing with my dad, who would similarly be rude and disrespectful when discussions didn’t go his way. Still, because we’re family, I run across his comments now and again on stuff shared by mutual family members who are also “friends”. I have noticed that he substitutes the word “shot” for “shit” quite often. I wonder why he does it and if he really thinks it makes a difference. Does God really care if you swear? Seems to me like God would have much bigger issues to deal with than someone who says the word “shit”. It’s silly, and it makes it hard for me to take him seriously. But anyway, here’s an example. Timmy told Bill that he’s a “Constitutional Libertarian”. Bill asked him to explain what he meant. This was his first response:

I can only define myself. As Jenny would say “who are you that I must explain who I am or what I believe”. 

Since you took the military service oath it shouldn’t be hard…and as an officer there should be “no gray areas”

Actually, I only said that to Timmy once, and it was after he’d been relentlessly badgering me about some argument we were having. I basically told him that I’m not obligated to explain anything to him just because he says so. Bill’s query was a lot more respectful, as they generally are. To his credit, Timmy recognized that, and wrote this response:

Actually Bill…my answer was chicken shot. Yes I believe in the US Constitution in the “originalism” sense. 

I know it’s next to impossible for it t be applied in that sense…yet it’s what I feel we should strive for. So many years have passed with gross overreaching from representatives and our federal government into our personal liberties. Members of congress could enact Article V… but appear scared to do so. 

You join the ranks of many that ask me to explain what I mean…for crying out loud it’s written in black and white. 

It wasn’t fully applied as written for many years. We’ve made progress to instill those liberties but have much more to make. 

It was snide and childish to respond the way I did earlier. I respect you, your differences, your wife, and the service you embrace for our country.

He eventually annoyed me so much that I posted this photo. His response was, “Very nice! Good thing you have a Masters degree Jenny [sic]”
To which I responded, “I have two of them, Timmy. :)” I don’t think he likes “uppity women” like me.

Later that same day, he decided to chime in on a discussion some of my friends and I were having about a mother who wanted to have her seven year old transgendered child sterilized and save some of her own eggs so that the child could later have children biologically related. He left this comment, basically revealing how he feels about people who adhere to Islam. I don’t think he’s remotely interested in understanding transgendered people and has simplified it to a “perversion” that, at the very least, requires intervention and correction by a psychiatrist. I don’t know much about transgendered people myself, but I do think it’s a real thing and people who are transgendered aren’t necessarily mentally ill anymore than cisgendered people are.

I guess I over simply things when “sorting”. To me the bathroom issue appears to be about “plumbing” and possibly being sexually or physically assaulted. 

The desired “comfort level” while relieving oneself in a public restroom…cannot be reasonably achieved. 

Knowing 20-200 individuals have sat (or stood) on the same toilet seat never comforts me. Not knowing their level of hygiene, nor the frequency of janitorial services…what sex they were doesn’t affect my comfort. 

Surely I’m not the only one who feels this way

When no one responded to that, he left a snide comment about “Sybil”. I guess he was referring to Sybil, who had multiple personalities and was the subject of a book and a movie? I asked him if he had anything of substance to add to the conversation or if he was just there to add snarky comments. He finally backed off… and if I recall correctly, it wasn’t much longer before I kicked him off my page.

Timmy doesn’t mind being snarky, dismissive, and rude when he comments, but he has a big problem with the word “shit”. And I imagine that if he heard the word “fuck” uttered in front of him, he might have a major meltdown. It’s too much to bear. Actually, it kind of makes me chuckle, because my dad was much like that. My dad HATED it when people swore. When he was angry, you might hear him say any manner of hateful things. He’d turn beet red and his veins would pop out. He was legitimately scary when he was like that. But– I never once heard him say the word “fuck”. I think I might have heard him say “shit” once or twice in my lifetime. He would say “damn” or “hell” on occasion, but it wasn’t very often. And he would often lecture me about my language, but y’all know I’m a potty mouth. I cuss a lot. I would rather cuss than become hateful or violent. I have not seen Timmy get violent, but I know he has been that way. He proudly carries firearms and I know he’s been arrested for being drunk and fighting in public. Timmy is also a very short man– even shorter than Bill is (and Bill is only 5’7″). I imagine a lot of this behavior stems from the fact that he’s short, and carrying a gun and being an asshole makes him feel better and more powerful about his lack of stature.

Another one of my cousins shared a laughable meme… laughable especially since the person who posted it didn’t even consult Google Translate when he added German… Behold:

JamesJim Lawrence is not my relative, but my relative shared this. I think Mr. Lawrence should speak only for himself instead of declaring that “most Americans” have disgust for people who take a knee when the National Anthem is being played. Moreover, if the Germans had taken over the United States– minus Hitler, anyway– we might be better off than we are right now. Germany is not doing too badly.

Well, it’s probably a good thing that I live so far away from “home”. I do feel pangs of sadness when I see how close some of my relatives are to each other. I feel kind of jealous when I see how some of my friends are close to their friends and relatives and how all of the “social distancing” has been a real hardship for them. It hasn’t been much of a hardship for me, since I live so far away and I can’t relate to a lot of my family members anymore anyway. They have written me off as a “chicken shot” liberal, even though I definitely don’t agree with all liberal ideas.

I just think that right now, the liberals are much more in touch with reality than the conservatives are, and they have policies that seem more humane. I’m also pissed off that the conservatives cursed us with Donald Trump, who, I’m sorry to say, is the worst president in United States history. Or, at least, that’s my opinion. I will admit I’m not an expert, and I understand that a lot of other presidents reportedly were even worse. But, at least in my lifetime, Trump is the worst by far. He doesn’t even pretend to be a leader. My cousin, Timmy, the self-proclaimed “Constitutional Libertarian”, didn’t even have the cojones to vote for the Libertarian POTUS candidate in 2016. Oddly enough, this liberal “chicken shot” and her husband, did…

Incidentally, I think I could be persuaded to buy some chicken shit… I hear it’s a good way to season your poultry.

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