How to Have A Stress-Free Thanksgiving

Many years ago, I hosted a Thanksgiving meal. The guests didn’t get along, the conversation was limping and tense, and I miscalculated how long it took to cook the turkey so dinner was served late. Some of the guests were upset about that. Overall, it was incredibly stressful and not at all worth the effort. I decided I didn’t want to deal with another stressful Thanksgiving again, ever.

Seriously, ever.

So here are my tips for a stress-free Thanksgiving:

* If you’re a guest, be a nice guest.

* Relax!

And the number one, most important piece of advice if you want to have a stress free Thanksgiving?

DO NOT HOST.

Seriously. If you value your sanity and you cherish the idea of a stress-free Thanksgiving, don’t host! Especially don’t host a big ‘ole traditional meal! I suggest not hosting at all, even for casual dinner parties, because there’s too much expectation wrapped up in the food for this holiday. Try and wrangle an invite elsewhere if you enjoy the socializing aspect of this holiday, but don’t overstay your welcome.

If you’re the type of person who doesn’t like being a guest (*cough* me *cough*), and you don’t know how to politely book it early from from a social gathering that’s gone from enjoyable to stressful, have no fear! The last two pieces of advice still hold!

See, hosting is stressful not only because you have to deal with trying to manage the various guest tensions, but you have to do so while cooking/ baking/ setting up this massive spread for all these people with different palates and preferences and different memories of fond traditions that you’re doing wrong. It just sucks all the fun out of the prep and even the delicious food.

However, if (like me) you do want the feel of a traditional meal without the stress, I recommend:

  • Go to Costco the day before Thanksgiving.
  • Buy a rotisserie chicken, some Hawaiian (or Pillsbury Crescent) rolls, some mashed potato mix, some gravy, some cheese and olives, some Martinelli’s cider, a pumpkin pie, and some canned whipped cream.
  • Store in fridge.
  • On Thanksgiving day, spend less than 20 minutes baking the rolls and making the mashed potatoes and gravy. Serve the chicken cold.
  • Enjoy a stress-free Thanksgiving luncheon with your spouse and/ or kids and/or roommates.
  • Spend the rest of the day noshing on leftovers, hanging with family, and watching movies or playing video games.

tday2014

Feel free, of course, to add or subtract as many dishes as you like. If you enjoy baking holiday pies or basting turkey, by all means, go for it. Seriously — choose any dishes you actually like preparing and prepare them. Just don’t juggle the stress of preparing the entire damn meal from scratch just because you feel like you should because tradition or something.

Today, we all slept in. No one woke up early to get food in the oven or to greet early-arriving guests. After we woke up, John and I lazed around drinking coffee and watching comedy shows. Around 10 a.m., Kidling and I took the dogs for a quick walk. When we started getting hungry, I cooked up the rolls and served the meal within 15 minutes. Then we watched Bend it Like Beckham, played some Spelunky on the PS4, worked on some homemade holiday gifts, and started a Netflix S.H.E.I.L.D. binge. Also, naps were had. And I had time to write two blog entries.

These are my favorite Thanksgivings. Lazy days at home with the people (and animals) I love most in the world. No work, no stress, no anxiety. I mean, don’t get me wrong — I enjoy being a guest, too, with all the fun that entails, but a lazy at-home holiday is its own special kind of happiness.

the thankful post

I don’t believe in god(s) or whatever, but I do believe in expressing thanks and gratitude for the good things in your life. I think this is psychologically healthy, and helps us focus on and appreciate the positive. Although Thanksgiving as an American holiday has a deeply problematic history, the tradition of a harvest festival predates the colonisation of America. I also like the idea of a day set aside to recognize and celebrate that which we are grateful for. So with all that said, I would like to express my gratitude(s).

I am grateful for my husband, who is my best friend and lover and partner in crime. He makes me laugh, he has my back, and he’s the coolest and most intelligent person I know.

Of course we have our disagreements and ups/downs, like every couple, but that is yet another thing I am grateful for. Over the course of our marriage, we have both committed to improving our communication skills. Thanks to John’s commitment to our relationship and his willingness to participate fully in the often-difficult work of introspection and addressing his role in our mutual disagreements, we have both experienced a level of personal growth, maturity, and commitment that I used to think was a myth.

To get mushy and direct (instead of hiding behind increasingly verbose descriptives: Being married to John has made me a better person. Watching John push himself to be a better person has inspired me. John makes me believe in the innate goodness of the human spirit. Also, he’s sexy and hilarious.

I am grateful for our son, who is a clever, quick-witted, and intelligent child full of compassion, grace, and affection.

Rolling the genetic dice is always chancy. Aside from issues of mental or physical abilities, there are issues of personality. I’m sure everyone has had the experience of dealing with a difficult family member; someone it’s hard to believe you share a gene pool with. If it happens with siblings and cousins and parents, it can clearly happen with children. I feel very lucky and thankful that we have a kid I get along with, and whose company I (generally) enjoy.

I am further grateful that both of us get along with our son — I cannot imagine the pain and heartache some parents must deal with when an unlucky role of the genetic dice means their partner and their child are forever at odds.

I am grateful for my friends.

I have always considered friendship to be a special notion. In our modern culture, the term “friend” is often casually applied to everyone we have semi-regular positive or neutral interactions with. Under this litmus test, I am “friends” with former coworkers or classmates that I haven’t seen in years, but keep in touch with on  social media. “Friends,” in the colloquial modern parlance also encompasses acquaintances that I see or interact through social media with on a regular basis, or people whose company I enjoy and have the potential to be actual friends, but we are prevented by life circumstances and scheduling from investing in the real work of a mutual friendship.

Taking the above paragraph into account, I have (outside my family) a very small handful of friends. To me, a friend is a platonic relationship that is otherwise akin to that I share with my husband. My closest friends are people who “get” my quirks and accept them, who are there for me (as I am for them) in times both difficult and happy. I value these relationships beyond measure, and am very grateful to have these generous and wonderful people in my life.

Continuing thoughts …

There are many other things I am grateful for, as well. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to attend Evergreen, and for all the wonderful experiences I had there. I am grateful for my acquaintances, who enact a different yet also valuable influence into my daily life. I am grateful for my living situation — I live in a beautiful state with a wonderful family in financial comfort and good health. I did not do anything in particular to deserve all this — I happened to be born into a situation and family that positioned me in a financial and educationally stable position. I happen to have been lucky enough to be born in a society where my race, sexual identity, and gender identity are valued.

Because of this background, I was ideally positioned to have a high probability of having a happy life unless I consciously made some really serious fuck-ups, like trying cocaine or meth as a teenager. I didn’t do that. So even though I had some minor fuck-ups and run-ins with the law as a teenager, my race and class status shielded me from any disparately egregious consequences. I didn’t do anything to deserve this luck, and I am both very aware and very grateful for the role chance and family background has played in my current happiness.

My heart is with those families in Ferguson and across the nation who are dealing with the unfair cruelties the cards of fate and society has dealt with them through the social hardships bestowed by their economic status, race, gender identity, or sexual orientation. On this day of gratitude, as we ponder on all that we are grateful for, I would also encourage everyone to consider how we can reach out to repair the social wrongs that perpetuate such massive inequalities and how we can work toward a better world not just for our children, but for all children.

Talking about it is good. It’s a start. It’s necessary. People will say that talk solves nothing, but that’s not true. Ending slavery started with talking. Gaining suffrage for non-propertied men, black men, and eventually women started with talking. Democracy started with talking. All great social movements, all change starts with an idea, a notion. And we share that idea, that notion. We talk about it. We expand on it. We educate. We lecture and share and grow, and eventually talking becomes action but we also keep talking — we explain why we’re acting, we explain the necessity of action.

So talk about it. Spread the word. Acknowledge and learn about social inequality. Educate yourself and others. Brainstorm ideas for change, and then move forward with them. Change is possible. The tides of history have shown us how to carve out new shorelines, so don’t listen to the naysayers who claim there is no inequality, or there is no point to trying. Don’t be afraid of the possibilities. Be grateful for the opportunity. We live in a transformative historical moment — grasp it with both hands and move gleefully into our shared future.

absence of presence

I am very tired today. Not physically; I am soul-tired. My heart hurts, and I feel exhausted at the prospect of human interaction, yet floundering for the impossible need of it.

I do not know if it is the weather, or the time of the month, or that I do have bipolar after all. I can’t tell. I want to sleep … the sort of science fiction sleep, where you close your eyes in one reality and awake in a completely new world and time.

I have no reason to be unhappy in this moment. I am content with my life. I love my husband and my son, and I feel secure and content in their love for me. I enjoy my writing. I have a roof over my head and food in my belly and a healthy, strong young body. I am happy.

But I am also achingly empty for no good reason. I struggle against the apathy of existence. I do not want to walk. I do not want to talk to people. I do not want to interact with people. I want to relax into the silence, close my eyes against the world, and let time slip by unnoticed.

I am awake, and it is pointless.

I write. I draw. I do chores. I bake. These fill the hours, and they fill me. Drop by drop, they level up the well of my being, the usefulness of why I am and the purpose of who I am.

But I feel … I feel like in my desire for solitude, I am harming myself. So I reach out. I contact friends and acquaintances and might-have-beens. I extend invitations and make plans and try to be social.

This is not good.

In person, my aspect takes on a manic quality; attempting to hide my apathy and lack of interest, I become giddy and overwhelming. I giggle and jump and gesture. I look ridiculous, childish. Manic. I walk away feeling foolish. I cannot seem to reign it in. I would rather avoid the situation altogether, but it seems rude to just walk by someone I know.

Sometimes the plans fall through. I am relieved, but also bruised in a way that does not normally occur to me. Normally when plans fall through, it’s like whatever, it happens. We have lives and plans and things to do. Places to go, jobs to work at, family to see. But when this grey shroud of a mood settles on me, the cancellation or rescheduling of plans — no matter how valid the reason — feels like a personal rejection. The bruise is deep and lingering, and I attempt to heal the spreading wound by reaching out to another and another for human connection, for friendship, for empathy.

And again and again, busy lives that I would normally understand ricochet back on me with a painful intensity that amplifies my terrible, frightening need for a connection, any connection.

Strangely, when plans do not fall through, it does not help me. I am bored by who I am, by how I interact. I quickly tire of the necessities of socializing, and begin looking for excuses to leave. I prattle nonstop and hate the sound of my voice. I feel exhausted by my own personality. Kindness from friends morphs into condescending pity through the lens of my self-loathing.  Even in a crowd, or in a laughing conversation, I feel isolated and repugnant.

Things as simple as a wave not returned become a rejection of all that I am, all that I have been. A litany of names and faces lost marches through my mind, a series of the interpersonal not-rejections that nonetheless carry gradations of the grieving sting of rejection and loss.

Sarah

That childhood best friend who was athletic and cool and pretty, and whose interests took her in a different direction than my bookish nerdy introspection.

Jeremy & Matt

Brothers who I loved with the intensity of youth. They were my closest friends, my only friends. Distance and politics ultimately destroyed a friendship that even prison couldn’t sunder.

DJ

Compact and red-headed and adventurous, and who taught me to not be afraid of myself, and who disappeared one day without a forwarding address in an attempt to escape a past she was ashamed of.

Mom

My mom, my friend, my inspiration. My role model and heroine. My ally. The woman who was always in my corner, supporting me 110% … until she wasn’t, because she hung herself to escape her own soul-pain.

Kristen

Best friend, heartfriend. She knew me like no-one else, and she was the only woman I’ve ever actually had a crush on. And like my mom, she travelled to a place I cannot follow.

Luke

Luke who argued, Luke who laughed, Luke who was always up for trying new things. Luke the conservative, Luke the religious, Luke the angry. Eventually the rift of our differences became wider than the bridge of our similarities.

Ronelle

Friend and sister and liar, who exploited friendship in the name of passion and destroyed a family for the rush of adultery.

Jonathan

Big brother. Protector. Friend.

Gone.

In times like this, I think the little stings of absence hurt more because, oddly, they recall the real absences in my life. The people that were constant, that I knew I could turn to when the surface relationships with their glittering facades didn’t follow through. When the wave on the front porch was ignored, or the coffee date was cancelled, or the friend request deleted. These little silly slices of rejection that shouldn’t matter, that don’t matter in the normal run of things. That normally would elicit a laugh, or at worst a shrug.

But now, in this low mood, instead such ridiculous rejections hurtle me backward on the timeline to the losses and absences of loved ones beyond my reach, and I find myself more isolated and alone for the attempt at human connection.

I am a fool today, don’t mind me. Exhausted by the introspection of my idiocy.

what dreams may come

Since Kidlings been back in school, I’ve been focusing on writing a book (finally, ha!). I mean, I’ve known since I was knee-high to a grasshopper that I’m a writer at heart, and that someday I will write a book. It used to be a deeply held dream of mine, a necessity of validation to prove I was “really” a writer.

Then, at some point in the journey of my life and the various sidetracks I ended up on, I realized it doesn’t matter if I am a published author or not. That’s not why I’m a writer. I write because I have to. It’s how I relate to the world; the lens through which I view it. I write because without the written word, the world around me becomes dull and flat and incomprehensible.

Strangely, realizing that I’m not doing this to make tons ‘o money or get published provided me with the freedom to focus on my writing without fear of failure. Unfortunately, the arrival of said freedom pretty much exactly coincided with my time at Evergreen, so it took me another two years or so to find space to write full-time. Right now, if I keep up the pace I’m at, I hope to have the first draft done by late January or early February. Then I need to run some edits and look at releasing an ebook copy by June or July. Maybe I’ll try cold submissions to publishing houses, but I don’t know how valuable that method is anymore.

I found a quote somewhere online that says,

“Jack London wrote between 1,000 and 1,500 words each day. Stephen King writes 2,000 words a day, “and only under dire circumstances do I allow myself to shut down before I get my 2,000 words.” He finishes a 180,000-word novel in three months.”

So I set myself a Jack London-sized goal, with aspirations to meet Stephen King levels of production. There’s just one teensy difference — I only write on days that both John and Kidling are out of the house. So it’s usually just Tues-Fri, when Kidling is at school and John is working. Right now, I’m meeting or exceeding my daily word count goal, which has me stoked.

When I’m not writing, I try to keep myself engaged with the book and the world by sketching. These are three of my characters:

bex Lash Merci

I swear, the drawings look better in person. I think.

I am not fond of libertarian politics

So I was responding to this comment on FB:

strong programs that encourage consumerism over production make me frustrated. go MAKE something. stop complaining about other people’s attempts to make something, and CERTAINLY don’t let a self-interested entity like government “regulate” businesses that they meddle with based solely on maximizing profitability for the gov’t. perfect examples: ANY farm vs monsanto. that organic cleaning supplies company vs the FDA. the WHOLE documentary “Farmageddon”. on one hand, the little guys can’t compete with government regulations that are only in place to keep mega corp kickbacks coming. on the other hand, if more people joined “the little guys” we could stop bitching about who’s paying what wages and start worrying about what WE will pay OUR employees.

… and I ended up writing such an incredibly long response that FB told me it was too long and I had to try again. I’m actually embarrassed to admit this happens to me regularly. I could try posting it over several comments, but it’s late and I’m lazy. So instead … tadum! I post it here, and then cross-post this entry to the FB comment. Problem solved!

So, my response …

Corporations that encourage throw-away consumption over sustainable production frustrate me, too. I don’t complain about other peoples attempts to make something. I object to shipping jobs overseas, not paying living wages, and utilizing discriminatory tactics to divide the working class against itself. Production, I encourage. I buy locally made and produced foods and items whenever possible. If I can’t buy Washington-made, I try to buy American made.

I believe in government. I believe that government can be used on behalf of the people, to strengthen the nation and the community. We tried states rights immediately after the Revolutionary War, and the fledgling country almost tore itself apart. That’s why we had the constitutional convention and created the constitution — because we tried to make a go of it without a strong federal government, and nearly failed.

Over the history of our country, government programs have done horrible things (the American Japanese concentration camps, Native American extermination programs, encoding slavery into the Constitution), but they’ve also done admirable and great things (ending slavery, even at the risk to our internal cohesion; ending the Great Depression; entering WWII; constitutionally protecting the civil rights of women and people of color). I believe that in a functioning democracy, government can be a boon to the people.

I also believe we do not currently live in a functioning democracy, and we need to limit the power of corporations which are currently influencing legislation, government, and the courts to the extent that we can no longer call America a country with democratic capitalism. It is a capitalist oligarchy.

In the 1800s, the government passed a series of Homestead Acts, which allowed many working class Americans (mostly white males) the opportunity to go out West and claim a plot of land. This was not (and is not) seen as government welfare, but as “encouraging growth” and “helping small businesses.” That land passed down or was sold, and the money used to fund businesses or the education of later generations. Wealth was passed on through families and businesses because of that government program.

In the early 1900s, white Southerners restricted voting rights and employment/ living opportunities for people of color. Across America, practices like redlining, color bars in unions, and employment discrimination systemically impoverished people of color. Sometimes when a town or area (like black Tulsa) did well, the neighboring white community would raid the town and take their businesses, homes, and accumulated wealth. This benefited the whites, not just of that generation but for generations after. This harmed the people of color, not just those who immediately lost their businesses and goods, but the generations that came after and lost that intergenerational wealth.

In the 1950s, thousands of returned (white) GIs acquired their college degrees and went into white collar industries. The veterans of color were overwhelmingly denied that same benefit. Labor union membership (still rife with color bars) plataued. So all this created a history where people of color were systemically discriminated against, not protected by their government, unable to even access government programs, and unable to build the wealth/ businesses/ productivity that you trumpet. Credit for inventions by people of color was taken by whites, as well as the wealth.

And this happens over and over and over with communities of color — hell, the Japanese concentration camps were part racism, part jealousy. Japanese immigrants ran most of the small farms in Eastern Washington and had actually started the Pike Place Farmers Market. When the US gov’t shuffled the Japanese (but not Germans or Italians) into concentration camps, their neighbors stole their businesses and farms, and few gave them back. Japanese Americans were eventually given reparations of 10 cents on the dollar.

So you sit here and say, “People should be paid what their work is worth, and the government shouldn’t get involved,” and I’m sitting here going, “Dude, we have a 200+ year history of people getting enslaved and imprisoned and discriminated against because the corporate interests in our country were more interest in producing cheap sugar/ cotton/ tobacco/ labor than they were in ‘paying what people were worth’.”

And that’s not all! We have a 200+ year history of the government turning a blind eye to this shit because the corporate interests were successful in a) buying off government representatives and b) convincing the white working class that they were the real hard workers, and everyone else was just a bunch of lazy fucks sucking off the teat of the government and the taxes of the working class.

When the government DID get involved, rare as it was, THINGS CHANGED. When the gov’t DID say, “Fucking enough with this slavery,” they passed the Emancipation Proclamation, fought a war, gave black people the vote, and even passed a Civil Rights Act. Yeah, the 1964 Civil Rights Act was the SECOND civil rights legislation we passed — the first one was ignored because they used colorblind language, instead of specifically saying, “Do not discriminate against black people.”

And when the gov’t said, “Enough with this fucking wealth inequality and child labor,” THEY CHANGED THINGS. They passed laws to make child labor illegal, and they set a minimum wage, and they set required safety protocols so children wouldn’t be dying in anymore factory fires.

And when the gov’t said, “Enough with these fucking Nazis,” they went into WWII and THEY CHANGED THINGS. And when they said, “Fucking enough with this Jim Crow bullshit,” THEY CHANGED THINGS. They passed a law guaranteeing equality.

So you sit here and tell me the government is useless, and I sit here and think they’re only useless because people like you are convinced it’s all a scam and have given up and let the corporations have their oligarchy. You won’t even fight back. You’re just rolling over and crying about how much government and consumerism sucks, while at the same time saying how you wanna be a millionaire and the rest of us are lazy because we believe in community and country and government.

But! But here’s the thing — the government didn’t just sit up one day and say, “Huh, what were we thinking protecting slavery and all that fuckery? Man, we must have been smoking crack — let’s fix that shit right up!” No! They resisted, at first. But the people, the American people, they pressured their government to do the right thing. They pressured the government to free the slaves. They educated other people. They stood on street corners and lectured, they passed out pamphlets, they rioted, they took photographs of the people being harmed by colorblind and discriminatory government policies, and they engaged in often-unpopular and decades-long campaigns to force their government to act in the interests of the people. To protect the people. To be a government, not a military puppet hand of corporate greed.

The problem here is not government. Government is supposed to be shaped and formed by the people. The problem is that people gave up on the government. In the 1950s, suburbia and post-war wealth meant there was a television in every home. Vietnam was the first war where the news coverage was televised on screen, in your living room. Over the next few decades, televisions and internet and interconnected media everywhere gave us all a 24/hour stream of news, and people saw video images of the terror of war in Vietnam, and people watched nuclear bomb tests on the tv screens in their living rooms.

Suddenly, war and crime were real and in your living room, on your tv, in your face in a way they’d never been in the history of mankind before. And since then, it’s just gotten worse, even as the world has actually gotten better with less crime, less war, and less inequality. But some people looked at all this fucked up-ed-ness on the news and they just give up. They blame the government and corporations and all those lazy fucks the government entitled with their aid programs, and they give up trying to change the world.

It’s funny, too, how the definition of “welfare” has changed over the past century. When government programs funded the Homestead Acts and GI bills and VA home mortgages for white people, that wasn’t “welfare” or “sucking off the government teat.” But when government mandates a minimum wage or basic fucking labor safety or some goddamn health insurance, that’s “sucking off the government teat” and welfare. Nobody calls student financial aid programs “sucking off the government teat.” They call it a wise investment, and have whole classes set up to teach middle and upper class American youth have to navigate this educational maze. You know when unions started losing popularity among the average Joe? In the 1960s/ 1970s, when color bars became illegal.

The government should be regulating (and taxing) the big-ass corporations more heavily, as well as enforcing labor laws. They should punish the big-ass corporations for shifting their labor, taxes, and income offshore. They should institute fines and tariffs on major corporations that suck America dry and put nothing back into her.

The government should also encourage small business growth. I am the daughter of a small business owner, the (former) employee of several small business owners, and the friend of even more small business owners. Small business often operate very close to the line, and I’ve worked for more than one small employer who was a nice person but a fucking shitty boss. Small business owners are regularly forced to choose between the well being of their employees (who are often friends or family members) and the success of their business. Pay a living wage or cut the employee wages and pay the operating/ licensing taxes and fees?

I do not want to be a small business employer, or a producer. I do want to be an author. But I do not want to be in the position of trying to decide whether to pay my employee a living wage or shut down my business. I do not want to compromise my values or integrity in the pursuit of profit. I am not interested in becoming an employer in America, because the choice is too often money or the value of a human being, and that is quite simply a choice I do not want to make.

I don’t know if you read that whole thing. I would say TL;DR: brief history of capitalism in America, but I’m tired and getting bored of writing this. I understand your stance. I’ve heard it many times. Your views are not new to me. I have discussed this ad nauseum with many libertarians and redditors who admire Ayn Rand and are dismissive of the long-term impact of the tides of history on modern times.

Truth is, I don’t like having this discussion with people who are unwilling or unable to acknowledge the intergenerational disparate impact caused by uneven distributions of wealth, the role a changing pop culture/ mediascape has on society, and the benefits of a well-managed government. This is not a black and white issue that boils down to “Government bad, work good,” this is a nuanced and complicated issue with many intersecting factors.

There is a reason I do not like to argue politics with people. I don’t want to disrespect your views, but I also feel as though you are trying to convince me to yours — as though you think I haven’t heard your arguments before, or considered that point of view. As though I have always been a static, unconsidering pro-government liberal, rather than someone who came to my political beliefs after years of study and consideration.

Over the past decade, my views and attitudes shifted from conservative religious Republican to progressive atheist liberal. This was not some sort of reactive rebellion against my upbringing and loss of faith — my politics actually changed before my religious views did. For several years, those political personality calculators were classifying me as a libertarian — small government, anti-union (well, I thought unions had once been useful, but that time was past) and not a believer in government programs to combat discrimination — but socially progressive. Pro-gay, feminist, that sort of thing.

But I kept reading. I kept studying. I kept learning. I linked modern political events with eerily similar historical events — labor riots, wealth inequality, tax questions, racialized systems of labor, legislative actions. I learned how labor law has been stifled and silenced since the 1950s through a series of limiting court decisions. As I took in all this new information about my history and my country and my government, my views shifted, and I realized that the Ayn Randian ideals of small government/ self-sustainment are incompatible and unsustainable in modern society. Quite frankly, I’m not convinced they’re sustainable in any society — they are isolationist, reductive, hypocritical, and not suited to the complexities of the real world.

characterization and blah de blah

So, I graduated. Well. In a manner of speaking. I went through the graduation ceremony and completed all my credits … but due to unforeseen circumstances (unexpected death), I have not yet received my final evaluation, credits, or diploma. That’s just a paperwork delay though — all the courses are completed and requirements fulfilled. As a result, my days are no longer filled with classes and homework and commutes … which I love.

My son is in school. My husband is at work. And four days a week, I have almost 7 full hours of completely uninterrupted time to write. Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays are still an utter wash when it comes to having uninterrupted time to focus on writing, but Tuesday through Friday are fantastic.

So I’ve been averaging between 1000 – 1500 words a day on the work in progress. It’s a sci-fi/ futuristic thingy, which has spun me for a bit of a loop in terms of diversity. I was reading something online, I forget where, about diversity in characterization. The problem, of course, is that you can’t simply call Dr. Smith a different name, like Dr. Yu or Dr. Tanaka, because it’s all about social location.

Consider that Dr. Jane Smith, raised in 1940s America would be different from Dr. Jane Smith raised in 1940s England. One would have been raised at a distance from a war that devastated the world, while the other would have been in England during the infamous London Blitz. Consider how changing Jane’s gender to John also changes the dynamics and background of the character; how they would have been raised and the expectations put upon them by society.

Writing Jane or John Smith is still something that comes easily and naturally to me, with minimal research. British Jane likes eggy bread and coffee with milk for breakfast. As an adult, British Jane still remembers the way the wool stockings of her school uniform itched at the back of her knees as she waited on a crowded train platform to be shipped out to the country.

American John doesn’t like to eat breakfast, but his mom used to insist that he eat a bowl of Cheerios every morning. “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” she would say. His mom was full of sayings like that. He can still remember her carefully counting pennies to purchase war bonds, telling him that a penny saved is a penny earned.

These are historical narratives I was steeped in my entire life. They are the stories of my parents and grandparents, the storybooks of my childhood, and even though John and Jane are not me, they share a cultural background with me. This makes them easier to write, like slipping on a new coat. It’s different, a new color and a cut I don’t usually wear, but it’s still a coat. A coat is a pretty basic garment. Not hard to figure out.

Now, consider that simply shifting the time drastically alters the character background, not even taking into account location and gender and class and education. By bringing Jane or John forward or backward 50 years, their entire upbringing and expectations shift … yet it’s still a basically familiar cultural background to me.

Now add a twist. What if Jane’s last name is Tanaka? How do I write an American Jane Tanaka in the 1940s? She would be in the American Concentration Camps. Is she a first generation Japanese immigrant, or a second-generation one? Does she come from California, which had more intense discrimination, or Washington? Which camp did she stay in? All these factors influence Jane’s experience, background, and character. They change the level of suspicion she was treated with, both by the government and other Japanese Americans. It even changes how long it took her to be released. And on top of that, I need to know the culture of her family, and how it infused her worldview.

Again, to draw comparisons, consider my own background. People look at me and see a white American girl. They do not see the Norwegian flags that were strung on my childhood Christmas tree, or the dirndl or bunad that I used to wear to church for fun. They do not taste the weinerschnitzel and spatzle I ate at family dinners. They do not know that my worldview, my character, my interactions with the world are infused with a deep love and connection with my personal family history.

I speak a little bit of German. Not enough to really converse, but a little bit. My parents lived in Heidelberg for 5 years, and my German accent comes from that area. Apparently, this is subtly different from the dialect/ style of German that is taught in most German courses. If you’re an American, consider the regional linguistic differences between North and South America, or the West and East coasts … it’s not simply accents, but colloquialisms and localized slang. And even though I haven’t been to Germany since I left 4 months after my birth, the little bit of German I know carries the localized accent and slang from my birthplace.

So if I am writing Jane Tanaka, or John Tanaka, I need to figure out things like that. If I write a Jane Smith from London or a John Smith raised in Birmingham, Alabama, I don’t have to think quite so much about their linguistic history and colloquialisms … these speech patterns, while not inherently natural to me, are closely aligned enough with my own experiences that it’s just less challenging to write.

But for the Tanakas, I have to learn enough about Japanese culture and history to write their background, without getting lost and overwhelmed in the research. I need to take into account their social location when I write their characters — how the social structures would shape their personalities, like ivy forms to a wall. Or, perhaps more aptly, how a bonsai tree is shaped by the restrictions of the environment and the needs of the socially powerful (the artist).

Anyway, I guess I’m thinking about all this because … well, because I’m not sure how the setting in my book affects the character building. It’s a diverse cast, but the social location is so entirely different as to render a lot of these concerns as moot. It takes place on a different planet, almost 500 years in the future.

Think about that for a moment. Five hundred years ago, it was 1514. Slavery as we now understand it, with its distinctly racial component, had not yet been invented. A successful colony had not yet been established in the Americas. It would seem, from the present state of research, that the plague which wiped out up to 90% of the Native Americans prior to European colonization had not yet occurred.

In 1514, King Henry the VIII was still married to his first wife. He had not yet split with the Catholic church to create the Church of England. Hell, most of the current map boundaries we think of when we imagine the European countries hadn’t been formalized yet. The world of 1514 was so completely different from our modern world as to be unfathomable. They pretty much did not even speak the same language as us! If time travel became a thing, communication would not be easy or intuitive, and the social mores and expectations were just eons apart from our modern beliefs. If time travel became a thing, we would be further hindered by our mistaken beliefs about the past, especially in regards to race and gender.

So as I write these characters, 500+ years in the future on a different planet altogether, I don’t really consider our current social location in their character development. The ongoing disparate impact of racialized systems of control in the 21st century Western hemisphere is an extremely minimal factor in who they are and how they interact. It is a thread in their shared history that is woven through the tapestry of humanity and influenced their current place, but it’s one of those threads that is worn pale and thin in seeming importance by the winds of time.

The planet these characters live on was colonized roughly 300 years before the start of the book, with a formalized government coming into play within 75 years. This is roughly analogous to the timeline of the colonization of North America and inception of the U.S. government; an intentional parallel. Similar to the myths, imagery, and debates regarding our own (highly documented) national backstory, the everyday lives of my characters are heavily influenced by the founding events of their society.

The thing is, my characters are predominantly people of color in a position of social privilege. This creates a bit of  quandary for me. On the one hand, I strongly believe in the value of a diverse cast of characters for readers to identify with. On the other hand … am I taking the easy route and participating in cultural erasure by creating a situation where the current expectations of discrimination and social privilege are upended? Do the same rules of character development apply in futuristic sci fi?

I dunno. Honestly, I’ll worry about it later, during revisions. Right now, I want to focus on finishing the book. Then revising it and editing it and revising some more. Then submitting the manuscript to publishing houses and dealing with rejections until I can’t anymore, or it’s picked up by someone. If it isn’t picked up, then I plan on revising and editing it some more for self-pubbing.

Putting down the poison

So, I’m a big believer in kindness and positivity. But I’m also human, and I am prone to anger and lashing out and unkindness just like anyone else. Generally, I try not to hold grudges, or to intentionally engage in interactions that I know will be emotionally draining and upsetting. There’s a saying, though I’m not sure where it comes from:

“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

So, there were two situations specifically in the last year where an initial disagreement was further escalated by my angry response. One had to do with a former friend in the neighborhood, who I’ll call “Dee.” The other had to do with my brother, his ex wife Ronelle, and my nephew J.J.

In both situations, I responded to a misunderstanding/ disagreement and subsequent cutting off of communication (from their end) by hashing through my emotions and response on my blog.

I’m sure everyone knows how infuriating and rage-inducing it is to have someone walk away from an argument. It’s the last word when there is no other response. It’s especially frustrating because you know they think by detaching, they’ve “won,” but you also know that nothing has been actually resolved — all that has actually happened is that they gave up on finding a resolution. It’s so upsetting to have something like that, that generates such high emotions, left unresolved and open-ended. So I posted about each of the situations in turn as a sort of writing therapy.

* * *

Later, I started feeling bad about Dee. I felt bad because by posting about it online, I had essentially engaged in cyberbullying. I felt bad because even though I only shared accurate events/ information and my assessment of the facts, it involved information regarding her children’s behavior toward other children and interactions with the opposite sex that their family had not consented to share, and in my anger I was careless with identifying information. I felt bad because I had escalated a molehill into a mountain.

In the case of Dee, my regret increased because I learned through the grapevine that she felt judged/ angry/ persecuted because of my post about our disagreement. I discussed it with a friend, who reminded me that Dee had mentioned taking her kids and going into hiding from an abusive ex, and that my post could have endangered her safety–or, at least, her sense of safety.

I had not intended any of that. I wanted Dee to listen, that was all. As soon as her boys had laid their false accusation at the feet of my son, she had thrown up the walls of solidarity and refused to engage further. She wouldn’t listen to the voicemail evidence of their bullying, or the reasoning of why their claims didn’t hold up to scrutiny.

Now for me, I know the situation. It’s enough for me to know the truth. I’m sad for Dee’s boys. I do think her decision to blindly choose faith over logic is a poor one. I believe she has taught her kids that lying and character assassination is an effective way to escape harsh punitive physical punishment.

Today, in order to escape the 30 minute stress hold their mom’s boyfriend would have enforced on the preteens, and the two-month grounding their mom would have enacted, these boys willingly threw the neighbor kid they used to call brother under the bus. They sacrificed their access to video games, the fridge they were always raiding (should actually ease off on my pocketbook a bit there–you’d think they weren’t getting fed at home, haha), and the various family outings they tagged along on, all in a mad scramble to escape punishment for what was honestly a pretty mild offense in the scheme of things.

They were bullying my son, yes, but all my son or I wanted was for them to stop and let him be. To give him space to breath and calm down. To stop calling, and stop hammering on the door, and stop leaving messages. To just. Stop.

It’s funny that if they’d just respected the boundaries when they were first set, it wouldn’t have spiraled out of control. It should have been a simple matter: Set boundaries. Kid respects them. Kid doesn’t respect them? Contact parent. Parent enforces boundaries.

I never expected Dee to defend her kids beating up a kid they called friend, ding-dong-ditching his house, and calling his phone 15 times in 5 minutes. But then, I suppose they learned appropriate relationship models from someone.

* * *

Part of me feels that I should also remove the entry regarding my brother and his ex family, because that’s what they want and it would be a gesture of goodwill.

The other part of me remains frustrated that I respected their wants for three years, and I was still not allowed to see my nephew. Even after I respected her wishes and stopped gossiping to my brother. Even after the divorce finalized. Even after they both moved on.

She had no reason to continue punishing me and our sons for the end of her marriage, if she was as happy and content in her decisions as she claimed to be. This really doesn’t make sense to me. I think she must actually regret her decision, because that’s the only logical conclusion to her continued animus toward me.

It feels very much like a shoot-the-messenger situation. Yes, I contacted my brother all those years ago to tell him she was cheating. Yes, I lashed out in anger for the first few months after their separation because of the way my former sister in law/ friend had used me to hide her cheating. And then she texted me about 3 months after they separated and asked me to stop talking sh*t about her to my brother, and I stopped talking sh*t about her to him.

I made a mistake. I did escalate initially. I was angry and hurting, too. I also lost family in their divorce. I lost my brother, my friend/ sister, and my nephew. I made mistakes, and I recognize that. But then I stopped, and despite respecting their wishes for the ensuing years, I was still cut off from my brother and nephew.

Ronelle still refuses to acknowledge that she abused friendships and punished people who disagreed with her choice to cheat on her husband. She says she did nothing wrong and is not ashamed of her choices. She claims to be happy in her new relationship, yet continues to punish me for disagreeing with the cheating aspect. I don’t care that they got divorced; that was a good choice. I’m just surprised that she continues to act as there there is absolutely no issue with cheating, and (by all appearances) continues to hold resentment at me for going to my brother about the cheating.

The divorce is finalized. They have both moved on. There is no reason to continue punishing me, their son, and my son for the end of their marriage, unless she actually does regret it, or is still angry at me for taking the steps to tell my brother the truth.

* * *

It’s good they got divorced. They weren’t good for each other. I understand she is happy with her new guy, and that’s good to hear as well. I hope she enjoys a long relationship with him. I think they are a good fit.

I hope my brother finds someone new, someone who appreciates and values him and is a good stepmother. I hope he is able to fulfill his goals and retake possession of his home and custody of his son. He is an excellent and attentive parent who is a fantastic role model. I think very highly of him, and I truly hope that his youthful mistake of marrying Ronelle does not have negative life-long repercussions for him. I am also glad that my brother and Ronelle have come to a peaceful accord and are able to manage the requirements of co-parenting as mature adults.

* * *

All that said, I do not think Ronelle will ever acknowledge or apologize for her misuse of our friendship. I do think that her continued anger at me is taken out on my brother, and that it is less stressful for my brother to simply detach and avoid me rather than deal with her freaking out on him about me.

As a result, I do not think I will ever be allowed to see my nephew again. I do not think my brother will ever speak to me again. And given our previous history of interaction, I do not believe that me removing the blog entry in question and apologizing for my behavior will have any positive impact on the relationship(s) in question, or measurably change the dynamics between us.

Perhaps I am still drinking the poison by not removing that entry. Perhaps I should treat it the same way I approaching the situation with Dee — remove the entry out of respect for them, with no expectation of changing the dynamics in question.

I guess the difference is that with Dee, I really am sorry for making her feel unsafe/ potentially endangering her by creating a path her ex might find her through. And, admittedly, part of me hopes that with my gesture of goodwill, Dee and I might still find a way to repair things. But with Ronelle, I do not believe there is any hope of repair.

Based on our past interactions and disagreements, I have reason to believe that Ronelle will never admit her role in the current situation, nor will she acknowledge any gesture of goodwill with a truce and allow me to see my nephew or my brother without complaining and causing stress to my brother. And my brother, as is natural, will of course choose to prioritize his son by maintaining peace with his ex.

In this case, it just so happens that although Ronelle is happy in her new relationship, she still feels the need to lash out at me for my role in the dissolution of the marriage. So she will continue to control access to my nephew and continue to complain to my brother if I interact with them, and my brother will continue to prioritize his son (and therefore ex) over his sister–which is right and correct. The blood of the contract is thicker than the water of the womb (or, in this case, the milk of the mother).

Ronelle’s price of peace between her and my brother and ongoing ease of access to his son is (among other things) me. And nothing I do will change that–remove the entry, don’t remove it. It doesn’t matter. Neither Ronelle nor my brother have any means to control me, but Ronelle does have a way to control him–and even when I have abided by her wishes in the past, her antipathy toward me has remained unchanged.

We may be siblings, but he is father first and foremost. He has to prioritize his son, and I get that. If I was suddenly faced with the decision to cut out a sibling or lose access to my son, I would drop that sibling so fast you would find a smoking crater in the ground where they fell. My son comes first. I get that.

* * *

Hell, I’ve dropped siblings for maligning my husband. Again, the blood of the contract is thicker than the water of the womb. When I entered the contract of marriage, I created a new family and I promised to put that family first.

Even my mom recognized that: On my wedding night, she told me that from now on, my husband and the children we would have came before my family of origin. She told me that when we disagreed, I needed to hold my tongue about our disagreements to my family, even my parents. My husband was my family now, and while my parents would always be there when I needed them, my mom made it clear that the first person I should turn to for emotional support is my husband, and that I should consider my husband’s emotional well-being equivalent to my own, and above any other relationship.

I have held to that belief fiercely, through it all, even our hard times. My husband and my son are my family and priority now, and I cannot (and do not) fault my brother for prioritizing his son over me. If the price of his peace with Ronelle is sacrificing his relationship with me, then I’m okay with that.

But it also means I have no reason to change my attitude toward her, or remove any entries where I process the loss of my brother and nephew. Because Ronelle is the one holding the cards in this dynamic, and her previous behavior and interactions have clearly signaled her stance in this regard. From her continued behavior toward me, I can only surmise that she still blames me for the dissolution of her marriage, and still wishes to punish me by restricting access to her son.