A fun day of reading Ask Amy!

Dear Amy: My husband and I have been married for three years. He has three teen children (ages 17, 18, and 19) from a previous marriage. My husband’s first wife filed for divorce, and they do not have a good relationship.

My mother-in-law has a great relationship with my husband’s first wife. They are so tight, that my MIL consistently invites her to family events where my husband and I will be present. My husband has had to tell his mother more than once that he will not attend these events if his ex-wife is invited. My brother-in-law and his wife have also had to tell my MIL that they will skip family events if the ex is present.

Recently, two of my husband’s kids graduated from high school. They went to dinner with their mother, stepfather, and my husband’s parents afterward. My husband and I were purposefully excluded. My MIL thought it was perfectly fine that we were not invited.

If my husband and his ex have a disagreement over something, my MIL automatically takes his ex’s side and dismisses my husband. My husband’s ex has created an alternate version of events, which she shares freely.

I want to make sure we aren’t just being petty or immature for being so upset by my MIL’s relationship with his ex. If my husband and his ex-wife had an amicable divorce and were able to be friends afterward, I would support a friendship. I can also understand why my MIL would want to be civil to his ex-wife for the sake of the kids, but she treats my husband’s ex better than she treats him or me!

My MIL has told my husband that he is not allowed to dictate with whom she associates.

I can understand, but is it wrong for us to expect that there should be different boundaries in my MIL’s relationship with my husband’s ex-wife?

— Just the Second Wife

Dear Second Wife: Your husband should never discuss his ex with his mother. He needs to remove the fuel that seems to fan her disruptive flame. You and he should focus on your own relationship, and your MIL should not be included as a party to your marriage. If she treats both of you badly, a natural consequence would be for you both to avoid her.

You and he should focus on building the best relationship possible with his children. Never discuss their mother in a negative light, and don’t involve your MIL in your decision-making concerning the children.

She has the right to associate with anyone she chooses. You also have that right. (c) Ask Amy

Interesting indeed. What an ambiguous situation! At first, I thought the letter writer and her husband were in the wrong. (For one thing, perhaps they were excluded from the graduation dinner because the mother-in-law was sick of choosing loyalties.) But then I visualized the situation further and looked at this part:

If my husband and his ex have a disagreement over something, my MIL automatically takes his ex’s side and dismisses my husband. My husband’s ex has created an alternate version of events, which she shares freely.

I totally agree with Ask Amy’s advice to not include the mother-in-law in such disagreements, and to not speak with her about them. But then it occurred to me: who’s telling the mother-in-law about all these disagreements in the first place? I don’t think it’s the letter writer’s husband. It’s his ex-wife. She’s having a bit too much fun here at her ex-husband’s expense.

And now, unfortunately, that has become the letter writer’s problem. But Ask Amy gave some great advice. I’d take it.

Dear Amy: I have a true “first-world problem.” But it’s still a problem!

Our daughter plays soccer three nights a week (two practices and one game). We live in a climate where there are a lot of mosquitoes.

We bring bug spray to all our games, and my husband and I discreetly apply it.

Every game (once a week) the families sitting beside us (a different family each time, not known to us, and usually from a different town), will complain about those “damn mosquitoes.”

Should we stock up on mosquito repellent and spray everyone down at the games? Or, should my husband and I just keep applying it discreetly?

My heart says, “Spray them all down.” But my head says, “Hey, you’re in the same group as us. Why aren’t you just bringing this stuff, yourself?”

If I spray them, am I just enabling them?

— Mosquito-free

Dear Mosquito-free: First of all, you should not proactively “spray anyone down.”

Some people might prefer griping and swatting to being spritzed with chemicals.

Your home turf might be especially mosquito-prone, and so visiting parents would not proactively bring repellant. Yes, it is kind and neighborly to offer visitors to your field some bug spray.

If members of your own team’s parent group want to use bug spray, you can offer them a tip of the can.

Unless this becomes an unusual burden for you, it is not enabling, but generosity.

This letter made me laugh out loud. Should we spray everyone down? I can picture it now: “Run, run! Angie’s mom has uncapped her bug spray!” Adults fleeing, parents crying, the umpire looking confused. Mosquitoes dying.

I’m still laughing.

Yeah, I think it’s always kind to share bug spray (by offering the can to someone, obviously). How much can it cost, anyway? (I never use it, so I honestly don’t know.) A few dollars?

Dear Amy: Yes, you corrected your mistake regarding hollow point bullets, but then you went on to preach at your readers about the evil of gun violence.

Amy, no one cares what you think.

— Gun Advocate

Dear Advocate: Judging from the thousands of responses I’ve received (to the question from “Dumbfounded Father,” as well as my follow-up essay), many people care very deeply about this issue, even if they don’t care about — or agree with — my own views.

Well, that’s hostile. No one cares what you think? Wow, a whole lot of people are enraged at Ask Amy over this. I admire her tenacity in dealing with it. I don’t have a strong opinion either way, but I think that people who are anti-gun want these horrible crimes we hear about to stop already, and who doesn’t want that?! People who are pro-gun are rightfully telling us that people commit those heinous acts, not guns; and that a lot of these killers are acquiring their guns via illegal means in the first place; and the criminals shouldn’t ruin it for the rest of us. Also credible. All the hostility over the issue, though, is overkill. (No pun intended whatsoever.) Because we all need to realize that, regardless of the gun laws, there’s a serious issue with school shootings and such that doesn’t have easy solutions.

 

Little boy lost.

TRIGGER: SUICIDE

I think I’ve blogged before about this guy I went to church and high school with named Sam whose family is super-religious. Sam is the guy who told me that I shouldn’t believe in an astral version of Jesus, because Jesus is so much more than an astral hugger. Hmmph.

He and I were in the same grade, and I knew him from the summer after ninth grade, when I met him at youth camp. His uncle was one of our main youth leaders, and I might have made him a character in my current novel. Yeah, so, Uncle Max isn’t entirely fictional. (That’s not his real name. In an effort to give his family some privacy, I’ll refer to him with the fictional name I chose for his character.)

Uncle Max created an inclusive world at youth camp that brought everyone together in emotional closeness. It was a magical week each year, except for this one year when our youth leaders opted to take us to a group youth camp, which was run by people who didn’t add those special emotional touches. The whole way home on the bus, Uncle Max pouted, cursed, sulked, and got mad at all of us. I felt sort of bad for him, and I was glad to not be in his direct line of fire.

Uncle Max was always a temperamental, deeply emotional youth leader. He was Sam’s uncle (and uncle to Sam’s brother and sister), but he had three younger sons of his own. The oldest, Ben, was around nine years old when I was sixteen. He was a nice kid.

I just have this one memory of him. A lot of us were hanging out in the multipurpose room, just goofing off as we tended to do, when Uncle Max showed up, found Ben, grabbed the poor kid by his shirtcollar, lifted him off the floor, and carried him out of the room. The rest of us in the room stared after them as they disappeared up the hall. Now, whatever Ben was doing wrong wasn’t intentional; he was having a good time with us, so his sin must’ve involved not being where he was supposed to be, or something along those lines.

Anyway, that’s the whole memory. Of Uncle Max’s three sons, one was Ben’s younger brother, Michael, whom I recall as a sweet toddler who loved being held and cuddled. Michael died a few years ago as a young adult due to complications arising from juvenile-onset diabetes. It was tragic, and I contacted the minister of music–the same one who was my minister of music back in the nineties; he still works at the church–and asked him for Uncle Max’s address. I was trying to fill out a donation form for the referenced charity that helps diabetes, and it wanted me to give Uncle Max’s address so they could send him a card letting him know I’d donated. Well, there’s some bad blood between me and everyone I went to church with, and the minister of music just ignored my email. (I know he got it because I confirmed his new email address through the church’s updated web site.)

Something shifted in me, and I realized that Uncle Max doesn’t care about me, and that he’s bought into what a terrible person I’ve become, and that I’m persona non grata. And when that shift occurred within me, I started dreaming up my current gothic horror novel, the one that takes place at the church overnight; and I made Uncle Max the star character.

But the story isn’t finished, apparently.

As awful as it is that one of Max’s younger sons, Michael, died from juvenile diabetes, apparently, Ben has also died. A few weeks ago, from what I gather, he took an overdose of street drugs. The obituary said he died peacefully at home, but he was a healthy, 35-year-old man. Then, the obituary asked for donations to a local drug rehab center.

I won’t be attempting to make a donation this time. But my heart still goes out to them. I sent Sam a quick email of condolence, but I don’t even know if he still uses his old email address, or even if he wants to hear from me. We’ve had a bit of a love-hate thing going on over the years. He was largely involved in turning the whole youth group against me, but… I don’t know. The youth group no longer matters to me, so it’s not a huge thing; and mostly they all dislike me because I’m too outspoken. There’s just a lot of… craziness between me and Sam, but I care about him, even when I try not to.

Sometimes I wonder about their family and what they stand for. Uncle Max’s religious fervor was mirrored by Sam’s parents, as well as by grandparents, other aunts and uncles, cousins, etc. They were pillars of the church who preached strict religious beliefs.

Even after the first of Uncle Max’s sons died, I had judgmental thoughts, though. Like, why didn’t anyone try to help Michael stay healthy? And then I was like, “Meg, you just don’t want to accept that juvenile diabetes can be so horrific. Of course they did everything possible to help! Who wouldn’t? One gram of sugar, and you’re dead!”

But now that Ben is dead from drug issues, you really have to wonder: what was going on in that family that the rest of us couldn’t grasp? I know Sam was raised to be fervently religious. His social media page is covered with Bible quotes and his Christian mission. But I suspect he was also raised to fear that he isn’t enough in the eyes of God, that he must be perfect at Christianity or he’ll burn in hell. This is just a hunch, but I’ve always sensed that Sam’s religion is fear-based, deep down. That’s why he went postal over my astral Jesus.

And that little boy, Ben, who got dragged away by his angry father, which is also something I added into my novel, is now dead. It’s alarming. As proud as I am of my novel, I seriously hope that no one in Sam’s family ever reads it.

Conscience versus integrity.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My daughter, a Protestant, is engaged to be married to a Roman Catholic. One of her bridesmaids is now backing out of being an attendant because the marriage violates her conscience. The bridesmaid’s husband is also not supporting this interfaith marriage due to his strong religious beliefs.

However, in the same letter where the bridesmaid sorrowfully declined fulfilling her commitment to be a bridesmaid, they ask if they may still be permitted to attend the wedding. The harsh judgment exhibited by this lifelong friend has grieved my daughter, and she doesn’t especially want the couple to attend. How should we respond to them?

GENTLE READER: Protest is the ax of the body politic: It is sometimes necessary to fight entrenched injustice, but people who wield it should watch out for unguarded fingers and toes.

Your daughter’s bridesmaid is free to protest against the Catholic Church, but she cannot, in this particular case, do so without also implicitly questioning your daughter’s judgment in wanting to honor her fiance’s faith. As that is a serious insult, your daughter is right to drop her from the guest list.

The bridesmaid will no doubt say that that was not her intention, but Miss Manners’ patience with the frankly illogical has, of late, been under strain. Religious objections are quickly becoming a national sport.

Such objections can be made with good or bad motives, but let us not pretend that the motive is neutral. Your daughter should send her bridesmaid a written note saying how sorry she is that the bridesmaid is unable to overlook her objections to the church this once. And, that being the case, she should add that it would be best for all if the bridesmaid did not attend. This will avoid conflict with family, guests — and at least one priest — whose faith is deeply held. (c) MISS MANNERS

This made me really sad. It seems as if the former bridesmaid and her husband think they’re doing the right thing, but it’s more likely that they’re misguided. They seem to think that their beliefs are valid enough to justify causing hurt feelings in the absense of any need for hurt feelings to befall anyone.

There are so many non-absolutes in life, but one problem with religious people is that they firmly believe that they’re right, and anyone who disagrees is wrong. I often imagine the afterlife and how we’ll all discover that energy is more potent than any specific dogma; that God is energy; and God is us; and we are each other. I try to ask myself theoretical things such as, if I were to discover this truth about energy (after death), would I want to have been the person who objected to my good friend’s wedding under some misguided belief that it was wrong? Heck, no. Energy is what we have on-hand to form into shapes, and forming it into some sort of religious intolerance is destructive. Being happy for people and supporting them, on the other hand, is positive.

And it’s almost impossible to imagine an afterlife in which Jesus steps forward to greet someone and says, “My blessed child, thank you so much for protesting your good friend’s wedding. Catholics and Protestants should never marry each other, and I appreciate your support of this truth. You get bonus points!” It’s. Not. Going. To. Happen.

Seriously, let’s get real here. In all the visualizations we’ve ever had of Heaven, or the spirit world, or the afterlife, or the astral plane, or whatever you want to call it, (or whatever it actually is), what’s the likelihood of that happening? Hey, Jesus supports your judgmental nature! Not.

The bridesmaid should’ve lied about why she no longer wanted to be in the wedding. She chose not to lie because she opted to show the integrity of speaking her beliefs. However, we humans show more integrity when we choose what to believe; and somewhere along the line, the bridesmaid went off the rails. She almost seems to be trying to elicit sympathy for having been shoved into this predicament in the first place. I mean, how ballsy was that bride being by assuming her friends would approve of such an unconscionable wedding and insist she perform in the ceremony? [Eyeroll.]

In my mind, religion is energy. I take a lot of positive things from Christianity, so it benefits me to identify with it halfway. When you start getting strict in what may or may not be believed, you’ve lost me. I know Jesus, and He never sat around keeping score or making up arbitrary rules for us to follow (such as, “Protestants and Catholics may never marry each other,”). His rules were more about love and acceptance and understanding and trying to withhold judgment. He rejected no one and accepted even the most undesirable members of society, such as it was back then.

Ever heard of the good Samaritan? This might not be common knowledge in today’s world, but the Samaritans were loathed and scorned back in Biblical times. Jesus casted a Samaritan as the good guy in that parable, because Jesus didn’t judge people for shallow reasons of appearance or presumption. It’s about someone who was injured and needed help. The first two people who came upon the scene passed right by the guy, even though these people were wealthy and looked up to. Then the Samaritan happened by and took care of the injured man.

So the notion that Jesus would think it’s great to heap judgment upon the bride and groom from this letter is absurd. There’s too much specificity added onto religion that didn’t come from Jesus. Christians everywhere need to get back to the core beliefs of love and compassion and understanding instead of taking a beautiful, Savior-based religion and corrupting it with ridiculous uptightness.

I wouldn’t invite them to the wedding.

 

 

Book Review: Dangerous Boys by Abigail Haas

Oh, my. Most of you probably recall my recent glowing review of Abigail Haas’s book, Dangerous Girls (aka I’ll Never Tell, when it was rereleased with a new name). Her follow-up book was Dangerous Boys. I have to give it 1.5 stars. SPOILERS AHEAD (but only for Dangerous Boys. NONE for Dangerous Girls. That’s an awesome book, and I don’t want to ruin its ending, so I won’t).

I’m not sure where to begin, but as usual, I turned to Goodreads and read others’ 1-star reviews in an effort to feel better. It worked. Almost everyone said what I was feeling: “I loved Dangerous Girls, but…. ugh. This book was awful.”

I’ve observed this a lot: I find a new author, think they’re great, but then the author’s writing goes downhill. Case in point: the Mara Dyer trilogy by Michelle Hodkin. The first book was amazing, and so was the second. I knew something was wrong when the third installment came out over a year past its intended release date, but I was still hoping for the best. I was so horrified by how awful the first chapter was that I DNFed, even after all that anticipation for the book’s arrival.

Maybe the author was under a contract and just couldn’t deliver well. It was a massacre (literally and figuratively), complete with an abundance of unnecessary f-bombing.

Deep breath. So, anyway, it happened again with author Megan Miranda. I loved her book, Hysteria. Oh, just amazing. So I bought another book of hers, Fracture. It wasn’t even in the same ballpark.

Anyway, Dangerous Boys was about a recent high-school graduate who was desperate to escape small-town USA and go away to college. However, her dad abandoned the family to be with his new, pregnant girlfriend, and Chloe’s mom fell apart. Reading about her mom’s depression was really hard. So Chloe deferred admission for a year and got two jobs to pay the bills.

She meets Ethan, a clean-cut guy her age who works for his parents’ real-estate business. In the course of dating him, Chloe meets his brother, Oliver, who’s just dropped out of Yale.

Oliver is all bad-boy darkness, and he manages right away to push Chloe’s buttons about how badly she wants to escape town. And in doing so, he brings out her inner psychopath. Apparently, Chloe’s a bad person who enjoys killing people, and she simply hadn’t known this about herself yet. There’s this one horrific scene in which Oliver teaches Chloe how to go hunting. Fans of Bambi should never read this book.

This love triangle (if it can be called that) ends in a showdown on a development property between the three of them. Oliver urges Chloe to kill Ethan, prodding her on by telling her she has it in her. So, Chloe attacks Ethan with the hunting knife Oliver bought. She and Oliver are about to leave town together as planned, but first, Oliver wants to burn down the crime scene. While he reenters the house with accelerant, Chloe realizes she did the wrong thing by knifing good-boy Ethan, so she follows Oliver inside and knocks him out with a pipe. (Because two wrongs make a right, I guess.) Then, she douses him with some of his own kerosene and lights the whole place on fire. As an afterthought, she drags Ethan from the inferno.

Oliver’s dead. Chloe tries to spin it like he was the bad guy, and it was all self-defense, and that sort of thing, but then, much to her panic, Ethan regains consciousness in the hospital. Chloe fears the worst, but Ethan and his mother both go to bat for Chloe, becaue they’ve always known Oliver was a psychopath.

The whole time Oliver was taunting Chloe to attack Ethan, Ethan kept yelling, “Don’t listen to him, Chloe! He’s evil,” and that sort of thing. And in the end, Ethan’s so grateful to have been rescued that he lets Chloe off the hook by covering for her.

At the end of the book, the sheriff, who’d been a friend and employer of Chloe’s, knew he had nothing on her without Ethan’s help. Defeated, he asked her where she was headed. Rather chillingly, she said she figured she’d go out to California and visit her dad, i.e., her future victim. And the book ends.

These are hours of my life that I’ll never get back.

Other things I disliked: there was a lot of swearing and taking the Lord’s name in vain in multiple ways. Also, the book was depressing. I guess if you’re writing from the perspective of an awakening psychopath, there’s only so much cheer or magic you can throw in. There was one scene that caught my eye in which the brothers’ mom explained to Chloe why she believed in her. She detailed what it was like to raise Oliver as a baby, how he bit her harder than necessary to punish her for not feeding him more often (presumably during breastfeeding), and I found that really intriguing. What would it be like to raise a psychopath son? Now we know. Give the little monster some formula, I say. (I would never want to breastfeed a child, but if they were chewing on me and biting me, I’d be even less likely to tolerate it. Formula has its place.)

So, their mom blamed herself and thought she was a bad mother until baby Ethan came along, and he was so bright and bouncy and grateful; at that point, the mother realized Oliver was evil, but there wasn’t much she could do. (Scary thought.)

I found that part to be quite enlightening. But the concept of being stuck with a psychopathic killer for a child has been done to death (pun intended). One great example is the movie The Good Son with Macaulay Culkin and Elijah Wood.

But aside from that one page of psychological insight, the whole book stank of pathos, psychopathology, and misplaced commas. Yes, this author has comma issues, for she is wont to put them in places where a comma doesn’t go. She made two specific comma mistakes repeatedly: putting a comma in the middle of a phrase where there’s no pause to justify its presence; and using a comma as a period, thus creating run-on sentences by the dozens.

There were some scenes in which Chloe lashed out at her depressed mother and threatened to have her institutionalized if she didn’t take her meds. Those parts were torture to read, because I couldn’t understand her cruelty and lack of compassion. I kept telling myself that an 18-year-old shouldn’t have to deal with all that–missing college and having no one to turn to–but it was still just unconscionable and horrific. It seemed as if Chloe wanted her mom to recover for purely selfish reasons. I felt so sorry for her mom, who had her whole life upended.

I’d thought the book was a mystery, but even though we know upfront that one of the brothers was hurt and the other killed, there’s never much doubt about what was going on. I kept hoping the author would throw in a surprise twist, but the book followed its predictable course like an arrow hitting a bullseye.

 

The subtle art of not giving a damn.

Dear Amy: How do I keep a relationship casual with a friend whose hobby is creating drama?

“Emma” and I are members of an informal social group which communicates a few times a week. We also attend different types of group events once or twice a month.

The group has an ongoing group chat on a messaging app, and Emma is the most vocal contributor. She often overshares about her own life, or just generally complains. She and I had a casual friendship for years until she started dating another member of the group — in secret.

After soliciting the views of me and two other members of the group, she sent a follow-up email basically telling us multiple reasons why our advice was wrong and how we can’t judge the nature of her relationship, even though that was basically the advice she sought.

She further told us that we were wrong because we wouldn’t reinforce her decision to disregard advice from her therapist.

It seems she has had a crush on nearly every male member of the group at one time or another, whether or not the person has a partner.

I am worried that anything of substance I tell her about myself might become fodder for her drama machine. I have tried to avoid getting into more serious topics, but she keeps asking to get together to talk — one-on-one.

She really wants to have this “deeper” friendship with me, but I don’t feel safe doing that. How do I set a boundary to keep the relationship casual without causing a rift in the larger group?

— Walking a Tightrope

Dear Walking: Your instincts regarding this drama machine are sound. Follow them. You should assume that anything you say can (and will) be used against you. Drama addicts need fuel to accelerate and sustain their narrative and — when they lack story elements of their own creation — they will instinctively turn to others to fortify their supply.

Unfortunately, honesty (“You’re indiscreet and so I want to keep our relationship casual”) will be conflated by her into a feud of some kind, and so the best technique is to deflect, and/or ghost.

When “Emma” appeals to you or solicits anything personal, you should either not respond, or delay responding. When you do, resort to something opaque and noncommittal like, “Umm, interesting question; I don’t really have anything to add.” If she wants to get together, you should claim to be busy, tired, or binge-watching an about-to-expire program. You should not gossip about or offer up any opinions about her to the group.

In short, back away slowly, and then keep your distance. (c) Ask Amy

Wow. I find this very offensive. Emma isn’t a drama queen. It sounds more like she has borderline personality disorder. Drama queens love pulling the strings on everyone else’s lives while they sit back and laugh. For example, think of a narcissist or a scheming mother-in-law. But everything Emma has done has come from an obvious place of insecurity, loneliness, and boundary issues. While such people do create drama (and I should know), it’s not from a place of getting off on causing problems. It’s from a place of wanting to do better but having no one to hold onto. Been there, been there, been there.

How can this letter writer and Ask Amy both have so little compassion for Emma? She’s not an evil, manipulative witch. She’s just very, very confused and in need of some love. I feel sorry for her; not just because she’s so neurotic, but because this letter writer couldn’t care less about her. (What do you know? I can relate to that, too.) [Rolling my eyes.] (Let’s face it–Nate could’ve written this letter about me, except that I think it was written by a woman.)

I’m sickened by the letter writer’s condescension as she described Emma as a “friend whose hobby is creating drama.” I’d wager anything that the letter writer has had an easy life in which everything has been readily handed to her. No emotional upsets, no disillusionment; no disequilibrium, and no mistreatment; and that’s all fine for the letter writer, but she needs to quit judging the rest of us. I do understand why she doesn’t want to hang out with Emma, seeing as Emma has depth but the letter writer’s a shallow flake; but since they have a mutual circle of friends, the letter also rubs me the wrong way, as if the letter writer is saying, “How do I get Emma out of my life so I can have all the good friends to myself?” Tough luck, letter writer. It’s not going to happen. Unless, you know… you want to create some drama. But hey, don’t slum it with us drama queens! No, you’re oh-so-much better than that!

I’d rather be Emma than the letter writer. I am Emma. Hopefully, life will never go off the rails for the letter writer in such a way that leaves her wondering whom she can count on and what matters in life. Hopefully, things will keep going swimmingly such that she gets everything she wants and never has to struggle in any way at all. Hopefully, she’ll never see into the dark side of reality, even though it’s hidden behind a very thin veil. Hopefully, and most likely, she’ll die an old woman who’s still ungrateful for how easy her life has been. Good for her. Quite frankly, Emma deserves better, and I hope she finds it.

You can’t handle the truth!

Dear Amy: I’ve very recently started writing about my life, sharing my story with my friends, family, and people in my community.

I am an adult in my mid-20s, married and pregnant with my first. I’ve just published my first story, covering ages 6 to 11. I am receiving lots of positive feedback. However, my parents, and in particular my mother, are disturbed by me sharing “our” private life.

I mention my parents in my story, but my focus is on ME, not them.

My mom thinks I’m speaking very negatively of her. My sister has tried telling my parents that there is nothing negative about the story, only that it’s private. I said that for anyone to grow as a person, they need to face things that could be difficult and sad. I’ve told her that she may be feeling guilty about some of the troubles I went through when I was young, but that I don’t cast any blame on anyone.

My mom has made it very clear to me that she is NOT OK with me sharing it, and that if I do, I should NOT share it with our family chat group, because she does NOT want to see it, and will NOT read it. She is very angry!

Should I not be sharing my life story? Am I infringing on my parents’ privacy? Leaving them out would render my story useless, no?

— Want to Connect

Dear Want: Let me quote the late, great Nora Ephron, whose advice I sought when I was writing my first memoir: “You get to tell your own story,” she said. “What you shouldn’t do is tell anyone else’s.” You own the story of your childhood. But, for instance, you should not write about your parents’ marriage, or about that time your sister didn’t get invited to the prom. Those stories belong to them.

I’ve now published two memoirs, and what I’ve learned is that everyone holds a different truth. And — I assure you — most people (including me) do NOT want someone else to write about them, and every memoirist (including me) faces family consequences about what they’ve written.

What you should NOT do is insist that family members read it or discuss it with you. (Many, if not most, of my family members have not read my books.)

Stop telling your mother how to feel or how to interpret what you’ve done, but accept that she is upset. Instead of sharing full text on your group chat, you should publish on a blogging platform (I use Tumblr), and share a link: “Here’s my latest installment. If you’re interested in reading, click here.” (c) Ask Amy

That’s great advice, and I try to follow it myself. I’m always eager to say awful things about my family members (generally for my own entertainment), but I never actually share their secrets here, because I don’t think that’s fair. And I have secrets on almost everyone. You won’t find them anywhere in my blog. I’ve got stuff on my evil sister, even. (Well, with her, it would be hard not to.) But while I feel it’s okay to share my experiences with my family, I don’t think it would be okay for me to share their secrets just for the heck of it.

I’ve told her that she may be feeling guilty about some of the troubles I went through when I was young, but that I don’t cast any blame on anyone.

Interesting attitude. Why not? Oftentimes, others are to blame, and they should be blamed! In fact, a lot of people use others’ hesitancy to blame as a means of getting away with all sorts of bad stuff. We need to blame people more often! [Deep breath. Maybe I’m the only person who feels that way.]

Yeah, a few things come to mind with this letter:

  • Sometimes, the best way to write a memoir is to change everyone’s names and not share it with your family. I know I blog with wild abandon about how awful my parents were (and still are, in my mom’s case), but to the best of my knowledge, my mom doesn’t know of my blog. (My dad doesn’t use internet, so it’s guaranteed with him. He knows I blog, but he doesn’t know the details.) If Mother does know about it, she’s never complained to me. (Sometimes I suspect she does know. Every time I’ve spoken to her on the phone recently, and this will sound weird… she seems less narcissistic. It’s baffling, and I don’t trust it. Something must be going on. She’s always in full supportive mode, she tells me she loves me and is glad to hear from me, and nothing narcissistic ever happens. Maybe she’s just happy…? No, not possible. Something’s up. Maybe she’s just excited about how my sister’s going to have a baby.)
  • I totally agree with Ask Amy that the letter writer needs to be less insistent that everyone read her memoirs. I’ve self-published a lot of books, and I gave up trying to “force” people to read them a long time ago. You’ve got to find your audience! (Or accept that there isn’t one. Sigh.)
  • I’d try to respect her mom’s desire for this to not be shared in the family chat group. I’m sure the letter writer can discreetly let other family members know of her books without shoving them in her mom’s face in the chat group. Unless the mother was an outright abusive jerk (and it doesn’t sound that way, since the letter writer doesn’t cast blame upon her), then I’d try to show some respect for her feelings. Being discreet about something doesn’t mean you can’t do it. The letter writer can send individual emails to family members, for instance.
  • As Ask Amy pointed out, the letter writer is being too psychological in defending her actions to her mother. This reminds me of my evil sister, the social worker. My sister has this way of saying that we should all be okay with stuff, even if we don’t want to be. I’m not quite sure how to articulate it, but my sister always throws in a lot of psychobabble, sort of like what the letter writer’s saying. (“I said that for anyone to grow as a person, they need to face things that could be difficult and sad. I’ve told her that she may be feeling guilty about some of the troubles I went through when I was young.”)
  • Is the letter writer wildly exaggerating her life? If she were changing names and staying anonymous, that would be one thing; but if she’s accusing her mom of things that seriously didn’t happen, I can see the problem. I don’t sense that’s the case here, but I myself have an ironclad rule myself about never making stuff up about someone. Say what they did, yes. Don’t make them guilty of something fictional. That’s low. And possibly libelous. My dad’s a libel/slander lawyer, so he’s constantly begging me not to get sued. So far, I haven’t let him down.
  • It seems as if the letter writer’s stirring something up, since the mom feels threatened, and her dad feels a bit threatened, too. There’s no real reason for her to stir the pot if her childhood was passably good. If she has an issue with either of them, she should take it up directly; but it seems more as if she’s eager to overshare in a way that doesn’t respect their feelings. Maybe she hasn’t written anything “wrong” yet, but perhaps the mom is dreading the years past ages 6 to 11 (due to something she feels guilty about) and doesn’t want to say why. There’s no reason to stir the pot here or shove it in her mom’s face. She has two options: to never discuss it in front of her mom, except in a vague way that makes her mom come across well (“Yeah, I said lots of nice things about you in the book, Mom!”); or to … I’m sorry. Big weekend with the flash fiction’s first round! My mind literally went blank, and I have no idea if there really was a second option.

Right, so, yeah. Anyway, I’ve felt deeply guilty about how I treated Rain, so I found her Patreon page and am now supporting her with a monthly pledge; and I’ve offered to beta read/edit her entire as-yet-unpublished novel. Meg can help her make it great. She hasn’t gotten back to me, which is fine. I’ve bullied her enough, so I’m determined not to bully her into forgiving me, for crying out loud. I’m just doing what I can to make amends.

And the flash fiction competition was this weekend. It ended about an hour and a half ago. I’m not all that happy with my story, but… I’ve had a lot on my mind lately, and “thriller” isn’t my genre. (I’m happier with any genre that can incorporate comedy.)

Here’s a fun thinker question for everyone: which genre would you say your life has been? Meg’s funny answer: sci-fi.

 

 

 

 

Mindfulness.

I’ve been pondering the concept of living in the moment. It’s a huge concept presented by New Age people as being the mature way to approach life. Lately, it has taken on a new name, mindfulness. According to Wikipedia, mindfulness is “the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment, which one can develop through the practice of meditation and through other training.”

But I’ve been giving some thought to the illogical nature of being mindful. When I was a teenager, I loved reading New Age books. I’m glad I read them, because it helped me develop good thinking skills. Also, they were just very entertaining. One such book described living in the moment thusly, if I recall: suppose you’re anxious about this week’s dentist appointment. Don’t worry about it now, because it’s not happening now! It’s not your current reality.

Okay. Suppose that’s true. To get literal, right now, maybe you’re playing with your pets. Indeed, the dental appointment is several days away. But let’s follow this logically. In several days, you will be at the dentist. Will you want to be wallowing in the present moment then? I wouldn’t think so. It’s like, hey, scary dentist! Set down that drill and step away slowly. Get me away from here! 

In my thinking, if you’ve got a dentist phobia, the best thing to do is find proactive solutions. Sedation, background music, a nice dentist, and keeping your teeth clean with religious fervor in order to avoid needing a root canal all seem like good ideas. Trying to block the upcoming appointment from your mind because it isn’t “now”? Erck. I agree it won’t help to sit around being anxious, but that’s why solutions must be found to put us at ease.

Here’s another flaw with the concept of living in the moment. Suppose you’re engaged in a pleasant daydream about your upcoming vacation to the beach. Or, maybe you’re having fond memories of going to the beach a few years ago. Either way, the New Age guru will come along and say, “Stop that! You aren’t experiencing the present moment! You’re cheating at life! Pay attention to your current reality already.” Wow, what a buzzkill.

Naturally, both the past and the future can cause us mental problems. With the past, there can be trauma; and with the future, there can be anxiety. None of this is good. But I fail to see how paying attention to the present can help… unless it’s the lesser of three evils.

There seems to be a misbelief among these living-in-the-moment cult leaders (many of whom I’ve met and interacted with) that the present moment is always good; that all of our problems come from stepping out of the present moment in our minds. Like, suppose you’ve just caught fire. Live in the moment! Enjoy being on fire, because it feels great, right? No! Freakin’ extinguish yourself. (Or, as they taught us back in the day: stop, drop, and roll; which also works with bowling.)

And with this new term, mindfulness, there’s the connotation of paying attention to what you’re doing while you’re doing it. For example, I’m “mindfully” doing my laundry. That’s what you’re supposed to be focused on, in order to truly derive the most pleasure possible from doing the laundry–the joy of the fold, the thrill of the pumping water, the agony of losing a sock. [Eyeroll.] It’s not that exciting a task! Where’s the harm in a little daydreaming, or even in multitasking? The cult leaders I knew were against that, too. They thought that if you watched TV while doing the laundry, instead of focusing all your attention on the clothes, that you were diluting your focus and letting the ego win. Huh. I’m glad I’m not in those cults any longer. I can’t go back to them at this point, seeing as I’m the one who ran them out of town. And in the moment, I truly enjoyed making them flee. But I digress.

I don’t think that our thoughts need to be “now” for them to be okay. Eager anticipation and happy memories are both wonderful things. The present can also be great. Or, the past, the present, and the future can all be horrible. Or a little of both!

I do think mindfulness has some benefits, though, if you look at it differently. For example, we need to be able to catch ourselves in the act of using negative cognitive schemas. So often, our negative thoughts or actions slip past our radars because we grow accustomed to them. “I can’t succeed. I’ll fail at that. I shouldn’t even try.” Catch that thought and question it! Ask yourself, why am I thinking this right now? But maybe that isn’t mindfulness so much as self-awareness, because you can just as well think about it five minutes later.

Here’s a stumper of a question: you know people who have eidetic memories, as in they can remember every single moment of their lives in bright detail? So, suppose you ask them to recall a date five years ago, and they start describing all the details to you. In that moment, while they’re describing five years ago, are their eidetic memories still turned on and recording the current moment? Or are they putting all their energy into recall? I have no clue how that works.