Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Post That Spent Four Months In DRAFT Form.

NOTE:  Yes, the date of this post says December 31, 2011. That's when I started writing it. I set it aside for a long time, not sure I wanted to put it out there, because it's pretty angry. I revisited the draft periodically, adding and subtracting and debating whether or not to post it.

It's now mid-April, and I'm still not sure I've made the right decision, but something happened that will surely interest my longtime readers.

I don't mean to sound douchey, but Uncle Prickly's sudden passing was incredibly inconvenient, as it coincided not only with my parents' visit, but also with the BlackBookBerry Writers' Retreat - a commitment I'd made months earlier, and that I was not going to miss. I only found out a week or two before my parents' arrival that they were planning to be here for Tito's birthday. Sidebar: Tito just turned NINE, btw, can ya believe? That means Pie is ten, and Beeb is almost fifteen.

I was at the writers' thing the entire day while R took the kids to Uncle Prickly's visitation.  MIL and FIL were there (Uncle Prickly, as you might recall, was married to MIL's sister, Aunt Huggy), and FIL was, according to Beebie, his usual self. Beeb gave me the details to the best of her recollection, and based on what she told me, I'm now going to give you the conversation that took place in the funeral home, as I've envisioned it. I make no claims to its accuracy, but the one line that I'm pretty sure is a direct quote (according to all three Apes), well, shit, I don't want to spoil it for you. Trust me. You'll know it when you see it.

Room full of mourners. Uncle Prickly's ashes in a lovely urn, next to a picture of him looking youthfully dashing in his Navy uniform.

I don't know how they got onto the subject, but somehow it came out that my parents were in town.

FIL:  Are they staying with you, then, I assume?
R:  Actually, no. They don't stay with us when they're in town.
FIL:  Well, good. Because if they did, I'd be extremely offended... since MIL and I haven't been invited over to your house since we helped you move in.

(Note: This was nearly five years ago. And also, that's exactly how I want it.)

R:  Well, Sarah and I don't really have people over much.
FIL: Whatever. So, are you going to go and socialize here at this visitation thing?
R: I'm not really comfortable doing that. I'm not much of a social person.
FIL: You never have people over and you don't know how to socialize? You're going to raise antisocial children, y'know.
MIL: Oh, Sarah's so social and outgoing, she kinda makes up for R's introvertedness. The kids aren't antisocial.
R:  The thing is, Dad, we're not great housekeepers, and Sarah's afraid that you'd judge her.

(I'm gonna ask you to brace yourselves for what FIL said next.)

FIL:  (scoffs)  When have I EVER judged Sarah?

(G'head.  Read that shit again.)

R:  Well, I think Sarah sometimes feels judged by you.

(We'll come back to that line, too.)

So, I got all of this information from Beebie (who, bless her heart, was right there with R for all of it - that's right, this entire conversation took place in front of my children) when I called to check in while driving home from the writing thing.  And I came absolutely unglued.

WHAT THE MOTHERFUCKING FUCK?!!?  When have I EVER judged Sarah? I was shattered.  Levelled to the ground.  When has he ever NOT judged me? I drove home, let the dog out, and cried myself into a seething migraine because I suddenly felt the reality that the last fifteen years of making myself sick and crazy trying to appease this man has been for nothing, and he will never change... because he clearly doesn't see any need to.

I have done everything I can think to do - for fifteen years - just to get along with FIL. This has been well-documented in this blog since I started writing it. I've attempted to change my mentality from bitter to compassionate. I have tried to not let him get to me. I have tried to forgive and to understand. I have tried to focus on positive things. Tried to find blogworthy moments.

Even as recently as the Saturday before Thanksgiving, I focused my energy into initiating and maintaining pleasant conversation with him, attempting to anticipate all of the things he could possibly criticize. And, as I wrote in my most recent post, FIL still found a way to needle me. And now, I am 100% convinced that FIL will never, ever change. I am convinced that nothing I do - no matter how hard I try - will awaken him to the fact that he is a completely insensitive asshole.

That's pretty much what I've been doing for the last 15 years, folks. Taking his shit so that he doesn't take it out on R or on MIL or, God forbid, on my kids. Why do I go out there? Certainly not because I can't wait to see his happy smiling face and get my fill of love and encouragement.

No. I go because I don't want to put R in the position where he has to explain why I can't stand going out there. I go because if I didn't, FIL would be a dick to R and to my kids, and he'd snark on me when I'm not there to defend myself. He'd take it out on MIL, too. I have to say, though, I'm losing my sympathy for her.

Why do I sacrifice my own sanity and self-worth for the good of everyone else when it's clearly to my own detriment? Do I really want to teach my children that it's perfectly acceptable to allow myself to be treated this way? Do I want them to learn that bullies get to do whatever they want? 

I refuse to believe that the right, noble and virtuous thing to do is, without exception, the one thing that will make you the most miserable. I refuse to believe that that's what God wants for us. I refuse to accept that wanting to be happy is inherently selfish and wrong. I reject the notion that we are called into a life of avoiding our own happiness.

Perhaps I'm not praying hard enough for God to soften FIL's heart of stone. Hell, share some responsibility in this, friends... maybe Y'ALL aren't praying hard enough for ME. 

I'm kidding, of course, but let me ask you something. How do you pray harder? Do you scrunch up your eyes supertight until you give yourself a headache? Do you crank your inside-your-head voice up to 11? Do you yell your prayers out loud as though maybe God didn't hear you?

Or do you say, "Ok, God, I'm not really feeling that this is what you want for me. Please give me some clear direction, and patience while I'm waiting to see it."

And you know what else? Don't get me started on the God thing. I gave up my own beliefs about who God is and what He's about when I converted to Catholicism (for R, but really, for FIL) when we got married. At the time, I didn't realize that that meant I would be expected to teach my children to believe things that I personally do not believe. It's a battle I lost a long time ago, and the one I most regret not fighting harder from the beginning. I feel like I gave up - and continue to give up - a part of myself.

I grew up as the daughter of an Episcopalian minister and went to church regularly most of my life. Now we're pretty much on the Catholic Minimal Obligation Easter/Christmas plan. It's not that I don't want to go more often, I actually would like to go more often, to a Protestant church. But it's not worth a fight, so I shut up and take the boys to and from PSR (which, I'll remind you, costs over $300 a year) every Monday night and tell them to direct their religious questions to R.

I've realized that the motivation behind my actions isn't love. It's fear of what will happen if I don't. I've lived my live in Prevention Mode for far too long, my friends.

Y'all know FIL wouldn't have said shit about not being invited to my house to ME. He saves his bitching for R. FIL doesn't let me see him tearing R apart and putting R in the unfortunate position of having to choose where his loyalty will go. By saying "I think Sarah feels that you judge her sometimes", R made me feel as though the fact that FIL judges me is entirely in my head. Tell me there's not a world of difference between saying:

"Dad, Sarah feels as though you judge her, and quite honestly, I feel it, too. You really kinda do say negative things about her - and me - that would make any normal human being feel inadequate. Which is pretty much the definition of Judging Someone..."

and "It's Sarah's perception - and I don't necessarily agree - that you judge her sometimes. Isn't that just silly?"

To be clear (and in fairness to R), I should point out that I wasn't there and so I obviously don't know for absolute certain what R's exact words were, but that's how the story was told to me, and that's how the story I heard made me feel.

Now, I'm in no way suggesting that I'm the only one who experiences FIL this way. Everyone does. And to me, that means that everyone should be free to deal with him in whatever way they want to. I don't care how other people deal with him. No one's ever told FIL to go fuck himself, to my knowledge. But I get closer and closer to it all the time.

And again, because I'm truly trying to be fair, I can't say that there's been zero improvement over the years. Some visits (the majority, even) have gone tolerably well, some have gone unexpectedly well, and some, like the time the Aldi's idiot dog dropped a steaming pile of shit on FIL's immaculate white carpet will go down in Karma history as the shit of legend. If you haven't read that one, you simply must. And even if you have, read it again and be reminded of why you ever started reading this blog in the first place. It's one of my all-time favorites.

And if you happen to be new to my blog, welcome! Leave a comment and say hi!

But the point is, you never know. And that's not cool. Just because the last four or five visits have gone well, that's never a guarantee that the next one won't be epic fucking drama. I think it's fair to say that there has not been an improvement that even remotely reflects A) the effort that I've put in, or B) the fifteen years that have passed since the first time he judged me, which was right after the first time he met me.  He told R, "Looks like she's already got her hooks into you."

Nice, right? Little did I know I would spend the next fifteen years trying to better his opinion of me, eventually learning that accomplishing that goal would be nigh to impossible. Yes, I think it improved somewhat after a decade or so, mainly because his other daughter-in-law Mrs. Aldi is a way bigger idiot than I am, but he has never stopped criticizing me. Because NO ONE is good enough for him.

The further point is that not once have I driven out to their house in joyful anticipation of what fun awaited us. No. My self-talk (and, as the kids grew older, my out-loud talk) is always, "Maybe it won't be too bad this time." I have never, ever ridden out there without experiencing the diarrhea gurgle in the tummy - you know, the one you might feel after having washed a sack of White Castles down with cheap beer - and you spend the next few uncomfortable hours wondering whether or not you'll make it to the crapper before your colon unloads... and the odds are, at best, 50/50?
Talk about a crapshoot.

Seriously, folks, I'm open to suggestions. What more could I possibly be doing to improve my relationship with FIL? I'm paying a therapist to help me deal with how I react to him. Is he paying someone to help him become more patient and understanding? If he's not going to put anything into his own improvement - and why would he? He's not doing anything wrong! - then why am I making myself crazy trying to meet his impossible standards?

So I get home and tell R that I heard Nat's vivid description of the visitation, and he says, "It's my issue to deal with."  No, it's really not. I'm dealing with it too, and so are the kids who have witnessed him berating me (and R, and MIL, and Aldigirl, and everyone) countless times, and me turning the other cheek until we identify the appropriate opportunity to make a polite exit. And then on the drive to our house, my children get to see their mother's dam break - flooding the vehicle and its passengers with all that she'd been holding in - until she collapses into a snivelling mass of ineptitude.

I still can not believe that FIL denied ever having judged me, in front of three kids who have seen their mother hurt by him for as long as they can remember.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Paula Deen and the Pointless Pursuit of Perfection (subtitle: Christmas with the Inlaws)

If you've ever worked retail, or even if you've shopped at any retail location between Halloween and December 26th, you know that Holiday Season lasts for about two full months. And I should just start by admitting that I'm one of those people that says Happy Holidays to everyone, unless I know for absolute certain that you celebrate Christmas. I remember disctinctly one Christmas when I worked at The Gap and the managers sat us all down and told us that we weren't allowed to say Merry Christmas anymore. "Have a nice holiday" was the preferred valediction during December. Seemed reasonable, all-encompassing and sensitive to all faiths and non-faiths, so whatever. That's I started saying Holiday instead of Christmas. Nearly twenty years ago.

This year, I've felt an alarming backlash of people who are insisting on the Merry Christmas over the Happy Holidays. And some people are really kinda ugly about it.  Did you hear about the teacher that got in trouble for changing the words to Deck The Halls because kids were giggling at the word "gay"? Presumably trying to maintain order, she changed it to "bright", and parents were all up in arms about it. Jeez. Well, ummm... maybe you should teach your idiot children that the word "gay" isn't funny, assholes.

At FoodHole we got a nastygram scrawled in scraggly old lady penmanship that said "Shame on you, FoodHole! It's MERRY CHRISTMAS, not HAPPY HOLIDAYS!" What a crabass. In fairness, it was kinda stupid that FoodHole put up a gigantic sign that said Fresh-Cut Holiday Trees when the only tree-centered holiday I know of is Christmas. Eventually FoodHole fixed the signage to say Christmas Trees. Still, I kinda think that Christmas brings out the worst in some people. Why ya gotta git yer grannypannies all up in a knot? Ya got nuthin better to do? Seems kinda Grinchy to hate on the way people wish each other a pleasant Late December.

For me, December 26th does not offer me the chance to uncoil and exhale. For me, the Holiday stress usually continues for a few more days. My parents arrive tomorrow, and then Tito's birthday is on the 29th. This little monkey - who my longtime readers might remember took forever to potty train - is turning NINE.

My little teeny Tito. I can't believe it. The annual reminders of the constant passing of time make me feel so sad and old. But I'm also glad I had this blog going then, to document my good days and my bad days and the sweet things they did and the crazy things that I still can't believe. Remember the picture of Tito's jelly handprints on Pie's back?

I still can't figure out how. Or why.
Good times.

Anyway, so while most people are in post-Christmas relaxation mode after two months of Christmas pressure, my stress is kicked up a notch. I have to figure out what I'm going to do for Tito's birthday because he just got a whole bunch of cool stuff for Christmas. I have to figure out what we're going to do with my parents while they're here. And I kinda have all of that end-of-the-year stuff to work out, like paying the property tax and getting all the money we have left in our Flex Spending Account. I need new contacts, but my prescription is more than a year old and I probably won't have time to get in for a new exam. I need to get the kids in for eye appointments too, come to think of it. Crap. I've got quite a bit on my mind.

Wanna hear about Karma Christmas?  I know you do.

I'd worked all day on both the 23rd and the 24th and was physically and mentally exhausted on Christmas morning. I kinda auto-piloted myself through the week before Christmas. I got gifts for the boys' regular teachers, TAG teachers (Tito got into the Gifted program this year, which was a really big deal), and PSR teachers, plus I also got a gift card for the nice lady who gave Beeb rides to and from marching band events (Beeb did marching band this year - and yes, she went to Band Camp and yes, she plays the flute). I even knitted gifts for my Secret Santa from work and for Beeb's band directors. I don't know how I did everything. All I can think about is what I didn't get finished. That's just kinda how my brain works.

The Apes were up at 7am, eager to unwrap their gifts. The boys got video games and Nerf guns. Tito got Alien Conquest Legos and Pie got a Nook so he can read The Hunger Games. I got Beeb a silver necklace with a snowflake on it that says "You're one of a kind." I thought it suited her. Her favorite gift was a unicorn Pillow Pet. I got R a Draftmark system. It's pretty cool. Beer is always a tasteful gift, n'est-ce pas?

My favorite part of the entire day was seeing how proud my kids were to give each other gifts that they'd picked out for them and purchased with their own money. I think this is really the first year that they got into giving almost as much as getting. Tito got so excited when everyone opened the gifts that he'd bought. He got Ryan a pocket Nerf gun and Beeb a Glee CD. He got me a rhinestone letter S on a keychain. All of the kids kicked in some money to buy R Batman: Arkham City for the 360.

After the gifts were opened, I got started cooking. MIL had specifically requested that I bring out the Paula Deen Green Bean Casserole that I took out last year. I got most of the ingredients at FoodHole the night before and was ready to put it together Christmas Morning. I had also got R some superfancy expensive bacon to try, so after I cooked it up for breakfast, I sauteed the onions and mushrooms in the bacon grease instead of butter. I thought that was kinda brilliant of me. Paula would applaud my ingenuity.

I don't know if I've ever mentioned it on here, but years ago, when I was brand new to R's family, Aunt Huggy asked me to bring green beans to some massive extended-family event, and it was not adequately explained to me that I would be the only one bringing green beans to feed about thirty people. Honestly, it probably wouldn't have mattered if they'd explained it to me because I can't do that kind of Kitchen Math, but this is why I'm super-sensitive about making sure there's enough for everyone so that I'm not hideously mortified again. So when I poured the Paula Deen bacon fat soaked green beans into my one stoneware casserole dish that is nice enough to take outside the house, and saw that it was just a little more than halfway full, it unleashed a tsunami of emotion. I stood at the stove, sobbing in the green bean casserole and wiping my nose on my pajama sleeve.

I had more beans, but I was out of the chicken broth I needed to boil the fresh green beans in, and I was just sure that FIL would be able to tell which green beans were boiled in the organic chicken broth and which were boiled in water and Aldi chicken boullion cubes. My options were to take a chance and hope that the beans tasted okay when I mixed them in with the ones made with the good ingredients, or to not take enough green beans. It really sucks when every possible choice exposes me to potential criticism.

I know I'm not perfect. I know I don't get it right all the time, and I know that it's unreasonable to expect perfection from myself. More importantly, I know that it's unreasonable for anyone else to expect perfection from me. But don't try to tell me everything will be okay when you and I both know that there's a really strong probability that it won't be. It'll be okay as in no one will suffer as a result of or be negatively affected by my faux pas... except for me. That's not okay. It's about my not wanting there to be any reason for FIL to give me a hard time, even in jest, because I can't promise that I'll take it well.  I'm getting bolder and, with the encouragement of friends and the professional help of TheraPenny, making my own happiness a priority in my life. Finally.

After the Green Bean Breakdown, we got all of the gifts and stuff in R's new car and headed out to Chez Inlaw.  We hadn't even gotten our coats off when the phone rang. It was R's cousin calling to let MIL know that Uncle Prickly (Aunt Huggy's Husband of 50 years) had had a series of strokes and was not expected to survive. It was weird to watch the family deal with such devastating news. There was a mild freak-out moment, which was really more like "Oh. Huh. Wow. That's too bad." and then it was back to the business at hand. Not that there was anything to be done - I certainly didn't expect to pile everyone back in the car and head to the hospital or anything, but still, it was just weird, and it set an odd tone to the day before anything had even started.

We had ham for dinner (which was excellent) and I'm happy to say that the Paula Deen Green Beans were a hit. I was glad that I made more, using the Aldi boullion. Nobody said anything. I've considered that maybe the possibility of being publicly critiqued exists only in my head, but even if that's the case, it's a 100% learned behavior, taught and selectively reinforced by FIL over fifteen years. MIL asked me about how work was going, and I love talking about my job, so I gladly told her about my Outstanding Customer Service Award and how awesome my store is. We've won a bunch of regional awards and and I'm so proud to be a part of such a strong, inspiring team. But FIL quickly steered the conversation back to something else. Typical.

Now for the good stuff, y'all.  The Aldis continued their long-standing tradition of giving oddly inappropriate gifts. They got Pie and Tito a set of Hot Wheels cars, which they're just about too old for, but... meh, whatever. Then it was Beeb's turn to open her gift from the Aldis. She tore off the paper to reveal a pink and magenta striped box from...

wait for it...

Victoria's Secret.

Oh, I thought, there's no way they got her something from Victoria's Secret. She's fourteen. It must just be something they put in a Victoria's Secret box to make it easier to wrap.

No, no.  It was something from Victoria's Secret.  It was one of those Love Pink t-shirts that high school girls wear. Y'know, the ones that Mrs Aldi won't let Aldigirl wear even though she's less than a year younger than Beeb. Mrs Aldi would probably wear one herself, though. With a leather miniskirt. To a wedding. Think I'm kidding? She wore a black leather miniskirt to MY wedding. When she was pregnant.

Ok, so it wasn't like they bought her lingerie, but it was still creepy to think that one of three equally icky things probably happened:

A)  The Aldis intentionally went to Victoria's Secret specifically with Beeb in mind, thinking was the perfect place to find something for their fourteen-year-old niece

B)  The Aldis were at the mall already and thought, shit, we need a gift for Beeb while they happened to be standing in front of Victoria's Secret 

or C)  Mrs Aldi had a coupon and got it free when she bought something for herself. 

I kinda want to know whether the idea to get Beeb a gift from Victoria's Secret entered their minds before or after they got to the mall. But honestly, it really doesn't make a difference, does it?  It's just pretty fucking gross to think that Reverend Aldi wrapped that gift. Please agree with me that this is completely inappropriate and utterly unacceptable. PLEASE. The fact that one of them thought of it and the other didn't talk them out of it freaks. my. shit. out.

After the cousin gifts, MIL and FIL handed out little cardboard boxes that looked like gingerbread houses along with envelopes with money inside. The kiddos opened the envelopes and counted five perfect, crisp $5 bills. Now, normally they give the kids each $100, usually in some clever way. One year, they gave them each $100 in dollar coins inside a wooden treasure chest. That was kinda awesome.

When the kids opened the boxes and found a cupcake inside instead of $75 more, Pie didn't miss a beat, didn't act disappointed, simply said "Meema's cupcakes are better than money!" Then FIL handed the kids each a plate and a fork so they could eat them.  Pie tore into his like he hadn't eaten in days, and a minute or two later FIL stopped him and told him to see if there was anything strange in his mouth. He put his fingers in and pulled out what looked like a little piece of Trident wrapped in foil. Inside the foil was a $100 bill.

Bravo, MIL and FIL.  Well done.

After the cupcake reveal, Tito was wiggling one of his front teeth and it was squicking me out, so I told him to come to me so I could yank it out. I wasn't really going to yank it out; I just wanted to flick it with my finger to see what would happen. But I flicked it and it fell out in his mouth! He gasped in horror and I laughed like a jackass because I must have looked like the worst mother in the world, flicking my child in the face. It was hilarious.

Oh, and ya know what? That reminds me that I forgot to tell you a story. A couple of weeks ago, when R was done with his weekly phone call to his folks, he told me that MIL and FIL had been at a dinner party where FIL slipped on, of all things, a toasted ravioli. And not only did he fall on his face in front of who knows how many people, he also broke off a part of his tooth.

I know I'm a horrible person, but I gotta tell ya, I laughed my motherfucking ass off when I heard that they would have to pull the tooth. I was hoping to see a giant hillbilly-lookin' gap at Christmas, but I didn't, probably because the man never smiles. I did, however, find it rather interesting that we didn't take the family portrait that we pose for every year and that somehow never gets printed.  I've never seen one.

It's not that FIL's opposed to pictures, clearly, because the next part of the day was the old school slide show of MIL and FIL taking Mrs Lexus, Reverend Aldi, and R to Disneyworld when R was two years old. There were some awfully cute pictures or baby R in there, and it was fun to look at them and figure out which Ape looked most like him in that picture. There were pics of Mrs Lexus' birthday parties and the spectacular cakes that MIL made for them. Weird part, though? There's a bizarre lack of smiles in the four rolls of slides. Really, truly bizarre.

So that was Christmas with the inlaws. Remarkably bearable, but profoundly surreal. 

Friday, December 02, 2011


Ah, I've missed you, my global fan base!  It's been quite some time, hasn't it?  Let me briefly update you on the goings-on in my life.

I'm still working at Foodhole and very happy there. It's a fantastic fit for me and my kooky personality! Twice as many hours than I got at Squish, $1.50 more per hour, better management, don't have to find a parking spot at the mall, much closer to home - it's a total win. They appreciate the work that I do, and the things that I am naturally good at (such as witty banter and talking about yummy food) are the things that are important there. The only thing that's been tough for me is that the days are longer. At Squish my longest shift was only 5 hours. At Foodhole, it's an 8-hour day. That's been hard to get used to. Working all summer and leaving the kids at home made me feel like a jerk of a mom. The kids didn't complain, though. They walked up to the neighborhood pool most days, and on the days that I was off, we hung out and did goofy stuff when they felt like it, but a lot of the time they just wanted to play video games in their pajamas, which was just fine with me.

In other news, I made an appearance (sorta) in a recent episode of the web comedy series BlackBookBerry. I'm ridiculously proud of a ten-second bit. Check out the show! I've also been collaborating with one of the series' creators on another project that is still in the early scribbling-out-characters-and-a-story stage, but I've had an unprecedented amount of fun working on it and I can't wait to unleash it on the world when the time comes. I'd forgotten how much I enjoy writing for an audience.

Speaking of writing, if you follow me on Facebook, you probably know that I spent the month of November attempting NaNoWriMo. If you're not familiar, it's a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. I thought I'd give it a try, y'know, since I've got all this time on my hands. I enjoy writing. And I'm actually pretty good at writing witty dialogue. I like to think I have a snappy Kevin Smith style of writing. So, I thought, what the hell, I'll write a 50,000 word novel in a month. I'd never had a deadline or a goal before, other than the ones I imposed on myself (Wookin Pa Nub Wednesdays, for example), but I write my blog just like I'm talking to someone sitting across from me and it would probably take me, what, maybe an hour to say 50,000 words? How hard could it possibly be?

I started out National Novel Writing Month enthusiastic and confident, and after the first week I got so far behind I couldn't get back on pace and I ended up missing the goal by an abysmal 30,000 words. Ugh. Why did I think I could do this? I should have known that writing a novel is not at all like updating my blog (which I only did four times all of last year). In my blog, I just tell you what happened in my life today. It doesn't have to make sense, and, usually, it doesn't. Most of you know enough of my personal backstory that I don't have to go back and fill in many (if any) blanks. I don't have to create characters on my blog. The Aldis are totally, unbeliveably, real, and I couldn't create a villain like FIL if I tried. I don't have to build a plot on a blog. The Swamp Thing Chronicles wrote itself.

P.S., I STILL can't believe that ill-mannered bitch showed up at my front door.

Anyway, I was extremely disappointed that I didn't make the 50K word goal. I know it's not a big deal, I know it doesn't matter to anyone but me, I know nobody thinks I suck at writing because I didn't make it, I know I should be using semicolons now instead of commas, and I know I should be proud of the 20,000 words I wrote. I just hate it when I don't achieve what I so desperately wanted - and fully expected - to achieve, you know? I wrote, without fail, every single day - even when I was bitter and pissed off and couldn't think of a single word to write. And I wasn't even close. I cut the goal in half, thinking it was more realistic for me, and I was still 5000 words away from the halfway point. And at the end of the month, I looked over what I had done, and there were huge chunks of it that I didn't remember writing. That was kinda surreal. Sometimes it was cool because there were funny bits of dialogue that I kinda felt I was reading for the first time. But mostly I felt like I have some sort of personality disorder or that I took too much Lunesta and was doing crazy shit in my sleep.

Why can't I put this whole stupid thing behind me? Why have I internalized it - a full month later - as a complete fail? Why have I been so deeply affected? I think a lot of it was timing. The month of November included two trips to Chez Inlaw in less that one week. And what makes me feel more totally ineffective and worthless as a human being than an afternoon with FIL?

The first trip out to Chez Inlaw that went reasonably well up until the last two minutes. You may recall that every single time I go out there, I draw some sort of criticism which never comes to me directly - it always goes through R. I personally think FIL is afraid of me because he doesn't know what I'll do. He knows what everyone else will do. Everyone else has endured a lifetime under his oppressive rule; I've only had fifteen years. Having grown up in a loving, encouraging, supportive home, I know that there are other, more effective ways for a patriarch to lead (not govern, not rule) his family - the people he's supposed to love. FIL has taught everyone, through relentless emotional bullying and manipulation, that he's the boss of the world and that the best way to get along with him is to do everything in your power to keep him happy. What has he done to make me (or anyone else) happy recently? I loathe celebrating every single holiday now, solely because of my fear of upsetting him. I make myself sick and crazy trying to anticipate which shortcoming of mine he'll decide to exploit. He has singlehandedly managed to suck the joy out of every otherwise supposed-to-be joyous occasion he is a part of, and I deeply, deeply resent it. I did not sign up for this.

It's more than just the regular stress of family events that a lot of people feel. What I feel is a nauseating, full-on dread that has very real physical manifestations. It's an all-day panic attack. Oh, but if I turn to Xanax for relief, I might get supertired and not have the energy to concentrate while he's delivering a lecture from the vast variety of topics ranging from Obamabashing to Power Tools to Diabetes. Not once in fifteen years has he ever asked me about me. Oh, wait, I take that back. He did ask me how I voted in the last presidential election (even though I am absolutely positive that he already knew the answer to the question and was only seeking to make me defend my choice by picking it apart and making me feel stupid), and I responded by telling him that I do not discuss politics. Ever. Because it's true. I don't. Political debates piss me off. Because really, what good comes of it? If we agree, we agree. If we don't, it's extremely unlikely that you'll convince me to change my mind and if you try to make me feel like I'm an ignorant jackass for having the opinion that I have, I'm probably going to punch you in the face. Why go there?

The name of the game is to figure out which previous criticism you are going to make a ridiculously overt, visible attempt to reconcile. Usually I do this by mentally scrolling through the last several trips out and trying to remember what I did wrong the last time. And whatever you try to fix, he will not acknowledge. Instead, he will zero in on something else that you allowed to slip past you while you were fully focused on making the concerted effort to not repeat the last regretful transgression he bitched about. This time, I was trying to avoid the criticism that I never offer to help clean up, because that was the most recent one I could remember.

It was in every way a typical visit. My kids know how they're expected to behave when we're out there. They're too big to be entertained by crayons and coloring books. They literally just sit silently at the table while FIL talks. For HOURS. Bless their little ape hearts. They were perfect angels. I was so proud and grateful.

So when it finally got to be time to leave, I was straightening up and gathering the kids' things. R said "I think we're going to go ahead and go now..." to which FIL said "And Sarah..." but I didn't quite hear what he said after my name because I was on the other side of the kitchen. Part of me wanted to say "And Sarah WHAT?" But for whatever reason, I didn't. I waited until we got in the car to ask R what FIL had said about me.

He'd said "...and Sarah is getting restless." 

RESTLESS?  I'd been spot-on perfect the entire day. The kids had been perfect. I'd cleaned, I'd attempted to engage in conversation (as much as anyone can, with him). I was on my absolute best behavior. But this man is somehow able to keep a watchful eye on everyone in the room even while delivering a lecture. I suppose it would be a quite remarkable gift, were he to use it for good and not to single me out as being disrespectful or rude. Excuse the FUCK outta me for cleaning instead of sitting and staring at you blankly while you rattled on and on about something I don't know or care about. We all know that if I'd chosen to sit and feign interest, he'd have found some other failing of mine to point out.

After sobbing the entire hour-long ride home, I got into bed, fired up the laptop, and saw that I had somehow lost about 1200 words of my story.  I shouldn't even say "somehow", like it was a mystery, it was really that I wrote several paragraphs and pasted the same set of 1200 words in two different places because I couldn't decide where it fit better into the story. I just about threw up when I made that discovery.

Plus, the knitters will relate to this - you know when you've been working on a project, followed the pattern to the letter (perhaps after a few mistakes and re-starts) and put a considerable number of hours into it, motivated solely by the thought of triumphantly removing it from the needles and debuting it to the world, imagining the countless compliments you'll receive and practicing how to humbly accept them - only to finish the project and have it turn out considerably shittier than you'd envisioned? Are ya feelin' me, knitterz? Yeah.

The project I'd started as my distraction for the times when I wanted to keep my mental agility but didn't feel like writing - the thing that the stupid dog got a hold of, ripped apart and I nursed back to health only to realize I had fixed it wrong and added several unnecessary and preventable hours to the project - turned out really, profoundly not even remotely close to what I thought it would look like. Everything I've knit in the last month has come out hideous. I feel so inept.

Now, the thing I'm struggling with is this - I can't decide if it NANOWRIMO was a good experience. I suppose any experience that you learn from is a good experience, but I can't silence the part of me that wishes I hadn't tried. Because if I hadn't tried, I'd still have the confidence that I could do it, instead of being consumed by the feeling that I've just proven to the world that I can't.

So let's review what I learned. I suck at writing FICTION. I can't make shit up. The reality of my life is far more entertaining than anything my imagination can conjecture. Pretty sure the word Conjecture can be used as a verb.

But, more importantly, I learned that I can find time to write every day if I commit myself to it. I'm not going to promise that I'll write every day, but I feel reasonably certain that I can keep a promise to blog more in 2012 than I did in 2011.