Posted by: Kate | February 10, 2012

A Reason to Appreciate Living Outside of Michigan

Some people enjoy the whole political machine, organism, game, whatever it is the kids call it these days. Other people seem to hate it so much that it wraps around to form a warped sort of love.

I fall into neither of these groups; I vote when I feel that my vote can contribute to the process in some positive/informed way, or when voting isn’t going to make me late for work or mess with a child’s naptime. Once I have voted, I feel like I’ve earned the right to complain about politicians in between elections, regardless of whether I filled in the little oval next to their names. I watch Jon Stewart and read Newsweek and Time whenever I’m in a doctor’s office. Does that make me well-informed? Does it even elevate me above the level of basic ignorance? Probably not. I’m OK with this.

I find that many people seem to be just as personally invested and vulnerable about their politics as they are about their religions, and so I try to avoid stepping on toes – or egos – by generally steering clear of those areas in casual conversation. I don’t think the United States’ political system holds more than a nodding acquaintance with good enough, but it’s better than a lot of the alternatives and I know I don’t possess the intensity necessary to effect macro-level change. (And, frankly, if I did have that kind of intensity on-hand, I’d apply it to several dozen other areas before I even thought about politics for fun and profit.)

The short version: I’m lazy and cynical, and those are the stones that create the paths to apathy and ambivalence.

Lately, though – once every four years, give or take – that ambivalence has edged closer to distaste and outright avoidance. The flooding of the airwaves and clogging of the Internets in service of (mostly) rich (mostly) white (mostly) men selling themselves as cheaply as possible to as many customers as possible is unpleasant enough; the slimy, try-not-to-get-any-on-you residue from the smear tactics and name-calling turns it onto something overtly aversive to me.

So, I don’t watch political ads. I avoid the debates. And I could have mailed in most of my votes as absentee ballots two years ago and would have likely had a very high level of reliability between those and my choices now. (That is, as long as the vote-counters were willing to accept “Assuming these guys are running again, please reapply my 2012 votes to them again. For the remaining positions, please select a roughly equal mix of candidates from as many different political parties, ethnicities, age cohorts and whatever other demographic details apply. In absence of this level of information, please just fill in the little ovals in an interesting, preferably symmetrical, pattern.”)

I carefully avoid politically-leaning conversations with almost all family members because, to me, one’s political inclinations are fairly similar to one’s sexual orientation: you may experiment with various styles during your formative years, but by the time you’re an adult you have pretty much found your groove. Following the discovery of the groove, most people spend the rest of their lives digging deeper into it, so it becomes harder and harder to tolerate the idea of trying things a different way.

It becomes a very private thing, for the most part, though some people will always choose to make their living this way, amidst a certain inevitable degree of scandal and stickiness. And I firmly believe that you would have as much luck compelling a lifelong self-avowed far-left Democrat to begin stumping on behalf of Mitt Romney as you would have in coercing a lifelong self-avowed gay man to begin finding trees and bicycles sexually stimulating.

(Go ahead, sit with that image for a moment. And then try to convince me that the idea of forcing someone into a lifestyle of dendrophilia or mechanophilia is any more ridiculous than the idea of retraining someone’s homosexual proclivities.

…that’s what I thought.)

Anyway. (It really is an oddly compelling set of images, isn’t it? Enough to make a girl lose her train of thought. Now, where was I…?)

Right: political ads. I very, very rarely watch TV in real time anymore, and have become so spoiled by the existence of our DVR that if I somehow have to watch something during its regularly scheduled time, I feel resentful and often pull out a book so that I can read during the commercials. This protects me from the vast majority of political ads, and I typically use my iPod in the car, thereby keeping myself nicely insulated from lots of the media blitz.

Of course, I can’t avoid it completely. I listen to Boston AM news radio at least part of every drive into the city, so I end up aware of people and trends in government whether I want to be or not. Obviously, there are advertisements in the sidebars on Facebook, and I’m more than a little surprised that Words With Friends isn’t constantly being brought to me by a different earnest and deeply trustworthy politician-to-be. And don’t let’s forget the ever-increasing status messages and comments, when people we call “friends” (but wouldn’t be able to pick out of a photo line-up with their initials stamped on their foreheads) start oversharing their preferences, exploits, personal bests, proclivities and even deviancies, in service of “getting the vote out.” I find them vaguely annoying – no more or less relevant to me than requests for oxen or elf booties or an extra-large purple vibrator, depending on which game Facebook has convinced them to play – and deeply ignorable.

But yesterday, within the span of an hour, three people on my Facebook list (with no known interconnection between them other than me) mentioned the same political ad. The message had been approved by a rich white man in Michigan by the name of Pete Hoekstra, and if I could adequately describe the ad to you without providing a link, I would happily do so. After all, every time someone new clicks on his link, several million neurons die (I’m not yet sure whose, but it seems a logical consequence… and do you know what I’m paraphrasing there?).

I know next to nothing about Mr. Hoekstra, but what I have learned in the past hour is enough to convince me that I would prefer to have Rod Blagojevich reinstated as governor of Illinois than to trust this guy to represent me at any level. Blagojevich is slimy and crazy enough to believe his own words, true, but you can spot his crazy from a mile away. I don’t have any idea whether Hoekstra is any more adept at suppressing the crazy.

My non-fan-girl status centers around that little blurb that you hear at the end of political campaign ads, now: “I’m Joe Schmo and I approved this message.” I’d never given it much thought, but if I had, I’d have assumed it was just a legal thing to make some government campaign-funds-regulator type happy. But it appears that these politicians apparently actually do view and approve their own ads, and they often take part in the creation and design process, too. So this ad wasn’t some sort of twisted, reverse-psychology sort of gag on the part of his opponent, but a true reflection of some of Mr. Hoekstra’s personal and professional priorities.


Without further ado, the ad in question:

This is one of those situations where it would probably be easier to isolate the few things that are right about the ad, instead of focusing on all of the things it got so very, very wrong.

But where’s the fun in that? I started off trying to outline a few drinking games that could accompany this ad. For instance, everyone could do a shot each time the actress’ accent slips a little farther beyond the line between inappropriately faked to offensively caricatured. Or maybe everyone must drink constantly through the commercial except when she is saying “spend it now.” But those would probably work better if I were to subject myself to a larger sample of his oeuvre: I don’t care what kind of liquor you’re using, I think it would be very difficult to get sufficiently, brain-insulatingly drunk before the inanity of the ad causes hairline fractures to occur all over your skull. After all, a brain can only withstand a certain number of simultaneous aneurysms before it will start to swell. The problem with expanding my awareness of his complete videography is that I really just do not want to hear any more of what this guy has to say.

Then I started playing around with alphabet games, acronym contests, and the like. It could be fun to see what sorts of creative ideas people could come up with if they had to describe the commercial with words starting with each of the letters in, say, ASSHAT or SPEND IT ON POT (in that order, of course). Or find an adjective that describes the ad for each letter of the alphabet: Absurd… Bigoted… Caricature… Xenophobic… Yellowgirl (this term actually appeared in the HTML coding for the online version of the ad; Hoekstra’s team insists it was a reference to the color of her shirt and it has since been changed to “yellowshirtgirl”)… Zero apparent insight, seeing as how he has since pulled the ad (having debuted it statewide in Michigan during the Superbowl… whoops) but insists that the ad did what he wanted.

At the end of the day, though, it all stopped being funny. Or, to be accurate, it never was funny, but for a while I was able to focus on the brashness and flagrant political incorrectness coming from this career politician. I could lambast him for his thoughtlessness and raise a mock shot glass in his honor.

It didn’t take long, though, for me to remember exactly why it’s not funny… nor is it sad, or pathetic, or innocently stupid. It’s bullying, on a very high level: he’s a big kid on the playground, and he’s trying to raise his own stature by bringing his opponent down – or, at least, trying to. But not only did he try and level the playing field by name-calling and insults at his opponent, but he had a smaller, less powerful third party do it. A third party who is forced to act a little bit stupid (OK, maybe a lot) and whose smarm comes across as discordant as a toddler swearing: you recognize the words, but they just don’t make any sense coming from this seemingly nice, happy individual.

Ugh. I feel like I was able to set the stage pretty well here, but now I’m having a hard time articulating exactly why I hated this commercial so much. But I simply refuse to watch it again to remind myself.

I think you get the idea, anyway. I never held any votes that I could have given to this man, but I hope that at least one person out there in cyberspace happens to also reside in Michigan. Whether or not you vote for this guy is your business and I respect that; I just hope you were able to use this to add to your little pile o’ knowledge about the guy and ultimately decide where to best spend your votes.

They don’t cost much, those little votes, but they are priceless.

Posted by: Kate | February 9, 2012

One Step at a Time

Once upon a time, I would have to pace myself, blogwise. I had all these great ideas, and far too many words just itching to leap out of my brain and onto the screen. I actually would have several days’ worth of posts stacked up and scheduled, because sometimes I couldn’t suppress the urge to write and I didn’t want to go all manic and post several times per day.

That stopped, very abruptly, two years ago. When all I could think about, all I could experience, was illness, then every post started to slide toward that low spot – just like water pooling at the lowest point in a yard. The posts would pile up there, and sometimes I could gather them together and shine them up and make them fit for human consumption… but not always. And over time, the urge to post just faded away completely. I left the blog active so I could post when I wanted to, but i wasn’t sure if it would ever become a sanctuary for me again.

And it’s not a sanctuary for me again. Not yet. But today, I had things to say. I wanted to write: not to tell a story or document an event I might otherwise forget, but just to write. To admit that a topic has grabbed me by the brain, and to follow it wherever it wants to take me rather than just letting the interest fade away.

That felt good. I don’t dare get hopeful, to promise more blog posts or even hint that I would like to write more.  Failure hurts more when I know I didn’t have to set it up in the first place.

But I can appreciate that it was good, today.  It’s a start.

Posted by: Kate | February 9, 2012

Looking Like a Slut

I stumbled across this on Facebook this morning, and it has apparently gotten the gears inside my head turning. It’s obviously bringing more attention to the original poster than anticipated – apparently, until this week, her friends list was comprised of people she actually, you know, knew. Now that one of her posts has gone viral, she’s receiving the random Friend-Me-Friend-Me requests that a certain breed of user employs. Just like anywhere else on the planet, you can place your emphasis on quality or on quantity, and for some, a long list of friends is an acceptable substitute for human interaction.

Anyway, I saw this little back-and-forth, and it caught my attention.

It might have done nothing more than garner a few “likes,” maybe a comment or two, and then fade into oblivion, like the vast majority of Facebook posts do. (I’m still waiting for a way to effectively search through my own Facebook history, aside from laboriously clicking back in reverse chronological order, a week or so at a time… whenever you’re ready, Mr. Zuckerberg.) But one of my dear friends replied with, “Agreed about the blame being on the perpetrators, and that we need to raise our boys to respect women and that no means hell, no. I still wouldn’t want my daughter going out looking like a slut, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with rape.”

I started to type in my own response to her comment, and it quickly became apparent that I had quite a bit more to say. Enough that I decided to cut-and-paste it all over here. At the heart, I’m agreeing with my friend… not entirely sure whether I’m expanding on her comment, shifting from its focus, or what, but I’ve been playing in this great big online playground long enough to know some of the rules. Like, DON’T TYPE IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, BECAUSE PEOPLE DON’T LIKE GETTING YELLED AT. And, if there’s the slightest chance that your audience wouldn’t recognize sarcasm if they rolled over in bed in the morning and stared it straight in the face after a wild night of reckless carnal cynicism, go ahead and throw in an emoticon or a “ha ha” – even, in times of utter desperation, a LOL – because it’s a lot easier to say, “I’m just kidding, please don’t think I actually believe this,” than it is to say, “I’m so sorry I hurt your feelings. I thought you knew I was being sarcastic.” And, it is OK to Just Say No to LOLspeak; even if all the cool kids are doing it, you can stand up to peer pressure and use complete words and punctuation. (This last means you’ll have to keep track of those pesky homonyms, because you’re words look stupid if your not careful… and you cannot possibly understand just how difficult it is for me not to fix those particular words nownownow.)

And so on. The relevant rule, in this particular instance, is that if you respond to a two-sentence comment with several paragraphs, then your words might very well come across as defensive, abrasive, flaming… maybe all of the above. None of which is my intent at the moment.

So, my friend wrote, “Agreed about the blame being on the perpetrators, and that we need to raise our boys to respect women and that no means hell, no. I still wouldn’t want my daughter going out looking like a slut, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with rape.” And of their own accord, my fingers started to reply:

Well, yes, I don’t want my daughter looking like a slut, no matter where she is. But the obvious connotation of the original question is to suggest that a lower hemline is indicative of a higher level of internal morality. It’s in the same neighborhood as, “She asked for it,” which is just a half-block away from, “It’s easier for a girl to run with her skirt up than a man to run with his pants down… maybe she this wasn’t as non-consensual as she says.” In my book, the true criminal is the attacker, but any of his supporters who sit on the sidelines rooting him on – whether they’re in the room at the time or on the other side of the planet but crawling through all of those weird tubes of Internet – should be impelled to visit the attacker in prison. For several weeks at a time.

Sex crime is one of the remaining circumstances where we, as a society, are comfortable labeling it as terrible behavior. We insist that the mere concept of rape sparks internal outrage, and express smug pseudosympathy for the poor girl. Sexual abusers, of any kind (which often means “people who are attracted to people I am not attracted to and who do things I don’t want to do,” because what we find hot is hot and what they find hot is gross) are bad people who should be firmly punished. Except…

Well, see, but… the idea of sex crimes makes us uncomfortable. Especially if we recognize that some of our own proclivities aren’t universally appreciated, or if we know someone who has been accused (fairly or not), or if we know someone who has been hurt. Humans like to pretend that we’re in control, at least for the most part… that we have some say in how safe we are. That if we just eat healthily enough, get enough exercise, think before we speak, get enough sleep, and dress ourselves and our children correctly, then we’re basically safe. Bad things happen to good people all the time… but those bad things are often avoidable, if the good people had just gone about their days a little differently.

(This, by the way, is my gracious and forgiving version. I also have a much less benevolent set of thoughts about the tendency we have to find a way to blame the victim… but I suspect you all can get creative and figure that stuff out on your own. Include words such as “small-minded,” “reactionary” and “asshat,” and you’ll probably be able to reconstruct a reasonable facsimile of my not-nice version.)

Whether it’s well-meaning or not, at the end of the day, we often search hard for ways in which we can place at least some of the responsibility for a criminal act on the victim. Even when it’s as simple as, “Oh, she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” that implies that she could’ve done something different… and better. In the case of sex crimes, we move well beyond mental flexibility and become cognitive contortionists, just to find ways to make the perpetrator look a little less at-fault, the victim a little (or a lot) more at-fault, and the rest of us that much safer and more complacent in our own lives. So a rape victim’s clothing is preserved, following an attack, ostensibly to preserve evidence… but if she was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, those items are likely to be laid out on a table in the courtroom, and if she was wearing a halter top and miniskirt, the clothing might very well end up on a hanger or mannequin, maybe even held up against the victim’s body, in order to accentuate the abbreviation of the outfit. It becomes somehow relevant that the victim has never had a serious relationship, or has never had sex but acted like she wanted to, or had a previously consensual relationship with the offender. It becomes OK to hint that maybe this woman sent out the wrong message, her whole life or just in the moments leading up to the attack… and the more desperate the defendant becomes, the less subtle those hints will be.

Back to the original post… I had a hard time with the last two phrases, in particular. First, let her go out? In m world, the concepts of parental permission and drinking parties are mutually exclusive; my parents were consistent in their message to me that chemical experimentation of any kind was simply unacceptable as long as I lived under their roof. (And, of course, my message to them was that I would respect their rules at least to the point of hiding the evidence and constructing a world of plausible deniability.) If this is a drinking party and you know about it, that tends to imply that your daughter is at least in the vicinity of 18, of legal adulthood; therefore, she has (ideally) grown out of the need for Mom to lay out her clothes the night before, or even for Mom to have a substantive say in the presentation and adornment of the daughter’s body.

I find this to be a sneaky little way of disseminating blame even further: now the parents of the victim can be added to the list. While we’re at it, we might as well point fingers at the girl’s friends, who should have vetoed the outfit before leaving the house, and perhaps at the stores selling the clothing in the first place… maybe we can start a national initiative to impel all adults to earn a Clothing License before they’re allowed to choose their own outfits? (Hmm… actually, I think that’s a fantastic idea, and if I get organized perhaps we could enact Kate’s Law by the end of the year, at least at county and state levels…)

Then there’s the last phrase, looking like a slut. Who decides? (And have you ever noticed that sometimes the people who have appointed themselves as special authorities on the matter are the selfsame people who have no business even touching the reviled outfits, much less wearing them, themselves?) It probably falls under that old what-is-pornography argument: “I know it when I see it.” But true sluttiness involves more than just a certain number of square inches of skin exposed, or a certain percentage of total skin covered. I can tell you that there are outfits my 11-year-old can put on, with long pants and long sleeves, and they somehow instantly accelerate her into a 15-year-old, complete with curves and postures that make me terrified and proud more terrified in the blink of an eye.  And, when I’m at the beach, I find it infinitely more appropriate when a toddler is running around completely naked than when she is has a leopard-print string bikini stretched over her swim diaper. It’s just such a huge, foggy gray area, kind of a Rorschach test; when a person labels an outfit as slutty, or goes one better and labels a woman a slut, I learn more about the speaker than I do about the outfit (or the wearer).

All in all, though, this really just an academic volley of words, spouted off because I had some free time today and I have some very strong opinions about this topic (“Gee, ya think??”). But if I was truly interested in answering the original poster’s question, I could stop him after the 18th word, before that nasty little slut word appears: I don’t want my daughter going to a party with guys drinking, at all. Not for many years to come. At least not until she’s out of the convent.

See? Much better to have turned this into a blog post and rambled on in my own space, because here, it’s a few clever turns of phrase and some perhaps over-emotive opinions on a debate that I take rather personally. If I had I put this on Facebook, it would’ve just looked like the opening volley of a flame war. Nobody needs that… if for no other reason than the fact that I’m fresh out of marshmallows for roasting.

Posted by: Kate | February 9, 2012

Somewhere Between Exciting and Lame

Go ahead and laugh at me now: somehow I imagined I might have a fairly quiet evening… then Emily came home from tae kwon do complaining that her wrist hurt. She routinely has complaints, often at high volume, coincidentally appearing in close proximity to undone chores or uneaten dinner. But this one was persistent and – like her “kind of upsetting” interaction last month – she was quiet about it. Cue Mom-dar.

She had full mobility and it wasn’t swollen, so I was fairly certain it wasn’t broken… but this is a child who fractured an elbow and slept on it before we got it checked out, and another time before that she snapped her collarbone in two just by falling out of bed onto a carpeted floor, and Willem was about to tuck her back in because she wasn’t really crying (which makes him sound like an ass, and I don’t mean it that way; like any rational human, he never considered that she could have seriously harmed herself with a fall so unremarkable that I didn’t even feel it through the floorboards… I just caught something not-quite-right in her tone of voice and insisted on turning her light on to check her out before stumbling back to bed).

Anyway, for all of her dramatic ways and high-intensity interactions, Emily somehow has learned one important-to-Mom lesson: when it comes to matters of health and physical integrity, don’t overdo it. Be as accurate and honest as you can, because when you’re calm and matter-of-fact, Mom will listen with infinitely more care and attention than she does to the Academy-Award-nominated performance following a hangnail.

Off we went, for a delightful evening of sitting in uncomfortable plastic chairs watching “Tangled” in Spanish with a dozen strangers… you would think I’d have noticed that on my agenda for the evening, but apparently it completely slipped by me until it was happening.

The thing is, it actually was a delightful evening, in a twisted and next-time-let’s-skip-the-copay sort of way. She’s fine, just a sprain, which means it’s about the perfect level of adventure for her, exciting enough to be worth recounting but lame enough to keep any real stress or worry at bay. She talked me into buying her a package of Sharpies, so that her friends can sign her Ace bandage. Yes, really. And she is already working on her punchline: “I went to tae kwon do class, and I got my butt – er, I mean, wrist – kicked (well, actually, it was punched) by an eight-year-old.”

…and sometimes I wonder just how much of an impact I’ve had on my children’s personalities.

Posted by: Kate | January 11, 2012

Kind of Upsetting

There’s something you should know about my daughter, in order to properly set the stage for this little vignette. And that is that the seriousness of the situation is inversely proportionate to the amount of noise she makes about it. So when she shrieks and moans about how bad her back hurts, I’ve developed a combination shrug and “you poor thing” mutter that I can’t suppress, it’s so reflexive. But if she’s quiet – like she was the night she broke her collarbone, or the weekend she spent with a broken arm waiting for me to come home – then I get nervous.

So when she walked calmly in the back door today – despite knowing full well that the Lego set she had spent the past six months saving up for was waiting for her on the kitchen table, and today had been an Early Release Day (an evil that is somewhat unique to Massachusetts schools, in which they release the children several hours early once a month, all school year long), giving her extra time to build her new creation – I had an immediate suspicion that something had gone wrong.

When she walked, still calmly, into the kitchen, where her brother had been building his Lego thing for an hour already, and barely glanced at his toy, I knew something had gone wrong. Now the question was only, what? Something new with the Almighty Principal? An argument with a friend? In the world of an almost-12-year-old, the spectrum of Things That Could Be Terribly Wrong is a broad thing, indeed.

“Mom,” she said, far too quietly to really be my Emily, “something happened on the walk home today, and it was kind of upsetting.”

And thus began one of those small, one-day adventures that make life just so fun and interesting; one of those times when I was kind of grateful Willem had been called in to work today, because as much as I might have preferred not to deal with this, I’m certain he would have preferred not to even more.

Apparently she was most of the way done with her half-mile walk home, daydreaming and lugging her trumpet case, when she became aware of a car driving just a little closer to the sidewalk than the rest. This is noteworthy because the street that she was on – the only other one she has to travel before reaching ours – is Salem’s busiest, two lanes in each direction. Lots of vehicles pass, and by this point she has probably walked that path a hundred times or so, give or take. She’s used to the flow of traffic, by now, and usually can sustain a solid daydream from the school doors to the kitchen table, uninterrupted. (I know this because I’ve driven past her, and nothing short of stopping the car and shouting her name can grab her attention, some days.)

So, this car – a dark green four-door Ford sedan, she noticed – came a little closer than typical, so she looked up. Just in time to notice its darkly tinted windows and four inhabitants, with the back rear window rolled down and that passenger leaning out. He reached for her, though never made contact, shouted out some inappropriate comments – of the sort that, bless her heart, she is too young yet to realize just why they were inappropriate, hence her ability to repeat them to herself long enough to get home and report to me, but then to immediately lose the words, because what does it mean when a boy shouts to a girl, “Hey, baby, how much?” anyway? – and then the car continued up the hill.

A small thing, right? No big deal. And if all they had done was shout, I’d have soothed her down, agreed that that would have been upsetting, set her loose on her Legos and let the day continue. But one of them reached for her, could have hurt her, certainly scared her, and thus the line was crossed. I’m confident – as are the police – that this was a car full of high school kids, also on Early Release, who were just indulging in the stupidity of the moment. I’m confident that she was never in a moment of actual danger, and that our decision to tell the police won’t do much more than give them one more item to pay attention to for the rest of their shift – which I’ve already been so kind as to do before, myself.

But with all that confidence, I’m still glad that we bothered to have the talks with Emily, before this. The ones about what to do if a car ever pulled up and the person told you to get in, or what to do if a driver was simply making you nervous (run away from the road, shout and fight if necessary, go to the nearest business or house and pound on the door until they let you in). The ones about what to say if a stranger ever approached you, asking for help finding his puppy (say, “I have to go ask my mom,” and if that’s not enough to send them elsewhere, walk to the nearest mom-looking person and ask for help) or what to do if you’re really, really lost in a store (stand still and scream). The ones about what to do whenever something weird happens and you’re not really sure what to do with it (stay calm, remember as much as you can, and come home and tell Mom).

And if this is the worst-case scenario that we ever have to deal with – the last time we ever have to deal with the police – then I will consider myself fabulously, brainlessly fortunate.

Posted by: Kate | January 10, 2012

‘Twas That Season.

…the season, that is, of waiting to see whether this would be the holiday in which my mother-in-law got the message. Up to now, she has steadfastly insisted on sending cards addressed to the children for all relevant – and irrelevant (Halloween cards? Really?) – holidays. They’ve always been forwarded by the post office because she doesn’t have our new address, and she kept sending them despite repeated reminders from both Willem and me that our children will not even risk a paper cut on an envelope she has handled until she shows some interest in genuine communication with their parents.

And so, she is to be congratulated, for finally getting it: we didn’t receive an inappropriate packet of holiday cards. Either she got the message, or the post office lost it. Either way, it was one less thing to stress about. (Edit: Yeah… never mind. They just got lost in the mail; they arrived on January 12th. Nice to avoid during the holidays, but obnoxious nonetheless. And still.)

I mentioned my mother-in-law, briefly, in my last post, after quite a stretch of radio silence on the topic of Herself. I thought she deserved a bit of extra airtime (facetime? pixels? whatever), because all strong characters in a play should be able to experience the occasional follow-up. If VH1 could manage to make Flava Flav a relatively recognizable personality umpteen years after his rightful descent into inappropriate-timepiece-wearing obscurity, then it seems only fair that I bring the topic of me, myself and my mother-in-law up-to-date here.

It’s my blog(gy?) and I’ll write if I want to… but, as it turns out, I actually have a few relevant reasons for mentioning her now. One, I continue to get a significant amount of blog traffic from searches along the lines of “passive-aggressive mother-in-law” and “my mother in law hates me,” so while my relationship with her no longer plays a significant role in my life – my blog’s first title was Post-Traumatic Grandma Disorder, if that gives any indication of how intensely her hatred impacted me – I do feel some level of responsibility toward my readers. You bothered to click over here, so I’ll offer the occasional update, even when it’s just, “Two years and counting, no change, no contact.” She was very briefly in contact when I was sick, because my mother simply couldn’t imagine that she would maintain her grudge in the face of my near-death illness. My mother was certain that C. would throw herself in the car and rush out to support Willem and the kids, regardless of her feelings toward me – maybe she would disappear once I was discharged from the hospital, but surely she would want to come help them get through the worst of it at home, in my absence, right? Right?

No. Wrong. She sent me flowers in the hospital, which didn’t reach me for a few days because I wasn’t allowed any flowers in the ICU. So then she called me with a guilt trip: “Did you get the flowers I sent?” Which is just begging for a thank-you, because there are other ways to confirm a delivery, and yes, I received them, and they’re lovely, and thank you, truly. Really. But send some to Willem, because he really needs his mom right now. (I didn’t actually say the last bit, because I didn’t want to get further involved than that from a hospital bed. She ended up on the phone to Willem, sobbing and telling him just how sick I was, just how much danger I was in, and so on, to the point that he had to ask her to stop calling; her calls had become another source of stress for him, not support. And that’s the last time either of us spoke with her.

A few months later, there was a brief email exchange. It wasn’t pretty. And there has been nothing but silence since. So there you have it, Dear Readers: an update of nothing.

Two, I continue to get the occasional lecture from readers aghast at my willingness to air my dirty laundry, tell my side of an ugly story, disrespect my husband’s mother in public. “Why on earth would you write about things so publicly? How would you feel if she wrote a blog about you?” To which I can only, and in full honesty, reply: because when I just write in a journal I’m only venting, without any remote possibility of connecting with other humans – in either positive or negative ways – and the validation I receive from others in similar situations, as well as the challenges (and occasional insults) emanating from those not in favor of my words, are both important, thought-provoking, helpful things.

And, if she were to write a blog about me, I would be terrifically amused, deeply interested, and incredibly hopeful: I have never, ever understood her venom, her thoughts, her views of any of the hundreds of incidents that have coalesced into a painful, gnarly mess of a relationship between us. This blog is the only way I was ever able to even get her to acknowledge my personality and existence apart from “My Son’s Wife,” and after a decade of abject failure when either Willem or I attempted to engage her in any level of honest communication, I would welcome any level of insight into her world. (Not to mention, it would be hilarious.)

Three, the cable network A&E has been in contact with me four times now, asking if I would consider appearing in their new series, Monster In-Laws. The first two times were sort of form letters that appeared in my in-box or as comments here; I don’t remember the details but I do remember thinking it was a joke. The second two times have been direct, personalized emails, sent to me and explaining some of what the show is about. I have steadfastly refused to even consider such a thing, because I cannot think of a single less genuine way to repair a broken relationship – and trust me, I’ve given it a lot of thought; paying C. to spend time with me would feel less false than taking a decade’s worth of hurt and confusion (on both sides; nobody is pretending here that I was a model daughter-in-law – it’s just that my style has always been up-front and as honest as I knew how to be, which she seemed to find to be overly aggressive) and trying to cram it into 42 minutes of screen time.

But the concept amuses and delights me, just thinking that I have a story vivid enough to catch the attention of someone at A&E. It may not be a part of my daily existence, now, but all of my family relationships have played roles in helping to create the person I am now. Even – or maybe especially – those relationships that have faded to black.

Posted by: Kate | December 22, 2011

Unaccustomed Optimism

I’ve been slowly but surely revving up, over the past month or so, worrying about the holidays.

We’re hosting both Christmas and New Year’s Eve here, after three years of accepting the hospitality of my mother for the former and our children’s godparents for the latter (not to mention the week of home invasion we inflicted upon my mother in between the two). In 2008, it was simply her turn to host, because from the earliest days of our marriage, Willem and I decided we wanted to try and shift things around, not to form carved-in-stone traditions that made the sudden change in, say, Christmas dinner, from Chinese delivery to a roast turkey, feel somehow discordant and wrong. Our tradition was that we spent the holidays with family and we smiled and hugged a lot; the rest of the details came and went, rather painlessly.

This avoidance of ritual was slightly due to my mother-in-law’s approach to family traditions – more on her tomorrow. [yes, tomorrow: I’ve already written the post! Three posts in one week, can you believe it? I haven’t written out the post explaining all the posting, yet, but I will. Soon. I think.] But the bigger impetus comes from my own family. Growing up, my parents and sisters and I didn’t spend every Christmas with my father’s parents, but I would guess we were with them at least 75% of the time. My father is one of four siblings, all of whom are married with children, and so the house was just bursting with family and food and alcohol and laughter, and it truly was magical. I was enchanted by it, as a child, and I still smile when I think of the thrill of trying to fall asleep underneath the dining room table, because it was the only free space in the house, listening to the adults tell stories late into the night.

Then my parents split up, and my mother instantly became persona non grata – not just in person, which is to be expected, but in spirit. She wasn’t mentioned in any of the stories, and if I made the mistake of saying her name, there was an immediate hush and chill. And slowly, I became more and more aware that the thing about magic is that it’s impermanent and not quite real. They were able to maintain these masks of geniality and affection for a few days around the holidays, but then months, full years even, would pass without a single phone call or letter – even if I tried contacting them. I suddenly noticed the broken promises, the blatant disinterest in any sentence I started with the word “I,” the emphasis on physical beauty rather than emotional stability, the promotion of financial concerns and favoritism over family ties… these weren’t just imperfect people, they were people with whom I could not communicate in a genuine way. Even before my great-grandmother, the true matriarch of the family, died in 2005, I simply gave up. I asked them to remove our names from their annual Christmas name-draw, and those connections, for the most part faded.

Those first few Christmases, after opting out of the B Family Gathering, were fun and festive, with an underlying loss that was acutely painful. We had Emily, of course, and then Jacob came along, and children have this obnoxious way of spreading cheer and enthusiasm no matter what the room-and-board plans are. My sisters and mother – and sometimes my dad – joined us, and we formed new traditions as well as pulling in a few old ones. And, all in all, things rolled along quite nicely.

In 2008, it was my mother’s turn to host Christmas, and we had a lovely time in upstate New York. By late 2009, my mother-in-law had made it clear that she would not be hosting any get-togethers anytime soon, and I was enormously pregnant and our apartment woefully inadequate for any sort of overnight event, so we took the path of least resistance and returned to my mother’s house. Last year, well, we all know about 2010, right? My last hospitalization ended on December 2nd, 2010, and then I spent the next two weeks developing a psychotic reaction to a new medication, so I took a certain degree of teeth-gritting, half-smiling, defeated pride in simply surviving the year. There were days when I wasn’t even certain I wanted to survive – or, to be precise, days when I knew full well I didn’t want to survive, but I would continue to do so because the alternative would have destroyed my husband and children.

So here we are, 2011. We’re in a new house, big enough to hold a few overnight guests and more daytime visitors. There’s space for a Christmas tree in the corner, and as of a few hours ago, it is properly inhabited by a lovely hemlock. My mother and sisters are planning to drive here tomorrow, and we’re expecting my father and stepmother on Christmas Day, with more friends and family to visit in the following days.

Let’s forget, just for a minute, the intensity of the physical and mental health crisis that I survived in 2010. Let’s ignore the fact that as recently as last November, I had a visiting nurse coming to my house several days a week, because I wasn’t sick enough to be in a hospital room but I was considered too sick to be able to drive myself to my mind-bogglingly frequent appointments. Because overcoming those things was intense enough, with new challenges every single day, and I failed nearly as many of those challenges as I succeeded. Being able to organize a meal for more than my immediate, nuclear family is something that went from second nature to a Herculean event, but that’s not exactly a shock. I got very, very sick, which means I had to do a lot of recovering to be able to approximate “better” again.

What has really been worrying me, then, is a series of disasters, minute and enormous, that continue to make me doubt my ability to handle the last ten days of the year. Notice I didn’t qualify that verb: I don’t want to handle it gracefully, or effectively, or even just modestly. I just want to get through it, at all, without major embarrassment or new psychic injuries. I’ve had other attempts at comparably large endeavors – such as the semi-disastrous Cape Cod vacation in July – and these have rendered me all manner of anxious and terrified about how many different ways I would screw things up this time around. But the other choice – just not trying at all – is even scarier, somehow.

According to my calender, yesterday was the official start of the year-end madness: from 12/21 to 1/3, there is at least one significant event per day to deal with, almost all of which I am responsible for in some way. So I put a lot of superstition and worry into Wednesday’s activity, deciding that if it went well, then the rest of the holiday stuff would be OK. I convinced myself that if we could get through that first task, then we could handle the rest of them, because I was approaching the first day as a series of steps, breaking everything down until it was small enough for me to handle without hyperventilating.

The biggest challenge, for me, revolves around a certain little four-letter word: help.

How to recognize when I need help.

How to ask for help.

How to accept help.

It has never been an easy concept for me, the overachieving, ultracompetent band geek who went on to get a psychology degree at an engineering school and then form a marriage out of a strangely fractured courtship. I got through life by figuring out what I wanted and finding ways to get it, accepting help only if it was absolutely necessary but mostly doing things on my own terms, under my own steam. All of that broke, last year, probably right from that first, stunning realization, as I swam upward out of the darkest blackness I had ever experienced, of my own helplessness. I couldn’t speak, couldn’t sit up, couldn’t breathe under my own volition.

But yesterday, we had an appointment to get our annual family portraits taken. And between Willem and the kids and myself, we were able to create some acceptably beautiful moments and capture them on film. There were stumbling blocks and small challenges in the process, but getting around those only made the ultimate success of it all feel that much more genuine.

And so, as odd as it feels, I’m going to insist upon calling Wednesday a success. And, therefore, as long as I continue breaking it down into solvable problems and uttering that strange little word, “help,” the rest of 2011 will go OK.

I insist.

Posted by: Kate | December 19, 2011

Comprising One’s Principals

It has been a few months since the last principal-related post – and, yeah, I know, it was full-on radio silence, sorry, sorry – and I thought it was worth sharing the three follow-up experiences I’ve had with Principal Mannish.

The first happened way back in October, at Salem’s Halloween parade… which, of course, was scheduled for October 6th. (Why? Because we’re Salem. We hanged a bunch of innocent people several hundred years ago and now we can’t escape our own legacy, plus we kind of enjoy having things like tourism and income, so we are inundated in a mini-Mardi-Gras kind of way from early October until the 31st.) We’d never attended Salem’s parade before, because the elementary schools ask families to get costumes along a specific theme, which just torques me: you’re already asking for me to get a costume together almost a month before Halloween, and then you want to try and dictate what kind of costume I inflict upon my children? How about…. no.

But being a big bad middle schooler, Emily had the opportunity to march in her first-ever marching band, and since her mother is a former band geek with full and complete understanding that the old American Pie humor a la, “This one time, at band camp…” is not in the least bit fictional, the poor kid didn’t stand a chance. “Yes, that’s great, I hear you, you’re nervous at the idea of trying to walk and play at the same time. Uh huh. Stay late for the practice, I’ll see you later!” Jacob came down with bronchitis that very afternoon, and Willem was working late, so I ended up going to the parade by myself, and thus was the only one in my family to actually lay eyes upon Principal M’s chosen costume. Now, before I upload this photo, let me point out that the theme, for non-band members, was supposed to be “helping professions.” When I first saw her wearing scrubs and pushing I wheelchair, I thought, “OK, fair enough.”

Then I was able to make out that which was actually in the wheelchair:

Note: I deliberately chose a less-identifying photo, which makes the sign on the skeleton difficult to read. It read, in part, “Dr. M——-, Cause of Death, Too Many Detentions.

I’m trying, truly I am, to figure out the problem here. Why, exactly, might it be a problem that the principal of the middle school is supposed to be dressed up as a helping professional but is pushing around a long-dead corpse, thereby casting aspersions on her own capacity to actually help… or be professional? Nah, clearly she’s just hilarious and I’m oversensitive. Glad we got that sorted out.

Fast-forward two months, to early December’s parent-teacher conferences. We were asked to go in and meet Emily’s teachers, and thus we were granted the delightful opportunity to find out just how obnoxious she is attempting to make her mother sound to her science teacher. (“My mom said that no one has ever seen a black hole, so how can we really be sure they exist.” …forgetting to mention that her mom attended an engineering school in college, and is therefore more likely to be yanking the 11-year-old’s chain than actually expressing doubt at the existence of said black holes. Awesome.)

Mid-way through the first conference, with Emily’s history/English teacher, things were going pretty well. The teacher is a young guy and it’s his first year in Salem, so he was obviously a bit uptight and a smidge anxious, but it was going well. Suddenly, unceremoniously, the door opened and in plodded Principal Mannish. She didn’t bother to introduce herself, and in fact didn’t even look at us until after she had seated herself right down at the table with us… and then her normally-ruddy complexion (no, I did not imply that her reddened cheeks and nose hint at alcoholism, thankyouverymuch) suddenly paled at the realization of precisely whose conference she had just crashed. My husband waited several long, painful, awkward seconds, and then, once it became clear that she hadn’t thought this through and now felt stuck in place despite sending off painfully loud signals that she wanted nothing more than to escape the room, he introduced himself. She avoided eye contact with us both, and never even acknowledged my presence… unless you count her tangible discomfort. After our first meeting, I’d spent some time on the phone with her direct supervisor, as well as with the assistant principal who is actually supposed to be interacting with parents, and so I was quite aware that she had overstepped her boundaries and had been specifically ordered to stay far, far away from both me and Emily.

Her discomfiture was so great that I almost felt bad for her.


But not quite.

Getting up and simply walking out of the room after the interview, after shaking the teacher’s hand and thanking him and then blindly – and blithely – ignoring Herself, probably brought me more pleasure than is socially correct to admit. Ah, well. You’ll all still love me even though I knowingly shrugged her off, right? …That’s what I thought.

Then, the third time when Ms. Mannish and I shared a few errant air molecules happened late this morning. Emily’s class had spent the past mmmth-ity weeks preparing skits and handouts and speeches, all encouraging the audience to attend their non-Earth Milky Way location’s resort vacation. They had been working on these projects for weeks, so Isaac and I headed down – despite the fact that Willem took the car today. It’s a half-mile there, so that meant I only put in perhaps a mile and a half to get there, halfway home, turn back to rescue the baby’s dropped bear, and finally home again.

Was it worth the trip? On the basis of projects, alone… no. I’d been aware of what Emily was working on already, so there were no surprises there. On the basis of Emily’s happiness at our presence… yes. Maybe. Mostly, anyway; we show up to pretty much anything we’re asked to attend, so I know we could’ve stayed home and survived the guilt. But Isaac had a blast and I’m going to be tired and sore by the end of the day anyway: might as well be tired and sore because I walked to my kid’s school and made her smile, rather than because I spent yet another day sedentary and meh.

And then there was the extra, added bonus: On the basis of Principal Mannish’s behavior… yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Worth every step.

Isaac and I were on our way out, after the science presentations, and I was beginning to cope with the possibility that I might make it all the way through a visit to the school without a sighting of Her Principalness. No reason to fear: as we left the classroom, we were greeted with a very loud noise in the hallway; it turns out that the upper grades’ band classes were doing a sort of traveling Christmas show for the other students in the school today, and they were parked outside the main office, playing what I eventually discerned to be In Excelsis Deo, or thereabouts. What they lacked for in tonality and musicality, they more than made up for in volume. (But then, show me a public school band in which this is not the case… especially when the concert is impromptu and performed while standing in a hallway. They did just fine, if I was able to figure out the song at all.)

When the band was done, there was a moment, a split second, where the crowd paused before applauding (to make sure the song was really all the way over??). And in that split second, Principal Mannish turned to the woman standing next to her and said, clear as a bell, “Well, that sucked.” I was standing at least 50 feet away from her, and I’m hard of hearing, and I heard it with the kind of clarity that Bose engineers can only dream of… chances are, the band director – not to mention the band members, themselves – heard her, too, seeing as how they were mere inches away from her administrative face.

The entire brass section literally slumped down, en masse, as though choreographed… but I saw their faces, this was not a pre-planned droop.

If it hadn’t hurt the feelings of children who, by all appearances, had been completely in the moment and happy just milliseconds before, I’d have to laugh. You just can’t make this stuff up, you know? But because people got hurt, I have to settle for a pained grimace and a self-righteous head-shaking.

There are some principals worth compromising. Assuming the compromise includes an airtight box and a deep-ocean drop-off, anyway.

Posted by: Kate | October 3, 2011

Breaking News, Principalwise

…and not happy, nice, comforting, she-just-got-fired-amidst-accusations-of-bestiality sorts of news…

Emily just came home, just a little while ago. She was late, which is no surprise – both because it’s Emily and because she had an after-school band practice. But even with that in mind, she was late: nearing 4:00, and the regular school day gets out at 2:45. I wasn’t yet worried, because the previous two after-school band practices ran to about 3:15 but the parade for which they are after-school practicing is this Thursday, and I’ve been in a marching band. I know that every once in a while, the occasional band director can get a little, shall we say, intense and spastic, as the performance date looms.

So, not yet worried, but I had written “Worry about Emily” into my agenda beginning at 4:00. (It’s good to have a special planner just for Mommy Guilt and Worry About Children, because if you include it in your regular planner it can obscure other entries like “Get in Argument with Husband” and “Attend Own Funeral.”)

At about 3:55, she walked in the door. Well, more limped, really, accompanied by much moaning and drama. I was all set to poke at her a little, because I had carefully reminded her, this morning, to call me at the end of practice so that I could come pick her up, and ha ha, isn’t this a good reinforcement of why it’s good to listen to your mother, now what do you want for —

Wait, what? Rewind a few seconds, please. That last thing you just moaned, the part I was all set to ignore because I thought you were just complaining about your band teacher and how unreasonable it is to expect you to do something awful like practice. Say that again.

“Principal Mannish is so mean!”

Well, yes, I know. But what does that have to do with this?

According to Emily, everything. She says she went to the main office at the end of practice – bypassing a number of her cell-phone-infested friends (of which Emily recently was, until a new infraction at home resulted in a grounding away from all handheld media for a while) and Gawd knows how many other working phones en route – and had the following experience:

I walked into office at about 3:15, when band practice was all done. There were two women in there, a secretary and Mrs. Mannish. The secretary said, “Can I help you?” and then Mrs. Mannish said, “What do you need?” both at about the same time.

I said, “May I please use the phone to call my mom to come pick me up?” The secretary put her headset back on and went back to her other work, and Mrs. Mannish said, “What is your name?”

I told her what it was, and she typed something into a computer and looked at the screen, and then she said, “No, you can’t use the phone. See if you can find a friend whose phone you can use.”

Upon further interrogation by Mom – immediately after several new aneurysms simultaneously appeared inside my brain, but before I started bleeding profusely from both ears – Emily wasn’t able to say with 100% certainty that she really said that last sentence; she might have said something about the phones not working or whatever instead. When I explained why it mattered – “One of those things is an inconvenience. The other is a potential lawsuit.” – she thought about it and admitted she really didn’t remember, because as soon as she heard the word No she kind of tuned out and resigned herself to the walk home.

Then, the more I thought about it, I decided, well, it doesn’t really matter which sort of reason Mrs. Mannish offered, but I could certainly rule out the reality of the phones-not-working one. So I called the school’s main number and it was instantly answered: not just by a person, but by Mrs. Mannish, herself.

Rather than speak to her while I was trembling on the edge of incoherent rage, I decided to just mumble a “wrong number” sort of excuse and hang up. And given the time of day, I decided I wasn’t likely to be able to reach any of those in her line of supervision – whether I waited until I was no longer trembling with homicidality or I called right then and there, seeing as how school administrators are rarely in their offices after 3:00, and certainly not after 4:00, and this wasn’t likely to be a quick little chat.

Lots of deep breaths and oooohhhhhhhhmmmmmmmmmm on my schedule for the rest of the night, in hopes that it might just help restore a tiny bit of my current, situational sanity sometime in the next decade.

Posted by: Kate | October 1, 2011

Problem Solved

My interaction with the middle school principal seems quite bad enough already, doesn’t it? And yet I left one detail out.

A little thing, one might think. Just a half-dozen syllables, tucked into the depths of an hour-long rampage. Blink – or wince – and you could miss it.

I didn’t blink.

It happened on the heels of a comment I made to to Principal Mannish (which is so, so close to her real name, which makes me unreasonably happy… kind of like the pitcher from the A’s, Outman: some names just determine your fate, no?). I didn’t have the opportunity to get many words in edgewise, and so I treasured the chance to point out that this whole thing could have been avoided had anyone from the school ever returned even one of the six calls I made, between May and August, trying to get a spare set of textbooks at home prior to the school year. I hadn’t even cluttered up her precious inbox time with all of those extra syllables; all I had said was, “I’m calling on behalf of my daughter, and I need to discuss her 504 plan before school starts.”

(Her response to that? “I never bother to return parent phone calls over the summer. These things always work themselves out without my help.” Oh, yes, clearly, this particular thing worked itself out just beautifully.)

Anyway, so, I explained, in short sentences containing small words, that, if someone had helped us when I had called, we wouldn’t be having this interaction now. And she replied, with apparently characteristic grace and empathy, “Listen. I already said, the fact that your actions made your daughter apologize on your behalf tells me all I need to know about you. And now you’re being overprotective and it’s time to back off. If she just tried harder, she could get herself more organized without your help.”

She went on from there, but I briefly burst into flame and missed a few of her finer points. Because, what was that? Say again? Rewind, just a little, please?

“If she just tried harder…”

Right, that’s the spot.

Ohhh, yes! She needs to try harder! Pardon me while I smack myself in the forehead: why didn’t we think of that ourselves? Try harder! Up to this point, we’ve been lazing around, waiting for the world to cater to our every wish, never much bothered to do anything to try and improve Emily’s life in any noticeable way.

Now, the light dawns: this has nothing to do with ADHD! That’s just a silly, made-up diagnosis, anyway; we’ll call it a disability because the federal government has this pesky ADA thing that forces us to pretend to respect people like doctors and therapists, but really, she knows better. Who better than a middle school principal to be able to tell just how fake and pathetic all of these labels are?

And besides, seriously, folks: the child is eleven. Let’s cut the cord, already! It’s past time for her to be living on her own, by now. I really should have her in her own apartment, let her start dealing with her own finances, that sort of thing.

Phew. I’m sure glad we got that little conundrum cleared up before we wasted too much time on it. Now I know: I just need to stop coddling my kid – I might drop the word “advocate,” but the principal obviously sees right through that ploy – and let her figure things out on her own, because she’s just not trying hard enough.

Seriously, some things are just far enough over the border into Crazyland that I have trouble even pronouncing the words, much less wrapping my brain all the way around them. I guess while we’re at it, I should probably just start flagellating myself right now for this idiotic little spondylitis thing I’m pretending to have, and maybe if I just stretch a little more I’ll feel better, right? God knows what she might say if she knew I had a sister just lazing around all day, pretending to have some thing called muscular dystrophy. I bet the principal could set us to rights about that without even breaking into a red-faced, fist-clenching, name-calling sweat.

(Pardon me while I sit still and pant for a few seconds, just let me catch my breath. Spontaneous combustion takes a lot out of a girl, particularly when it’s fueled by rampant idiocy from someone whose job title alone suggests that she might – what a crazy idea! – know better. I don’t need, or even expect, a lot of empathy out of the people I deal with, but for some reason I kind of both need and expect it from the woman I entrust to oversee my daughter’s education. I’m just unreasonable that way, I know.)

I don’t know if I have the energy to take this any farther. I don’t know if I have the stamina to fight this the way it really deserves to be fought. I’m not sure I can put on my Cloak of Outrage and descend upon her with all of the righteous outrage stirred up by her words and actions. I know that I can, and should, take this farther, and a part of me really, really wants to. But another part of me is already so tired, so overwhelmed, so diminished from that which I once was; nowhere near the level of kick-ass competency I used to display.

Stay tuned…

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