Surviving the Holidays: An Introvert’s Guide

It happened in rapid succession. The emails landed with a resounding thud on my psyche today. “Hello Everyone, We’re thinking that for Thanksgiving…” and “I know it’s early, but we’d like to coordinate the family Christmas…”

I am an introvert. I find human contact only manageable in small doses, before I need to run away to a dark hidey-hole to process the interaction. Extended family celebrations, with the enforced captivity, doubly so.

Does this get-together feel as awkward as it looks?

Does this get-together feel as awkward as it looks?

If you’ve been reading this blog over the last few weeks, you know I’ve been finding my middle-aged spine. It’s a little angry and resentful and involves me inadvertently shouting “NO!” at random strangers. I’m usually not gracious about the holidays, but I suspect this year, it will be a torment unlike any I’ve ever known. Relationships will be permanently altered. Gifts will be taken back.

I’m trying to come up with a survival plan. I believe it involves duct tape and a plane ticket to anywhere else. Not as useful as you’d hoped, right?

Here’s some tips for surviving the holidays of the next couple of months.

Be picky about the time and place for celebration.

Have your holidays at a restaurant with a long wait list. That will force a reservation end time under an hour and 15 minutes. Perhaps if you’re lucky, your wait staff will be irritable and clumsy, which will make for an abbreviated, but entertaining meal.

If you must go to someone’s home, engage in passive-aggressive hostilities immediately upon entering the host’s house.

“Do you have slippers? I don’t want to get my socks dirty.”

“Maybe I’ll just hold onto my coat.”

“What’s that fish smell?”

Partake in uncomfortable family traditions with authenticity.

Random bossy relative: Let’s everyone go around the table and say what we’re thankful for.
Me: Um, I’ll go first.
Random bossy relative: Wonderful. Quiet everyone! Michelle will be starting us off.
Me: I’m grateful that I only have to see you wankers twice a year. I’m grateful that I already ate before I got to this salmonella-fest. I’m grateful that…what? What’s she crying about?

Reminisce, especially if there are newlyweds or out-of-town visitors.

“Remember that time when Aunt Betty’s sweet potato pie gave everyone the bends for days on end? Oh, would you look at that, I see you’re using the family recipe.”

“Didn’t you bring Cathy last year? She was really pretty. Who’s this one?”

“You’re looking good, Mitchell. That stint upstate did wonders for you. Did they ever find the body?”

Be boorishly entertaining.

Re-enact scenes from “Soylent Green” while walking around with the cheese cube tray.

Start a lively political discussion by calling everyone something+the word Nazi.

Insist that your child, who has just started playing the trombone, perform for everyone. Until he or she gets it right.

Make small children cry.

“I’m sure Santa won’t eat you if you are very, very good.”

“It just broke off! I’m sorry – I thought Barbie was supposed to bend that way.”

“Isn’t it sad that all the Lego people die at the end? Oh, I thought you’d already seen it.”

Make a discreet exit. Do not return.

“Let me get those extra presents out of the car.”

“Oh, it looks like we’re almost out of whipped cream. I’ll run out to the store and get some.”

“Where’s the bathroom?” It’s best if it’s on the first floor and has a window.

Administrative Note: The Green Study “What’s on the B Side of that 45?” Contest is revving up with some very thoughtful entries! You have until Sunday, December 7th, 2014, 12:00 pm (US Standard Central Time) to get your entry submitted.

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Filed under Humor, Personal

The Green Study “What’s on the B Side of that 45?” Contest

canstockphoto14735381There’s a mild to confusing uprising amongst my peers on and offline. We are beginning our journey to being codgers.  I’m 47. I’ve been feeling the midlife pinch for the last couple of years and of late, have become somewhat belligerent. I’m quitting things left and right, savoring every “No”, feeling like I can’t do one more thing that is asked of me.

Housework has all the appeal of a colonoscopy. Career trajectories have slumped like my bust line. I’m just waiting for the hump to pop out and to start eating my meals with all the relish of a POW. At 4am, 10am and 4pm respectively. I’ve been hanging out with senior citizens a bit much lately and am getting the brush off from a 10 year old who does not wish me to walk her to the bus stop. Fine. I didn’t want to stand out in the freezing cold anyway. Yes, middle aged people can sulk.

So what’s to be done? We’re as awkward as preteens, entering either the most delightful or painful portions of our lives. We’re either scrambling to hold on to the last shreds of our youth or digging our fingers into the soil to keep from slipping straight into the grave. And it changes every day, sometimes several times a day.

To relieve myself from the constant aches and pains and angst and regrets, I’m opening up my annual blog contest. Welcome to The Green Study “What’s on the B Side of that 45?” Contest. Let’s talk about our expectations, disappointments and joys of hitting that magical halfway point. If you’re a youngster, tell me what you hope for. If you’re past it and rolling your eyes at all this midlife nonsense, tell us what it meant for you. Humor, tragedy, ennui – whatever you’ve got.

Guidelines:

Write a previously unpublished blog post or if you’re not a blogger, an essay (with title) 200-700 words long about the pleasures and pains of midlife.  Submit it through my Contact page by Sunday, December 7th 2014, 12:00 pm (US Standard Central Time). Please note that your formatting is retained when I receive it – the Contact page makes it look like it has disappeared.

One entry per person please. The contest begins as soon as this post goes public.

The winners will be notified on Wednesday, December 10th, 2014 by 12:00 pm (US Standard Central Time).

Shipping of the prizes and donations will take place by December 17th. Guest blog posting will occur between December 17th and December 31st, 2014.

All entries will be judged by me, myself and I. It’s entirely subjective.

1st Prize: Your entry will be posted as a guest post to my blog, you will be sent one The Green Study Coffee Mug and I will make a $100 donation to the American Red Cross on your behalf to your local Red Cross Chapter or their International Disaster Response fund.

2nd Prize: Your entry will be posted as a guest post to my blog, you will be sent one The Green Study Coffee Mug and I will make a $75 donation to the American Red Cross on your behalf to your local Red Cross Chapter or their International Disaster Response fund.

3rd Prize: Your entry will be posted as a guest post to my blog, you will be sent one The Green Study Coffee Mug and I will make a $50 donation to the American Red Cross on your behalf to your local Red Cross Chapter or their International Disaster Response fund.

All participants will receive a priceless, irreplaceable postcard from Minneapolis (although it actually cost $1.00 and can be bought at the airport, in large quantities).

I will ship prize winners’ mugs stateside or internationally (with no guarantee that it will arrive or that it will arrive in one piece), just because I like to hold up the line at the post office because I haven’t filled out the right forms. It seems like a middle-aged thing to do.

If any former participants and/or winners read this post, please feel free to comment on the veracity of The Green Study contests. Please let readers know that you’ve received your prizes and I haven’t shown up at your front door looking for a place to stay, just because I was in the area. Previous winners are allowed to participate and an updated mug is in production.

The older I grow the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.

~H.L. Mencken

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Unraveling: Fiction as Life and No, No NaNoNette

canstockphoto4401375I put my 5th grader on a school bus this week for the first time. It’s not much to parents who have been doing this since day one, but I worked from home for many years. I felt like taking her to school was an opportunity. I got to know other parents and the school environment. Some of our best mother-daughter talks happened in the car and I was loathe to give it up. But for the sake of her growing independence, give it up I did.

Six months ago, I quit working for the company I’d worked for off and on for 13 years and I stopped training in Taekwondo. A stress fracture ended running workouts four months ago. Two weeks ago, I stepped down as the president of the parent-teacher organization. This week I stopped driving my daughter to school. Today I’m stepping off the National Novel Writing Month ride.

A friend likened my experience to diagnosing food allergies. You delete all possible offending foods from your diet and slowly add them back in, one at a time, to see what causes a reaction. I’ve removed many defining features of my daily life. The parameters have expanded and the responsibility lies with me to shape my days.

All this effort to change my life is an effort to sit with emptiness. And there’s an echo now. Busy is no longer an adjective I can use. I believe living slowly is important. Sitting still has value. But I’m fighting years of indoctrination. You must be busy. You must be useful. You must not be seen to be a layabout. If you do something, go all the way. Work is purpose.

I’ve worked hard at everything my whole life. I never sat still for long. I am nothing without my effort, my discipline, my drive to do my best at anything. This is a blessing and a curse. It has made me a responsible, conscientious and reliable parent, employee, wife, daughter-in-law, volunteer and friend. It has also made me impatient, irritable, moody and fatigued.

My friends and family keep making sly asides. “You’ll fill up the time with something else.” I started NaNoWriMo thinking that, since I’d quit everything else, time was my oyster. It took me about a week to start resenting the pressure. I’ve hated every sentence and I am not enjoying this process. It became that something else to fill my time.

I’ve gone through my life to this point, like most people, rather haphazardly. I survived a rough and tumble childhood, joined the Army, went to college, got a degree and worked, worked, worked. Most big decisions got made with a youthful shoulder shrug. What have I got to lose? I moved, quit jobs, took up a variety of ill-thought out relationships, ran up bills, dug myself out of debt, married, had a child, tried new hobbies and interests.

It seems different now. I’m irrelevant to the young, a caregiver to the old. I’m wiser, but not inherently smarter. Life is swirling and changing around me, but I feel frozen to this moment, disconnected from the lives around me. As an older parent than most of my peers, my fears for my child are darker. I don’t care about what school she gets into, I just want her to live long enough to experience it. I want to live long enough to experience it.

I’ve been immersed in senior care issues all week and my shoulders and neck tighten at the thought that, if I am lucky, I will be there in the next few decades, hoping that my caregivers are kind and patient and that I won’t have to be afraid.

I am still working. My sandwich generation schtick puts me hollering at my daughter to get ready for school in the morning and helping my mother-in-law dress for her day after the bus leaves. Walking the line between burgeoning independence and regretful dependence, I feel like I’m in a canyon where my needs seem murky at best. Food and water and maybe a walk in the park is the best I can manage until I can get my head sorted.

As an adolescent, I lived in a gutted school bus for six months. You can imagine how very wealthy I feel now, living in my little suburban ranch house with a yard and a lovely family. This is how I feel about time, as I watch my daughter and mother-in-law grow older in tandem. I have the good fortune of being done with the awkward, sometimes painful lessons of youth and am healthy enough to still move on my own steam.

The fears I have now are the ones with which I sit in an increasingly empty room. I smile wryly at the thought that I’ve come round to full navel-gazing when that seems to be the cultural trend. Perhaps I’m more hip than I think. The recurring thought is washing over me: Don’t mess this up. Freedom of choice means the freedom to write a better story. Word count is irrelevant.

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The Green Study’s Guide to Good Manners (or How Not to Get Eaten)

What? ! I was just suggesting you might need a weedwacker for those eyebrows.

What? ! I was just suggesting you might need a weedwacker for those eyebrows.

“My, grandma, what big teeth you have!” Seriously, Little Red Riding Hood, who taught you manners? She deserved to be eaten by the big bad wolf.

Of course, if manners determined who would or would not get eaten by carnivores, the overpopulation problem would become a thing of the past.

When, on this planet, did it become de rigeur to comment on people’s physical appearance in the course of daily life? I’ve been the object of as well as witness to this kind of discourse between humans. It usually earns the purveyor a death stare until they look away (I practice this with my cats, so I’m extraordinarily skilled).

Without knowing someone intimately, comments about appearance are decidedly rude. For self-conscious people, it is a torturous process to ruminate and work through someone’s thoughtless remark. I read enough feminist blogs to get why it’s not even complimentary to give someone positive kudos for how they look. It is generally an element we humans have little control over, especially when it comes to meeting cultural standards of attractiveness. One’s observations don’t always need to be verbalized.

We live in a world that now demands our input on everything. Call this number to vote for this singer, rate this movie, fill out a survey, review this book, down vote or like this. We’re being trained to view everything with a critical eye and that our opinions matter. It feels nice. Everybody wants to know what we think. Everybody wants a helpful comment or ten.

Well, everybody doesn’t. Don’t ask me if I lost weight. It’s creepy that you’ve been paying attention. Don’t tell me you’re jealous that I’m so skinny (this has never been said to me, but to friends). Don’t notice that I dyed my hair or that I’ve started plucking that one long black hair that used to grow out of my chin. Don’t ask when the baby’s due or if I’ve been working out. Don’t say “wow, you have really big feet” or “you have a lot of freckles” or “you need to put some meat on your bones” or “how did you get that scar?”

This kind of conversational banter is impolite and in some cases, offensive. Talk about the weather. Ask me what I’ve been reading. Tell me about your kids. Don’t be a troglodyte. These bodies are the vehicles that brung us, but they are not us and sometimes the things that you are bringing attention to are things about which we’re self-conscious and over which we have little control.

Social conduct has become a Lord of the Flies free-for-all in the name of independence and honesty. Oh don’t even go there. I don’t need your truthiness. It’s a bare minimum request to wish that humans act slightly less contemptible than what is knocking around in their heads. Here’s a few simple guidelines to remain borderline civilized:

  • Do not make comments on people’s physical appearance, unless solicited.
  • Do not assume you know anything about someone by how they’re dressed, their size, color, age, gender or by what they drive or where they live.
  • Don’t ask me how I’m voting, how much I make or if I am going to have any or more kids. I’ll volunteer that information if I want you to know it.
  • Stop revealing intimate details of your life in public on your cell phone. You’re talking louder than you think and we’re all totally grossed out by you.
  • Don’t use the phrase “those people” or qualify offensive statements. I’m not racist, but...
  • Don’t swear, harp on religion, politics or your latest diet in the company of relative strangers. Don’t launch into the men are or women are lazy screeds.
  • Don’t ask me if I take vitamins when I get sick. It’s an unregulated industry. If I sneeze in your face, you’re getting sick, vitamins or not.
  • Don’t sneeze in people’s faces.

Every day, I have to practice the following things, to varying degrees of success, in order not to devolve into a barbaric asshole:

  • Be mindful of the feelings and sensibilities of others.
  • Understand that everyone experiences and sees the world differently than you do.
  • Be kind to one’s self and to others.
  • Question knee jerk beliefs and thoughts.

Nobody gets eaten and the world gets mildly better.

This unsolicited opinion was inspired by Ross at Drinking Tips for Teens (“The Skinny on Skinny“) and Michelle at King of States! (“I’m a fat woman. Here’s what you should say when you see me at the gym.”). And by that human who was rude to me. She tasted like chicken.

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Slippery Pistons and Fiery Cupcakes of Love: Writing Sex Scenes

canstockphoto1808539As I continue to write my second novel, I’ve stumbled into a patch of writing ground that makes me giggle like a 10-year-old or mutter “that’s just gross” under my breath to no one in particular. It is never my intent to write about love or sex, here, there or anywhere, but human relationships apparently involve a lot of both ingredients. And unfortunately, both my novels seem to include humans.

If writing what I know is key to authenticity, I am, to use an obvious pun, totally screwed. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I tend to skip the pageantry and focus on the execution. I’ve read a lot of erotica (that’s what they call lady porn) and there are some writers who do it exceedingly well. And inevitably, I look at the writer’s picture and think “that is one adventurous gal”. So wrong, I know. I mean, the point of being a fiction writer is that you get to make up all kinds of shit. On paper, you should be able to write out every debauched, non-normative thought you’ve ever had and not have to go to confession or blush while writing it.

I’m Reality Writer. While I can read a good sex scene until my knuckles turn white gripping my Kindle, in the back of my mind, I usually think: Please, for the love of all that is hygienic, take a shower now. There’s no way, after all that grinding and slobbering and flopping about, that those people don’t reek to high heaven. But no, they’re back at it first thing in the morning with nary a toothbrush in sight. Some things are not, like fine wine, improved with time. So on top of all my sophomoric giggles, sensory issues really impact my ability to have my characters get it on.

It might say something about me that the last really good erotica I read was because of the realistic dialogue. The characters were genuine and funny, so it was easy to overlook that there might have been toenail clippings in the bed or she was going through skipping-a-shave Movember month. It was easy to ignore that he only had a two and a half pack and everything rippled when they were going at it. Or that the dog stared at them the whole time. From the end of the bed.

My novel is not a romance or erotic novel. At least it wasn’t until I tried to explain why my main characters were married to each other. Even if it’s unlikely that sex scenes will make the final cut, I feel compelled to work through their relationship and sex is a part of that. My inclination to cut the scene made me think about what including sex scenes in a novel does to it. Writers I like, outside of the romance/erotica genre, rarely have sex scenes and if they do, it’s because some sort of crime is being committed. Does having a sex scene immediately change the genre of a novel? What are examples of literary fiction where sex is included but not the focal point?

This is how I manage not to write more. I start wanting to puzzle out what kind of writing I’m doing and get completely distracted from actually doing it. She said doing it. Snort.

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Filed under Humor, Writing

You Get What You Pay For: The Midterm Elections

canstockphoto3694682This morning, we Americans were treated to a bevy of smug smiling old white men from every media source. I voted, so settle in – I get to complain. This morning, I scrolled glumly through the election results. Let’s face it, same old shit, different day. I’m not going to launch into the typical polemics of them versus us, except in the sense that them versus us is all about the average American versus the political oligarchy that swims in the sewage of big money. Politicians of any ilk.

President Obama, in my mind, has not distinguished himself from any other president in the last three decades. I had hoped, especially early on, that he’d be bold. Instead, the only change he implemented was the change he ran on – “not Bush”. Mediocre presidency. The Democrats have spent this entire time acting like the bullied kid on the playground – not pushing back, not taking a stand, not doing much of anything except wringing their hands about them bad ole’ Republicans.

The Republicans are still confusing ideology with good policy making and while they tout the first black Republican woman elected to Congress, they are as white and misogynistic as ever. Her campaign was based on “there are no women or race issues, only people issues”, which reflects the tone-deafness of her fellow party members. Guess what? Not acknowledging problems doesn’t make them go away. And exactly what are the people’s problems? Because seriously, I have no issue with not calling corporations people and getting creepy male politicians out of my privates and training police officers how not to shoot black people. And for goodness sake, stop telling me what a real marriage is, especially when so many of your own houses are in disarray.

Billions of dollars were poured into these midterm campaigns, spent on making dysfunctional political families look like something out the 1950s, while rabid dogs gallop across lawns. And then there were the family pets. I am discouraged. I participated in the process. Most of the candidates I voted for won, but I feel like I just got out of the gutter. All this money scares the hell out of me. Four billion dollars for a midterm election? Four billion dollars? Holy shit. Welcome to our pay-to-play system. For all the harkening back to the founding fathers, I truly doubt that this is what they envisioned for this country.

So, what’s an American to do? I’m pretty fed up with reading angry blog posts (and just about done writing this one), since social media doesn’t mean squat in this river of money. It’s another way we citizens can seem to be involved and powerful that, in the course of history, will just be an added distraction for the masses, like Candy Crush. Or voting.

As someone who is relatively optimistic about my country, I’ve hit a new low. Four billion dollars. Republicans who are doing their doolally happy dance this morning, act like they won something based on their super duper plan for improving the country. Nope. They just paid for it. Democrats look downright rudderless. They paid for that, too. Worst of all, we, the People, are going to pay the price for this cynical and corrupt political system as we suffer the next two years of relentless campaigning for the 2016 elections. Four billion will be just the tip of the iceberg.

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The Writer’s Life Day #1: Everything is Awesome

canstockphoto15442915I quit my job. I quit volunteering. I am well-rested. My office is clean. My desk a clutter-free, pristine horizontal landscape. My magnetic storyboard is up. Chapters laid out. Characters listed. My family ignores me. My cell phone is on silent. My email is shut down.

Gentle music plays in the background, massaging my brain. My humidifier is ejecting the perfect puffs of mist to prevent my eyes from drying out. The sun is streaming through the study window. Cats doze with tiny snores on the reading chair. My hot cup of tea is at the ready. My chair is at the perfect height. The blank screen beckons me.

And beckons me…

Oh, shit.

Is there a writer in the house?

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