Love and Boundaries

Since we’re talking about love, let’s talk about Love’s bestie – Boundaries.

I suppose Boundaries are besties with Respect which, as I’ve said, goes hand in hand with Love. Maybe these guys are more than besties; they’re all in the same family, like kissing cousins.

I said in my post on UNCONDITIONAL, that I love my kids unconditionally. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about that. I would die for them. No questions asked.

But even unconditional love comes with boundaries.

I had a friend whose son was having some troubles with alcohol. The son would call her up at 2am (after the bar closed) and start blaming the mom for everything that had gone wrong in his life – based on what his mother had done wrong in raising him.

My friend asked, “what should I do. I have to work. I can’t get up at 2 or 3 am and talk him down from whatever trip he’s on.” I suggested my friend not answer the phone. She thought that was a horrifying prospect. How could she neglect her son like that? I suggested that she pick up, make certain it wasn’t an emergency, and say, “I will gladly talk to you about this tomorrow” and hang up. She wasn’t certain she could do that either.

Her son was 30 years old. He was a grown ass man. He should have known better than to call his working mother in the middle of the night.

If it happens once in awhile… If there’s an emergency… If her son was really distraught and needed to talk – that is totally different.

My phone is open to anyone who calls and is in need of help – any time. However, when my Australian friend calls at 3am, knowing full well that in my time zone it’s 3am, I am not up for a chat about the weather or to shoot the shit and he has gotten an earful.

The very next time my friend’s son called, which happened to be the very next night, my friend answered the phone near 4am, and asked her son if he was safe, if he was home, if it was an emergency, then told him to call her at a more appropriate time.

The son was pissed. The son didn’t talk to her for a week. But he also never called her in the middle of the night again. And, when he did call, he was in a less inebriated state and they were able to have a real conversation.

Sometimes we have to show others our boundaries. Tell them we love them – and I love my Australian friend – and remind them we have our own ideas of love, respect, and boundaries.

As parents, we need to teach our children these things. As adults, sometimes we have to remind those we interact with as they may have learned something different.

Jack’s father loves him. He loves him with his whole heart and soul. He spent his life protecting his family and his community. But there were times he couldn’t deal with Jack. He couldn’t deal with the choices he made or the pain he caused – so his father enacted some boundaries. These boundaries hurt Jack but, in retrospect, they also helped him.

We can’t allow people to hurt us just because we love them.

Unconditional

Unconditional love exists! You wanted to hear me say it, I know. I love my kids – UNCONDITIONALLY!

BUT…. if they started acting like a-holes, some boundaries would be enacted.

Maybe – it’s all romantic love that is conditional. Some familial love is conditional.

I’ve been thinking, obviously, about love and not love.

I had a friend, many years ago, whose husband knocked her around. One day, he slapped her, shoved her backwards over a chair; she ended up in a flip that messed up her knee. When she cried out and told him she couldn’t move, he said she was faking and left her there, sitting on the floor crying. She had two kids to take care of, one still in diapers. She told me how, when the baby started crying, she dragged herself over to him. She had to count on her daughter, only two and a half, to go get her some diapers, to bring her bottles and formula, to push the chair over to the sink and climb up for water so she could mix the formula and feed the baby. She sat like that, on the floor, with two little ones, unable to get up for nine long hours until he got home that evening. And even then, he wouldn’t take her to the hospital.

She was too afraid to call anyone for help.

I made a number of suggestions: call the police, call her family, leave the guy. She had a quick response to all – the police would put her kids in foster care, her family would not help, she couldn’t leave him because… here it comes…. I LOVE HIM.

I’ve heard toooooo many stories like that.

I know, even now, some of you want a counterargument. You want to hear… yeah, he probably loved her, but….

BUT I’m not going to say it. There is no excuse in the world to treat someone you supposedly love the way he treated her. That is not love.

People who abuse you do not deserve your affection or attention. You can love someone and not be with them.

Do you think Valerie will figure that out in time?

All Love is Conditional

Before you declare this crazy, take a look at the reasoning.

I know we all really want to believe and wrap ourselves in the warm fantasy of unconditional love – but hear me out…

Love is born out of respect and/or it goes hand in hand with respect. Respect is not, nor is it ever expected to be, unconditional.

If someone does not respect you, they do not love you.

If they do not respect you, it doesn’t mean the love you may feel disappears; however, that love is tested, and if the disrespect in the form of cheating, lying, abusing, or other continues the love is damaged.

Maybe some love is unconditional – the love between parent and child. But if one continually disrespects the other, it is possible to love someone and break with them. Sometimes it’s the only way to save oneself.

Continual disrespect is abuse. Allowing oneself to be abused lands people in hospitals with injuries, illness caused from stress, or mental illness.

Love should be conditional based upon that mutual respect.

Once in awhile, people fight, they neglect each other, they say things they shouldn’t have – but that’s not continual and damaging disrespect if they are dedicated to working on it.

There have been times when I have chosen to love someone from afar because they did not respect me and I, therefore, lost respect for them. I would not allow myself to be abused. It didn’t mean I hated them or wished them dead – I just couldn’t be with them anymore.

Love is not simple. It’s complicated. But respect is pretty clear cut. And once you realize that, love doesn’t seem so overwhelmingly uncontrollable.

This is what love stories are really about, aren’t they? This is what break up stories are about – right?

Maybe it takes us all a little time to learn these things.

The Limits of Memory – and the Liabilities of Memoir

Think of a memory from childhood. What images do you remember? What stories do you tell?

When you take out a memory – do you or can you connect it to something more current? Why are you thinking about that? What brought it up? What did you learn from that memory? Or why do you enjoy it?

When you just take out a memory out and connect it to something present – you played with it, worked with it, in some way, possibly made it mean more or less, you colored it in, or made it pale in comparison.

Many Psychiatrists say every time we take a memory out – we change it, we try to make sense of it, we add details may have come from somewhere else. Many, many experts believe we have no pure memories. That they are all, in some way, corrupt.

According to Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, Professor at UCI who has published twenty-four books and more than six hundred papers, believes memories are reconstructed, not replayed.  “Our representation of the past takes on a living, shifting reality,”… “It is not fixed and immutable, not a place way back there that is preserved in stone, but a living thing that changes shape, expands, shrinks, and expands again, an amoeba-­like creature.”

How many of us know someone who remembers something different that we do?  My sisters and I used to walk in the cool night air; one night, the middle sister saw a jaguar – the car, not the cat – and pulled the little ornament off. We started to walk away, and she instantly felt bad, so she turned back and placed it on the car near the windshield hoping the owner would see it and be able to repair it. Hey – we were teenagers – don’t hate us.

Now, when my sisters and I get together, my youngest sister remembers it differently, she remembers jumping up on the car and ripping it off and bringing it home. She laments losing it and wonders where it went. My middle sister and I just look at one another because that does not match up with our memory.

When writing we can change little things, play with the memories. But how much of the changing and playing with can we do to memories or memoir before we need to change the label from memoir to inspired by actual events?

And… I think the answer to that is – how much have you changed? Who is reading it? And are you going to get sued?

I have a piece coming out that I originally labeled as memoir – but I fought with myself about that label because it’s about my dead brother. In this memoir, I’m talking to him. Obviously, I’m playing with memories of our conversations, of who he is and what types of things he said. I had a conversation with the editor about this who said – do you want to make it clearer you’re talking to a ghost? 

My brother, sadly, can’t sue me – he’s passed. No one can sue you from beyond the grave, but their families can sue if the memoir defames any of the family. This piece does not defame my brother, but is it memoir? Or is it “inspired by an actual event”?

The memoirist’s first line of defense is: The first amendment of our us constitution guarantees us the right to free speech –

EXCEPT – there are some exceptions like you can’t yell fire in a crowded movie theater, you can’t say bomb at the airport…  and you can’t say Johnny Depp abused you without valid, verifiable evidence.  

The first amendment does guarantee that we have the right to our opinion, so when we’re writing a memoir, mostly, that is what it is – our opinion of events as they happened. Therefore, in most cases, memoirists are safe from prosecution.

The two biggest issues writers of memoirs face are defamation and right to privacy lawsuits.

Say you’re writing a memoir about your experience. You and your friend had a wild night of partying,  you’re say 17,  did somethings that you didn’t even put in your diary for fear someone would find out – but you’ve decided to write about that night – for whatever reason, you learned a lesson from that experience, it’s passed the statute of limitations for prosecution – ideally, yes, that is your story and you can write about it – but, wait, your friend swore you to secrecy. You guys had a pact. If you write a memoir or personal narrative or op-ed with a character that has your friend’s name, some variation of that name, character traits, walks like or dresses like your friend, was in the same place as you and that person can be identified, you can be sued.

If you want to write that story, change the names, change the locations, change your friend’s character traits, age, or leave your friend out completely.

Or – get your friend’s permission – IN WRITING!

Augustun Bourroughs, author of Running with Scissors, wrote a memoir about growing up – he changed the names, but the family brought a lawsuit against him and the publisher alleging defamation and invasion of privacy. The author maintains that it was and is his opinion and he kept journals throughout his childhood, and even some public facts supported some of the author’s claims, but the family alleged that events were changed to make them more dramatic – the lawsuit was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. The publisher had to change the label from memoir to book. And the author had to add a note – stating that he hadn’t meant harm and that the family’s memories are different than his own.

If you look at the Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls the youngest sister Maureen has the least written about her. She was at a friend’s house for most of the West Virginia portion – there is some verifiable facts of her time in New York – she tried to stab her mother, she was institutionalized, and then she’s off to California, and in the book, nothing else is stated about her.  She had her right to privacy. So whether the author didn’t get permission or she was being respectful or her sister threatened to sue her – who knows. You can find information about the sister if you google – I did, but there seems to be limited information about her.

Our Gentle Sins has a character who is a recovering drug addict – I know a few. One of my friends asked me if he was the inspiration for the character of Jack. It’s actually fiction, but it is inspired by experiences of many people I’ve known or talked too. I felt it was an important story, but I would never use someone’s personal story who dealt with such personal struggles.

Drug addiction is a serious issue. Recovery is very personal. I admire those who are successfully maintaining their recovery. Jack is my tribute to them.

If you’re local – stop by and talk with me! Enjoy Our Gentle Sins – a fictional novel with inspiring characters recovering from whatever life has thrown at them!

The Writer’s Brain – Handle with Care

I’ve had skunks on my mind, mostly because they’re in my yard, successfully being trapped by a professional who seems to have gotten skunked recently. Beyond that actual getting caught in the crossfire of a skunk’s ire and ass, I think the odor is akin to smoking; after awhile the scent adheres to the clothes, hair, skin and, even though every one else can tell, the smoker or in this case the skunker can no longer detect the scent that has seeped into their being.

Therefore, my dreams of becoming a skunk skank, earning $$$ for hauling away critters who are relatively harmless other than their last method of defense which renders the person if not friendless then at the very least dateless, have been set aside.

However, I wonder about the skunkers and their lives. Do they have dates? Do their spouses get used to the smell? I read something recently that said we are attracted to people with similar scents. Are there skunkettes? Ladies who have taken to catching and releasing the cute little critters with the stinkpot defense? Or are there people who prefer the rough and rugged smell of burning brimstone and smoldering sulfur?

I’m more of a lavender and eucalyptus person myself.

The skunk and skunker smell lingered so long and loud in my yard and on my front patio, that I worried that it’d adhered itself to more than just the fine hairs of my nostrils, so I asked a mere stranger at the shop if I smelled like skunk. He laughed and said, “no or else I would have put on my mask to be polite.”

When a writer’s brain starts asking questions – handle with care – whatever happens next can spark, igniting a blaze of ideas.

Later that night, I was walking in the cool breeze with my dogs pondering the skunker’s plight. I returned and stood in the shade of a big sycamore tree when a homeless man approached my trash cans that lie in wait of the garbage truck. The recycling had been collected, so most of those persons who collect the recycling had come and gone. This man, however, reached into the black can, the real trash of old food and cat litter, picked up a bag, and carried it over to the emptied recycling can and upturned it. I stepped forward and said, “don’t do that,” to which he responded by grumbling incoherently before launching into a low growl similar to that of the Howler Monkey, then he rambled off to the neighbor’s trash and did the same thing.

Click, click, boom, boom – something sparked in my brain and a story began to form. 

More tidbits – the neighbor appeared; sticks – a cat curved around the corner; leaves – a car backfires somewhere in the distance; fuel for the fire. My mind has been set ablaze.

I love when that shit happens. 

You probably think this is about you….

Naming characters, for some writers, is a complicated process. They want an original name for their original character. Perhaps they want something that describes strength and power, or maybe they want something that will tell a reader this person is a nerd. Maybe an old name, from their grandmother’s era, to say something about the character or their family.

For other writers, they log on to baby names and search through for the perfect one. The perfect one might be based on sound, consonants and vowels, rhyming, colors, meanings.

For me, sometimes, characters name themselves. The character develops and the name comes. For Our Gentle Sins, Jack’s name came to me like that. But some of the other characters were actually named for the students in the class that I mention in my acknowledgements. I was inspired by that class.

it was January 2017. The world was changing and people, some of my students, were afraid, others were angry. That semester, I was asked to teach the History of African American Literature. The students were expecting another teacher. When I walked in – they weren’t certain what to make of me or what this class might become.

I said – I love literature and we are here to learn together. If I say something or do something you don’t like – you tell me. Later, I was evaluated by our expert in African American Literature. He said, “never have I seen a class so open to talking about gender, race, culture – and being respectful about it!”

That was my rule – we don’t have to agree, but we should learn how to respectfully disagree.

It was a wonderful class.

Our Gentle Sins began just before the semester, I was so inspired that I would write before class as the students walked in and after class as they walked out. They asked me what I was working on – I told them. At one point, they asked me to read them a section. I agreed.

What I told them is that I’d been so inspired by the class that I’d named some of my characters after some of the names in class. Not after the students themselves because I didn’t match up characteristics between real person and student, just their names. They loved the idea.

Many, many times, I’ve had people think the story was about them or that the character was somehow inspired by them. I had, at least, one person (maybe more) stop talking to me because of a character name. I didn’t realize it right away. It was only when I looked back on our messages that I saw the dates and the topic – the story they were about to read. The name had NOTHING to do with them or the friend they believed the character to be named after. It was just a name and it felt right in that place.

The truth is – if I really disliked a person, I would never use their name, not for good guys or bad guys, not for the character who might die or a stray dog gracing the pages. Why would I want to be reminded of someone I disliked? The name might be similar – but it was never about them. It was a character.

Although my students appreciated I used some of their names, none of them felt I’d used them personally as the inspiration for the character.

Our Gentle Sins is about people finding their way in life – recovering from past mistakes. Aren’t we all?

The Care and Feeding of your Writer

Reviews are so important to the future of our books and our publishing. It’s the first thing customers look for and publishing companies look for when deciding to publish your work. For some reason, it’s difficult to get readers to review on Amazon, GoodReads, or Barnes and Nobel among others.

I get emails, text messages, letters – sometimes I get them through third party systems. And they’ve been sterling. But they have not appeared in any public place.

Please review, review review.

We love personal notes. I’ve had people send me things. How wonderful. I always respond to emails. And I include – please publish this review.

Beautiful Souls, your writer needs your reviews.

Meet the Author – Speaking of Memoir

While Our Gentle Sins is fiction, a number of my publications have been memoir. Ventura Country Writer’s Club asked me to come and speak on the topic. I’m excited to share what I’ve learned and lead a writing workshop. If you’re nearby, stop by!

Our Gentle Sins Now Available!