Grief and Personal Revisionist History

The Queen died today (the day I wrote this, I mean). As a US citizen and a person with a great deal of disdain for the parasitic ruling class of wealth, nobility, and power, I’ll admit I’ve never had much concern for the UK’s royal family. I’m pretty sure I’m breaking some kind of rule about ways to refer to monarchs who have passed away in the transitional state between one ruler and the next, but I’d be lying if I said I cared enough to actually look it up. All I know is I started to recognize patterns in the ways that people were writing about the event on Twitter before I got tired of how EVERYONE was talking about it and found a new comic to read instead of doing my usual Twitter scrolling (Vattu, by Evan Dahm). Which I found because someone shared an image from said comic of a character saying “it’s a tragedy for an emperor even to exist.” If that doesn’t just about capture my feelings on the matter, then I don’t know if anything ever will.

Originally, I planned to never even mention this event on my blog. I don’t really care about the royal family outside of the abstract annoyance I feel about any news item that takes over the entirety of the internet for longer than an hour (there’s already YouTube videos about it, of course), so why would I waste my time on it? I almost deleted the whole post so I could write about my identity or how much I’m dreading the end of Spiritfarer because it’s everything I’ve thought it would be, but while I was looking up the exact text of the quote above, I found another tweet, this one from an account I follow because of her frank discussions about the difficulty of growing up and trying to heal from an abusive family and the grief involved therein: “You don’t have to pretend someone was kind or good because they died. Everybody dies.”

Since my grandfather passed away, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about grief, loss, and the way those things can warp our view of the past. Or perhaps the way we deliberately misrepresent the past in order to justify the grief and loss we feel. I’m still not sure which it is and I strongly suspect that the true answer is that it’s a bit of both for pretty much everyone. When he passed, my mother’s family spent a lot of time waxing poetic about my grandfather, sharing funny stories, and looking at old photos (which is when I had the uncomfortable realization that my older brother is the spitting image of my grandfather when he was younger). It was a difficult event, in part because of the emotion involved and my (to put it INCREDIBLY FLIPPANTLY) difficult relationship with that side of my family, but also because I could see my mother, aunts, and uncles leaving out parts of stories that cast my grandfather in a less than positive light.

Now, the way my mother and her siblings tell it, my grandfather was a jokester and a mischief maker who was well-liked by the people who knew him. He could supposedly talk his way into or out of just about anything. However, as someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about generational trauma and who has learned to recognize the signs of trauma in other people via the details they leave out of the stories they tell about themselves, the past, and the people who hurt them, I think the truth was more complicated. As it almost always is. I think that my grandfather was not always the kind, accepting, friendly person I knew. I think there’s a reason he used to threaten to slap people upside the head or that my mother and her siblings never tell any stories that involved them getting into actual trouble. He changed, I suspect, as he grew older, but that doesn’t absolve him of what he did in the past. I think that if he had acted to address the generational abuse he perpetuated, my mother might have been able to do so as well, rather than resist the notion that she has anything to apologize for.

As I reflect on how little I know about the life my grandfather lived and the way that people are reacting to the death of the queen–waxing poetic, noting the harm she, her family, and the UK have done to the world, or just avoiding the topic entirely–I find myself wondering if we’re ever going to be able to have a healthy relationship with grief. Will we (collectively, I mean) ever be able to mourn a person’s passing and the grief that engenders without trying to paint over all the harm they might have caused? I think there are probably a lot of people who have had a genuine emotional reaction to the passing of the queen, and I don’t mean the people obsessed with celebrities who personally feel the loss of a public figure. I mean people whose lives were touched in a positive way by a public figure through a small interaction or even act of kindness. Not even to mention her family, some of whom may have had a troubled relationship with her but who probably still care about her. I think we could make space for those people to grieve without needing to ignore all the harm the royal family has caused to so many people around the world.

I’ll admit that the idea works a lot better when you’re talking about someone whose impacted was primarily felt within a family or family-adjacent social unit rather than all over the world. I think a lot of people are justified in their anger and resentment at the way that the queen is getting all of this attention despite the literal and direct harm done to the world, their country, or even their lives directly by the queen in her time as the (figure)head of the UK. But then again, this post was never really about her. She was just a convenient focal point for my reflections about loss and grief and this was really me trying to grapple with the flawed person my grandfather was, the flawed people my parents are, and how I’m striving to end the cycle that hurt all of us, so much as I can by myself, anyway.

I mourned my grandfather’s passing even as I recognized that he wasn’t always the person I knew. I will mourn my parents when they pass, if I’m around to see it, even if they are still the people I know they are right now. I will speak honestly of them, just as I do my best to speak honestly of my grandfather and as I hope people will speak of me when I’m gone. The passing of a person is a chance to grapple with the full weight of their life and it would be a foolish disservice to everyone who was impacted by them to do anything less. I just hope the world eventually gets on board with this idea. It would be a lot more healthy for everyone if they did.

Domestic Labor And Taking Care of Yourself

The first time I was tasked with preparing a meal for the rest of my family, I was nine. My parents had made the choice that they were going to homeschool all (at the time) four of their children and we started when I was preparing to make the transition from kindergarten to first grade. When I turned nine right around the start of our school year, my (at the time) youngest sibling was finally of an age that she needed to begin initial education, the sibling between us was just starting first grade, I was in third grade, my elder brother was in fifth grade, and my mother was just beginning to realize that she wasn’t capable of doing all of the housekeeping, schooling, and childrearing while my father was at work. Given that she had a number of children, she did what anyone else would do and continued the process she’d started years prior of offloading responsibility for some of that work to her children. Unlike most families of a similar size, the work wasn’t given to the eldest child or evenly distributed between children according to their abilities, but almost all of it was given to the most responsible child. Me.

Which isn’t to say none of my siblings did anything around the house. We all had a scattering of weekly and daily chores we did, meted out by our mother via a chore chart she put on the fridge every week, ostensibly in exchange for our allowance. Things like setting the table, wiping the table after dinner, loading the dishwasher, sweeping the floor, picking up a specific room, and so on. Simple chores, easy enough for any child tall enough to reach the sink or use a broom, that were shared between us via the chore chart for my entire time living with my parents. Still, it was not difficult to notice that I was the only child tasked with preparing lunch for the entire family.

Since my mother had realized I woke up at five every morning (even then I never slept much more than eight hours at a time) when she found me breaking our family’s video game time rules so I could enjoy Donkey Kong 64 without interference from my brother or younger siblings, she’d started waking up at that time as well and giving me my daily school lessons. I’d be done by the time my other siblings woke up for breakfast and then finished with my assignments by eleven, so she also assigned me the task of preparing lunch for everyone. This way, she could get an extra thirty minutes of lesson time in before the day was interrupted by lunch. And to keep me busy, of course. Idle hands are the devil’s plaything, after all, as I’d proven by trying to enjoy some time to myself in the mornings.

After a couple months of successful lunch preparation, including branching out into various warmed and easily cooked foods instead of the usual coldcuts and leftovers we’d enjoyed prior to my assignment as school cook (which is an editorialization on my part, since my parents never framed this or anything else I’m about to mention as anything other than normal “helping around the house” type work), I began a short period of cooking lessons. Which were, of course, framed as helping my mother prepare dinner. And eventually clean up from dinner. When it was clear that I could handle a few basic meals, easy baking tasks, and knew what it meant to properly wash the dishes, suddenly I found the chore chart expanded to include a few new entries. I had the daily chore of making lunch and, one or two times a week, making dinner. There were also a new series of chores sorted by age categories that meant my brother and I were now sharing more after-dinner kitchen clean up tasks with our parents.

What I noticed as a result of this process was that my brother never aged into chores. I did and then he was added in at the same time, despite enjoying two years of not needing to do that chore before we began to share it. The only exception was mowing the lawn, but that’s a bit of a special case because it was a weird masculinity thing in my house since my father, who is the biological source of my grass allergy, always mowed the lawn even though my mother was perfectly capable of doing so herself and not allergic like my father and I. So we both started doing lawn care the week we turned thirteen, which was notable because it was the only time my brother did a chore before I started doing it. At that point in time, it was more surprising to see him tasked with something before I was than to find myself being taught how to do a “good job” according to my parents sensibilities so that I could make up for the poor job my older brother would be doing when it was his turn to do the chore in question.

This was one of the many aspects of my childhood that I took note of but never really felt any which way about. Part of that was just me attempting to survive my childhood, but part of it was me lacking any other context. For instance, despite the firm gender roles and assignments handed down by my parents, we never had any concept of “women’s work” because my mother frequently tasked me with cooking, cleaning, sewing (admittedly mostly limited to my own clothing and stuffed animal repair needs), and cargiving chores. It wasn’t until I was in college (and had stopped thinking of my parents’ house as my “home”) that I realized that the idea of “women’s work” wasn’t just a cartoonish pasitche of regressive villainy. Finally coming into contact with lives that were undeniably different from my own was what it took to cease the unquestioning acceptance of my lived experience as fairly normal for my ethnicity and socio-economic station.

Eventually though, after this awakening and the many examples of other ways of living I found once I knew to look for them (some of which were helped along by the supportive, patient, and wonderful professors in my many cross-listed English Literature and Women’s and Gender Studies classes), I tried to figure out how I felt about this. It wasn’t until my senior year when I wrote about Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room that I took my first really step forward in figuring out how I felt about that sort of domestic labor distribution beyond the basic “this is clearly not fair” feelings I’d harbored all along. The first of two major papers I wrote for that class took a close look at the way that the value placed on domestic labor and how it was shared between people living together could be read as a metaphor for the equality and inclusivity of everyone involved. Reading back over that paper now, it is clear to see the feelings I couldn’t quite pin down or even properly put to words in my therapy sessions burbling beneath the surface. About my place in my parents’ household, about the roles assigned to me, and about my own (at the time) supressed identity and sense of self.

As I wrote the above paragraphs, I was standing next to the remnants of my dinner. A container showing the red stains of tomato-based pasta sauce as the only evidence it had been packed to the brim with leftover ravioli and tortellini smothered in a sauce I’ve known how to prepare for more than two-thirds of my thirty-one years. The first of five such containers that still graced my refrigerator this morning because it wasn’t until after I’d prepared and mixed up everything that I realized I could have cooked for just myself. I could have prepared only part of the tortellini and ravioli. Or prepared just a part of one of the two types of pasta rather than part of both. Instead, I cooked for a group of people I haven’t had to take care of in thirteen of the twenty-two years since I first learned to prepare this particular recipe.

Only recently, as I reflect on my childhood while preparing any of the various dishes I’ve grown to love in portions meant to feed a family of seven, do I see these memorized recipes and ingrained cooking habits as signs of the unequal, abusive, and neglectful relationships that formed the core of my childhood home. Only now, as I reflect on my relationship with my parents, my own identity, and my sense of self, do I explicitly think of how the way that I was tasked with domestic and emotional labor shaped me in ways that I’m just beginning to understand.

I feel like I should feel the need to console myself as I wrap up this blog post. Like I should need to prove to myself and whoever is reading this that I am capable of taking care of myself in a way that isn’t accidentally or incidentally included in taking care of other people. After all, it’s not every day that I realize just how bad I am at taking care of myself in a way that radically alters my thinking. The thing is, I’m not uncomfortable with that idea. Like I’ve said, I think I always knew even if I never explicity realized what it meant. I think that finally being able to put all of this into words, to be able to realize what all of this represents as I stare each morning at leftovers I’m going to have to force myself to eat every day if i want to prevent them from going to waste, is a sign of progress. Maybe not a watershed moment, but definitely a step in the right direction. I think the first thing I’m going to do to prove this to myself is make a much smaller batch of sauce. Once I’m not sick of eating it every day, anyway.

Imagery Sharp Enough To Cut A Reader

As much as I like to grouse about Robert Jordan and The Wheel of Time, reading through the series left a strong impression on me. After all, most of my grousing has to do with bloat and how the story unspools at times, rather than weaves together. Too many instances of unimportant details being emphasized in blocks of descriptive text (a crime I perhaps come down on too strongly because I recognized this issue, magnified, in my own writing) again and again and again. Too much time being skipped over to show the end results and then returned to, to be examined in excruciating detail. Too many plot threads as the story wandered wide over eleven books before Jordan, health failing, tasked Brandon Sanderson with wrapping it all up. Specific, smaller problems that had to do with the background of the reading experience rather than the main focus of it. I enjoyed the series and don’t regret spending time reading through it, but I’ve never been able to make myself read through it a second time, which is unfortunate because there are a lot of singular moments that left a mark on me and my imagination.

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Reflections On My Birthday

Today is my birthday (the day of writing this, not the day of posting it) and, after waiting my entire life for this moment, it finally arrived. My Golden Birthday (or Champaign Birthday or Lucky Birthday, depending on where you’re from). I turned thirty-one on the thirty-first of August. I was always very excited as a child about the idea of a Golden Birthday and always a little sad that it would take me so long to experience mine. As I got older, I comforted myself by saying at least I’d be able to have a real party. In the last decade, though, I’ve stopped caring. I don’t really like to make a big fuss about myself. I like it when other people fuss over me, of course. Who doesn’t love attention from the people you care about? But I also don’t like people making a fuss over me when I’m in a bad mood and, as I mentioned in the post that actually went up on the 31st, I’m usually not in a good mood during the month of August. This year has been no exception and, in fact, might be one of the worst in the last decade thanks to everything else I’ve got going on.

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August, My Least Favorite Month, Is Finally Over

One more week in the bank as I trudge through a spate of incredibly draining and difficult weeks with the hope of some kind of peace and rest on the horizon. The exact kind is to be determined still, from where I’m writing this (nor do I expect to have any answers soon), given the on-going health issues I’m dealing with on top of the work-related stress, world-related stress, and constant pandemic stress. I don’t know what things are going to look like once this flurry of activity has come to an end. It’s difficult to tell from the middle of things, especially given that I’m partway through a bunch of medical tests, none of which indicate that this is going to be a temporary issue if I’m reading the supporting documentation correctly. I, of course, could be wrong, but since I have to wait to speak with one or more doctors and then get one or more additional tests before I know anything, all I can do now is speculate. Which isn’t super helpful for me, but I’m grasping at straws and unsure of what else to grasp at.

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Eyes, Teeth, and Insomnia! Oh My!

My eye problems came back again. After four or five months of being symptom-free as I work my way through the “maintenance” mode of my on-going care, they finally came back. In the other eye, this time. Feels pretty exhausting for my usual symptoms to be showing up in a new eye, despite all of the care I’m taking to prevent the issue in the first place. Most of my treatments work for both eyes, with the exception of the eyedrops I’ve been using, so the progression has been much slower than previous iterations, which means I’ve been able to take better notes about the symptoms. That, combined with the slight variations in how the issue is presenting itself in a new eye, means my doctor has some new ideas about what might be causing it and what we can do about it.

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This One’s About Anime And Guns

Content Warning: Discussion of guns, gun violence, and smoking in the third paragraph and onward.

I’ve been on a bit of an old anime kick lately. Which is probably not what you think it is, given my relative late-coming to the anime scene (college) and my refusal to ever really engage with it beyond a few highly-recommended classics due to my general preference to only watch shows with other people. I mean, a lot of people will recommend a show to you from their childhood or teenage and then refuse to watch it with you because they know it will ruin their nostalgic memories of it. It’s like they know it’s bad, but refuse to tell you that because that would mean admitting the quality of it is contained within the rose-colored glasses of yesteryear and the lower standards of youth. By refusing to watch anything but the stuff people would watch with me, I’ve managed to mostly avoid this pitfall of “shows I loved years ago.”

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The Perfect Candy For A Person Who Doesn’t Eat Much Candy

My absolute favorite type of candy is chewy SweetTarts. Whatever form they take, either as sugar discs or sugar pellets, I will rapidly consume more of them than is wise. Which isn’t a huge number, seeing as those things will absolutely destroy the inside of your mouth and make my sensitive teeth prone to hurting in a way nothing else but copious amounts of Mountain Dew can. As a result of the danger these things pose to my health and well-being, I have a tendency to avoid them in favor of other candy on the rare occasion I choose to indulge my sweet tooth. I don’t really care for sweet things most days and I’ve thankfully broken free of the habits of my youth, when candy played a more central role in my life, but every so often the craving just hits me and I decide to treat myself.

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