When the kitty’s approval is required!

I’ve just bought a home gym. It’s coming in the mail. It’s the Total Gym APEX G3. Here’s a link to it! (Only I bought one for less on eBay. Hoping for the best there!) Check out the one-minute video and see what it’s capable of!

I have room for one of these contraptions in the basement. There’s a room down there that’s roughly eleven feet by eleven feet. It could even come up here to my room, but I doubt I’d be happy with that. The basement room is begging for a function other than containing Mr. Kitty’s litter anyway. Now it can be litter and exercising! Fun for both me and the cat. And I daresay I’ll be cleaning his litter more often now that I’ll have another reason to go down there. Let’s ask Mr. Kitty if he approves!

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Oh, yeah, that’s his look of approval, for sure. (You don’t want to see him when he disapproves.)

The problem is that I enjoy my gym membership, but it’s costing a lot in gas to keep driving there (even though it’s a mile up the road… go figure), and I’m not comfortable using the exercise machines. I’ve only gained comfort with the treadmill, and that took forever. It’s hard to describe the problem, but I process and learn new things slowly, and it puts stress on me to do so with an audience. It’s always better when I can teach myself something in private. Also, at the gym, you have to sanitize each machine after you use it, and it appears that each machine works one muscle. That would be a lot of sanitation. I mean, I want to work a handful of muscles in one workout.

It feels ridic. I was talking to my psychic friend, Ash, about it earlier today–my intimidation of the machines–and she posted this on FB to give me confidence:

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“Meg Kimball is a genius!” That totally made my day!! For sure!! 😀 Oh my gosh. And I replied, “I won’t argue, but… wow, thanks! So are you!”

She tried to teach me the machines a few times way back before she moved to Orlando. She took me to the gym before I joined. We did a few different machines, and it didn’t take. It’s like, whenever you add social pressure onto me trying to learn something, my brain slows down even more. I have to do everything slowly and cautiously. The slow brain is a processing thing. I’ve always been that way.

And I’m getting desperate to lose weight. I gained a pound recently, and I blame the local pizza place and my dad’s covidiocy. But there’s no reason to point the finger of blame. I’ve just got to freakin’ lose some weight, and it seems like I’m doing better with exercise than diet lately, so I want to maximize that.

I’m excited to get my Total Gym APEX G3. Who wouldn’t be? I can spend some time organizing in the basement tomorrow. I know I’ll use it, but part of me thinks I should’ve forced the issue of going to the gym.

Speaking of my slow-working brain, I read recently that that’s a cognitive effect of schizophrenia. Or, it can be. (I was a music major who couldn’t master fast music, and I can’t play fast-drop Tetris.) Also, my inability to deal with stress is due to the brain chemistry issues of being schizophrenic. Who knew? And the circadian rhythm sleep issues I used to have are strongly associated with schizophrenia. You know, the way I’d be up all night and sleep all day and then have killer insomnia every night, again and again? That issue predated my schizophrenia and really upset me and caused problems.

When I saw that there was a link, I had a weird reaction: Oh, good. None of it was my fault. My dad used to say, “Just go to bed earlier.” That’s idiotic, which makes sense, since he’s a covidiot. (To new readers, he visited a friend who had the coronavirus. Don’t get me started.)

But back when I wrestled with it, which ended when I finally got some good medications (some to put me to sleep, and some to keep me awake), I freakin’ blamed myself and believed I was lazy and needed to try harder. Even if I’d break the cycle by staying up all night and all day and going to bed at a normal hour, the normal cycle would break within a few days. I still blamed myself. Why, oh why, couldn’t anyone have realized that I was having a medical issue? Go to bed earlier, my [bleep].

But I digress. Anyway, I decided to indulge in an exercise machine. I used to work out with dumbbells all the time, back when I was nineteen. (I’m 43.) I remember the concepts of reps, and all that. I used to follow the exercise books of Joyce Vedral. But I’ll tell ya, her routines left me for dead. I’m hoping that using a weight machine will enable me to go slower and focus more on muscle growth than sudden death.

I started doing her workouts at age nineteen, I think. I used 1-, 2-, and 3-pound dumbbells to begin. After my first two days’ workouts (upper body and lower body on consecutive days), I was at Granny Franny’s house, and I’d been exercising in her basement, and I remember collapsing into her recliner, and my whole body was in pain. I couldn’t stand up. Like, oh my goodness. (How out of shape was I?! Is it normal for a teenager to be so weak? I swear on my life, I’m not remotely athletic, and I have some sort of inherent athletic weakness.)

But anyway, I’ll use some of the rep stuff that I remember, and I’ll focus on all major muscle groups. (Her books taught that there are nine major muscle groups, and I actually remember all of them. Wow, go me!) And I might keep going to the gym to use the treadmill, but it will really depend on how much the Total Gym APEX G3 exhausts me. If it’s an upgrade from treadmilling, then I won’t go. If it’s an add-on, then I’ll go. We’ll wait and see.

One benefit of gaining muscle is that your metabolism shoots up, and therefore you’re burning more calories even while resting. I’m intrigued! Plus, I need some muscle tone. I’m excited.

I’d been trying to save money, but I do still have some savings, almost enough to go back to Prague. But, of course, there has to be progress with everyone getting vaccines, and all that. I’m heartbroken that I couldn’t visit Sonya last year but super-glad that I did visit her the year before. The vaccine rollout seems to be taking forever. My dad asked me to go online and schedule one for him, but what do you know? There were no openings. Maybe they should’ve only offered them to a lesser population, like people over eighty-five, since they didn’t have enough vaccines for everyone 75+. I’m hoping it’ll sort itself out.

Relationship death and psychics in the produce department.

Dear Annie: My husband and I have been together since 2008 and married since 2011. We slept in the same bed, held hands and talked about everything in the beginning. Then, in 2013, he got a job in Iowa. I stayed home until my youngest went to college.

I joined him in September 2014. He wasn’t the same man I fell in love with and married. Remember, I said we talked about everything. But he doesn’t communicate with me anymore.

He’s not cheating; he has never been a guy who would cheat on his significant other. His “friends” know more about him, his current issues and everything else long before I do. I want my best friend and husband back. It seems like he goes out of his way to be anywhere but with me. — Missing the Way It Was

Dear Missing: Your husband is still the same man, but it sounds as if he might be depressed. He could be angry or resentful toward you for not moving with him right when he got the job. Although this is not logical and staying with your son until he went to college was the right thing to do, he might need to express his feelings. The first step to help him is to communicate with him, but if he won’t communicate with you, you have to seek the help of a professional therapist. There, you can get to the bottom of your changed relationship and get your best friend back. Marriage takes work, and the best kind of work is communication. Best of luck. (c) Annie Lane

I completely disagree with Annie Lane, but I admire her tackling such a complex problem. Points for that!

It sounds like he’s checked out of the marriage. This is really upsetting. He needs to check back in, but what can the letter writer do about it? Not much. He seems uncommitted to the marriage, and that upsets me too. He’s treating his wife like she’s disposable. I think if you’re married to someone, you should try to maintain the connection instead of taking a cavalier approach to it. Marriage is sacred.

He’s probably having an emotional affair with some of his “friends” (is it weird that she put that word in quotes?). His wife needs to come first. If he has all these new friends, but his wife was still number one, then it would be okay. I’m a huge believer in friendship. It’s just… not looking that way.

Marriage takes work, and the best kind of work is communication.

Small problem, Annie Lane: he’s checked out. He’ll be resistant to communication, by definition of being “checked out”.

Your husband is still the same man.

Well, yeah, but his true colors are showing now. Instead of being committed to his wife, he used her for companionship and then just cast her aside. Ouch. This letter is breaking my heart all over the place. I want to believe that people don’t treat their spouses that way.

The only advice I could give her would be to reconsider whether she should stay married. God, what heartbreak. Any chance I’m wrong about this?

Let’s see what Ask Amy’s up to!

Dear Amy: As I think about the new year unfolding, my thoughts of a past friendship arise.

I am not sure what I did, or what I said, but back in 2016 a dear friend stopped talking to me.

I tried on several occasions to reconnect, and included apologies, as I was certain that I must have done something to warrant this unexpected rejection.

We became friends back in 1997, but here I am five years after our last contact and still on the outs with this friend.

I am heartbroken over it. I hope and pray that we may connect again one day.

My thinking is that maybe I should write a letter (not email or phone call). Is this a futile step?

I am just wondering if you have any wise words to provide, since you have insight into relationships.

I am not even sure how to start the letter, and I’m afraid of rejection again.

— Still Hoping in Friendship

Still Hoping in Friendship: The worst thing about being ghosted, very suddenly, is that you are left assuming that you have said or done something deeply offensive.

According to you, you have tried several times to get to the bottom of this break. You have issued presumably vague apologies for something you might have done.

But maybe it’s not you. Maybe it’s your friend. People who are depressed, overwhelmed or who feel ashamed sometimes pull away suddenly.

Send your friend an email or letter. Don’t dwell on this silence. Send a newsy missive catching them up on what you’ve been up to. Say, “I think of you often and would love to hear how you are doing. I hope you’ll be in touch.” (c) Ask Amy

I disagree. I’d let it go. Also, a newsy missive (what the heck is a newsy missive?) would be embarrassing and awkward.

I actually had a friend at the reading center who cared enough to reach out to me sometime after I left. I got an email from her once at some later point, possibly when I was going insane, but I can’t recall exactly when it was. I greatly appreciated her email, but my mind was gone, and I had no way to respond to her cheery normalcy. (Yeah, I must’ve been insane.)

I don’t exactly regret not getting back to her, but I regret hurting her feelings, for sure. But after time passes, how can you come back from that? That’s why I’m upset with the first letter writer’s husband. Sometimes when a relationship dies, you can’t reclaim it. It’s dead! That’s why when you value someone, a friend, your spouse, etc., you can’t let the relationship go under. It might never come back. And that’s no one’s fault. It’s just human nature. It’s a harsh reality. (I really do blame the first letter writer’s husband, though, for not even seeming to care. He could at least make an effort.)

It’s just that when time passes, enough time for person A to know that person B checked out of the relationship, there’s no real way to come back from that. It took me years to regain my sanity, and it’s not like I can look up my former coworker now. That would be awkward and… I don’t know… just sort of strange. I mean, we were never that close. But she was a truly kind and caring person. We should have a moment of gratitude here.

I would also urge the letter writer to rethink things. Did her friend have massive personality flaws that she (the letter writer) kept justifying? I had a great friend once who was pathologically self-absorbed, and I kept making excuses for his self-absorption until that wound up biting me on the [bleep]. It’s worth considering that the letter writer did nothing wrong, but that her friend wasn’t really a good friend.

I can’t imagine being friends with someone for twenty years and then being dropped like a hot potato. Offhand, I’d put the blame on the person who’d treat a friend of twenty years that way, not on the letter writer. You shouldn’t “dump” a friend of twenty years via ghosting. That’s just wrong.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I met a psychic at the supermarket the other day. We were both in the produce department waiting for the stocker to bring out more vegetables. The pandemic has been causing a lot of shortages in some items, so grocery runs have been difficult. We were able to share a moment together, talking about the challenges we’ve faced. She asked for my birthday and my sign, and she told me all about myself and my past. She knew about my family and my fight to keep my father healthy. I couldn’t believe the connection I felt with her; she felt what I have been feeling this past year.

One thing we talked about that I cannot shake is my love life. I told her about a friend who has been dropping off supplies and calls me all the time, and she said that the love I’ve been looking for is right in front of me — meaning him. Now, I don’t know this lady. My friends say it’s crazy, but I need some advice from someone looking in. Could the psychic be right? Should I ask this guy out and see what happens, or am I crazy to listen to someone who may not even be psychic? — Psychic Minds

DEAR PSYCHIC MINDS: I must admit that I am skeptical of psychics. I must also admit that I know plenty of people who do believe in them. I myself consulted a psychic once — and what was said to me was dead-on accurate. My takeaway is that you should evaluate what this woman said to you. Does it make sense? Is there merit in what she pointed out? It sounds like your attentive friend is worthy of your consideration. It can’t hurt to pay attention to him. You don’t need to read anything into the gestures, just be present. Notice how you two interact, and listen to your gut. Does it feel like this man is interested in you, and are you interested in him? Rather than obsessing over the fact that this woman seemed to be in sync with you, consider your next steps. What makes sense to you? Be in the present moment. Keep your eyes open. Go for it if it makes sense. (c) DREAMLEAPERS

That’s fun! Every time I go to the grocery store, I just wind up arguing with the cashiers and getting myself kicked out. I should spend more time in produce! Huh.

I have a few thoughts here: first of all the letter writer needs to replay the conversation word-for-word. Did the letter writer give enough information about her dad for the psychic to repeat back to her? That’s rule number one. A true psychic isn’t going to ask you for info that can be spoken back. Like:

“Oh, I’ve been so worried about keeping my dad healthy!” 

“Yes, I can see how worried you’ve been.” 

Snort.

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HA HA, the cat!!

On the other hand, this would be compelling:

“I’ve been worried.” 

“Yes, you’ve worried about your father, no? He has some diabetes and neurological issues, my guides are saying? He had a heart attack two years ago?” 

“Yes! Wow, how’d you know that?!” 

Hey, it might’ve happened that way.

Point two, though, if it did indeed happen that way (and thus, the psychic seems legit) is that this was a fun experience! Who goes to the grocery store expecting to meet a psychic? Geez, quit overthinking it! Just appreciate the humor and whimsy of it. If the letter writer winds up with the delivery friend, this will be a great story they can tell later. Personally, I’d love to have this sort of experience!

If the psychic had prophesied gloom and doom, that would be one thing, but geez! Appreciate the experience!

I’ve had some genuine psychic experiences, and so has my mother. In college, she used to take me to get psychic readings with her. Those were fun times. Also, I have two friends who are psychic! (Shout out to the one of you who reads my blog!)

Prom queens, valedictorians, gossips, and backstabbers.

DEAR ABBY: I am a 73-year-old retired woman who still maintains contact with a number of old and new friends for movies, dinner, museum visits, etc. Until the COVID virus, we did things often. Now, not so much.

Someone in this group told me that on a couple of occasions, a few of them were not very nice when my name came up. (“Why doesn’t she see her grandkids more often?” “She goes out more than most, yet doesn’t want to eat in certain restaurants.”) My husband and I have a good marriage, but many of these ladies are widowed or divorced. How do you handle backstabbing at this age? — MYSTIFIED IN NEW YORK

DEAR MYSTIFIED: Try not to take it personally. Obviously, these gossips have less to occupy their minds than one would hope. You might also consider seeing these particular individuals even less often than you already do in the age of COVID. If you do, it may give them less ammunition concerning what you do (or don’t do) with your time. (c) DEAR ABBY

This reminds me of my mother. Things she’s told me over the years (for absolutely no rhyme or reason):

  • “Your grandmother thinks you’re weird. She greatly prefers your older cousin, Shannon, who’s cool and feminine. She doesn’t understand the way your mind works!”
  • “None of your cousins like you. Yeah, they’re nice to you at Christmas, but do they make any effort to keep in touch with you? Therefore, their niceness has no value whatsoever.”
  • And we have a more recent one: “That wasn’t a mental hospital you were put in as a teen. It was a behavioral health unit because you were badly behaved.”
  • When I was a kid: “You let the kitties out to play? Well, they’re not coming back. They’re probably squished under the tire of a car by now.”

So here’s what I’m thinking: the bad guy here is the letter writer’s “friend” (in quotation marks) who’s feeding her this information. It’s entirely possible that the information was gossipped about in a positive way, like so:

“I wonder why she doesn’t visit her grandkids more often? She seemed sad the other day, but she always gets cheered when she visits the grandkids. And she’s teaching them how to cook, which they’re really enjoying!” 

I don’t consider that gossip. If it’s not malicious, cruel, private, trash-talking, or that sort of thing, I think it’s okay to talk about people. I also think it’s okay to talk to person A about a disagreement or blowup you had with person B, for the sole goal of working through it (not just to trash person B for the fun of it).

Or it could have been innocuous:

New group member: “Why don’t we ever eat out at Panera Bread as a group?” 

Regular group member: “Oh, Lane doesn’t like Panera Bread. She hates everything on the menu.” 

New group member: “Well, what about the Cheesecake Factory?” 

Regular group member: “Cindy and I both hate that restaurant! But we have a list of restaurants that we all like. Here, check it out.” 

Which is matter-of-fact, right? Until the letter writer’s “friend” sinks her claws into it. What a [bleep]!

What I’d recommend is that the letter writer should see how the other ladies discuss people who aren’t around. Do the other ladies speak like I suggested above, or do they get their claws out collectively? Because if they’re all backstabbing gossips, I’d run. But they might not be! We only have solid evidence against one person here.

DEAR ABBY: I began using a wheelchair two years ago. Since then a dear friend of roughly 30 years has become fixated on my disability. While we once shared a deep, close “BFF” relationship, she now speaks to me in baby talk and only shows an interest in my physical limitations. I feel objectified, hurt and disappointed.

I have mentioned to her that I prefer to focus on other things in life, and she responds with platitudes like, “The body is just a shell,” and “All that matters is the heart,” but her actions tell me otherwise. I hate to end this friendship, but I am at the end of my rope. Any advice? — PATRONIZED IN ARIZONA

DEAR PATRONIZED: If you haven’t done it already, tell this person that you no longer wish to discuss your disability and you prefer she stop raising the subject and treating you differently. Period. If she continues to pursue the subject after that, make your visits less frequent, if they happen at all.

It’s tragic when a thirty-year friendship comes to this!

She responds with platitudes […] but her actions tell me otherwise.

Gee, the letter writer makes it sound as if the platitudes are acceptable! “The body is just a shell,”? Really? And, “All that matters is the heart,”? Well, you know what? My heart doesn’t like you. And my shell of a body wants a piece of you, so there.

There’s a hilarious episode of Frasier about this. Frasier’s helping Lana build a popsickle-stick house, and he’s wearing a paper smock when a married couple of househunters shows up to see the house. (Lana’s a realtor.) They smile really patronizingly at Frasier, and the wife says, “Are you having fun with your little house?” And Frasier can’t answer because he has a popsickle in his mouth.

Lana enters the room, and the househunters ask if the house has a flooding problem. Lana downplays it, so Frasier grunts loudly. The female  househunter says, “Aww, are you choking on your lolly?”

And Frasier replies: “No. I am choking on something far more dangerous and destructive than a simple sugary treat. It’s a prolific and powerful poison known… as deception!”

And the woman says, “He’s very verbal!” (Which is funny, because Frasier is indeed quite a wordsmith.)

I love that part. Actually, that whole episode is really good.

If the letter writer could do that–plan a wordy, verbiose speech to deliver to her friend–that could be quite nice. She could arrange it on notecards beforehand and master the memorization. That would rock! Or similarly she could recite a Shakespearean sonnet about how the body is not, in fact, just a shell. And she should act like she has all his sonnets memorized, and not just that one.

Oh my gosh, I did something like that once. This was fabulous. I ran into the prom queen from my high school. To give some background, she and I were both nominated, but my nomination was a joke by the student body. Hers was the real deal, so she won.

I’ve never hated her, or anything like that. I enjoyed knowing her in high school. Amy was cool, popular, charismatic, you get the picture; but she wasn’t a brat.

But when I encountered her several years ago, she was being a total jerkface to me. Trying to remember… she lowered her voice and asked if I’m still living with my dad. I said, “Yes, and he’s very companionable.”

She asked what I’d been up to, so I told her very excitedly about my self-published middle-grade series.

She sniffed. “You self-publish? I see.” She gave me a pitying look.

“They’re great books,” I insisted.

“Mm-hmm. Did you know that our valedictorian, Sarah Van, got a book published?” (Her maiden name was Sarah Van Arsdale, so we called her Sarah Van in high school.)

And I replied, “Yeah, yeah, I knew. Uh, Breakfast Served Anytime, April 8, 2014, right? Candlewick Press?”

She flinched, and her eyes got shifty.

“Well, you asked if I knew,” I said. I scratched my cheek and made an innocent expression.

She recovered. “Right. Meg, she got published, like officially published.”

I rolled my eyes and sighed.

I don’t remember much else about it, but that felt like a masterful moment. The letter writer needs to create some of those with her patronizing friend!

Oh, Annie Lane, I feel ya.

Dear Annie: My daughter, “Emily,” has been dating “Ben” for almost two years. Ben is a great guy, aside from one issue that’s been bugging me: He refuses to drive anywhere and instead has my daughter drive him. He says it’s because a few years ago he was in a car accident and has been scared to drive since. (He was not hurt in the accident.) He has Emily drive him to and from work every day. Emily never complains about it, but it drives me insane because Emily and her kids were also in a car accident a few years back and suffer PTSD from that accident. Ben is aware of this, but doesn’t seem to get it. He thinks it’s no big deal for Emily to get over her fear while avoiding getting over his fear. I want to say something to him so badly, but I haven’t. And every time I say something to my daughter, she gets upset with me. How can I approach the situation without making it worse? — Miffed Mom

Dear Miffed: Your intentions are good, and your irritation is understandable. But Emily is the one behind the wheel, figuratively and literally. When she’s tired of driving him, she can stop. Meanwhile, you can earn interest by keeping your two cents in the bank: If you avoid offering advice when your daughter hasn’t asked, she’ll be more likely to ask you for advice. (c) Annie Lane @ Creators.com

And once again, Annie Lane opens her column with an easy-to-answer question. [Eyeroll.] I don’t like her advice, either. Here’s the advice I’d give:

Dear Miffed: First, you need to abduct Ben at gunpoint. Take him to a hidden basement and tie him to a chair. Shine a bright light in his face and…

Oh, brother. I can’t go on. At any rate, her column actually got worse after that easy question:

Dear Annie: I agree with “What Did You Say” that mood music in TV shows often makes it hard to hear the dialogue. I would add that background noises meant to create “realism” also frequently drown out what the actors are saying. Isn’t the dialogue important enough to make it audible? Because the problem is in the show itself, it doesn’t help much to turn up the volume. If I turn it up enough to make out the dialogue, then the music and ambient noise are so loud that it is annoying.

My wife and I always watch shows with the closed captions on. We find that we even enjoy movies more at home than at the movie theater because we can have the captions on at home. It also helps a lot with BBC shows where the accents and British slang can make it hard to catch what is said. But it would be even better if the shows’ directors and editors highlighted the dialogue and turned down the sound effects. — Not Ready for the Ear Horn in Lafayette, Indiana

Dear Not Ready for the Ear Horn: You’re not alone. A 2017 survey found that 98% of people use closed captioning at least some of the time. While closed captions can certainly be helpful, some have pointed out that they’re far from perfect and, during some live broadcasts, the captions lag behind the visuals.

Well, that’s… a public service announcement for closed captions! All righty then. Because there are poor people out there who’ve never heard of closed captions! We need to send some missionaries to far corners of the world and ask these poor people, “Have you messed around with your remote control yet? No? Why not?”

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It gets funnier, because as Annie Lane tells us:

A 2017 survey found that 98% of people use closed captioning at least some of the time.

And… we still need the public service announcement? It’s laughable.

(I love that cat image. I’m going to use it all the time. I can’t look at it without laughing.)

But then, Annie Lane ends the column with some actually helpful advice:

[Annie Lane talking:] The following letter writer offers another tip to try.

Dear Annie: With regard to the letter about TV dialogue: Very often the problem is that people have their TV set for “surround sound” audio as if they have multiple speakers when they only have the TV speakers. This causes the “background” track to be louder because the “voice track” is expected to be broadcast from its own speaker. — Kate H.

That’s some useful info from letter-writer Kate! But then Annie Lane follows it up with this closing comment:

Dear Kate: This is another possible contributing factor to the problem. The exact troubleshooting instructions will depend on the TV manufacturer. For anyone unable to easily find these audio options in their TV settings menu, it’s worth reaching out to the manufacturer’s customer service line.

Really? The exact troubleshooting instructions will depend on the TV manufacturer? Who the [bleep] knew?! You mean, there’s no consensus on how to program your remote?! Say whaaaat?

(Oh, hey. Remember that episode of Sex and the City where Carrie and her boyfriend were declared incompatible because–get this–she used a PC and he used a Mac? And the computer repairman was like, “I’m sorry, but it’s never going to work out between you two,” because Carrie hit control-alt-delete on her boyfriend’s Mac, which was a huge no-no? I think such things should be taken seriously, so I refuse to date any man who uses satellite TV instead of cable. Hmmph.)

Actually, it’s not even true about the TV manufacturers. It’s not about the TV manufacturer, not anymore. All of our settings here in Meg World are created by our cable provider and are accessed through the cable’s remote and special add-on box. And you’ll get better luck reaching out to the cable company than trying to call a TV manufacturer about their 1998 box TV that was discontinued in 1999. Just sayin’.

The unintended application of some zooming tips.

Dear Annie: Throughout the pandemic, I’ve noted some things that make for a successful Zoom or FaceTime call. Perhaps these suggestions will be of use to your readers.

    1. Look at yourself on your screen. What you see is what others will see.
    2. Do not sit with a window or other bright light behind you. You will be a dark silhouette.
    3. Have the light or window facing you from higher, beyond the laptop, or up to 45 degrees off to the side.
    4. Incandescent lights are warmer and make you look more alive. Natural window light alone, particularly if snow is on the ground, can make you look ghostly pale blue.
    5. Place your laptop on a table to keep it from moving around to dizzy others. TV tray tables work.
    6. Sit close enough so your head nearly fills the screen and you are recognizable.
    7. Adjust the screen/camera angle to include your full face, preferably from nearly the same level to eliminate facial distortions and dominant ceilings. Sitting on extra cushions can sometimes help.
    8. If there are two of you making the call together from one device, sit close enough so both faces show equally.
    9. Check your background for distracting clutter. — Harvey V.

Dear Harvey: Video conferencing has been so important during this past year, and I hope people will continue to make use of the technology even after the pandemic ends. Thanks for the tips on Zooming like a pro. (c) Annie Lane @ Creators.com

Good grief. This is what Annie Lane said:

Thanks for the tips on Zooming like a pro.

And here’s the helpful translation:

Thanks for writing half my column for me! 

I mean, this is a waste of column space. I’ve never zoomed(?) because I’m not good at tech, but even I would figure out all these tips on my own after doing it once or twice. Like, tip #1. Look at yourself on the screen. What you see is what others will see. No, really? I never would’ve guessed as much! Are you kidding me?

At least number seven was entertaining. It’s also good advice for a virgin:

7. Adjust the screen/camera angle to include your full face, preferably from nearly the same level to eliminate facial distortions and dominant ceilings. Sitting on extra cushions can sometimes help.

Facial distortions, dominant ceilings, extra cushions? Can the floors be submissive? Oh my gosh. Let’s get kinky with it! 😀

Dear Annie: We have two grown sons, whom I will call “Tim” and “Tom.” One is our biological son and the other is adopted. They are a few years apart and live just a few miles apart. When they were growing up, they were somewhat close, but they have been estranged for a number of years. There was never really a falling out or major disagreement between them or anything like that. Tim has expressed that he’s worried that Tom will take advantage of him in looking for job connections. Tom says he doesn’t want to make the first move because he says he always has to make the first move in communicating. So nothing happens. They have never communicated the reasons to each other. It was very awkward on Christmas when we did a FaceTime call together.

I’m very hurt because of this. My one desire is for them to be close. This bothers me a lot. Do I just let things go on as they are, or should I make some effort to get them together? — Mom with a Last Wish

Dear Last Wish: I feel for you. Every parent wishes for their children to have special lifelong bonds with their siblings. But your sons are adult men with their own lives and beliefs. You can’t force them to be closer. And trying to do so will only drive them further from you. Continue to create spaces to gather as a family, even if it’s just virtual for now, and even if it’s awkward. Hopefully, in time, that ice will thaw a bit. In the meantime, focus on your relationships with each of them individually.

So then, after the tips for good zooming, Annie Lane tackles another easy pitch. Help! My kids aren’t best friends! Oh no!

It was very awkward on Christmas when we did a FaceTime call together.

Oh, cry me a river. If your holiday is awkward, then that probably means that no one was killed, maimed, rendered unconscious due to intoxication, or arrested. That’s good, right? Are we aiming for It’s a Wonderful Life?

Continue to create spaces to gather as a family, even if it’s just virtual for now, and even if it’s awkward. Hopefully, in time, that ice will thaw a bit.

Yeah, I totally see that happening. (Not.) I’d avoid the awkwardness altogether. Should anyone be forced to interact that way on a regular basis? Is Annie Lane serious? Awkwardness is painful. There’s no reason to perpetuate it. It’s best avoided. For Christmas, it’s one thing. (Although I refuse to associate with my evil sister even then!) But all the time? AAUGH! I’m exhausted just from reading about Tim and Tom. I can’t imagine having to go through the awkwardness of being with them regularly, virtual or not.

Mom: “So, Tim. Your brother, Tom, got a haircut.” 

[Tim and Tom shift nervously and glance away from each other.]

Mom: “Tom, did you write Tim a thank-you note for the shaving cream?”

Tim: “Mom made me get that for you, bro.” 

Tom: “Yeah, thanks, bro, whatever.” [Clears throat and scratches the back of his neck.]

Mom [speaking to Tim]: “Hey! We don’t need to share that. Just look at how clean-shaven Tim is.” 

Tom: “Mom, I’m Tom. He’s Tim.” 

Mom [glances at both men in confusion]: “Really? Are you sure?” 

But I think what Annie Lane’s doing there is creating false hope under the assumption that hey, it can’t hurt to try. I think that’s a bit misguided, because this letter writer needs to just let it go. She should wholly focus on how Tim and Tom are successful. I mean, if she can’t deal with this, how would she cope if Tim and Tom were to start growing crystal meth while on the run for negligent arson and bank robberies? (I have no idea why I made the arson negligent, but it humors me. The bank robberies were on purpose!) If I were writing the advice column, I’d give the letter writer a reality check instead of false hope. I don’t think I’d be mean about it. That’s not necessary. Just matter-of-fact.

The letter rubs me the wrong way. It reminds me of my mother and my nextdoor neighbor, Stevil. Weird, I know. My mom’s always trying to force me to get along with my evil sister, and my nextdoor neighbor, Stevil, is passive-aggressive like Tim and Tom. (I’m not sure what I’m basing this on, but when I read about Tim and Tom, I got a clear image of Stevil in my mind.)

By the way, Tim and Tom? What is this, The Adventures of Pete and Pete? That was a great television show. Didn’t the Pete brothers’ mom have a plate in her head? (You’d have to, to name both your sons Pete.)

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I don’t have kids, and therefore I can’t intuitively understand the bizarre desire for them to be super-close (as adults). Some siblings are super-close, but you can’t bank on it. It’s hardly guaranteed.

I’m very hurt because of this. My one desire is for them to be close. This bothers me a lot.

Okay. Hmm… maybe the letter writer has a lack of gratitude, like I was talking about?

So, to summarize, the letter writer has nothing to be upset about, and Annie Lane gave somewhat lame advice to an easy question.

I’m gonna go find myself some extra cushions now and get wild!! Woo hoo! Party in Meg’s bedroom!

News from Meg world!

Good news, everyone! I spoke to my mother, and her conflict with her boyfriend, Mark, has been resolved. Whew! It turns out that he got upset when she tried to hang her animal heads on the walls. Seeing as many sensitive people (such as myself) are at least somewhat opposed to hunting, I can totally understand the conflict.

“Those heads were from Jim’s favorite kills,” Mother explained to me. “They’re very dear to me.”

“They’re very deer to you?!”

She burst into laughter. You had to see that pun coming.

I know nothing of hunting. My brother and I were raised to fish, but there’s a history there. Granny Franny kept her pond stocked with bluegills, crappie, a few catfish, and a few bass. There were also snapping turtles. So fishing was always fun. We’d go out to the dock all the time.

I mastered baiting my hook with mealworms and throwing out my reel. I caught a lot of fish, as we all did. We’d either throw them back in or take them home for dinner. Granny Franny would fry them in cornmeal, and they were delicious.

But there was this one day when we were teenagers that Philip, our cousin Andy, and I went to fish for fun, meaning we were going to throw the fish back in. Philip caught a fish, but the hook got caught in the fish’s mouth. By the time Philip managed to free the fish and put it back in the water, the poor thing was dead. Two seconds later, it became dinner for a snapping turtle.

That was the last time I ever went fishing. It never seemed okay after that.

But it’s a tricky issue overall. You could say, “Hey, you shouldn’t hunt,” but unless you’re a vegetarian or such, you can’t in good conscience say that animals aren’t being hurt for you to eat. (I think.) If you are a vegetarian, then yeah, preach it!

At any rate, that’s what my mom and her boyfriend were disagreeing over. The heads. Of Jim’s kills. To be completely honest, they always creeped me out, too, whenever I’d visit my mom and her late husband, Jim, at their huge house in Corydon. Those beady glass eyes seem to follow me all around the basement.

My dad took my car to go to Frankfort, and I’m waiting for him to return so we can take our 3:00 walk.

Hmm… I’ve gone to the gym for the past twelve consecutive days (counting today). On six days, I’ve gone once; on four days, I’ve gone twice; and on two days, I’ve gone three times. I’ve burned 2,100 calories so far. Sadly, my internet research tells me that it takes 3,500 calories to lose a pound. Huh. Well, I’m trying.

My original goal was to go three times every day, but there have been several cases of “life happening”. My life tends to be unpredictable in that sense, so much that you can predict the unpredictability, but you can never guess what it will be.

I woke up miserable at 4:00 in the morning, went to the drugstore, and bought loads of snack food. It’s incidents like that that can kill morale dead, but despite my horrid eating habits, I still went to the gym upon reawakening at around 11:00 AM. (I’m glad I fell back to sleep!) I’ve decided in no uncertain terms that despite how awful I choose to eat, I’m absolutely not going to let it discourage me from going to the gym. It’s easy for me to just give up, and if I eat junk food, it’s like, well, why go to the gym? I’ll never burn those 1200 calories, but I’m not allowing myself to give in to such rationalizations.

(But I really am upset with myself for eating 1200 calories in the middle of the night. Ugh. There was a mini-cannister of Pringles, a grab bag of Doritos, and a cylindrical package of small chocolate doughnuts. Heaven help us all.)

And if exercise goes better than dieting (which certainly seems to be the case thus far), then hey, there’s my secret power. I swear, I never thought I could exercise, but I can! Look at me go! I’m impressed with my efforts. Yeah. It’s all good. I just have to try harder in the eating department.

The weird thing is that healthy eating efforts fry my brain and make me feel burdened, like it takes too much effort to do iffing (intermittent fasting) or to not eat flour. It just overwhelms me and floods my mind. It seems to require constant mental discipline (not will power, but actually remembering not to eat this or that, or now or then). Exercise, however, doesn’t become an unwanted obsession. I just do it. But I’ll keep trying with the eating. I’m still determined to make 2021 the year of fitness, and I’d say I’m doing great so far! I mean, I’ve seriously never exercised like this before at all.

It feels like less of a chore, and I might even be able to do harder workouts soon. I want to master the muscle machines, but there are a lot of them, and it’s intimidating. Baby steps. I’d give anything to have a friend who could show me around. Ash took me to the gym a few times, but she lives in Orlando now. I know I could ask an employee for help, but that would take all my spoons. There are “spoon killers”, and asking for help is definitely on the list.

So, I’m going to do the 3-day novella event again this year. I was going to write it off (so to speak) out of agitation at how much it fries my brain combined with the fact that I never win, so I asked the head of the organization on social media, “Does my only writing 17,000 words take me out of contention? If so, I’ll probably pass due to the braindeath it causes to write that in three days!” Gavin, the person who heads it, responded, “No, don’t worry! One finalist once was 13,000 words.” (I think he said that.) And then he added, “By the way, your latest 3-day novella, Period, End Of., was freakin’ hilarious, and it was in my top three.” (There are four judges altogether. I made the top ten out of fifteen entrants, but then didn’t place when the winners were announced.)

Well, call me flattered! I’m back in the game. This year’s event will be over Memorial Day weekend instead of Labor Day. I’m not sure why, but I like that plan. So I’m on it. There will even be a fun option for “pantsers”, which is when you write without any plot outlines or characters already in mind. So what Gavin’s going to do is give some prompts for those of us who want to write who-the-heck-knows-what, and the best will win the pantser prize! (Or I can write a story we’ve already plotted out. My choice.) Anyone who’s interested can go to 3daynovella.com. I’m sure they’ll have this year’s registration up soon.

Dear Annie: My fiance and I want to go back to the way we were, but it is more of a struggle for me than for him. We are planning to get an apartment together, but it is hard for me to be around him without getting upset. I have been going through a lot lately, and finding out that my fiance was lying to me was one of the worst things that has happened. At first, it was something minor, and I just chose to keep my mouth shut, but the next morning he was on his phone, and I saw pictures of naked women that he tried to hide fast. I tried to get the truth out of him, but he lied.

We went to the lake to talk about it, and it just kept escalating. He’s been doing it for seven months. I found out and was actually contacting someone to get these pictures. This is cheating, isn’t it? He also had multiple accounts for stuff like that which he had to pay for. He promised not to do it again, but I struggle to believe it when he continues to lie to me about different things. I want to move on and be happy with him, but when something similar comes up, I break down. What should I do? — Confused and Lost.

Dear Confused and Lost: Of course, you break down when something similar happens. It is unacceptable for your fiance to lie to you and have other women send him naked pictures. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. The best way to move on and be happy with him is to go to counseling together. You can’t build a successful marriage if there is a lack of trust. Stay firm with your boundaries in the relationship. Until that’s settled, don’t marry the bum. Best of luck to you both. (c) Annie Lane

Huh. Is it just me, or should the letter writer have kicked her fiance into the lake when she had the chance? 😛

My dad’s home now! I might blog more about Annie Lane’s advice later.

Meg’s fun new mailing list!

Hey, everyone! Please consider joining my writer’s mailing list! Click here! I’m going to start doing newsletters, which sounds fun. Sonya has shown me how to do them, and I’ve been following hers for a while. You’ll get fun tales of life in the ‘Ville (aka Louisville) and other charming anecdotes, as well as updates on my writing projects. Unlike with my blogging, I’ll try to limit how often I send a newsletter so that I’m not breaking anyone’s inbox. I have no clue why I’ve never bothered to do this sooner. I started as a means of trying to get numbers of followers for my memoir, but then I realized it seems fun! So what the heck.

Please join and share on social media or your blog!! 🙂 I’m excited!! Newsletters seem fun! Maybe I can do some interactive stuff, too, and some giveaways!

Falling asleep now!

I have great news! Well, okay, it’s not like winning-the-lottery great, but it’s pretty great! It’s mid-January, and I haven’t felt remotely triggered by the physical abuse I suffered. It occurred to me that the EMDR I did last summer must’ve helped! Wow. FINALLY!!!!

I always get triggered in winter. (Don’t I?) (Yeah, I think I do.) Although I’ve still been acting irrationally as I have in past winters, I’m not triggered at all. Praise God!

I just wish my horrid summer therapist could’ve done more EMDR with me during our last several sessions instead of her trying to psychoanalyze me for fun. (“There are some heads you shouldn’t tamper with.” ~Daphne Moon from Frasier.) More EMDR would’ve sealed the deal, so to speak. I’m hoping the problem’s completely gone, but what if a shadow of it remains? I’m afraid to even look at the memory and find out.

But if there are problems, I can either hire a new therapist or do EMDR using a YouTube video. Whatever gets it done.

I’ve been pushing myself to work on my nonfiction memoir proposal. I came up with some good stuff for the section about the target audience today:

My audience is comprised of several discrete or potentially overlapping populations, all of them large:

    • Anyone who has strong views on spanking, whether in favor of it or against it. My catchy title will pull in readers who feel passionately about the subject one way or the other. According to a 2016 Gallup poll, 64% of adults (parents and non-parents collectively) were in favor, 35% were opposed, and two percent had no opinion. Almost no one was uninterested enough to be undecided. (By comparison, another Gallup poll found that 36% of people would prefer to have a baby girl, 28% would prefer a baby boy, and a whopping 35% didn’t care or have an opinion.) Spanking is a huge hot-button issue that doesn’t have a memoir written about it yet, so this book could conceivably be a major seller.
    • Anyone with a spanking fetish. My title’s doing double duty here! According to a study done for The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 65% of women and 53% of men have fantasized about “being dominated sexually”. Studies place a specific interest in spanking (as a subset of BDSM) at 12% to 20% of the population. That’s a lot of butt cheeks!
    • Similarly, anyone who bought Fifty Shades of Grey, which has sold over 125 million copies globally. It can be assumed that a large percentage of those readers enjoyed the book’s racy spanking scenes.

As you can tell, it’s hard to find the right balance between being serious, playful, professional, comic, and whatever else. Yeah, I’ll take out the reference to butt cheeks! 😀 But tone issues aside, I’ve got some great stats there.

(The whole memoir deals with physical abuse, how it affected me sexually, fetishes, and that sort of thing.)

I’ve been going to the gym with wild abandon. I was going to go a third time tonight, but we got snowed in. (Here in Louisville, an inch of snow qualifies.)

I’ll be glad to send in my queries at long last, because then maybe I can move onto a new writing project already. I’ll be writing a short story in a week for NYC Midnight.

I’m worried about my mom. She’s been living in her cottage in Maine with her boyfriend, Mark. I got an SOS email from her, so I called her this morning. She sounded miserable. She said that she and Mark haven’t been getting along, and Mark’s been blaming her brain injury. My mom’s taken to her bed and has quit eating or drinking for the past several days. (She’s had similar issues ever since her accident of three years ago with eating and drinking enough to stay alive.)

It’s very concerning. Her tone of voice seemed defeatist and depressed, which isn’t exactly like her. I told my brother, and he was concerned enough to call her. He said she just pooh-poohed all his suggestions of how she needs to sell her cottage, move back to Louisville, and get paid help. I can easily see her being negatory about all that.

My brother thinks that Mark is using my mom for the free living quarters, which she’s leaving to him in her will (I think). I have similar concerns. Mark seems nice, and my mom’s known him since college (but they went separate ways and reconnected), but all I know is that when my mom was unconscious three years ago, Mark asked me if I wanted to have lunch with him and tour the Muhammad Ali museum. It struck me as inappropriate, and although I hoped he was trying to get to know me as a means of impressing my mom, I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was asking me out… while my mom was freakin’ unconscious.

Now, I know you’re thinking, well, of course Mark can’t get along with my mother. Who can? No one! But she got on great with her authoritative, take-charge husband, Jim, who died of cancer and old age several years ago. He just had a way about him that kept my mom’s anxiety in line. “Beckay!! Fetch me my slippers. Beckay!” said in a deep voice. None of us got on well with Jim, but we definitely appreciated his relationship with our mom.

Mark, however, is nothing like Jim. Mark’s a free spirit who, like many sensitive people, has a bad reaction to my mom’s narcissistic side. So my mom might be the culprit here.

And when people who like my mom (in any context–friends, family, significant others) try to live with her, things can go south really fast. After her injuries, my evil sister took her in and tried to nurse her back to health, and my sister wound up coming unhinged and terrorizing all of us who were there that night. [Shudders.] There was screaming, wailing, running, and chasing. It gave my heart quite a scare.

It’s breaking my heart, though. She planned and dreamed of joining Mark in Maine for so long! It was her vision! It was her goal. We all tried to help make it happen. And now she’s there, and she sounds miserable, like she’s given up on life. It’s heartrending.

And she keeps telling me she wants to read my memoir! AAUGH. She can’t handle the contents of my memoir. It would make her feel too guilty to read in black and white what she’s ardently denied ever having done.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My husband and I are newlyweds in our late 20s, and we are just moving in with each other into his current apartment. We are planning to buy a home together. Before getting married, he was all for making me happy and letting me decide on things like the type of home that I want. Now that we are married, things are different. He is telling me that there are things to consider that I, as woman, do not understand. I get that he may have certain concerns about the homes I choose, but he will not share his thoughts with me.

He is trying to make the decisions for both of us, and that’s not how we should work. I feel unseen and unheard. He’s trying to control this whole situation, and I don’t recognize the man I fell in love with anymore. It’s like this role of being the husband has gone to his head. I just want my best friend back. How do I shake him out of this? — Downhill Newlyweds

DEAR DOWNHILL NEWLYWEDS: The roles of husband and wife mean different things to different people, based on their upbringing and experience. Clearly, your husband seems to be drawing upon his understanding of what a husband should be and do as he navigates this big decision. You two need to get to an understanding of how you will work together as a married couple and family based on who you are. You need to talk. Ask him to explain to you what’s in his head and what he wants for your marriage. In turn, share with him your vision of married life. Talk to him about expectations. Talk specifically about the house you want to buy. Work to get him to agree that you should both be part of that process. This is a key decision that should not be the sole responsibility of either of you. (c) DREAMLEAPERS

Hmm. This letter broke my heart. I got a scary controlling vibe from this, as if the husband’s a domestic abuser.

[…] there are things to consider that I, as woman, do not understand.

Gender bashing: check.

[…] he will not share his thoughts with me.

He’s stonewalling her. Check.

I feel unseen and unheard.

She’s being ignored and diminished. Check.

It scares me because there’s a dynamic where domestic abusers make the decisions without discussing the context of the decision at all with their partners. And in so doing, the domestic abusers get more and more power and control within the relationships.

The best-case scenario is that he’s sexist, cloddish, and interested in belittling his wife. I’m wondering if they got married quickly, and if he acted charming during their brief courtship in order to seal the deal. Ugh.

She needs a divorce, and in the meantime, she shouldn’t buy any houses with him. Harriette’s advice, as usual, seems rather idiotic. Talk to him about expectations?! He’s not listening to her in the first place. I can’t believe Harriette would have us believe that this guy has good intentions but a misunderstanding of gender roles and expectations. I wish!

Safety, Miss Manners! Safety!

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Our very cute dog, “Wally,” has enjoyed the occasional table scrap on top of her usual dog food dinners. As a result, she has added a few pounds to her otherwise sleek physique. Lately, my wife has been gently chastising her, even calling her “pudgy.”

I’m concerned that this is not only a breach of etiquette, but could have a long-term impact on her self-esteem. My wife says that since she’s a dog, it’s of no matter. I say fat-shaming is what it is, regardless of species. We have agreed to let you be the ultimate arbiter.

GENTLE READER: We seem to be scraping the bottom of the pandemic barrel for arguments, are we not?

But yes, Miss Manners agrees with you: Babies and animals should not be subjected to any sort of shaming. Not just because they are unable to defend themselves, but because it sets an unpleasant precedent for their more cognitive counterparts.

Miss Manners suggests that you respond to your wife by saying, “Now, dear, Wally looks as good as any of us after nine months of our delicious cooking.” (c) MISS MANNERS

As cute as this is, I have a few thoughts. This letter writer should never say Miss Manners’ suggested quotation if he values his life. Goodness gracious!

But more importantly, and aside from all the gun and games of this letter (okay, I mean to type fun and games, but that also works), feeding a dog table scraps is dangerous. Onions are toxic to dogs. If you give your dog part of a hamburger with onions on it, you’re begging for trouble. And then there are avocados, macadamia nuts, xylitol (an atrificial sweetener found in chewing gum), and chocolate. Also, any fruit with a pit.

Miss Manners dropped the ball here on an important safety issue.

(That said, it’s probably okay to give your doggie table scraps if you’ve strongly researched it. A yummy lick of peanut butter won’t kill your dog.)

Furthermore, it’s unhealthy to let your doggie get overweight due to table scraps. I’d recommend instead filling a cannister with milkbone dog treats. That’s what we give LuLu. She loves the flavorful ones.

I get that Miss Manners is focused on etiquette, but safety is everyone’s concern.

While I have the attention of any dog owners, don’t feed your dog Greenies snacks, and don’t give your dog an actual bone–not even one that’s marketed and packaged for a dog. (How this stuff stays on the market is beyond me.) Rawhide bones, which are actually made of rawhide, are way better than bone-bones.

As for whether or not to insult your dog… I’m so guilty of this. I’m always saying to LuLu, “What’s the matter with you, pup? You’ve always been jealous of my favorite pet.” And I’ll pick up Mr. Kitty and give him a kiss on his plump tummy. Or I’ll say, “Oh, I love my LuLuLu… but only a little bit!” And I used to tell Echo, “Oh, you have the face of an angel! An ugly angel…”

And there was the hilarious time when my brother had two cats whom he named Princess and Fatty. I think that says it.

Dear Amy: This summer I had a falling out with my oldest friend.

She did me a large favor and eventually felt overextended.

I had done her many favors in the past. I thanked her for her help, both in writing and through my actions, but I dropped the ball on returning her things on the deadline we agreed to.

She got upset and said some hurtful things. She repeated these things many times.

I thanked her again, made a sincere apology and asked for some space.

I was deeply hurt by her comments, which attacked my character, and I felt betrayed.

It has now been a few months since we’ve communicated.

Before our falling out, she sent out wedding invitations for next summer, and I have yet to R.S.V.P.

I’m worried that it’s rude to delay my R.S.V.P., but I’m afraid to contact her when she was so angry and hurtful every time we talked.

If she never apologizes for her comments, I don’t think I’d want to attend her wedding, but I don’t want to throw away our friendship over one fight.

What’s the polite thing to do?

— Wondering Friend

Wondering Friend: Given that this wedding is still several months away, you are probably still in the polite R.S.V.P. window.

But it seems that this wedding invitation, and your concern about politely responding, is a red herring.

Yes, apologies are due all around. After your dust-up, you asked for space — and you have received it.

Have you reflected on your own behavior? Have your apologies been specific, sincere and humble? Do you need to make amends for your own actions?

If you would like to attend this wedding, you could contact your friend to say, “I’d like to start the new year out on a better footing with you and try to repair the damage to our friendship. I would like to attend your wedding, but I’ll leave it up to you to let me know if you’d still like for me to be there.”

If you don’t want to try to repair this friendship and don’t want to attend the wedding, send your R.S.V.P. along with a note saying, “I’m sorry I won’t be able to attend your wedding celebration, but I truly hope you have a beautiful day.” (c) Ask Amy

Whoa. That sounds brutal. What I’m sensing from the inciting event is that the friend really left her comfort zone to help the letter writer. It stressed her out to the max, and then the letter writer didn’t return things on time. Picture this: “I need my car back on Friday. If you haven’t returned it then, I’ll become a stress mess about my upcoming road trip, and I’ll worry that the whole thing’s going to fall through.”

And the letter writer doesn’t return the car on Friday. That’s sort of how I have it pictured. Her actions (we’ll just assume the letter writer’s female, but who knows?) caused major havoc in her friend’s life, and the friend risked that havoc in the spirit of friendship.

So I can totally understand the friend’s freak-out and meltdown. Is it good to act that way? No. But it’s understandable.

I thanked her again, made a sincere apology and asked for some space.

This is an interesting catch on Ask Amy’s part: she asked for space… and was given it! There you go! Here’s your space!

It has now been a few months since we’ve communicated.

Right. That’s what happens when you ask for space. The friend can’t really approach the letter writer without breaking the space request.

Why does anyone ever ask for space, anyway? In the context of a romantic (or potentially romantic) relationship, it’s pretty much the kiss of death. Within a friendship, I’m not sure what the purpose is. Did the letter writer want to avoid the meltdown for a while? I mean, that’s understandable. But asking for space is almost offensive, because it implies that the issue is a relationship killer. Like, “Back off me!”

That said, I understand the letter writer’s feelings. She made a mistake, her friend got furious, and she couldn’t make it go away even by apologizing. People make mistakes. What are you going to do, bite someone’s head off?

I’m worried that it’s rude to delay my R.S.V.P., but I’m afraid to contact her when she was so angry and hurtful every time we talked.

There’s another reason not to ask for space. I’m starting to see the problem now. The letter writer’s thinking, if I contact her, is she still going to be angry? And that’s a hard position to be in. I’d rather let things settle down in real time (right after something occurs) than put it on hold for months.

If she never apologizes for her comments, I don’t think I’d want to attend her wedding, but I don’t want to throw away our friendship over one fight.

It’s a weird dichotomy. The letter writer’s worried that her friend might still be angry, and she’s also worried that her friend might not apologize. There’s an obvious middle ground there where the friend regrets her overreactions but can’t apologize because she’s not an apologizer. (Is that a word? I don’t know, but it’s definitely a thing.) Some people are very uncomfortable apologizing. I can understand that. If you think the person’s sorry anyway, I say, what the heck, may as well forgive them.

But I get the concern. If she’s sorry but can’t say so, how does the letter writer know it won’t happen again? I mean, obviously, we all hope that something like that won’t go wrong twice, but life being what it is….

I like Ask Amy’s advice for the letter writer to consider her own role in this. She needs to consider how much her friend overextended herself to help her out. If the letter writer’s capable of apologizing (again) herself, it should break the ice. That would be my advice.

My flight to safety.

So, I ran away from home.

This was earlier today. I’m back home now.

I went to a sleazy motel and got a room for cheap. I’m poorer now, although I’ll probably bill my dad. His fault.

I asked the lady at the desk if the rooms had landlines. She said yes. But my room’s phone didn’t work. Not making this up: someone had taken it apart and put dolls’ eyes into the phone. For freakin’… freakin… okay, I’m not wholly recovered yet.

I bravely went and complained, and I was given a new room in the godforsaken motel. And by the way, I pity the poverty stricken for having to live in such vile quarters. No one should have to. But I digress. And I have no right to say anything, since I do nothing to better the cause of poverty.

In my new room, I was finally able to use the phone. And the phone didn’t have any eyes in it. (If I’d had a cell phone, I would’ve photographed the dolls’ eyes, but of course, if I had a cell phone, I wouldn’t have needed the landline.)

So I called my mom in Maine. She answered and didn’t know who I was, due to the caller ID displaying the motel’s phone number. “Hello?”

“Mother, how art thou?”

“Who is this?”

“Your favorite daughter.”

“Ellen?”

“No. Try again, please.”

Okay, the call didn’t actually go like that.

“How are you?” she asked.

“I’m fine, but we have a situation.”

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m trapped in a seedy motel,” I told her.

“Don’t panic,” she said. “Maybe it’s not that seedy. How much did it cost?”

“Seventy dollars.”

“Cripes. It’s seedy. I didn’t know there were any that cheap. What happened?”

I took a deep breath and tried without success to relax. “Codger went to visit some friends of his who have the coronavirus. I fled.”

My mom started to cry. “Oh! Oh! Your poor father. He’s old and stupid.”

“Yeah.”

“Oh! Oh! My poor daughter. You must be trapped in hell.”

“Yeah.”

“You should go back home.”

“Um, I rushed past him just as he got home. I think I haven’t been exposed yet. If I don’t go home, I might stay safer.”

More crying. “What’s wrong with your father?! You’ve got nowhere to go.”

This was true. I’d sent my brother some messages on social media, and he hadn’t read them yet. I don’t really want to impose upon him, anyway.

I was a stress mess, and the horrid environs did little to help. That was one [bleep] of a [bleepy] motel.

“Let me call and talk to him,” she offered.

I sighed. “I can talk to him. He’s just… he needs a sensibility transplant. The virus is killing people, and he’s too lackadaisical.”

“I know. I know! I was married to him for twenty years.”

“Ah, the good old days…” I allowed myself to get lost in a moment of depressing nostalgia. Then the motel room came into focus. Huh. Was it normal for three cockroackes to mate at once? I scratched the back of my neck and looked away. It was indecent.

“Bedbugs!” my mom yelled. “Don’t get under the covers.”

I glanced nervously at the blankets underneath my seated body. “What? No, don’t worry. That’s not where the bugs are.”

She dissolved into worse hysteria.

She said she’d call my dad, and I asked her to talk to her boyfriend, Mark, too, since I needed a strategy to cope with my dad’s coronavirus exposure. But my mom said she couldn’t talk to Mark about it, and I worried that they’ve broken up, or something. (I don’t want to know. Geez. Whatever it was, she didn’t want to upset me with it.)

In good news, my mom loves having something to worry about. She’s got her fill now. Also, I know I make her out to be a bad mommy, but she was totally there for me.

Eventually, after an hour or so, I got my dad on the phone. “Meg, honey,” he said placatingly, “come back home like a good daughter. You’re better off here.”

“Will you wear a mask?”

“At home? No! Listen, all I did was go into Dani’s house and put groceries for her and her sick boyfriend on the kitchen table. Dani was afraid I’d catch her coronavirus, so she had a mask on and didn’t let me go near her.”

I decided to borrow from my mom’s vernacular. “We’re all going to DIE,” I intoned.

“Oh, we are not. Now come home like a good citizen.”

I rolled my eyes. “I’ll think about it. I’m stressed.”

“Maybe you can go to the gym.”

“It’s harder to exercise when I’m tense.”

So eventually I went home. And now, I’m afraid I have an obligation to isolate for the benefit of greater society. Ugh. My dad’s a covidiot.

The end.

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