I always have, in my head, a backlog of posts. By this I mean that there are always, at any given moment, topics that I want to write about, but haven’t. Sometimes I even make a list of ‘outstanding’ posts so that I don’t forget that I want to get to them.
Most of the time, the reason I don’t work on a post is because another topic has popped up in my brain and appeals to me as a topic more than any other topic, at that moment.
However, in the past, it sometimes happened that I didn’t work on a post because the topic was beyond my ability at the time. What I mean is, when I began working on it and trying to think my way out of the problems and riddles associated with it, I found it be very difficult to make much headway.
The post which remained in an unfinished state for the longest was the post entitled ‘Boundaries.’ I could show you rough drafts of that post dating to April 1, 2015. In other words, if I had finished that post soon after starting it, then that post would have been one of my first ten posts. The working title was: Not a Jellyfish. The theme was that God gave us backbones for a reason. We can take a cue from our own bodies about how we are to relate to the world. We are not meant to be like beetles, with a hard impenetrable exterior, but we aren’t meant to be – at the other extreme – so soft and gushy that we never have any limits ever. So I started my post and I tried to finish it.
As it went, however, I couldn’t complete it. I could not figure out how a Christian could balance, on the one hand, forgiveness and mortification, and on the other hand, a need to prevent further pain and harm to oneself.
My inability to finish it did not stem from an unwillingness to work on my part. It was not unusual for me to spend, in those early days, twenty hours or more working on a 3000- to 5000-word post. (Nowadays it’s different; I create about as fast as I can type, and I can type pretty fast.)
And interestingly, it was the one post where I went around asking people – Christians I knew – all about limits. I asked them, why is it that there are so few records of saints setting limits? I got some stupid answers. One person actually said, “Things were different back then.” She elaborated. You know, mother-in-laws and so on. Her opinion was that nowadays people were more meddlesome and interfering. The idea was we faced new challenges, unencountered by the People of Yore. You see? Stupid. Even St. Peter, first and last Pope with a wife, had a mother-in-law. On the other hand, that Christian was the one who reminded me of how St. Thomas Aquinas chased away the ‘lady’ that a couple of his siblings brought to him. So I was grateful to be reminded of that. Tom was no slouch. Looks like he knew something about boundaries to boot.
Looking back now, however, I realize that my problem stemmed from inexperience. I personally had very little experience in setting boundaries against those who did not have my best interests at heart.
By this, do not imagine that I was down-trodden, miserable and wimpy. I was as happy as could be, but I rarely set boundaries. I relied, you see, on an honour system. Surely, I thought, no Christian friend would deliberately take advantage of another’s good will. I knew that I wouldn’t do so, and I assumed that others wouldn’t do so either. Everything was swell and perfectly Hunky Dory.
(And speaking of Dorrie, I didn’t think that the non-Christians I knew would do me any harm either. I figured that if our relationship was good, then they were on the up-and-up as much as could be. They wouldn’t lie to me or deliberately deceive. They wouldn’t let me pay for their lunch after they wasted my time with an entirely fabricated Tall Tale, just to see if I’d buy it. I couldn’t imagine someone I liked and someone I just wanted to help being entirely so mean. It never even crossed my naïve little brain.)
I was more than happy to extend favours to all those around me. I was willing to make exceptions and willing to make excuses for the failures of everyone who failed me. I imagined how the person could have simply forgotten to thank me, or to apologize or to acknowledge my existence. After all, I knew that I wasn’t perfect; I made mistakes. I was quite convinced that about 90% of questionable behaviour had the most innocent of excuses. Quite convinced. I convinced myself. You should have seen how creative I was! I came up with every excuse in the book. I advocated for people. I advocated for people to my very own questioning self.
So I was happy. I continued to believe in the unintentionality of each act and omission, no matter how much it confused me or cost me.
But then it changed.
I began to question my friends, my relatives and my acquaintances about why they did this, and why they did that. I began to ask them to honour some little tiny things about my preferences, my privacy and my time.
Things began to collapse.
Or to be more specific, THEY began to collapse.
Family, friends and acquaintances could not handle the change. They could not handle the questions and the requests. They balked. They sulked. They complained and they accused. They challenged me in every way you can imagine and in ways that you cannot imagine. Where is the old person? We like her in every way better. She gave stuff. She answered questions. She never challenged and never talked back. We want that person back.
They did not like my new methods of interaction. They wanted to shake me back into the old mold, the one that had worked – for them – for so long. In particular, I remember how they so often wanted to get me to talk on the phone. They didn’t like my habit of emailing. Every word: recorded. Every word: permanent. What you said, what I said. They just couldn’t handle it, and made excuses about how, well, with email, you can’t quite get “The Tone.”
You can totally get “The Tone.”
(Ah, the things I have seen! The tone is the ONE thing that always comes through. It’s very much the part I can feel. I had felt it before, but back then, I wasn’t paying attention, or where there were wrinkles, I just looked away. Didn’t question anything, Out Loud. Didn’t ask for Explanation, Out Loud. I just wondered to myself. I wondered like this: How is it that this “good Christian” does this? And that? And how is it that this “good Christian” says this? And that? I settled myself this way: I assumed that probably I just didn’t understand; I assumed that perhaps when I was a better Christian myself, I would understand better.)
So anyway, I changed things up. I decided to question, and it wasn’t by telephone, where you say what you want and twist as you like and leave no trace of your most unbelievable lie.
No, we ain’t talking by phone.
Can’t tell my tone?
Well honey pie, that’s too entirely bad.
Cry me a river.
We’re doing this by email if we do it at all.
And besides, if you don’t like me by email, I can guarantee: you won’t like me in person. Just ask the muffin-top people (they’ve moved across town now and as a matter of fact, I don’t know if they’re still in business) or the people who stop by my house wearing bright orange vests asking for my phone number. They say they’re from Telus. Maybe they are. Maybe they’re not. All I know is that I’m not giving out my phone number just because you’ve invested in a glow-in-the-dark X.
‘Telus’ boy walks away in stunned disbelief, as if I’ve done him personal harm.
And you won’t like me better by telephone either. Just ask Cindy over at GoDaddy. Thirty minutes later and I finally have a refund for the “Complete Restoration” she insists that they did. Since when is a Menu Bar a Complete Restoration? Cindy got the audible version of the Exclamation Mark. (But to GoDaddy’s discredit, those thirty minutes were my second attempt – the first attempt was a painful 60-minute LiveChat with Kamren of Customer Disservice. Man.)
I really don’t know what I think about GoDaddy anymore. (Going and GoneDaddy? WentDaddy? At the very minimum, they should be as willing to give out refunds to customers as they are willing to upsell their customers. Buyer beware.)
And I guess that’s how it was with the topic of boundaries. Even after working on the post and inquiring about the issues with those that I thought would know better than me, I still didn’t know what to think about instituting boundaries, and how it all fit.
But that was then.
Turns out, there’s no better way to prepare for writing a post than to live it.
I began putting them in.
Boundaries: one by one, case by case, as needed and where warranted.
I found that they worked.
I found that they separated the wheat from the chaff. The slightest boundary made some people flee. They suddenly wanted nothing more to do with me. If I wasn’t going to be as easy as before, then they’d make themselves scarce.
So long and good riddance.
Others stuck around for a Little Bit Longer, just enough to deliver some lines and just long enough to deliver some lies. I found that it took only about two or three emails for the Real Personality of others to show through. Just ask a few extra questions about why this and why that, and they fell apart. They turned quickly to Being So Grievously Offended or to some interesting but artificial story.
And here I digress. The thing about lying is that when people do it, they steer off the main road because they see Oncoming Traffic. They see that if they stay on the Right Path, they’ll have some admitting to do. They’ll have to admit that they were angry, or jealous, or nosy or curious. These things are normal reactions, but they don’t want to face the truth about themselves and their actions. So guess what they do? They choose something different. Instead of saying that they did X because they felt anger (normal emotion) they say that they Always Do X on Wednesdays.
That’s when you look at them sideways.
You Always Do X, on Wednesdays?
You ask: Why?
(Now watch your clock. It will now take them HOURS to respond. Suddenly the easiest question takes HOURS to answer.)
They write back. They’ve Come Up with Something.
They say, I Always Do X on Wednesdays Because Um, Genetically, I Cannot Help It.
You Cannot Help It, Genetically?
Yeah, uh, Programmed That Way.
You say, I think you’re lying.
You ain’t a computer. And by the way, Hushmail and I can tell that what you just sent ain’t actually spam.
Then they don’t say anything.
Because they know that they’re lying.
And they know that you know.
Goodbye Missy, you shameful thing.
My point is that when you have something to admit, just admit it. Sure, you won’t come off as stellar, but at least you’ll come off as normal. Admit it. You were jealous, you were angry, you felt sorry for yourself. You compared yourself with your friend, and it just seemed she always had everything altogether better. You wished you were the one who had what she had. It’s okay. Just say it out loud. You’ll soon find out that the entire time you envied her blue eyes, she envied your brown. You’ll be able to laugh, and you’ll become better friends than ever before. Or what about the time you told that Little White Lie? Now the lie has come back, and you’re questioned again. Admit it. Say that you lied. Say it out loud. Everyone will recover. And they’ll admire you, as a matter of fact. They’ll admire you because you have the Nerve to finally come clean, when they feel they can’t. They could, but they would rather not. If you go first, they might be able to do it as well. Lead the way, brother.
It is far better to stay on the right side of the road than to drive yourself off the cliff and plunge into the bushes. There isn’t a road over there. You’ll be making things up as you go, and you’ll just get deeper and deeper. I’ll watch you go. Your lies will get more and more innovative and interesting, and farther and farther away from any human reality. You’ll begin to lose track of what exactly you’re saying and you’ll sound like an idiot.
I’ve seen it.
Lots of times.
You should see my Inbox.
Perhaps one day you will.
Maybe a book.
If yes, I guarantee:
A Most Interesting Read.
But anyway, back to the reactions, others put on the Squeeze –
Pressure tactics to get me to conform. They wanted to make me Learn to Behave, just like before. They found me maddening. How dare I dictate any New Terms of Engagement? How dare I stipulate When Where and How? They were angered and freaked and they began to throw, at me, Accusations of All Shapes and Sizes.
(Cue music: “ . . . Nobody knows, the troubles I’ve seen . . . ”)
Oh well. Onwards and upwards, as they say.
What doesn’t kill you just makes ya stronger, as they say.
(Chalk me up,
In that case,
Do I have any regrets?
Let me check.
I’m entirely glad.
And now, hey!
I can write about it.
Ah yes, I see that I did.
Post 143. It’s done. I lived it and survived long enough to write about it.
“Instituting Boundaries, A Five-Part Guide” – the post that took me more than a year and cost me a bucketful of friends.
But man, let me tell ya, dear Liza dear Liza,
I don’t worry about that bucket.
There was a hole in it, dear Henry dear Henry,
Don’t you be bothering me no more, unless you’re writing to apologize, sincerely.
Otherwise, so long.
I got some writing to do.
I got some postin’ to do.
I got some working, playing, eating, drinking, living and laughing to do.
(My Father sees all, but now you know nothing, except what I’m
Willing to post
To the rest of the world.)
My life is gonna happen, after all,
With or without