Friday, December 10, 2010

To Have and To Hold…A Grudge

by Ramona DeFelice Long

Now that two months have gone by, I think it’s safe to say the E word again.

Delaware has a peculiar little post-Election tradition. Peculiar little traditions are not unusual in peculiar little Delaware. We have Punkin Chunkin, which celebrates the art of hurling fruit across a field; on Separation Day, we celebrate chucking our Pennsylvania founders off our turf; and the Lifeguard Olympics celebrates the might of the American summer beach hunk.

In election years, the most anticipated peculiar little tradition is Return Day. A few days after voting, opposing candidates travel down to Georgetown, to ride in a carriage in a parade and then hear the ceremonial reading of the election returns by the Town Crier. After that, the candidates take hold of a hatchet and bury it in a box of sand.

This gesture ends election season and puts to bed the snarky rhetoric of the past months. (“You’re bad, you raised taxes.” “It was part of my job, which you’d understand if you ever had one.” “Oh yeah? Well, you’re a short bald Marxist.” “At least I’m not a witch.” “At least I know what the First Amendment says.” “Uh, actually, you don’t.”) Everyone then goes off to enjoy ox sandwiches with a renewed sense of goodwill and other such falderal and fiddle-dee-dee.

The burying of the hatchet is a symbolic gesture to show that the candidates won’t hold a grudge. That this tradition occurs in early November is apropos, because it’s just before the holiday season, when people traditionally sharpen and polish their family hurts and arguments.

Which brings me to the question: Do you hold grudges?

Grudges are a gift if you are a mystery writer; they offer the option of revenge on paper. It’s an accepted form of literary therapy to take out an old foe in a story. The only caveat is that your grudge can’t recognize himself, so if your foe is a tall blonde dude named Joe, change him to dark-haired fella named Carlton, and feel free to maim or murder him to your heart’s delight.

In real life, it’s not healthy to hang onto hard feelings, but not everyone is endowed with perfect emotional health--including moi. For the longest time, I held one grudge: the college boyfriend who dumped me. As grudges go, that’s probably cliché and boring, but I get along with my family and I liked high school. I clung to my one grudge option because, in part, I think that having an enemy, even a benign one, makes a person more interesting.

After a couple of decades of hating this guy from afar (because I had no idea where he lived, and made no attempt to find out), I received an email from him. He had Googled my whereabouts. Ha! He was all friendly and “Hey, just catching up!” but I am not a rube. I’d clung to my grudge for a loooong time.

So I tested him: (“Are you really you?” “Do you remember our song?” “Does your wife know you’re talking to me?”) He passed the tests. It was him. So I demanded an apology and, darn him, he admitted he’d always felt badly about being a jerk to me. Then he added insult to injury by reporting that his home life was like an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, and the thought of him married to a Debra made my grudge wither. How could my one sworn enemy be somebody this pathetic? So I forgave him, which made me officially grudge-free.

This, I soon discovered, left a hole in my life. With my long-distance grudge, I could focus my hostility on someone I never encountered. I didn’t feel guilty because, thanks to his unwise mistreatment of me, he deserved whatever nastiness karma decided to dish out. Without the grudge, I might have to be hostile to people I saw on a daily basis. This did not seem good.

So I started a grudge hunt. It took a while, but over time, I bagged one, and then for good measure, added a second. Yes, I’m proud to announce that there are two people out there that I have chosen—because it is a choice—to despise. Yay me!

I can’t share names, but I can give a few clues. One is personal; one is professional. One is a man, one is a woman. One knows about my dislike; one is clueless. One would be bothered; one would not—would, in fact, probably enjoy the knowledge. One’s offense is slight and possibly petty; the other was born of some pretty serious stuff.

My life feels balanced again. Neither of my grudges deserves the honor of being one of my characters, even a dead one, so I won’t take literary revenge. In fact, I think of them sometimes when I’m working. I’m pretty sure that any success I have would bug them. While bugging my enemies is not what motivates me to be a better editor and writer, it doesn’t hurt.

And so, I win. And they don’t.

Do you hold grudges? If so, does it impact your life in a negative way, or can you tweak your enemies and make them work for you? Can you forgive and forget, or do you stay steamed until death do you part?

Oh, and since we all like videos, here is an appropriate one for the season:


Gina said...

Congratulations, Ramona, on finding a few new grudges. Human beings were never meant to live in perfect harmony.

I harbor grudges against former teachers, mostly nuns, mostly from grade school. They're probably all dead now, but I detest them still, on behalf of myself and every other child they ever humiliated or treated unfairly. Haven't found a way to kill them in a book yet, but someday I will!

Jeez, now you have me wishing I was from Delaware! [Just kidding. Go east, go west, Pittsburgh's the best!]

Ramona said...

Gina, I love that comment: "Human beings were never meant to live in perfect harmony." How true!

I also went to Catholic school. My only beef is with Sister Naomi, who confiscated my copy of Love Story because it was improper. ??? This got me into big trouble, because I'd taken it without permission from my sister. I was also reading it in class, with it wedged into my math book. Maybe the karma was on me.

But also believe the real reason she confiscated it was because the sisters wanted to read it.

Annette said...

Ramona, I think you're right about that nun's true motive. Heh.

I've killed off a couple of grudges in my fiction. I gave one fellow a particularly gruesome death, fitting for the low-down snake that he is. I also created a character based on another guy who annoyed me and killed him...the character, not the real person. I've found fictional homicide to be quite therapeutic. ;-)

But I still have one really excellent grudge that I'm hanging onto. Just for fun.

Joyce Tremel said...

I've never been a grudge holding person until I lost my job. I don't like the feeling very much. But at least I'm putting it to good use. It does help in my writing.

I went to Catholic school for 12 years and there were only two nuns I didn't like much. I got along with all my teachers, probably because I was quiet, did my work, and got good grades.

I think the national government should follow Delaware's lead. I'm so tired of the bickering.

Joyce Tremel said...

I should add that I'm beginning to form a grudge against everyone dissing federal employees (I have 2 in my family). The mis-information going around is astounding.

For the record: when compared to their counterparts in the private sector, federal employees make 24 percent LESS. Their health care is NOT free--employee contributions and copays are higher (often MUCH higher) than in the private sector. And that federal pension? It hasn't existed since 1983. Feds have 401k's like everyone else.

Had to get that off my chest!

Ramona said...

Annette, I hope you give that special someone a truly memorable departure from your world.

Joyce, I'm sad to say that the symbolic burying of the hatchet must only bury the symbolic bickering, because the real stuff does continue on. Still, maybe it's worth a try.

Ramona said...

PS to Joyce: My brother and sister-in-law work for the IRS. I feel your pain about federal employees.

Gina said...

I have to agree on the government employee issue. Especially the hard-working Pennsylvania state employees. Unless things have changed drastically since I last held a state job, the standard situation seems to be that the Legislature creates a statute that requires a local work force of 15 people to minimally implement, approves funding to hire 10 people, then fills 5 of those slots with political hacks who do little or no work, leaving the five remaining employees to do the work of 15 while being bad-mouthed by the public. The fact that Tom Corbett prosecuted so many of the crooks in office when he was attorney general probably had a lot to do with his recent gubernatorial win. OK. Enough of that. This is not a political blog.

Jungle Red Writers said...

Hi Ramona,
Great post -- i think we all suffer from grudges and if we could actually get rid of them -- well, you are right, there wouldn't be any more crime fiction.

But they are counter productive, especially when in that early, I'm obsessed with this grudge stage. I've worked really hard to get get rid of my grudges, and think I might even be grudge-free in time for Christmas WHEW!!


Annette said...

Hi, Jan! I carried around the one grudge for a very long time, and it really gnawed at me. But after I killed off the character based on that jerk, I was really able to let it go. Now I think if I ran into him on the street, I could even smile at him. Granted it would be a slightly wicked smile, knowing what I'd dreamt up for his demise. But I'm not bothered by him anymore.

PatRemick said...

When I began reading your post, I thought "I don't have any grudges," but then I recalled that I maintain an incredible distaste for a thriller writer whom I knew before this career. I act out my grudge against this immoral jerk by telling people about his true nature, and turning his books over in the bookstores so people can't see the titles. I don't think I want to get rid of this grudge because then I would have to find someone nicer to hold a grudge against!

Pauline Alldred said...

Hi, Ramona, great post. I was relatively grudge free until I had someone lie about me at work and feed a rumor that made a job I enjoyed become a daily misery. Finally, I left the job because I didn't have enough snarky skills to get my own back but I have taken literary revenge. Do I feel better? No, because I'd really like to speak the liar in person so I'll have to work on letting go--not an easy task.

Annette said...

Oh, Pat. Remind me never to make you mad! ;-)

Ramona said...

Jan, good for you--it's nice to see someone who has less stress this holiday season.

Pat--ITA with Annette. You are scary. (Just kidding, although yours sounds like a serious dislike.) When I worked as a librarian, we had patrons who would hide books by authors they didn't like by putting them on top of the shelves. This was in the children's department. It was crazy. I have known many writers for children, and I can't fathom holding a grudge against one of them.

My post today is somewhat in jest, because I do think that a serious grudge can damage a person emotionally. Of the two I have, one could go that way--I just don't allow it to happen. I don't want to give that person that much power over me.

Ramona said...

Pauline, maybe you should confront this person? Or, if not, make a conscious decision not to let him/her get to you, ever again.

Patg said...

Greetings from the other tax-free state, Oregon. Great video.
I love grudges, quiet ones that relieve stress when you let your mind run free with mayhem against anyone or thing that annoys you beyond 'oh that's nuts'.
I don't have any good ones at the moment, basically I believe you should shrug off a lot of stuff people do, because, let's face it, we rarely care enough to find out why they are that way. BUT, if you are going to have one, remember, you might find it in your heart to forgive, but categorically Never Forget!!

Pamela DuMond, D.C. said...

I love this post! Forgive but don't forget. Change his hair color and height. Kill him off in a hideous way in your new novel. What fun!

I don't know anyone who is grudge free. I'm certainly not. And Pat Remick - I turned books around too! I even covered them with other books.


Ramona said...

PatR and Pamela, you two are like The Avengers, LOL.

PatG, how odd that the tax free states are on the two coasts.

As always, it's been fun guesting here at the Stiffs!

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I do hold tight to some grudges. Your post led me to examine them and I realized they all were against people I thought mistreated my children in any way. I don't understand why any one wouldn't love the little cherubs as much as I do.