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I think a lot about how people make decisions around forgiveness and estrangement, especially re: family members. I’m sure a lot of you do as well. I don’t think anyone can tell anyone else what’s ‘forgiveable’, and you’re allowed to stop having a relationship with anyone (except a dependent child) for any reason you like, so I can’t really learn what I should do from other people, but it fascinates me just the same.
Courtesy Warning: mention of serial killers and Nazis, no details. Scroll to the newspaper icon to skip this.
Kerri Rawson, formerly Kerri Rader, daughter of the serial killer BTK, continued to write to her father for a long time after his conviction, and not because she believed him to be innocent or forgivable. But she still loved him, because he was her dad, even as she was unfathomably disgusted and furious with him. Humans ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
After many years, she ceased all contact, and says she’s now forgiven him - but only really for her own mental wellbeing (and only for the lies and betrayal of the family - it’s not her place to forgive him for the murders). So you can have forgiveness + estrangement, and a continued relationship without forgiveness.
Catherine Dior was a French Resistance Fighter in World War Two, who was eventually tortured and sent to a concentration camp (she survived). Her brother, Christian Dior, was a fashion designer who made clothing for Nazi officers and collaborators. This was necessary to keep the fashion industry going during the war; some might argue that’s not a worthwhile trade, especially when you look at what his sister was willing to sacrifice.
Whatever the circumstances, Catherine re-connected with Christian after the war, and seemingly forgave him (I don’t know her inner life, but looks like). She was honorary president of the Christian Dior Museum and worked to preserve his legacy.
But when her niece, Françoise Dior, married a British neo-Nazi in 1963, she publicly denounced her.
I can speculate on why one was forgivable and the other wasn’t (Françoise was not under duress, Christian was) but ultimately I can’t know.
And then there’s Danny Lavery, formerly Daniel Mallory Ortberg, a comedy writer and advice columnist who I’m an ultra-fan of, as is half the internet. The Ortbergs are influential members of an evangelical church, and Danny became estranged from them when he found out they were covering for a paedophile [extremely simplified version of the story].
I said I was fascinated by how people make decisions around estrangement. Here’s how he describes his ‘decision’:
The thing I had not realized about my own family estrangement until it came was that it was not an act of punishment or anger I could either decide to take or not. It was a moral and emotional reality that I could choose to accept or deny, but the estrangement exists with or without my consent.
That makes sense to me too. Sometimes a decision is made by your heart and your brain, outside of your conscious control, and they just present you with the findings.
Ad for COSRX Ultimate Nourishing Rice Spa Overnight Mask
I’m sharing because the entire long-form ad is delightful - click to see the whole thing. I’m recommending the ad, not the product. Obviously in an ideal world all advertising would be banned, but in the meantime, eh, enjoy this one.
But if anyone’s interested I actually do recommend the product, I’ve bought it a few times. It’s super mild and calming and has a decent % of niacinamide, which is one of the most effective ingredients in skincare (about on par with Vitamin C serums). It’s hydrating, repairing, anti-inflammatory, evens out skintone, etc.
Jingwei: Mythological creature with powerful grudge energy
Totally separate from the real and serious discussion in the intro, I do love to see a well-tended petty grudge. A petty enough grudge, correctly nurtured, can be elevated into an artform.
Jingwei as depicted in 1597 publication of the Chinese text, “Classic of Mountains and Seas”
Jingwei used to be a goddess, daughter of the Flame Emperor. After she drowned in the Eastern Sea, she was transformed into a bird (pictured above). Now she’s always seen with a twig or a pebble in her beak, which she carries from the Western Mountains to the Eastern Sea. She’s trying to destroy the sea by filling it up completely.
Jingwei has a dialogue with the sea where the sea scoffs her, saying that she won't be able to fill it up even in a million years, whereupon she retorts that she will spend ten million years, even one hundred million years, whatever it takes to fill up the sea so that others would not have to perish as she did. From this myth comes the Chinese idiom “Jingwei Tries to Fill the Sea” (精衛填海), meaning dogged determination and perseverance in the face of seemingly impossible odds. (Wikipedia)
Drowning isn’t petty, but being determined to eliminate the sea you drowned in even it takes a hundred million years is.
The tanka: a haiku with an added perspective shift
A haiku is a three-line poem, with a syllable count of 5-7-5 in Japanese (you don’t typically stick to the syllable count in English, because our language is less syllable-centric). They’re often nature-based and create a strong, clear, single image in your head.
Haiku are actually the top half of an older form of poem, the tanka.
Here’s a classic tanka, by Chōkū Shaku (1887–1953):
lie trampled on the ground
their colors fresh
someone has climbed ahead of me
along this mountain path
The tanka is a 5-line poem, with two halves: the ‘upper half’, the 5-7-5. Then a ‘lower half’, consisting of two 5-syllable lines. The last two lines feature a ‘turn’, a shift in perspective.
By Zenmaro Toki (1885–1980):
an old soldier
lodged in our house
tells a war story
that says nothing
about killing an enemy
I like tankas because, frankly, I’m not that ‘good’ at understanding poetry, even though I like it, and tankas have a somewhat more narrative structure. A story stripped to its bare bones is a tanka: something changes.
By Kanoko Okamoto (1889–1939):
blooming with all the strength
oblige me to view them
with all the strength I possess
And now the first tanka I came across, which led to me googling the form:
By Paul Violi (1944–2011):
where the blossoms fall
like snow on the dock
bring fifty thousand in cash
or you’ll never see
your baby again
The Squonk: world’s saddest cryptid
The squonk is of a very retiring disposition, generally traveling about at twilight and dusk. Because of its misfitting skin, which is covered with warts and moles, it is always unhappy...Hunters who are good at tracking are able to follow a squonk by its tear-stained trail, for the animal weeps constantly. When cornered and escape seems impossible, or when surprised and frightened, it may even dissolve itself in tears.
— William T. Cox, “The Squonk”, Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods (1910)
Squonks are part of the mythology built up by lumberjacks at logging camps, like the hoop snake, which bites its own tail so it can roll down hills. We have those in Australia, too, alongside drop bears. The delightful axehandle hound and the splintercat are domestic US only though.
Wikipedia has a whole list of these, and they’re worth it for the names alone, Teakettler, Cactus Cat, Hidebehind.
Finally, some science:
‘Chemical squonks’ are substances that “are stable in solution or some other ‘wild’ form but cannot be isolated or captured without actually catalyzing their own polymerization or decomposition” - in other words, they ‘dissolve in their own tears’ when caught.
And that’s all the science for this issue.
Unsolicited Advice: Make your failures a controlled retreat, not a rout
I’m not normally one for military metaphors, but this one has stuck with me, on account of a memorable scene from Lord of the Rings. A controlled retreat is where you’re losing, so you gather your soldiers together in a defensive formation, and slowly, as safely as possible, withdraw from battle.
A rout is when soldiers lose morale, break ranks and run for their lives in a disorganised panic. As described in Lord of the Rings (in an incredibly tense scene, oh my god it’s so tense, what are you DOING Denethor, send out the sortie alread, he’s your son!!):
“The retreat became a rout. Already men were breaking away, flying wild and witless here and there, flinging away their weapons, crying out in fear, falling to the ground.”
Routs have much, much higher casualty rates than controlled retreats.
So what I mean by this as it applies to daily life is that sometimes you make a plan, like “I’m going to run 5k every day” and it turns out that plan is unsustainable. Instead of just struggling along and eventually losing all morale and giving up on exercise altogether, you should stop, re-assess, and make a new plan.
A lot of people start newsletters or blogs and they start out posting every day and then trail off into nothing. The internet is littered with dead blogs, with the last 3 posts a year apart, each one beginning “Sorry I haven’t written in so long…”
When I started The Whippet, it was a weekly newsletter. That turned out to be more work than I could do alongside my dayjob. I didn’t want to become one of those newsletters that trails into nothing, because I’d made a commitment to myself and to the newsletter and I didn’t want to break that and so lose trust in myself. So I switched to fortnightly, in a planned way, which I announced. I could have made it monthly, and that would have been fine too.
The point is that I didn’t just let my unsustainable system break down; I created a new system that I could sustain. This isn’t because I’m super controlled and together, it’s the opposite - it’s because I’ve let all kinds of writing practices fall by the wayside in the past, and I was determined not to let that happen with The Whippet, no matter what.
If you’re someone who has had a lot of good intentions and a lot of plans fall apart, then you do start to lose faith in yourself, and lose morale. You get an exciting idea, and almost straight away, you start thinking “what’s the point, it’ll just be another thing I don’t follow through on.” This is so bad for you! I mean that it will make you miserable and more miserably and circularly miserable. You stop taking actions that matter to you, because you have no faith that you’ll follow through, and then you like yourself less because you’re not doing things that are important to you, and so you have even less faith in yourself, so you give up sooner when you do try something… etc.
So: keep promises to yourself by re-setting your commitment in a controlled way when you need to. Don’t wait till you’ve fallen apart. This will start to re-build trust in yourself. And that self-trust will make future challenges easier.
Incidentally, I later found out this technique is part of a thing called “self-parenting”. Self-parenting is a psychological self-help technique for people with parent-related trauma. It’s doing for yourself, now, what you needed from a parent, but didn’t get. Self-parenting means giving yourself non-judgemental love and support. But that’s not the only things a parent is supposed to do, right?
Self-parenting also involves: protecting yourself, the way a parent should protect their child. Standing up for yourself, the way someone should have stood up for you then. Taking material, sensible care of yourself. You know, a good parent is kind to you, but they also make you study for exams and brush your teeth and eat your veggies. It means keeping promises to yourself, the way a parent should keep the promises they make to their child. It’s becoming reliable and trustworthy to yourself, to create the solid ground you might not have had growing up. It’s knowing that someone is always looking out for you, and that person is yourself.
But! You can have a great childhood and still lose morale and stop trusting yourself and have habits fall apart, so please think of the self-parenting aspect as an optional aside if it doesn’t speak to you.
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