The Duke and Duchess of Wrong

Coming up with antagonists who are believable, effective, and even a tad sympathetic is one of the greatest challenges I face with my writing. It’s a stone-tablet novel-craft commandment though, that the better you write your antagonists, the more your heroes and heroines have to grow and stretch to outwit them.

Then I came across this article by Issendai, courtesy of writing industry blogger Jane Friedman, which outlines how to create a sick system. The sick system, be it a business, a relationship, a writing group, holds together on the basis of unhealthy psychology. Factors such as chronic overwork, fatigue, never-ending crises, and unpredictable rewards create a sticky mess of anxiety, guilt, hope, and fear, with no resources remaining for real problem-solving.

This article prompted reflection about the unhealthy relationships I’ve been in, and a couple of villainous patterns emerge.

Part of the reason I’m chronically tired in a sick system is because the person who set up the system won’t help me with all the responsibility I’ve been assigned. The ex keeps dodging his or her half of the parenting schedule. The boss gives me too many projects and won’t get me an assistant, the other parents on the playground watch “must” work all the time, every weekend. The more selfless their excuses, the harder it is for me to name their exploitation of me. In some clever cases, I’m the very reason they can’t help: I demand child support (the law demands it), I want a promotion (when did I say that?), I volunteered, didn’t I (for every weekend?!)?

Another factor at work is that actions and words don’t connect for people perpetuating a sick system. “I love you,” offered with an affectionate smile, doesn’t jive with, “So I’ll leave you to deal with all the bills, our unruly adolescents, the falling apart car, the overgrown yard, and the irate homeowners’ association while I go to my third spin class of the weekend.”

Sick systems also rely on an ability to pivot villainy–to fingerpoint–outside the system. How many bosses have patiently explained that, “Some clients are unreasonable, but they are the client…” over and over, without admitting that some bosses give clients unreasonable expectations, over and over? How many spouses have blamed the job, while doing nothing to find another job? How many judges, school administrators, pastors, and other authority figures have said, “My hands are tied,” when in fact, there isn’t a rope to be seen?

And these people seem to know how to turn up sweet just often enough, just unpredictably enough, to keep our loyalty.

Those patterns–creating perpetually unreasonable obligations, disconnecting actions and words, evading responsibility, and offering unpredictable rewards–should result in some thoroughly dis-likeable, absolutely believable, hard-to-defeat antagonists… If I can stand to write them.

Have you come across any real-life sick systems? How did you get out, or how would you advise a character in a book to escape such a dynamic? To one commenter, I’ll send a signed advanced reader copy of No Other Duke Will Do.





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77 comments on “The Duke and Duchess of Wrong

  1. I know this sounds daft but my way of dealing with the many sick systems I have found myself in over the years is to come home and jump into the bath and soak in the suds.I do my best thinking in the bath not the shower, the shower is quick and easy but does not lend itself to deep thought.Since I have retired I find I do not need to problem solve quite as much but life still needs to be lived .The only thing now is that I moved house a year ago and my new flat has a shower only.How I miss my relaxing bath. Welcome back Grace you have been missed but I hope you feel refreshed and happy.

    • You are onto something, Brenda. Turns out we do our most creative thinking in the mental white spaces of the day, the times when we’re in a relaxed, low-stress environment, our cognitive powers more or less in screen-saver mode. Necessity might be the mother of invention, but relaxation is the mother of creativity (and I know a lot of authors who can break through a plot problem ONLY be having a good soak).

  2. I lived it for many years. Got out by removing people from my life. I’ve become something close to a hermit which I honestly enjoy. I deal with people so much during the work day that nothing is better than coming home to a quiet house! (well, other than cats, dogs and horses …)

    • I am the same way. For me, dealing with a special needs child takes about all the energy I have. As an introvert I need alone time to recharge and I have had to become a brutal “no” sayer to safeguard that time. With work and other non-negotiable responsibilities, I find social time is the first thing to go. Having read many times that happiness is found in many and varied connections, I have to disregard it in the short-term, at least, as time in absolute quiet and relaxing is more beneficial than anything else. I have a standing hot chocolate (or lemonade depending on the season) date with my best friend, have a supportive spouse, and a brother I adore. I find that is all I need and avoiding others allows me to avoid being pulled into their sick systems, especially when it can be so exhausting reinforcing boundaries again and again. Having been raised in a dysfunctional family, I wish I had figured out what I needed and how to safeguard it much earlier.

      • Interesting, isn’t it, that every two-year-old learns to say no with great authority and glee, and then we learn to unsay it, before we learn to say it again.
        Good on ya, for sticking with the boundaries and the best friend.

    • I would be nuts without my animals. Their non-verbal communication is perfect for pulling me off my mental hamster wheel, providing me company, but also giving me my space. I also realize that giving up my truck for a Prius has had an impact on my sense of emotional safety. The truck was a dependable physical barrier between me and the rest of the world, but that Prius is just a little tan can. I’m down in the noise when I drive that thing, so I hope the polar ice cap appreciates my sacrifice.

  3. I am trying to choose! Did I spend half my life with ‘victim’ painted across my forehead? I certainly came out of my childhood with an unhealthy burden of guilt that primed me to take the blame whenever any was being handed out!

    I don’t think you can fix a sick situation. Users are not going to change just because you point out the errors of their ways. You can only escape, and if you can’t escape, you can only protect yourself as best you can.

    A dearly beloved friend has a son in his mid 20s who has been an extreme sport champion and has suffered several head injuries that have ruined his career. His outbursts of anger, often physically expressed are, in his view, all her fault because she has not supported him as she should (for example, she never sold the house and uprooted the rest of the family and abandoned her business to move 1000 km South so he could live near the ski mountains).

    What do you do when one you love turns into a monster? He presents a reasonable and even charming face to the world, but he is a powder keg waiting to blow. What could I advise a character in such a situation? What can I advise her? She is his mother, and she loves him. And he has the inalienable right to refuse mental health care right up until he hurts someone.

    I can tell her that she is not to blame, that she has a right to be safe, that his threats of suicide are on him (not her). And I can listen. But if she was in my book, I’d be better able to find her a way out. The only acceptable way to her, without enormous grief, is one that rescues him, too.

    • In my life, I have found myself in more than one “sick system”. I have also noticed that the “sick system leader”,so to speak, are part of other “sick systems” that don’t include me. It’s weird to think of “them” being taken advantage of. But it’s true.

    • Jude, I “know” your friend. I am your friend.
      Yours is a thoughtful and well written post. Thanks for sharing.
      PS- my other post (3.1) was not intended as the reply to you. Sorry it wound up on there.

    • That is a very tough fork in the road. As a mom, I get it. As a person, I also get it. The author of the article cited points out that if you start to draw away from such systems, they often focus their tractor beams on you twice as hard as before, “But we need you! I was considering you for a raise! I’ll hurt myself if you leave me!” and we’re so unused to peace and quiet, our anxiety-addicted minds also push us back into the melee.
      Very hard to know what to do for your friend, except maybe model good self-care, listen, and don’t get sucked in?

  4. I am currently in that predicament with my ex. He left a year ago for a new job. All I hear is how he hates the job or worries about job security. How his credit is garbage now, and how much he misses his children. Though he wont get on the phone for them,wont call the bank or seek help to get out of debt. Wont come back since the job didnt pan out. Leaving me a special needs child and a new born. Yet I desire my children to have their father in their lives and he says he is nothing without them. So I am willing to uproot and move near him. But he isnt reliable. Its a mess. And is definitely a sick system.

    • Raises hand. I’m still in the house I bought to be nearer my daughter’s father, and outside of her infancy, he’s never visited her there. As a single mom, you’re often put in a darned if you do/darned if you don’t situation. I admire you for trying to keep your balance, even as you realize somebody keeps trying to pull the rug out from under you.

  5. Welcome Back!!

    My last job was in a sick system. Getting a new job and leaving my comfort zone was a tough decision for me — so glad I moved on.

    When work or home life is stressful, I take a shower and put on my pjs. I grab up a corgi and read a book…..the escape aspect works for me.

    Am so glad you have returned to the blog and your flock.
    We’ve missed you.

    • Missed you too! These past couple months, I’d be reading along in the bottom of some rabbit hole, and think, “I could use this on the blog!” And then, I’d have to tell myself, “Stockpile it. You won’t have internet to speak of on Sunday.”
      I don’t grab a Corgi, but I do pet my cats, hug my dog, and sit outside under the big trees.

  6. I join Susan (above) in welcoming you back. We missed you.

    As for sick systems, I have bumped up against more than a few in my lifetime – many brought on by myself. As the oldest female child in a rather dis-functional family, I always felt it was my place to take on the hardest and most difficult tasks – to spare the younger ones. This, of course, was wrong. People who are spared difficult tasks, never learn to do them.

    My solution, I have found, is simply to dig in my heels, call people on it, and refuse to be taken advantage of any longer. I do admit that this got easier as I got older.

    • The oldest in a big family carries a heavy burden, and you’re right: Coddling can stunt growth. I’ve also gotten better about saying no, no thank you, no means no, and nopity-nope-nope-nope. Retraining myself is hard, retraining the people around me is never done.

  7. I’m divorcing one now. It’s hard (and he’s made it even harder) but the only way to peace is to get out.

    Everything you wrote I’ve lived in some way: the STBX, bosses, “friends” and others. Some of these are very difficult to get out of, and often you are made out to be the bad guy. Object to being taken advantage of (or worse)? What’s wrong with you? Why are you ruining everything? You’re such a $#&*!

    Sometimes it’s easier to stay, but that always comes with a cost, doesn’t it? So you have to decide which cost is greater – to stay and continue to lose pieces of your soul, or to get out and lose other things (financial security, job security, etc.).

    The struggle is real. It would be the same for our characters. They have to decide which is the lesser of two (or more) evils, and that may change over time or when something happens to tip the balance. The decision is half the battle and the other half is the actual physical and/or emotional leaving.

    • Condolences on the divorce, because if nothing else, a hope is being put to rest, however old and tattered that hope might be. Finding new hopes takes big energy, and time.
      That shaming stuff… Even you know you’re being manipulated and goaded, it’s hard to keep your balance. Books were my salvation through many a tribulation, and I hope they can be for you too.

  8. Oh dear, this brings back bad memories. I was on a project that kept sending me to Florida because they say they NEEDED my testing expertise – but when I was down there, they couldn’t keep the computers my software lived on up and running. (I hope that sentence made sense.) Anyway, I had a bookstore I had closed back home but I needed to dispose of (sell, put on consignment, give away) the stock and the shelving. No one else could do that. Plus my dog was spending the weeks boarded at the vet’s and I would pick him up for the weekends. I dearly missed my dog and paying rent on a bookstore space that wasn’t open was frustrating me. But worse than all that was that we were making no progress in Florida and the ones who made the schedule didn’t seem to care! I was working 12-18 hr days in Florida and flying back and forth and my health was deteriorating. I swore to myself the next time my old job (on Hubble, before I opened the bookstore) tried to recruit me, I would say yes. That’s what eventually happened. It took interviewing over the cell phone from my hotel room in Florida but we made it work – it helped that they knew me from before and knew my work ethic. A few months later, my doc took blood tests, yelled at me about low this-and-that, and put me on supplements. I immediately started getting better. Sleeping in my Baltimore bed and walking my dog helped loads. The crazy job was unhappy but I got them through their deadline so I felt like I had done what I could. I’m glad that’s over. Sorry this explanation is so long.

    • As a recounting of months of being taken for granted, overwhelmed, and underpaid, that’s actually pretty brief. Glad you dug your way out. I think it’s Maya Angelou who said, “Weak people give up and stay. Strong people give up and move on.”

  9. It’s difficult to ‘place’ ourselves in the ‘time zone’ of the characters when women were held back in some ways from things we take for granted (say what we think, vote, dress as we please etc). The lifestyle was so different from today and so different between financial classes. Our stresses today are in some ways the same and in many ways different. Not being able to read would drive me nuts, because that’s my biggest de-stresser. Watching parents age at close hand has been my biggest stresser for yrs now-watching a big man in life brought down to a walker then a broken back, watching a mother stressed over a disabled son for most of his life now unable to walk back and forth to the kitchen except perhaps once or twice a yr and as the oldest child, it means I am the grocery shopper, my husband has to handle more bills than just ours etc. For many of us, the care of parents, the reverse of what we knew most of our lives, is a huge stresser. Luckily, I’m retired and can do it. In the past, servants would have been there 24/7 in a well to do household. We can think our meds/dr’s/hospitals are good things today; they often are but our ancestors had house call doctors and actually those existed right on into the 1960s for some of us. I recall milk/oj delivered to the front porch but now it requires another trip to the store–waiting in line–more stress; once it came straight from cow to table–requiring someone to go milk that cow in the wee hours and someone else in the kitchen to get it ready to serve. We grab it off a shelf. We have refrigerators. Divorce is common these days but is no picnic for anyone; our ancestors stuck out arranged marriages, happy or not. That would have been terribly stressful, required tons of mutual respect and at least, hopefully, friendship if not love–but so is divorce painful, for all involved. We do have the luxury of indoor plumbing—thank heavens for indoor plumbing–and I’ve spent many hours reading in the bathtub. I seldom do nowadays. My destresser is books and the quiet late night hours on into very early morning to read. As for being taken advantage of by others–it is a waste of precious time to allow it and requires just saying no. What does it matter what someone else thinks of you? Will they be in your life ten yrs from now and even if they are, will it still matter what they think? I don’t worry about what others think; I consider my time too valuable for that, nor will I be take any BS off anyone. Guilt trips are out. I’ve never been on one. I expect to be accepted for who and what I am and if someone doesn’t like that–they can adapt or get out of my life and stay out. Life is short. It goes by faster and faster the older you get. What remains through it is love. We all want to find that perfect love that truly lasts a lifetime and conquers all. We don’t all get happy endings but along the way we can redefine what a happy ending is for us and try to create that and make it happen. What we want at 18 may not be what we want from the world as we see it ten or twenty years later and indeed my life now is 180 degrees different from where I was at 18 or even 38.

    • That is quite a comment! My family has just completed the phase of caring for very frail elders, and even with seven adult children, one living with Dad, one living two miles away, a lawyer in the family, and adequate financial means, looking after one reasonably uncomplicated geriatric patient nearly flayed us.
      But you are spot on: You see your parents declining, and you get ruthless about protecting whatever time and resources are left to you. Life IS too short, and saying no gets easier.

  10. Yippee….you’re back! Missed you :)…now back to the comments.

    I never thought the *sick system* you describe as *sick* before but you are right, it is sick. And if you are the one constantly picking up after the *sickees* then it’s pretty tough. And cause stress to those of us who are the picker-uppers.

    How about the example of a *sick system* similar to the one you describe but the difference is this; the person picking up the slack, handling the cranky clients, getting the information to the printer never gets any credit for coming through? We are the ones making sure things don’t fall between the cracks, and yet we are not acknowledged for making it happen?

    I’ve had several jobs (choral conducting in various situations) where I was not only expected to handle the music (that’s what I was trained to do) but also expected to do all sorts of administration tasks. I was told my predecessors did it, so I was expected to. Stressful in addition to the music but the only time it was acknowledged I did these things was when something went wrong and usually it wasn’t my fault.

    In my present job, I handle the music and the unpleasant tasks but am regularly THANKED for doing them. Makes a difference in what I feel about the job and I am not resentful for having to do them. And a *sick sytsem* becomes a little less sick!

    • You’re pointing out something I hadn’t considered: Part of the magic of a sick system is selective blindness. Blindness to your exhaustion, your dignity, your physical boundaries, your human limitations. In a situation where the people in authority look at you like you’re nuts for wanting help with the copying, or with setting up an auditorium, at least for a moment, you wonder if you are nuts. I guess that’s gaslighting?

      A sincere thank you can be a way of saying, “I know you’re tired, I know this isn’t in your job description. I see honestly, so you don’t have go nuts.”
      Must think on this…. book stuff here.

  11. I once took a corporate course called Monkey School. It painted the picture that everyone carries around a monkey (signifying problems) on their back. When you stop to talk to someone with their monkey, the idea is to keep their monkey from jumping onto your back and joining your monkey. If you can’t deflect their monkey from joining your monkey, soon you’ll have a backfull of monkeys (problems)! Of course you will feel sick – instead, suggest your spouse hire a lawn service, suggest that another person can chair the cookie sale, suggest that a deadline can be extended to handle an unforeseen circumstance – grow a spine! Don’t accept the monkey. (Best corporate class ever!)

    • That does sound like a good class, and an interesting place to find it. Dodging other people’s monkeys is hard though–we want to be helpful, kind, needed, and connected. It’s odd–you can get all kinds of creds for decluttering your closet, your house, your car. Ditch the junk!
      But when you try to dodge Other People’s Monkeys cluttering up your time and energy stores, judgment can be the result.

      • It depends on who is making a judgement and how important or pertinent that judgement is to your life. “You can’t please everybody!” Do these people matter in your life? Do they have a strong point for their judgement of you? An example might be an anonymous note from a neighbor that the recycle day is Wednesday and you should take your recycle bin in. But if last time the truck actually came the next day & you hope this will happen again, and the truck does come a day late again, your judgement was correct! (And the neighbor was a nosy twit!) And of course, “judge not that you be not judged” is also worth remembering.

  12. First off, welcome back Grace, you were much missed.

    I encountered the “sick system” for the majority of my working years because I generally dealt with the public. Also, as a “boomer” I had a very strict upbringing and as the middle child I was blamed for just about everything that went wrong. I moved out on my own before my senior year in high school because I was sick of being treated like a doormat. The final straw came when my parents told me I had to do all the housecleaning as well as turn over all the money I made at my part-time job to helo out financially. When I left my mother told me “You’ll never graduate or make anything of yourself”. Not only did I finish high school but I obtained an associate’s degree from a local community college.

    A few year ago I decided that I’m happy with the person I’ve become even though I’ve made some major mistakes.

    • Hats off to you, Molly. I have to wonder where you got the nerve and courage to move out at seventeen, particularly when, at that time, girls didn’t. Shame on your mom for trying to sabotage you, but that’s what sick systems do.

  13. I would put it more as ‘sick people’ than a ‘sick system’. Hopefully those people are mostly behind me & those I still see I’m able to mostly push off their annoying behavior. I remind myself that ‘you can’t change the behavior of others, you can only change your own’ – which I take to mean as how you respond. At this point in my life I don’t interact with as many people. I don’t personally know the people that aggravate me recently – I just see or read about them in the news – which I have to take breaks from when I get too riled up. I just remind myself to so what I can, when I can.

    • It’s probably more the case that people in business environments, churches, volunteer organizations, and the like see whole systems pulled down by people who demand overwork, refuse to give credit, don’t keep their word, and create problems they won’t take responsibility for. But you’re right–somebody gets this ball rolling, and manages to shove it in our direction.
      I like having fewer people in my physical space as I age. That might reach a point of diminishing returns when I fold up the lawyer tent, but then again… it might not.

  14. Welcome back. I loved Karlene’s description of Monkey School. I hung a sign in my old office that said “Your lack of planning does not constitute an emergency on my part.” I worked for years as a church secretary and lost count of the times I had to stay late because no one was capable of getting bulletin or newsletter information to me on time. But since it was my job to get those publications done, I felt responsible. After working there so many years, I really thought I’d miss the job when I left but I quit and haven’t looked back…not once. It is nice to be free of that sick-system.

    • That’s the payoff for leaving: Yeah, you might get pulled back in by guilt and anxiety, but if you can keep walking, you will have so much lovely peace and quiet. So much privacy and self-determination. Ahhhh!

  15. I got out of a 2.5 year sick system, and stopped getting into the same type system over and over, by finally realizing I was happier alone than with someone who didn’t treat me well. Not that I was “happy”, but that I was “happier”. I then made a mental list of what I needed to be happy with a partner. When I found my HEA (which we believe you have only with continued hard work) it was like checking boxes on my list. The list was important because my emotions could sweep me along into a sick system easily if I wasn’t comparing real actions to an objective list of desires.

    • I’m glad you found that HEA! I’m sure the list has been interesting to revisit too, and that some of the hard work has been simply what’s needed to keep the new system healthy. Good on ya!

  16. I loved that so, so much. You nailed it!

    I work in that environment. Marriage is also such a system, as you pointed out. There are so many people who are perfectly willing to avoid what they don’t want to do, perfectly willing by inaction to force the hand of the more responsible person.

    • And when you have people depending on you to meet their survival needs, it’s very hard to tell that system no. You get exhausted, blamed, manipulated, and threatened, and pretty soon, you accept that environment as normal.
      It’s not. It’s not, not, not… I hope that some of what a good romance novel provides is a resounding lecture to all in sick systems: This is not normal, and you deserve better. Here’s a little tale about people who held out for better, even though it was scary and hard.

  17. My family and I provided treatment foster care for children in difficult life situations. We cared for several children who had come from life situations that toxic behavior in there daily lives.
    It took tremendous work to help them work through their issues.
    Sometimes we were successful some times not!

    • I’ll have to start referring to you as Saint Sue, because any foster kid is hard, and treatment foster care is where the most vulnerable and wounded usually end up. That you succeeded with any of them is a testament to nerves of steel and a heart bigger than the sky.

  18. I worked as a teacher for 36 years,having a BA, MA, and several post-graduate degrees in working with dyslexic persons as well as teaching family science and math. Because of my skills, I was told that my requests for transfer or remaining in a particular school were denied because “I was too good at my job”, or “We have to move you because there are students who need you more at X school.” I taught in every school (except one)including the high school, but never in one place for more than 3 years. It is a shame some of us are ‘punished’ for our abilities. [Sounds like you, Grace.]

    • Sounds like you were the itinerant master educator, moved from school to school to model the profession as it was intended to be practiced. You doubtless taught administrators, parents, other teachers, and staff in addition to the children on your class list. I hope you can be proud of that, and of the immense gift you were to the whole system. Cue “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” because that’s your story too.

  19. Self Care is what gets me out of all kids of sickness. I’ve been doing things like taking a bath, reading, journaling, listening to music and cleaning for fun…. since I was a teenager. They have always helped me. It is hard now as a mom to actually put them into practice. I literally have to put it on my schedule!

    • There were years when my self-care amounted to: Always have a good book to read. It was cheap, portable, easy, and flexible. Now I’m still a avid reader, but I have the time to branch out the “self-care” regimen a little, and it’s something of a puzzle. Hats off to you for never losing sight of your own worth.

    • My condolences on the stuck feeling, but those outside forces DO come around. Bad bosses get transferred or promoted, nosy neighbors move away, the pastor who just doesn’t get it retires. Sometimes, co-workers or other family members are stuck with us, and there’s consolation and even joy in that.

  20. Obviously the classic sick system is hearing “I love you” when the actions do not correspond to the sentiment. I’m dealing with that now and I’ve just stopped believing the lie. We have some good times together but, thankfully, we are not living together so I have time away from him to indulge myself. It doesn’t hurt as much when I recognize “the lie”.

    • I sometimes have to ask myself, “Grace, what would you tell a friend who was being treated this way? Always expected to pick up the slack, the check, the dry cleaning? Well, listen to that advice!”
      But then there’s inertia, and loneliness, and all the monkeys, as noted above. Might be you’ve found a system that can be nearly well with some distance?

  21. Your hero or heroine needs to stand up to these bullies, even though it’s a challenge, and enlist help from someone else further up the chain who has influence on the bully. Or, he/she can play the game, too, making counterclaims about tasks that are as crucial as the bully’s and must be done. The key is to refuse to let them get away with such behaviour — nip it in the bud before it becomes a pattern. It takes courage and a strong sense of self, which aren’t always easy to come by.

    • You are so right. Set firm boundaries and then enforce them, and much baloney can be avoided. I, unfortunately, only learned to do this after long experience trying to be nice, helpful, responsible, loyal, and all that other overly-socialized horse manure. I lost sight of the need to look after myself in a work environment, because that employer was all too willing to hire somebody else when I was ready to throw in the towel.
      Then I started working for myself, and life improved a LOT.

  22. I’ve found myself coming to read the blog on Sunday afternoon the last few weeks only to find it not updated and being saddened by UA Grace. I’m glad to have you back.

    I work for the state in education. The word “sick” does not even begin to describe my job.

    Sometimes I think I create my own “sick system.” I take on too many things. I want to be more and do more than what I am. Today I looked at what it will take to add a short work out to my morning routine. As I looked at the fact I will need to be up at 5:15 AM, I’ll work a full day, workout again after school, and when I get home in the evenings I’ll have about an hour between dinner and bedtime; I seriously questioned myself. Is that really how I want to live my life? If I had a husband and/or children there is no way that schedule would work. And even sitting here thinking about it as I write I know I’m still going to try and make it happen at least until Christmas break. I’ve got no good sense.

    • I don’t envy you a job in the classroom these days, but I’m sure you’re making a very big difference in the lives of your students–a difference that will matter for a long, long time.
      And who knows, a micro-workout might give you some extra juice. All you can do is try it, and see how you feel. I know for you, the workouts are self-care, so hats off to you for trying to wedge a little more that into the schedule. Best of luck!

    • Thanks, Penney. This is another cover that has a Christmas color scheme without being a Christmas story. I like it–and that approach worked well for The Trouble With Dukes. Fingers crossed that it works for No Other Duke Will Do!

  23. I’m glad the blog is back, Grace!!

    I think everyone has been in a sick system at some point or another whether it was a relationship, a job, a school, or another situation —
    just like every female I know could, if they are being honest with themselves, post the “Me Too” that is currently trending. The real question is how many can say “Not Me”? Yet another sign of a very sick system that has quite frankly existed for too many centuries.

    I’ve had bosses, friends, and boyfriends who perpetuated the sick system. In some cases I sucked it up while at work, read a lot to decompress, and when the time was right found another job. I’ve ditched boyfriends (and a fiance) and some ‘friends’. I also learned to say No I can’t do XYZ. Through it all, I make the time to read at the end of the day. If I don’t have time to read, I have trouble falling asleep and often disrupted sleep because of disturbing dreams.

    • Reading is good medicine, it’s legal, it’s cheap, and mostly has no side effects other than better sleep, increased tolerance, lower blood pressure, lower anxiety, larger vocabulary, better recall, and greater knowledge… not that I’m biased.

  24. When work goes bad, the best thing I do is ‘slow down’ sort of like strikers did in by gone days. Do the work you can do to the best of your ability, and don’t allow pressure make you do otherwise.

  25. My best friend is in one of those relationships, and has been for 20 years. I just listen, sometimes gently chide her for putting up with some stuff and be there for her. There is a good chance nothing will change, and maybe there is something there that hasn’t been reveled to me. Can’t force someone to change.

    • That’s hard, to watch a friend struggle, and know that your best advice and offers of help will fall on deaf ears. Even so, the divorce rate in the US is pretty steady across all age brackets… except for couples over 55, and it’s the women who are initiating the majority of the break ups. Wonder what that’s about?

  26. I think that some of the medical insurance practices and procedures are a “sick system”.For example, someone I once knew had medical insurance through their spouse’s employer. The person followed the rules and went to see their Primary Care Physician and reviewed in detail their problems and concerns. The PCP stated that the patient should keep a log of the issues and symptoms for two weeks and then return for further consultation. The person did so and the PCP requested authorization for a specialist referral. Insurance stated that the PCP should review for another two weeks and offer palliative care to wait and see. Again the patient did so. This time the PCP called the insurance personally and demanded authorization and the insurance replied that it would need two weeks to review and make a determination. After the two week period, the PCP was authorized to run some advanced tests but still advised that authorization would be determined in another ten days. Before the ten day period ended, the patient was in the Emergency Room where that doctor asked the patient why they had waited so long . The patient was in no condition to respond so the spouse explained and that doctor just shook his head. The Insurance company then tried to state that the Patient was not in compliance because paperwork was missing but it turned out that the Insurance had not yet sent the documents to the PCP for completion. Fortunately the patient recovered and the employer changed Insurance two months later but this was a tragedy in the making. These people are intelligent, educated, hardworking people but their lives were almost irrevocably changed because of a “sick system”. I am just thankful for God’s grace that caused the spouse to take the patient to emergency and ensure that treatment was given. I am also thankful that the employer listened and took action. The employer is a small but ethical company. I sincerely hope that the people who run these unethical and sick insurance companies will be held accountable for their actions some day.

    P.S. I really missed you! Thank you very much for your great books! I am going to have to replace my copy of The Heir again. Gayle and Anna’s story seems destined to be read to pieces by me. Have a blessed week!

    • “Read to pieces,” what a lovely phrase.
      We could probably fill up a year’s worth of blogs about contradictions and frustrations of our for profit health care system. No system is perfect, but seems like every day ours gets another bad report card: Worst maternal death statistics in the developed world, ranked 57th in the developed world for infant mortality, most expensive in the developed world, most profitable in the developed world…
      But we’re learning, and I think if there’s one thing most Americans agree on, it’s that we need a better health care system. I’m not holding my breath…

  27. I was friends with a girlfriend who really didn’t know how to be a friend or what that entails.I kept thinking I’ll give her one more chance, until I had enough. I wish her well, but I just don’t have time for that.

    • Relationships take work. I’ve come across few people who didn’t get that memo, and like you, I eventually give up and move on. There are lovely books to read, and my readers to hang out with.

  28. Welcome back! I appreciate your thought provoking blog and read all the comments.

    Last year at about this time I sat in front of a judge in support of my mother who was asking for dissolution of partnership in an investment that had done nothing but cost money for over 30 years. Sitting across from her was the other partner, stepson to one of her best friends. He is friendly, charismatic, an artistic cabinetmaker and builder, faithful husband to a wife for over 40 years. Mother doesn’t want to die holding real property and 3 mortgages.

    Short of murder, it’s rather an extreme way to weasel out of what you called a “sick system.” The defendant is so well connected that 3 of 5 county judges recused themselves.

    It’s fun to read about villains who are bad to the bone, ugly to boot. It’s just as nice to read of handsome, well-funded, talented heroes and heroines who conquer their current issues in dramatic fashion. However, most people seem to be doing the best they can with who they are and what they’re up against. It doesn’t mean we’re not making mistakes, that we aren’t self-centred, misinformed or even mentally ill.

    Occasionally, the villain of one piece becomes the hero of another. He’s learned something, the situation is different and so is the supporting cast. Basil Trevelyn and the Comte d’Esmond (Loretta Chase) both have their own books. You gave “The Traitor” his chance, too.

    Good days, Grace. And to the rest of you, I love the window on your lives and experiences.

    • I hope your mom prevailed in court. Enough is enough, and handsome, charismatic, well-connected, et cetera apparently don’t add up to “financially competent.” Might have to use this guy in a book, and he won’t be the hero!

  29. Hi!

    Yup… I can relate… There are relatives who expect unreasonable things from me. The funny thing is that if I ever ask them for help with anything, it’s always a ‘how dare you ask me for help’ reply from them. It’s a one-sided relationship.

    I dealt with it by just ignoring them and not returning calls. So I don’t even have to wonder what they want from me. Thankfully, not all my relatives are like that- just one or two….

    • I’m mostly a Luddite when it comes to new tech. I’ll wait and see, then wait and see how the updates go. I still have the laptop I bought in 2003 with my first horse show money.
      But that caller ID thingie? A blessing from on high.

  30. I have seen a sick system in certain organizations that are made up of volunteers. The same people volunteer to run certain activities and the rest of the membership decides that these people will automatically run these activities ad infinitum. Eventually, the people become burned out, get too old or ill to continue, or leave the organization in defeat. While doing the activity, the membership gives superficial praise and criticizes any mistake. When the people finally can’t or won’t do the activity anymore, the membership first is shocked, then highly critical of the people for daring to put themselves first for whatever reason. The organization eventually runs low on members, because of this system. Some organizations actually fold.

    • Maybe you’ve run horse shows? You pretty much nailed the curve, and the other downside is those old guard volunteers who sidle out to pasture exhausted and unappreciated take the entire brain trust with them, as well as corporate history. When they go, the wheel gets reinvented, usually not as well, and much efficiency is lot.
      No, I do not manage horse show any more, and I don’t miss it, either.

  31. Dear Grace,
    Sad to say sick systems are a part of life (what a cliché!). I don’t know of anybody who doesn’t have them. Some more than others.
    Glad to say though, that human nature has always been able to deal with the sick systems we have to deal with everyday. For me, I try to find my “happy place”.
    – it could be a quieter place (like the bath) where I can get away from the noise and calm myself when I really want to riot
    – when a “friend” gets too difficult, I “unfriend” them for a while and look for another friend. Nasty I know, but its better than saying/doing something I regret later on
    – “escape” with my favorite book (hero/heroine) of the hour; that’s why I read your books
    – just to motivate myself I count my blessings (“for always there will be greater and lesser things” than what you have)
    – and if I really, really , really have to deal with it, I pray for strength to go through it.

    Sigh! Just talking about it helps.

    • I realized a few years ago that part of what I get from weekends is simply solitude. I have arranged my life so that I can mostly park the car in the driveway on Thursday evening, and not have to move it until Monday. Those three days without hearing another human voice are necessary for me to suit up and come out swinging on Monday. Now I wonder what I might have accomplished if I’d figured this out sooner.

  32. I have relatives who are trying to drag me into a sick system of being selfless in giving my resources to others who haven’t done as good a job at managing theirs. They want me to be responsible for them and their issues, because in their minds, I have nothing to worry about. I cut off and minimize all contact with them, because I don’t trust them in their obsession over my resources.