O Captain my Captain:

How on earth does one ever take charge of the creative process when it requires the input of others? Please help.

The specifics: I’ve written a novel. (Okay, actually I’ve written three. But I could imagine that someone might want to publish this one someday.) Various friends, colleagues, etc. have offered to read it and provide comments. Of those people (all of who have received it roughly 6 months ago), I’ve gotten responses from … one. Out of ten.

The jerkbrain has a really good answer to this: it’s such shit that nobody can finish it, and they don’t want to be honest, so I should just smash the computer and move on with my life and find something else to do. Preferably something where I can fool people into thinking I’m competent. Fuck my dreams. Fuck the work I put in. I’m bad at this and that’s that.

How do I silence the jerkbrain? Actually, more importantly, how do I actually get some useful feedback so that I can actually work on making it better? (That would go a long way towards silencing the jerkbrain, since it would give me something to actually work on!)

I’ve tried leveling with the people I’m the closest to, and asked them to commit to reading it and getting me comments by some specific date. And: radio silence from one, broken promises from two more. And some good news: regular updates from one about the life events that are keeping her from getting there, which is awesome, and keeps giving me hope!

— the next Bulwer-Lytton [or insert your least favorite author here]

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My friend and Agony Aunt colleague Robin “Miss Conduct” Abrahams has written an excellent piece that combines two of my favorite things: Better Caul Saul and boundaries. Kim Wexler, a character on the show, is a master of boundaries and you don’t have to watch to appreciate the piece.

Piny linked me to this great piece from Heather Havrilesky, “Can I trust my judgment around men?” It’s very relevant to our discussions of the
Darth Vader partner and how they come on so strong and magically at the beginning (bolding mine):

When you meet someone who’s charming and very intense and he immediately starts talking about long-term goals for love and marriage and kids, that’s a seductive thing. In my experience, that kind of intense talk can actually be a sign of trouble, a sign that the guy is trying to quickly correct all the mistakes of the past and award himself a “happily ever after” without knowing much about the person in front of him. The one time I met someone who talked this way, it was hard not to get caught up in it. So this is how it feels to finally meet The One! I thought. You both just know, immediately, that you’re meant for each other! After years of encountering caution and hesitation from dates and even boyfriends, I was thrilled to find someone who could recognize in an instant HOW GREAT I WAS.

Even once I discovered that he was newly separated and still reeling from his wife’s sudden exit, I didn’t give up. I didn’t recognize that he was handling his sadness by escaping into something new, something that HAD to lead to marriage to make up for what he’d just lost. Looking back, I can’t believe I could be so dumb. But at that point, I had never experienced that kind of confident intensity from a man. He was also older than me. After years of dating one man-child after another, I thought I was meeting a mature adult male for the first time.

Hello, 31-year-old me staying up all night on the phone with some guy who talked really big. Hello younger versions some of you, too. Jedi Hugs to our younger selves, and to our older, wiser selves.

There is a Washington, D.C. Meetup in the works for April 26. Details:

Washington, DC Meetup

Rubymendez and Flightless have arranged an event in DC.

Time/place: Sunday, 5pm April 26th at Dupont Circle’s THE BOARD ROOM (

They serve happy-hour-priced drinks from 5-7pm on Sundays, with board games for rent — EVERY board game you can think of! They don’t serve food, but they allow you to bring in food, or get it delivered, so hopefully all dietary needs can be accommodated. For instance, you could grab empanadas from Julia’s down the street and bring them over (we will have some bites to share!)

To find us: rubymendez will be wearing a rainbow winter hat; flightless has blue hair and will be wearing a railway conductor’s hat. Feel free to rock your own hats, rainbows, or zany garb! We’ll also have stickers or blank nametags you can customize as desired.

You can post on our DC Meetup thread in the forums if you have questions.

FEELINGSNOTE: I MISS D.C. IN SPRINGTIME AND JULIA’S EMPANADAS. Have the best time. If you’re in Chicago and you did your taxes already stop by the Awkward Meet & Geek tomorrow at Geek Bar anytime between 6 and 10 pm and say hello. I’m also reading at That’s All She Wrote on Sunday night, April 19, Great Lakes Tattoo, 8 pm, BYOB/Free admission.

Finally, we have traced the creator of the Riding-The-Nopetepus gif if you wish to marvel at its glory:

Animated gif of a girl riding an octopus and saying "nope!"

Commenter Dizzy, aka SPC Snaptags, has compiled and elaborated upon the Dude Social/Sexism Fallacies we were generating in the comments the other day, and added her own:

1.3 It is acceptable for me to put a down payment on your vagina without telling you that’s what I’m doing. It’s unacceptable for you to accept my gifts but not pay the price, which I didn’t tell you about

This has happened to me, and it is not fun. There were a number of times, particularly in the Army, where a male I thought was my friend would offer to do or buy something from me. It was usually something inexpensive or unimportant. Often, it would be something like a cup of coffee. I assumed he wanted to do something nice for me as a friend; he thought I understood that, when I accepted the coffee, I owed him sex. (I wish someone would phrase it like that—I’d love to negotiate what $1.98 of sex is).

Then, at some point, when he believed he had put in enough time and money and wanted his return, he would be furious when I refused to pay. To me, there was nothing to pay; if we were entering some kind of financial relationship, I expect to be told the costs up front. Trust me, if I had realized I owed Specialist Creepbag $1.98 of my vagina, I would have bought my own goddamn coffee.

I really like what Jennifer Pastilof is doing over at The Manifest Station with her “Dear Life” series. People write advice letters, Jen matches the letter writers with authors she knows, stuff like this happens. Thoughts: 1) Letter Writer, your cold feet are trying to save you from a miserable life. Stay cold! 2) “Sometimes you have to just put yourself in motion: do the right thing until it changes you,” is a hell of a line.

Two Chicago Events are coming up:

1) April’s Awkward Meet & Geek is on April 15 at Geek Bar Beta.

2) I’m reading at That’s All She Wrote, April 19. Venue is Great Lakes Tattoo, 1148 W. Grand Avenue, Chicago, IL.


Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m a journalist and also like to write short fiction in my free time. I feel weird saying this but I guess it helps with explaining the problem: I’ve gotten pretty good (part of the job) and I’ve done well in contests and such in the past, so I think it’s safe to say I’m becoming a good writer. I love getting critiques because they’re super helpful if given by a knowledgeable person.

Sometimes, however, someone very well meaning but who doesn’t have much experience writing will give me a critique that I know isn’t very good, but I know they meant well– the most recent time this is happening being with my boyfriend.

A couple weeks ago, he asked me if I would like him to critique a story I was working on. I didn’t think it through too much and said I’d love that, but the critique he gave back was really unhelpful and nonsensical at some parts. I love him dearly and he’s a great guy but I know he’s not the best at giving writing critiques. He continues to ask if I need help/want him to critique again. It’s super nice of him! But I know it’s not helpful at all. …but I don’t want to hurt his feelings by saying so.

This has happened with other people in the past as well. My question: how do I gracefully accept a bad critique someone’s given (bad not out of malevolence) and, if they ask, explain why I didn’t change what they said I should change? This is most striking with the boyfriend situation, since I see him all the time and since he reads my writing, he would know that I didn’t listen to his advice. I really don’t want him to feel bad for taking his time out to do something so nice either.


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JenniferP + Cat + Tweedy Hat

“Are you there, God? It’s me, Cat Furniture.”

A nice person emailed me to wish me a happy new year and also to ask: “What kind of self-care stuff are you doing these days, if you don’t mind me asking?

I don’t mind. Probably the biggest thing I’ve been doing is updating my professional CV, working on my professional portfolio and reel, and applying for some fellowships, conferences, and job opportunities in my field. I want a tenure-track job in teaching screenwriting and film/video production. As part of a local grant program, I’m also putting together a 12-week documentary course for high school students who have dropped out and returned to school, and will be piloting that this semester. I’ve also been compiling a lot of resources for my courses: clips, how-to guides, curated lists of tutorials, etc. Good for my students, good for my teaching portfolio. I guess that’s more “work care” than “self care” but I’d like to get paid more and have more stability and institutional support to do what I do, so updating and fancying-up the materials is in order.

The other big project/change is getting in a pool or on a treadmill regularly. I read Hanne Blank’s book about exercise in November/December, I joined the YMCA with my boyfriend a couple of weeks back, and together we’ve been going 4-5 times a week. It’s been weird – my brain can remember being an athlete and knowing how to do certain things once upon a time, but my sedentary, recovering-from-a-knee-injury body has been very much “ummmm…what?” about the whole thing until just this week when it’s been more like “Okay, I guess this is going to be a thing now (sigh).” Fingers crossed that the whole “Yaaaay! Exercise!” thing kicks in before March.

Over Christmas I marathoned all of Twin Peaks. I’m also watching movies. Recently:

  • Wild – Liked it very much, loved every minute with Laura Dern.
  • Ida – It was amazing. Heavy subject matter. Amazing.
  • A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night – If you like The Toast’s Misandrist Lullabies or want a Male Tears mug, this is the Iranian noir vampire western for you.
  • Dear White People – loved it. I thought it was so clever, funny, smart, and loving/forgiving of its characters while also being a reference-feast for film nerds.
  • Calvary – beautifully made and thoughtful.

Soon I will see: The Imitation Game, Selma, Two Days, One Night, Goodbye to Language, Big Eyes, Almost There 

Also I’ve been watching a ton of Werner Herzog, Les Blank, and Albert Maysles films on Netflix/Hulu/Amazon in preparation for some documentary courses I’m teaching. I’m especially interested in films like Little Dieter Needs to Fly vs. Rescue Dawn, Grey Gardens vs. Grey Gardens – films where a documentary was adapted into a fiction piece.

Other recent/winter/holiday projects:

  • Reading for pleasure
  • Seeing friends
  • Dealing with some mental health stuff (like, actually dealing with it, not just enduring it)
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Writing longhand in a journal every morning and making lists and then checking things off lists and sticking sparkly star stickers to the checked-off items
  • Planning a wedding
  • Pulling out all the art I need framed/hung up and getting it on the walls, among other habitat unfucking measures.
  • Culling the wardrobe of ill-fitting pants (not a metaphor), stained shirts, hole-y underwear, etc.
  • Misc. writing projects for the page & the screen.

What self-care kinds of things or new adventures do y’all have going on?



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