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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Oh my Captain!

I’m working at a temp data entry job, where I scan and index files prepared by another team. When I started this project, the supervisor told me to go to her if I had any questions, or noticed anything unusual. I’ve been doing that, and I’ve been catching a fair few errors. After about a month of this, the supervisor decided to point a couple of the more common errors out to the prep team, so they can avoid them.

When this was pointed out to them, they seemed wounded, said they were shocked to find out there had been mistakes, and said I should bring questions to them first, so they can correct them.

I’ve been trying that for the past few days, but it’s been going… weirdly…  Here’s an example.

I have three files, one each for Alice, Bob, and Carol. They put all three under Bob’s name. When I point this out, the prep team said that all three shared Bob’s ID number. This is incorrect. I know they know it’s incorrect, because they use the correct ID numbers elsewhere in the file.
I’m inclined to go back to just asking my supervisor, but I’m worried that the prep team will take offense again. If they wanted to, they could make my job really difficult. I feel like they don’t take anything I catch seriously, possibly because I’m considerably younger, female, and a temp.

Thanks for looking this over,

Not Trying to Make Trouble

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My friend told me a creepy story this weekend. A clean cut man with a clip board knocked on her door and asked her questions about one of her neighbors. He asked my friend if she knew the neighbor, and when my friend demurred because something about it felt off – “I just moved here, don’t know anyone that well” – he pulled out a picture of the neighbor from a manila envelope and was like “are you sure?” My friend held fast and eventually he went away.

She asked the neighbor (who she does know) about it later, and the guy is a stalker. Fun!

So, safety reminder time:

  • Just because someone knocks on your door it doesn’t mean you have to open it or engage with whoever it is. If you’re not expecting anyone, and they sort of catch you out as being home, “It isn’t a good time!” + ignore.
  • People who have some legitimate reason to be there will show you an ID, and (esp. for utility company) if you say “Mind if I verify that?” will be okay with you looking at their ID, writing down numbers, and hang out without protest while you call the company. Someone who gets squirrely about this is bad news.
  • Stalkers like to glean information anyway they can. Don’t give out information about your neighbors and/or coworkers to strangers. We are socialized to tell the truth and to be nice, and that’s hard training to overcome especially when someone catches you off guard, but “I don’t know” and “Why don’t you leave your information” are good stock phrases.
  • If you live in a multi-family housing situation, be a mensch about security. Lock doors and gates. Don’t randomly buzz people in. Walk downstairs and greet the pizza delivery person, don’t prop the gate or door open or let strangers into the building.
  • Creeps will often manufacture very good reasons they need to get into the building. “Your downstairs neighbor knows me, I’m early, can you let me in to wait for her?” or “I’m friends with your neighbor, and she said she was leaving a key out, but I can’t find it, and my cell phone battery is dead, can you help me find it” = NOPE. You don’t have to let anyone in. “Sorry dude, there’s a diner down the street where you can wait. What did you say your name was?

Signed,

A woman who used to be plagued by a dude who would drive to her house in order to look into her windows and jack off (true story!)

Hi, Captain and company,

Recently I was reading through your archives and I found a great discussion on how to deal with a parent’s significant other who co-ops all conversations into another round of ‘Who’s right-er?’ with the answer always being “me.” (of course I cannot find that question now to give you context)

You gave some great advice about how to disengage from the conversation, how to change the subject, and how to set boundaries with that person, and I’m wondering if you have any advice on how to take this a step further, with a group discussion where you are not being addressed personally, in which you are one of say, six or so, who does not agree with one person.

Because this all feels very vague and theoretical, let me give you an example:

I am a very liberal person in all aspects of life: political, social, and religious. I am part of an extended family who cares very deeply about these things in a much more conservative way. Most of my family is super cool and can accept that I disagree (while still thinking I’m wrong) and I’ve had good discussions with them about these issues before.

My uncle, however, is mean and loud about it. He says awful, hateful things about our president and social issues and most of the rest of my family lets him talk until he’s done, even though I suspect (and in some cases, know, like with my mother) they do not agree with him or the way he expresses himself. No matter what the group is talking about, he’ll turn it into a discussion of politics, religion, or social issues. As I am writing this I realize that he’s a bit of a missing stair.

I am usually the youngest family member in these conversations, and also a lady person. Leaving the room would mean that I don’t get to spend time with the other family who is there, like my grandparents.

How do I co-opt a conversation from the man who has co-op’ed it in the first place? I’m not as loud as him, nor as pushy, nor as heard in the family, due to my age.

Signed,
There Will Be No Third Term

Dear There Will Be No Third Term,

Hi! Your sign-off made me literally LOL, so, good work there.

I think the old response you are looking for is this one. Or maybe this one.

You’re not the hostess of these gatherings, so you have less standing to say, loudly, “How interesting, Uncle. Cousin, how is your landscaping project going?” and redirect the conversation of the whole table like Ye Dowager Countess of Olde. But one thing you can do is tune him the fuck out on the micro level, by turning to the people sitting close to you and saying, quietly, “Cousin, however did you grow this pumpkin?” or “Grandma, I loved reading about the new church choir in that last letter you sent, how is that going?” and starting up a murmur of side conversations. Do it quietly, so you aren’t challenging your uncle directly , but also rebel by visibly tuning out and physically turning your body away from him while he talks and focusing your attention solely on the person you’re asking.

No lie: It will feel incredibly rude and weird the first time you do it, but no more rude than making the entire group listen to his rants. Think of it as throwing a conversational lifeline to your neighbor. If they pick it up, you two can have a little side conversation. Others may see this and gratefully flock to it. Suddenly the overall subject will be changed, and Uncle will flail, as he will not quite know what happened. If they don’t pick it up, try it again with someone else. You can start small and sort of work your way up to it.

Uncle may attempt to turn the conversation back to himself, and he may pick on you in the process, like “How rude, didn’t you hear that I was talking?” If he just talks louder, or whatever, without picking on you, keep doing what you’re doing without comment. If he makes it about you, this is where the advice to Have The Argument, Already kicks in.

  • “Sorry, Uncle, you seemed to show know sign of stopping, and I really wanted to catch up with Grandma since I’m here for such a short time.”
  • “Wow, Uncle, I wasn’t aware that we’d hired you to lecture us for this gathering. I thought this was a family dinner, and that everyone is allowed to talk.” 
  • “Uncle, I really didn’t feel like arguing with you about politics, so I asked other people at the table to talk quietly about other things.” 
  • “Uncle, I kept waiting for you to come to the end of your point, but then 30 minutes passed, and I wanted to talk to Grandpa while he’s still with us.”

This is one you could deploy in the moment, or one you can ask your parents & grandparents about ahead of time:

  • “I don’t know how everyone else feels about this, but maybe it’s time for a No Politics At The Dinner Table rule. I know I get really fatigued by discussions like that, especially when I get so little time to see you all.” 

Others may be willing to adapt a “no, really, this rule is for everyone!” stance rather than take on your uncle directly. You may get some friction from your family around this, like, you’re the one making it weird. Stay strong and keep trying, little by little! There is *someone* else in that room who is grateful to you and who will pick up your conversational lifelines and throw you lifelines in return.

Finally, when you’re not all at the dinner table together, consider pulling favorite relatives aside and hanging out with them in twos and threes and volunteering for tasks away from the main action. “Let’s go on a nice after-dinner walk.” “We need more milk from the store. Grandma, want to come with me to get some?” “Cousin, want to stay out here with me while I clean the grill?” That way you get some quality time in without anyone having to make a scene.

Readers, what strategies do you have for rescuing a gathering from That Guy or That Lady?

Kate has sent the news about the monthly London gathering. New Yorkers, see the P.S.

May London meetup as follows:

Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, SE1 8XX near Waterloo station, 16th May, 11am onwards.

Colouring in again! Please bring stuff to colour, paper, pencils, pens, anything like that. Or just come & chat.
This venue is working out really well.

They sell food in a cafe (standard sandwiches etc.), but they also don’t mind people bringing food in from outside. There are several other local places where you can buy stuff as well. The excellent food market outside has loads of different food options, which can fit most food requirements, or you can also bring a packed lunch.
Meet on the fourth floor, outside the Blue Bar (go up in the JCB lift, lift 7, which is bright yellow and quite musical).

Here is the internal map of the Royal Festival Hall: http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/sites/default/files/documents/RFH_map.pdf

I will have my Cthulhu with me, which looks like this: http://forbiddenplanet.com/3950-cthulhu-baby-plush/ One time I forgot it but I will do my best this time, however if I forget again I will put up a sign. I have long brown hair and glasses.

The venue is accessible via a lift, and has accessible toilets. Waterloo tube station has step free access on the Jubilee line but not on the Northern line.

The London Awkward group has a Facebook page, which is here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/549571375087294/. There is also a thread in the new forums for saying hello.

My email is Kate DOT Towner AT Gmail DOT com

(June meetup will be on the 20th.)

Cheers,
Kate

PS: I am going to be in NYC from the 22nd to the 31st of May and I would love to meet up with people. If you’re interested please email me, or I’ve started a thread on the forums.

Enjoy the day!

Hi Captain!

I’m going to be going on a vacation with my family soon. We are visiting multiple countries in Europe. I have planned every detail of the entire vacation because I plan all the complicated travel that our family does. No one else knows how to internet and I’ve been on a lot of trips by myself and have a lot of experience with them.

The problem is my mom. My mom does not really like to go out, let alone go on expensive trips, but she’s going anyways because of the family culture and I already know she’s going to complain about everything. (She’s done it before, on other trips I planned.) I feel bad for her- we suggested to her that she stay home several times, but she refused- but I also feel very attacked and unhappy when she starts to criticize the things that I spent so much time researching so that everyone would enjoy them. When we went to Vegas she pitched a fit because she wanted to see ‘a show’ but didn’t want to go to any of the shows we offered to take her to. She does this- picks something, decides that she wants it, bullies everyone into going with her or sulks when people don’t want the same thing, or sees how expensive it is and decides she doesn’t want it after all. I tend to plan things very carefully, so it’s really annoying when she just decides to go off on some improbable side path. Now that we’re going to Europe, I don’t trust her not to decide that she wants to go to some random city in Italy and then sulk when it turns out that we can’t do that because we already booked our hotels.

I’ve already tried asking her in advance if there was anything she wanted, and her initial suggestions were impossible (I want to go from Paris to Madrid by train- and I want it to take three hours!) When I explained why that wasn’t really doable, she sulked and now refuses to give me any input at all. I put a lot of effort into planning these trips and I really want people to enjoy them. Do you have any advice on getting her to complain less or for helping me feel less anxious and attacked when she does complain? I know on a surface level that these complaints aren’t always directed at me, but I still feel very unhappy when I hear them.

Best,

Harried Planner

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