Hello again!

Rakefail

I am the rake and my inbox was the leaves.

Since we last spoke, I went home to New England to visit my folks, caught the edges of Hurricane Sandy in Boston (everyone in my family is safe and has power back, thankfully. I hope readers can say the same). I turned in some job applications for tenure-track film professor jobs, graded all the things, voted, started working on a feature documentary, started to dig my apartment out of the shitstorm of recent renovations, and finally called my doctor to try to deal with this 6-week cough I’ve been running.

I’ll be back to regular posting at the end of this week. In the meantime, I’d like to announce a few changes around these parts.

1. Alphakitty, PomperaFirpa, SexyTypewriter, ElodieUnderGlass & Cliff Pervocracy are joining us as semi-regular guest bloggers. I’ll be passing them questions roughly once/month, and you can also indicate if you want someone specific to answer your question. SweetMachine and Commander Logic are sticking around, and I plan to also ping Ensign Perception, General Expression, Xenu, and PFC Marie with the occasional question in coming months.

2. This past weekend I deleted all unanswered questions from my inbox. We’re starting over.

I realize that to some of you that might seem like a disrespectful and drastic solution, especially when you have been so generous with your stories and questions and the site would not exist without you. So, let me try to explain. Since the beginning of summer, I’ve been getting between 5 and 15 new questions every single day. Even if the site were my full-time paid profession, even if I wrote a post per day for the next two years, I would never be able to catch up with all of them or stay on top of the resulting commentstorm. The volume, which I recognize is a sign of the success of the site and the awesomeness of the community (good problems!), still meant some negative things for me. Namely;

  • I was trying to answer questions as quickly (instead of as thoughtfully) as I could and looking at them as something to “get through.”
  • I felt like I was repeating myself by choosing things that were easy to answer because it was too overwhelming to read through everything and try to choose something intelligently. Do I go back to a year ago (there are unanswered questions from a year ago) and try to work in order? Do I work with what just came in today? Do I ignore important, serious questions to answer “fun” things? Do I write back to people privately when I know I’m not going to be able to create a post? At what point does that stop saving time and turn into sending lots of private emails that don’t contribute to the blog? Do I email everyone individually and say “Hey, are you okay, is this still a problem?
  • I didn’t have time to find images and write captions, one of my favorite things about writing the blog.
  • I felt like my writing (and some of the comment moderation) was taking on a cranky tone that was serving no one.
Pike's Pond in Charlton, Massachusetts

This Henry David Thoreau-looking-#$@% is in the woods behind my folks’ house.

So. Your question, if you sent one, is gone from my inbox forever. But not from your outbox, hopefully. You are welcome & encouraged to resubmit. In fact, I literally have nothing to answer unless you do.

Going forward:

  • The additional roster of guest-posters should relieve the workload and bring some different and awesome perspectives to the site. I will hopefully get some mojo back and post more thoughtful answers and funny pictures again. Also, I plan to do more topic-based open threads like the recent one about holidays & family, where people can share stories and questions with each other directly. We’ll also have an open thread where letter writers can update us on how things worked out. Eventually I may put a forum in place with moderators chosen from the community where people can talk to each other, but I’m not quite ready for that step yet.
  • I really need people to keep their questions under 400 words. If you have a long, involved, complex situation, go ahead and write the whole thing out in a text editor and get it out of your head! Then please boil it down to the essentials before you send it. If in the process you find you answered your own question and don’t need to send it anymore, awesome.
  • Please do a quick search of the archives before submitting a question.
Tree in Bay Path Cemetery, Charlton, MA

Happy belated Halloween from this awesomely creepy tree in Bay Path Cemetery, Charlton, MA. The slate graves in front date from just after the Revolutionary war.

  • This isn’t a crisis hotline. People considering suicide, people suffering from the immediate aftermath or threat of violence, please get a trained professional into your life ASAP. Please. You are important, your problem is important, and it can’t afford to wait for me. Many hotline links and resources from around the world are collected in this thread. Here is a guide for finding low-cost mental health services in the U.S. and Canada – can you find something similar where you are?

Thanks always for being the best commenting community on the internet. Writing this site has been an amazing experience for me, so I hope these changes will restore some sanity to my life and make the blog more fun and useful for everyone.

94 comments
  1. sasha said:

    Welcome back! The redesign is Teh Awesome!

    • JenniferP said:

      Glad you like it! Thank you, WordPress Templates!

      • unlurking said:

        (Ooo, and threaded commenting, too– Sexy!)

        • JenniferP said:

          The new look for threaded commenting will either be awesome or the worst idea ever. We shall see!

          • It’s very colorful! I liked the minimal look, but I think this looks fantastic too. How deep does the threading go?

          • JenniferP said:

            Seven levels right now. Enough to have a bit of a conversation, but not enough to have one word or letter/line (I hope).

          • unlurking said:

            Replying. For science! (Because checking nesting levels & colors is totes science, right?)

          • I like it.

          • JenniferP said:

            Thanks, and thanks for helping out!

          • I love it. It makes it so much easier to keep track of where in a thread you are. Fantastic job!

          • Ali said:

            The coloured threading is a fucking miracle for figuring out who’s talking. LOVE IT.

  2. Simone Lovelace said:

    Welcome Back, Captain! I hope you enjoyed your well-deserved (and busy!!) break from Blogging. Can’t wait to hear more from you and the rest of your blogging posse. ^_^

    SL

  3. J_Mo said:

    New to the blog, and I love it already! Looking forward to seeing how it develops going forward!

    Rock on!

    (My BF’s family is up in Western MA. I love it up there!)

  4. Hurray! Unfortunately, now I’m tempted to write in asking my Favorite Internet People how they got so cool.

    IS IT THE SANDWICHES THAT YOU EAT

    ARE THEY FOR SALE

    • JenniferP said:

      I sent you a direct message on Twitter. Gurl, check your direct messages.

      Hint: WHAT SANDWICHES DO YOU EAT?

    • stentord said:

      You need a control group too. As a not-cool person I eat a lot of PB&J, so that is clearly not the magic sandwich.

      • PBJ has a different kind of magic. It’s the cure to seasickness.

  5. Bunny said:

    I wasn’t expecting a new post today, so this is a nice surprise! So glad you and yours are okay, and excited to hear about the new guest bloggers… the guests often have brilliant advice, so it’ll be interesting to see a variety of voices more often on here.

    I also want to chime in, as someone who had emailed you for advice to say that you don’t need to feel bad about deleting the backlog. Far better that you are able to enjoy what you do and that, as a result, people who write in get advice full of your usual wit and thoughtfulness, than that you burn out and lose the enjoyment you have for this.

    The good thing about having the submissions through the website now, is you can disable the ask page when the backlog gets large. 😀

    • JenniferP said:

      That last thing had occurred to me. 🙂

  6. Glad you are back! Good luck with the under 400 words thing.

    • JenniferP said:

      We are wordy motherfuckers here, and I am no exception. However, as soon as I can figure out how I’m putting a character limit on the ask-window. 🙂

      • Dammit, that was going to be my suggestion…

        Glad to have you back!

      • Hey Captain! So glad you’re back! I think if you just add the attribute maxlength to your textarea tag, you should be able to set a character limit.

        Example: sets the max number of characters to 10. I don’t think you can set a max number of words, but you can just estimate some number of characters for 400 words. Hope that helps.

        I’m looking forward to reading more posts and glad you found a way to share the load.

        • JenniferP said:

          Intern Paul is working on this exact thing for me as we speak, thanks! And thanks for the nice words!

        • Crap, I forgot that your comments except html tags, so anyhoo, that example was:

          textarea maxlength=”10″ in the brackets.

  7. So exciting! I’m glad you are back, and a fresh start is always a good feeling.

    Now if I could only reorganize my laundry so efficiently….

  8. Welcome back! Glad you and yours were not too battered by the storm. I’m still making up my mind about the new layout in general, but I definitely do like the new look for the threaded commenting.

    I’m actually amazed at how much work you are able to put into this blog despite all your other commitments. Someone once said to me “if you want anything done, ask a busy person”. Clearly you are that busy person… but don’t worry. I’m not going to ask you to do anything. 😉

    • JenniferP said:

      I’m still making up my own mind about the design, but it’s easy enough to switch to a different WordPress template. This design seemed both simple and friendly, and so far I like the giant red search window in a prominent place, and the way the colors echo the shield in the gravatar.

      Thanks for the good wishes! I had to draw some boundaries about where the blog fits into the rest of my life (and the rest of the creative work I’m doing and want to do) and my inbox doesn’t make me want to cry when I open it.

      • hippipdip said:

        It’s definitely easier to follow the conversation/comment threads with this template. I enjoy it, at any rate.

    • C.D. said:

      +1 on baroquemongoose’s “I don’t know how Captain Awkward does it.” Whenever I’ve had writer’s block in the past couple of weeks (essays! blogging! manuscript! ALL TEH WRITING!), I’ve been like “Captain Awkward manages to have a billion commitments and still write long, smart, cogent, super-awesome posts! GET THEE GONE WRITER’S BLOCK FOR I AM NOW INSPIRED!”
      And it helps! I mean, I am also looking for the awesome-internet-person sandwiches (they must be SOMEWHERE), but it still helps.

      I am also all for setting boundaries! Inbox-sadness is no good. And blog-anxiety/stress/exhaustion/burnout etc. is no better.

  9. Jenny said:

    Have you considered putting the crisis hotline disclaimer and suicide hotline links/info on the submission page? I’m thinking like a lawyer a little bit, but also that seems a likely place that someone in need of those services would see the information.

    Your boundary-drawing is inspirational and I hope you find a good balance!

    • Jenny said:

      FINE mostly I am just thinking like a lawyer.

    • JenniferP said:

      Very good call, thanks. I’ll edit it later.

      • Jenny said:

        My lawyer heart grew three sizes this day.

  10. TheJackdaw said:

    Welcome back! I’m loving the new site and I’m very glad you’ve found the blog boundaries you need to keep the place going and take care of yourself at the same time. I’m also very excited about the feature doc…

    As a PS, the London meetup went very well – so much so that we nearly got chucked out of a library for being too awkward and awesome! The Awkward Army is getting a rep.

    • Kate said:

      London meetup #2 is on the cards! I’ve found a venue & date, and am about to make the reservation & write the announcement email.

      Captain, if you’re reading this: do I submit a meetup via the box for asking a question? Or some other way?

      • JenniferP said:

        The box will work fine. Make “meetup” prominent somewhere!

        I really, really need one of you fine science folks to invent the teleport, already.

  11. J said:

    Delurking to greet and (sorry) nitpick. Your About and Support/Donate pages still have a note about submitting via email. I’m loving the new theme, though, and I’m pleased to “see” you again.

    • JenniferP said:

      Appreciated!

  12. Your roster of helpers is fantastic! I love reading what they say, and I especially love how their help will take some of the load off you, so all of us here in comment-land and letter-writer-land can keep enjoying the benefits of this community. Thank you for figuring out what you need and doing it!

    Huzzah!

  13. Colbey said:

    One suggestion for comment pages: In the old style, comments by JenniferP and/or the question answerer were distinguished. (Blue background, I think?) That was quite helpful for me in scanning long comment threads, and I’d miss it if we can’t have it anymore.

    • JenniferP said:

      I liked it, too. Don’t know quite how to accomplish that with this WP theme, but I’ll look into it.

      • me said:

        WordPress provides a separate class in the comments for the post author called bypostauthor. If you have access with this theme to edit the CSS (or add some CSS), you you change the background color on that class. Each author has their own class as well — yours on the above comment is comment-author-jpeep.

        You may already be on top of that, but I thought I’d point you in that direction just in case.

        • JenniferP said:

          Sounds like a job for Intern Paul. Thanks!

        • me said:

          And also welcome back! It’s great to see you again.

  14. seenonflickr said:

    Welcome back! And threaded comments, love.

  15. NessieMonster said:

    Welcome back Captain! So good to hear you’re getting things sorted out in away that suits you – that is after all what you keep telling us! Good luck on the job applications too.

    I also love the new design and am looking forward to the guest posts. Finally, fwiw, I’d be interested to see more answers to work-related problems. Lots of what you’ve written, especially about not having to decide careers while at uni, or with the minutiae of dealing with awkward co-workers, has been really useful prep.

    Many thanks for what you do here – you and the commenters are clearly made of awesome-sauce. 🙂

  16. My vote is generally against threaded commenting. If you are going to have it, seven levels is way too many. Whatever the number of levels you used to have in the old theme seemed reasonable.

    • JenniferP said:

      It was seven in the old theme.

      I’m going to experiment with this for a while and see how it works for me. Thanks for the feedback!

      Edited to Add: I agree, seven is too many. It takes us right into William Carlos Williams territory. I’ve knocked it down to 5 for now.

  17. Nice to see you back safely!
    I’m glad to see that you have some plans in place to feel less overwhelmed about this blog. It’s a great place but it’s no good if you aren’t enjoying writing or are feeling buried under novel-length letters.

    And hooray for guest bloggers!

  18. Quinrue said:

    Thanks for the update and good to hear on you setting the boundaries you need to set! I have to applaud it and I plan to use your example as inspiration to have a tough conversation with my Mom. Not sure if I like the new look yet or not, but it is still fairly simple and easy to read, so that’s the main thing for me!

  19. Denzi said:

    Quick question (not an advice question!): have you figured out a new policy on advertising meet-ups? Or is that something that should still get emailed to your Captain Awkward email?

    Love the new site scheme, and I’m glad that you are enlisting help and setting boundaries. *Jedi hugs*

    • JenniferP said:

      You can email it or submit through the “ask” form, either way!

  20. J-Dub said:

    Welcome back, Captain, and may the CA Reboot work just as smoothly as you hope it will! And kudos for getting Ms. Sexy Typewriter on the roster – I’ve been missing her blog, so I’m superduper excited to see her here.

    • JenniferP said:

      I was missing it, too! She’s been focused on other writing projects and not missing the entitled and really creepy people who sometimes decided that she was their Internet Girlfriend, but I’m glad that she’ll have an outlet back on the web.

      • Sofi said:

        She is excited, too!

  21. Elsajeni said:

    Hooray! I like the new design and the colorful comments page. (Has the font size gotten bigger in here, too?)

    One kinda nitpicky point — the categories and tags for a post now show up at the bottom, rather than just below the title. I think your FAQ page still says that the main warning system for content will be the tags on a post; you may want to change that.

    • JenniferP said:

      Thanks, I edited to say that tags/categories appear UNDER posts.

    • Jake said:

      So glad that you’re back! I think the new rules are great for all of us, you because then you get to manage your time, and us because it means you’re less likely to burn out and give up on blogging, so kudos on the boundary setting. Also, I really like the new theme as well. I just have one comment, related to Elsajeni’s. I notice that now the link to the comments appears at the top of the post. I find this inconvenient because it means after I read a post on the main page I have to scroll back up to the top to find the comments thread.

      • JenniferP said:

        Thanks for the nice words!

        For all the people commenting on the theme (not just Jake, but everyone):

        I did not “redesign” the site. This is a free WordPress.com theme that I selected after about 5 minutes of clicking on stuff to see how it looked. I felt like a change. I’m sure it has its quirks that people don’t like. The last one did. The next one will. I use free themes because I’m not a web designer.

        This is a post about boundaries, so let me set one:

        If I want design & usability suggestions, I will ask.

        Until then, it’s just stressing me out. No more, please.

  22. Welcome back! I’m super-excited about all the new guest-bloggers. 🙂

    • Ahhh, I didn’t mean that to sound like I’m not excited about you being back too. I just meant that they’re all awesome people, so I’m glad they will be posting here. I’m glad that you’re back too, of course, and that you’re doing what you need to do to take care of yourself and get your creative juices flowing again.

  23. daffodil said:

    I like the new style, I affirm your boundary drawing, I admire the pragmatic helpfulness of so many commenters!

    One more request, is there some way to add a “like” or “+1” or “upvote” clicky to comments? So often I just want to indicate “I agree with this and was going to say something similar but now I won’t” and don’t want to clutter the thread with “+1 you’re awesome” comments.

    • JenniferP said:

      Thanks for the affirmation!

      I prefer not to add that feature just now. Thanks for the rec!

  24. Tabitha said:

    I like the new layout. I was wondering if you were going to add ‘older post’ and ‘newer post’ links at the bottom of the comments? I’m currently reading some of the archives and I like reading the comments but I have to scroll back up again to move on to the next post. I feel really nitpicky but it’s going to be a pain on any posts with 100+ comments.

    • JenniferP said:

      Great idea.

  25. miss_chevious said:

    love the new look and love that you’re making this work for you. Boundary-setting in action!

  26. Myrin said:

    Hi Captain, so glad to have you back! Thanks for your efforts to keep the quality of your answers high and to not sacrifice that for mass, I think everyone will benefit from that.
    I’m also very excited for all the new bloggers, especially Elodie (with whose site I’m obsessed) and Alphakitty (with whose comments I’m obsessed). Looking forward to next week!

    [Oh, and something only tangentially related but I wanted to mention it: You had the tumblr of Boggle the owl listed in your sidebar until the link disappeared because the url changed. It can now be found here with its new url “boggletheowl”. I just wanted to say this because I found that site through your link and I’m loving it and wouldn’t want someone to miss out on it when they could have found the link here.]

    • JenniferP said:

      Added! Boggle is so great.

  27. I feel like I shouldn’t be bothering you with more commentary on the new lay-out, but here goes. I noticed in the last open thread (Social Coercion) that once I got down a good bit in the comments, the background started showing horizontal black stripes that got broader and broader and eventually the background is just black. That might be just part of the design, however at the same time some of the comments started to … ah… overlay each other? As in I saw bits and pieces of other comments appearing under the comments I was reading.

    This could of course just be because I have Ghostery and NoScript installed – they do tend to mess up stuff. I never noticed this in the old theme, though, so wanted to let you know.

    • JenniferP said:

      I cannot see this at all and suggest that it might be something about your system.

    • Myrin said:

      I just tried it out out of curiosity and was quite surprised to actually see the same thing happen! I thought maybe it’s got to do with scrolling down too fast but even after I tried very slowly the black stripes came up eventually. Maybe have to check out the settings, too.

      • JenniferP said:

        I am using a free WordPress theme.

        My best advice is for you to take a screencap and send it to WordPress support.

  28. Nice, welcome back! I sent a question in, but it’s not an isolated incident, so I’d be better off figuring it out myself.

    Best of luck with the transition to the new site and asks!

  29. Consider this another glad you are back and have some extra hands on board to keep things running.

  30. H.Regalis said:

    Ahoy Captain!

    Hope your break went well and best of luck on the TT jobs! You sound more than equipped to handle academia craziness and while I know nothing about film, I’d bet money you’re a deserving TT candidate ^_^

    For website stuff, would like to throw in that the new theme looks great and THANK YOU for just having a mobile theme instead of an m.yoursite.com; have been getting way too much of this xkcd comic lately and it’s nice to not have to deal with that.

  31. Cygnia said:

    Charlton!

    That’s not Brooks Pond in your water shot, is it?

    • JenniferP said:

      It’s Pike’s Pond!

  32. Kit Fox said:

    I may be stating the obvious, but this is an awesome real-world example of drawing boundaries, stating them clearly, and applying them in a way that is both practical and compassionate to all involved (including yourself). I hope it works out in the long run, but I found it thought-provoking in and of itself.

    Welcome back, too, and I hope the tweaking of the new design is going well.

    • Bunny said:

      Agreed! The Captain leads by example rather well, I think.

  33. MisMis said:

    Yay! The captain is back on watch!

    But I can’t say I really dig the new layout. Too distracting for me. Typography is also so-so.
    Maybe I’ll create a custom CSS for my beloved Opera browser with Univers for text, Akzidenz Grotesk for the headings, smaller sizes and weights and monochrome “colouring”. 🙂

    • JenniferP said:

      Knock yourself out! I’m sure it will look great!

      Someday I will hire a real designer instead of trying out free WordPress templates and then maybe I’ll ask people to critique the font choices.

  34. Pterinochilus murinus said:

    I like the new design. And I find the massive inbox purge strangely comforting: see, jerkbrain, it is possible to say “no, this is too much, I can’t do it all.”

  35. Felicity said:

    So glad you’re taking care of yourself — and us too, those sound like wonderful guest answerers! Hooray!

  36. pfcmarie said:

    SUPER reasonable boundaries here, with awesome tech enforcement.

    I am available for post pinch-hitting after mid-November (must tell, super excited, I am actually getting published somewhere and have to edit some stuff by mid-November which should be taking priority over internet, but, um, you know, tumblr). But ESPECIALLY available after mid-December because SCHOOL BREAK I have never known such sweetness. I will answer a MILLION posts for you over school break. Maybe not a million. Two?

    • JenniferP said:

      This is good news all over the place. Thank you! And congratulations/best of luck with your publishing opportunity.

      Edited to Add: About that tech enforcement

      • Bunny said:

        I like it! Clear, succinct and comes with bonus animal photo! Although now I may be tempted to keep checking it in case the animal photo changes…

  37. tinytop said:

    I for one totally dig the new layout!

  38. Bad Caregiver said:

    As someone whose question was deleted from the Backlog That Ate Tokyo, I can say it’s not a big deal. You’d mentioned the backlog before, so I kinda figured that getting a response would be a long shot anyway.

    I’ve fished my original question out of its hiding place. We’ll see if I can shave 100 words off by the time you’re ready for submissions. 😉

  39. ReanaZ said:

    I respect your write to format your blog however you like and to set boundaries regarding what feedback you will and will not entertain, however I found the massive interface changes + zero mention of said changes (or expectations around acceptable/unacceptable feedback) in any post + snarking and/or negatively responding to anyone who politely raised usability concerns to be pretty uncool.

    I think the “If I want design & usability suggestions, I will ask.” boundary upfront would have been useful; buried deep in the comments surrounded by lots of shutting-down of people who made suggestions/asked questions, made me uncomfortable and vaguely guilty-feeling for planning to chime in with usability concerns (out of love of this blog!).

    It is surprising and frustrating to me to see drastic visual change sans any warning or explanation, and disappointing to see it paired with reactive negativity towards comments folks had no idea were unwanted until after they made them. =(

    • JenniferP said:

      I didn’t set a boundary at the start because it wasn’t an issue for me at the start. I was not expecting so much feedback on the template and did not see it as a “drastic” change that must be announced.

      10 hours later, when the cascade of design feedback started to stress me out, I asked people to stop sharing it. Perhaps, as you suggest, it would have been useful to address the interface change and set the boundary more clearly in the OP. Perhaps if you’d shared yours sooner it would have been better received.

      But just because a boundary is expressed imperfectly or late doesn’t mean it’s not real. This one is real. And pretty mild, all things considered. I didn’t say “Everyone who gave design feedback is an asshole, I hate you forever.” I said, “It’s stressing me out, so please, no more.” I don’t think I’m obligated to cheerfully read, consider, and implement every helpful and caring hint that piles up. When I reached my personal limit, I said so.

      For anyone unhappy with the “drastic” interface changes: This is a free, very basic WordPress template. It’s been in place for less than 24 hours. I don’t even know if *I* like it yet. Every template (including the old one) has its quirks that people don’t love or that aren’t readily apparent until we use it.

      When I am back on some kind of regular posting schedule in a way that is workable and sustainable for me to produce content, I will re-evaluate and see how I like the interface. Maybe I will change the template back. Maybe I will change it to something new and cycle through a few looks until something clicks, or commission a full redesign from one of the many qualified web designers and usability folks in my brunching circle. I certainly don’t want to make the site less usable, but I’d like to make design changes on my own terms. Right now those terms are “free template, yay, easy to try out” + “zero time or ability to tweak CSS or plugins.”

      This seems like a good time to turn comments off on this post.

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