Live Chat Today

This summer I’m going to try resurrecting Live Chats on Fridays, where you can submit short questions on Twitter (@CAwkward, #AwkwardChat) or on Patreon for short quick answers in real time.

I’ll start answering at noon, Chicago time, today, so get your questions in before then.

I’ll turn comments on at the end of the chat – too much to keep up with all at once!

Update: Ok, comments are on. If you missed getting a question in, we’ll do this again next week in a slightly more organized way.

Let’s begin: 

Q: Hi Captain, I’m a 50 year old woman who’s divorced and widowed. I have been married twice, 25 years total. I’m widowed less than two years. Everyone (and I mean everyone) is telling me to get out there and date, but I have no clue. It’s been a mere 30 years since I’ve dated. Several issues in no particular order: all the men in my age bracket, plus some of the younger ones, seem SO domestic. All they want to do is settle down. All I want to do on a first (or second or third) date is just go out dancing. What’s the rush?

I’m on a couple of dating apps, and know how to navigate, but nothing much seems to happen. I get likes on the regular, and I get chatted up, but it’s really hard to meet in person. Is this usual, or not? Also, since I’m older and have assets, I’d tend to want a “living apart together” situation, where we choose to be together, but don’t live together. So many men seem to balk at this! What gives? And finally, I’m childfree, and make it clear that I don’t want anyone else’s children either. I’m of the opinion that a LAT relationship would be very respectful of any child if I ever found a man. It would mean I would never have to be a step-parent, and that child could get to know me if they wanted to. No pressure, no pretense of the happy blended family. I know what I want; I know what I need. I also know that I’m damn good partner/wife material. So why does this seem so uphill? Thanks, Captain. I really like your column and the work you do.

Cheers, K just K (she/her pronouns)

A: Hi K just K!

Short answer: I DON’T KNOW WHAT THEIR DEAL IS.

Longer answer: It’s probably going to take time for you to find someone who is both worthy of you and on the same page about what they want out of life. Your best bet is probably to pursue the things you’re interested in (i.e. if you feel like going dancing, go dancing!), nurture your existing friendships and relationships, keep dating & meeting people when that feels right and interesting for you, take breaks from it all when it feels like a slog.

If your preference is to meet up pretty soon after a few messages, keep making that clear – “I’m enjoying messaging with you, can we get a drink soon?”

If your preference is to keep things light/casual/not-physical for the first few dates, you can make that clear, too – “I’m having fun spending time with you, and I’m not in a rush – let’s just go dancing!” 

You’ve found long-term partners before, so you know how it works – the ones that will click with you won’t make feel like work. The rest is pure dumb luck and time.

Q: Hi Captain! Summer is coming (ugh, 80s in Boston today). Do you have any go-to things you do that are fun and awesome when the weather gets unbearably hot and muggy? I try for the free nights at local museums (a/c!) or indie film limited-run movie releases (more a/c! supporting artists!), but was wondering if you have any additional thoughts.

A:

  • The library!
  • Public pools!
  • Theater subscriptions!
  • Lecture series & readings!
  • Getting close to the water for the breezes!
  • Early morning walks before it heats up, after dinner walks after it cools down.
  • Befriend your local ice cream vendor.
  • Babysit the kids of your friends who have air conditioning. They get a night out of the house, you get to lounge on a cool couch with their Netflix subscription.
  • Volunteer for a political campaign or activist cause and hope their offices have a/c.
  • Find local cafes or bookstores or bookstore/cafes with social things – readings, book clubs, board game nights, etc.
  • When you’re sweltering, remind yourself that snowpocalypse is just around the corner.

Q: Hi Captain, happy Friday! Thanks for offering a live chat 🙂 I’m currently grappling with how to be assertive with my parents on a really specific issue. My sister graduated from her Master’s program a few weeks ago (from a top university!) My parents live out of town so we carpooled to the graduation, about 2 hours from where I live with my spouse. They were really weird all day and didn’t even seem happy for my sister. That evening, after we returned to my house, I took a walk with my parents. Things were fine until my dad used an ugly slur for fat people. My parents have a history of fatphobia and fat shaming (if it’s relevant, no one in our family is fat). I called him out on it calmly and asked him to stop because that word really bothers me and in fact reminds me of an ugly fight I had with someone else years ago. He became angry and said “well, I want you to stop saying ‘old white guys’! I’m an old white guy!” (my dad frequently uses this phrasing to make fun of other people in his age bracket, usually older, conservative people who he doesn’t get along with). I was thrown but made the mistake of trying to explain my perspective, and ask what I should say instead. Things got even weirder and he ended up using a racial slur for some reason. He was yelling, talking over me, and interrupting me. I told him I didn’t want to discuss it any longer because of what he was doing and he stopped. They went home the next day and I don’t know how to bring this up with them. I don’t want to let it slide like I would have in the past, and I know I want to confront via email, but just not sure what to say…. Thank you!

A: Wow what a “fun” way to celebrate your sister’s accomplishment.

You say you want to confront them via email, which makes me wonder, what was your mom doing during all of this? Was she going along with your dad or did she shut down or did she try to get you to make peace? If she wasn’t the aggressor, to me it makes more sense to email just your dad and say “Hey, I’m really not happy with our conversation the other day. It’s really not like you* to say ugly things like [slurs], and you and mom seemed pretty disengaged the whole weekend, which makes me wonder, is there something going on that I don’t know about? Where is all this coming from?”

He may double down, he may apologize, he may give you excuses – I really don’t know what will happen, and you might get more information than you ever wanted  – but I think asking questions gives you your best chance of giving him an opportunity to make it right. I think you did the right thing in the moment by shutting it down, and you should be prepared to do that if it happens again – “I can’t talk to you when you’re like this, let’s end this conversation and try again another day.” 

*Sometimes this IS like the person in question, but I’ve found it helpful sometimes to give people the “Please live up to my supposed good opinion of you” face-saving opportunity to stop sucking instead of the “Why are you sucking so hard right now” version. For more, see this guest post by Valerie Aurora.

Q: Hi Captain! Thanks for sharing your wisdom! I am about to spend the holiday weekend with my husband’s extended family. I need some help mentally checking myself when it comes to my MIL. Her family seems to have the “fond exasperation” down when she behaves badly (or just oddly). Since having my baby/her first grandchild, and thus hosting her for long weekend visits, I’ve gotten into a habit of using those behaviors of hers to reinforce how I don’t like her. I could use help stopping that negativity train, not only to improve my relationship with her and her children (who have picked up on my animosity), but to help me matter-of-factly reinforce boundaries when she’s determined to cross them. I’m not trying to repress how I feel, just want to stop feeding the beast, so to speak, which is hard to do in the moment! Thank you!

A: Could you:

  • Focus on the people you really get along with and want to see, and mentally reframe the visit that way? Not “ugh, three days with MIL” but “Oh good, I get to see ____ and _____!” 
  • Take advantage of the opportunity of free enthusiastic Grandma babysitting and get out of the house to go to the movies for at least one of the days.
  • Ask your husband run interference (“Dude, don’t leave me alone with her for more than 1 hour”) and be the one to gently correct her when she does something weird, like, “[Mom], you know spouse doesn’t like answering personal questions like that!” 
  • Practice saying “Thanks, I’ll think about it!” instead of arguing if she gives you intrusive advice (You will think about it and not do it). This can deflate difficult people who are expecting an argument, they have nothing to latch on to and if they escalate they look like the asshole.
  • Choose your battles. Presumably she raised your husband and his siblings to be alive and still talking to her, so she’s probably not gonna accidentally murder your baby if she does something that’s not exactly what you would do or the way you would do it.
  • Find three safe topics of conversation – at least one of those should be something she is the expert on and you are not, where you are asking for her perspective. “What was husband like at this stage of being a baby?” “What kind of ridiculous parenting advice did people give you when you were a new mom?” 

You got this, it will be ok.

Q: A friend is getting harassed by their abusive ex and abusive ex’s spouse. They are claiming friend fakes their serious chronic illness and the shitty things they are currently going through, and are accusing my friend of stealing money and lying. How can I help without fanning the flames?

A: You’re probably doing a lot just by believing and listening to your friend, and I presume you’re not trying to be friends with these jerks and inviting them to stuff or trying to middle-child some kind of faux peace between everybody, so, good! When and if you encounter these rumors in the wild, be the person who says “I know all the people involved in this, and x is completely untrue.” 

Q: Some of my male colleagues (tech company ofc) are frequently kind of low to mid-grade sexist — jokes on the theme of “lol women amirite” and talking about how they like Jordan Peterson. I feel really uncomfortable (I WORK WITH MISOGYNISTS? WHY.)

But I don’t want to confront them personally because I am new, do not want to be Funnyletter Who Hates Jokes, and most of them outrank me. WAT DO. Do I talk to my boss? Suffer in silence? Why is it okay for them to say that stuff at work???

A: Misogyny like this is so exhausting, I’m sorry.

Let’s talk about “confronting” and what that could mean.

There is “Bro, stop telling sexist jokes near me or I will have to talk to HR about you and nobody wants that.” 

Then there is “I don’t get it. Why is that funny?” “But women are not like x, so, what are you trying to say?” “You know I’m a woman, right? Why would you say that?” “I get the feeling that you have not worked with many women before now, and that’s not your fault, but could you like, pretend that you know better than this, at least when I’m around?” Like, make it very boring and unfun for them to make these jokes around you. Be Funnyletter Who Hates Jokes. It’s okay!

There is also “LOL Jordan Peterson, isn’t he the guy who doesn’t understand lobster biology and tells young dudes to clean up their rooms and take showers? So, did you start taking showers and cleaning your room yet?” 

“Your sexist ‘comedy’ is really groundbreaking and original. Do you have a YouTube channel I could not watch?” 

I think these dudes are testing you, and they would say they are testing “how well you can take a joke” but really they are testing how compliant you’ll be and it’s important to shut it down now when you have being new on your side. It’s okay to review your company’s harassment policy, ask your boss “Hey, how do I handle the constant low grade misogyny I’m dealing with, I want to be a team player but I’m part of the team, too, what has worked in the past?” And I guess it’s never too early to start documenting.

Q: Hi Captain! How do I talk to my partner’s sister about her boundary issues? She’s the planner of the family. She has tried to decide where we should live, asked if their brother could stay at our house (sure, but why didn’t he just ask?), informed me that their brother will be moving in with my partner when I go away to school (first I’m hearing of it, cool). She’s an odd duck with a good heart, and I have no anger towards her, I just want her to stop planning my life. I’ve told my partner each time it’s happened that it’s not cool and he needs to stop making big life plans without involving me. He is getting much better at that, and I know it’s a big change that won’t happen overnight. They’re a very close family and it’s not my style, but they’re happy. But how do I broach it with her? How do I say, “hey, I like you just fine, but you really need to stop deciding how other adults should run their lives.”?

A: I think you’re absolutely right that it’s on your Partner to get more comfortable saying “Cool Plan, Sister, but you know it’s not a go until I check with [Yourname], so, hold off until I get back to you.” It’s very likely that the sister thinks that your partner IS checking with you before he agrees. As for addressing her directly, you’re very close to the right script, and it’s something like “Sister, I know Partner said he was cool with [Plan That Got Made Without Consulting You], but actually, that doesn’t work for me, sorry. I love that you’re a planner – I’m one, too! – so when stuff affects me, I want to be included in the discussions and decisions right from the start.”

Q: How do I ask my intrusive parents to stay in a hotel when they visit? They’ve always stayed in our guest room and my husband and I can’t do it anymore.

A: You wait until a visit is in the offing (no sense stirring things up until it’s actually necessary) and you say some version of “I know you usually stay with us when you come, but that won’t work for us this time.” If you can afford to pay for the hotel, that might sweeten the prospect, like, “So, we found you a hotel room nearby.” But if you can’t, it’s still ok to make this request.

You might get lucky, they might be relieved. If they aren’t relieved (likely, since you describe them as intrusive), and they want to know why, or kick up a fuss, it’s okay to tell them “We love seeing you, but we’ve figured out after a few visits now that it’s less stressful/much more fun when everybody can go to their own space at the end of the day.” And if that doesn’t do the trick, it’s time to have the big argument about their specific behavior that you’ve been trying to politely avoid. I had to have this argument with my Dad after (true story!) he started opening all my kitchen drawers and commenting on how they were incorrectly organized and also (true story!) opened all my roommates’ bedroom doors to try to figure out which room was mine and if it was messy. Thankfully they were not home and not naked.

You can love people and not be suited to sharing living space anymore.

Q: How does one find the energy to work on side or passion projects while holding down a full time job? I think part of my problem is I focus a lot of my energy on therapy (which I attend twice a week). I am in a good space treatment wise for my anxiety and depression but I need this time and space in my life. I am great at planning out what I am going to do after work but by the time I get home all I really want to do is eat dinner, watch TV or read and go to bed. My weekends are full of chores, seeing friends and just resting. I feel so guilty about this problem because my art and writing are supposed to be things I love to do but I never get anywhere with it. How does one find the mental space and time to work on hobbies that have a more challenging starting point?

A: Is it cliché to recommend The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron? She has two practical suggestions for jumpstarting stuck creativity: 1) Morning Pages, or, a daily practice of writing three unfiltered pages in a notebook every morning when you first wake up (the website 750words exists to help for people who prefer typing) and 2) having a weekly Artist’s Date with yourself where you do something to connect with the world and your creative self. This could be going to an art exhibit or a reading or concert something like grabbing the prettiest fall leaves off the ground in the park. The morning pages are for discipline and a daily habit, the artist dates are about making room for pleasure and fun and about starting to carve out time that is just for you and your creative self. The dates don’t have to be tied to your specific discipline and they don’t have to be “productive” in any sense, but one rule she has is that you should do them alone and not use them as social time.

I go very long periods without doing either of these things but I always come back to them and I’m always glad I did.

Ok, that does it for today! Thanks for all the thoughtful questions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

56 comments
  1. Tiny Orchid said:

    For the last poster – is there a space that’s not home that you could do your writing/art? The part where you mentioned, “by the time I get home…” struck me. I know, for instance, that if I go home, I’m not going to make it to the gym, but if I go on my way home, then I don’t have to break the home inertia.

    There are some “drop in and write” events at my local coffee shop (Farley’s East if you happen to be in Oakland) where you pay $5 or $10 and sit in silence with everyone else who is looking for creative company. I wonder if events like that might also help to push past the challenge of the startup point.

    • This! I know this is a big reason why write-ins during NaNoWriMo are so good for me. I’m not at home, and I’m surrounded by other people who are also focused on writing. Silent support can be so helpful!

    • Clorinda said:

      It me! I am a semiprofessional writer (two books published) and I CANNOT work at home. Go to a coffeeshop, pay for your seat with a large coffee and an even larger tip, and stay off the internet. Home just has too many cats and a television, and I can’t.

    • Thanksforallthefish said:

      This! I have shelves of artistic things I don’t use. I want to use them! I love it when I create!

  2. Audrey said:

    Awesome answers Captain!
    For the last one about wanting to go home, what works for me is on days that I want to work on stuff, I don’t go home. I either eat out or pack a dinner and go to a coffee shop to work. To me home is not my office it’s my sanctuary, and I get a lot more done if I don’t go home.

    • Audrey said:

      Tiny Orchid beat me to it! – additionally the library is a great place to work if you want something free.

      • +1 for libraries! I wrote most of my second book in my city’s main library. There’s a “no cell phone zone” with a long counter and a lot of plug-ins. Along with people who were doing homework, playing (headphoned) games or doing who knows what, I sat and got loads of work done every day.

        Sometimes when I write at home my jerkbrain convinces me that I should be doing other things (laundry, cooking, whatever). At the library, I can do only one thing. Bonus: I can reward myself with new books before I leave.

    • Anon said:

      My home is also my office for after-dayjob work (I require a non-portable setup). One trick I use is setting sensory associations for work time; I light some particular incense or a scented candle, make a particular type of tea, and put on a particular type of music – doesnt matter which you use as long as it’s consistent.

      It can be difficult to force myself to work sometimes, but it’s often easier to start the pleasant rituals associated with working – and once the right smells/sounds are around me, I am usually in the mood to work.

      If not, I give myself a half hour to attempt to work. If I end up sitting in procrastinating, executive dysfunction paralysis for that half hour, then I let myself off the hook and go do something else. If I do only half an hour of work and give up, thats ok, and if I end up getting in the zone and getting stuff done thats good too.

      Love and jedi hugs to anyone else working a creative job and supporting themself with full time work too. It’s a lot.

      • Pam said:

        I love these ideas.

    • JustKate said:

      Jean Kerr, author of “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies” as well as a whole slew of Broadway plays, was also a mother of 6 (!), and she claimed that in the early days, she used to write in her car, the reason being that otherwise, she’d find a reason to do pretty much anything besides write, up to and including reading the back of the cereal box. As she put it, ”There is nothing to do but write, after I get the glove compartment tidied up’.” But the coffee shop or library sounds more sustainable. 🙂

  3. I’m only 40, but I’m freshly out of a marriage and looking to date again, and I send much solidarity to K. One thing I’ve had good luck with is being very, very clear in my dating profiles, about what I’m looking for. I’m not at all interested in settling down, and it seems like 40-year-old men who don’t already have them, want wives to make babies with. So my profile has a whole paragraph towards the beginning that clearly states I’m CFBC, and I’m not looking to settle down, and I’m not even necessarily looking for a boyfriend in the traditional sense of the word, just want to make my life more awesome by having more awesome people in it. I’ve had some interesting conversations, met some people of varying awesomeness, and am generally having a good time. I wish the same to K.

  4. johann7 said:

    That Twitter thread refuting Peterson’s BS is glorious! Thanks for the link!

  5. OMG, thank you so much for the Artist’s Way recommendation at the end! It’s an excellent reminder that I am just generally happier when I am doing my words and I should really get back into it.

    • Ariaflame said:

      It didn’t work for me, I got to the chapter about naming 3 people you looked up to as a child, could only think of one, cried a lot and gave the book away. I still do the equivalent of morning pages though, though for me they’re 750 words and I do them at night at 750words.com

  6. vivinator said:

    I’m the one who asked about my parents staying in a hotel. Thanks for the scripts!! I’ve been having The Argument with my mom for the past few weeks so hopefully it won’t come as a surprise when I ask them to stay in a hotel.

    • JenniferP said:

      You’ll probably fight about it up until and during the visit and then they’ll realize, hey, hotels are nice and it’s good to have quiet and privacy at the end of the day and it will become the new normal.

  7. Friday said:

    Regarding misogynistic comments, what worked with me in the past was:
    “I know you are saying this as a joke, but you do know that some people would not think it’s funny and you could end up in HR. Be careful dude”
    (Some people=me, could=most definitely)
    I work in a very male dominated industry and this works every time. It allows them to save phase but the message is there

    • Thistledown said:

      I used to work in an almost-all dude lab that favored “edgy humour.” I thought some of it was fine & funny, but it would inevitably go too far for me. If we were all standing around joking and someone said something that crossed a line, I would just say, “I need to be somewhere else right now” in a sort of bored/pained tone and then walk away. It worked wonderfully because I could still participate in fun coworker chats, but feel comfortable noping out at any time. They mostly just thought it was funny and would go back to their conversation. I’m not sure it would work with an actively hostile crowd, but it worked really well for me.

      • S said:

        Yeah, I have done something similar. When my bossy and a former senior team member would “bro down” i would say things like “I feel like I shouldn’t be here for this conversation.” or “Should I leave? This seems like it’s not a work conversation.” I only had to do it once or twice and they cleaned it up.

  8. Funnyletter Who Hates Jokes said:

    Thank you so much Cap.

    You know it occurs to me that anyone who does try to make out that I am Funnyletter Who Hates Jokes is going to look like kind of a dumbshit because I publicly like and make jokes at work ALL THE TIME. It just so happens that none of my jokes involve mocking groups that are underrepresented in my field.

    So I guess my prepared response to “You can’t take a joke!” is a straight deadpan “No. I cannot.” because everyone already knows that’s not true, and *that’s the joke*.

  9. To LW#1, my CFBC spouse and I started dating when the child of my first marriage was a tween. And since we both had our own homes, and the home I shared with my kid was pretty small, we didn’t move in together until after my kid started college. That is, we didn’t start living in the same house until we were empty-nesters!

    So, you know, everybody’s mileage will vary. But kids do eventually leave the house, and if you’re dating men who are similar to you in age, I can’t imagine that many of them have kids who are still toddlers (and have a dozen years or more before they take off). It would have been a shame if my second Mr. Glomarization had decided to categorically turn down our first date just because I still had a kid at home.

    • Anon said:

      I politely disagree. I dont think that LW needs to change their comfort level about being a parent (or parent-like figure). It’s ok for them to have and act on this preference in the same way it is ok for someone to choose partners because they do want kids in their lives.

      I am glad that your relationship with your partner worked out and that this wasnt an issue! But like you said, YMMV, and I think that LW was pretty clear about their particular mileage.

  10. Guildenstern said:

    LW #2, besides the Captain’s great general suggestions, here are some Boston specific things that involve A/C or cooling off:

    For free:
    Harvard Art Museum and Natural History Museum are free on Saturday mornings for MA residents. If you live in the Boston area, enjoy going to museums, and haven’t seen the glass flowers, definitely do this; they’re incredible, beautiful, and unique.
    The MFA and Gardner Museums are part of Bank of America’s Museums on Us program (free the first weekend of each month if you have a BoA card). The original Gardner doesn’t have great A/C, but I can’t miss an opportunity to plug it.
    All the branches of the Boston Public Library, especially the main branch, which was just renovated. (I also love the Brookline Village branch of the Brookline Library, which is lovely and has a great DVD section and almost all of Ngaio Marsh’s mysteries.)
    Also, be aware that the BPL has museum passes, so if you plan ahead you might be able to reserve one to get free or discounted tickets to a lot of local museums.
    There’s also a “free fun Fridays” program in the city over the summer where each Friday a different set of attractions is free.

    Not Free:
    The New England Aquarium. (The recent renovation is great, especially the new octopus tank.)
    Brattle Theatre membership (if you got to more than 8 movies there a year, the membership is actually cheaper than buying individual tickets.)
    Go to a show. There are a lot of great theaters in the Boston area. The Huntington Theatre Company has deeply discounted tickets if you’re under 35 years old, and they show a pretty good range of shows. The Wilbur brings in a lot of great stand up comedians, etc., etc. ArtsBoston is a good resource for finding live performances.
    Go on a whale watch. It might be hot on land, but once you get out onto Stellwagen bank, it will be much cooler.

    Signed,
    Someone who has lived in Boston for 9 years, hates breaking a sweat, and is a total cheapskate.

    • Betsy Lawlor said:

      Also in Boston, from someone who grew up nearby:

      Free:
      Duck-watch In Boston Public Garden very early in the morning. With mist rising from the pond, you can watch Mr. and Mrs. Mallard and their children Jack and Lack and Mack and Nack and Ouack and Pack and Quack (from Make Way for Ducklings).

      Not Free:
      Ride on a swan boat as soon as they open in the morning, also in Boston Public Garden and depicted in Make Way for Ducklings.
      Visit the Boston Museum of Science. Besides AC, it has many hands-on exhibits. My very favorite family outing as a kid, and I still learn things there.
      Visit the top of the Prudential Building for amazing views and AC.

      Not sure if free or just cheap:
      Boston Pops concerts at night. Take a picnic.

      Wish I could join you!

      • cathy said:

        I want to go to Boston and see the ducklings!

    • Lirael said:

      Also, go to Toscanini’s! JP Licks gets hyped a lot in Boston, but I think Toscanini’s is much better. They’re currently located in East Cambridge, since their Central Square location is closed temporarily because of construction.

  11. Thanks for posting these questions and answers, particularly the last one. When The Artist’s Way first came out, I didn’t are because I was living an artistic life. Now I’m trying to find my artistic self again, while working in very unartistic insurance, and maybe it’s time to read the book. I like the suggestion in the comments about associating smells and sounds with being creative time.

  12. Inahc said:

    For the last question – you mention feeling guilty about not having the energy for your side projects any more. Maybe mention that to your therapist? I’ve been there, and beating yourself up about it just makes for even *less* energy to do things with, and less ability to enjoy anything. Hopefully the advice here helps you get back into it, but if it turns out you really don’t have enough spoons, that’s not some kind of moral failure. You’re not a bad person for not magically having perfect health and boundless energy.

    (Btw, I recently started sewing again! Yay! 🙂 … And then I stopped, but that’s okay, I have to take these things slowly like that.)

  13. Clarry said:

    For finding time and energy for passion and art: My big practical suggestion is a kitchen timer.

    I come home. I don’t have energy. There are a hundred other things to do calling for my time and attention. I dream of spending an afternoon happily and energetically on a project, getting into the flow, devoting myself to it. At the same time, that seems nice, it also feels daunting. What if I waste the afternoon and I don’t get into it? What if I waste all that time? Who has an entire afternoon anyway?

    Answer: The timer. I come home, don’t feel like I have much energy, so I make a deal with myself. Can I devote a half hour to art? Maybe I’m feeling great and think I can spend a whole hour. Maybe I’m realistically only looking at 15 minutes. My usual block of time is 30 minutes, but I’m fluid on it. I make the deal with myself each time individually. It’s not a resolution to spend an hour/day for weeks. It’s just a deal to spend 20 minutes right now.

    Then I set the timer for 20 minutes (or a half hour, or an hour or whatever), and– this is key– I turn the timer around to the wall so I can’t see it counting down. No other clocks or watches so I can check on the time. If I’m outside and the timer is on phone, I put the phone in a pocket and not where I can see it. Then I get into it. I write and paint and sew so I write or paint or sew for 20 minutes. (I also like writing in a spiral notebook on paper since my word processor is on the same computer with the internet. If I had a separate device that could not also be a phone and an internet connection, I’d use that.) Sometimes I’m working on the continuation of a project. Sometimes I just playing, but whatever I’m doing, I do it only for the amount of time I decided on originally.

    The next part is key also– When the timer goes off, when the thing goes beep beep beep, STOP. Stop even if you’ve gotten into it and feel like you could keep going. The idea is to make a deal with yourself and keep your promises, not to trick yourself. If you trick yourself, you’ll come to see yourself as untrustworthy the next time. Stop and do something else for a while even if it’s only one chore, one errand, one time checking your messages, or a bathroom break. When you’re done with the break, make a NEW deal with yourself to see if you feel like another half hour. Or just stop for the day and go to bed.

    There are 2 advantages to the method for opposite problems. One is the one I referenced above where you want to get into that flow, that creative place where everything is going right. That’s terrific but likely not achievable on a regular basis. By using a timer, you relieve yourself of the pressure to put out fantastic work every time you sit down to do it. When the timer goes off and you stop, you stop in an optimistic place that makes you look forward to getting back for another session later. The other is for when you’re not making progress, feel like everything you do is crap, and are having trouble concentrating. When I’m in those moods, I realize that I can stare at a blank canvass for 15 minutes, and then the 15 minutes will be up, and I won’t have to do that any more. The timer works for both.

  14. Jane said:

    Re: the last question — this is a problem I have struggled with! A lot!

    I think if everything is generally going okay for it you, the Captain’s advice is awesome. Being productive is Not Fucking Easy, and a lot of the creative world seems predicated on the idea that the Worthy are discovered by forcing everyone who’d like to do something artistic to run a gamut of 12-hour workdays. This is crap! We are all worthy of making art, even if we don’t have 12, 8, or even 4 hour of work in us a day!

    But okay here is a small additional thing that may or may not be relevant to you: try to check your life for big stressors that are sapping your will to create. I say this because I personally am super ace at avoiding my emotions until I am safely away from them, and when I look back at periods where I was making almost nothing I was spending a lot of energy avoiding something that made me deeply unhappy. I lived at home and worked in a nearby city for all of 2015. I started work at 6:30 AM, got off work at 3:30 PM, drove home by 4:00, and was usually in bed by 4:30 PM. For ten months I did NOTHING outside work, except sleep. In retrospect I was avoiding my whole life — I had one last requirement from my master’s hanging over me, and I was stressed and unhappy about living with my parents. This pattern has repeated itself since then, whenever I’m living with people who stress me out —I start sleeping a lot to avoid dealing with them. When I’m living in a place where I feel safe (whether that’s alone or with peeps who I feel comfortable around), my productivity still fluctuates, but it doesn’t take the same hard dive into nothing.

  15. Clarry said:

    When it’s 80 degrees in Boston– Historical Society museums and programs. Walk around an old house with old stuff in it listening to a docent talk about the old ways people used to do old things. Historical societies are somewhere between museums and libraries and often overlooked, but they’re great.

    • Seatides said:

      As someone who works in historic house museums in Boston, yes! Please! Come visit us and take tours! However, many historic houses are extremely stuffy in the summer–to protect the objects inside the house we can’t open the windows, and so there is often little to no air circulation. Many places will put electric fans in the rooms, but that’s about it…

      (The temperature inside my current house is roughly what it was outside yesterday. It’s quite pleasant in the spring and fall! Summer and winter… well, the adjective I use most often is “authentic!”, which is both a blessing and a curse.)

  16. Ainsely Stibribbons said:

    For the last poster, it sounds like your way of addressing this problem is to worry and wonder whether you should quit therapy. It sounds like you should table that question, since you’ve decided therapy benefits you. I think the Captain’s idea of a writing date is great–you could even set a weekly appointment that mirrors your therapy appointments if that structural symmetry would help you. Key advice for your writing date is that it’s a hundred percent okay to sit there and look at a blank page (as long as you don’t pick up another activity) for the duration of the writing date. You are probably dancing with the variables of having time/having energy/wanting to work at times when you feel inspired/not wanting to waste time writing when you’re uninspired, and you can make lots of headway by REMOVING the latter two factors from the equation. Start congratulating yourself for keeping your writing appointments even if you don’t write anything. Start congratulating yourself even more when you write anything, anything at all. And trust that all of this non-writing (as long as you don’t pick up another activity!!) and bad writing will lead you forward in your craft. Good luck!

  17. Clarry said:

    For being 50 years old and preferring to go dancing– Contradances and folk dances, the sort where everyone is in a line or circle so there’s no need for a partner. It’s fun, it’s active, you meet people, but there’s nothing date-y about it.

    • Thanksforallthefish said:

      Seconding this! Also taking up swing dancing might introduce you to some great people. I have been in a few cities with a great swing dancing scene and I recall multiple active single men in the 40 plus range. Though one of them was a total player and would complain to his married woman friend (therefore not a viable dating option) about his struggle to keep all his women happy and ignorant of one another. Eye-roll forever….but you risk that.

      • Thanksforallthefish said:

        Ooops posted without finihing…”You risk that in any dating pool I suppose.”

        Anyway I know some really wonderful people who fit with your philosophy. I hope you find someone!

  18. Clarry said:

    On putting parents up in hotels– Do it! It’s the best boundary I made with my parents (that and the one about never telling them my exact flight plans and just getting a cab from the airport. I was vague down to the approximate day I was arriving.) If you can swing it, one great place to instigate the rule about their never staying in your home is to begin by never staying in their home. You’re visiting their home town, probably the one where you grew up, and you just get a hotel or make arrangements to stay with a friend. When they visit you, you just instigate the rule about never sleeping under the same roof with them. (My mother would wake me in the middle of the night on the most absurd pretenses. She never understood that this was a problem.) (I had to resort to not telling my mother what hotel I was staying at because she’d phone when she knew I was asleep. If she didn’t know the hotel, I could turn my cell off, and she wouldn’t be able to reach me.) This boundary was hard, and my parents fought it like crazy. (One time they lost their own hotel reservation when we were all vacationing in a city foreign to all of us. My mother blithely suggested that they’d just move in my hotel room so we could all share. Their reservation was found when I said they could have my room, and I’d drive 18 hours home.) That was the best move I ever made. I won’t say things became easy after that, but they did become easier.

    • Proffie Galore said:

      Oh. My. Dog. I salute your resilience, O Boundaries Guru. My mother wasn’t nearly so — needy? manipulative? — but visits home became soooo much better when I started staying at a hotel on the advice of a friend. She called it an investment in my mental health, and it was worth every penny. This could happen only after I was well established in my career. Lower-cost options include Air Bnb and host swapping groups (Google for names). My sister meets good people by hosting folks when they travel to her city, and saves money (and meets good people) when she travels and stays with them.

  19. For the “passion projects” poster, the hobbies weren’t specified as being artistic/creative, but in case they are I recommend Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit as well. She’s a choreographer, and I find it slightly more brass-tacks than The Artist’s Way (which is also great). Anyway, one of my favorite ideas from her book is “leaving yourself a bridge at the end of the day.” That is, if you’re on a roll and the workday is coming to an end, don’t just start on the next step — save it for the next day so you can jump right in. It’s your “creative bridge.”

    Additionally, the poster might consider shifting their schedule so the project time is in the morning. They’d need to go to sleep and wake up much earlier, which admittedly is a major commitment. But personally I find it helpful to get things done in the morning and then reward myself with coffee (and I’m not a morning person). Then of course their job becomes the evening task that they’re a bit too tired to face– but their coworkers and bosses are a motivational factor not present when the evening is for personal projects. Ideally, anyway.

    Also, the poster mentions seeing friends on the weekends. Chances are a friend is also wanting to work on their own passion project and finding it difficult. Maybe y’all could set a date to buckle down and work on your stuff together.

    • cathy said:

      I second the morning time creativity. My best work is done first thing in the morning, and I generally stop around lunchtime. Sometimes I can do a bit in the evenings, but it is never quite the same.

  20. FabMonster said:

    I have a different perspective on the alleged “fake-sick, fake having a hard time, lying thief” versus “friend in need.” Be on high alert for your friend requiring a lot of money from you, and sucking up your time and mental energy. Very important; do you personally witness harassment from the ex’s, or is that how the ex’s are depicted by the friend? Is your friend discrediting anyone who may be warning you about a pattern of scamming? Maybe your friend is exactly as you perceive (I hope so), but the specific nature of the accusations from people who are in a position to know the truth is a flying red flag. Gavin De Becker’s “The Gift of Fear” is a good read to help with recognizing any gut feelings that you may be dismissing. Good luck! Writing to the esteemed Captain is a great reality check!

  21. H. said:

    Hi, It might be too obvious, for the last poster – but I can totally recommend checking on the size of your sideprojects/arty stuff & making sure that you’ve got something going that’s not too scarily big. Nothing wrong with a massive project of course, but when feeling overwhelmed by life/stuff I find easy/simple/fast really valuable. I recently realised that with all the stuff I’d had going on lately, I’d ended up dropping all the creative fun bits & knew I needed to start again – but without the momentum/energy from previous project it was really difficult to start even projects I’d usually find fun/easy. The answer turned out to be one of those massive dot-to-dot books – doing something even as minimally creative as a couple of hundred of those dots started my recharge and makes it easier to move onto the other stuff.

  22. Fat-shaming and angry dad: Is this new behavior from your father? I mean, you say the fat-shaming isn’t new, but what about the getting angry, the racial slur, is that different from how he normally is? You said they were acting weird all day. Maybe there’s something going on in the background for your parents. How’s his health? If you email your dad about this, consider checking in with your mom separately and asking how she’s doing.

    • my dad gets angry said:

      Ugh, sadly my parents are the kinds of people who seem to always need something to stress about. In this case, I know what the stressor is (not health-related). My dad has always had “a temper” since I was a kid, although he never got physical with my mom or us kids. He definitely has that learned behavior of “stressed? bottle it up til you blow up”! I’ve mostly managed to avoid it as an adult largely due to physical distance and limited time together. He also has a history of using slurs “jokingly” that he doesn’t usually deploy around me since I started to call him out on it, but which seemed more pronounced this time. The rest of the time, he’s generally a thoughtful and philosophical person with a variety of interests who reads a lot of non-fiction.

      I ended up taking a similar approach as the Captain suggested and sending an email taking the approach of “your behavior was hurtful and not what you used model to me” and a clear request for an apology.

  23. Jen said:

    On the subject of annoying, but not cut-off-worthy relatives (like the LW with the “odd acting” MIL): I have found a “handwork” type hobby to be a lifesaver for me! I’m a knitter, but choose your own adventure: crochet? cross stitch? coloring books? friendship bracelets that you give to all of the nieces and nephews? I find that all kinds of situations become tolerable when they are “knitting AND whatever” time, rather than just “whatever” time. I’m much less emotionally invested in having the conversation or the TV show be to my taste, and I can just enjoy the time adding to my scarf. And since I also knit when the conversation or the TV show IS to my taste, no one is the wiser. I can also save my “boundaries establishing” energy for stuff that really needs it. (i.e. “(silently) I will just suck up the interrupting, since it’s an hour a week and I’m knitting anyway, but (out loud), it’s not going to work to have you live in my house while I’m away on vacation.”)

  24. Pitbull said:

    Dear Person who Asked the Last Question,

    Something you said caught my eye: “all I really want to do is eat dinner, watch TV or read and go to bed. My weekends are full of chores, seeing friends and just resting. I feel so guilty about this problem because my art and writing are supposed to be things I love to do”

    It’s the ‘supposed’ that got to me, with the ‘guilty’ a close second. Unless your happy place invovles felonies, there is no reason that one activity is better than another. It seems to me that you are working hard. In your free time you relax, enjoy a book or show, see friends, make sure your home is comfortable, eat food – this is all great! Many congratulations on taking care of yourself. As a person with depression and anxiety trying to make life better, those are all successes. I’m still at the “today I ate dinner” stage.

    The right time to do anything is when you come home from work and can’t wait to get started. “I can’t wait to have dinner and read that book” is excellent.

    • Unless your happy place involves felonies, there is no reason that one activity is better than another

      Ahaha, I love how you put that! LW, I totally agree with Pitbull. As long as you aren’t hurting anyone, you’re not doing anything you ought to feel guilty about. And like you said, you’re spending a lot of your energy on therapy. It’s totally normal and expected to feel tired when you’re doing something that intense!

    • Thanksforallthefish said:

      Oh this is a wonderful reminder too. My days are often filled with that too. Getting home relaxing and eating and sleeping sometimes become THE things to accomplish. But I miss artistic creation. Sometimes I make it work by doubling up and having cook dinner be my creative time but that only works if I plan ahead or accept eating at 9pm. The other thing is about forgiving myself and accepting where I am energy-wise. It’s all about finding a way to carve space for yourself you find energizing and not demoralizing or exhausting.

  25. KayEss said:

    “When you’re sweltering, remind yourself that snowpocalypse is just around the corner.”

    Ah, Chicago… where you only want to leave your house maybe five days out of the year.

  26. slythwolf said:

    In high school we always used to go ice skating at the college rink whenever they were open in the summer, which was usually for like 3 hours on Sunday afternoons. I’ve never understood why more people don’t do this; it’s a great way to keep cool and even relish the heat when you come back out.

    • Funnyletter Who Hates Jokes said:

      When I was a small child we lived in a very hot region of California and had no AC, and used to go to the skating rink at the mall on summer days. Them tearing out the skating rink coincided with my parents getting central AC.

  27. Popcorn said:

    Hi Person who Asked the Last Question,
    Re: therapy taking up a lot of time/energy twice a week- I wasn’t sure if the “time and space” [you] “need in your life” is for the therapy, or for the creative pursuits. Because if the latter, and you feel safe/comfortable doing so, it might make sense to think about doing less therapy to free up spoons for creative stuff. Therapy can be super draining, and sometimes it can be hard to balance what you’re working on in therapy with everything in the rest of your life. On the other hand, if the more intensive therapy is what you need right now, it’s also totally ok to acknowledge that, for this not permanent stage of your life, creative pursuits will need to take a back seat to the rest of what’s filling your time/energy (which sounds like a lovely balance of working on you, self-care, connecting with others, etc). You can “table” creative work for the future, and it’s totally ok to not be getting anywhere with it right now. Seems like you’re working hard, and doing an awesome job at, staying afloat.

  28. Thanksforallthefish said:

    [quote]I’ve gotten into a habit of using those behaviors of hers to reinforce how I don’t like her. I could use help stopping that negativity train[/quote]

    You really don’t have to do this but since you asked I have a thought or two that has helped me in the past:

    I think if you really want to break that cycle a bit, you could embark on a “good info to fight the bad” campaign. You could ask her kids what they most love about her. You could try to better understand where she’s coming from or picture why she might do those things. You could work really hard to see her first and foremost as a human with wants and desires. I’ve been able to shift my focus in the past to the point where I can see them as human and empathize with them which breaks the loop of “Bi*** eating crackers” mode (in which everything I see that person do compounds my dislike of them )that Captain mentioned once upon a time.

    You can decide for yourself what behavior you will not tolerate and pick a few battles. I especially think you should pick out things that make you feel uncomfortable or unsafe or cause you to doubt her ability to be around your kid. Good luck!

  29. For the last questioner, three suggestions focusing on those weekend chores

    1) Do you need to do all of the chores? Are there things you’re doing because you think they are things a grown up should do, but that it would actually be ok if you did them half as often, or less thoroughly? Is there something you could solve by spending money instead of time? Is there something you could do more efficiently by planning how it is done (like using a grocery list based on a pre-planned menu, instead of wandering the store to see what’s there? Or going to a laundromat and using five washers at once instead of being a good apartment neighbor and doing laundry one load at a time?)

    2) Alternately, can you add your creative endeavors to your list of weekend appointments? Not just “I should do something this weekend” but “At 2 p.m. on Sunday, I will spend 30 minutes on macrame” Like, make a literal appointment with yourself, in your calendar, and have your phone remind you to go do it, because it is important to you.

    3) And, if you’re thinking to yourself, “No I have already pared down my weekend chores to the absolute minimum adulting, and I am a whirl of efficiency who has no spare money”, could you move a chore to the work week and use the freed up time during the weekend? Especially if you have a chore that you normally do in one big block but that could be broken up into 10-15 minute increments, if you do 15 minutes every night after work, you now have 1 hour and 15 minutes on Saturday or Sunday to do your passion project.

  30. For the person trying to make time/energy for their art, I used to struggle with this. Then I finally figured out that the kind of art I was trying to do was art that I didn’t actually enjoy doing. (50 years, wut??)

    When I finally did figure out what I like to do, suddenly it’s a struggle not to be doing artwork all the time and get to things like chores, sleep, & work.

  31. Gordon said:

    K Just K – You have specific preferences. There is nothing wrong with that, but men have preferences too, and theirs are just as valid as yours. The more specific you are with what you want, the harder it is to find a match.

    I don’t like the response of “I don’t know what their deal is!” because it implies those men are doing something wrong by not wanting everything that K Just K wants. Maybe that part was a joke, but I feel it just perpetuates our egotistical way of thinking that the world should do as we do.

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