You can submit questions at the Patreon thread (advantage: you get more than 280 characters and first dibs) or on Twitter (@CAwkward, #awkwardfriday). Submissions close at noon. FYI answers will slide slightly later today and probably won’t be updated piece by piece since I have a last minute appointment at noon. Like, everything will get answered today, but if you’re planning to refresh over your lunch hour you might be disappointed. Comments open when the whole thread is posted.
In other news, I’m reading the true story of the person who inspired the Darth Vader Boyfriend tag on my site at You’re Being Ridiculous at Uncommon Ground in Edgewater tonight, and some tickets are still available as of this morning, come & see! The venue is accessible, the food is great, the lineup for the rest of the shows tomorrow and next weekend is also great (I’m gonna try to go tomorrow and see Lily Be & Clarence, two of my favorite Chicago storytellers. We couldn’t all be on the same bill or the awesomeness would shut down the city).
In other news: Kittens.
Ok, let’s do this!
Q1: Back on June 1st I asked you about finding a job in three months. I think I’m just going to slip under the wire with two part-time service jobs (though housing is currently being resolved). I’m still working through a certain amount of guilt and shame about being underemployed, but the job search was so harrowing for me that I’m probably going to be staying in these positions for a year or two. I’ve successfully used a half-truth in conversation — “I’m using these jobs to support my writing and illustration” — but only in passing. If I have to talk about it for more than thirty seconds, my anxiety about what the person I’m talking to thinks of me and what my future holds bubbles up. I’m working on making a plan for the future, but do you have any tips for making this conversation about what I’m doing right now (with myself and with other people) less weird?
A1: When I moved to Chicago in August 2000, the job I relocated for dried up three weeks later and we entered a recession. So began three years of odd jobs and temping, which everyone [everyone = mostly my parents & my inner critic, but also some friends who went to same fancy college chimed in now and again] decided was somehow beneath me. I had had a pretty responsible job back in DC, I was one of the youngest people at my company to ever be promoted, it aligned with my college major and looked good on paper, it was congruent with my idea of myself and my parents idea of me as a high-achieving person. But I was crushingly unhappy there – drowning in depression, hair falling out in clumps, losing time crying in the shower, literally saying I had “client meetings” and then sneaking out for whole days to watch movie after movie in a row in the local indie theater (which, since I did all my work nobody noticed for a year) – and when I left to do something else without really knowing what what was it felt like a victory. It felt like survival. It just didn’t look that way to other people yet and I didn’t have that very American way of answering what I did for a living as if it was who I am.
(I wasn’t even an artist or a writer then. I wasn’t even temping to support a Real Career that I could tell people was what I really did).
After one of the most godawful evenings of my life at a local happy hour for fellow young alumni of my college, where everyone seemed dipped in some kind of golden success paste and had a business card that said Vice President on it, I leaned the fuck into it. My work put food on my table. I literally could not afford to be ashamed of it. And I had to reckon with the shitty classist thoughts I’d had about being better than the people who did that work. Cleaning houses (badly, I am bad at that job) put food on my table. Waiting tables (badly, I am not great at that job) put food on my table. Working as the night receptionist for a taxi & limo company (badly, I am bad at that job) put food on my table. Working at a phone sex hotline for a single day (because you need to not laugh to to do that job and I was very bad at it) put at least a sandwich on my table. Temping for various corporations as the spreadsheet person or the WordPerfect guru (badly, I am bad at that job) put food on my table. For one particularly awful stretch my job was to stand inside a storage closet at a financial corporation and shred documents. I got in trouble for dragging an unused chair into the closet so I could sit’n’shred. I got in trouble for wearing headphones and listening to music while I shredded stuff. I literally got fired from a job shredding documents in a closet for not being good enough at it. I was white and had a fancy degree and used big words and had a set of real pearls, so people kept giving me chances to suck at things in their corporate settings. I was lucky.
One time in 2001 I was at a party with some of the went-to-my-college young professionals and a dude there was kind of hitting on me and he asked what did I do? and I said “I work for you.”
“I work for you.”
“No, that’s not possible.”
“Do you work for XYX company?”
“On the 25th floor?”
“And your office is on the south side of the building, near the printer?”
“Yes, is this some kind of joke?”
“You know the cube with the printer in it?”
“And sometimes someone sits there pretending to do data entry but she minimizes her browser window every time you come get a printout?”
“I hadn’t really noticed, but, sure.”
“Yeah, that person is me. I work FOR YOU.”
“But you went to school with Josh & Laura & all them.”
Guess who didn’t get laid that night.
Guess who had her temp position abruptly eliminated the following Monday.
Are you putting food on your table? Who are these people that you need to impress with your endless potential? You needed a job so you got two of them. And you’re a writer and an illustrator on top of that. You have literally nothing to apologize for or feel embarrassed about (nor would you if you were still unemployed). You have to pay your electric bill and be kind to other people. That’s all.
In these conversations, people will take their cues from you. “I’m working as ____ while I get my next novel out the door.” “Oh, I work at ____.” Anyone who treats you as Less Than for putting food on your table with the tools & resources you have available is being a jerk, and that includes your Inner Critic.
Q2 & Q3: Probably a silly question but: I emailed someone about a posting for an extremely part-time job a month ago asking if they were still looking for people, and they replied saying they would be in the fall and asking me to say a bit about myself. That was a whole month ago, and I haven’t replied because I found it stressful to write all the right things and wasn’t sure whether I should attach a resume (I would have to completely revamp one for this position). Can I still reply now, and if so, is it ok to open with “Sorry, somehow I missed this email!” even though that is a lie? Or should I take my own procrastination as a sign that this is too much for me and let it go?
Actually, maybe a better question (pick your favorite, or neither!) is this broader one since I’m realizing this is a recurring problem for me: Is there a way to follow up on situations where I really genuinely meant to continue an interaction with someone but just….didn’t get around to it, possibly due to fear of saying the wrong thing, until a shockingly large amount of time has passed? And do you have any tips for not getting into these situations in the first place?
A2 & A3: I want you to try something for the rest of 2018.
For this job listing, I want you to send a note today, resume attached and a 3-4 sentence email about yourself. I don’t want you to use the word “Sorry” anywhere. “Hi, are you still looking for people, here’s my info!”
You’ll either get a call or you won’t. I want you to also start doing that with other contacts (social & business) that you want to get in touch with after a lapse or a break.
Like, write the email as you normally would:
“Hey Englebert, I’m so sorry I haven’t been in touch before. Do you still want to try to see Eighth Grade this weekend?”
Then delete the “sorry” part and ask them a question or say something nice. “Hey Englebert, how is everything coming with the new house? Any chance you have a minute to see a movie with me this weekend?”
For the rest of 2018, just get rid of the part where you make people participate in your apology dance and say the thing (about working for them, about wanting their company) that you wanted to say.
Q4: We, 2 adults 2 little kids and 10 Fish, are moving next weekend to a house nearly half the size. My partner is looking forward to this, he thinks it will improve his health, he works all day away from home. I’m the SAHM, the house is my workplace, it’s a little notch down for me. It’s 10 min farther to ALL things. I’m telling myself this is an 18-24 month situation. Any mantra ideas to stay a good sport through the transition?
The deal is done, right? The decision is made, the house is rented/bought, the movers are booked, it’s happening, there was presumably a reason that this was the right next step for the family?
If you’re gonna complain (which, sure, it sounds like you’re the one losing out!), taking that to your friends and/or therapist or people outside of your partner & kids is probably the healthiest thing.
The rest of the work is probably making a nice corner that is just yours. Preferably with a door. That shuts.
Q5: I (27 yo) have a job that I absolutely love and that enables me to support myself in a really awesome part of the world. My mother, though, has decided that I should move into a higher-prestige career (say, “lawyer”), despite the fact that I lack the most basic qualification for said career (say, “law degree”). For the past few months, we’ve fought about this every single time we talk. When I point out my complete lack of qualifications, she takes this as an invitation to comment on my hobbies (specifically, I’m in a monthly D&D group…and obviously an occasional game of D&D is the only thing stopping non-lawyers from being lawyers). Help
A5: People who use any possible excuse to crap on your life choices maybe don’t get to hear the details of your life choices. Some possible choices:
1) Try giving your mom even less information than you already do about what you do with your time. Put her on an Only Small Talk diet for a while: the weather, a TV show you both like, what you’re having for dinner, questions about stuff you know she’s into. Nothing about your hobbies or friends or career.
2) When the conversation starts to steer into Time To Criticize You territory, get off the phone or otherwise bow out. “Ok, that’s all the time I have! Talk to you soon, love you!” & go. One time during the Temping Years above, my mom said that she wouldn’t have wasted all that money on my college education if she’d known I was going to end up as a temp (“End up” = I was 26). I put the phone (a landline) down on the counter and left the house for the day. Who knows how long she talked into the void. Same with my grampa who got it into his head for a while that I wanted to work in military intelligence (guess who had worked in military intelligence?). “Oh Grampa, you know I don’t want to do that, let’s talk about something else.” He’d keep right on talking like I hadn’t said anything, so, the phone would go down on the nearest flat surface and I’d go get some exercise. His long distance bill could take the beating but my ears didn’t have to. If you’re just calling to be mean to me, who needs it? And guess what? They stopped browbeating me!
3) Try this literally every time she says it: “Oh Mom, you know I don’t want to be a lawyer, but it sounds like you might!”
Q6: I was on the subway yesterday. Some dude started smoking weed inside the train car. I said, “Hey, can I ask you to stop? That aggragates athsma and allergies.” I started getting heckled by some other people. “Weed doesn’t actually cause allergies.” “You can just move to another train car.” I didn’t know how to respond, so I told them to fuck off which wasn’t a great way of handling it. Short of calling the police, which I wouldn’t ever do for something like this, do you have any tips for de escalating or handling this kind of situation? I come across people smoking on this train once every couple of months, so it wasn’t a one off.
A6: Glad you’re not calling the police! Smoking weed on the train is annoying but it doesn’t need a potential death sentence.
This is one of those times that you’re in the right but the other person is playing with a pro level of “I don’t give a fuck,” so your polite “Could you not?” isn’t really going to register with someone who is already flouting social norms, rules, and laws even if there were somehow a perfect way to phrase this. Say your thing, expect to be ignored, plan to move to another car.
Q7: I‘m getting married soon and while I’m thrilled to be marrying my fiancé, there is a money issue stressing me out. My father passed away and left most of his money to my stepmother (but she never disclosed the amount). When I got engaged, she told me she really wanted to help pay for the wedding (he had paid for my sister’s) and she’d get back to me in April…four months ago, and not a peep since. We could really use the help for some final expenses but I don’t know how to ask without sounding greedy or like I expect it. Should I just leave it alone and hope she gives us money as a wedding gift?
A7: Congratulations!Figure out if it’s money you need to do the thing or if it’s more of a nice-to-have, and work from there. If you do ask her, just be direct: “You mentioned back in April that you’d be willing to help us with some wedding costs. If that offer is still open, we could use some help with x and y, let me know, thanks!”
If she truly wants to help, and you know her to be generally straightforward, it is her privilege to help you and make you that kind of gift. You asking her isn’t an imposition, it’s a helpful reminder.
If she can’t help after all or the offer wasn’t sincere, it’s not your fault for asking – it was never gonna happen anyway.
Q8: Hi Captain,
I feel like I would like to identify as asexual, but I’m not sure there’s any point. I have sex because it’s important to my husband but even though I enjoy it I never actively desire it or think about it when it’s not happening, and could happily go celibate indefinitely. Having sex is just not part of my identity or passions.
How can I tell if I’m actually ace, or if it’s just resistance against/alienation brought on by patriarchal capitalism? (i.e. the fact that women’s bodies are synonymous with “sex” just by existing, according to the advertising industry).
Is there any point IDing as ace when it won’t stop people (men) viewing me sexually and treating me as though it’s my main purpose? I’m married & monog so there’s no real social need for friends or work to know about my bedroom feelings. Maybe the best way to ‘ID’ as ace is just to keep showing my non-sexual ideas/work/etc? Like how the best atheist is one who talks enthusiastically about astrophysics and leafcutter ants rather than shouting “god’s not real” at everyone?
But also, secretly, the label ace/asexual makes me feel like a cool, elegant, untouchable statue.
I guess: What’s the value of a) telling someone your label, if it doesn’t provide actionable information and b) what does it mean to give yourself a label if you don’t tell anyone (because it doesn’t concern them)? if a tree calls itself asexual and there’s no one around to hear it does it still fall? Is there any point IDing as something which won’t change how people treat me? I’m a cognitive mess over this.
A8: Here’s what I (a non-expert) can tell you:
- You can feel like a cool beautiful statue if you want to. These labels and identities are there to serve you. You don’t serve them or audition for them. You are the boss and the decider here. If there’s a point for you, then there’s a point. So maybe start there – with self-description and self-acceptance – and work outward as it makes sense for you.
- There is probably nothing that will make people (men) stop objectifying you. I wish it worked like that.
Q9: Hi Captain – so, it’s been a pretty terrible year due to deaths of several people close to me and assorted other significant family stresses. I love my job, but it is a pressure cooker requiring very long hours and allowing very little time off. What are your thoughts on keeping up with all my regular routines and responsibilities, vs. cutting myself some slack (such as, to read “fun” books instead of challenging history tomes, or to give myself an occasional scheduled binge-watching day) and asking others to take it easy on me? I get a lot of comments from people around me (including my therapist!) that I’m generally performing at life in a disappointing way this year and I’m not living up to my potential, and that I need to step it up and stop making excuses instead of asking for understanding. Advice on how to juggle everything would be greatly appreciated! – Behold my field of breaks, and thou shalt see that it is barren.
A9: IDK, what if you stopped juggling everything and drew even harder boundaries around your personal time? What if instead of asking for slack you made your schedule airtight, with a clear quitting time, and a deliberate unplugging/disconnecting after that time? What if instead of telling the story about how it’s a hard year and you’re probably not living up to potential you tried one that says “I work better when I have clear beginning and ending times and when I schedule a little down time to refresh.”
One of the most busy & efficient people I know has a notepad of to-do lists that has just three things on it. When those three things are done, she’s allowed to be “done” for the day, and everything else she does is a bonus. Does she do only those three things? Nope! It was more about a mental reframing. She’s pacing herself and remembering to stop and count the work she does as success instead of always looking to the “to be done” part of the to do list.
Last year I stopped reading or answering any emails on weekends. I told students the deal in the syllabus – “I generally respond to emails within 24 hours, except on weekends” – and the world did not end. Right now I don’t really read comments on weekends. I maybe check in once or twice for a few minutes and clean out the spam trap. And the blog is still surviving, somehow.
Also, what the fuck, therapist? How is that a helpful thing to say? Can you ask this person to help you carve out good boundaries around using your time instead of judging you re: your potential?
Q10: Hi Captain – Quick question about a guy I’ve been seeing. He’s really into cycling and has two bikes that are prized possessions of his, he dotes on them and takes great care of them. He’s named them, which I also do with my prized possessions, and he refers to them by their names, but the part that strikes me as odd is that he’s named them after two of his exes. Specifically, using his words, “the only two women [he’s] ever loved” and the only women to break his heart. I don’t even know what to make of that. It sits uncomfortably with me, almost like he’s put these women on a pedestal by honoring them with his bikes. Am I just overthinking this or is it a little off?
A10: Once I got done laughing, I’d be like “Don’t name the next one Jennifer.” If he never brought it up with me again and everything else was great between us, I’d try to ignore it as a weird quirk. If he developed Bike Mentionitis, like, “I was out riding Audrey today, she goes faster than Iphigenia,” I do not know that I could keep a straight face. Good luck?
Q11: How do I tell my extended family and friends about my child’s Autism diagnosis? I don’t want the to treat her different as she is HF, but I want them to understand she isn’t NT so they aren’t offended if she acts weird or we turn down social invitations #awkwardfriday
A11: I have four suggestions:
- If possible, ask your child what they think Grandma, etc. should know. “It means that sometimes I need a break from crowded spaces, so don’t be mad if I go in a room by myself.” Craft the message together.
- It’s good news. Your kid is the same kid she was yesterday. There was a reason y’all sought the dx, and now you have answers. “Good news, we have a name to go with some of child’s preferences/behaviors, this will make it much easier for us to do x, y, and z cool thing/accommodation and to find other kids & parents with the same stuff going on!”
- Ask family for some specific actions/accommodations that would make your child more comfortable and more welcome. (Again, let your child help steer you).
- Do some of the Googling for them. There are a lot of shitty resources out there. With the help of your child’s care team and instructors, direct your family to the good ones. One good question as you’re evaluating resources – Is whatever it is created by autistic people for autistic people? That’s probably gonna be the best stuff.
Q12: I know rejection (for my writing) isn’t personal but it still makes me feel like shit. How deal?
Rejection means you are sending your stuff out there. That’s huge. Collect those rejections and brag on them – every single time you were rejected was a time that you overcame self-doubt and imposter syndrome and pitched your work.
The #ShareYourRejection hashtag on Twitter is pretty great this week, too.
Q13-?: Aaarhh so many questions!
I just finished the Valdemar saga by Mercedes Lackey and now i feel empty inside. What do I do??? 😭😫
I have so much tv to catch up on – where do I start???
What’s your favourite podcast?
Thinking about food & weight stresses me out – how do I stop?!
Read more books!
Start with the TV that feels the least like “work.” Stay away from the stuff that’s just long takes of white men staring into space while holding glasses of booze, even if it is pretty.
I don’t listen to podcasts. (I can’t pay attention to just-audio things).
Ok, have a good weekend people.
Comments closed as of 8/19.