Short Answer Friday for Nov. 30

Hello all!

You can submit short questions at Patreon or on Twitter (@CAwkward, #AwkwardFriday) until 11 am Chicago time today. I’ll answer as many as I can before 2pm.

Holiday and non-holiday related questions are okay, with following parameters:

  • I’m not answering questions about abuse in this short answer format.
  • I think we’ve covered just about every flavor of “How do I deal with my [politically difficult] relatives over the holidays?” in past posts & discussions.

Looking forward to your questions!

Q1 Hello! My job is pretty horrifying right now – they outsourced our team and we both therefore have new jobs but they haven’t actually hired anyone to do our old jobs yet. We hopefully (hopefully!) start training replacements soon after a series of delays and false starts including our entire role being forgotten when planning replacements. I’m doing OK but my friend/coworker is obviously burning out and she’s getting increasingly snippy and rude with me. How do I extend her grace when I’m fighting my own burnout too? Can I talk to her about this somehow?

A1: Oh yeah, time to talk to her! It might be as direct as “Look, I know you’re really stressed out, but do you realize how much you’re snapping at me? Are you okay?” or as general as “Hey friend, I know everything is so stressful at work right now, can we talk about how we’re going to get through our ridiculous workload for the rest of the year? Let’s make a plan.” 

Q2: I’d love another list of what you’ve been reading recently!

A2: I finally read Gaudy Night and loved it. Trying to read some of the other Sayers, verdict so far is “Gaudy Night > Harriet Vane Books In General (will def read all of these, only one left) > Not Harriet Vane Books (eh, these probably aren’t my thing unless I happen across them in a B&B somewhere someday, they’re not bad but I only care about Harriet, Miss Murchison, Miss Climpson, and sometimes Bunter).

Additionally in the past month: The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss, The Apple Tree Throne by Premee Mohamed, Hand To Mouth: Living In Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado, All You Can Ever Know, Nicole Chung, All of the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells, Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart.

If you don’t know about Library Extension for Chrome, I’m here to tell you the Good News About Library Extension for Chrome. Search for a book on Amazon or Goodreads or other book searchy site and it will tell you if the book is available (+ how many copies and in what format – hardcover, audio, e-book, etc.) at your local library*. Since I have a Kindle, I click, click, click and then it’s like “free books reading all the time yay.”

*If they participate. If they don’t, you can suggest them!

Q3: I find a fellow volunteer somewhat difficult. We have the same goals, but they typically seem irritated with everyone and often complain about how people aren’t doing enough or doing it right. I’ve taken on more with our group partly because they needed a break, but it bothers me when they prod me to do things with the same speed and in the same way they would. (I have a job; they’re retired). I’d be fine stepping down and letting them be fully in charge, but there are policies about not having the same nominal leader for too long a stretch. I’d like advice for dealing with their conversations about who’s doing what wrong and with my own sense of being micromanaged.

A3: This is a difficult one. I suggest an informal, in-person conversation where you say some version of “I know you care so much about [cause] and I really respect your experience and hard work, but you stepped back from running things b/c you needed a break and I need some time to grow into the leadership role and fit it around my full-time schedule. Change is always awkward! Can we agree to check in with each other once a month to make sure we’re all on task, but skip these frequent reminders? It isn’t helping me get to things faster, and I’m feeling micromanaged.” 

They’ll say some stuff, listen to it, don’t argue, thank them for the conversation, and then [this is key] do what you were going to do anyway, even if they do nudge you all the time. Like, it’s okay to filter their emails to a box you check once every week when you’re calm & caffeinated. It’s also okay to set that as a clear expectation, like, “Saturday mornings are when I go through my inbox and deal with [cause]-related stuff, if you don’t hear back from me right away I promise I’ll get to it on Saturdays.” And then follow-through with that schedule. If you’ve been responding right away to every little thing, you’re sort of training the person to expect that you will respond right away to every little thing.

Advanced diplomacy: After the initial conversation, I want you to make a list of things where you do actually need this person’s insight and also a list of things you can safely delegate to them. Every month, during your check in, make a point to ask their advice about something (even if you already know what to do, maybe you’ll get something useful and at worst you’ll make them feel useful). Also, feel free to delegate stuff to them! You have a full-time job, they don’t, they want to do the work, so it’s within bounds to say“I’m not going to be able to get to x as quickly as you’d like – can you take that on for me?” 

Q4: I have a full week off work at the end of the year. How do I politely decline social invitations from people who know I have time off and no plans? I need that week to recharge, don’t want to fill it up with social plans.

A4: Invitations are not commands, so, try “Oh, thanks for thinking of me! I’m really trying to schedule nothing that week so I can rest and recharge. I’ll let you know if that changes and I can make it after all, but for now don’t count on me!” 

It’s okay to be enthusiastic about having down time! If people try to insist on you joining them for whatever after being told something like that, they’re the ones being weird.

Advanced reciprocity and kindness around social plans making: Do keep track of who invited you to stuff and got turned down, and when you’re feeling more social, invite them to do something with you in the New Year. It’s your “turn,” and it will send the message that you really like them and that it was just about scheduling.

Q5: My dear friend is in the late stages of getting her undergrad degree at a primarily online (but not entirely) state university program (not-for-profit school) and has just now found out that some of her credits from a previous school didn’t transfer over into whole courses, so it sets back her graduation date. It sounds to me like her assigned advisor isn’t very helpful or knowledgeable. She is not in the same state as the school and it’s not possible for her to visit campus in person to try to get anything straightened out. What would you recommend as a path of escalation around an academic advisor?

A5: If your friend can pull together all the documentation she can about the courses she took (course descriptions, syllabi if possible) and the equivalent courses at her current institution – whatever she thinks will make the case that the courses should transfer – that’s a good starting point. It can take some time to pull this together, but it can’t hurt.

Then she can try the advisor once more, with questions like, “What is the process for appealing a decision about transfer credits? Can I have detailed feedback as to why certain classes didn’t transfer? What documentation does the school need? (’cause oh look, I have some!) and if the advisor can’t really help, try asking them directly: “Ok, thanks so much. If you can’t sort this out for me, who do you suggest I talk to?” Be very polite, ask questions, be persistent, follow up every conversation with an email outlining what y’all talked about. After that, it really depends on her program. A professor she gets along with very well might have ideas, the department’s admin (someone you should ALWAYS make friends with) might be able to sort it. When/if she does escalate it around the advisor, she’ll probably do better if she doesn’t complain about the advisor (that person is gonna work there lonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnng after your friend has graduated), phrase it more like “Advisor helped me as much as they could, but I still have some more questions and they suggested you might be able to help. Are you the right person to talk to?” 

I’d also suggest that your friend prioritize her list of transferrable courses privately, like, know which ones are “these MUST transfer, I am not fucking taking that class again” and “Eh, if I had to go over some of this material again to get to the classes I really wanna take it wouldn’t kill me” so there can be some negotiation. Best of luck to her!

Q6: Very difficult question, only vaguely related to the holidays in that I want to read some more books between now and the end of the year. Where should I begin in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga? In chronological order of the events in the books? Or is there another book in the series that is an especially good entry point?

A6: I started with the “Young Miles” omnibus, (which starts with The Warrior’s Apprentice) shoved into my hands by my friend L. one New Year’s in Massachusetts and then shoved into other people’s hands by me, and it was fun as hell. Then I went back and read Cordelia’s Honor (two books about Miles’s parents and how they got together). I think if you swapped the order there – Cordelia’s Honor & then the Young Miles books – you’d love that, too, because CORDELIA IS THE FUCKEN BEST.

Q7: I’ve been having a hard time at work since the beginning of September, for various reasons. Right now I’m slammed at work, which is likely to be the case for a while (I expect/hope that things will settle down by the first full week in January, but probably not sooner). I already have a vacation planned and have been making an effort to be diligent about self-care, including paying attention to sleep, eating well, and exercising a little more than usual to help with stress. I love the short answer chats and am grateful for any advice or wisdom you have for how to get through an extra-busy time!

A7: You’re doing great with the self-care stuff, that’s good news!

This is what helps me, a person with ADHD who has a limited attention budget that must be respected because when it runs out it runs OUT: Rituals at the beginning and end of each work day. This list is definitely for office-y type stuff, I don’t really know what you do, but that’s where a lot of my experience is:

  • Beginning of the workday: DON’T LOOK AT YOUR WORK EMAIL YET IF YOU CAN POSSIBLY HELP IT. EMAIL IS A TRAP. (Social Media/Twitter/News etc. is also a trap. NO CLICKY.)
  • Instead, take 15 minutes and look at your to-do list/Make or remake your to-do list.
  • What’s the most important/biggest priority/takes most attention on that list? What are your deadlines?
  • What are a few small quick things that you could do and cross off quickly (to give a sense of momentum and accomplishment).
  • Are there a few things that, if you did them, you could call today a “win” and let everything else be extra credit?
  • Great, you’re doing great. Now, block out your day a bit and make specific time slots for reading/answering emails, any meetings or calls, when you want to work on big important thing vs. knock out a few small things, breaks. Over time, if you do this daily, you’ll hopefully start being able to match tasks for when you have the right energy for them. For example, I know I have the best zone of concentration between about 8 am and 2 pm, so whatever is most important to do that day should be done then.
  • Set a timer for 30 minute chunks (or whatever focused time interval is useful to you).
  • Cool, now you can look at your emails (in the time slot for “read emails”, right after your “review to-do list” time slot) and see if there’s anything else you need to consider. Sometimes emails will be really important, but for me, looking at them/answering them/reading them before I know how I want to use my day is a trap. I need to make a plan and then adjust as necessary.
  • Get your stuff done to the extent you can. Your plan will change. You will get interrupted. It’s okay. The plan is a safety net, not something to beat yourself up with.

20 minutes before the end of your workday, STOP. 

  • Look at your to-do list. Cross things off it. Look at what you did!
  • If you have to track your time in some way, this is a great time to enter your timesheet. It can’t pile up, you’ve got your schedule and list right there.
  • Make your to-do list for tomorrow. Don’t think about it too much, just make note of what didn’t get done today and if there’s anything specific you need to prep for, like, “dress nice, client lunch” – You’ll do your thinking in the morning when you’re fresh.
  • Tidy up your work area. Make sure computer files are saved correctly (with descriptive names, in the right place on the server, so other people could find/use them if necessary), put loose paperwork in folders (you can label this shit with a post-it note, just, organize it and put it away if you can, you’ll be less stressed out if you don’t have a chaos pile when you come in tomorrow morning).
  • GO HOME, YOU DID WHAT YOU COULD, YOU CAN STOP THINKING ABOUT WORK NOW.

I hope that helps. I used to think I was “too busy” to stop working and organize myself and it was a lie.

Q8: I’m about to start a new job. I’m 28 and have had several jobs since college where it just wasn’t clear what i was supposed to be doing or where my boss was upset with me for something they never clearly articulated. I know the people I’ll be working with pretty well but i want to start on the right note. How do i ask for expectations to be clearly defined from day 1 and keep lines of communication open?

A8: First, check out the answer about daily rituals, above. I think it will ground you to have some kind of daily practice.

Second, presumably you’re going to have some kind of training period where people tell you what to work on and you observe and get the lay of the land. Keep the job description from when you applied handy. This training period is where you figure out which parts of the job description are real and what secret other work is part of your job.

Third, if possible, carry a notebook and a pen everywhere. If you go into your boss’s office or walk up to them to get instructions, bring the notebook. Your boss tells you to do something, or how to do something, or who to talk to, write it down. Someone gives you feedback about something you did, write it down. If you have questions, write them down. (Ask them, but also, write them down and the answers, too). You discuss something over the phone with a client or supplier? Make a note of what you agreed on. Write it down. It gives you something to do with your face and your hands and it helps you keep track of things. “Hold that thought, let me get my notebook.” 

Fourth, consider a ritual for weekly check-ins with your boss. (This can also be useful for people who need to “manage up” or for bosses who have no freaking idea what you do). You’re new, so it’s expected that you’ll want to check in a lot.

One way it could work:

Mondays, make your to-do list (as you understand it) and share a short version of it with your boss, by email if possible, though it’s possible to do quick status meetings, too. “Hi Boss, hope you had a nice weekend. This week it looks like I’ve got x, y, and z on my plate. Anything else I should focus on?” 

Thursdays, last thing before you leave for the day, send an update email, like:

“Hey boss, x is all set. For z I’m still waiting for approval. Whenever you have notes on the draft of y, I’ll knock out the edit! Anything else we need to knock out before the end of the week?

The Thursday email is also where you could say stuff like “So sorry, x took much more time than we initially budgeted, y and z will have to wait until next week. Is there one I should prioritize?” 

IMPORTANT STUFF:

  • BE BRIEF. Detailed to-do lists are for you. Have mercy on your boss’s eyes, time, inbox.
  • Your boss might not say much about or even answer these emails. That’s okay! This isn’t like school where you get a grade & feedback on every single thing you do. You’re giving the boss a general sense of what’s getting done and the opportunity to course-correct if they have different priorities.
  • If your boss doesn’t get why you’re doing this or it feels a little needy to them, try saying “I don’t want to make more work for you – don’t need you to do anything or even respond, unless you want me to do something differently – This keeps ME organized.” If they really don’t like it, don’t do it obviously. Instead, use your detailed to-do lists as a record of what you’re up to for yourself, give them quick verbal status updates as necessary.
  • If you work different days of the week, extrapolate. Assuming a 5-day weekday workweek, I say do these check-ins on Thursdays (vs. Friday) for several reasons: 1) If there’s something urgent, you still have a workday to work on it. 2) Don’t set up the expectation or the habit or even the idea that you or others would be thinking about work over the weekend. Some companies and industries do expect you to be thinking about work all the time, but that doesn’t mean that impetus has to come from you!
  • Over time, this will create a written record of what you actually work on. You’ll be able to see how much and what you accomplished, what you spend the most time on, where the friction points are, when your boss alerted you to different priorities. Also, should something go wrong, like, it’s performance review time and your boss has a different idea of what you should be doing, you’ve created a structure and the documentation to say (way more politely than this), “LISTEN, BUDDY, I CHECKED IN WITH YOU EVERY WEEK FOR A YEAR, IF YOU WANTED SOMETHING DIFFERENT YOU COULD HAVE TOLD ME THAT AT LEAST 104 SEPARATE TIMES.”

The version you’d say out loud is more like “Are the weekly status check-ins not working for you? Is there some other system you’d like better?” 

Good luck! People want you to do well and want to help you do well, mostly, I think.

Q9: My partner has to go on a work trip somewhere not very fun for Christmas – New Year’s. So I’m on my own. Don’t wanna see biological family because reasons. Do you have suggestions for how to spend solo holidays?

A9: Off the top of my head:

  • Is it possible for you to get a change of scene and travel somewhere, too?
  • Eat/drink/watch/do things you like but your partner doesn’t particularly like. I’m sure your partner is lovely, I’m also decently sure that sometimes you compromise about how you spend your time when another person is involved.
  • If you’re a “HOLIDAYS, YAAAAAAY!” person, check out all the free craft fairs, concerts, museum talks, plays, singalongs, etc. that tend to accumulate at this time of year.
  • If you have time off, and friends have some time off, can you catch up with them informally/not at peak HOLIDAY times, like, Boxing Day Brunch.
  • Find a ritual of kindness to do, like, write to your old teachers/mentors and thank them.

Q10: There’s a lot of family dysfunction behind this question, but for a short question…. my parents in general treat myself and my sister like they are still authority figures and sometimes literally says things like we are children (we are in our 40s and have professional jobs). When we visit they literally says things like “turn off the lights before you go to bed”, “don’t forget to lock the door”, “help your mom with the dishes” [which I always do], “do you know how to get yourself a snack? [mom mentions about 5 possible snack items]. I have tried sarcastic replies and saying things like “I am not 5 years old”. No help. Any other suggestions?

A10: They are not gonna change. They really aren’t. Like, sometimes it is worth having the “Hey, did you raise me to be a functional adult or not?” talk (in my case it’s the “I moved out in 1992, sorry, if your toilet handle needs a complicated set of jiggling motions after each flush for the last 20 years, maybe fix it instead of yelling at me for not having the knack?” talk) and sometimes it isn’t.

So what you need is, absolute eye-rolling solidarity with your sister, very clear boundaries about what they have authority about in your own life & decision-making when you’re not in their house (i.e. zero authority), and the words “Ok Mom” “Okay Dad” said with as much humor as you can manage when you can manage it and “I don’t know, I might literally die if you didn’t show me how to make snacks, Mommy!” when you can’t.

Finding something you do have in common with each parent as adults can’t hurt in the “making new memories and patterns to push the bad ones down” process, but yeah, they’re gonna remind you of this shit literally forever, sorry.

Q11: I work at a college library and it’s Stressing Time around here. Any tips from you or readers on how college staff can support students who are struggling? What do you wish your library had available (supplies, food, events) during finals season? Thanks!

A11: I think my institution brings in puppies for students to pet from some kind of shelter or volunteer organization, and it’s pretty popular.

What I think students could most USE during final students are 30 minute “Hey, buddy, you’ve procrastinated on that essay and now that you actually have to do it you have no idea where to start, it’s okay, grab a cookie and let’s take you through three basic ways to find sources” orientations, maybe in very small groups. Or “Ask A Librarian” office hours where they can get individual help. Like a safe, friendly, no-shame redux of that stuff they should have come to at the beginning of the semester but did not. Publicize it through professors – “Could your students use a quick research strategies refresher?” – Maybe even collaborate with profs in certain subject areas to help students walk through that section of the library.

IDK, I teach a lot of students who come from under-resourced high schools that have no library, no librarian, who don’t know what’s available or even where to start, and I’ve long ago learned not to assume about what they know. I’d LOVE to send them to something like “Ok, you found 10 books/articles about your paper topic and you don’t know which one to read first and you don’t have time to read all of them. That’s okay! Let’s look at the bibliographies real quick – Is there a book or article that all or many of the books mention? Great! Start there!” 

I love libraries and librarians. You’ll do something great, I know.

Q12: I broke up with a dear friend over the summer who is a lovely person, but spent ~2 years ignoring/not responding/declining requests to hang out. I’m starting to do that thing where I wonder if it was the right decision. Logically, I think it was the right thing, but emotionally I’m still hurting, especially since she was a pillar of Team Me and I really need those pillars right about now (I’m going through the end of my degree program and dealing with marital problems; we’re not breaking up, but there’s a lot of work to do and it’s triggering all kinds of “well, I don’t really deserve love/affection/sexual attention anyway” self-talk). And I’m starting to worry that other dear friends will “abandon” me the way that she did. My question is: what are some scripts I can tell myself to re-write this story in my head? Right now I’ve got “everybody leaves” playing in an eternal loop, with the occasional “you’re not good/lovable enough” jumping in as accompaniment.

A12: It sounds like the friend broke up with you, not that you broke up with them, is that correct? Either way, it’s natural to miss people who were important in your life in a stressful time, even if the relationship has run its course. So first step is to stop beating yourself up for having feelings. You can’t outrun or outthink feelings, sometimes the most you can do is identify & name them, like, “Oh, I’m having anxiety that my other friends will ditch me the way ___ did” and then sort of triage them, like, “Do I have to do something about this feeling right now or can I just let it be.” 

Other practical suggestions:

  • Can you vomit out some of the worry in a journal? Write letters to the absent friend of the things you would normally like her help with? Get as angry as you need to with work, spouse, absent friend in a private, low-risk way?
  • When the “I’m not good enough” thoughts intrude, could you try speaking to yourself and your feelings the way you would to a good friend, and try to be as gentle with yourself as you would with that person? It takes practice but this can really help.
  • Can you make some plans with the other dear friends in your life that are about pleasure (not necessarily about support/venting, though some of that will happen, more about relaxation and/or knocking out tasks with a buddy). Think low-key, low-commitment, treating yourself (“let’s grab breakfast and get some holiday shopping done, let’s get our nails done, I grabbed this massage Groupon, can I treat you? I want to see your face and I need to schedule some breaks from school/work”). 

In combination, having the outlet for free form venting and feelings and shame and weirdness can reassure you that you’re not just, like, feelingsbarfing everything on your friends, and having the friend-dates to look forward to will give you some bright spots and rewards for doing the hard work. I hope things get better soon, and congrats on finishing your studies! Everything is hard, but you’re working hard and you deserve to be nice to yourself. 

Q13: Doing the art/dayjob thing but it’s the dayjob part giving me grief. Working with a job coach but I’m still stuck. 29 with a thin resume. Graphic design is a dud but I have no other skills. Failed at teaching and STEM. How do I figure out my career and set myself up for success?

A13: Let me point you at three resources and once piece of wisdom:

  1. Recent thread about a process for figuring out what you want/what you’re good at/where the middle of that Venn diagram is. 
  2. Commander Logic’s guide to becoming unstuck.
  3. Heather Havrilesky’s beautiful piece this week, about art and shame
  4. It is okay if what you do for money does not match up with your deepest self – for the next little while, possibly forever. All your favorite artists had day jobs, most did not match their field of endeavor. 

Q14: What toys and treats have your kitty kids, present and past, absolutely gone nuts for? I want to give mine a great “Kitmas!” 

A14: This thing is the most-loved thing in our house.

We can be upstairs in another room and hear them play with it for HOURS. Literally hours. 

Rainbow tunnel is also pretty darn great. See below:

Henrietta lounging inside the Rainbow Tunnel. 
Daniel being all Coraline in the Rainbow Tunnel. (He was so tiny!)

Daniel loves all toys that can be carried in the mouth (crinkly balls, catnip mice, etc.), and sometimes he will push toys under the bedroom door when it is closed to try to entice us out. It is the best. Henrietta likes a wand toy with feathers at the end. They both love the Cat Dancer, which, you can’t beat that price! Beadie also loved any wand toy, any crinkle-ball, but her most-loved thing ever (like, it might be her actual soulmate) was a pet-safe heating pad. 

Q15 Do Daniel Jason Mendoza Striped Tiger and Henrietta (Kim Wexler) Pussycat have any holiday-themed costumes and may we see pictures?

A15: No, they did their 60 seconds of costume duty for 2018 at Halloween. Halloween 2019 is another year! All the catnip and treats! Sixty seconds or whenever they figure out how to take off hats (which are tied very loosely). 

 Q16: How do I avoid the topic of my job hunt/being recently let go? I straight up don’t want to discuss anything about it (and I’m hoping I have something in place) but it’s tough.

A16: I’m so sorry. You don’t have to tell people about it at all, if you don’t want to and it’s not public knowledge. You can also say, straight up, “Oh, it’s still kinda raw, I don’t want to talk about it at all right now, especially since we’re celebrating!” + change the subject to something you do want to talk about. Non-assholes will follow your lead. 

Q17: How do I handle being burned out on my chronically ill partner’s health talk? I know she doesn’t get a break but sometimes I just can’t handle getting hourly updates on organ functioning, and I feel talked over a lot of the time.

A17: This is so hard. Keeping in mind the principle of “comfort in, dump out,” does she have a counselor or other safe outlet where she can vent about health stuff at will? There’s a great site called Chronicbabe for young women with chronic illness, there might be other communities like that where she can find not only solace but solidarity.

Does she have all the support and help she needs to manage the condition, and is it time to revisit some of that (incl. perhaps involving professional carer), like, “Hey, the frequency and severity of these episodes seems to be escalating, is it time to revisit your care plan?” Can you make a structure where there are certain times of day that you both check in about health talk and give each other your full attention? 

Having as much support in place as possible will make it easier (not easy, but easier) to say, “Hey, love, did you realize you’re talking over me right now? I want to support you, but I am tuning out from some of these real-time detailed updates. I don’t want to tune out from you, can you give me an idea of what you’d like me to say or do when you tell me x?” It’s possible that they don’t need you to do or say anything, but they do need to say whatever it is, if that makes sense.

Q18: What do you recommend for a family member whose need to be “helpful” turns “Thanks. I’ll think about that,” into “Go buy me the thing we were talking about, even though I don’t know if I want or need it yet”?

A18: Try Oh, what a nice gesture, but I don’t need x – please don’t buy things without checking with me, I’d hate for you to spend money on something I can’t use.” 

Advanced Halping Evasion: Consider an information diet around this person – it sounds like even mentioning or brainstorming about a problem you need solved sends them into Helper Mode, try not even mentioning stuff you’re thinking through in this vein to them for a while and change the subject to other topics. 

Q19: My d&d group used to drink&play but 1 guy is now sober&requested dry games in May. Happily did. Last game someone asked, got his ok& brought wine. I wasn’t there, but I want to check in w him &support but we’re newer friends. And he did say it was ok? scriptplz?

A19: You weren’t at the game, so maybe how you go about checking in depends on how you know about the wine. I would assume he did say it’s okay unless you have reason to know otherwise, so maybe try saying “Hey, I saw that _____ asked if they could bring wine last time. I just wanted to check in with you again – I think the switch to sober games has been good for us and I’m happy to keep that in place forever. If you want us to keep that as an absolute rule going forward, it’s okay! You don’t ever have to say yes to wine if you’re not comfortable, and I’m happy to remind people not to mess with it.” 

Just be kind and direct and treat him like the expert on his choices. 

Q20: NaNoWriMo has happened, and it’s been great for me to iron out some problems with my WIP.
But…I was way below my word count thanks to procrastination. Not so bad in itself, but I lied to my partner about it almost daily. What do?

A20: No one’s reading this WIP but you, right? At least not until it’s done, whatever that means. This was a fun thing you did to motivate yourself. So, examine why you felt the need to lie about a fun, optional thing that was between you and you, and then come clean!

Q21: Productive response for when ppl keep doing & apologising 4 smth w no behaviour change? This just pisses me off.

A21: Good recent discussion of apologies here

I guess my question is, what would happen if you showed how pissed off you are? 

“You keep saying that, but the behavior doesn’t change, so, apology not accepted.”

My other question is, how much access do you want to keep giving this person to the part of your life they keep fucking up at? You can wipe the slate clean and still remember what was on it and act accordingly.

Ok, that’s all for this week! Comments are open, with the caveat:

  1. BE KIND. If you can’t be kind, be quiet? We’ve had some real unpleasant ableist and victim-blaming bullshit lately and I don’t care for it. Site policies are here if you need a review
  2. I’m about to skive off for the rest of the afternoon and have lunch and see a movie with Mr. Awkward, so moderation will be haphazard. If your stuff gets trapped I will release it this evening. 

200 comments
  1. MissClimpson4ever said:

    Just coming here to say that Gaudy Night is one of my favorite books! So delighted it found another fan! And, speaking of, I love the Cordelia’s Honor segment of the Vorkosigan saga. I always think of those books as “Harriet and Lord Peter in SPAAAAACE”. I read those first and was super bummed to find the rest of the series is about Miles (although he is also a good character and I like those books too, Cordelia is such a great character!). ❤

    • LauraA said:

      The most recent book is also a Cordelia book! And although I, too, wasn’t at first happy with the transition from Cordelia to everything-about-Miles, the Miles book that’s written like a “Regency romance” (“A Civil Campaign”) was absolutely marvellous.

      I’m glad to hear about people reading Nikki Chung’s wonderful book about her family and her adoption!

      • LauraA said:

        Also, many years after I’d first enjoyed the Lord Peter Wimsey books, I discovered that Jill Paton Walsh wrote several “continuation” books that were also great fun. The first of them, “Thrones, Dominations,” had actually started as a manuscript that Sayers set aside when the British abdication crisis rendered it unpublishable. (!!) The others were also based on source material from Sayers, iirc.

        • Evan Þ. said:

          And for even more Wimsey fun, Sayers wrote some short stories too! I think most of them are nowhere near as good as the books, but Talboys – about Harriet and Peter and their two children – is the one shining exception. If you like Busman’s Honeymoon, I think you’ll like it too.

        • Light37 said:

          I loved Thrones, Dominations and The Late Scholar. The Attenbury Emeralds and A Presumption of Death were OK but not great IMO.

          • not really a lurker anymore said:

            I like Thrones, Dominations and A Prsumption of Death. Loathed the Attenbury Emeralds and am not willing to continue on with Paton Walsh after that.

        • solecism said:

          I love Thrones, Dominations. But I think I can tell where Paton Walsh filled in pieces of the manuscript. I tried A Presumption of Death. Did not like. Sadly, Paton Walsh is no Sayers. Don’t think I can explore further.

          It’s funny to hear Gaudy Night described as an antifeminist book. I can see that, but I think of it (and all the Harriet-Peter stories) as very feminist books. In the dinner scene, Peter asks the women deans why they think they even need male approval, or words to that effect. He displays over and over he respects the personhood of women, and supports Harriet’s agency even when she puts herself at risk. And I love all the women in that book pursuing their scholarship and interests with little thought to gender roles or social expectations and displaying the range of quirks and foibles that male characters are usually always allowed to have.

      • coffeespoons said:

        Friends who know that I love both quality SF & fantasy AND well-written Regency romance keep telling me that A Civil Campaign is gonna be my PERFECT cup of tea, but I need to familiarize myself with the world and characters before I dive in (I did flip through that one a bit, but felt rather lost, not having any of the relevant backstory). I’m glad for the Captain’s recommendations on where to begin!

        • Brisvegan said:

          Yes, I think you defintely need some background, including Komarr at absolute minimum. Young Miles will give you a feel for Miles’ personality and motivations. Brothers in Arms and the other books with Mark will explain some of Mark’s motivations, but are heavier reading, plus are probably not 100% essential before ACivil Campaign.

          Also: any of the Cordelia-centered books are also good because,as the Captain said, CORDELIA IS THE FUCKEN BEST.

          I started with Miles, so was not bummed out by the shift in focus from Cordelia to Miles.

          I also love all of the Vorkosigan saga, plus love Regency romances and Dorothy Sayers. I am also enjoying Bujold’s new Penric books and liked the other 5 gods world novels.

      • MK said:

        I wasn’t happy with the transition to everything-about-Miles either, Then I read the most recent book and I regreted ever wishing for another Cordelia book. She was absolutely cringeworhty, the kind of relative people write to CA about: wonderful in many ways, but violating boundaries every time they open their mouths.

      • How did you like Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance? To me, that read like a Georgette Heyer romance.

    • Couch Potato said:

      I really can’t like the Whimsy books, and Gaudy night is my least favourite. It is anti-feminist, and the ridiculous ‘statements/thoughts the character have around the love story nauseate me (gotta wonder if Sayers knew anything about falling in love/lust). The (sour) cherry on the cake is the ludicrous bit about Whimsy listening to Mozart (?) in a way that is superior to all the ‘plebs’. Sayers was an intellectual snob/class snob in the worst way IMVHO.

      • Evan Þ. said:

        gotta wonder if Sayers knew anything about falling in love/lust

        Sayers did, though in a very different way – between writing Wimsey books one and two, she fell in love with a man who promised to marry her but broke his word, leaving her with an illegitimate child; she then ended up marrying in haste another man whose own writing was unsuccessful and ended up resenting Sayers’ much more successful career. It’s a sad and ugly story.

        Sayers ended up writing several aspects of this into Harriet’s backstory, and though she never admitted it, I suspect she did end up somewhat idealizing the later Harriet/Peter relationship.

      • Chameleon said:

        That’s interesting, because I always thought of Gaudy Night as being one of the most feminist novels I’ve read. It’s all about women who are given the kind of rich internal life usually reserved for men in literature, and it does a really good job, I thought, of portraying the weirdness around really liking men and maybe even really loving one particular man and still yet feeling like being in a world with men can sometimes just inherently make you feel like a supporting character and maybe it would instead be nice to just live in a world of only women where we can talk and be smart and never have to worry about a man explaining things to us or having to act as padding to a man’s feelings.

        I have Thoughts about this book.

        • Couch Potato said:

          I wrote a long-ish comment about this which ‘disappeared’ – don’t know if the internet ate it or if it’s moderation so won’t post it again. But I had thoughts!

          • JenniferP said:

            Hi there, Couch Potato, it just got sent to the spam filter – a lot of comments end up there!

            But, as I went to finish out, it’s full of spoilers for the story including who did the crime, so, I’m not going to fish it out. Maybe people can have a Gaudy Night discussion thread at the friendsofcaptainawkward.com forums?

            I finally read Sayers after having the books totally overhyped to me for decades (like that white dude in your grad school class who is like YOU MUST WATCH THE WIRE and you’re like I ALREADY DID, BRO,YEARS AGO, IT WAS PRETTY GOOD THANKS and he’s like DID IT CHANGE YOUR FUCKING LIFE and I’m like NO, BRO, BUT IT WAS SOME ENJOYABLE ELEVISION) and I did not enjoy Whose Body? at all and thought Gaudy Night was a fun read, comparatively. I don’t think your critiques are wrong, but I had fun reading it – like “Oh, this is the argument she’s making right now, interesting” or “Weird, that’s who did the crime and why, that makes no sense?” and “Holy shit, that lady professor is kind of a Nazi” and This was a pretty fun world to spend a couple afternoons in, I get why people enjoy this not “I shall strive to emulate these characters in all that I do and tattoo quotes from this on my body.”

            Anyway, people always ask me what I’m reading, I always answer honestly, and it’s always ok if we like different books! There are lots of stories hat are super-important to people that I’m like “That was certainly a thing!” so no worries.

        • Rebecca said:

          This is not adding anything really, to this discussion, but Chameleon, this basically just seconds all my thoughts on that book, which I love deeply!

    • many bells down said:

      Also, Q6, there’s a timeline of the stories in the back of most of the Vorkosigan books that suggests reading order.

    • goddessoftransitory said:

      LURVE Gaudy Night. I dived into it at hazard because one of my favorite authors ever in the cosmos, Connie Willis, loves her too, and man, it just rings all the changes, doesn’t it?

      • Evan Þ. said:

        Should I guess from your phrasing that you also enjoyed Nine Tailors (a Wimsey mystery about change ringing, and another of my favorites)?

        • CHANGE RINGING!!!!!!

          I got into change ringing about a year ago, and so of course asked for Nine Tailors for Christmas. Da had Opinions, and alongside it I got a copy of Murder Must Advertise with “This is the best one” scrawled on the wrapping. I quite enjoyed both, and I am looking forward to reading more of them (especially the Harriet Vane ones) when I get a chance.

    • I recommend reading them in published order. I think they make more sense that way.

  2. Rootsandbranches said:

    Q7: In a super busy job, using a kanban to-do list changed my life. I use the free account on kanbanflow.com, there are plenty of other platforms out there. That one in particular was easy for me to use and had the ability to add subtasks, notes, due dates, and color coding.

    I’m gonna do a quick overview of the guidelines I use, for anyone that wants to give it a try: 

    1) You need, at a minimum, categories for “To-do,” “Work In Progress/Do Today/Current Focus,” and “Done.”

    2a) I’m not joking about the “Done” category. Moving tasks into it, like crossing them off a paper list, is intensely satisfying. And then you have a record of everything you’ve done!

    2b) Only put tasks on your list that can be ultimately marked as Done. Think,  “Catch up on emails from my time off,” not “Stay current on emails.”

    3) You may want additional categories. I had an area for things that weren’t done but I was waiting on someone else to take action before I could move further. I’ve also seen folks have a separate space for things that they didn’t want to forget, but didn’t need to think about for several weeks or months.

    4) Humans are actually not that great at multitasking. Put a limit on how many tasks can be in your “Work In Progress/Do Today/Current Focus” category. Three is a good place to start.

    5) Pull, don’t push. Concentrate on your
    Do Today items. When you’ve finished one, or as much as you can do,  move it to the appropriate place. If you want, you can then bring another task into that area. (Of course, in a busy time sometimes you’ll have to push a task into that space. If you do, look at the ones in the already. What can you deprioritize to make room?

    • Diane said:

      This is so helpful! Thank you!

    • Q7 said:

      Thank you so much! I’ve never heard of kanban before and I will check that out. Your advice and Captain Awkward’s advice are a great combo, and you both rock!

      For what it’s worth, I do work in an office–in behavioral healthcare, so things are a little different with completing tasks (I do paperwork and documentation between clients and in time I specifically hold for paperwork). I am over scheduled for several weeks in part due to a training that’s three consecutive Thursdays. Week one of the training was this past week, so now I have two more to go, then a normal week, then vacation! I hope everything will be approximating normal again by the first full week of January, but who knows.

    • owenmontbrun said:

      This is great! A primary tenant of “agile” framework like Kanban is: “Stop starting, and start finishing.” This is simple to say and VERY hard to do, but it is the BEST thing for productivity.

  3. Ankh-Morpork (also MusicWithRocksInIt) said:

    I got to the end of European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman and was so shocked that there wasn’t another one. I am usually super late to these parties so when I find out about them there are always lots of books already in the series. Then I read the Last Dragon slayer series and that ended on a cliffhanger without the next book out yet. Is this what being hip with the latest cool nerd stuff is? Not having the next book in the series? Because if it is I would rather be lame.

  4. cheerfullygoth said:

    Q4: It kinda sounds like you do have plans, though. Your plan is to recharge without a lot of socializing. A plan to stay inside with, oh, say, popcorn and netflix in your pjs still counts as a plan.

    • I was just coming in to say something similar — You have plans, Q4. It’s okay to say to people inviting you places that “Oh, gosh, I’m sorry. I’ve got plans.” Most people will accept that at face value, so I’d probably start there!

      (Some people, however, feel the vagueness of “got plans” is insufficient explanation. Good news! You don’t have to tell them! “But what are you doing?” “I already told you! How about that sportsball team?”)

      • Darcy Pennell said:

        I don’t want to be vague and just hope no one finds out what my week is actually like for a couple of reasons.

        For one, like I said in the question people already know I have a week off and no travel or anything. Also, maintaining secrecy would mean staying off social media for the week, which would make it less fun for me. Most of all, I’m really looking forward to a week to myself, I don’t get this kind of time off often. I don’t want to treat it like a secret I’m hiding from my friends.

        I really like the idea though, of openly saying the time to myself is the plan and being excited about it, not apologetic. I think that will work!

        • Clorinda said:

          It’s “quiet me-time and recharging my batteries.” No reasonable person can argue with that! Unreasonable people will argue, but they’ll argue with anything, so appeasing them was never an option anyway.

          • The unreasonable people deserve to be hung up on/blocked/muted/unfollowed/unfriended.

          • @Clorinda, exactly! I’m not saying be vague or secretive; I’m saying say you can’t because You Have Plans. Get on Social Media! Do all those other things! Tell your friends if you want to tell them exactly what your plans are! That’s your call, Darcy.

            Where specifically I’m coming from: Because the campus I work for closes completely between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I have yearly recharge time, but if I didn’t tell my family I have plans (even if those plans are simply to make plans every morning when I wake up) they would insist on invading that time.

        • Emma9 said:

          ‘taking care of some stuff that fell by the wayside during the holidays’ is also a possible excusephrase. Most will hear that as ‘doing boring adulting tasks’ and not be interested in inquiring further. I’ve used similar to good effect.

          • bloodygranuaile said:

            “I have a bunch of stuff to catch up on” is my all-time favorite code for “I’d rather stay home, and while I’m at it I suppose I could clean a thing or two, if I decide I’d like it cleaner”

        • You can always call it a “staycation” if you need to make it sound more like A Thing.

    • fragmentation said:

      I love this framing. It lets you present your recharging time as something you’re genuinely excited about, rather than something to apologize for: “That week I’m actually really looking forward to just relaxing in my pyjamas, but I’d love to go llama watching with you in January!”

      • Darcy Pennell said:

        LW for Q4 here. Yes, this is very good! I’m hoping to avoid basically saying “I’d rather sit alone than spend time with you,” but presenting it as something I’m excited about sounds much more positive. Time to myself! To watch movies, read books and maybe start a project! Or maybe not!

    • dreamwaffles said:

      I’m reminded of a time when a friend didn’t want to tell me what she was doing in about fourth grade, and so she told me she had a manumission. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that word, and at that age I hadn’t developed tact about my somewhat relentless word-hunger, so I hounded her for a little while about what, in retrospect, probably seemed to her to be nosiness about what she was doing. All I wanted to know was what the heck a ‘manumission’ was, because it sounded SO COOL.

      So if you want to lend your personal life a slight air of mystery, and potentially bamboozle word-hungry fourth graders, there’s a potential word for you!

    • “TV counts as a place.”

      – Jane Lane

  5. Re: Dorothy Sayers. I love Bunter. He can do SO much better than Lord Peter. 😉
    Seriously though, some stories from Bunter’s POV would, I think, be both fun and hysterical.

    • coffeespoons said:

      Bunter is great, but I’ve always enjoyed the relationship between Bunter and Peter. When I first read Whose Body?, the turning point from “This is a fun little Golden Age mystery” to “Oh wow, this is getting deeper under my skin than I’d expected for a detective series” came when Peter goes into a nasty PTSD episode and Bunter takes care of him. Peter tends to default to his particular brand of flippant unflappability in public (when he’s not letting people erroneously assume he’s a complete twit), and Bunter is this impassive, perfect butler who is always perfectly composed and perfectly correct. I find something oddly touching about the emotional intimacy that underlies the relationship.

      …but I also just adore reading about Bunter scolding Peter for wearing imperfect clothing, and I would read the HELL out of stories written from Bunter’s perspective!

      • EllenS said:

        I’ve read all of them over the years, I think. And I believe there is one with at least a big section in Bunter’s voice. Not speaking entirely freely, of course, but sending written reports back to LPW while he’s working independently.

        Might be in Have His Carcase?

        And there’s an idea nibbling at the back of my mind that there might be a short story with Butter as narrator. But I might have imagined it, or conflated it with a Bertie and Jeeves.

      • Evan Þ said:

        I agree! I think that’s the best moment in Whose Body?.

        And then, I think the end of Busman’s Honeymoon is a great callback to that (among its many other great qualities), where Harriet is there for Peter in almost the exact same sense – and Peter lets her be there for him and see him at his least-unflappable. I’m sorry Sayers didn’t continue with the series (aside from the novella Talboys and a few notes Walsh later picked up), but that was the perfect moment to end it on.

        • not really a lurker anymore said:

          I like how Bunter and Harriet are joining forces at the end of Busman’s Honeymoon.

          • Fantasia said:

            However, do notice that Bunter, who had the same war experiences as Lord Peter, does not have shell-shock, because his working-class nerves are considerably more robust than LP’s aristocratic ones. Absolutely agreeing with the commenter above about Sayers’ snobbishness.

  6. Thanksforallthefish said:

    Q17 One way to also get some self-care is join a caregivers support group. My Grandma became my Grandpa’s sole caregiver for many years after his stroke. He was very kind and never complained and still it was really really hard! And then my Grandma who “doesn’t do therapy” joined a caregivers support group which helped her so much! You deserve a point to dump out to as well.

    Also, perhaps one gentle conversation could sit around…”I feel like your caregiver more than your partner sometimes…can we do xyz to help me still feel like I’m in a romantic relationship?” Because that could be a productive conversation.

  7. Other Meredith said:

    Q9: My friends and I often do a friends holiday celebration for people who don’t get to or don’t want to go home for the holidays. Last year it was a New Year’s lunch, a couple of years before that it was Christmas breakfast. This year so far we’ve done watching Hallmark movies together while decorating a tree at designated friends house. We have a certain light display we go to every year and then get hot chocolate. For me the holidays have always been very family centered, so having fun and festive rituals activities that I can do with friends instead has helped me a lot when I don’t get to go home. Also, get the day after Christmas off work if you can. Last year was the first year I said I would work that day, and it was the biggest bummer. I was depressed for half of Christmas knowing I had to go in to work the next day.

  8. Re A2: The Theodora Goss books are so good! And thanks for mentioning that Chrome extension, Captain, will definitely be checking into that.

  9. Vicki said:

    Re Sayers: What’s your opinion of the Dowager Duchess?

    • coffeespoons said:

      As Dowagers With Strong Opinions go, I would rather invite the Dowager Duchess of Denver to my party than the Dowager Countess from Downton Abbey. I think the latter would provide some entertainment value, but (assuming this is a party with guests I actually like) I would not want to inflict her fine-tuned scathing remarks upon my guests.

      • Jules the Third (I think) said:

        Dowager Duchess of Denver is able to grow and change. I like her.

    • Karyn said:

      Dowager Duchess is *amazing*. Love her so much.

    • EllenS said:

      Love. Particularly how you can see the direct line between her flighty “oh please underestimate me so I can play you like a cheap squeeze box” persona, and Peter’s feckless twit act.

    • Clearly we are supposed to like her. She’s advertised as understanding Peter (including his admiration of Harriet), and disapproving of Mrs. Gerald.

      Even as a kid I found her snobbery and skittishness unbearable.

    • Light37 said:

      She is fun, but also made me feel very sorry for Mary, who didn’t seem to matter much in the Dowager’s eyes (or her father’s). Luckily Mary was able to go on and make a happy life for herself with a man who thought she was just fine the way she was.

  10. Kathy said:

    I took a complaint about transfer credits to my college after they promised transfers and then reneged. Although I was that college student whose? every statement? comes out as a question? I was in this case uncharacteristically firm and insistent. I would not accept their excuses just to be polite and avoid conflict with someone who looked more adult than I was. What they did was wrong and they must therefore accept the credits immediately. Rather to my surprise, they backed down and did it. If the school has been unfair, don’t ask, tell! And good luck with it.

    • It has also been my experience that being pushy/assertive about transfer credits can be effective. My situation was a bit different: I registered for a particular class after having been told it would count for a distribution requirement I needed, and then found out it wouldn’t count after all. I was able to get a class I’d taken at a different school to count for the requirement even though I hadn’t argued for that at first. Honestly I’m not sure the class *should* have counted, but I was able to graduate on time and I don’t think I missed anything terribly important.

  11. DeltaDelta said:

    Q11: I am 40. I am a lawyer. I am published. I did not know/consider this bibliography trick until this exact minute and it is literally the best thing I have read all week. It makes me want to go research something just to try it.

    • Thanksforallthefish said:

      Yes! I’m so glad I’m not the only one excited and blown away by this tip. I need to go back to college just to use this!

  12. Rachel said:

    Just coming here to say that you are great, and I really appreciate the effort you put into moderating the comments.

  13. Forrest said:

    Controversial Bujold take: I really don’t like Cordelia very much. She reads too much like a wish-fulfilment character and I find her “always the wisest” schtick really irritating. Even her failings feel too much like “hm this otherwise perfectly wise and beautiful and strong character must have Failings to make her Human and Relatable”. I like Shards of Honor and Barrayar – especially Barrayar – but the older and wiser Cordelia gets the less like a real person she feels like.

    (I also think Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is either a real failure of a novel, if we’re supposed to like Cordelia, or else a work of genius, if it’s supposed to show how completey worn out and joyless she is after forty years of Barrayar.)

    • JenniferP said:

      Gentleman Jole & The Red Queen and all the later books that are like “I *WILL* PAIR EVERYONE OFF IF IT’S THE LAST THING I DO” mostly went in one eye and out the other tbh. I could miss the butter bugs entirely. But in the earlier books, I’m ok with a little Lady Space Scientist Ship’s Captain Explorer wish fulfillment and the thing that Miles realizes as he comes of age – everyone on his home planet is obsessed with his Dad and will he live up to his dad, while it’s his mother who is the formidable one. Same way I’m like “who cares about a Han Solo origin story, tell me about LEIA THE SPACE PRINCESS DIPLOMAT REVOLUTIONARY PLEASE.”

      But it’s okay to not dig it, I don’t like lots of things other people swear are awesome and I would love them. 🙂

      • Forrest said:

        I just saw your tweet about this and I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to piss you off! It wasn’t meant as a “You are wrong for liking this”, but a “I love these books too, but I have a different take on this character, anyone want to talk about them”.

        What I mean by “wish fulfilment” isn’t being a space captain stuff of anything Cordelia does when she’s the protagonist. It’s the wise-matriarch stuff from the later books, when I feel like she’s all iconic THE COUNTESS that everyone in Miles’s generation looks up to and who delivers all this devastating character analysis, but I don’t get a sense of a real person separate from how the other characters see her, even when she’s POV character.

        But I definitely didn’t mean it as”let me shit all over this thing you love” and definitely not as “a female heroic character is just totally unrealistic ugh”, so I’m really sorry!

    • Except for Gentleman Jole… The other books are written from the point of view of a Miles who idealizes both of his parents, but was expected to step into his father’s shoes. His mother’s shoes were left an enigma to him. Thinking of it that way helps me a lot with Cordelia.

  14. Jules the Third (I think) said:

    In the middle of _Civil Campaign_ right now, for the umpteenth time of running through all the Miles books, with Gaudy Night on my bookshelf next to the Georgette Heyers and Jane Austens. Woot!

    • Pam said:

      Now that’s a reading list after my own heart!

  15. coffeespoons said:

    Q11: I love the Captain’s answer, and I so wish my university’s library had offered a program of judgment-free research assistance as the end of term drew near. I was always much too scared of being judged to ask the librarians for help when my deadline was looming, and I really wish now that I hadn’t been.

    RE: puppies: YES. One of the student organizations at the university where I work partners with the local animal shelter to have “Rent-a-Puppy” days near the end of the semester. I don’t know if this is particularly feasible for a library, but it is an incredibly popular and well-loved event here. Folks sign up for a dog, and they walk/cuddle with/play with the pup for 15 minutes. Students love it, and it’s fun to watch the dogs scamper about, getting all excited about new friends.

    • Our school also does this with the local shelter, not a rent-a-puppy day, but dogs who are brought in specifically for petting and cuddles by stressed students.

      • Renita said:

        My husband’s university brings in therapy dogs. Same idea.

    • Sel said:

      So… I gotta say, as an academic reference librarian working in a major US university, responses like this and even Jennifer’s up above are super depressing because… these services exist. Unless your school is really small and struggling financially (and it is true that many schools are struggling financially) I guarantee these library services are already there. I can’t tell you the number of hours I’ve spent in meetings with other librarians discussing over and over how to get students to actually show up and use the services we offer. I can’t tell you the number of times I have gone to classes and plastered my contact information all over white boards and projector screens and LMS and been like “PLEASE CALL/EMAIL/SCHEDULE A CONSULTATION I LITERALLY EXIST IN THE JOB TO HELP YOU” and the only responses I have yet to receive are from graduate students who want me to buy an expensive book for them*.

      This is a perennial problem from the librarian perspective, nearly every librarian I have ever spoken to has talked wistfully about the amazing services their library offers and how underused they are. Maybe us librarians collectively suck that bad at marketing, but… legit, for the students (of any level) reading this… please go to your library and ask, I would bet an entire, pre-tax paycheck that what you want is already there.

      *I am actually totally happy to do this [especially this year as I somehow ended up with like $15,000 of extra book money, thank you magic money fairy, please demonstrate such largesse with regards to my personal bank account someday] but it’s kind of hilarious that they seem to only remember the library exists when they’re trying to figure out how to not spend $700 of their own money on something they need for their work.

      • KayEss said:

        I know my school had a mandatory “This Is The Library And All Its Magic” session for freshmen at the beginning of the term, which included the ever-vital segment on “Do not fear the motorized compact bookstacks! They are physically unable to crush you, even in the event of a robot uprising!”

        Information overload is so high on new students at that time, though… but then toward the end of term you get shame and avoidance peaks as deadlines approach. Probably for the best result you’d have to do a level of coordinated handholding like part of the mandatory freshman comp class is a mandatory research paper and everyone is required to schedule a mandatory library research consultation on their topic early in the process. (But that assumes the library can actually handle 500+ consultations over a relatively short period of time, which… I don’t know if that’s optimistic or not.)

        • Friendly Hipposcriff said:

          The beginning of term is useful for a quick introduction (‘the library entrance is hidden on the third floor in the far corner and not signposted’) but it’s also the time when students get introduced to
          – academic standards
          – one or more subjects that a different from school experiences
          – at least half a dozen tutors/lecturers/profs who are important and who think they’re important
          – All The Things on campus (where do I live? where do I eat? where do I do laundry?)
          – quite possibly, All The Things in a new town (where’s a supermarket with fresh veggies? Where’s the pool? How do I find a GP? Best bookstore in town?)
          – a lot of new people they might want to make friends with
          – general dealing with major life upheaval and missing school/friends/family/pets/partners

          What I’m saying is that library inductions are just one thing of many, and probably not the most urgent/important, in the grand scheme of things.

          Offering inductions after the first flurry has died down and students will have had to do at least one essay/presentation/whatever might be more useful.

          • Frances said:

            A couple of times when I was in college, the professor would invite someone from the library in for a quick refresher on their services right before we kicked off a major research paper. It was great because it gave you the info right when you needed to use it!

        • yarnofadifferentkind said:

          Worked in the Writing and Research Center in my college, where (almost?) all professors teaching the mandatory freshman comp class gave a mandatory research paper and everyone was required to schedule an appointment in the WRC. …those accounted for about 60% of our appointments. About 30% were ESL graduate students for an englishcheck. Maybe 10%, and I think I’m being generous, were non-mandated appointments for help with research or writing.

          I think the end-of-semester problem is the four horsemen “don’t think I need help”, “don’t want to admit I need help”, “don’t want to spend time getting help”, and “don’t have time to spend getting help” (before I worked there, I rode with horsemen #1 and #3), and I’m not sure how you combat those.

          Advertising it as “this is for people who procrastinated and are in over their heads” would help some people, but might give others the “what if professor/crush/class know-it-all finds out I went?”

          • Yep, those four horsemen are exactly why I never used my library’s services.

          • solecism said:

            Actually, I suffered more through “don’t know I need help.”

            Also, I think this can be a class issue. People who grow up poor know damn well the system isn’t there to help them, so they don’t know how to work the system/make the system work for them.

        • Kaos said:

          The first time I was in grad school…so we all had already completed degrees at that point, my entire cohort was required to sit through a couple hours long “this is the library” information session. Keep in mind that this was way back in the dark ages (1984) and so we still used card catalogues, wrote down numbers and searched the stacks for books. Nothing was online because there was no “online.” I don’t even know if the Google dudes were born yet LOL! Guess I could Google that info, but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

          Even after making it through yearly field trips to the school (and occasionally local/community) library(ies) throughout elementary/middle/high school, and getting through an undergrad program with grades good enough to get into grad school, we all went through a ‘library 101’ thing again.

          And yanno what? I’ve always been glad we did. There was more stuff available in terms of what they would/could help with/acquire for us than I had ever previously been aware. Maybe they were saving the ‘good stuff’ for the grad students? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

          Long story short (ha! too late) I think maybe doing something like this, particularly with incoming undergrads wouldn’t be the worse possible investment if there’s a way to do it.

      • For me, I have never used these kinds of services at any of my school’s libraries because early on in the term/assignment/project/whatever, I feel like I’ve got it all under control and I surely don’t need help. When it gets closer to the end and I am drowning, I become too embarrassed to seek help and stubbornly insist on trying to bail myself out on my own. I doubt I’m alone in that phenomenon, but I’m not sure what librarians could do to fix it even if it was their job to fix that particular problem, which I don’t think it is.

        • Chameleon said:

          Oh hello myself!

          It’s really bad because I am now an actual real university professor and I still do this even while I lament my students doing so.

        • Reed said:

          We can’t help with the emotional and executive function disorders (though our assistance-for-students-with-disabilities office can (ours changes its name every other year, I’m not sure what to call it generally). But if I get a student with a deadline in difficulties I will move heaven and earth to get them a doable list of research materials, access to a computer, moral support, and I have even helped them write letters to their tutors to ask for more time etc. Most university librarians did degrees, know about the Study Crash And Burn, and have been there. There’s no shame. I have three degrees and half a PhD and I buggered up EVERY SINGLE THESIS I EVER WROTE and had to be rescued by librarians.

        • Librarian-In-Training said:

          It actually is part of our job to fix this! I’m in library school right now and a whole section of my reference class was about ways helping patrons overcome library anxiety/shame. It’s a known (and studied!) phenomenon. Ultimately, the decision to seek out our services is up to the patron, but there are lots of strategies libraries are using to help overcome this. Making sure the way we communicate both verbally and nonverbally is friendly and encouraging is a big one. That part of the class covered how body language can make librarians seem welcoming or closed off and how even if you’ve heard the same question 10 times that day, you should treat each patron as though they’re the first to ask it.

          Offering email/IM reference services for patrons who don’t want to ask their question face-to-face is also becoming common. At the academic library where I work, we sometimes get chats from students who are in the library but don’t want to approach the reference desk. Once they realize that we’re willing to help, they sometimes decide to finish asking their questions face-to-face.

          We also have some professors on campus who bring their classes’ assignments to the library and go over them with one of the reference librarians. They usually include that librarian’s name and contact info on the assignment instructions. A lot of students come in asking for specific librarians by name because of this. Knowing who to ask for can help some students overcome their anxiety.

          tl;dr Librarians know about library anxiety/shame and are working on ways of helping patrons overcome it.

      • JenniferP said:

        Hi, sorry to depress you! If you think the students at your institution are adequately using the library, and you don’t want to plan additional end-of-year events, no need!

        I do think that there are students who just don’t connect with the information until it’s really late in the game and they need to apply it, so I suggested something that would remove shame.

        • eh1266 said:

          Q11 here! Thank you so much for your advice — your perspective on students’ emotional state this time of year is compassionate and helpful. I hosted a packed Citation Workshop last night, and sent out my “office hours” so students could book appointments with me in the next few weeks. I see now that the best thing I can do, along with the fun things like puppies and stress balls, is to simply be there for them. “It’s not too late, no judgment” is the message I’m projecting from here till Finals Week. 🙂

          • JenniferP said:

            Good job!

      • It is odd. As a student, in undergrad, I worked as a writing tutor and the tutoring center was inside the campus library. I ended up just staying in the library after work, or before, either to get stuff done or just explore.

        And there was so much cool stuff! Our library was twelve stories high and each floor had some neat feature, including a historical children’s library with antique books that you could only touch with gloves. That wing also had a sample of a Cynthia Rylant book in various stages of development, including how illustrators and writers go about getting agents and connecting with each other. I ended up meeting with that librarian a ton because my capstone project for a narrative illustration class (upper level art class) was a children’s picture book, and I ended up sending it out to small presses. I also connected with Cynthia Rylant’s agent, on the librarian’s advice, who gave me a ton of free feedback!

        I still like that book, and I do want to send it out to small presses again. But! My point is, basically no other art majors, or theatrical design majors, knew that wing existed. Nor did most of my co-majors know that the entire 8th floor was dedicated to graphic design and art history, including a book with incredibly concrete, technical guidance teaching the painting techniques of the Renaissance artists.

        And it’s like…gah, I know you feel like you have to live in the studio, but one advantage of going to a state University instead of an art school like RISD is we have all these awesome cross-najor resources.

        And they were able to just order all this neat stuff! like a portfolio, I mean like a huge, physical portfolio of Adrian Piper’s work, including original handwritten notes, from 1968. We couldn’t keep it, it belonged to a university in Chicago, but I was able to use it as my primary source for a project. And, that librarian helped me figure out how to cite a primary source.

        Just. That library was so good. I loved it so much. And I feel like basically nobody else in my major knew it existed beyond as a place you can print your papers? And I did get a lot of, “what if the librarians judge us?” But, tbh I feel like a lot of my peers got preliminarily defensive when literally librarians are mainly happy to help. I never was judged by a librarian. Even when I lost a book and ended up being fined $240, I called them and they were like, “well that’s just ridiculous,” and changed the fine to $35 (cost of the book).

        • ashbet said:

          “a book with incredibly concrete, technical guidance teaching the painting techniques of the Renaissance artists.”

          Please, do you recall the author/title of that book? I’d love to see if I could get access to a copy!!

          Thanks ❤

          • I will try to find it. I would definitely recognize the cover. Unfortunately I remember the title being something like, “Renaissance Art,” and there must have been more words in that title.

          • Alright, I did some Googling and I believe it is ‘Techniques of the Great Masters’ by Waldemar Januszczak. Pretty sure that’s the one I read. It’s from 1996 so I’m not sure if it is still in print, but there seem to be some used copies on Amazon.

          • I read “Techniques of the Great Masters” a few years ago and it significantly changed my perspective of the history and development of Impressionism. Most histories understandably focus on social atmosphere and work backward from what ended up being famous and important later, but I’d never read a primarily technique-driven history. It made SO MUCH sense. I wish there were a 19-20th century art history book that was primary sources only, such as what the artists themselves wrote about the art in letters, etc., alongside relevant technical explanations, with a great big map of who was hanging out with whom and when. My dream would be a wiki of all this with lesser known artists (i.e. women) included in the big picture as well. …This doesn’t exist does it? Anyone?

        • coffeespoons said:

          That’s so cool! One of the hardest things about being a university student was having access to all this AMAZING stuff–fantastic libraries! Rare books! Collections of the personal papers of filmmakers I adored! Plays! Free musical performances! Hobby groups! Museums! Dance performances! Free film screenings! Cooking demonstrations of traditional Indonesian dishes! ALL THE THINGS!!–and not having enough time or bandwidth to be able to enjoy more than a tiny, tiny fraction of what I wanted to. I loved it when my classes built these kinds of experiences into the curriculum, like when one class went to the university art museum together, or when I was assigned to request a rare book from the closed collection and got to hold a first edition of Pride & Prejudice in cotton-gloved hands. I didn’t have to convince myself that it was OK to take time from schoolwork to do this fun thing, because the fun thing WAS schoolwork. And I had a reason to go to these places/events, which helped me get past my anxiety issues. And you know, after going to the rare books library that first time and learning how to request material, I was less afraid to go back and ask to see some of the Orson Wells papers, which was pretty awesome.

      • Koala dreams said:

        I participated in library services as an undergratudate student, and those were great. I’m glad to read that you librarians like to offer them to students! At my university, the libraries were usually crammed with students studying in the quiet rooms or the group rooms, so I guess it was the natural place to go for help with things. Unfortunately the library at my institution was always closed when it was time to hand in the autumn semester papers, so only the students with great planning skills managed to get help from the librarians with those. In the spring semester, on the other hand, it was great!
        Services I used:
        How to search for things in the online catalogue, small group lesson (great for new students)
        Ask a librarian office hour – you had to book it one or two days in advance, I remember (great for term papers)
        How to write a list of references for your paper, small group lecture (also great for term papers)
        Quiet study room (great for studying for the finals)
        Group Room (decent for group work) (actually the group rooms at the students clubs and student libraries were even better since there weren’t as many people there, however the opening hours were better at the university libraries)

        There were also drop in help to get from whoever manned the desk, the quality of help depended on who happened to be there. All of them could show you how to search for things in the catalogue, but the actual librarians could offer more in-depth help with research.

    • Another Academic Librarian said:

      “I so wish my university’s library had offered a program of judgment-free research assistance as the end of term drew near.”

      The funny thing about this is that academic libraries (should) ALWAYS provide judgement-free research assistance–we will get you to the best sources we can, whether you’re paper is due in two hours or two months, and we’ll throw in some moral support too. But I have never thought about marketing end-of-semester services in a way that specifically emphasizes that lack of judgement/shame.

    • Clorinda said:

      There is always judgment-free research help to be had in a library. Helping students is a big part of the academic librarian’s job! Maybe some of them might be a little judgy because people are people, and they might find it tedious to be answering the same question for the thirtieth time since Wednesday … but you’ll get your answer. Go and ask!

    • Spektrioe said:

      Re: dogs: if you run a place that does not have animals in it by default, before you bring them in pleasepleaseplease make sure you’re not preventing access for people who are allergic or afraid of dogs. Having an asthma attach is not exactly a thing that makes studying easier.

  16. BigDogLittleCat said:

    Q21 – In addition to the Captain’s second question (“how much access…) apply the Sheelebub Principle: what if you do nothing and the cycle of fuck up/apologize continues for the next five years?
    Depending on the relationship and the severity of the fuck up, you might decide you can live with it if you adjust your expectations/contact accordingly, or you might realize you will eventually end up coming to blows (figuratively).

    Then, plan your response accordingly: start your mental adjustments or address the problem directly: “I don’t want any more apologies. I want you to stop the behavior.”

    In the extreme case, I finally realized nothing I could do would get them to change their behavior and that it was killing me, so I went no contact.

    • Reed said:

      In my case, the behaviour escalated and the apologies became more and more perfunctory until they were outright Reed-blaming. In retrospect I wish I had bailed on the relationship much earlier.

      • BigDogLittleCat said:

        There comes a point at which apologies are insulting and almost more infuriating than the behavior itself.

        I’m glad you’re out of that toxic relationship.

  17. Cyberwulf said:

    Q10: I love my parents, siblings and cousins very much. Better yet, I like them! I look forward to the holidays with glee because they’ll all be around and we’ll all meet up for dinner and party games and ice-skating.

    And yet, there is nothing quite as nice as being able to say, “Oh, look at the time, I’d better get home.” Even with family you like. Is it possible, next time you and sister visit, to stay in a nearby hotel instead of in your parents’ house? After you’ve had dinner and sat around playing cards/watching Britcoms/talking about every single family member and what they’re up to and the parenting is starting to wear, you can say, “Oh! Look at the time! We’d best get back to the hotel. Lunch tomorrow?” Bonus – some time in the evenings to decompress without Ma Momsplaining how to make a sandwich or Da grumbling that it’s ten o’clock and why aren’t you in bed yet.

    • hsomers said:

      YES. So much this. Staying at a hotel greatly improved my last trip home. It was life changing!

    • Kitty said:

      Shitty family fun times:
      After difficult holidays with my Dad in the past, this year I decided to book my own separate Airbnb for our planned trip to another country to visit family there, so I’d have some buffer space. I messaged him this in April so he’d have time to make his own plans for the trip in September. Not only did he not reply, he didn’t come on the trip and hasn’t sloken to me since! Good times.

    • Me said:

      Q10 Letter writer here: You have no idea of the family shitstorm that would happen if I suggested staying at a hotel 🙂 (My sister has kids so there is also that complication). I don’t think I or my sister is go that far. Anyways, we survive by playing board games in separate room and drinking wine and limiting our visits to 3 nights.

      • valentine said:

        What if you just stay at a hotel, or elsewhere, zero discussion?

  18. Zenfrodo said:

    Daniel and Henrietta are the cutest kitties EVER, and I also vouch for that turbo scratcher! Good LORD, our kitties love that thing (and yes, they sell cheap replacement balls and scratcher pads for it). We had to get a second one to chill hissy fits (five cats). There’s also a cat-grass-growing insert that you can get for it that our kitties love, too.

    • GreyjoyGardens said:

      I’m the kitty questioning OP, and I thank Captain Awkward and everyone who replied! I’ve got a nice Christmas list for my clowder, and Daniel and Henrietta are so, so adorable. I want to kiss their stripes!

  19. Kersten said:

    Omg my former roommate was the “Halper” from Q18! I did start out with a form of the “Thanks for thinking of me but I really want/need to/am responsible for buying that kind of stuff,” line, but because she was my roommate, much better paid than me, and also a deeply anxious person who compensated by exerting control over stuff that was Not Her Business, our relationship deteriorated and ended about a year after she moved in. My advice with people like that is to kindly but FIRMLY and CLEARLY establish a boundary and to watch out if it’s a repeated behavior. An information diet (when feasible) is an EXCELLENT mode of managing these types of people. A++ Captain!
    And I think it’s okay to be annoyed by this behavior (as a depressed person I often get a lot of offers for help that are actually concern trolling), especially if it goes on after you’ve been clear about your boundaries. Cool people who are willing to work on themselves might slip up sometimes but they will try to back off. People who are not cool might be coming from a genuinely kind place but that’s not an excuse for ignoring your wishes.

  20. BigDogLittleCat said:

    Q8: whether it’s training or receiving an assignment, repeat the instructions back to them.*

    “Okay, I want to be sure I’ve got this correctly. You want me to ABC and you need it by X date, correct?”
    “Before we go any further, I want to be sure I understand the procedure to this point. It’s 1-2-3, correct?”
    “All right, I will do xyz. What about qrst do you want me to do that to?”

    It’s not enough to take notes. Repeating it back to them makes sure that you do understand and gives them to chance to improve the instruction by adding to or correcting it. It puts their seal of approval on it, so to speak, and helps cement in their head what exactly they told you, if there is a question later, and you need to pull out your notes.
    It makes everyone slow down a bit and think about it.

    This not only gives you a better chance of getting it right the first time, you learn where their blind spots are so you can anticipate them in future: Joe always forgets to tell you when there’s external forms to completed as part of the process. Sue doesn’t understand what XYZ Dept does, so do step # their way.

    Good luck at the new job!

    * or transfer of information. When giving tasks to new/over eager underlings, ask them to repeat it back to you.

  21. Ilex said:

    My three kitties love their heated beds. The small size is great for even large cats, like my two boys! Plus, they cost very little to run, so I encourage anyone interested to leave them plugged in at all times when your AC isn’t needed.

    We have two of these, and they are MUCH loved: https://www.chewy.com/kh-pet-products-thermo-kitty-cat-bed/dp/46572
    This smaller bolster-sided bed is the newest and very popular: https://www.chewy.com/kh-pet-products-thermo-kitty-fashion/dp/54595

  22. Caraval said:

    Q14: Yes, the Bergan Turbo Scratcher is hands down the best cat toy I’ve ever gotten. Even our grumpy 17-year-old will sometimes play with it–with the 2 kittens there! Even the giant pile of crumply packing paper hasn’t managed that. Another good one, if they like rolly balls, is the Tower of Tracks https://www.amazon.com/Petstages-Tower-Tracks-Track-Interactive/dp/B00DT2WL26 It’s a lot smaller than I’d expected from the picture (you can basically stack it on the cardboard part of the Bergan) but again, crazy cat fun. At this point my kittens no longer bat the balls around, they set one rolling and then run -around- the tower chasing it!

    Also, you can substitue one of those mesh collabsible laundry hampers for a tunnel, I’ve discovered. Even better than a tunnel, the solid fabric bottom means one can sit inside and the other outside and they can poke at each other through the fabric. How is this better? Not sure, but they do it for hours.

  23. nein09 said:

    I love both Q1 and A1 because I am definitely the sort of person who turns into Q1 colleague, and I can say definitively that a kind approach like this helps me both realize what I’m doing and break out of the frustration mire. Thanks for this.

  24. Aurora said:

    Q18: I don’t have any advice in addition to the Captain’s wonderful ideas, but I just wanted to say that you’re not alone. My family members will go even a step further and buy stuff for me that I never even mentioned but they thought I would like/need it. And depending on the cost, sometimes they’re not gifts but something I have to pay them back for. Just this week, my dad called me to tell me that he had bought me a snowblower “because it was on sale” and that “we’ll find a way for you to pay me back”. I absolutely do not have $500 (!!!) to pay him back right now, considering my savings have been decimated by recent events and I’m not even sure what I’ll be able to afford for holiday gifts. I never asked for a snowblower and even when he gave me his old one previously, I never even used it before it broke down.

    I pretty bluntly told him all of these things (“I never really wanted or needed a snowblower and I don’t have the money to pay you back right now”) which I’m hoping will prevent this from happening ever again, but just…WTF Dad?

    • JenniferP said:

      Hi! This is a manipulative behavior that can be called “favor-sharking” or “kind-sharking” –

      Doing you a “favor” that you neither want nor asked for
      And then deciding you owe them for that favor

      It is ok to tell your dad “I am not gonna pay you back for the snowblower that I don’t want – I hope you can return it!” and NOT PAY HIM.

      • Kersten said:

        Yessssssssss to allllllll of this. Former roommate (and occasionally other manipulative family members) would do this every once in a while. And it’s REALLY not nice. Especially if the giver/kindshark knows your financial situation is weaker than theirs (as was the case with my former roommate).

    • Also, your dad might be lying about how much the snowblower really costs . It could all be a scam to get extra $$$ from you. (Example: Snowblower costs $300, but dad tells you it costs $500).

      • One Two Three said:

        This may be true, but also in the other direction. Generally snowblowers cost way more than $500 and that may be a number he came up with to save your pride – not saying he is right or that this is a good thing or anything at all positive of what he’s doing – but I’ve had this behavior from a relative who presented me with a kitchenaid mixer they supposedly got on sale for $20. People are weird.

        • MsMildew said:

          I live in a snow free area and reeled at that price for snowblowers- I had to Google that because WTF!

          And it looks like prices vary a LOT, from under $100, to over $1000, with the majority looking like they are between $200-$500.

          Not that it changes things for the Autora, whether their dad payed $.05 or $5 or $500 for it. OP does not need to accept or pay back for items that they did not want or ask for.

          • One Two Three said:

            You are absolutely right re OP! I live in a very snowy area where there’s no point in the little snowblowers, which means that spending a grand or more isn’t unusual at all. Of course lots of people buy used or get a plow instead 🙂 I forget everyone doesn’t live in winter wonderland

  25. Been There said:

    Thank you thank you for question 7 and answer. This is incredibly helpful

  26. lexica510 said:

    Consider this another enthusiastic recommendation for the Turbo Scratcher. It’s great. Replacement cardboard scratching pads are available and easy to swap out. Tunnels are great, too — we have a plain white one and plan to add a rainbow one. (Whaddaya mean, it’s a small one-bedroom apartment and how many cat tunnels does one cat need? The answer is clearly “at least one more than we currently have,” of course.)

    Penelope’s favorite toy is the Da Bird fishing rod (https://www.amazon.com/GoCat-Bird-Feather-Cat-Handmade/dp/B001BOVEU4 is one example). The feathery bit is has the feathers set so that when you swoop it through the air they rotate, like a fishing lure, making a subtle _whirrrrrrr_ sound. She gets obnoxiously pushy about bringing it to us sometimes, to the point that we store it on top of a tall bookcase when not using it.

  27. BigDogLittleCat said:

    I am printing out the answer to Q7 and taping it to my face.

  28. kitmharding said:

    Murderbot is the best bot! (Also Murderbot is a really awesome autism metaphor; I found a ton to identify with there. I wonder if she did that on purpose?)

    • lexica510 said:

      I identified hard with Murderbot and made many marginal notes about “this is SO autistic-coded!” I’d also love to know to what extent that was intentional.

  29. Violet said:

    Q10:. My Mom is like this. I used to get in arguments with her where I said that her telling me to take out the trash made me feel like she thought I was stupid. Then one day I turned it around. She was about to go out the back door. I said, “Be ever so careful on the the stairs. They are terribly slippery when icy.” This exact statement had driven me to rage about a thousand times. Instead of getting angry, she got really happy and said thank you.
    Since then when she tells me to do stuff I already know, I know she’s really saying I love you and I care what happens to you. It helps me to translate what she says into “I love you.” Depending on my mood I manage to say “Thanks, Mom,” or “OK, Mom,” or sometimes “I know… I got it.” Even when she irritates me I feel a lot happier in her company. Over the last few years we’ve even become friends.
    I hope this helps.

    • zyx said:

      I like this approach a lot, and maybe I’ll try it!

      My mom also tells me to do stuff I already know. It took a looooong time, but I finally learned to find it funny. When I saw my parents at Thanksgiving, the first thing my mom did was warn me to be careful because she had just sharpened all the knives in the house. I returned from my parents’ house with a list of ridiculous worries and warnings. After years of getting really angry, it’s a relief to find them funny instead.

      It was easier not to get angry after my mom acknowledged that her warnings are unnecessary and she knows I can manage my own life. We hashed that out once when I (not at all sarcastically) asked, “How do you think I survive when I’m not here?”

      LW10, I hope you can learn to interpret your mom’s comments in a way that’s useful to you.

    • As a very clumsy person, I actually appreciate it when people warn me about icy stairs!

    • Aww, this is lovely. Thank you for this.

    • MarfisaTheLibrarian said:

      My family managed to turn unnecessary advice into a joke by the time I hit mid-teens. My parents would drop me off at some activity: “Have fun, look both ways!” Away at college, I would text them with a minor life update. My parents, texting back: “Great, love you, look both ways!” They knew they’d have a tendency to do the worry-advice thing and were self-aware about it. And I’ll tell them to look both ways right back.

    • MsMildew said:

      My late mom (who would be turning 90 this January) was exactly the same way. It could be very frustrating, but I had always understood that she was a “worry wart” and it was just one of her ways of showing love.
      She was one of the kindest, most loving people I’ve ever known but I now understand that she also suffered from some type of severe anxiety disorder and/or possibly some type of complex PTSD. She had gone through a whole helluva lot of shit/abuse in her life before she met my dad. (Seriously it’s what had me identifying as a feminist before I was 10 years old.)

  30. lowbudgetcyborg said:

    Dear Q6, my personal opinion is to read the Vorkosigan books in the order of in-universe events. However, the earliest book in the setting, Falling Free, has nothing to do with the Vorkosigans at all, and is actually about a slave revolt a few hundred years before Miles was born. Falling Free is an interesting side book to the series in that it talks about some of the things the Vorkosigan stories deal with (parenthood and families, moral obligations, audacious shenanigans, taking one’s destiny into one’s own hands) but it does not require familiarity with the rest of the series.

    • C said:

      I read Warrior’s Apprentice first and I’m glad I did. This was about a year ago, i.e. I was coming to the series when a huge amount of it already existed and I’d heard various things about it from cultural osmosis. My feeling is that what spoilers there are for the early Cordelia books in Warrior’s Apprentice won’t be news to a 21st-century reader (the fact that the series exists at all spoils that), but reading Shards of Honor first would have spoiled certain things about Warrior’s Apprentice.

      • AllanV said:

        Counterpoint: I read Warrior’s Apprentice first and it turned out I shouldn’t have. Some of the darker events in the story felt tonally jarring to me based on the mood set by the early chapters, and I ended up turned off the whole series as a result and didn’t give it another chance for years. And yes, the Cordelia books would have spoiled some of those details, but I don’t think that would have ruined the story for me and it would have given me a much better sense of what kind of story I was getting into.

        • C said:

          That is definitely fair, and my opinion is definitely a minority one (especially the reasoning behind it — nobody brings up the spoiler issue when they talk about this, not even Bujold herself in her “Chef Recommends” reading order article). I’m glad to have read what I think of as the better book spoiler-free, but of course someone else might consider Shards of Honor to be better!

  31. rory said:

    (in my case it’s the “I moved out in 1992, sorry, if your toilet handle needs a complicated set of jiggling motions after each flush for the last 20 years, maybe fix it instead of yelling at me for not having the knack?” talk)

    AYYY YES THANK YOU. This is honestly one reason I don’t visit my aunt as much as I’d like to, because they have a weird handle on the guest (ie non en-suite) bathroom and it’s a goddamn nightmare and a half and it’s EMBARRASSING. And my cousin has a toilet that sometimes doesn’t fully flush? So I spent a long time pumping like hell with the plunger? and then had to find him and explain that I broke something? But oh no, it’s just ~~like that~~.

    FIX YOUR TOILETS, RELATIVES.

    • Kersten said:

      Hahaha yeah my aunt has one of these, too. And every. Single. Time. I’ve stayed there in the past fifteen years (not an exaggeration) I’ve had to endure a fifteen-minute lecture on how to work the low flush toilet. And the shower. And the heating system. And the garage door opener. And the rules for the dog door. Like, I get it I am 31 I can figure this shiz out. *smacks head repeatedly into wall*
      Luckily I now live nearby and I have a bus pass and a 24/7 bus line nearby so I always, always have an escape route.

    • Evan Þ said:

      That reminds me of how, for too long, my restroom doorknob was really loose and required just the right sort of jiggling to unlock and get out. But then, I fixed it. Really, I should’ve fixed it earlier.

      Sorry, Sister, and all my other guests who must’ve wondered what was going on there. It wasn’t you, it was me.

      • If I had been trapped in your restroom, you would have heard a lot of panicked pounding on the door and me screaming, “LET ME OUT!” I actually did that in a bookstore’s restroom once, and they put up a sign telling people how to unlock the door after that.

    • DCLite said:

      Oh my God. The first time I brought my now husband home for Thanksgiving, I got in a huge fight with my mom about her septic tank and could she please, please not instruct my husband to throw any toilet paper in the trash instead of the toilet. It’s two days, people.

    • TootsNYC said:

      ah, yes–the broken stair

      • AllanV said:

        Amazingly enough, sometimes it isn’t a metaphorical stair!

  32. Jake said:

    Q10, I’ve found a useful script for this is a matter-of-fact “this isn’t something I need help with.” I only had to use it on my mom four or five times before she just stfu with all the interfering advice I didn’t need. My dad’s less likely to ever cut it out, but it gives me some internal peace to just calmly reassert my autonomy when I get fed up with being reminded how to use the microwave.

    • Kersten said:

      That small, sure inner voice can become a Big, Blunt Outer Voice when this sort of thing crops up. Good on you for standing up for yourself.

    • Me said:

      LW here. Good line, I will try it.

  33. Violet624 said:

    Every few years I skip the traditional Christmasey stuff and pre plan a themed movie line up (80’s horror movies? All of the LOTRs?), get snacks, Chinese take out and wine and spend Christmas in my pjs. It becomes a special, private celebration of being alone and doing whatever I want, and enjoying my own company instead of being alone on Christmas and feeling lonely. Making a plan ahead of time really helps make it feel special.

    • Bookish Miss said:

      My favorite memories from when I lived out of state and had a job that didn’t allow me to get home for major holidays are being able to spend those holidays in blissful, silent solitude. And do laundry.

    • Lumen said:

      I’m really glad I happened upon this comment. I live close enough to my sister to spend Christmas with them (and often do, because the level of Family Tension I feel around her and her husband is within my acceptable range), but this year?

      She invited our super abusive parents.

      So I am not going.

      And I am a little anxious about spending Christmas alone, and a little unsure about how to take “Toxic Cultural Messaging and Emotional Baggage: The HITS! Vol. 25” off the old mental turntable. Maybe what I need is a movie marathon or a really complicated baking project, but: pre-planned. Special.

      Thank you!

  34. Q8 said:

    LW 8 here. Thank you for the advice!

    I am wondering about the notebook idea. Is there a reason a pen/paper are better than a laptop? My handwriting is really bad and I know the culture where I will be working is pretty amenable to carrying your laptop everywhere.

    Also, how do you turn those notes into something actionable so they don’t get lost in the ether? Is there a ritual for that? I have some Executive Functioning Stuff going on and it’s easy for tasks to get shoved to the bottom of the pile and forgotten about.

    • JenniferP said:

      Hi, a laptop or tablet is totally fine, I’m just old and a notebook is easy to grab off a desk. Use what works for you.

      There are some good comments in the thread about specific to-do list management methods, like this one.

    • Friendly Hipposcriff said:

      I find To-Do lists overwhelming; for me they increase stress/anxiety and lead me to doing less. So I have a different system

      – make a master list of all the projects and duties you’re juggling at any one time
      – for each project, list the steps needed to complete, including dependencies. For any party who needs to give you stuff/sign it off/read through it, add their contact details. Add due/expected dates (if known)
      – make a ‘next step’ list which contains the next thing that needs to happen for each project to move forward.

      So at any point my list might be (this is totally fictional. I’m freelancing right now. List may be inspired by real-world typesetting.)

      – Project A: Proofread by 5/12. Upload to folder X on server and send notification to Jane (Jane@ourCompany.com)
      – Project B: Author changes expected by 3/12. If not received, query author@myAuthorWebsite.org (CE expects on 6/12)
      – Project C: 3rd proof arrived. Check bullet sizes, page numbers, italics in headlines; sign off or request 4th from typesetter@sloppy.com by 4/12
      – Project D: due 26/1/19 from author. If not received, query me@prolificWriter.com
      – Reorganise physical files: third drawer

      This has worked splendidly for me. I can query things the moment they become due, I can do the next step even if something is not due (thus getting it off my desk and leaving me time for other things), I always know who to contact. Project D has no chance of creeping up on me (I might even send a friendly ping of ‘how’s it going, anything we can help you with? Are we still on track?’) and the file organisation (not urgent, not important, but needs to be done at some time) becomes the sort of thing you do in the ten minutes before you go to lunch when it’s not worth delving into anything else.

      Also, if there is not enough time to do everything (there is never enough time to do everything), find out what the priorities and hard lines are. If making Project 1 five days late instead of three means that Project B gets done on time, that may be a good tradeoff.

    • In addition to what Jennifer said: many people find that they organize what they hear better if they write the notes rather than type them or record them. If that’s not you, then certainly type on a laptop

      At some jobs I’ve found it useful to send my notes to my manager (and whoever I talked to) for confirmation that $Notes is what we’re doing (and how we’re doing it). Also, yes to kanban.

    • Amy said:

      The downside of a laptop is that even if you have it with you, it might not be awake and ready for notes at any moment.
      This is a pain if your coworker happens to mention something while, say, you’re in the elevator or at lunch or otherwise not in a ‘work’ moment, and you want to make a quick note of it before you forget; by the time you stop, grab your laptop, open it, wait for it to wake up fully, make your note, and put it away again, you’ve probably spent more time on the laptop than on jotting down the info.

      I don’t think you have to use a notebook for those moments–maybe your phone or a tablet would work better for you. But it’s a good idea to plan to use the absolute most portable, available-at-literally-any-time thing you can for this. Something that fits in a pocket is ideal because then you can literally always have it with you, even if you didn’t think you’d be talking about anything important.

      As for turning these into actionable items–do you use a to-do list or anything like that? Maybe get in the habit of, every time you return to your office, the first thing you do is check your notes (on whatever device you use) and add any actionable items to the list.

      • Funnyletter Who Hates Jokes said:

        I had good luck using a to-do/notes system for my job that syncs between my laptop and my phone. My phone is fast-access for those times when I’m in an elevator and remember a thing, and my laptop is where I am when I think “Wait, what should I be doing?” Also I find ticky boxes highly rewarding. Right now I am really enjoying Microsoft’s To-Do app (SUBTASKS! SO MANY TICKY BOXES!)

        I’ve tried using paper but I tend to leave paper notebooks everywhere and never have them with me when I need them (despite somehow being able to keep track of my electronics. I have no idea.) so it never really stuck for me.

        • Magpie said:

          Google keep works really well for me for this purpose, it syncs between your phone and laptop and has an option for ticky boxes and reminders. And if you have an android you can make the notepad of Keep the home screen on your phone so you don’t even have to open the app

    • CM said:

      For the notebook thing, I think it depends on how you organize your thoughts. For me, the spatial relationships are important, so I’ll write stuff all over the page rather than going from top to bottom, but the way things are clustered together makes sense to me in my head and helps me remember how everything’s linked.

      What I like to do is keep a completely separate to-do list either in the notebook or on a single piece of paper (so I can see the whole thing at once). After I take notes in a meeting, I take time to read through them again and add any to-do items to my single-page list. Once I run out of space on my to-do list page, I review the whole list, knock off stuff that was finished, and transfer the unfinished items to a new single page (and I put a symbol beside them to show they were transferred forward and not forgotten). I like this better than an electronic system, because the process of transferring everything manually forces me to review it and consider whether the to-do items still make sense or if I’m stuck on one of them for some reason, etc.

      • purps said:

        Re: spatial relationships, I do the same thing! I also often have a side column that’s basically just for intrusive thoughts: “thaw chicken overnight” and “do they make raincoats for dogs” go over there so that I stop thinking about it and can pay attention to what my boss is saying.

        For me it’s definitely that the act of writing it down – and making people pause in infodumping so that I can write it down – that helps. There have been a couple of times when notebooks have saved my bacon (especially since I date the top of every page and then date the front of the notebook with the date ranges), but in general the act of writing is much more important to me than the act of reviewing.

        That said, I’m about to go back to work after a health interruption, and this has reminded me that I do keep a drawer full of steno pads that I’ve filled and I could spend my first day just reviewing where I was at before I left. So thanks, comments section!

    • kwallio said:

      I once worked in a place with a very difficult boss and I got in the habit of sending a summary of our meetings with a list of action items for the next week after every meeting. It helped to clarify things, at least on my end. My boss was particularly bad about setting priorities so even if she failed to respond or said everything was top priority I had that in writing.

  35. nnn said:

    Q18: For some family dynamics (and OP is best placed to determine whether this would work with their family), turning it into a running joke – or treating it like it already is a running joke – can be an effective way to both disrupt the pattern and create yourself a space to explicitly state that you don’t consent to the family member buying the things for you.

    Example: “I’ll try the trick with coconut oil if using what I already have at home doesn’t work – and no, Mom, that doesn’t mean you should go buy me coconut oil!”

    Tone is both smiling and eye-rolling, the same way you’d say “Yes, Mom, I have my sweater” when she reminds you to take your sweater every single time you leave the house even though you’ve never forgotten your sweater in your life, but also you’re a grown adult so she doesn’t actually have any power over you any more.

    This running joke dynamic could be enhanced by also using it in completely ridiculous situations where you don’t actually think the family member is going to buy the thing for you. This could add to the messaging that buying you the thing is inappropriate and unwelcome by talking about it as though it’s *clearly* parallel to something ridiculous.

    Example: “Check out this article – apparently you can rent the entire country of Liechtenstein! And no, Mom, that doesn’t mean you should go rent Liechtenstein for me!”

    • Kersten said:

      That’s a good tip, thanks! Especially if you have to deal with this with someone you want to preserve a relationship with.

    • ell. said:

      If I was the giver and totally believed I was doing something kind, even dutiful, and the recipient said this in front of other people with a hint of eye-rolling sarcasm in their voice, I would feel so incredibly hurt and shamed. I don’t do this and I wouldn’t like someone buying everything I mention, but I can still feel the burn from here.

      • MsMildew said:

        I don’t think it’s meant to be said when receiving the unwanted gift, but BEFORE the unwanted gift giver buys the thing.

        That said, if you are not the person always buying people unwanted, unexpected gifts (while often also expecting to be paid back for the ‘gifts’), then you are not the person that nnn’s script is meant to be used with.

        Kind/loan sharking is a thing, and it’s a toxic & manipulative thing at that. The people who pull that kind of crap need to have it shut down. And the recipients of the kind/loan sharking don’t actually have to be nice or polite about it.

  36. myzania said:

    I am saving and using the job/ time management answers, and their follow-on links. Useful.

  37. purps said:

    Q7 and Q8: I’ve always struggled with feeling like the time-maintenance and brain-maintenance tasks I do are somehow extra, non-work time I shouldn’t need to do – I should just automatically understand things and not have to spend time organizing my tasks or reviewing material. I blame ADD + Smart Kid Syndrome (if I can’t do it automatically I can’t do it at all). Obviously this is both inaccurate and destructive.

    Things that have helped me:

    – For one thing, remembering that very successful people often have an entire hired assistant who does their executive functioning for them: meeting notes and meeting notes review, scheduling and time management, making the fax machine work right. It’s real labor. It makes sense that fulfilling those functions for myself deserves work time and takes attention and energy.

    – At the suggestion of the excellent book Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Adult ADHD: Targeting Executive Dysfunction – remembering that my brain tends to jump to the end goal as the only thing that’s Good Enough, and trying instead to break tasks down into steps and mentally reward myself for each step. If a task is too hard to start, then it’s too big, and I need to make it smaller. There are times when my list has had to include “open browser”, “open website”, “type password”. There’s a point where the task has momentum and you can just DO it but breaking down starting into small chunks helps.

    – Addendum to that, in organizing my time and effort: if my goal is “be more organized”, that’s obviously too hard and too big. I start my to-do lists in my notebook with “open notebook” (check!) and “start to-do list” (check!). Already two small victories!

    – I don’t know about you all, but I suffer from really bad “threshold effect”: if I go into another room, I forget what I went there for. If I minimize the window I was working in and open another window, I lose track of the process. (This is very normal and I’m going to post a nerdy subcomment, but a lot of people aren’t so AWARE of it/it doesn’t happen so badly). So creating to-do lists, having multiple monitors so that everything’s where I can see it, and otherwise avoiding task-switching mid-process is helpful. If that makes any sense.

    – Weirdly, I’ve backed myself into executive-function-heavy jobs specifically because I have gotten used to documenting processes thoroughly, making clear timelines, circulating to-do lists, etc.

    – None of the existing organizational systems are detailed enough for me – Habitica comes close, but I mostly document my projects and tasks in a huge google drive spreadsheet, with tasks in the rows and days of the week in the columns, organized by domain and then color coded. Whenever I finish a task completely and don’t need to think about it anymore, I hide the row; at the end of the week, I create a summary column with any tasks that need to be carried over and hide the columns. Then I copy down a to-do list on paper for the day. Look, I know that this sounds incredibly complicated, but almost all of the “organizational systems for ADD” assume that I am going to keep track of a paper planner for multiple days somehow. I am not. Having notebooks that I only need for one day at a time, without losing track of the throughline on tasks, is a gift.

    – Even with all that, I’m high-functioning in the streets, low functioning in the sheets I mean home. I haven’t really figured out how to make my attention span combine with “not drowning in unfolded laundry”. So like. It’s imperfect.

  38. Q5: Your friend may also want to check the student union website to see what kind of advice and help they offer. When I was a student, I had a thing that involved dealing with university bureaucracy, and it turned out the student union’s website had step-by-step advice for the process in question. It was really helpful because it covered how that specific issue was handled specifically at my school, whereas resources like here can only cover how things work in general. I don’t know if your friend’s student union will have the same sort of resources, but it’s definitely worth looking into whether they do!

    • Jess said:

      piggy-backing on this for Q5: I stumbled a bit over the fact that you’re writing in, not your friend herself. You don’t say if your friend has asked you to solve this issue for her.
      So I just want to gently remind you to give your friend some space to sort this out herself. Offer some of the very helpful advice here, and then step back and let her take charge. I say this as someone who gets very irritated by too much well-meaning “you should do all these things” advice smothering. I realize that’s my deal and your friendship may be different, but I wanted to throw it out there to keep that in mind as well.

  39. Q17: Dealing with health issues can be extremely time consuming, as well as energy-consuming, and I feel like that can add to the burnout, if a person feels like they’re literally not doing anything but dealing with Health Issues. So it can be hard sometimes to think about or talk about anything else. Is there any small ritual or thing you can do together to make space that doesn’t revolve around that, even if it’s finding time to watch a short show or something together?

    For me, that’s been helpful both when my partner is dealing with a bad mental health flareup and when she’s dealing with my mental health flareups. Having a thing that feels like it isn’t wrapped up in Health Issues feels like it gives us something in common to talk about that isn’t the big elephant in the room. It also feels low stakes, and I feel like that can be a relief when it feels like everything else is wrapped up in high stakes matters that feel overwhelming.

  40. Guildenstern said:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for the link to Heather Havrilesky’s recent writing on art and shame in A13. I didn’t know it, but it was exactly what I needed to read today.

  41. DayJobDreamer said:

    Q13 – I esp. agree w/Capt’s point 4. Not all art can or even should become a great dayjob. That can lead to as much burnout as a ‘regular’ dayjob. Ask a Manager has a few excellent posts about why ‘do what you love’ is not good career advice. Your dayjob shouldn’t be toxic or soul-sucking, but it doesn’t have to be your passion either – https://www.askamanager.org/2012/09/do-what-you-love-is-not-great-advice.html

    • Friendly Hipposcriff said:

      I have hobbies that I want to keep as hobbies (this is actually a problem: I am looking for courses that teach me how to do X well, and they all want me to give up my dayjob and make money with X. No thanks.)

      Anyone (like, cough, Elon Musk) who says ‘doing what you love makes it feel like not-work even if you do it for 60+ hours a week’ is a person who has people to do the shit jobs. I’ve worked with horses, which is wonderfully rewarding, and literally involves a lot of shovelling shit; and that’s before you come to working with owners (people who employ grooms are often adverts for entitlement) and the realities of commercial viability, which can be heartbreaking (there’s only so much space/time/money to go around).

      Parallels can be found in any field. Every job has tedious or boring bits.

      But avoiding the tedious bits also won’t lead you to bliss: there are riders who are in such demand that someone else gets the horse ready, they get on and do the work part, and then you jump off and a groom comes up and cools the horse down and puts it away while the rider get on the next one. And far from being blissful – they only have to do ‘the best bit’ – it means that they get no chance of finding out how the horse feels that day, there is no common getting into the right mindset to work, and no cooling down where you reflect and plan for the next day and just enjoy the bliss of having had a good workout. Instead it’s a production line of high demands with no rest period inbetween… and it actually sucks much more than shovelling shit for half your day.
      When your work becomes all tension and no rest, it ceases to be enjoyable, regardless of how much you love it. It’s like watching a film that’s made of one high-stakes chase scene after the next. You’ll love one of them, or even two, but only if you get other things as well.

      • MsMildew said:

        I am not sure why people are reading “do what you love” means only doing the ‘fun’ part of a thing, and not the shit work.

        I have found “do what you love” to be the ONLY job/career advice that actually ever worked for me (helllooo long- undiagnosed multiple executive function and learning disorders, disguised by me being gifted, intelligent, talented etc.) That’s because if I’m not doing something I love, I get bored, and boredom is anathema to my severe ADHD-PI (I never knew that anyone else found boredom to be shoulders around ears horrifying until I joined a forum for people with ADHD and associated/cormorbid neurodevelopmental issues *sob*) I’ve walked out of jobs with no notice, and no backup plans & no one else to look out for me, just because I found them tedious or boring or just not interesting. I’ll burnout from being bored long before I’ll burnout from working hard.

        The jobs I did well at, that I looked forward to going to every day, that I worked my butt off at, and actually had any success at, all had one thing in common- I was doing something I LOVED.

        And there was PLENTY of shitwork to go with all of them. Sometimes literally, as when I was a veterinary technician on the emergency shift at a 24 hr animal hospital…and not just shot but puke, blood, guts, grue & gore of all descriptions. And I freaking LOVED it there. I looked forward to going in every day.

        Or when I had my own business selling vintage at flea markets. I have loved every job I have had that dealt with clothing, textiles, or fashion, and this was the creme de la creme. I was the only person involved and did it all myself, which is a LOT of intense physical labor, outside in all kinds of weather, or spending hours in dark, dirty warehouses digging in enormous piles of clothing as I sourced my merchandise. Lots of tedium laundering, repairing, hanging, pricing, etc. And GAWD, I *LOVED* it! If my health hadn’t reached a breaking point, I’d most likely still be doing it to this day. It was the dirtiest, most labor intensive, hardest work I’ve ever done, and it NEVER felt like “work”.

        Which is actually the second thing all the jobs I did well at had in common- because I LOVED what I was doing, it never felt like work, no matter how hard I worked, how many hours I put in, how much shitwork I had to do. Elon Musk or whoever said that is totally correct on that point.

        With my severe executive function issues, I can ONLY work at jobs where I love what I’m doing enough that it keeps me engaged even through the tedious & boring parts. It has to be interesting & engaging enough that I *want* to do it every day or I just…won’t.
        I didn’t get my issues diagnosed until I was 48 (I’ll be 52 in February) and no longer working due to my chronic health issues but that didn’t stop the serious symptoms of them all from making my life very difficult in any number of ways, this being one of them. (It has its positive side- I also have very little patience with *people* who make my life unpleasant. In other words, built-in automatic boundary enforcement. Not perfect, but damn has it been useful!) And my parents modeled ‘do what you love’ for me very well- my dad was a successful, well paid engineer in the aerospace industry, and all the things he did at work, he played with at home, too- computers (from the Commodore Pet on), whipping up handy electronic gadgets in his garage workshop (some of which I laugh about now because you can actually buy them cheaply/anywhere, but when he was doing it they were niche items one could only find at specialized electronics supply stores, when you could find them pre-made at all) and doing higher math FOR FUN- it was his form of ‘doodling’. (He was also a highly accomplished artist in several mediums…I am certain he had a genius level IQ.)

        My mom retired from outside work to raise a family, and that was HER passion. And it made her a great example of ‘how to be’ as a parent, and a shocking contrast to some of the people I knew in school who’s parents did not actually seem to want or like their kids (or sometimes, just children in general) much at all.

        I don’t think ‘do what you love’ means that you must monetize your art, hobbies, crafts, or other leisure time activities so much as find a job/career that holds great interest for you, so that you will be fulfilled by it. You spend at least 1/3 of your day at work, why would you NOT want to do something you are happy to spend that much time doing?

    • Anon said:

      I’m an illustrator with a dayjob who at the beginning of this year went through career counselling specifically to find a direction to switch dayjobs, with the goal being that my dayjob would fulfill needs that my art job doesnt (money, ofc, but also non-art stuff: analysis, socialization, etc). I did not and do not want an art related dayjob, but my current one was dead end, soul sucking hard labour that made it hard to physically bring myself to make art at the end of the day. High likelihood of injury there too, which put my passion at risk.

      So my advice is to find out what needs your dayjob isnt filling and try to find a job that fills them. I didnt get to use my brain ever at dayjob and illustration can be lonely work for an extrovert, so those needs were my priorities.

      And graphic design skills can be used in lots of jobs. Even just program proficiencies look good on a resume. And remember, your art work is still work, and uses lots of organizational and admin skills, so include that too.

      See what training you might need and how possible it is to get; I cant afford post secondary and dont have the luxury of not paying my own rent, but found a way to get into some night classes for free. See what strings you can pull and make a list of jobs that are great-but-impossible (what traits do those jobs share?), good-but-require-investment (how possible are those investments?) and sucks-but-is-at-least-different.

      I have a lot of advice on this subject, lol. Hope that helps.

  42. Amatyultare said:

    Question 6: I started with Cordelia’s Honor and then moved on the Miles-centric books and that worked really well for me! On the other hand, I’ve seem some folks who started with the Cordelia books and really struggled to connect with them emotionally, and then absolutely adored the Miles books. So I’d tentatively recommend starting with The Warrior’s Apprentice/the Young Miles omnibus, and then circling back to Cordelia’s Honor later.

    (Though, in as spoiler-free a way as possible, I’d love to hear from the Captain or other folks who read in that order: what was your reaction to That Plot Point/Thread – You Know The One – in The Warrior’s Apprentice? It was so thoroughly set up and contextualized in Cordelia’s books, I can’t imagine the experience of having The Thing just…bursting on you. Did it work for you? Did it feel utterly shocking, or were there subtle bits of foreshadowing? Did your opinion of the fallout change after reading Cordelia’s Honor? I am legit SO CURIOUS about your reading experience.)

    Question 8: Completely agree with all of the Captain’s suggestions. I would add, try to pay extra attention to your boss’s style of communication, your own style of communication, and ways you might fill any potential gaps. (For me, this has often played out on the ground of me being a detail- and process-oriented person – “How Will This Actually Work In Practice?” – working with managers who are All About the Purpose and Big Picture. Possibly the most important skill I’ve learned in the past few years is how to translate “which specific process should we follow, each having their own benefits and downsides?” into “Process A will basically have this impact on The Big Picture, Process B will basically have this other impact, which do you prefer?” quickly and coherently.)

    Question 12: Hmm. Okay. I may be massively projecting here (feel free to ignore my advice!) but I’ve felt this way in the past, and it often stemmed from me internalizing anger – feeling like I couldn’t or shouldn’t get upset that someone had treated me badly, so I created a story about how I was the bad person whom no one would care about. In order to feel better, I had to put responsibility back on the person who had hurt me, while also allowing myself to move past it as quickly as possible (because I was still not great at anger – I’m not that great even now! – and staying angry for very long ran a high risk of me simply reverting to internalization). Two strategies that worked for me:

    First, I created a mantra for myself whenever I started feeling negative about my relationships with other people. It was entirely positive language about what I wanted to believe, no negatives or “not X” language (I don’t know how accurate the “your subconscious doesn’t understand negative words, so saying “I don’t want X” just makes your subconscious think more abut X” thing is, but using affirmative-only language worked well for me in this instance) and encapsulated a lot of things I believed and wanted to believe about myself and my relationships. I’d repeat this mantra to myself over and over whenever I got stuck in negative self-talk.

    Second, I did an exercise that I swear I got either from the CA comment section, or a book recommended here. First, I wrote a classic “letter that will never be sent” to the person who hurt me, going into great detail about what they’d done and allowing myself all the emotions in the world about how it had affected me. Then – and this is key! – I took another sheet of paper and wrote out my idealized response of how this person would respond to my letter, if I sent it. Lots of apologies, lots of explanation that was maximally sympathetic to me, etc. I was surprised at how powerful writing that second letter was! It let me literally write a complete narrative for myself – detailing how I had been hurt, and putting the responsibility back where it belonged, while “seeing” the exact right level and tone of apologies to let me forgive the person the amount I wanted to.

    • sconn said:

      That Plot Point sure is a shocker, true. Heck, Bothari, as a character, makes very little sense in that book if you haven’t read the others. On the other hand, could you really grasp the shock, from Miles’ point of view, if you knew his backstory already? It would be a big setup for a huge reveal that you’d already had spoiled. But on the other hand, if you read Miles first, none of the soltoxin stuff has any suspense to it.

    • Carrie said:

      That Plot Point came out of utterly nowhere for me; I wasn’t even aware that the Cordelia-centric books existed when I first read TWA. I had already caught on that there were things about Bothari that weren’t exactly mainstream, but I thought it was more him being a really old-fashioned guy. Turns out, nope!

      if you read Miles first, none of the soltoxin stuff has any suspense to it.

      It doesn’t; instead it has that terrible inevitability.

    • C said:

      The arc involving That Plot Point was like reading a mystery story, to me. I had a suspicion before it was confirmed in the text, though not too long before. Like “Oh shit, does that mean what I think it means?…OH SHIT, IT DOES.” It was powerful and shocking and I liked that about the experience, so when I read Shards of Honor later, I was glad that I didn’t read it first. I still haven’t read Barrayar — I’ve been getting the books from my local library and I think they don’t even have that one, so I continued with Miles books and figured I’ll get to it later.

    • AllanV said:

      As I mentioned upthread, the reveal didn’t work for me at all because it didn’t match the tone I thought had been set up in the earlier chapters. I found it jarring enough that it put me off attempting the rest of the series for years, and I think if I’d started with Cordelia I would have much better understood what I was getting into.

  43. Lily said:

    #10: I had good luck with “Oh, really? I’d thought I’d just leave the light burning all night. Good that you’ve told me.” if I’m only mildly annoyed and mostly amused. Just staring at them and waiting till they’ve finished/catch themselves also works sometimes. If I’m really annoyed, they get an “I’m X years old, I’ve lived alone/outside your house for Y years, I’m perfectly able to choose my own meal.”

    That said, my relatives (not only my parents – a lot of the family does this) in these cases at least sometimes acknowlegde that their words weren’t the wisest ones if confronted. But it was a lot of work.

    • ...Kat... said:

      I would say “of course I’ll turn the lights out. My parents raised me properly.”

  44. Q9 (alone over the holidays) – When I’m alone for a significant day/event, I enjoy making something. Could be creative, like a story or drawing series, or productive like re-painting the kitchen. Something that will make you feel great and leave you with something cool when it’s done, so you’re like, “oh yeah, that was the Christmas I did this cool thing” whenever you see it. I also like making music playlists especially for the task.

  45. DCLite said:

    A comment for Q8. I can’t agree more with the notebook. Write write always be writing be the person in meetings who gets made fun of for taking notes constantly. I am not saying you will mess up, but I’m saying there is no better armor if someone says “why is x blue instead of green” than to pull out your notebook and say, oh well I had noted what we discussed…..And they’ll wither. And you’ll look (and be) so on top of things.

  46. Q 17

    I dunno if this will help, but when I was in a bad space with my chronic illness, I also vented about a lot. Weirdly, venting didn’t actually make me feel better; sometimes it made me feel worse, emotionally. Whatever I was looking for, I couldn’t articulate, and even though I actually wanted to stop venting and was afraid I was stressing my people out too much, I felt like I legit couldn’t.

    Things that helped: first and foremost, going to a therapist who specialized in anxiety. I had been to therapy before, but this one was better and more specialized. She diagnosed me with OCD, rather than just general anxiety, and we put together a treatment plan focused on managing both my anxiety and my chronic pain. We actually used DBT and CBT strategies, even though traditionally OCD is treated with just CBT (in addition to meds), because DBT is focused on…sort of feeling and observing your pain from the outside? Hard to explain. But, basically, pain is still here, but the same amount of pain is much more bearable rather than overwhelming, and now acute pain no longer triggers spiraling out or a panic attack.

    The other thing that helped was people saying one sympathetic thing, then changing the subject to something positive by asking a question. YMMV, but in my experience, subject changing to a positive thing, especially asking my opinion on a book or album, re-directed my thoughts in a way that somehow snuck past my stress circle.

    • DV said:

      I agree. One of the most helpful and supportive friends I have, also has very firm boundaries and will only allow me to vent for a very limited time before switching the focus. But I know that during the time I am venting, she truly is listening. That combination of “being fully present” + “firm boundaries” is so much more powerful in meeting my needs than just half listening, and over time it has helped me to set my own boudaries and learn to switch the focus for myself. (I secretly wish she was my mother, even though she is 10 years younger than I am LOL)

      • Haha, your friend is awesome!

  47. Funnyletter Who Hates Jokes said:

    Is it too harsh to mime barfing and say “Can we talk about literally anything else? How’s your [insert pet/child/hobby]?” when asked about your job search? Because that was definitely how I responded to questions about my job search after it had been going on an uncomfortably long time.

    • Lily said:

      I always respond to a certain question (about my dissertation): “Don’t you know that’s the Word That Will Not Be Mentioned?” and to every following up with “Ugh, you said the bad word again.”

  48. Couch Potato said:

    c et5bvvvz

    • Couch Potato said:

      Oops sorry – that was the cat’s post!

  49. Kaos said:

    #10: Just a thought on the snack question…

    Could they possibly (I know, unlikely, but still…) be asking you in a “I know this isn’t your house anymore so I want to make sure that you know how/where stuff for snacks is/are” kind of way?

    The rest of it…yeah, eye rolling time.

    • Me said:

      LW here. I love your good intentions but for 40 years the bananas have always been on the kitchen counter, and the crackers always in the pantry cupboard 🙂

  50. Q12: I had a friend who was very close when we were in our 20s but then something fell apart and we are basically no longer in contact. It’s been like ten years and it still hurts a little. But somebody who isn’t responding to you is, well, no longer a pillar, no matter how badly you need one right now. This person has not been there for you in two years, and the idea of her as a source of support isn’t the current reality, however badly it hurts to admit that.

  51. Volunteers: Are you “officers” in this group (is the whole “staff” volunteer) or are you volunteers for, say, a non-profit, under the oversight of regular employees? By which I mean, do you have a supervisor? If you have oversight, they need to know that this person is stepping on your toes. If you don’t (if you’re “officers” in a club or something), feel free to tell her that you can handle this and please let you do it your own way. If she’s going to push, push back. Civilly, but stand up for yourself.

  52. SarahTheEntwife said:

    This is probably less useful for end-of-the-year work/school stress, but for anyone looking to get things in order for the new year, I’ve been really enjoying the podcast Productivity Alchemy. The host interviews different people about how they stay organized, and reviews planners, apps, etc. I really like the emphasis on finding what works for you and how plenty of the interviewees are all “yeah, I’m kind of terrible at (organizational thing lots of people are kind of terrible at)”.

  53. Q9: “Find a ritual of kindness to do, like, write to your old teachers/mentors and thank them.”

    This is a great idea, I have a follow up. I haven’t been in school in over a decade, but there are a few teachers I remember fondly though I haven’t kept in touch. Is it weird/stalkery to send them a holiday card (out of the blue) with a note along the lines of “hey thanks for everything, you made a huge impact on me, I am doing well (partly thanks to your influence) hope you are too?”

    • TootsNYC said:

      I can’t think that it would. It’s the repeated follow-up that would.

      I’m not a teacher, but I’ve gotten out-of-the-blue notes from people from time to time, and though it’s a little weird (not in a bad way), it always feels great.
      I would imagine that to a teacher, it would be even less unusual.

  54. I don’t know how anybody affords anything. I have a job but it doesn’t pay nearly enough for any listings I’ve managed to find. I don’t know how anybody does any of this, and nobody seems to want to say anything other than judge.

  55. Convallaria majalis said:

    I have been away for a while now – unfortunately we had a health emergency in the family but everything is finally ok. I just wanted to tell you that I have missed all of you folks. You are such amazing bunch of people. ❤

    I especially love The Captain's takes on how to defend one's boundaries and maintain diplomacy. My ex-mother-in-law was just the kind of person who wanted to be helpful but that helpfulness could quickly turn to rudeness – like one Christmas I received a book on dieting as a present from her. Giving her specific tasks helped a lot and since she was very skilled in for example sewing giving her tasks related to it brought out the best of her helpful nature. People often have a big desire to be needed and a part of community. I do not mean that it should be on other people to manage these needs, just to bear these thoughts in mind.

    I love to see Daniel Tiger Stripes and Henrietta Pussycat growing up. Cats are amazing!

  56. sconn said:

    Re: Bujold, I just reread The Warrior’s Apprentice and would definitely start there. It isn’t her *best* work, but it’s the best place to start the series and it’s pretty darn good. Cordelia’s Honor, I found a little too dark for me, plus it’s somehow more meaningful to me if you know she’s Miles’ mom.

    Alternative option: Falling Free. It’s stand-alone, it comes chronologically before all the others, and it’s really, really good.

  57. Purposefully said:

    Q12 – I’ve gotta tell you, I’m right there with you. Finally getting together Friday night (I think, although a last minute cancellation is always lurking in the wings) …I’m going to assess the mood and convo and quite possibly broach a conversation like ‘I’ve kind of had the feeling lately that you don’t want to hang out with me/don’t have the time in your schedule/life for me’ and take it from there. After feeling like a combination of both those things for the last 3 months, I’ve realized that I don’t want to put in time, thought or anxiety on someone in either of those scenarios. Not really looking forward to our date on Friday, if I’m being honest……

    • Q12-OP said:

      Good on you for reaching out to that friend and trying to figure out what’s going on there! It’s totally understandable that you’re not looking forward to that (quite possibly difficult) conversation. In my situation, I’d tried many times to get together with my friend, and after about a year was starting to get pretty resentful and hurt; so I’m impressed that you’re working on this so much earlier with your friend.

      Getting together with them is also a good way of assessing how you’re feeling about the person and/or your relationship with them. Before I broke up with my friend, I was going on a trip with them that had been setup months in advance. I was nervous about spending time with them, but I sometimes fall into the trap of being really angry with someone only to spend time with them and realize that a lot of that anger was just in my head (i.e. I really enjoyed seeing them and spending time with them). So I knew it was important to try hanging out with them in-person to see where things really were.

      When I first saw them on that trip, I realized that I was still angry (really, REALLY angry) and didn’t enjoy spending time with them at all; I was simply too mad and resented them for acting like we were still super-tight. I broke up with them a few weeks later.

      My (unasked-for) advice to you is to listen really carefully to your “gut” when you meet with them. If you enjoy their company, then it sounds like that’s a good time to broach the topic of “hey, friend, you’ve been pretty unavailable”; if you don’t, that may be a cue to step back from the friendship. Either way, trust your intuition, and remember that friendship is a two-way street; if they want your friendship, there is a basic amount of effort they need to put in.

      Good luck on Friday! You’ve got this! 🙂

  58. sam the baker said:

    RE: Your answer to Question 7 – I can’t thank you enough for this useful paradigm! I’ve been really struggling to focus at work and beating myself up about it, but the whole take 15 minutes to plan your day + use a timer + TAKE BREAKS = magically productive and also more relaxed and also less negative self-talk! THANK YOU!!

    • ktjp said:

      I came here to make this exact same comment! I’ve been completely overwhelmed with productivity stuff lately (my job used to be largely reacting to customers, and now it’s more dealing with long-term projects and I straight-up don’t have the skills to handle that correctly) and the whole “make a list, pick a few things that if you get them done today will make today a win” thing was like, fireworks going off. Seconding the Big Thanks, Cap!

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