Part 1 is here. This is a feature where patrons of the blog have first crack at getting short questions answered, it lets us cover a lot of ground and have interesting discussions. Please consider supporting the site at Patreon or via other channels if you can, I appreciate it greatly.
Onto the questions! In this batch: What happens when your family gets mad you wrote about them, quelching an inconvenient crush, fictional recs for healthy conflict resolution, heading off body criticism around tattoos, habit trackers for ADHD folks, and resources for improving positive body image.
Q7: I recently was published in a major outlet. A family member texted me that she was angry I’d insulted her in print. I found a single sentence that mentioned her. She wasn’t identifiable. It wasn’t anything damning or embarrassing. I was baffled. I told her I was sorry I’d hurt her feelings but she yelled at me so much I ended up blocking her number. How do creative people avoid blowback from family like this? (she/her/hers)
A7: Congrats on placing your work! You now know something about this relative: They would prefer not to appear in your published work (or to be asked first), they have absolutely no chill about it, and when things get contentious, they are okay with being really mean to you. They don’t seem like a person who roots for your success. What if this is a That One Relative-thing and not a You-thing?
If you’re going to keep writing (and you are going to keep writing) I don’t think you can avoid this ever happening again. You can decide that in the future you won’t write about family without giving them notice or asking permission because it feels like the right thing to do for you (and/or it’s not worth the fallout), but you’re not required to do that. I’m sure most people would say, “Why NOT run it by me first?” or “I would prefer it if I knew when a family member wrote about me” and that’s legit, it’s okay to prefer or want that, but also, for example, child abusers are not the bosses of how or where they show up in their victims’ writing even though they probably would appreciate advance notice or permission quite a lot. You’re allowed to write true things about your life, you’re not obligated to paint a flattering picture of everyone you ever encounter or run every mention of anybody by the source, it sounds like you told the truth and took steps to make sure that this wasn’t a public, personal shaming, so ethically you’re good! Then again, people who show up in your stories are allowed to have feelings and opinions about how they appear there, though their feelings don’t mean that you sign up to be cheerfully screamed at forever or pretend it never affects you, so blocking was almost certainly the right choice.
Authors aren’t supposed to respond to negative reviews, and when I’ve published stuff on sites where there is no comment moderation I try hard not to even read comments or engage there. I’ve blocked and muted people who confuse “You really messed up here, please do better” critiques of my work (i.e. legitimate and important feedback) with “So that means I get to tag you constantly in diatribes about how awful you are, yell about how you are ignoring me if you don’t respond, send my followers into your mentions en masse to call you terrible names, and scream about how you are bullying me if you do respond, snitch-tag prominent people to try to stir up conflict, and find your personal and day-job profiles and photos and unload a ton of hate there, sometimes for months and years at a time” (i.e. I don’t think I’m the one who hurt you, beloved.) The first few times this happened some more experienced writers gave me some very good advice, which boiled down to:
- Writing in public is messy, you can’t control or predict how people will respond, it’s normal for weirdness to grow as audience/profile grows.
- Figure out who you are writing for, then worry about your friends and fans. Don’t chase the approval of people who obviously hate you and who rejoice in and who can’t miss a chance to mention your errors.
- You’re not a robot, you don’t have to always be the bigger person or ignore trolling and abuse, but also, 1) Be aware of power differentials, 2) When in doubt, don’t respond to negative shit when you’re in a terrible mood or a mental health slump, you won’t like yourself or the results, and it does affect the community.
- Apologize when you fuck up (you will fuck up) and learn from your mistakes, you can’t undo them but you can endeavor to never repeat them.
- Realize that certain mistakes might mean people trust or like you less, that’s their prerogative, all you can do is proceed with integrity and hope that it shows over time.
- Make community with fellow writers so there is someone to marvel at the wonderful stuff and the weirdness with you and someone who can tell you honestly, “Sorry, it’s you, not them” and “It’s them, not you” when something goes sideways.
Good luck with future writing, the petty part of me hopes this relative has a business and your next piece is a glowing writeup of all their competitors so you can say “But I thought you didn’t want to be written about?” with a raised eyebrow while wearing a really excellent outfit.
Q8: I have a crush on a close friend. I don’t mind having the crush, but it’s too high key for me. It wouldn’t be a good idea to date them. Also, I would rather not risk our friendship. (We’ve even talked and agreed that it could easily go poorly, best we not.) How can I encourage my feelings to be more low-key? (she/her/hers)
A8: I believe the great Carolyn Hax once suggested picturing one’s crush during stinky toilet activities as an antidote to sexy and romantic fantasies. As with the “Wow!” when someone says something awkward, she has truly given us so much. ❤
You can’t really control what you feel, and you can make yourself miserable trying, but I think you can both honor your feelings and starve a crush and give yourself some time to get over it: See this person less right now (you’re not a bad friend if you need a little space, they’ll know why), interact with them in non-date-like ways (group hangs in public venues vs. one-on-one dinners at your place, which you cooked specifically for them, making all their favorites, and served by candlelight on your very comfy couch), bow out of being their sounding board or helper with life things for a bit (esp. about dating/romantic/sex topics, they’ll know why), maintain boundaries about touch (“We can snuggle and hug a lot and sleep in the same bed, we’ll be just like siblings” = YOU WON’T, THO).
Also, this is not for everyone certainly, but in the past I’ve personally found that crushes can be motivating along the lines of “Do I want to fuck this person or BE them” (i.e. Is there some aspect of my life where I need to be bold and seize the day and level up) and “Is it This Specific Person or is it a sign that my desire/sexuality/romantic side is awakening after a long hibernation and my crush is merely one avatar?” (a.k.a. Is it time to go on some internet dates/meet some attractive new people/take this cute outfit and giant serving of unfulfilled desire out on the town to sing karaoke and kiss new acquaintances).
When in doubt, there’s always writing bad poetry or better yet, good poetry!
The rest is time.
Q9: Do you have any good examples from fiction of healthy conflict being modeled in long-term relationships? Most of what we get exposed to is conflict for the sake of drama that’s fun to watch—high-intensity, lots of shouting, big resolution (or lack thereof). Any examples of partners or friends who manage to disagree about important things but then work it out in a healthy way? (He/Him/His)
A9: I like this question so much, but I’m going to completely punt this to the commenters.
Readers: What stories do you read/listen to/watch that fill this need?
Ground Rules, because weird shit happens every time we recommend or discuss media here:
- If you’re recommending something, content notes and spoiler-free sentence or two about what the show/book/movie is about are appreciated. Example: Unforgotten is a British detective show about solving long-ago murders, we meet the potential suspects long after they’ve committed the crimes so often you’re rooting for people to NOT have done it, the second season has multiple plot-lines about sexual abuse and assault. The two lead detectives have an enormously respectful and collaborative relationship, you get to see a male detective be admiring and supportive of his female boss. There is also an awkward coworker crush that is treated with gentleness and good humor.
- We can like different stuff! If you’re commenting to argue with someone about their recommendation, please also recommend your own alternative that you like.
Q10: I am getting my first-ever tattoo soon and I am excited about it — I’ve wanted this one for 5 years. My mom has been disapproving of me or my brother getting tattoos in the past. I…don’t have to tell her beforehand, right? What is a chill way to tell her that also communicates “don’t tell me if you think it will ‘poison’ me, don’t tell me if you hate it”? (I’m 24/financially independent.) (she/her/hers)
A10: You don’t have to tell her ahead of time! People who are judgmental about your life choices self-opt out of being consulted about your life choices, plus your mom has one beautiful irreplaceable body of which she is the boss (her body). Yours belongs to you.
You can snap a picture and send a group text to her and the rest of your family, you could just share it generally on social media, you can say very positive things about how excited you are (“I’m so excited at the work that [Tattoo Artist] did, love the colors“), you can text just your mom a photo and say “Hi Mom, guess what I did today? Before you answer, I know you’re going to hate it, but I love it, so let’s get the weird part over with! Love you!” and let her respond however she’s going to. She can’t control your body, you can’t control your feelings, probably just rip the bandaid off (metaphorically, leave the actual bandaid in place as recommended by your tattoo artist) and let her have her weird reaction. Become an expert subject-changer if the Mom-weirdness continues past the healing and the itching stage.
Q11: This might be one to throw to the comments section, but have you found any habit trackers/habit formers that work with your ADHD and/or bullet journal? I’ve tried bujo habit trackers, Habitica, Todoist, & a couple others. I use them for 5 days and then forget. I think next step is setting alarms but I use my digital calendar for other things, & clock alarms I just turn off and then forget about. Thanks! (she/her/hers).
A11: Hi, this is one for the commenters, since those habit-trackers don’t work for me at all. I use a blank journal for thinking and then cross reference plans and tasks with my phone calendar (and set a bunch of alarms)(that I sometimes turn off or forget about).
- Upholders (not me) like following rules and are good at obeying internal and external expectations. Forming a new habit for them is pretty easy, “I decided to do x” + then they do x. Weirdos! :-p
- Obligers (sometimes me) like pleasing people or at least not letting them down, so external accountability to a buddy or the group is motivating. Maybe some of the habit-tracking apps have a buddy system that makes them work well for some people, or you could institute a buddy system about certain things?
- Questioners (a little bit me) will follow an expectation if there’s a good enough reason to do it, so logically connecting the habit with a larger goal is motivating for them. (Given recent conversations about Optimizers, I think some y’all might hang out here, finding the BEST WAY to do a thing is motivating.)
- Rebels (heyyyyyyyy it’s me again, what’s up Fellow Bartlebys!) resist both outer and inner expectations, and Rubin is frequently at loss with what to do with us, but suggests that we might be motivated by authenticity, so that if we can convince ourselves that the habit we want to form is all our own idea and that nobody is making us, we can motivate ourselves with that.
Where I sometimes find success is applying Benchley’s Law (“Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he’s supposed to be doing at that moment.”– Robert Benchley) and create competing priorities where I can take advantage of structured procrastination. If today my plan is to do my laundry, make several involved phone calls I’ve been putting off, and write a blog post, I can designate one task as the thing I’m supposed to be doing right now, which makes the other tasks a form of rebellion/procrastination, which makes me immediately want to work on one of them first. By the end of the day I’ll probably get all or most of it done, plus I’ll have permission to hyper-focus and switch tasks as my attention budget fluctuates. If that sounds like a mess, it is! But it works, in that my house gets cleaned when I have a writing deadline, and some of my best writing happens when I have guests coming and need to clean my house.
Q12: I am working on my body image and would like to know if you have suggestions for body positive resources (websites, books, shows, etc). I’d also be interested to hear if anything specifically worked well for you! Thanks! (she/her/hers)
A12: Hello, that is an excellent project.
I have a long writeup with a list of resources and some of my personal process for changing my gaze and attitude at this post (with more in the comments). Some of my best practices were a) seeking out and curating inspirational/aspirational images of people with fat bodies (to retrain my eye) b) making a habit of not saying mean things about my body or anyone else’s body or engaging in diet and weight-loss content (which is still off-limits here, if anyone was wondering).
More recently, I enjoyed watching Shrill on Hulu (the pool party episode is the best thing), I was a guest on the Fat Like Me podcast. I’m reading They Don’t Make Plus-Sized Space Suits by the force behind Ok2BeFat. We can’t shop our way to the revolution, but I got to visit the new store one of my favorite size-inclusive clothing brands opened in Chicago last week and try on lots of things that were just my size, I gotta say, being able to evaluate clothes based on whether I love them (vs. what is the least sad thing in the joint that even fits me or whether it’s worth having to deal with the shipping and return process) feels really good.
I personally have better luck and find better resources when I look for resources tagged fat acceptance than I do when I look for body positivity, first because I am FAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT and second because I don’t always feel positive about my body but that body still deserves respectful, science-based medical care, accessible spaces, dignity, respect, and human rights, and third because I can usually trust “fat acceptance” resources not to bait and switch into a bunch of weight loss advice and diet tips. You don’t have to be fat to get something useful out of Health At Every Size and the follow-up, Body Respect, or Michelle Allison’s healing work around intuitive eating, whereas a lot of “body-posi!” content is the same old collection of diets and yoga mats and “Goop” products, just marketed across a slightly wider sample size of “acceptably” thin able-bodied white women.
This week I received an update from a reader about a successful shutting down of weird body obsessions, this seems like a good time to share it:
Hello, this is LW 1126 with a one year later update!
My husband ended up sitting MIL down and having a serious conversation with her. I don’t know the exact details, but apparently it embarrassed the living hell out of her that we thought she had a “weird fixation” on Relena’s body, SO SHE STOPPED TALKING ABOUT IT. Like, we have not heard a single comment about Relena’s weight since. There is occasional health talk, but it’s now muuuuuch more heavily weighted towards the “Relena is giving us an update on something” variety, and it mostly occurs when Relena initiates it. This is, frankly, a much better outcome than I’d hoped for.
No one here will be surprised to hear that MIL has also traditionally had a real treasure-trove of opinions on the bodies and clothing choices of strangers. Separately, I’ve used the “We’re trying to teach the kiddo that we only say kind things about people’s bodies…” script, and it’s no magic bullet, but it has really helped! We were out walking recently and I literally heard my MIL deep-inhale to share her opinion about whether a human who’d just passed us should be wearing a crop top, and then—nothing. She stopped. I’m sure if she’d been with her friends instead of with me, she would have said whatever awful thing and they’d have all clucked together and felt morally superior. But she was with me, so she said nothing, and that feels like a real victory.
MIL and I are not bosom buddies or anything, but it has been meaningful to me to see her effort here. She and Relena have a visibly warmer relationship, and while they’re probably never going to be particularly close, “less fraught” is nothing to sneeze at with in-laws. Thanks to everyone here for your thoughts, advice, and anecdotes–Captain, you have built a really special corner of the internet.
We can’t always change people’s minds, but it’s good to have a reminder that we can shift conversations into less harmful pathways. May this be a summer (or whatever season it is where you live) of feeling good in our skin and being kind to all bodies, everywhere.
Comments are open, have at it, and have a great weekend!