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Who would like to read a fluffy question about being nice?

Dear Captain,

I love my mom (1), I love feminism (2) and I am certain, that everyone has the right to dress as they want (3) (except for Nazi clothing, but luckily, that is not my topic). This three principles clash when I look in the drawer of my mom.

My mom is recently single again after 12 years of dating and living with her former partner. She is 65 now and a wonderful, humorous, intelligent woman. She likes dating and has an outgoing personality and wants to meet new people and eventually start a relationship again, but doesn’t mind dating for a while and having fun. She has always been the intelligent one, not the beautiful one in comparison to her sister and never cared that much about clothes, make up, and stuff (literally she puts on sunscreen and a green eyeliner. Since 40 years). Her mother, my grandmother, often asked me (or her sister) to go shopping with her, so that she can have something nice to wear. We do it sometimes, but just for fun and not because our beloved ancestor says, we have to look in a certain way to be social acceptable. She often asks me about a style choice and states, that she wants to look her best.

BUT. She sometimes dresses quite horribly. It’s hard to say and admit, but honestly – bucket hats?! Sometimes I want to say something, but when the urge comes up, I mostly stop myself because: see principle 3. It is even hard for me when she explicitly asks for my advice. Do you have any scripts how to tell her that this specific thing/the dress/the hat (!!!) is not suiting her (or anyone, in the case of bucket hats) in a nice, loving, supporting way without compromising my believe, that she should dress the way she feels most comfortable?

Your advice is highly appreciated, thank you

Daughter who is torn between her believes in feminism and the fight against socks in sandals.

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Hello friends! It’s that time, where we answer the things people typed into search engines as if they were questions. It’s a good way to check in with people’s preoccupations on a large, anonymous scale and it’s usually pretty fun.

First, as is traditional, a song:

(Lyrics at the YouTube link)

Also I know I used this one last year, but it came up when I was looking and I love it so:

Ok! We’ve got witchy autumn-themed music cued up, so without further ado:

1 “How to know if a girl wants to hang out?”

Say the words “would you like hang out with me” & include a specific place, day, and time in your invitation. If she says no & does not suggest an alternative time/day/venue, like, “Can’t make that, but I’d love to get together – can we do x instead?” and never follows up with her own invitation, she does not!

2 “What to do when your friends tell you to date someone you dislike and they dislike your crush.”

For the first person (the one you dislike): “If you like him so much, you date them.” 

For the second person (the one they dislike): “You don’t have to date them!” 

3 “What does it mean if my brother in law keeps saying flirty comments and trying to touch me in front of his brother which is my boyfriend?”

It means your brother-in-law is a creep & a sexual predator who is trying to groom you to put up with this. It’s okay to yell “gross, don’t touch me!” or “ew, why would you say that!” or “Nope!” and leave the place where he is and also avoid him forever, like, “Nope, I don’t want to hang out with your creepy brother, hard pass.” Like, you can make a giant stink and insist that this never happen again. Also, I DEEPLY question why your boyfriend doesn’t step in or stick up for you since this happens in front of him. Have you discussed it with him? Because it might be time to avoid the whole creepazoid family.

4 “How to send an email asking if anyone has dietary restrictions?”

In your email about the gathering/event, say “Please let me know if you have any dietary restrictions or food allergies I should know about!” 

I also like it when invitations say “The tentative menu is x, y, and z – please let me know if you have any dietary restrictions or food allergies I should know about!” 

People who have dietary restrictions are pretty used to this and will have no problem responding.

5 “He criticizes my clothes.”

Is he the boss of you or your closet? Criticize his fallacy that you care about his opinion about that.

6 “Reaching out to an ex boyfriend after many years.”

Why? Self-awareness about why you’re reaching out and low expectations for what you’ll find when you do will make this much easier than it might otherwise be.

7 “How do I know my best friend is not cheating on me?” 

Is your best friend not allowed to have other friends?

I saw this and then….whooo boy: 7a “My friend is overly possessive of me and wont even acknowledge anyone else as my friend.”

Friendship is not a pie. You’re allowed to have multiple friends, people who try to isolate you from others do not have your best interest at heart, and if this friend won’t honor that you’ll need to end that friendship.

8 “My boyfriend wont let me eat.”

Yeah, that’s a “get yourself safe & away from him” situation. You’re the boss of your own food. Please keep yourself safe.

9 “What to do when your boyfriend doesn’t shower.”

If your partner’s hygiene grosses you out, it’s okay to be very blunt, like, “I notice you don’t shower, what’s going on with that? Please take a shower when you know we’re going to see each other.” “I don’t want to have sex/be close to you when you haven’t showered, please take care of it.” 

10 “How do you tell your spouse of 50 years that they need to shower better.”

“Babe, I need you to be more thorough when you shower – you’re missing some spots.” 

You may have to get realllllllllly specific about which spots. In 50 years you’ve had to have survived some awkward conversations, what’s one more?

11 “Why does my daughter continue to pick undesirable men?”

I don’t know! Assume she’s getting something out of the relationship that you can’t see, assume she has different priorities from you about what desirable even is. Then, remind her that you love her, try to keep an open mind, emphasize her choice & her agency in her romantic decisions, keep lines of communication open, try to hang out with just your daughter sometimes (vs. having both of them at everything). If the dude is actually awful, this will help her find her way back to you. If he’s a decent person but just not who you would choose, this will help you keep a good relationship with your daughter while you give him a chance to change your mind or everyone waits out the inevitable breakup.

12 “My children want to live with my rich in-laws instead of me.”

There is clearly waaaaaaaaaay more story here.

13 “Guy said maybe in the future meaning.”

Not now, i.e., don’t make any life plans around this guy.

14 “When relative distances from you do you try to contact or leave alone.”

If I know the source of the conflict or if things seem really out of the blue, I might try one time to address it – “Everything ok?”

But also, in families, not everyone has to like everyone, sometimes we get along better with some breathing room & space. Am I sure that the distance is about me, specifically (and not something stressful in their lives they’re dealing with) & does it all need to be resolved right now or can I trust that a little time will work it out?

15 “My boyfriend won’t watch a show with me.”

Not everyone has to like or watch the same entertainments. Let it gooooooooooooo.

16 “Doesn’t want me to meet his friends to take it slow.”

Hrm….

“Taking it slow” can be a good/healthy/reasonable thing.

Wanting to hold off on introducing someone new to your friends because you’re not sure yourself whether this one is a keeper can be a good/healthy/reasonable thing.

If someone you’re dating says “Let’s take this slow!” aka “I really like you but I’m not fully-committed yet and I’m taking my time before I decide that (& so should you!)” then it’s a signal to adjust your expectations accordingly, like, slow down your own commitment/investment level, slow down introducing him to your friends & family, slow down on future talk, remind yourself to put some time & love into the other people in your life & not disappear into New Couple! mode, & maybe don’t delete that dating profile just yet. Also, let the person who said they wanted to take it slow do more of the work of staying in touch, planning dates, etc. Like maybe it’s a prelude to a rejection, or maybe it’s an opportunity to give yourself permission not to do much or any work around this person right now. They’re taking it slow! No worries, you’re busy with your own thing and will check in when you have some time!

Also trust your instincts and trust what you want! If you feel like you’re being hidden away & compartmentalized from your person’s actual life, or he’s all “take it slow” about meeting friends but really clear about wanting all your time/fidelity/attention/commitment, if something feels unbalanced or unreciprocated, maybe trust that itchy feeling that made you Google this and pull back entirely. People can fall in love at different speeds, people can also string you along because they like your attention and they’re incapable of managing the whole “when I said I was single I meant I was separated and by separated I mean I’m still very much married and I promise I’ll tell her soon and anyway that’s why nobody can know about you, but we’re still having sex tonight, right?” discussion and order of operations like an ethical & trustworthy adult.

17 “Don’t want to spend Christmas with disabled step daughter.”

Listen, your holiday plans are your own – spend them how you want. Also, this phrasing does not make you sound awesome, so, probably it will be a huge relief to your stepdaughter if you just go on a cruise somewhere with her parent/your spouse or better yet with your family of origin or some good friends!

18 “I ghosted someone and now he’s sending letters to my house.”

Yeah, that’s creepy. Safety experts advise communicating directly with the person one time to say “I’m not interested, please stop contacting me,” using a medium where you can document that you said this (text, email), to remove plausible deniability from the situation. Then, never respond to any communication again, the logic being that if someone sends you 100 letters and you respond to say “I told you not to send me any more letters!” you’ve taught them that it takes 100 letters to get your attention so next time they’ll send 101. Every time you engage with the person after you tell them to stop, even if it’s yelling at them to leave you alone, it’s like buying yourself a few more weeks of stalking behavior because they are getting that little jolt of attention they wanted. The hope is that if you starve them of all attention & feedback they’ll lose interest.

Additionally: Tell other people in your life what’s happening and ask them (esp. any mutual friends) not to engage with the dude or give him any information about you, tighten up your social media visibility (block him everywhere if you haven’t yet, be mindful of sharing location data & photos online, he’s almost certainly monitoring whatever he can find), check on your locks/make sure you close your windows when you go to bed or leave the house, save all the letters in case you need to show them to law enforcement, vary up your routine & commute.

19 “How do you get your neighbor to quit asking for stuff.”

Say “no” every time they do ask, be very selective about when or if you answer the door, even make it clear – “I can’t/won’t help you with that, please stop asking.” 

20 “What to do when your new boyfriend is a slob.”

People change slow if they change at all, and you can’t make them do it.

Use that information how you will. Either find someone who is more compatible with you around cleanliness & hygiene stuff, choose your battles & speak up about the stuff that affects you, at risk of him not taking care of whatever it is and outright deciding “hey, I don’t wanna change the sheets more and I don’t wanna be criticized about it, I’m out!,” decide that you will probably never share a household and that’s okay, or learn to love the mess. He is a new boyfriend and you have the choice to be like, whoa, you have the best smile and we like all the same books, but I don’t think this is for me.

21 “I can’t stop cheating on my boyfriend.”

You actually can, so let’s rephrase this: “Something about my relationship with my boyfriend is not working for me and I am unhappy with him, so I keep cheating on him instead of breaking up or talking whatever it is over, but I’m also afraid of losing him or hurting him so I keep delaying the inevitable.” 

Feelings happen and they don’t always happen at convenient times or in the right order.

Let’s take feelings out of it for a second and talk about safety. If you’re sexually active, if you agree to have a monogamous relationship with someone and they trust you to hold to that agreement, and you’re also secretly having sex with other people, you are messing with consent. You are not allowing your partner to make informed decisions about their own sexual health and risk tolerance. That is a really shitty, violating, possible health-destroying thing to do to someone and it’s in your power to not do that anymore.

22 “When mothers barge in son’s room to find him wanking.”

Look, I know this is most likely a random porn search, but I grew up with a family who were pretty terrible about closed doors and privacy, so let me take this opportunity to say:

  1. KNOCK.
  2. WAIT FOR AN AFFIRMATIVE ANSWER BEFORE YOU TOUCH THE DOOR AGAIN.

Kids are people, people need privacy and respect, if it’s not a life or death situation (like someone is not literally bleeding, exploding, flooding, or on fire) you can fucking well knock and wait 30 seconds for everyone to get their britches reaffixed. You want little kids to learn to knock & wait for an answer before they interrupt you, you want your older kids to have respect and privacy and feel safe where they live, so, be the change (and the knocking) that you want to see in the world.

23 “Captain awkward cries all the time”

I cry a normal amount of crying + 20% if it’s a sad movie or if unlikely animal friends are involved somewhere or if it’s the part of the book where little girls send letters to their heroine about how they want to be astronauts someday. I also cry if someone is mean to me or someone I care about, if someone is unexpectedly nice to me, and….[censored for politics].

24 “Feel guilt quitting job manager asking me to come back.”

Good news, you don’t have to go back.

You can say “Oh manager, it’s so great to know you value my work, but this is the right decision for me. Thanks for asking, but no thanks!” 

And like, it’s good to keep things cordial with former workplaces if you can, but once you stop working there you do not have to respond to every communication you get. Once the question’s been asked and answered, you can ignore future requests.

And hey, if you decide you want to go back, this seems like a great time to ask for wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy more money than you were making before!

25 “Husband supporting his adult children behind my back.”

Assuming “support” = financial support, yikes. Married couples need transparency & honesty about financial stuff. Maybe this is one for couple’s counseling and/or talking with a financial advisor to make sure that your shared savings & financial priorities aren’t being neglected and to dig into why he didn’t feel like he could tell you. Ya’ll need to open all the books and spreadsheets and accounts and air everything out, down to the penny.

One way to possibly handle this (after a full accounting/disclosure and some deep discussions) is to make an agreement going forward that X amount of money (the majority) goes toward your shared financial priorities & living expenses and Y (much smaller amount) of money gets split equally between each spouse to be spent/saved/invested as they wish without consulting the other, so if he wants to throw his monthly Y budget to his adult kids that’s up to him, you can still be confident that your savings & expenses are being handled and also have your own discretionary funds. It doesn’t remove the problem completely (I sense that the querent’s ideal amount of support for the adult children is zero dollars and no cents) but it does remove secrecy and lies.

 26 “Good headlines for dating profiles.”

  • “I’m shy and weird and nice.”
  • “Let’s eat cheese and do witchcraft.”
  • “Evil genius seeks henchmen for world domination scheme.”
  • “Winter is coming (Come hang out in my sweet blanket fort).”
  • “I just got divorced, everything sucks, wanna make out?”
  • “Let’s both put on a clean shirt and leave the house tonight.”
  • “Yes…and? Comedy/Improv dork seeks a willing player.”
  • “I promise I will never make you come to my improv shows.”
  • “My perfect date involves documentaries and crying.”
  • “Let’s canvass for the midterm elections and then fuck!”
  • “Severely allergic to cats, lilies, and people who ‘love to debate for fun.'”
  • “I like tacos, heist films, and books about space travel.”
  • “Let’s compare shoe collections (I wear a size 8).”
  • “Hold my hand during scary movies?”
  • “Weatherwax in the streets, Ogg in the sheets.”
  • “Ok basically my fantasy is to meet someone who wants to learn how to fence and then we’ll have duels and say witty, cutting remarks laced with sexual tension, who’s in?”
  • “My version of dating is to be really good friends who snuggle (a lot) and kiss (sometimes/a little) and do other sexy stuff (maybe/never). Who’s with me?”
  • “I express myself only in GIFs, memes, and rap battles.”

Be specific! To me, the secret isn’t to appeal blandly to the maximum number of possible people, the secret is to communicate your specific brand of weird in the hopes of attracting same. It’s okay to have fun with it, especially if the whole dating site seems like one big “I’m a chill relaxed normal person who likes to work hard & play hard, I have sanded off as many of my rough edges as I could before appearing on your app screen, I’ll break the news about the bagpipes and the family curse later, please swipe right!” avatar of the same person.

That’s all for this month. Live Chat/Short Answers return Friday 9/28 (I’m doing them 2x a month instead of every week, which I think I told Patreon but didn’t necessarily announce here), here is a kitten photo to tide you over:

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Daniel Striped Tiger (L) and Henrietta Pussycat (R) are two soft brown tabby kittens who are best friends and excellent sleepy snuggle buddies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time for the monthly tradition where we answer the things people typed into search engines as if they are questions.

Before we get to it, it’s Pledge Drive Time! Twice a year, winter and summer, I interrupt our usual programming to remind folks that fun stuff like the Search Terms posts and the Friday short answers are funded by my kind and generous patrons and readers who support the site via PayPal and other ways. These donations allow me to keep the blog ad-free, invest substantial time in maintaining the community, reading the mailbox, and moderating comments, devote time to answering questions and writing new content, pay guest writers, and keep us functioning as an independent site. This year I’m trying to pull back on teaching and be a full-time writer, and your support is necessary and much appreciated for the care and feeding of me & my family. Please make a donation or become a patron if you can. Every little bit helps. (If you can’t afford to, don’t worry ’bout a thing, I’m glad you are here and reading.)

As is traditional, let’s begin with a song to set the mood. Lyrics here :

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Parenting in these Interesting Times is pretty awful sometimes.

It’s also incredible and brings me more hope than nearly anything else has in the last 3 years, though.

My husband and I have three kids. They’re 12, 9, and 8 years old and we’ve been open and honest with them since they were born. We’re both white, and we have worked to raise them with knowledge of their privilege as well as helping them understand anti-racism (instead of “colorblindness”), sexism, and homophobia since a very young age. White families especially need to teach our kids about these things because the wider culture isn’t going to do it for us. We’re “the norm” and it’s unacceptable for us to just let our kids grow up assuming that’s fine.

Our parenting goals have been to respect our kids as autonomous human beings while balancing that with their safety and others’ autonomy. In practice, this means that my kids don’t have to hug people they don’t want to hug, but they had to sit in carseats even if they threw a tantrum. They can choose when to use their screens or read or play outside, but they do have limits that they have to respect.

We aren’t perfect parents by any means. I struggled with undiagnosed, unmedicated postpartum anxiety when they were young and yelled more than I should have. We get frustrated because kids are frustrated and kids are FRUSTRATING! But our parenting priority is treating all kids like the autonomous human beings with fundamental rights that they are.

Which brings me to… today. The Interesting Times I mentioned above. The creeping tide of fascism. Our subculture of xenophobia and jingoism that got put into power by a long process of undemocratic and treasonous gerrymandering and the subjugation of democratic rights.

This is a toughie when you’re talking to sweet, innocent toddlers and preschoolers and idealistic elementary students and sarcastic but still idealistic middle schoolers and high schoolers who just realized their education was false and the democracy (and teachers and pastors and authority figures) they believed were wrong at best, or much worse – liars.


However, there are a few ways to make these discussions a bit more fruitful as a parent, aunt/uncle, or any other loving caregiver.

The first, and the most important for every single age group:

Welcome kids’ emotions and feelings and hold them together with the kids in a safe space. Kids who feel like strong emotions that are coded as negative are “bad” or otherwise unwelcome won’t be open with you. Tears and yelling and anger and hurt and grief are all completely normal and okay – and feeling them with you there for support will mean the kids will learn they don’t have to repress themselves.

For toddlers and preschoolers:

Use the Mr. Rogers method of looking for the helpers. Children at this age desperately need to feel safe with their caretakers. It’s incredibly easy to talk to kids this age about stuff like sex (make it simple, use the correct words for body parts, talk about consent, and discuss it pretty clinically), but discussing death and state-sanctioned kidnapping is REALLY SCARY.

A toddler or preschooler needs to know that they are safe and their parents have the power to keep them safe. Even if it’s not technically true these days (especially if you’re a person of color or an immigrant!), and even if it feels incredibly unfair to get to say “we’re citizens so we are safe” – keep kids’ hearts safe while you’re talking to them about the news. “The government is doing some things that harm these families and the kids and parents are being kept apart right now. This isn’t something that’s going to happen to you, and we and all the other adults we know are working hard to make this better for all the people in trouble. We’re giving money and we’re protesting and we’re making sure new people are put into the government. But it IS terrible, and we’re angry and sad about it. We love you, and we want these kids to have their parents back with them as soon as possible because they love their kids just as much as we love you.” 

For elementary students:

These kids can understand a lot more about the difficulty of pushing back against the government than younger kids can. My kids started learning about the Civil Rights Era in school, and by 2nd grade they were learning about Ruby Bridges being screamed at by white adults and MLK getting assassinated. This varies based on school system. My kids are in Chicago Public Schools where they don’t whitewash it as much as many places do, but I still had to do some “homework” with them about the way people teach this history and how it whitewashes MLK and erases the contributions of Malcolm X and the Black Panthers.

Speaking to kids about how we are working hard to improve the people in charge of our country by protesting, voting, donating, etc. is crucial, as is bringing kids to protests and letting them see you living out your ideals. Stand up to family members who are saying hurtful things, “Uncle John, I don’t feel comfortable with you saying that, especially in front of kids. Please be respectful of us.”

Make yourself available to questions the kids have even if they’re scary or upsetting to you. If you can’t answer questions because of your own anxiety or similar mental health struggles, find a trusted adult who can help them. (In my family, my anxiety acts up severely about school shootings, so I refer the kids to my husband when they want to have those discussions.)  Ensure the kids feel like their concerns are important.

Helping kids have something to do to help will help them feel secure AND help them learn activism. Kids can:

  • Make protest signs
  • Help look up charities for your donations
  • Write letters to elected officials
  • Help you call elected officials (call your favorite “family values” politician and tell them your 5th grader has something to say and enjoy the guilt trip!)
  • Look up youtube videos about stepping in when people are being bullied. Non-violent conflict resolution is a great keyword here.

For middle and high school students:

These kids are learning sarcasm and humor and often need reminding that empathy and love and friendship is not uncool. They can do everything the elementary kids can, and they need the same reassurance that little kids need, but they can also start to make their own choices about when to step in. They need to practice how to stand up for people with marginalized identities, how and when to go to an authority figure, and how to stand up to their friends.

You’re not going to be able to teach all of these things but you’re going to be their soft place to land while they practice living out their values. You’ll give them ideas, support them, sometimes maybe march angrily into the principal’s office if they’re treated poorly by authority figures – and you’ll answer their tough questions. Practicing telling the truth when they’re little is so crucial because 1) you’ll have more practice and will feel less awkward and 2) they’ll trust you to tell them the truth and they’ll know you won’t laugh at them for whatever they ask.


The big takeaway to all of this? Teaching kids about difficult topics doesn’t have to be a miserable slog. Kids are smart, interesting, invested human beings who want to make their world a better place. Help them figure out how to do it by giving them ways to take ownership of the world they live in, and help them understand that parents all over the world want nothing more than to protect their babies and children. We can all help, but pretending nothing is going on is going to do kids a major disservice in the long run.

 

Leah Chibe is originally from northern Michigan but has been living on the south side of Chicago for 15 years with her husband and, eventually, kids/dogs/a biergarten in the backyard. She is currently in seminary working to become a Lutheran chaplain. She can be reached at @LeahChibe on Twitter.

Moderator Note from Captain Awkward: 

Could we keep the discussion on this thread for parents of kids under 18, by parents of kids under 18 today? If you don’t have the problem of trying to explain world events to kids right now, cool! This is not your catch-all drive-by politics-feelings-thread. Thank you.

Good morning! Submit your questions on Patreon or on Twitter (@CAwkward, #AwkwardFriday) before noon Chicago time today.

From 12-1 I’ll answer as many as I can and update as I go. Comments open once everything is posted.

These have been fun so far. I’m looking forward to questions.

Ok, it’s on!

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Dear Captain,

Context: J and I are both part of an online circle of friends who have known each other for years. Although several of us have never met in person, we consider each other close friends. Since we’re geographically scattered and many are dealing with our own issues of mental health, stress, strained finances, etc., we have limited bandwidth for socializing, making the main group chat an important point of contact, and alternatives to it hard to construct.

J has issues I’m not going to try to diagnose here, but they result in periodic outbursts of self-loathing. When this happens, it generally takes over the entire group chat for hours. We used to try to help, but never seemed to get anywhere. Over time things have gotten worse, to the point the rest of us agree they should be talking to a professional, but they’re highly resistant to seeking any help. Now we commonly say nothing because it’ll at best not help and at worst result in their self-loathing becoming anger directed at us, and usually this results in them complaining that no one listens or cares.

I fear this will reach a point where others start leaving the chat entirely to avoid them, and/or J getting kicked for exhausting the admin’s patience, resulting in people I care about dropping out of contact and losing important supports. While this isn’t exactly my responsibility to deal with, I’m generally one of the people with the most metaphorical spoons available within the group, and I don’t want to push the problem onto those with less.

On the one hand, we can just plan for the eventuality of having to kick J entirely and the fallout from that, but I’m hoping there are strategies we can try before it gets to that point to keep their outbursts from poisoning a communal space, while also encouraging them to get help (especially if it doesn’t involve in-person counseling or therapy, to which they’re particularly resistant) in a way they’re more likely to actually listen to. Other than the admin muting them, everyone refusing to engage at all, or broken-recording with “seek professional help” when J gets started, I’m at a loss.

– Not a Doctor

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Submit your questions on Patreon or on Twitter (@CAwkward, #AwkwardFriday) before noon Chicago time today and I will answer as many as I can. Comments get turned on after everything’s posted on my end.

Great questions this week! Transcript below, updating sloooooooooooowly. 

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