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Dear Captain,

I write fiction, mostly fantasy. I admit I can be humorless about it. My friend “Shawn” writes fiction of similar genre. We used to talk about writing and about our ideas a lot, but less so since I got a day job.

Shawn starts projects all the time and most of them never come to a full rough draft, so I know not to get too invested in any particular setting or character concept they tell me about. (OTOH, due to my more limited free time for writing, I’ve just got the one novel I’ve been revising for a few years now.) My issue is that Shawn keeps telling me about all of these ideas, with no context. They’ll text me out of the blue, “I’ve decided that Character X and Character Y are going to date” or “I’m setting my next story in a fantasy version of Tibet” and I have no idea how to react anymore. I’d be happy to read any completed stories that came from these ideas. I’ve read their one completed manuscript and, hell, I’d be happy to hear random thoughts about that setting or those characters, who I already care about. But what on earth do I say to “My new character is a dragon and her favorite soda is Ramune,” especially when I know I’ll never hear about this dragon again?

I wouldn’t mind if I got to talk about my own writing in turn, but they don’t seem interested anymore. They asked to read my manuscript once, and (a year later) have finally stopped pretending they’ll ever get around to it. Recently they asked me a question about my protagonists, and I got excited at this sign that we could resume shop talk like we used to. But after I answered, they just said “Nice” and used it as a springboard to brag about their own great characterization, in the context of another story they had just thought up. I kinda feel like my time and effort are being disrespected here.

Am I being snooty about different approaches to the creative process? Am I being too precious about my own work while judging theirs harder? If not, how can I steer these conversations back to a fun and mutual place, and not a place where I’m getting infodumped on?

Thanks,
A Wiki for a Fictional Multiverse that Doesn’t Yet Exist (they/them)

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Dear Captain,

This woman (I’ll call her Glinda) and I have been friends for a few years now. We met through work, though we were in different departments of a large organization and seldom had a chance to actually interact in the workplace. But we had similar interests, lived in the same part of town and had several mutual friends, so we became rather close friends–she confided in me about her personal life, threw me a baby shower when I got pregnant, etc.

Then our work arrangements changed and we found ourselves working a lot more closely together: currently, at any given time, there are at least two or three projects we’re both working on, sometimes sharing responsibility for most of it. And Captain, I’m on the brink of quitting my job (and the friendship).

Glinda is constantly freaking out. About EVERYTHING. And since I’m her friend, she comes to me about it and I have to reason with her and calm her down and reassure her, often multiples times about the same topic, until she moves on to a new one. Half the energy I’d normally spend on work is spent managing her emotionally. She feels underappreciated by our bosses–she talks to me about it. She’s having second thoughts about a perfectly good decision that our team has made and started implementing–she talks to me about it. She gets frustrated by her interactions with other colleagues–she talks to me about it.

And I can’t not deal with those things because they’re not just friendship-related, they’re work related. If I don’t reassure her about her capacities being appreciated, she’ll become sad and unproductive, which will affect our work. If I don’t reason with her about that decision that’s giving her second thoughts, she’ll call a new meeting to re-discuss everything and change everything, wasting everyone’s time (including mine). If I don’t calm her down when she’s frustrated and run interference between her and the other colleagues, they won’t want to work with her/our team and we won’t get anything done.

Everything is twice as hard and takes twice as long, because I have to deal with Glinda. She’s my friend and I love her, but I don’t want to be working with her anymore. It’s literally draining me and turning a job I used to love into a chore.

Do you have any tips on how to deal with this situation?

Sincerely,

About to quit (she/her)

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Dear Captain,

Every year I go on holiday in a cottage somewhere with the same group of 10 people. It’s lovely and a really important chance to catch up with old friends I don’t see enough. But every year I end up resenting the half of them who don’t pull their weight with the chores.

Not all of us are decent cooks, and it seems perfectly reasonable that only the people who are good at it cook dinners. And we have a “you cooked, so you don’t have to clear away after dinner” rule. But that’s only a tiny fraction of the cleaning that goes on during the week. We also need to load the dishwasher at several other points in the day, do the shopping, plan what we’re going to do, keep tidying things away, organise the holiday itself… All of this emotional and logistical labour and the majority of the cleaning/ cooking is done by the same small group of people.

As you might have guessed, there’s a strong correlation between gender and whether or not people do their share, although it’s not clear cut. My (male) other half is one of the cleaners, and one of the worst shirkers recently came out as non binary, so I don’t want to make a thing of the gender issue as it isn’t as simple as just the women doing the work and the men avoiding it.

I have in the past said something like “it feels like the same people do the majority of the chores, partly because a lot of it isn’t noticeable unless it doesn’t get done, so please be aware of whether you’re doing enough”. This has increased the amount of chores the shirkers do slightly, but not to their fair share, and it hasn’t changed the balance of emotional/ logistical labour. It also resulted in one of the shirkers hiding in a corner not talking to anyone for a couple of hours. (They’re in bad mental health and will do this occasionally throughout the week).

Policing other people’s chore is a) annoying and b) yet more emotional labour I don’t want to do. I’ve tried just not doing the chores, but this results in them not getting done until one of the people who already does too much work does them.

Lots of my thinks this is just one week a year and I should just deal with it and not make a scene or sit there stewing when half the group aren’t contributing. But I’m really pissed off by the injustice of it, especially given the gender divide. And as a friend, I also think my heterosexual male friends are much more likely to have happy romantic relationships if they learn how to divide labour more equitably.

Any advice?

Yours,
I Am Not Your Mother
(She/ her pronouns)

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Dear Captain Awkward,

What do you do if your significant other thinks that you will go no where with your dream?

My boyfriend is a well known, local photographer. He does mainly fashion photo-shoots and is honestly, very talented at what he does.

I’m newly, discovering modeling. I had tried it before when I was younger; but, it didn’t workout since I had acne. I didn’t get my face cleared until I was almost 30 (ancient in modeling years). But I enjoy my hobby. I have discovered this new passion of mine. Walking on the runway feels great and I get a lot of compliments on my walk! People want to book me for shows, work with me in photos and I even try their new designs! Its very exciting.

I even came up with a concept for a photo-shoot. I made a head-piece, found a makeup artist, made sure to communicate how I want the lighting and am going to see my idea come into fruition. I would have never believed, I could bring that many people together to make an image. But, I can!

It all sounds great… but, my boyfriend doesn’t believe I’ll go anywhere. He’s made so many comments about the photos we’ve done together. He’s literally told me, “You’re not Naomi Campbell,” and he’s even tried to hide a photo-shoot he was doing with a couple of models from California… saying, “You would only be jealous of their careers.” And then invited me to hold the lights.

I have no idea what to do. I told him, I’m not jealous of anyone, but the fact that he got nervous about telling me was odd. I honestly, thought it was because he was going to flirt with them; not because “You’ll be jealous of their careers.”

I’m not sure where he would get a comment like that in the first place? And I’m tired of him trying to put me down with his harsh criticism. He told me, he would say things like that, because he works in a an industry where its normal for people to say those things… However, he’s had a TON of other photo-shoots and has never told anyone else these things? I guess, I don’t understand.

I know, he doesn’t believe I will walk in New York Fashion Week. He’s reminded me that I’m 5’7″, on a daily basis, saying he’s just giving me a “Realistic perspective.” But I never asked him. I also, didn’t even have that as a goal… I just, honestly like what I’m doing. Its inspired me to create things, to try new adventures and meet new people.

My heart is kind of broken because he’s the one person, I thought, would believe in me. Or at least, be proud of me…. instead, all I get is “You’re not Naomi Campbell.”

I told him he could no longer take my photos. We can no longer work together. And I have no time to doubt myself. I work a full-time day job. I have shows booked until November and I want to plan more things! There should be no time wasted on being self-conscious.

We have talked about this issue a lot over the last few days and we worked out some resolutions we are both happy with; along with boundaries of not working together anymore…

But there is still this pain, knowing that he doesn’t believe I can do this. I tell myself, I never needed anyone before, why would I still want his approval?

What should I do?

Half of me, thinks that we can still be together despite this. Because I am quite old, it’s too late to walk the New York runways. I wouldn’t even qualify for them at my height. He has a point…

But there is that other part of me, that still wants to continue. That never wants to place a ceiling on my passion… And that part, is extremely hurt, the love of my life wants to give me a “reality check.”

Thanks in Advance,

The Independent Model

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Dear Captain,

I am desperately in need of some scripts. In November last year, my aunt launched an online women’s magazine. My aunt is a very rich lady, she doesn’t have a job, so she decided to focus on this project. It was a cool idea, based in some feminist principles, so when she asked me if I could translate the articles from our native language to English I was happy to accept the job.

The thing is, I considered it just that- a job. I’m a college senior, I have about a million things to do on any given day, and translating is time-consuming. She doesn’t really see it that way though- she thinks of it more as a “family favor”, doesn’t seem to acknowledge that I have other things to do and gives me ridiculous deadlines. Like, sending me an article at midnight and expecting it to be done the next morning. Or figuring I’d finish a 10 page text in two days or so. We’re close, she knows I have issues with asserting myself (I have BPD and boundaries are a real problem for me), and i have tried mentioning that I can’t really work like that, that she needs to organize things better so I have more time, etc. And she always agrees but then keeps doing it!! It has gotten so bad that I almost feel like she’s pushing my limits, or doing it on purpose because it’s easier for her to impose a ridiculous deadline on me than the people she has writing the articles (herself included).

To top it all of, she doesn’t really pay me… she paid me twice since November. And quite a small amount of money too (I had gotten 300 dollars total for eight months of work now, and what would, by word count, be charged at least ten times as much on a minimal rate). She also likes to try and pin other work on me- illustrations (because she thinks I’m creative!), photos, article writing…I’ve reluctantly done some of it, for no extra money.

She has this plan for me to translate A BOOK during the summer (she already decided that I’ll need about two weeks for that. Two weeks! For a book!) and I feel like I have to say something before I’m expected to slave over that instead of relaxing a bit after graduation. Though I would probably agree to it if I knew I’d get paid a fair amount and have a more realistic time-frame. She’s my aunt, and I don’t want to insult her or seem unappreciative, but I’m getting a bit desperate and I really need to sort this out somehow. Do you have some advice for me?

You don’t want to seem unappreciative? YOU don’t want to seem unappreciative? YOU think that YOU’RE the unreasonable or unappreciative one?

My sweet summer child, no.

It’s time for a meeting with your Auntie where you do the following things:

  • Present her with an accurate count of how many hours you’ve spent on this project.
  • Invoice her for those hours at a real-world translation rate. All of them. Every single hour and piece of “extra” work.

IF you want to keep working with  her on future projects, you 100% need to create a written agreement that includes, at minimum:

  • A defined scope of work and rates. Translation costs $x, photography & graphic design costs $Y, generating original content costs $z.
  • A budget of hours/week that you will spend on the project.
  • A defined invoicing and payment schedule
  • Guidelines about your working hours, frequency of communications, and turnaround times for work (with a HEFTY rush fee for rushed turnarounds). Set business hours, like, 10 am – 6pm, and after 6pm any emails or requests will be answered tomorrow. Her expectations about turnaround times are completely ridiculous.
  • A contract start date and end date, say, per project or for a period of 1 year. There is always the option to extend or contract for additional work, but by ending the first contract at one year it gives you a chance to renegotiate – raise your rates, re-budget your time.
  • Good starting resources: The Freelancers Union, The Freelancer’s Bible

Here’s a script for starting that conversation:

Auntie, I love working on your projects, but now that we’ve been at this a while, we need to more clearly define the project and my position here.”

If she balks at putting stuff in writing, “Auntie, putting things in writing protects everyone. That way the expectations are clear. I really can’t keep working without a contract.

If she suggests that you are ungrateful or suggest AT ALL that your rates are too high or that your totally 100% reasonable requests are in any way unreasonable, BAIL FOREVER. Literally, “Okay, Auntie, I understand if that won’t work for you, good luck finding a professional to help you, I’ll happily transfer all the files I have over to you and that person”(You will transfer them…as soon as she pays your entire invoice).

Other scripts, for the day-to-day times when she agrees to something and then tries to bulldoze you:

Sorry, that won’t work for me. I can have it for you by ____.” Then stick to that deadline. If she’s unhappy, she can hire someone else.

If that feels mean or like you’re the one introducing conflict to the situation, try to think of it as educating her. In my experience as a freelancer, a lot* of (rich) people like to start businesses without really knowing what is entailed. They want the title of “Editor in Chief” or CEO without spending the money to pay professionals or do the work to set up professional practices, and they are used to getting their way. It can create a toxic environment very quickly if it’s not checked. If she’s not purposely taking advantage of you (doubtful, but let’s do a thought experiment), she needs to know the actual costs of translation, graphic design, and editorial services so that she can make good decisions and keep her business viable. Your labor is valuable and essential to what she’s doing, so, she needs to pay you for that. Her money isn’t a gift or a treat or a generous indulgence she’s bestowing on you, it’s payment for your work.

She might try dangling the idea of money or a promotion to a full-time job down the road to get out of paying now. If she sees this as a joint project that you are creating together that she wants you to take over in the future, then, cool, she should treat (& pay) you like a creative partner. But that doesn’t mean she’s off the hook for the work you’re already doing. Your labor is a routine business cost. She better pay you, and if she won’t, find another job that will pay you, and let her figure her own shit out on the free market.

In Solidarity!!!

*#notall, of course, but one way to determine the difference is “Can I have an honest conversation about pay, hours, and other business matters with this person?”

 

 

Dear Captain,

I’ll preface this letter by saying that I’m a chronically depressed woman with big anxiety problems and BDP (and one of the ways it manifest is a crippling fear of abandonment).

I have been dumped. By a theater group. I was friend or friendly with all the members (some before the theater). I didn’t see it coming.

We’re an amateur group, so each year our director is whoever volunteers. Someone, let’s call her Loki (I’m feeling petty) took over the job, was congratulated (it’s not an easy job and nobody else was rushing for it). She organized a few reading session over the summer; I attended the first, the second I was in vacation and the two last ones I was too depressed to attend, which I didn’t think would be a big deal. The decision was ultimately hers, she took it, chose a play with eight roles even though we were ten comedians. One week ago she announced it, and last night called me to tell me I was out because she has chosen “to keep the people most invested this summer”. Somehow I’m the only one out.

An additional reason I’m pissed: she chose to cut me out even though I was already a member of the group, but brought her brother in and in an subsequent text she sent me, she talked about the scheduling difficulties (why did she told me that??) (I had no schedule constraint as I have a job with regular hours, no partner or kid and no other activity).

She repeated she was sorry, and I could still be part of the group by doing the grunt work (my words, not hers) of building the set or sewing the costumes (not interested). She also repeatedly offered to me to talk this over around coffee, which I’m very wary about because 1)i don’t see the point beside easing her possible guilt 2)I get emotional real quick and rn all I could see happen is me crying or me yelling, which are both bad. 3)I don’t want to somehow get back in because she would take pity of my mental health issues.

The rest of the group probably doesn’t yet knows what she did and why, they would have said something and I assume she wanted to tell me first.

The final thing is that the scholar year has already started, so it’s gonna be hard to find another, if any, theater group (full of strangers!) I guess my question is: how do I deal with those feeling, how do I deal with Loki and the rest of the group?

Sad And Pissed the Hell Off (she/her)

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Dear Captain,

I am a (female) musician just starting out on a new duo project with a fellow (male) musician, and we’re just about heading for our first gigs and things. We’re both really excited — we get on well musically and personally, and we’re enjoying what we do and looking forward to sharing it with people. However, he has a girlfriend, who is (perhaps inevitably) insecure in one way or another about him playing music with “pretty young women” (she’s a fair bit older than us two, hence the inclusion of “young”). They have their own conversations to have about all sorts of things (not my business, of course), but the nub of it is that it makes him uncomfortable having to tell her about this new duo with me. He and I are both on the autistic spectrum, and established in a beautifully blunt moment that neither of us was interested in the other for the sake of getting the conversation out of the way, and he’s since referred to me as a “top bloke”, which to me makes the distinction perfectly clear. While it’s that simple for us, it’s not that simple for her, and I totally see where she’s coming from having been in her position previously.

My question is what can I do to help the situation? He said he will talk to her about the duo at some point soon when he can find a good moment (they live quite far away from each other so it’s not 100% simple), but in the mean time, it means that I can’t get excited in public too much about it because he thinks she shouldn’t find out from me or by seeing a random Facebook post (far from unreasonable). He’s already asked me not to tag him in posts about being excited about making music together for her sake, and while I can see that it’s a small gesture towards keeping things OK from his side (he’s my friend, why the hell shouldn’t I?), I worry that I’m going to do or say something stupid that’s going to cause problems for them or for us. He says it’s not going to get in the way of the duo working and being successful, but I can’t help feeling there’s an inevitable sticking point if his girlfriend is uncomfortable with him hanging around with me at the close quarters necessary to work in such a small ensemble. I haven’t met her yet, though our paths are due to cross in the coming months, but I’m nervous of making some mistake that means that her insecurities come out and cause problems.

In short, I play music with a guy in whom I’m not remotely romantically interested, but I think my being female and apparently not bad looking (who am I to judge?) might cause a problem, and I want to know what I can do to avoid sticking my boot in it. She sounds nice, and they are basically happy, and he and I are very happy with the music we make, and I don’t want it to get any more complex than that.

Yours,
Over-Optimistic Aspie Musician

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