Hello, readers, thanks for your emails, your support, and your questions in this time of global pandemic. How’s everybody doing? (Yes, I know the first iteration misspelled COVID as Corvid, I ❤ ravens and crows and have been doing it all week, what can I say).


Image: Meme stating that I have gone zero seconds without touching my face.

Personal update: Mr. Awkward and I are both virus-free as far as we can tell (which is no guarantee), but we’re both high-risk people and we are keeping our asthmatic, seasonal-allergy-prone asses home except for one or two essential medical errands. We’re very lucky to be able to do so, and I’m sending so much solidarity and appreciation to people who do the essential jobs to keep everyone fed, housed, not drowning in piles of our own garbage, and receiving necessary medical treatment.

The pharmacy has been out of my ADHD med for almost a month and doesn’t know when they’ll get resupplied. I run out Friday, so, I do not anticipate regular intervals of focused productivity, but who knows what inspiration may come in the hyper-focus zone. Last week, I did what I could to help former colleagues make the sudden switch to online teaching (release the tutorial-kraken!) and I’m working on a piece for Vox (who are doing some very good explainers) about scripts for getting relatives to take this seriously that will go up within the next day or so. I’ll share a link here when it does.

My general plans are to keep writing my morning pages with the #ArtBuddies, pet cats, wash my hands, keep my writing schedule as much as I can, wash my hands, read a ton of books, wash my hands, check in with friends (especially my extroverts) regularly, wash my hands, bug my electeds a ton about getting our collective shit together and getting relief to *people* (not just *workers/employers*), wash my hands, and play many games of “I didn’t know we had this in our pantry, let’s put it on some rice!” in between hand-washings.

And, you know, try not to freak out entirely.

Would you like to look at cats? They almost never share the lap peacefully, so this was a rare pleasure.


Image: Henrietta Kim Wexler Pussycat (closer, darker swirls) and Daniel Jason Mendoza Striped Tiger (further from camera, lighter stripes) share a rare moment of peace on my blanketed lap.

Now for some questions! We’ll call them #1258 and #1259. 

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The Bachelor group shot

“One of you lucky ladies is going to get tenure!”

Hi Captain (& friends),

I have been dating an awesome guy for a little over a year now. It’s not really my style to gush over a romantic partner, but this is possibly the happiest and most comfortable I’ve ever been with someone. However, we have one big difference: I’m a graduate student getting my PhD in a science field, and he never completed his bachelor’s and is currently working in the service industry. He’s taking online classes and collaborating on a startup, but doesn’t plan to finish his degree.

This doesn’t bother me, or adversely affect the relationship. He is extremely intelligent and genuinely interested in my research work, and I like hearing wild stories from the club he works at. He challenges my ideas and experiments in ways that are interesting and helpful, since they’re not coming from within the academic culture. And besides, we have a lot of shared interests, like programming, caving, and gaming, where we are at similar levels of accomplishment and feel like we can challenge each other.

But this doesn’t stop me from getting anxious about the education discrepancy. When I first met Boyfriend, my out-of-town friends told me I needed to be aiming higher. All my in-town friends are grad students / PhDs, and they’re all dating other grad students / PhDs. They spend date nights writing new theorems; I spend date nights playing Starcraft. It can make parties a little weird: “Oh, your partner developed an entirely new model of fish ecology? That’s awesome! Mine couldn’t come because he’s still washing tables.”

I already have a lot of anxiety about my career. Thanks to ever-present imposter syndrome, my brain loves telling me that I’m my department’s pity hire, I actually don’t know anything about science, and I will crash and burn horribly. So now I’m afraid that I’m somehow sabotaging myself and my career with this non-academic relationship. Is it going to turn me into a lesser scientist? Am I wasting time? Are my priorities all out of whack? I feel awful for making this all about me and my flawed, academia-instilled value system, but my brain won’t shut up about it. For what it’s worth, Boyfriend knows about this anxiety and tries to help (like, by scheduling Thesis / Startup Work “Dates”, to help with my fear that I’m spending too much time with him and not enough time in the lab).

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Dear Captain Awkward,

My relationship with my boyfriend is seriously beginning to interfere with my academic pursuits. I met my boyfriend about a semester ago though some mutual friends of ours, and by all accounts, it has been a truly amazing experience. He is handsome, smart, supportive, and despite a slow start to the relationship we have amazing chemistry; he’s even into geek culture. Honestly, this is the happiest I’ve ever been in a relationship, and I can’t wait to see what our future together is like.

For the past few months things have been all sunshine and rainbows, but then I began to notice a problem: during the time we have been together, the quality of my academic efforts has declined. Not drastically, mind you, but as a student who used to get A’s on her college projects, I’m now getting B’s. Theoretically, My boyfriend and I should not have such incredibly different workloads, seeing as we have similar majors (Comp. Sci. and Engineering) but while he’s already been accepted as a transfer to the four-year college of his choice, i’m still vying for a spot at mine, which essentially means that while he’s taking low stakes pre reqs for the classes he’ll be taking next year, I have to strive to take classes that make my transcript look as shiny and appealing to admissions officers as possible.

How do I explain to him, in a way that doesn’t sound like a preamble to a breakup, that I need more time on my own for my studies? Furthermore, how can I implement this lifestyle change so that he still feels loved and cared for?

“Boyfriend, I need to put more focus on my schoolwork, so going forward, x blocks of time are for us to hang out and y blocks of time are for me to study.  I won’t be answering texts or making social plans during those blocks of time until I feel caught up on my projects and my grades are where I want them to be. I wanted to let you know so that we could plan around it. Cool, thanks.”

A good boyfriend goes “sure, ok!” and then enjoys the time you spend together and leaves you alone during your study time. And then you give him your full attention during your scheduled date time and all is well.

A bad boyfriend gets all whiny and sulky and manufactures reasons to intrude on your study time and claims that your studying makes him feel “unloved.” I’ve met many versions of That Guy, the one who always wants to have big relationship talks late at night before you have an exam or when you’re in the middle of a complicated project. The one who stands in your doorway and says “I’m bored!” when you’ve blocked out the afternoon to study. That Guy must be stopped.

I’m guessing/hoping that you have a good boyfriend! So, this isn’t stuff you need to ask permission for. This is stuff where you tell the other person how it’s going to be and then do that thing. This also isn’t something he’s necessarily causing. It’s on you to get your priorities in order, make a schedule and routine, and stick to it. He can help that effort or hinder that effort, but it’s not on him to initiate the discussion. Don’t beat either yourself or him up too much; it’s very common to get caught up in New Relationship Energy at the beginning of a romance and let the laundry pile up and the homework get half-assed. Needing to readjust or renegotiate schedule stuff is normal and healthy, and he’s probably got his own laundry to do/friends to see/homework to do. You’re smart to notice the dynamic and readjust! Hopefully your future with this guy will continue to be great, and hopefully your own scholastic and professional future will be great as well. Love doesn’t have to come at the expense of work, and college is a great time to figure that out.




A Pi Pie: A pie with the pi symbol baked into the crust on top.

Fantastic Pi Pie photo by Paul Adam Smith on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license. P.S. The Letter Writer is allowed to eat this if s/he wants to.

As of 11/29/2012, comments on this entry are closed.

Hi Captain!

I’ve had type 1 diabetes for nearly my whole life (18 years), and I’ve graduated college and moved away from home. As I’m very open about having T1D, I’m often asked about what diabetes is, what the difference is between type 1 and 2 (PSA: they are not the same at all, T1D is autoimmune, Type 2 is much more common and is not), and whether or not I can eat that.

As I have recently moved away from all my usual support, I’ve been dealing with some major Diabetes Burnout. I’ve found a few things that help me cope, but am always open for suggestions (yes I’m looking into therapy and support groups). But my real issue lies in how to deal with the very well-intentioned people who ask invasive questions (normally I enjoy answering them and educating people about diabetes), make assumptions about what I can and cannot eat (anything I please, thankyouverymuch!), compare me to their 80 year old grandpa with type 2/their friend’s college roommate who had it (which OBVIOUSLY means they know everything there is to know about T1D), or freak out if I’m having an issue. At this point in my life, I don’t feel up to patiently explaining things the way I usually do, and the way people freak out if something happens makes it hard/impossible to tell people I’m having an issue and need a minute/a snack/to wear my glasses /pee every 20 minutes/etc, which, in turn, fuels the burnout.

Any advice on how to get people to not freak out and stop attempting to be so very helpful without me first asking for help? I really don’t want to be rude to them, they just don’t know much about T1D, as it is very rare and the treatments have radically changed in the last 15 years.


I’m so sorry that I didn’t get around to this before the U.S.A.’s National Day of Eating, and I apologize if you had to do another round of Yes-I-Can-So-Have-Some-Pie with Auntie Helpful last week.

I think the world would be a better place if we stuck to one acceptable way of commenting on what is on a fellow adult’s plate. That way is “That looks delicious” + some variation of “Where did you get it/how did you make it/does it taste as good as it looks/smells/Is it like this other thing that is also delicious?

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Harry Potter holding a wand


This article (yes, it’s old) in the Washington City Paper about men who don’t understand how birth control works made me laugh.  And then feel sad.  How can people not understand how birth control works?

Ok, listen.  I’ll try to keep it really simple.

Barrier methods like condoms, the cervical cap, and the diaphragm physically block semen from ever reaching the egg.  Most times these methods are combined with a spermicide which murders the little swimmers before they can reach their goal.

Hormonal methods like The Pill, the NuvaRing, the Patch, or Depo-Provera interfere creatively with a woman’s cycle.  In some cases the hormones interfere with ovulation.  In others, the hormones will turn the womb into a barren, rocky place in which your seed may find no purchase.

The copper IUD is the closest to magic. It’s a T-shaped piece of plastic wrapped with copper that’s placed directly in the womb.  No one knows exactly why it works, though the theory suggests that the “rocky soil, seed can find no purchase” explanation is the true one.  The Mirena IUD also goes inside the uterus, where it releases a low dose of hormones.

The Morning After Pill is a higher dose of the hormones in the regular birth control pill.  Taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, it can rush to the scene of the crime and attempt to prevent ovulation and may prevent implantation.

More details here.

All these methods have some risks and side effects.  Some pills can run $50/month, even with insurance. The Morning After Pill runs between $40-$60 depending on where you get it. The IUD is very cost effective over time, but the initial install can run $1000 between the device and the insertion procedure.

Finally, I’ve run into a lot of guys who vote Republican but who like to have sex with women.  Guys, we can argue all day long about economics, taxes, and foreign policy, but here’s a fact:  The Republican Party in the U.S. officially works to limit family planning rights for women.  They cater to a section of the population who thinks hormonal birth control = abortion.  They work to limit abortion access and rights.  They tried to defund Planned Parenthood.  They love funding abstinence-only education which is designed to prevent teenagers from knowing how their own bodies work. Basically, the platform of the Republican Party in the United States is this:  “Every time a penis goes inside a vagina, a baby could be made, and that potential baby is the most important thing ever.”   Democrats are not perfect, and not perfect on this issue, but they don’t have “Punish those evil sluts” baked right into their national platform.

There’s a temptation to think that birth control is some icky women’s issue that men don’t have to worry about.  Gentlemen, ask yourself some questions, like:  Do you want to make a baby right now?  Do you want to make a baby every time you have sex?  Do you think everyone should make a baby every time they have sex?  Do you think your girlfriend waves a wand and says, Harry Potter-style, “Contracepcio!” to prevent unwanted pregnancy?   If you’re going to have sex with a woman, it would be good to know what kind of birth control she’s using and how it works.  If you’re in an ongoing relationship, it might be nice for you to offer to shoulder some of the financial burden. Please get educated before you fuck.  Or vote.

I just watched this TED talk by Brene Brown (thanks to Between Those Things).

I’m a total geek for TED. The internet is amazing.  We live in amazing times.  I press a few buttons and books come to my house. I press a few more and I get to sit at the feet of brilliant people and hear about the neat stuff they are doing. I’m not big on New Year’s Resolutions because by March they become The List of Things I’m Currently Failing At  but it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to watch a TED talk every single day and write about it.  Shit, I started the wrong blog!

How does any of this relate to advice columns and screenwriting?

Two years ago I took an “Autobiography & Memoir” class with the great Chicago performance artist and teacher Brigid Murphy.  Here’s the class:  Brigid gives you writing prompts.  Using a paper journal and a pen, you scribble down a story from your past without editing or judgment.  You bring the story to class and read it out loud, and the group comments on the details and moments they found most compelling.  You write 10 or so of these pieces and then choose one to polish and adapt into a screenplay, a piece of fiction, or another piece of art.

What happens when I just wrote down what happened, without to be literary or to make myself look good, was magical.  Reading the stories aloud told me where to cut and where to elaborate.  It turns out there is a club for people who tell stories like this, and I started reading in public. I got in the habit of speaking truthfully about vulnerable topics and not feeling ashamed.  My life got better.  My art got better.

If you are any kind of artist, your embarrassment and pain and fear and weird gross obsessions and preoccupations and failures become the DNA of your work.   Joel hides Clementine in his shameMeg Murray defeats IT with love and with her faults.

In life, the courage to be vulnerable makes you go after what you want.  Try these on for size:

“I’ve been afraid to ask you out because I don’t want to ruin our friendship, but I really like you and would love to take you on a date. Would you be up for that?”

“You think you’re being helpful when you say those things to me, but really you’re just hurting my feelings, so I need you to stop.”

“I don’t really like being a management consultant.  I want to save up some money and then start my own business.”

“I can’t handle this all by myself and I need help.”

“Let’s have a kid.”

Scary, right?  It’s uncomfortable to put yourself out there.  What Brown discovered in her research and we all know from any awareness about our culture, when we are afraid to be vulnerable and uncomfortable, we numb ourselves.  We look for certainty.  We blame others.  We try to pretend that consequences don’t exist.  We grit our teeth and limp through another year.

Or, we take a risk.  It could fail spectacularly, but it could be kind of amazing.