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Behind a cut for mention of child abuse, sexual abuse, and abuse from a therapist. See also, bullying about weight and fat-shaming. Basically a bingo card of triggering, problematic shit and a very awesome Letter Writer trying to handle it all gracefully. ❤

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Rachel Miller is at VICE today getting an important thing out on the table: “The Answer To All Your “Social Distancing Loophole Questions is ‘No.‘”

“But what about my Really Good Reason that I Must go out/gather?” you may be asking.

Good news, it’s covered in the piece!

“Are there exceptions to this rule? Of course. There always are. But an inconvenience is not an exception. And my guess is that if you are experiencing the sort of emergency or unique circumstances where the only solution involves leaving your home or interacting with others, you wouldn’t be asking for permission.”

If you’re not safe at home, if you have an essential job and must leave, if you are needed by someone in an emergency capacity, if you are the designated grocery shopper/prescription picker-upper/errand runner in your family or friend group, if you have a medical appointment that has to be in person…then take care of yourself and your business. The dog needs to go to the bathroom several times a day, so, mask up and walk your dog. I believe you about what you need. But a personal exemption pass does not exist. The virus doesn’t grant them, nor does my inbox. If you need to go out then you need to go out. If you need a reality check, check in with a close friend or someone else you trust. You don’t need to tell me about it and ask for an internet permission slip.

Consider that people continually proposing and asking for exceptions in public, on social media  – what friend-of-blog Jake refers to as “Edge-Case Bob” behaviors – are doing harm by giving cover to the folks who are looking for excuses. This is not a time for brainstorming all the ways that a rule might not apply to you, not really. It’s a time for brainstorming how to take care of yourself and your loved ones and your community within the rules, and making the necessary exceptions small and quiet.

I’ve been getting media requests since my Vox piece and since being a source for some  L.A. Times pieces by the excellent Jessica Roy (“How To Help Your Marriage Survive Coronavirus,” and “Coronavirus Social Distancing Etiquette“) and a lot of them are about looking for loopholes or about talking to neighbors, family, community members who are Doing It Wrong. Here’s my blanket statement about that:

You can control you and people in your immediate household that you have responsibility for (i.e. parents are in charge of their own kids). You can wear a mask. You can limit your errands and be respectful to retail workers. You can stop hosting and attending gatherings.

You can often influence people you know well who will listen to you. (Revisit one strategy here). When someone invites you to a gathering? You can say “No, and also, wtf are you doing?” You can combat misinformation, spread good information, and do what you can.

You can ask strangers who are endangering you to take precautions. “Hey, my dog needs more time to finish her business, can you walk on the other side of the street and I’ll take this one.” “Can you back up at least six feet while we’re waiting in line?” If they won’t do the right thing, the one thing you can control is you, so if it comes down to it, then YOU move. You move to where you are safer, and let them do their thing.

If you didn’t know your neighbors before this, the place to start getting to know them is offering mutual aid & cooperation, not policing. The police are not The Manager.

“I’m going to the store, can I get you anything – I’ll leave it on your porch” is a start of a relationship with a neighbor. “I’m happy to get your mail when I get mine and leave it outside your door so you don’t have to take the stairs, will that work?” is a good favor to offer to a neighbor with mobility issues. “I have an extra mask that doesn’t fit me right, maybe it will fit you? I’ll leave it on your doorknob.” From there maybe you can have the “I’ll text you when I finish my laundry so we don’t both have to be in here at the same time” conversation or the “Wait, are you having people over? That’s really not safe!” conversation. If your Next Door and other neighborhood social media communities aren’t about “How do we help each other through this, what do you need and how can we get it to you?” then either turn them into that or delete them.

It was always violent and dangerous for white people to call the cops in non-white neighborhoods and communities. That danger multiplies when a) people are stressed the fuck out and b) when prisons and jails are a petri dish of Covid-19 cases. We need our neighbors OUT of the jails, don’t put more inside! Every time I say this somewhere publicly, someone tells me about how they *had* to call 911 b/c of a fire or accident or some emergency, which goes back to the original point: If you needed to, then you needed to, it was an emergency, so why are you telling me about it, Edge-Case Bob? If it’s not an immediate life-or-death emergency, and you feel weird having a potentially awkward or high-conflict conversation with a neighbor, one way you can make it 10,000 times less weird is to NOT add someone with a gun to the equation. People on my block had family gatherings Easter weekend and it sucked because I know that people can be asymptomatic and still spread the virus, but what I can control is staying in my own house so that’s what I did. If we didn’t know each other before this, me coming on like the voice of White Lady Manners Authority isn’t getting it done!

(While we’re here, if you are not in an actual prison right now, then your quarantine experience is literally nothing like prison. Find a different simile, say two Hail Marys and donate to your local community bond fund. Thank you.)

I’m the kind of asthmatic where a common cold can turn into bronchitis can turn into torn cartilage in my ribcage and tests for pneumonia because anything remotely respiratory likes to root deep into my lungs like kudzu and flourish there. I’m gonna be inside like a little cosmonaut until there is a vaccine & reliable treatment; my doctor said “think in terms of a year, though really it takes 18-24 months to get a vaccine out and the virus will mutate the whole time.” I am honestly terrified of getting sick – I know pretty definitively that it will not go well. I’m terrified of Mr. Awkward getting sick, or of us spreading it to each other. My continued life depends on the essential workers and the friends who brave outside to bring us supplies, and I’m cycling through all possible 197 stages of grief about the prospect of probably never moving through the world in an uncomplicated way again, contrasted with the guilt of being one of the people lucky enough that I can stay at home. I’m having “Ok so if I die, please_____” conversations that aren’t theoretical. So this isn’t one of those days where I can be “strong” or encouraging or lift people up, and I’m sorry. I don’t know what the new normal looks like. I literally can’t remember what “okay” feels like, will I even recognize it if it shows up again?

What I do know is that trying to hold onto the old normal for ourselves at the expense of others’ safety means a dangerous magical thinking. As Rachel Miller writes:

“Viruses don’t operate by potential carriers’ best intentions. They operate exclusively by our actions. No one is leaving their house thinking, I am going to be the superspreader who kills a bunch of people by running some errands/taking a walk with my friend/meeting up with a Tinder date today. Yet thousands and thousands of people have died.

And as a professional-etiquette-and behavior sort-of-person, I echo this part pretty strongly:

I hope that people’s questions about “good” behavior during this pandemic will soon begin to shift to ones rooted in the assumption that we’re committed to social distancing, public health, flattening the curve, and not getting others or ourselves sick. What should I do with all the beans I bought a month agoWhat should I do about this crushing loneliness I feel when I can’t see people IRLShould I flirt with the roommate I’ve developed a crush onShould I cut my own bangs?

But if you know, deep down, that your question is just a fresh rephrasing of, “May I be granted one (1) exception to the CDC recommendations in order to be a little less uncomfortable because I think my needs are more important than others’?” The answer is no. Someday the answer will be yes. I’d say I can’t wait for that day, but I can, and I will—because it’s right and we must.

And that’s what it comes down to, in the end. I would trade so much suckitude if it meant that all of you could still here in the world with me when I finally can go back outside. And those are the stakes we’re playing for, we are fighting to keep precious, irreplaceable people and the people who love them in the world, we are fighting against the overwhelming and pervasive pressure to reclaim some past idea of normal in exchange for some “acceptable” number of deaths.

To that I say: Masks on, full hearts, might lose, fight anyway. 

Dear Captain,

I’ve looked in the archives for something like this, but I couldn’t find anything. What do you do when you apologize and it seems to upset someone even more?

I (she/her) have an ex (he/him), and we have recently reconnected after a breakup and period of no contact and are trying to be friends. He was the one who ended the relationship, if that helps, and I was the person who asked for space, and recently reached out. We broke up mostly because he wasn’t the best communicator, and when I brought it up he said it was easier to break up. (He is a Geek Social Fallacies carrier)

I live in an area under shelter-in-place, and after that started he started texting and messaging more frequently, and then occasional phone calls. I wasn’t sure I wanted this much contact, but was feeling a little lonely with the SIP, and figured he was as well, we could support each other a bit. I have a wide ranging circle of friends that I have been virtually in contact with, I wasn’t focusing on him.

Anyway, we were talking about what we’d been doing since the SIP began, and I mentioned I’d been working on my writing, and he expressed interest in it, and I asked if he’d be willing to give me some feedback. This wasn’t unusual, it had been something he’d done for me when we’d been together. So I emailed it to him, he emailed some feedback (which was good feedback!), and I got caught up thinking about it and how the writing worked with his feedback, and I guess I hadn’t responded or said thank you, quickly enough? Because a few hours after receiving it he texted to ask if I’d gotten it. And I realized I hadn’t acknowledged it, apologized and thanked him.

And then a few days later I asked if he would read over an article I’m working on, and he said yes. He read it and sent me feedback a day or so later, but I was caught up in work when the email arrived (SIP and working virtually means I get SO MUCH MORE EMAIL than usual, and I got a lot before!), and I just didn’t get a chance to respond. Partially because I felt that he deserved more than a, “thanks, got it” email.

But the next morning beforeI got a chance to do this I got a text saying it was “weird,” I hadn’t acknowledged his messages. I emailed back, apologized, and thanked him. He then asked if we could have a phone conversation, which we did that evening.

Prior to our phone conversation, I realized he was probably feeling unappreciated, and made a point of acknowledging that when we talked, and said that he was also probably trying to show that he cared for me by doing me a favor, and that was really nice, and when I didn’t respond quickly enough he felt ignored or rejected or vulnerable.

And by saying that, he seemed to get really annoyed. Claimed I must be feeling resentment for our breakup, and that it wasn’t any “psychobabble” about feeling vulnerable or rejected, he’s obligated to help out any friend that asks for help. And ranted in this general vein at me for a bit. While also saying, as he ranted, that we didn’t have to have this “whole talk” about this, but he…kept talking? And talking, and talking. I tried to acknowledge his feelings, but I also didn’t want to keep discussing it, and basically listened until he wore down.

We ended it with him feeling better, I guess? But I felt worse. More so because I felt like I was trying to give a sincere apology and recognize his feelings and then we could move on, but it turned into him becoming more annoyed, and that line about being “obligated” really hurt, I thought he was just being friendly, but it now that gesture feels tainted somehow.

Captain, I don’t think it would be helpful to talk to him about this, I think I have to accept that this is just my friendship with him. But I’m confused, why did he get so annoyed? Is there a way I could have apologized better?

Confused Navigator

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Hi,

I live in an area that is under a shelter-in-place order due to COVID-19. A few of my friends have been inviting me to activities that violate the order. My go-to excuse (and the truth) has been bringing up that I live with a high-risk individual, so I’m going to stick to the shelter-in-place order. Thing is, the invitations are still coming, and sometimes with encouragement along the lines of “none of us have symptoms” or “I have hand sanitizer so you’ll be fine.” Any advice for turning down these kind of invitations once and for all while also keeping friendships intact?

Thanks! (she/her)

Hello! Thank you for your timely letter.

Mr. Awkward made something for you over the weekend in honor of his sister, an ICU nurse who can’t stay home. Samuel. L. Jackson is also on the case.

I wrote this (full of scripts) for Vox  last week. Please allow me to respond to all the people who have dug up my personal email to express their indignation since:

1. My editor assigned the story to be about younger adults trying to get through to their parents and grandparents, because that is a thing that is happening. If they had assigned me the story targeting young people or “everyone, everywhere,” I would have written that one.

Me: “X is a problem, here’s what you can do about it.”

My Inbox: “But what about Y? Why are you IGNORING Y?”

Logic: “Weirdly, both X and Y can be problems at the same time.”

Good news, everyone: The suggested scripts & strategies in the piece can probably be adapted for people of all ages, since I wrote “You can be asymptomatic but still spread it to other people, so I’m erring on the safe side” not “You A BABY-BOOMER AND YOU ALONE can be asymptomatic ONLY OLDER PEOPLE, NOT YOUNGER PEOPLE, DON’T READ THIS OR LISTEN but still spread it to other people HAHAHA ONLY THE OLD, so I’m erring on the safe side DON’T READ THIS, YOUNGS.”

2. If you are staying at home, good! Also, maybe this doesn’t apply to you and you are not being personally called out and you do not have to personally let me personally know?

3. “You said ‘stay inside‘ but our GrEaT NaTioN has MaNy AcREs of wILdERnesS and NaTIOnal ParKS which are technically oUtSiED

Ha, you really got me there! Question: Can you get back and forth to one of those without stopping along the way for gas, food, beverages, bathroom breaks, or needing to interact with any staff of anything anywhere? P.S. Life comes at you fast.

Also, I got enough emails with this specific take that I have to ask: Was there a meeting? Or a club? If so, please unsubscribe me from your newsletter.

4. Fully half of you are writing from Florida where your politicians have decided to imitate the Mayor in JAWS. I promise I was not the one keeping beaches open where you live, so if you’d like to yell at someone who was, here is your governor’s contact info. I know you know how to write indignant emails, so, get going! Or, maybe he will find video easier to digest.

If I sound upset it’s because I am. I haven’t lost anybody I personally know as of today,, but people I love are sick, and death is creeping in inexorably around the edges of my circles and making itself at home there. I want to live. I want you to live. I want everybody’s most dipshit friends and family members of all ages to live. I even want the people in power who say “relax, don’t panic, go out and have fun” when they mean “keep spending money, STONKS! may depend on it” to live, okay, yes, it’s mostly so I can see them tried at The Hague for their crimes against humanity, but I still want there to be a tomorrow for them. There are things that we can do to stem the tide, so let’s fucking do them already.

Which is why I say, bluntly, Letter Writer, the longer your friends stay addicted to magical thinking, the more people are put at risk and the longer all of us will have to stay inside. Their justifications are bullshit:

So my recommendation for you is, if polite demurrals aren’t working, maybe…don’t be polite about it anymore? Like, at all? “No, I’m not coming, also WHAT ARE YOU DOING.” Stop trying to figure out the nice way to say it, don’t watch your tone, forget hints. You can’t be serious.” 

You may get your “let’s put the social in social distancing with game night, at my place!” buds to reconsider their behavior. You may make them so angry that they keep having gatherings but don’t invite you to things anymore. Your job is not to soothe them or smooth it over, your job is to live through this. I know you want to keep your friendships intact, but to do that, you and they and everyone they know needs to actually be alive. Probably 99% of the time I am of the school of “my personal life choices aren’t a comment on yours, live your life, Friend, I’m not doing this At You” but this is an exception. You can’t control what your friends will do, but you can absolutely refuse to validate it, enable it, or pretend it’s okay.

I know my fellow country-people are hardcore bright-siders who think “overreacting” is the worst thing a person can possibly do and whose favorite activity is to debate about the exact correct level of reaction one should have to every possible stimulus, but let’s risk it this one time, okay? Experts are saying: REACT.

If they’re wrong and I’m wrong, I’d love to be wrong, being wrong would be the absolute best-case scenario, we can celebrate how wrong I was and how silly all the scientists were together someday when there’s a vaccine and a reliable anti-viral, i.e. the next time I will be able to safely leave my house. We can stand uncomfortably close, lick each other’s faces, and rub our sticky hands on all the railings and lampposts we see, I’ll show you my quarantine birdsnest hairstyle and babysit everyone’s children so y’all can go on dinner dates.

Until then!!!!!!!!: Be the weird mask person and hard core shut-in you want to see in the world, without apology.

Do not evict roommates or tenants due to coronavirus fears. Find another way.

Do not call the police – that includes the 311 non-emergency line – on neighbors who you think are insufficiently socially distancing. I don’t care what ordinances your city put in place, if you don’t know quite how to have a conversation with somebody, why do you think someone with a gun and the power to arrest/fine/do indiscriminate violence to them is going to be better at it? If you don’t know your neighbors, there will never be a better time to get to know them. Maybe they could use garbage bags or cookies or fabric softener the next time you go to the store.

That confusing guy from college was probably going to remain confusing and never be your boyfriend, but it’s okay to feel a lot of feelings about having your semester cancelled and never being able to find out for sure where things could go. It’s okay to grieve, it’s okay to still nurse unsuitable crushes, and it’s understandable while all the feelings about everything would get wrapped up in this person. This too will pass. 

To the overwhelmed health care workers writing to me about stress, anxiety, and how to manage teams that don’t have enough of anything: I am so sorry. I am honored that you thought of me and I wish I knew something smart and useful to tell you. I think: Trust your training. Feel your feelings. Be honest with your team and with your patients. Be incredibly gentle with yourself. Find and use whatever small rituals, pleasures, and caring acts that keep you grounded. You are doing the best you can.This isn’t happening because you are too neurodivergent, too introverted, too awkward, not good enough at team-building or morale-boosting, or because you can’t think of the right words at the right time. I’m going to raise all the hell I can to get you what you need (while also staying home). 

I am as scared of dying and of losing people as anyone. But what’s more terrifying to me than any illness is watching people with money and power make selfish, cruel decisions and try to displace their fears onto those they see as disposable. Ask yourself, “who do I want to be, now, and when this is over?” This is the time to engage in mutual aid with our neighbors and  fight eugenics, fascism, xenophobia, and cruelty with the same attention we use to scrub our hands of viruses.

Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, SE1 8XX near Waterloo station, 15th February, 1pm onwards.

(Please note change of meeting time, 1pm rather than 12.  Also we will be on level 5 if it’s open, or otherwise level 2)

Crafting meetup!  Please bring anything you’re making which won’t damage the venue, and if applicable stash so that others can try.  I can teach knitting to intermediate if anyone wants to learn.  Or just come and chat with us.

The venue sell food in a cafe (standard sandwiches etc.), but they also don’t mind people bringing food in from outside. There are several other local places where you can buy stuff, and in particular the food market outside has a lot of variety, or you can also bring a packed lunch.

Meet on the fifth floor, facing the river, hopefully towards the left hand side (go up in lift 2 or 3)

Here is the accessibility map of the Royal Festival Hall: PDF map

I have chin length pink hair and glasses, and I will bring my plush Cthuhlu, which looks like this:

The venue is accessible via a lift, and has accessible toilets with options for all genders. Waterloo tube station has step free access on the Jubilee line but not on the Northern line.

The London Awkward group has a Facebook page, which is here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/549571375087294/. There is also a thread in the new forums for saying hello.

My email is Kate DOT Towner AT Gmail DOT com

March meetup will be on the 21st.