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Hey, Captain. I’ve got a bit of a social conundrum and would appreciate any tips/scripts to help me deal with people I don’t want to talk to at all.

Short back story: My husband is a youth minister at a church. We have been living in the church parsonage rent-free for the past 8 or 9 years in exchange for monitoring the property, and him not getting a pay check. Over Christmas, the church burned down. A week later, the pastor and a deacon came to us an explained (very poorly) that due to state building codes, the church cannot be rebuilt in the original location, and the only other property the church owns for building is where the parsonage sits. They told us they would like to start removing the parsonage by March; but please don’t tell anyone about this because they hadn’t decided how to tell the church body, or even when to tell them-they seemed to think that two months is sufficient time for a single income (me) household with two children and a person who is a wheelchair user (my husband) to find a new place to live (it isn’t, we’re still looking).

Current problem: While my day job sometimes schedules me for Sundays, there are still weekends I have off, and due to not being right next to the church, if my husband is to perform his duties, I have to take them to church. Our girls also like going to church. I do not. I am feeling a lot of anger and bitterness, as well as depression, because this couldn’t have come at a worse time. Now, when I am at church, I find myself needing to act like I enjoy being around various groups of people who are a) willing to give a family a bare two months to move, and b) are exhibiting more ideological differences with each passing day (I’m sure given the current political climate, most everyone can guess why) that I find more and more difficult to deal with. I have already left off social media outside my online bookstore owner persona, but I can’t leave my husband and kids to always go to church alone-then my husband has to deal with people commenting on my having to work (it’s so dreadful) or asking where I am and if I’m okay (I’m not, but they don’t want to hear that anyway).

Any ideas/scripts how I can politely tell them to leave me alone and give me space because we are not on the same page, when I’d really love to have an epic breakdown and tell them exactly where they can all go?

Thanks bunches

Too Stressed For This
(she is fine as pronoun)

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Hi,

I have a coworker from Iran. The President is about to announce awful policies around admitting people from countries including Iran. I’m pretty sure he and his siblings are all here on non-permament statuses, though I don’t know for sure. He’s a friendly acquaintance, not someone I’d say I have a close relationship with, but it’s a small workplace and we’ve talked a fair bit.

Is there a good way to be supportive and express solidarity? I don’t want to put him on the spot, as questions that make him uncomfortable, etc. But I do want to do anything I can to make him feel better or make things actually better for him, be that being an emotional support in these stressful times, just letting him know that people around him care, or something else. For context, we live in a very liberal major city in a liberal industry, in a company where people openly talk about their distress over the current political situation, so he probably assumes people are generally on his side.

Thank you.

Hello everyone, it’s the week that the U.S. government decided to use Holocaust Memorial Day to drop a bunch of evil, racist, discriminatory, xenophobic (not to mention illegal) rules designed to cause as much terror and chaos as possible for vulnerable people. Fun fact: The Executive Order in question (full text here, but also potentially hearing That Voice talking in autoplay video, so, be warned) also affects legal permanent residents (green card holders) and dual citizens of other countries (for example, if you are a French citizen who was born in one of the targeted countries, you could also be turned back from boarding a plane or detained at airports) and is designed to create maximum tension & upheaval for people who are already “vetted” and in the country legally. It is already causing chaos and despair for people I personally know and love, and even though initial legal challenges are working and there have been some temporary stays, it is just the beginning of what the new administration has planned with its Nazilicious “America First!” policies where people can be made “illegal” with the stroke of a pen. If you’re in the USA and you’re reading this and think this was a great idea or want to tell me how it isn’t that bad or we should give it a chaaaaaaaaance, please kindly fuck off forever from this website. First rule of surviving an autocracy: Believe the autocrat. It is that bad.

Related reading: 1. Mrs. Kirkorian, Sharon Olds, 2. Home, Warsan Shire.

Hello, Letter Writer, thanks for writing your sadly- timely-as-fuck letter and wanting to do right by your coworker.

The literal best thing you can do right now is to help stop the policies (Source: The Nation).

A. Educate *yourself* about the issue. Don’t make already-vulnerable people explain things to you and for fuck’s sake if they do explain things, don’t debate them about it or try to correct them about it and don’t offer empty reassurances that it can’t be that bad. A lot of smart people are writing about this stuff right now, you can hold your questions until you can be alone with Google and those critical thinking skills you were hopefully taught in school. You don’t have to become the world’s foremost expert or be debate-team perfect overnight. If your coworker wants to talk about stuff, listen without interrupting.

B. Bug every single elected official that you have, every day. Here are tips for doing so if you have anxiety. Short version: Calling works best. If you’re going to send postal mail, use postcards. Call YOUR representatives. Say your name and address and keep it short. Be nice to the person answering the phones, they have a hard job. Script: “Hi my name is ___ and my address is _____. I don’t need a response.* I do not support ____ and am asking Senator ____ to vigorously oppose it” or “I want to thank Senator ____ for their action/vote/position/statement on _____ issue.” Pick one issue per call (this is the hardest part, honestly).

I hated doing this at first but now it takes me about 15 minutes a day, all told.

*Saying “I don’t need a response” makes it faster for the staffers to deal with you b/c they don’t have to add you to the list of people who need a physical letter.

C. Support organizations doing the work. The ACLU is a worthy organization working hard on this, but they aren’t the only ones. From The Nation:

4. ACT LOCAL: JOIN GRASSROOTS EFFORTS AND INITIATIVES

Many of the efforts protecting immigrants will be on the local level, so find the groups in your community doing the work. As with most small nonprofits, donations are always welcome, but if that’s not within reach, take time to learn about the organization, its active campaigns, and volunteer your time. Below are a few examples to get you started.

Arab American Association of NY (AAANY): AAANY supports and empowers the Arab Immigrant and Arab American community by providing services to help immigrants adjust to new homes and become active members of society. Their aim is for families to achieve the ultimate goals of independence, productivity and stability.

National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON): NDLON works to improve the lives of day laborers in the US. With member organizations across the country, NDLON works to unify and strengthen its base in efforts to develop strategic and effective leadership, mobilization and organizing campaigns.

CAIR: The Council on American Islamic Relations has fought for the civil rights of American Muslims. There are 30 nationwide affiliates, defending, representing, and educating over 1 million Muslims in the New York area.

Families for Freedom (FFF): FFF is a multiethnic human-rights organization in NYC run by and for individuals and families facing and fighting deportation. FFF organizers are immigrant prisoners, former prisoners, their families, or those at risk of deportation. Their aim is to empower immigrant communities as communities of color, and to be a guiding voice in the fight for human rights.

Grassroots leadership: Located in Austin, Texas, Grassroots Leadership believes “no one should profit from the imprisonment of human beings” and they “work for a more just society where prison profiteering, mass incarceration, deportation, and criminalization are things of the past.” They are currently organizing Sanctuary in the Streets Training to build sanctuary networks through direct action and organizing throughout Texas.

Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS): HIAS brings the lessons of its history and Jewish ethics and experience to our commitment to serve refugees and other displaced persons of concern around the world through the following values: Welcoming, Dignity and Respect, Empowerment, Excellence and Innovation, Collaboration and Teamwork, and Accountability. If you’re not in New York, HIAS also works with a variety of refugee resettlement organizations across the country.

Make the Road New York (MRNY): MRNY builds the power of Latino and working-class communities to achieve dignity and justice through organizing, policy innovation, and transformative education. Its campaigns include expanding civil rights, promoting health, improving housing, achieving workplace justice, improving public education, and empowering youth. It has recently launched a group called Aliados for allies of immigrants to join the fight. You can sign up for their next meeting here.

Many of these are NYC-central; you very probably almost definitely have a group somewhere local to you. The awesome airport protests yesterday didn’t happen “out of nowhere.” It’s great that social media reached so many people and got them to show up, but many brave people were organizing for this eventuality already. Connect.

D. If you can protest/march/rally/show up where you are, then do it. If you can’t, and not everyone can, do what you can to support those who can. For one example, I like the Chicago Community Bond Fund, which helps pay bond for people who can’t afford it, including but not limited to protestors and civil rights activists. Make signs. Make calls. Provide child care for people who go.

Use your voice and your power as a citizen to fight this. This is not so much “resistance” as the work of civic engagement we should all have been doing all along.

E. Beware of dogwhistles. I listened to the UK Prime Minister – US President press conference on Friday (why I did this to myself I don’t know but I did) and the number of times they used the term “ordinary working people” or “ordinary working citizens” in their comments was telling. Whatever else those words mean when they are at home, when politicians use them together it is a code that specifically means”white people who hate foreigners and who are probably racist, like me.” Every time you hear Real Americans or Ordinary Working People or The White Working Class from a politician, you are hearing a racist dogwhistle. Every time. I don’t care who is saying it – If your preferred-lefty-sort-of-candidate or politician is saying it, it’s still a racist dogwhistle used when trying desperately to chase after those voters.I say this because another racist dogwhistle is about “peaceful protesters” versus the other kind. We’re seeing bills to criminalize protest pop up all over the place. The Women’s Marches last weekend were “peaceful” because the police did not meet large groups of white women with the same violence and attempts to provoke violence that they routinely visit on black protestors. If you want people to continue to be able to demonstrate in defense of their human rights in our country, white people gotta show up and keep showing up for black activists, immigrants, Native American/First Peoples, and others.

Learn to hear these dogwhistles for what they are and call them out. We’re going to hear them a lot in these coming years.

F. Bonus: If you’re in a position to do something on an institutional level, do it. Companies who depend on international workers, what can you do to sponsor visas/hire attorneys/throw emergency funds to people in crisis/pull some levers of power for your employees? If you’re not in management, that’s a good question for you and coworkers to ask management. “Hey, what is company doing to support our colleagues and help them defend their rights? And how can we help?” (P.S. Wealthy people who hire domestic workers, what are you doing to keep your staff safe right now?)

G. Actually talk to your coworker.

Okay. You did some reading. You’ve called your representatives and will keep calling them. You donated some $ and some time. You deleted or countered the dogwhistle comments from that one racist relative on your Facebook. Maybe you showed up at an airport or are gonna show up soon to witness and protest for detainees. Cool. Then it’s time to say to your coworker something like, “I can’t imagine how stressful and terrifying all of this is for you & your family. I don’t agree with it and I’m doing what I can to stop it. I don’t want to put you on the spot, but I wanted to tell you that I’m really glad you’re here and that I get to work with you and know you.

Remember, “Comfort In, Dump Out.

Remember also that “Let me know if there’s anything I can do” is not actually a helpful thing to drop on someone in crisis. It feels helpful, but actual help needs to be more specific. More helpful would be “If you need to vent about it, I’m happy to listen.” 

If we all do the work diligently and for real maybe we can avoid the “If you need me to hide you in my attic for several years, I’m down” stage.

I’ve got some heavy deadlines and distractions going on, so I’m turning comments off for this post. Google. Call. Donate. Demonstrate. Question. Be kind.

 

 

 

Dear Captain–

My husband was diagnosed with lung cancer last spring. At the time, it was considered not the worst possible type of cancer and he had a 70% chance of going into remission. He chose not to tell either of his parents (who have been divorced for 45 years) or anyone else on his side of the family.

Most of the reason he made this decision is because when my husband was a plump 15 year old who wanted to lose weight, his father told him that he’d lose weight if he started smoking. And even bought his son 2 cartons of cigarettes a week until he left home at 18. My husband tried many times to quit until he finally managed to quit for good in 2006 (thank you, Chantix). When he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and that it was probably caused by his heavy smoking habit, his father had a dramatic “OMG, OMG what have I done, what have I done” fit and it took months (not joking) of reassurance and absolution from my husband to reassure him.

My husband just doesn’t want to go through that again. He doesn’t want to tell anyone in his family because if he told anyone, word would spread to his father fairly quickly (he has two brothers who still have relationships with both parents).

What makes it more awful is that my father-in-law was physically and verbally abusive to my husband when he was a child and has never said a word about it since. Apparently, it is supposed to be as if none of the beatings, verbal putdowns, etc, ever happened. My husband says he’s given up on getting any admission from his father about just how awful he was as a father to his three young sons. Same with his mother–she witnessed all the abuse but didn’t leave his father until my husband was nearly 18.

Earlier this month, we discovered that my husband didn’t make it into remission. He now has Stage IV cancer with a distant metastasis. The median time for survival is 12 months (half the people with his diagnosis die before 12 months, half die after 12 months). The worst case scenario is 6 months and the best case scenario is 18 months.

My husband has chosen to deal with this by doing all the medical stuff (chemotherapy, labs, follow up scans, etc) and deliberately not thinking about it otherwise. I’ve invited him to talk about it and made it clear that I am willing to respect and support whatever decisions he makes. I know this sounds like denial and heck, for all I know, it may be. All I really know is that it works for him. I am respecting his choice in the matter.

My concern is for my in-laws. We are not at all close (they live over 2200 miles aways) and we’ve seen them once since my husband moved away to live with me 22 years ago. My husband is adamant: no telling. His reasoning is that there is nothing they can do, so learning about it sooner will just add that many more months they will be in pain.

I have read far too many anecdotes from people that go roughly “my beloved person hid their diagnosis of cancer until just before their death/until death and not having a chance to say good bye has increased my pain.” My husband’s retort is that if he gets run over by a bus tomorrow, they wouldn’t have time to say good bye either.

I think that he doesn’t want to endure months of “OMG, what have I done” from his father and demands to be absolved.

Part of me is horrified at the pain my husband’s family will go through without warning, etc, when he dies. Especially since it does not appear that there will be any ‘sooner or later’ because it will be ‘soon or sooner’.

Right now, I’m respecting his boundaries around telling his family. I keep wavering, though, on whether I should continue to do so. My reasoning is that my first loyalty is to my husband rather than a group of people I’ve only met twice in 22 years but some part of me keeps saying that I am being complicit in potentially increasing their pain. I feel like I am playing the part of the torturer’s assistant.

Soon to be Widow

pronouns: she/her Read More

Hello Captain, 

      Thank you for reading my question. I´ll try to be quick. I have an issue with my MIL correcting my table manners and grammar. If I say something like, ¨I did it on accident…¨  She will insert, ¨BY accident – geeze aren´t you the English teacher?¨   Or ¨I spoke with the server and they said…¨ and she will say, ¨SHE said. Can you not count?¨   When eating, I think I eat well enough, I chew quietly, make polite conversation, put my napkin on my lap, but she jumps in with these rules that 1- I don´t know about and 2- I don´t think are important. For example, when I eat meat, I will cut a few bite sized pieces and then set my knife down and eat those pieces. I guess the rules say you´re supposed to cut only one piece and then eat it and cut one more? And I know the RULES say you´re supposed to keep one hand in your lap, but I feel like that might be more suited for a formal wedding dinner than trying to eat and wrangle my toddler at an Applebees! 

       I think you can guess that my MIL and I don´t get along, and there are lots of issues that we have worked through (sort of) through the years, and we don´t see her that often, and I´m pretty easy-going so I can ignore most things with a ¨huh, I´ll think about that.¨ However, this little issue drives me up a wall. 

       A few friendly discussions about the changing and adapting nature of the English Language and table manners have gone nowhere except to an argument. If I gently ignore it or say, ¨I´ll think about that…¨ she remembers and pounces on me the next time I make the same ¨mistake.¨  

      I guess this is the hill I´m willing to die on. I´m not going to watch every word I speak around her, and I´m not going to try to remember every (outdated) table manner etiquette she barks at me. She does the same thing to my husband, except after a lifetime of doing so, he already follows the grammar rules and table manners she has said.  When she says something like this to me, he will say something like, ¨Mom, we´re just chatting about the weather, let´s just relax instead of trying to police how people talk.¨   But MIL ignores him, or says, ¨I wasn´t talking to YOU, I was talking to PAULA.*¨

    Is there anything to be done about this situation?  Should I suck it up and take one for the team? I feel like ultimatums are a bad idea…. Do I just keep excusing myself to the bathroom?  What do you think?

 Possible other issues –

MIL lives alone. 

She never speaks sharply to our child.

Thank you for any advice you have, I appreciate your hard work and can´t wait until my child is old enough to start reading and navigating friendships because I will send them directly to your site!

Best,

Paula

*fake name

Dear Fake Name Paula,

Let me state for the record that I do not give ONE SINGLE FUCK about how many bites one should cut off one’s food before taking a bite or how many bites other people cut off their food before they eat it because I do not monitor the plates of my fellow adults. Nor do I monitor & correct their grammar.

I have two strategies for you:

1. Refuse to engage:

MIL: “…Can’t you count?”

You:Anyway, like I was saying…” or “Okay. So, to continue…“- continue to speak like she didn’t say anything to you. Be the not-giving-a-shit you want to see in the world. This is a good strategy for when you just don’t have the energy to get into it.

2. Check her, loudly and directly:

MIL: “Why do you cut your food like that? The RULE says you’re supposed to cut off only one bite at at a time!”

Past You: “Sure, but when I’m eating with a toddler it messes up my rhythm and this is easier so I can actually eat my food and feed the kid.”

2017 You: “STOP monitoring how I eat.”

Make eye contact with her. Raise your voice a notch. Make it awkward. Do not argue her point. Just tell her to stop it. Use the voice you use when you tell your toddler not to run ahead or touch a hot stove. Practice with a friend if you need to.

MIL: “Didn’t you mean ‘she’?”

Past You: “No, I meant ‘they,’ which has a long history of use as a singular pronoun…”

2017 You: “STOP correcting how I speak.”

You’ve asked her to stop doing the thing. You’ve explained yourself. You’ve tried to see it from her point of view. You’ve tried sucking it up and ignoring it. It’s not working, so, tell her to knock it off! If she continues, repeat yourself. Make it clear that you don’t care if it’s awkward and it makes a scene. Make it clear that it is a really annoying behavior that she needs to knock off right now. Oh, and the first time will be the hardest time. She will get it if you stay consistent.

I’m sure she has a long story about how she just CARES about you and is TRYING TO HELP. This is a weird dominance display and she can learn to control it around you the way she doubtless does around countless other people in her life that she doesn’t see as reflections of herself or people she can boss around. You got this.

 

 

 

Dear Captain Awkward,

I know the number one rule in divorces and co-parenting is to never say mean things about the other parent and to protect the child in a way that won’t “hurt” them.

With this in mind, I’ve been struggling trying to explain to my child (who’s 4) why their Father’s lateness in picking them up on their days together is not because the child did something and that the father is the one at fault. My child has been asking more frequently why their Dad isn’t here yet or what’s taking them so long. I hate seeing my child become sad about their Dad not being somewhere when he said he would be. Often he texts a few minutes after he’s due to arrive and I’m left having to make excuses for his lateness. I don’t want to damage their relationship, but I’m also tired of covering for my child’s father’s poor behavior. I’m afraid that by covering for the father would continue to set up false expectations for my child and I’m afraid that what I’m saying to alleviate the stress my child is feeling about it could also be bad.

I tell my child, when they ask why Dad is late is that their father’s lateness isn’t the child’s fault and that we continue with our day not worrying about when the father finally shows up. And that their Father will do their best to meet up with us wherever we are. Am I telling them the right things?

I of course have been trying to fix this lateness situation with the father by changing pickup times, but that hasn’t worked. They continue to show up sometimes over 2 hours late and when I do let them know that we have left our house, then the time that they do show gets further delayed. I’m tired of keeping my child and I trapped at the house and rearranging my and my child’s schedule to fit the other person’s lateness. It makes me so angry that even after the divorce that I’m still powerless to him. I just want to make sure I’m doing right by my child.

Thank you.

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