There are three statues of Dr. James Marion Sims on public display in the United States. Dr. Sims is known to some as the father of modern American gynecology for reportedly developing the first successful and reproducible surgical technique for vesicovaginal fistulas and for opening the first public hospital for women dedicated to repairing inuries from pregnancy and childbirth. Sims achieved his reputation because of experimentation on enslaved women and the whole sordid history of Sims has tragically been rewritten. This is what I know about Sims from reading multiple journals and textbooks from the 1800s (both before and after Sims infamy), his autobiography and the autobiography of Dr. Emmet, as well as the work of modern historians and ethicists and if you are defending anything to do with Sims you should know it as well.
Vaginal fistulas are connections between the bladder and the vagina or the rectum and vagina and the most common cause in Sims’ day was a long, obstructed labor with days of a fetal head sitting low inside the vagina reducing blood flow until the tissues died and sloughed off leaving gaping holes resulting in constant drainage of urine and/or feces through the vagina. The skin on the vulva and around the anus develops an intense irritant reaction from the constant bath of urine and/or feces and the odor, even with modern sanitation and absorbent garments, can be unbearable. In Sims’ era fistulas were more common among the poor, the result of nutritional deficiencies and lack of access to health care. Women who were enslaved were at highest risk as many had contracted pelvises due to rickets and more likely to have obstructed labors.
Dr. James Marion Sims, by his own admission, was a below average medical student who didn’t really want to be a doctor it was simply a way to make a living. At one point, long before his infamy, he thought of leaving medicine to go into a merchant clothing business. “What is the use of my struggling here always, for two thousand or three thousand dollars a year…” he wrote. In his autobiography he writes of actively seeking wealthy clients and Jews as they could pay. He also writes of disbelieving a nurse that a young baby was ill. When the baby died he claimed he was more upset than the parents because the bad outcome could end his practice. It’s not a crime to want to make money but it is sickening to read about it page after page from the man who is supposed to be the father of gynecology.
Sims did not start out with any desire to operate on women but as chance would have it in short succession he was referred three women who were enslaved for repair of fistulas. He turned down all three because at that time and with his knowledge base he believed fistula repair was hopeless. Almost immediately after seeing these three women Sims was called to help a white woman with severe pelvic pain. When he put her in a knee chest position to do an exam a sequence of events happened that allowed him to get a glimpse inside her vagina and Sims correctly deduced if he could see inside the vagina maybe he could actually see to operate and attempt to repair fistulas. He went home and used two spoons to facilitate an exam of Lucy, an enslaved woman who was still in his infirmary.
A typical scenario for a surgeon with a bold new idea would be to try his first surgery and then wait to see what happened. After reflecting on the success and/or failure and on the recovery and after discussing with like-minded colleagues perhaps another case would be found. This is the slow, meandering organic pathway of new surgical procedures and from reading the writings of many of Sims’ contemporaries what happened in the 1840‘s was not unlike what happens today. We surgeons tip toe into new procedures because unanticipated bad things can happen and we want to limit the carnage.
Sims chose another path. It is clear what he saw inside the vagina was not a fistula but cash. If there were three women in rapid succession with slave owners willing to pay there must be many more. Sims did not immediately operate on Lucy what he did was spend three months making surgical instruments and expanding the hospital in his backyard to accommodate twelve patients.
He was building a lab for human experimentation.
I cannot get that out of my mind and honestly that fact alone should be enough to remove Sims from any position of glory, but I also want the whole story to come out because that is the only thing I can offer to Lucy, Anarcha, and Betsey and the other eight enslaved women who suffered at Sims’ hands.
Lack of informed consent
Surgery was barbaric up to and including the 1840s. Many patients declined surgery because often the cure was a more certain death than the disease. In London the mortality rate from surgery in the first half of the 19th century was about 25%. Patients were held or strapped down for surgeries and there are numerous reports of the agony. We can simply not imagine. It is not surprising that surgical consent often involved badgering patients into procedures, a fact noted by Sims in his autobiography who detailed the steps he had to take to convince a white man to have surgery.
Sims did not obtain consent from Betsey, Anarcha and Lucy although he claims he told them he would treat them for free for six months, they’d be cured and that he would not “endanger their lives” (Sims was probably deluded enough to think he would master a fistula repair in six months and then make a fortune hence the hospital). Some who support Sims say this was informed consent of the day but of course it’s easy to promise outcomes for a surgery you’ve never performed on women who have no recourse for false claims and no ability to say no.
Some historians have also argued the enslaved women would have been suffering so much that they would have leapt at the chance for repair. Betsey, Lucy and Anarcha and eight other women have been rendered voiceless by history so we shall never know their thoughts. It is true as surgeons we see desperate patients with horrible conditions who say “I don’t care” when we detail complications but these patients are speaking about modern surgery with anesthesia and have the ability to make an autonomous decisions, they are not enslaved women who will be held down for a surgery that had never been tried before by this particular surgeon.
We have the words of one of Sims’ contemporaries, Dr. Cotting, on informed consent and fistula surgeries as recounted in 1844 when he saw a young woman who “resolutely refused to submit to any operation, in spite of earnest and repeated persuasion, and at length declined all further interference.” Despite the horrors of a fistula many women of Sims day who had the ability to decline surgery did so. To say that the enslaved women would have been willing participants is simply not supportable and is offensive.
Lack of anesthesia
Ether for anesthesia was first used publicly and successfully at the end of 1846 at Massachusetts General Hospital and Dr. Emmet, who trained under Sims, wrote ”anesthesia did not come into use, at least in the Woman’s Hospital except for special cases such as ovariaectomies, until about the close of our civil war.” Even in 1859 Dr. Simpson, the biggest advocate of chloroform for women during childbirth, felt fistula surgery wasn’t painful enough for anesthesia.
It is important in the hunt for truth to not use the ether argument against Sims as that is not what distinguishes Sims from his peers. What distinguishes him is his absence of empathy and absoluite lack of consideration of pain. Dr. Bozeman, who trained for a time with Sims in Alabama, wrote that he could only persuade a young enslaved woman with a fistula to have an exam with an anesthetic and there is mention in the writings of many of Sims’ contemporaries about the pain and suffering they were inflicting with fustula repairs.
In 1855 Dr. Emmet describes Sims removing an obstructed pessary from the vagina from an Irish immigrant, Mary Smith, and while Emmet remarks on Sims’ dexterity he also noted Sims was oblivious to Mary Smith’s “screams from intense suffering.” The passage is interesting because Emmet didn’t have to include that part and clearly Emmet was not oblivious. Many of Sims’ contemporaries had subtle and often not so subtle contempt for him in their wriitngs.
Sims was obviously oblivious to screams of pain. By his own account three women endured forty surgeries. Without anesthesia. They would have been held down, initially by the assistants who worked with him but as his assitants left the women would likely have been forced to hold each other down in a horrific Antebellum version of Saw.
The enslaved African-American women lived in Sims’ infirmary not for six months but for four years. One women, Anarcha, endured thirty surgeries. In the end Sim’s declared success with the key methods being on hands and knees, a special clamp of his own design left inside as the tissues heal (like a binder clip), a special catheter to drain the bladder, the vaginal wall retractor or that he developed for visualization, and a silver (so non reactive) suture. He published his report in the American Journal of Medical Sciences in 1852 and achieved many accolades.
Sims was excellent at self promotion and so what has been forgotten by history about his report is that Sims was not the first to write about successfully closing a fistula. Dr. Hayward did in 1839, so several years before Sims even started. Many surgeons were tackling fistulas in different countries and it doesn’t appear from my research than any mentioned enslaved women. Knee chest or hands and knees position was known to those who read medical textbooks long before Sims first tried it. Other surgeons had invented catheters for this surgery. Many had developed retractors for the vaginal walls. Dr. Bozeman reported extensively (as did others) on the cumbersome and damaging nature of Sims’ clamps and so they were not used by other surgeons. Even silver sutures had been used for fistula surgery 15 years before Sims.
I doubt Sims knew about silver sutures as by his own admission he was not well read so whether he had access to the edition of the London Lancet that reported on silver sutures years before is not possible to know. What is possible to know is that every so-called “revolutionary” part of Sims technique was either not possible to reproduce by other surgeons (the clamps) or already known to other surgeons. Those who cling to defending Sims because he supposedly advanced health care for women have simply not done their research. We surgeons would have exactly what we have now if Sims had never set up his lab for human experimentation.
The Woman’s Hospital
Shortly after Sims “discovery” of how to repair fistulas he became ill again with dysentery, which put an end temporarily to his operating and he moved to New York for his health.
In his autobiography this move is dominated by his financial issues. He showed some local physicians how to do fistula repairs his way and then they started doing them without him. When he realized his “thunder had been stolen” he came upon the idea of a woman’s hospital so he could reap the financial rewards from his four years of human experimentation.
Sims had trouble getting other doctors on board and it is clear from his writings and from his contemporaries that he was not well liked. Eventually he recruited a board of women (a smart business decision) and secured the funding and the Woman’s Hospital opened May 1, 1855. It was a charity hospital and one of the by laws was that a woman had to be present for all surgeries. Sims was too ill to do much by his own accounts and so he hired another surgeon, Dr. Emmet who did the bulk of the operating and ran the hospital for 37 years. Dr. Emmet writes about Sims being at his own office seeing private patients in the morning and often not showing up for surgeries unless it was a special patient yet Sims gets much of the historical credit.
Sims was not a teacher and while Emmet says that Sims operated skillfully others did not. According to Emmet very few surgeons were able to receive much benefit from watching Sims operate because he was so fast and didn’t explain anything.
In 1861 Sims left the country for Europe supposedly for his health but Emmet wrote that Sims’ private New York practice was not thriving. “As a Southern man he had not been prudent in the expression of his beliefs and as a large proportion of his practice had always been from the South it naturally decreased, and ceased when the war began.” Whether he left because of health or finances is not known, but it is convenient that his health was bad enough to leave and yet it was restored so quickly by the climate that he was able to start operating rapidly. He promoted his method of fistula repair in England, Ireland, and France. He worked the medical scene enough to become the physician to the Duchess of Hamilton who lent him her château to live in for the summer. He established a reputation operating on royalty and on his return to the United States it was clear he hoped to use that infamy.
After his return Sims had a falling out with the board of directors of the Woman’s Hospital. The accounts vary, but it does seem that Sims pushed for unnecessary surgeries on women, was rarely there unless it benefited him, and wanted large amounts of observers for his surgeries. In one surgery he had 73 observers crammed into the theater. Whether he charged these visiting surgeons or if it was to raise his reputation or just pump up his ego I don’t know. The idea that he left the Woman’s Hospital because the board of directors were scared of cancer being contagious isn’t supported by the facts. The Woman’s Hospital was not suited to care for cancer patients as the wards were not built for the odor from the women with uterine cancer and Sims was too interested in having hoards of ego building units watching his every knife stroke.
The surgeons on the board of the Woman’s Hospital wrote at the time that he was “adverse to the rules and regulations.” He was furious and established another hospital for cancer and I can’t help thinking that he saw in cancer what he had seen earlier in fistulas, fame and fortune.
How Did Sims get known as the father of American Gynecology?
Sims was a master of self promotion and was at one point the president of the American Medical Association. In reading countless articles and textbooks from Sims’ day I am struck by the number of great, caring surgeons who worked to cure fistulas, who made important discoveries before Sims, and yet who we do not know. I don’t mean their erasure in any way equals the pain and suffering and erasure of the women who suffered under Sims rather I am simply stunned at how masterfully and terribly the history of fistulas and Sims have been completely rewritten. Shame on all of us in medicine.
Here are the facts:
- Sims writings and actions embody the overconfident, arrogant, below average white man who gets ahead by simply being an overconfident, arrogant, below average white man.
- Nothing Sims left to modern OB/GYN is unique to him.
- Had Sims actually read a textbook or articles on fistulas, which is what one does when one wants to help women not build a laboratory, he would have known what to do for the first three enslaved women he saw with fistulas.
- Other surgeons of the day working to advance fistulas operated on women from all walks of life.
- Other surgeons of the day had empathy for the suffering of their patients. Sims’ writing and his behavior suggests his empathy was reserved for the wealthy.
- Sims initial success was based entirely on completely unethical medical experimentation on 11 enslaved women. He built a laboratory for this purpose. If that doesn’t shame someone over supporting Sims then I truly believe nothing can.
- Sims sought out famous patients in Europe, was a shameless self promoter, a poor teacher and abused his position at the Woman’s Hospital for fame and regularly flouted the rules at the hospital.
The body of Sims work and how he lived his life tells us that his medical experimentation on enslaved women was a purposeful exploitation of the most vulnerable of patients for profit.
We must take down his staues and rename anything associated with his name.
Diseases of Females: Pregnancy and Childbed, Churchill, 1843 Lea and Blanchard
Vesico-Vaginal Fistula, Sims, 1953 Blanchard and Lea
Vesico-Vaginal Fistule, Bozeman, Montgomery, 1856
Cotting. Vesico-Vaginal fistula-spontaneous relief. “The American Operation.” The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal. July 1861, No. 23
Reply to James Marion Sims by his former colleagues, Pamphlet, Drs. Peaslee, Emmet and Thomas
Sims, MJ. The Story of My Life D. Appleton and Company
Wood Library Museum of Anesthesiology accessed September 8, 2017 https://www.woodlibrarymuseum.org/history-of-anesthesia/
Vesico-vaginal fistula from parturition and other causes: with cases of recto-vaginal fistula, Emmet TL, January 1, 1868, W. Wood & Company
Washington, HA. Medical Apartheid: The dark history of medical experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial times to the present. Harlem Moon Broadway Books. New York.
WELL, this week I discovered my stylistic soul mate, as described by Cynara Geissler in her must-read article for The Establishment:
Billing it as "The Fashion Approach That Will Set You Free," Cynara describes a style that goes light years beyond pairing prints or deciding if you're a Spring or an Autumn. She gets right to the heart of fashion: whether or not what you're wearing makes you happy - and then proceeds to question everything we know about "dressing like a grownup."
So why Toddler Grandma Style?
Now, I dress a little Toddler Grandma sometimes already, but I was still curious what John would think of all this. After all, he's a guy who still likes to see my hair down and my boobs up, if you will, from time to time. So I read him all the bits about patriarchy and challenging societal norms, then showed him some of Cynara's awesome outfits.
"That is awesome."
And, "Ooh, you'd look great in that."
John doesn't find me any less sexy because my shoes light up. He likes my bright colors and flouncy skirts. More than that, I think he likes how happy I am wearing them.
OK, enough of my cheerleading. Go read Cynara's article and fashion tips. (Plus she has more outfit photos!) Then, if you're feeling ambitious, head over to the Epbot FB page and show me your best Toddler Grandma style. I think I'm going to be shopping a little differently from now on, and I could use more inspiration!
Now let's announce some Art Winners!
The winner of the Flower Robot is Panthera
The winner of Dapper Harley & Joker is Amanda (of NerdHuffing)
And my Wild Card winner is Liz Jopson!
Congrats, you three, and please e-mail me your mailing addresses!
Oh Captain! My Captain!
Hi there, and thanks for running such an awesome blog. I have a question about schedule management and how to (politely) avoid overcommitting myself.
I’m a pretty busy person – I work 4 days a week, but seem to fill my time around this without much effort! I always have a project on the go, I seem to generate quite a bit of life admin (finances, doctors appointments, keeping my house nice, etc.) and I try to stay healthy and alive (lots of sleep, cooking at home, exercise, etc.). I live in a big, buzzing city where there’s always something fun to do and good people to do it with, and I’m non-monogamous, so I have 2 partners I see weekly, plus some ‘comets’ who zoom in and out of my life at various intervals.
Right now, my schedule is mostly dashing from one thing to the next, always worrying about how I’m going to fit everything in, be a good partner/friend/family member/employee and take care of myself as well. I don’t like this – it’s fine on occasion, those days happen – but I mostly want to feel like I’m not letting people down or making people feel like I’m squeezing them in around the rest of my life.
I try not to overcommit, but find it hard to know how to say no to social invites/suggestions for hanging out when 1) the people inviting me are lovely and good company and 2) I don’t have a reason to say no. I’m not busy that day, I just don’t want to say yes to a party or hanging out 3 weeks in advance because I get to that week and find that my calendar is full, getting enough sleep will be a struggle, I won’t see partners/close friends and none of my mundane (but fairly important) self care will get done.
Is there a script for saying no without sounding like a dick? Especially when someone lovely contacts me saying ‘We should hang out more, how about a drink sometime?’ I’d love to say yes, I know we’ll have a good time hanging out, but I’d rather leave that time open for closer friends, partners, personal projects and even a little spontaneity! I don’t want to come across like an asshole who thinks they’re too busy and important to make new friends (and apologies if that’s how I’ve come across in this e-mail!) – I just want to save most of my energy for the people already in my life, who are very important to me. And a little for myself
Not A Dick, Just Busy
Dear Just Busy,
I like your question not least because it dovetails nicely with a recent discussion about socializing and inviting people and being invited (#971). Also in between the #thisfuckingguy and the #ihavesomethoughtsaboutmanagingyourreproductivechoices and the #bugsactualbugsohmygod discussions we need some #heytheseareprettygoodproblems threads. So, hello! Welcome!
What I’m reading in your question is a strong desire to enjoy everything your city and your life has to offer, a strong desire to make room for new and wonderful people, and also a need to arrange your schedule so that you can do this more sustainably. And then you need some scripts for declining invitations without being, as you put it, a dick.
The scripts are easy. First principle: Saying “no” to an invitation does not make you a jerk. “No” is not mean. It’s not rude. It’s not wrong. It’s actually the right thing to do if you don’t want to go or can’t make it. People might be disappointed that you can’t make it, but they will handle their disappointment. If you are declining a specific invitation but want to send the message that you’d like to go to something else, another time, try this:
- “Thank you, that sounds wonderful, but I’m not free that night. Is this a regular event? Can we set something up for next time?”
- “Thank you, that sounds like a great time, but I have to decline this time. But I’d love to see you – Would you like to meet up on (future alternate day) for (future alternate activity)?”
- “Thank you for thinking of me, but I don’t play golf. Can I skip that part of the day and join all of you for Wonder Woman screening later?”
- “Thanks, I’d love to but this week is really over-scheduled. Can I check my calendar and find a better time? I’d love to hang out with you soon.”
- The approximate note I wrote Mr. Awkward when he first contacted me on OkCupid: “I really like your profile and I think your pictures are very handsome! I would very much like to go on a date with you, but I am recovering from a gross chest cold. Can I get in touch when I’m less likely to cough on you?“
As you rephrase and adapt these for your own uses, let’s talk about structure & steps. If you’d like to be invited again and/or make other plans:
- Thank them for the invitation.
- Do you need to give a reason*? Sometimes your family is in town and you can’t make any plans for that weekend. Sometimes you need a night off to wash the dog, but you don’t need to send the message “I’d rather be washing the dog than do whatever you invited me to.” Especially since you’re new at and nervous about saying “no thanks,” try being aware of this and practicing doing so without a big apology or over-justifying it.
- Express interest and enthusiasm in doing something else.
- Actually follow up and make those alternate plans. This is how you actually show that you want to spend time with this person.
Second Principle: It’s okay to prioritize certain people in your life.
Wanting to spend time with close friends, romantic partners, and yourself doesn’t mean “you’re too busy and important to make new friends.” Or, it does, but it doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. There are way, way, way more cool people in the world than I have the time and energy to invest in on a deep bilateral level. It’s okay to have a mix of romantic partners, very close friends/”chosen family,” actual family, situational friends (work friends, Mitzi who you love seeing at Improv Class but do not see otherwise), childhood friends, Facebook friends, friends who live far away, friendships based around sending each other rude .gifs and links to terrible songs, plus a whole host of “I liked talking to you that one time at that event and it’s nice to run into you again!”-people, fans of your creative work, people you vaguely know from Twitter, etc.It’s also okay to like someone a lot and know that you don’t have the bandwidth to get closer. See them when you can see them and enjoy that time. You can be sociable and kind without trying to Kindred Spirit up everyone you meet!
Third principle: If it’s important to you, schedule it.
You seem like a person with a lot of love in your heart, so let’s let’s talk about how to make room for your chosen few and yourself and for the adventure of lovely new people in your busy schedule. There are two very helpful tools or practices for time management and life management that friends have taught me about: “The Time Grid” and “Wife Night.”
The Time Grid is a pretty common and simple time-management tool – there are fancy planners built around it and a therapist or tutor might recommend it to help you keep track of how you spend your time. Some people use iCal or Google Calendar or other apps. I made this version shown below in a word processing program, which I think will be useful for you because it shows the whole week:
Image description: A screencap of a blank table that shows the days of the week across the top and times of day from 7am to 11pm in the left column.
To use it, print out a couple of copies on a piece of paper. Use a pencil to block out the commitments that you know you have in a given week (work days and appointments and social commitments you’ve already scheduled). Also pencil in routine things, like the time you spend getting ready and commuting. I always suggest observing what’s happening before you try to change what’s happening, so if you do decide to use this tool, maybe just use it to track how you do spend your time for a couple of weeks. Fill it out without judging it or interrogating it for a couple of weeks and then compare and see what you found out.
- Where are you spending your social units?
- What are you forgetting to account for (solo time, exercise, reading, relaxing, the whole business of making and eating food)?
- Is there something you wish you were doing with time that you’re not doing now? Where could you fit it in?
Once you have some data about how you do spend your time, and you’ve thought a little bit about how you want to use your time, use the grid (or app, or planner of your choice) as a planning tool. Like so:
Image description: Same grid as above, filled out with a made-up sample schedule of different-colored blocks of time for work, leisure, social time.
This is a made-up sample for discussion purposes, not a prescription for what anyone’s schedule should look like and certainly not what mine looks like. Some notes/questions:
If you live with your partner you’d see them every day, or maybe they’d sleep over or you’d sleep over more nights than just the one, but is there a dedicated “we hang out together during non-bed-hours” night in your schedule? I put one into the sample.
Are there regular social things you do – sports or choir or performing arts or class or hobby? I put two of those into the sample on weeknights.
There are some sample red-purple blocks called “Open Time.” Some weeks those might involve a lot of creative or personal project work. Some weeks those might involve a lot of housework, or sleep, or solo time, or more time with a partner & good TV, or kicking ass in a video game. Additionally, when you find those blocks in your schedule, you might carve one out as “Social-Catch-Up” time or “New People, New Experiences” time, as in, “Thanks for the invitation, that sounds great, but I’m not free. Can we do something soon? Thursdays are usually good nights for me to schedule something.”
Which brings us to “Wife Night.”
“Wife Night” is a semi-ironic take on Judy Brady’s classic feminist essay “I Want A Wife.” My friends B. and L. came up with it when they lived together as roommates and B. continued it when she lived alone. It is a night set aside every week to take care of routine home-and self-maintenance tasks i.e. act as your own “Wife” – In the 1950s fantasy sense of that word. You’re free to reject ironic gender-essentialism and name it anything you want to, but if you wish to institute it here’s what it could look like:
- Pick one sacred night of the week and block it out for solitude and getting stuff done.
- Put on some good music.
- Turn off/tune out of your cell phone/the internet/emails/texts/interruptions except for scheduled short breaks.
- Feed yourself something delicious and nutritious.
- Plan the week: Meals, clothes, social stuff, money, errands, calls/emails that need returned, RSVPs. What has to be done?
- Pay bills, check on your various financial affairs.
- Do the “little stuff” that accumulates.What would be nice to get done but never actually gets done because you’re too busy? Sew a stray button on, put air in your bike tires, hang up that piece of art you keep meaning to hang up, clean and oil your leather boots, address & stamp your grandma’s birthday card for dropping in the mail tomorrow, etc. If you don’t get to all of the tasks this week, cool – add them to the list for future Wife Nights.
- Water the plants.
- Be nice to your body (whatever that means to you).
- If you can manage it, put clean sheets on the bed, swap out dirty towels for clean ones, scoop out the litter box, and make sure you go to bed with no dirty dishes in the kitchen sink.
- I’m pretty sure B. puts on pearls and wears a jaunty apron at least some of the time for Wife Night. She’s a designer by trade, so I’m equally sure she is sometimes using power tools and/or literally inventing a new kind of process or tool or device. As always, your mileage may vary.
Letter Writer, I hope this helps. Plot out your time so you know what your schedule looks like. Make space for the people closest to you. Leave a little wiggle room so you can connect with new people. Schedule solitude so you can take care of yourself. Answer invitations sincerely and without guilt for when you have to say no. Give yourself breathing room and lots of chances to get it right.
*Especially with parties and Facebook invites: The hosts need the information that you can’t attend more than they need a description of why you can’t attend on the event wall. Click the “not going” button and move on! If you need to tell the person “Ugh, I want to come to the premiere of your one-woman-show but I’m in a wedding that day. I’m so proud of you and I’ll be thinking of you, break a leg!” contact them privately.
Growing up, I was one of those kids that felt things deep down, who loved too quickly, who jumped in heart-first. Everything was important and dramatic and I just needed people to know how I felt, you know? Not everyone, of course, not even most people - just the ones I cared about. The people who mattered. The people who sometimes didn't realize how much this quiet kid in the background hung on their every word, or how much some small kindness had meant to her. Teachers, camp counselors, community leaders, even radio hosts; I had a lot of great role models in my life, and I loved them all.
At the same time I was also the quiet one. The one who desperately - desperately - wanted to grow up. The one who hung out with the mom during sleepovers, who sat with the adults and listened while they debated politics or religion. The careful one, the easily embarrassed one, terrified of being branded "silly" or immature.
So I would lock myself in my room, and I would write. I wrote journals, and I wrote letters. So many letters. I wrote to people who inspired me, to people I cared about, and to people I wanted to care about me. Fan mail, basically. Some to people I knew, others to celebrities who wrote or sang or said things I liked. I wrote to thank them, to tell them how amazing they were. I was a budding fangirl, eager, excited, and looking for heroes.
I remember this one letter, I must have written and re-written it - by hand - half a dozen times. Did I sound OK? Was it too much? Would they laugh? Ah, agonies. But I couldn't stop writing. I couldn't stop reaching out. I was addicted to telling people how much I cared.
Sometimes - many times, really - my letters received amazing responses. I acquired some pretty cool pen pals. Other times I got a teary-eyed hug, or a stammered thanks from the crotchety old guy at church with the beautiful voice. Sometimes there was nothing, sometimes there was too much. Sometimes I was misinterpreted, and I learned a few hard lessons about expressing admiration as a teenage girl.
I stopped writing fan letters after that. Which was good. I had a lot to learn, and a long way to go in both growing up and growing wiser.
Today I'm so much more self-assured than that terrified teen. I'm OK with being silly now. Heck, I even encourage it. I know and like who I am, and I don't need validation from my role models like I did then. I still want it, of course, but I don't need it. And you know what the best part is? The more confident I am in who I am, the more comfortable I am fangirling again. I'm freer complimenting people, especially strangers. If I like something someone did online, I comment and tell them so. When I take cosplay photos I've been known to gush. If I like your art or your shoes or that sarcastic thing you just said, odds are I'm going to tell you. And while I've always been on the reserved side, lately I've even found myself telling my friends I love them. That's right, I bust out the L word. I tell them I miss them if it's been a while, that I want to spend time together. I fangirl. I put myself out there.
I'll be honest, it's still scary sometimes. Some of my friends have been a little taken aback. Some don't say they love me back, and it's a little awkward, but then I have to laugh because that's totally OK. I just want them to know, you know? I want all the people I care about to know. After all these years, I want to fangirl whole-heartedly again.
Today I opened the latest batch of fan mail from our PO Box. There were letters and thank you cards and hand-drawn pictures from little ones. About halfway through the small stack I picked up this one envelope, and I was struck with this vivid, almost visceral memory of the time I wrote and rewrote that one fan letter, all those years ago. Inside this card there were words a lot like the ones I used to write, carefully inscribed in a handmade card this person knew I would love, decorated in my favorite colors. Everything about it spoke of care and consideration... and hope. Hope that this sounded OK. Hope that it wasn't too much. Hope that I wouldn't laugh or think it silly, but would somehow understand.
So from one fan to another: I do. I get it. And I'm humbled and lifted up and forever grateful for the words you trust me with. Whether it's a quick "thanks" or three pages of soul-spilling and secrets, I want you to know - all of you - that your words have unimaginable power. So be careful with them, and use them wisely, but use them. Write it, say it, text it, paint it in a picture. Tell people they matter. Tell them you appreciate that thing no one else noticed. Go ahead and fangirl a little. Get comfortable being unabashedly enthusiastic. It may feel silly at first, but I promise you - I promise you - people are starving for your approval. Starving for a word of validation. Starving for the encouragement they need to get through another day, another hour.
We're geeks, you and I. We're fangirls and fanboys. We're passionate and a little obsessive and gosh darn it, we care about things and we just want people to know.
So go tell them.
Just about a year ago I had emergency surgery and spent a few days in the hospital. I then spent several weeks recovering at home. Since I wasn't in what anyone could reasonably call "good shape" to begin with, by the time it was all said and done? I couldn't even do a small grocery shopping trip without being winded and completely wiped out for the rest of the day.
I knew I had to do something to get myself back to at least being able to take care of my basic responsibilities, but I had no idea what to do. A gym membership was out of the question due to finances and a couple of bad experiences when I was younger.After thinking about it off and on for a little while, I was browsing my favorite Harry Potter websites and ran across a mention of a virtual running club. My mind was blown. How in the hell could a running club or a race be virtual?
I looked into it a little more (let's be real…I Googled the term "virtual race") and was astounded at how many I found, and absolutely gobsmacked at how many of them had amazingly geeky themes.
So, I whipped out my credit card and ordered a treadmill (pink and white to match my flamingo themed living room, if anyone cares) and signed up for my first virtual race.
It was a Professor Snape-themed one from the Hogwart's Running Club and it raised money for pancreatic cancer research in honor of Alan Rickman — who had died just a few months previously. I'm a total Slytherin, so how could I pass that up?
I was a little nervous about how it all worked, but it was actually fairly simple. You just fill out a form, pay your money, walk or run your miles, and wait for the mailman to bring you your swag. Some virtual races require proof that you actually did the mileage, others are on the honor system. That proof could be something like a screenshot of a pedometer app on your phone, or maybe a picture of your treadmill display.
In my case, that first race was on the honor system, everyone that registered and paid received an awesome finisher's medal a couple of weeks later. There was also an optional shirt available for purchase which also raised funds for the same charity.I started out slow, just walking at whatever pace I could manage for ten minutes or so. Every day I would try to add a few minutes to my time and within a month I could walk a 5K (3.1 miles) in about 45 minutes without stopping.
That success, and my shiny medal hanging on the wall kept me motivated and I signed up for more races through various companies and organizations. I now have a Stargate medal, a Klingon bird of prey, a sugar skull with blinking eyes, a TARDIS, and a Spaceballs medal that raised funds for testicular cancer research.
I love the bling and proudly hang them from a hook on the wall so I can see them from my treadmill. The real accomplishment, though, became obvious about four months into this adventure. My husband took me to San Juan, Puerto Rico as a combination birthday and anniversary present.
We flew in, took a cab to the apartment we were staying in, and did not rent a car. We walked everywhere for a whole week. Sure, I got tired sometimes, but I was able to keep up and I never felt like I was going to die if I had to walk one more block. It was amazing and not something that I think I could have done even before my surgery had laid me so low.
This was the perfect combination of external motivation (shiny medals) and appealing to my sense of altruism (donating money to cancer research) to get me up off my ass and moving. I don't think I'll ever be a real exercise enthusiast, but I lost a few pounds, I can walk my dogs without problems, and I can do my shopping without feeling like it's going to kill me. I'm calling it a win.
- Tribesmaid OnTheBrink!: That is exactly why I hired someone to paint the ceilings!! Some shiny metals would look totally awesome hanging… [Link]
- Jennifer Engelland: The Hogwarts Running Club events are all on the honor system, so how you do your miles is entirely up… [Link]
- Kate: Does anyone have a virtual bike race to recommend? Or can you do these other races with the bike? [Link]
- Jennifer Engelland: I think the only thing that is harder work than painting walls is painting ceilings. You should give a… [Link]
- Brink: This is great. I'm in completely God-awful shape for my age (29). Like, awful to the point that… [Link]
+ 18 more! Join the discussion
I know that ever since you turned twenty-five, there have been questions — well-meaning prods and probes about the current state and future plans of your uterus. Even more if you're married. I know you can't complain of nausea or light-headedness without someone's elbow nudging your shoulder, asking if you're "sure you aren't late for something." I know it gets fucking obnoxious.
I know the reasons that you're childfree are numerous.You may consciously choose it. You may want kids later but not right now. You may be grappling with infertility. You may be looking for the right partner or not sure what you're looking for at all. I know that you are single, dating, married, straight, queer, neurotypical, neuroatypical, and scattered across the economic spectrum.
I know that media and culture tells you that the clock is ticking. That motherhood is the ultimate feminine destiny; the next epoch. I know it can feel like everyone is boarding the train but you, regardless of if you've chosen to stay on the platform or if you're running desperately to try to hop the rails.
I know we're not supposed to stay friends.
My motherhood is a peninsula whose connection to you is supposed to erode with each baby milestone, each additional child, each year of more nights spent at home than at our favorite bar with the breezy courtyard and the $9 duck fat fries.
I'm supposed to start feeling at home with the other moms who can understand my daily child-rearing grind with an innate empathy, and less comfortable with your eight hours of sleep and candlelit baths and complaints of being bored on a Sunday afternoon.
I'm supposed to resent you a little and, at the same time, feel superior to you.
And eventually we're supposed to only see each other at weddings and grocery store run-ins.
But you know what, Childfree Woman? I'm a mom and think that's absolute bullshit.
…Because I need you in my life.
My childfree friends are a vital part of my community, and their role is unique and irreplaceable. My childfree friends invite me to adult social events that I sometimes forget exist and pull me out of the parenting bubble at regular intervals — a healthy practice I rarely enact on my own.
They text me about things other than toddler bowel movements and field trip permission slips.
They come over late at night to drink beer on my porch after my kids have gone to bed. They are honorary aunts — something I particularly cherish as an only child.
And they spend time with my children, giving them energy and attention and guidance when I am depleted of all three.
They support my family in ways that would be impossible to sustain if they were raising young children of their own at the same time.
My childfree friends challenge my expectations of motherhood, and keep me from becoming a hermit. They suggest bringing my kids to crowded festivals, and herbalism workshops that parents instantly recoil from because they know how much of a pain in the ass the whole thing will be.
And I agree because I love their company and I haul the kids in the car and go! And you know what? It's not that big of a pain and everyone has fun.
My childfree friends are a balm to my soul.
Motherhood can be consuming and I am prone to being consumed. My childfree friends are a tether to a world beyond the joys and trials of shepherding tiny humans through life.
So Childfree Woman Orbiting Thirty, if you've ever felt out of place among your mama friends… if you've ever sensed the subtle, relentless tides of culture tugging at your sense of identity, I want you to know that I see you, I honor you, I appreciate you endlessly.
You kick major ass, and I hope you know it.
- HC: I loved this! It made me wish I lived nearer to my friends who have children.… [Link]
- maryr: I too would love to see a post about or from a father about what it's like to be friends… [Link]
- maryr: I'm late to the party, but this post was lovely. I'm really not in the lives of my friends with… [Link]
- Cat: Interesting question. I think it depends on the dad. I have to admit, in my experience dads seem to be… [Link]
- jasn: Sometimes friends drift apart! You can lose friends to any sort of intense lifestyle or hobby, and it seems… [Link]
+ 33 more! Join the discussion
Bahahahahahaaa!! Aha! Ha. Heh.
We were there to get John's stitches out, so to keep him distracted (and ideally, conscious) I was talking to/at him about Moana. The nurse looked up at one point, so I asked if she'd seen it.
"No," she said, bemused.
"Ooh, you should! It's gorgeous, and funny, and the music is really catchy. We've already seen it twice in the theater."
She'd been looking at me kind of strangely, but at this her face cleared.
"Oh!" she said, "That answers my next question, then; you obviously have kids." And she smiled and nodded sort of knowingly at us, like she'd just correctly guessed how many jelly beans were in my crazy jar.
"Uh... no," I said, and she looked alarmed, so I laughed SUPER awkwardly, and for some reason that didn't help, so long story short, thank goodness John only had six stitches to take out.
Again, no big deal, but I keep coming back to that look on the nurse's face. I've seen that look a lot. It's the look you get from people who want to know why anyone without kids would want to vacation at Disney World, or go to a science fiction convention, or wear costumes when it's not Halloween. It's the look you might get - you know, hypothetically - from your in-laws when they find rayguns on display in your living room. It's the amused, confused, and slightly scandalized look of an adult judging another adult for not being adulty enough. (And yes I just made up the word "adulty." WHAT.)
Years ago John and I were at a party with a bunch of people we didn't know, and as I enthusiastically described my latest cosplay to a small sea of furrowed brows, the hostess quite literally - I am not making this up - patted me on the head and said, "Awww." I mean, I get that I'm short and adorable and all, but this came across more... pitying? I think?
So I've been thinking about what separates "adult" entertainment from Kid Stuff. Because I think we can agree it's the "Kid Stuff" that gets us judged, right? If John likes My Little Pony, then that's bad, because it's "for kids" and he should only like shows made for people his own age.
But what's the difference between, say, MLP and CSI? What's the difference between a movie rated G and a movie rated R? Assuming the story meets a certain intellectual standard, of course, then I'd say the only real differences are language, sex, violence, and "adult themes" like drugs.
Let's go back to Moana, since I like talking about it. Moana's story is no less complex or emotional or action-packed for being rated G. It's beautiful and hopeful and funny, and it tells a great story. Why should those things only be for kids? And why should we, as adults, be embarrassed for liking those things?
I hear a lot of parents admitting - with guilty smiles - how much they enjoy some of their kids' favorite shows. I often think how sad it is that we feel we need kids as an excuse to watch those shows, to listen to that music, to go to that play or theme park or ren fair or what-have-you. 'Cuz you guys, we're adults. We get to choose now. We get to watch what we want, go where we want, and within the confines of laws and common sense, DO what we want.
I was a pretty serious kid growing up, and as a teen all I wanted was to impress the adults around me. To BE an adult. I was never outrageous or silly or spontaneous. I was careful. Well-spoken. Well-behaved. As a teen I dressed like a soccer mom and sat in my room cross-stitching or reading Star Trek books for fun. And all of that is fine, but now that I am an adult, I've learned how incredibly healthy it is to live a little more out loud. To be a little childish. To be silly and colorful and exuberant, to remember to laugh and not take life so gosh darn seriously. I'm serious enough by nature - too serious, even. Depression runs in my family, as does workaholism and a serious case of overthinkingitus. So I need Disney. I need cosplay. I need steampunk and conventions and Star Trek and friends who'll argue Harry Potter with me and glittery rainbow sneakers. I need all of that to keep me from falling down dark holes, from hardening into a boring, joy-less, perfectly perfunctory "adult."
So whether you need it or not, whether you're fighting hard battles or just frolicking in the beautiful absurdity of life, don't let people poo-poo your passions, peeps. Don't let adultier adults make you feel less adulty. Wear that mashup t-shirt, go to that concert, watch that cartoon, do that thing. Be a little silly. Try something new. Ask a kid what their favorite show or movie is, then go watch it.
And when you're not doing things you love - when you're at work or the grocery store of the doctor's office, don't be afraid to talk about those things. Sure, you'll get odd looks. Yes, people will laugh. But you know what? You'll also introduce some sad, stodgy people to a vastly more fun way of life.
John and I are the weird ones in a lot of our circles, and we're OK with that. Our chiropractor may still shake his head at us, but I think he likes seeing pictures of our latest costumes - and now his receptionist asks us about cons and what we thought of Star Wars. The cashiers at JoAnn's ask what geekery we're up to, and the ones at the grocery store like figuring out our mash-up t-shirts. My parents love steampunk and my in-laws regard it with deep suspicion, though "some of the antiques are nice."
Our neighbors, of course, still think we're nuts.
Still, maybe that nurse will go rent Moana this month, and maybe the next time we see her she'll be singing "I'm so SHINE-AY!"
And then I can totally sing back, "YOU'RE WELCOME!"
Right, your turn:
What's your favorite random encounter introducing a stranger to one of your geeky passions?
Funniest conversation? Most awkward misunderstanding? Have you actually converted anyone to Geek Life? This is a safe space, so c'mon, SHARE.
There is an interesting article from ProPublica called When evidence says no, but doctors say yes making the rounds about the number of doctors who disbelieve, or don’t know, or don’t care about the medical evidence to the detriment of patients. I do not find any fault with the article. I rail against this daily. I have my whole professional life. It is actually a big reason why I blog because I hear regularly “I didn’t know that” from providers or “If I had only known,” from patients. I love when people tell me they took in something I wrote to show their provider. I love when a doctor tells me they turned a post into a handout.
The sad fact is some doctors don’t learn anything new after residency. Yes, they go to continuing medical education (CME) but they do not learn anything. Here’s one example. I used to lecture very often about herpes testing. It’s a little complex, but mostly because there is so much mythology. I would lay all the evidence out over 45 minutes, dispel the myths that were never even grounded in science to begin with, and then prepare for the always present onslaught of questions and shaking heads. At times I wondered did they not understand, but they were doctors and I didn’t see how that could be possible? Were they not listening? Possibly, although many of these lectures were pre laptops and smart phones so distractions were minimal. Did they not believe me? Oh yes. Some would argue with me afterwards about how I could not be right, meaning they didn’t believe the irrefutable basic science I presented as well as the clinical studies. As Spock would say, fascinating. Whenever I give a lecture, and I am considered to be an entertaining speaker, I consider myself successful if I can get 2-3 doctors in a room of 30 to change one thing about their practice.
Some doctors didn’t get good information in residency. A good example in OB/GYN is the belief that IUDs are not acceptable for women who have never been pregnant. Studies disproving this are over 20 years old and yet a 2014 study indicated that 32% of doctors did not believe IUDs were safe for women who have not been pregnant. THIRTY TWO PERCENT. I guess they were taught by someone who didn’t know and so on?
Undoing incorrect information is hard. There are articles written about anchoring. getting stuck on the first diagnosis and when treatment fails a doctor assumes the treatment was ineffective and keeps prescribing more and more treatments instead of taking the other road and questioning the diagnosis. As a sub specialist I can tell you the wrong initial diagnosis is most common thing I see in my field.
On top of it the science is not always good and Big Pharma controls a lot of the funding and of course what data gets released, so we may be making decisions with biased information.
Sometimes doctors are just jerks. Two years ago my then 86-year-old father had a mycotic femoral aneurysm and needed emergency surgery that took 6 hours. The day after surgery there was a concern he may have had a heart attack during the procedure. Was it from the cardiac stress of the long surgery with a lot of blood loss or did he have blocked vessels? He had normal cholesterol, before the surgery could ride his bike for several miles, had normal blood pressure and no one in his family has ever had a heart attack. His dad lived to 98 and he had a 92-year-old brother. I was told he needed a cath by a surgical resident over the phone as I ran to catch the plane to see him. He would have to be transferred to another hospital to have the procedure. All kinds of complications flew through my head. “Could I just speak with the cardiologist,” I asked? I just wanted to know the complication rate and what would happen if he did and if he did not have the procedure. The cardiologist refused to speak with me. He even refused to see my dad, all of this decision making was made speaking with a resident. Instead of answering my simple questions and seeing my father the cardiologist cancelled the cath. I was furious. All I had done was dare to ask he see my father and give me some information about risks and benefits. What if my dad died because I had just asked for data? Turns out my dad didn’t need the cath because here we are two years later and my dad is 88 and walking a little more slowly because of his femoral nerve injury, but he’s up and about and still has never had any chest pain. However, this is not an ideal way to have this outcome.
Then there is also money. Some surgeons do an awful lot of hysterectomies while others seem to be able to manage their patients with a much lower rate of surgery. I assume this holds in all surgical fields and not just gynecology. I have heard surgeons say about a not indicated surgery, “Well, If I don’t do it someone else well, so I may as well do it right.” And then, “Who knows, maybe it will help?”
Who knows? What if your pilot said, “Who knows, maybe we’ll land the plane safely?”
Some doctors follow guidelines and some do not. The preferred method of hysterectomy is vaginal according to national guidelines, but hey the robot is cool! Hospitals have to pay for them, so they are advertised as state of the art because you have to pay the upkeep. Patients are happy because they think they are getting the best! Insurers don’t seem to balk at the necessary expense. How does this happen?
But there are other issues too.
Sometimes doctors feel pressured to do something when they have no real medical therapy to offer. The art of doing no thing has been lost. The urge to help can trump the need to sit on our hands and listen. Doctors are also worried about their patient satisfaction scores, either at work on online. An unhappy patient can leave lots of terrible comments and two or three can affect your salary or at the very least leave you answering to your superiors. If you don’t think the drive to make patients or administrators happy changes medical practice then you are wrong.
Pills and surgeries are “easier” for everyone. Providers, patients and insurers. It is my experience that in general people are happier when they leave with something tangible. A prescription validates the symptoms perhaps? Maybe it validates the time off of work ? However, many things have no easy answer. For example, talking about sleep hygiene is hard. When I tell people about turning off the screen or what they need to do if they are staring at the clock I have received eye rolls. How could a behavior change fix something that is so devastating? People who don’t want pills generally don’t come to the doctor, so we do see many people who are biased towards wanting medical interventions. Some people turn to yoga or cognitive behavioral therapy for their insomnia without ever making a doctor’s appointment.
And what about that knee pain? It hurts so much. How could physical therapy help something that painful? So there is that hurdle. Then there is the co payment for physical therapy, it can be $100 or $150 and there may be 8 or 10 visits as well as daily home exercises to see improvement and maybe weight loss is needed too. However, what if someone dangles a surgery with a $250 co payment? The doctor wouldn’t offer it if it wasn’t helpful, right? It is pretty easy to see how people, including even well-meaning surgeons, convince themselves that surgery is the answer because it is easier to get a unindicated MRI and a unindicated knee or back surgery in almost every single health system than it is physical therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. The path of least resistance is rarely the right one and that is terrible.
I have spoken with patients who have had a clearly unindicated surgery who are no better and yet many are perfectly satisfied with the unhelpful surgery. In fact they are happy because they equate the surgery with their doctor taking their complaints seriously and trying something. The bigger the intervention the less unhappy people seem about it not working.
We all believe what we want to believe. If patients don’t come back after surgery, it must have helped, right? If your cold or cough went away after antibiotics, they must have helped, right? I was ill for a week or two before I went to the doctor because I didn’t want it to be pneumonia. In my field multiple studies tell us that self diagnosis of yeast infections is very inaccurate and that women are wrong about 70% of the time, which is worse than flipping a coin. Trying to convince someone over the phone they need to be seen when they don’t want to be because they are convinced they are right is hard and time-consuming. Everyone, doctors included, often refuse to believe statistics apply to them. I get the competing pressures of work and co payments and convenience, but I am seeing a rise in resistant yeast and I am scared for my patients and I want to do the right thing medically. Some people yell at me. Some write nasty things. Some doctors just stare at me in disbelief that self diagnosis of yeast infections is wrong. Others thank me for caring and being dedicated to giving them the right therapy.
If blogging for six years has taught me anything it is that everyone, not just doctors, want to believe what they want to believe. When people can reply to you anonymously you hear a lot more than you hear in the office. I delete so many nasty comments from people who accuse me of lying about iodine allergies or vaginal Valium or vaccines. Some people even believe walking around wearing a vaginal jade egg helped them. I often close comments because of that very issue, the rancorous minority claiming a therapy works for them can change the minds of others. Disbelieving evidence, it seems, is a very human trait. If it were not people like the Medical Medium, who gets his health information from a ghost, would not be a best-selling author.
People often want a unifying diagnosis for their symptoms. Some people don’t want to have depression or fibromylagia or hear that sleep hygiene can help, a unifying diagnosis of chronic Lyme disease or heavy metal poisoning or chronic EBV has “real” treatments. It’s taking symptoms seriously, and so charlatans profit.
I have no easy answers. It’s not just medical education that needs overhauling and empathy training and interpersonal skills. We have to stop publishing lower quality articles. Fewer journals with more rigorous peer review would be great, but then how will doctors keep their academic jobs? It’s publish or period, not publish quality or perish. Wouldn’t it be better to have one amazing article that changes lives than a bunch of crappy ones?
The press also needs to stop writing about case reports and articles with seven patients. People read those headlines and insist on that therapy.
We need to do something about direct to consumer advertising. It’s not helpful.
Magazines and life style websites and physicians with platforms, yeah Dr. Oz I’m talking to you, need to stop giving voice to ludicrous therapies and ideas like wheat or EBV or chronic yeast or vitamin D3 or whenever the new whipping boy is that is causing every autoimmune condition. By the way no one seems to have grain brain in France.
We need more government investment in high quality clinical trials, but are we willing to pay more taxes for it?
We need vetted sources of quality information. Again, that will take tax dollars.
We need professional societies to take stronger stances on what constitutes high quality therapy, what is not, and to be honest about gray areas and we need those guidelines to be handed out to patients.
We need investment in health literacy.
We need doctors trained to understand studies, to stay up to date in their fields and who can communicate, and who are also trained when needed to do no thing. They also need more than 15 minutes to listen, communicate, and treat, but again, that will cost more.
Doctors are certainly part of the problem, but saying it’s all on doctors is like saying global warming is only from coal. There are lots of industries involved and every single one of us has a carbon footprint.
Doing the right thing in medicine is almost always the hardest thing. Not because it’s hard medically, but because life and the medical system have set it up that way. Until that changes care will still vary from state to state and office to office and person to person and whether you live or die might depend on what search terms you entered into Google and that is just wrong.
In recent conversations with friends, the tone is often one of overwhelm and fear, and hope, and excitement all at once. There is a tendency to want to shut out the news, and just hope it all goes away. But that is the worst thing we can do. I have yet to come across a problem to which denial was an effective solution. And in my experience, most things that are worth doing involve some hard work.My mom is in the middle of writing a book, and called to ask me a favor the other day… She was feeling overwhelmed by the current political scene, wanted to participate and #resist, but at the same time feeling the need shut the world out in order to get her book finished. So she wanted me to give her the bullet points and tell who to call and about what issues.
See, I am a scientist and an Extension educator, and therefore I spend a lot of time helping people find the resources they need, and translating complex and technical information into a form that is useful to a key audience.
Here are the resources I rounded up for my mom and my friends, plus some useful things I have learned in the last few weeks. Pick and choose the resources and action items that agree with your values, and get involved.
First, save the numbers for you federal and state representatives on your phone
In a recent conversation with my sister, she shared that calling legislators did not feel radical enough. I thought about this, and did some reading, and determined that phone calls can be a highly-effective tool. If only a few of us make phone calls to our elected representatives it will not likely make much of a difference. But if THOUSANDS do? Then yes, they listen. Calling and writing is the most basic step to political action.
Echo Through the Fog provides a delightful explanation of how to call your representatives even if you have social anxiety and it makes you nervous, and feels yucky.
Second, subscribe to an action list that you like
Here are three lists that focus mostly on federal issues:
- Jennifer Hofman creates a "Weekly Action List" delivered on Sunday to your email in-box. I like her non-nonsense, research based approach. She also includes positive news and recommendations for thank you letters. What started as a list for 40 of her friends, now reaches over 60,000 people.
- Wall-Of-Us delivers "four concrete acts of resistance" to your inbox every week. They use beautiful graffiti art to illustrate the "bricks" built by people working together to #resist. A great example of how the simple act of participating in something so mundane as a phone call or social media post can have an impact.
- The Sixty Five project provides a weekly action item and encourages people to "make congress work for us." They provide scripts on many different issues, and suggestions on how to make the most impact with a phone call.
- The folks at Indivisible (former congressional staff members) have created a guide to "demystify congressional advocacy" and cite the Tea Party as an example of successful advocacy. They provide support for local action groups, and a calendar with action items scheduled on specific days. Print it out and put it on the fridge, get the kids involved!
There are many groups on the state level that can keep you informed about important policy issues, depending on your interest
For example, natural resource and publics lands, women's issues, LGBTQ issues, agriculture and forestry, education, etc. Find the organizations in your state lobbying on these issues and get connected. You don't even have to agree with their positions on the issues, but they will help keep you informed of what bills are in the state legislature and when calls are needed.People are making very important decisions every day that affect your life in real and important ways. Some of these people are family, some are coworkers or bosses, some are total strangers. Perhaps most importantly, some are elected by you and your neighbors! Want to be a decision maker instead of a decision taker? Emily's List, supports pro-choice women running for office by providing training, support and funding. Not a woman but want to support women running for office? They will gladly accept your donations.
And finally, for those willing to go right into the lion's den…
There are thousands of appointed part-time positions on boards and councils that will be appointed by Trump in the coming weeks and months. Most do not require Senate approval. Check out the list here, and throw your hat in the ring.
Don't have the stomach for public office? Give money and support to someone who does — even if it is just $20. Champion a candidate that you believe in! City council, county commissioner, state representative, US senator — they are all making very important decisions that affect you.
I hope these lists and resources are useful to you, and I look forward to hearing what others have to share as well!
- Lucy: Thank you so much for this. Another voice from suburbia: volunteering in community centers can be a good way to… [Link]
- kt: This is SO TRUE! We live in a rural area and the county commissioners cannot find enough people to serve… [Link]
- SarahB: There are also many boards, committees and commissions that need people to provide oversight to local government programs. There… [Link]
- Keren: I'm a researcher who lives and works in DC. For a number of years I worked as an advocate… [Link]
No, this is not going to be an article moaning about the cost of a good strawberry daiquiri, or how to effectively budget a good drag queen night out, or even the increasing cost of Lady Gaga concert tickets. I’m here to lay down some ~statistics~ on the hidden costs (and savings) when your love … Continued
Here at Mark’s Daily Apple, I avoid writing off anything without first investigating it. I keep one foot in the “alternative” health world and one in the “conventional” realm, making sure to maintain a skeptical—but openminded—stance on everything. There’s no other way to do it, if you’re honest. At least as far as I can tell.
No, not every alternative therapy works. A lot of it is pure hogwash. But whether we’re talking about off-label uses of conventional drugs and illegal drugs, natural pharmacological agents, or downright outlandish-sounding interventions, some therapies are worth considering. Not trying, necessarily. Considering.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at some of them:
Curcumin for Depression
The standard treatment for serious depression is the antidepressant. For years, researchers have been trotting out studies which pit curcumin—the primary phytonutrient in the spice turmeric—against conventional antidepressants or placebos.
- In 2014, curcumin improved symptoms in patients with major depressive disorder, showing particular efficacy in people with atypical depression.
- In 2015, researchers discovered that curcumin raised levels of certain biomarkers with proven antidepressant effects.
- Also in 2015, researchers found that curcumin made antidepressants more effective.
- And this year, researchers again confirmed the benefits of curcumin in major depression.
Exercise for Depression
To their credit, doctors are quick to recommend exercise for the treatment of “physical” ailments like osteoporosis, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, sarcopenia. It works, and it’s obvious and broadly accepted that it works. But evidence is emerging that exercise can also be an effective primary therapy for depression.
It’s especially good for people who don’t respond to SSRIs. In one study, 30% of folks whose depression did not respond to antidepressants experienced complete remission using exercise. In another, exercise improved self-rated sleep quality in depressed patients.
Psychedelics for Depression, Addiction, and Anxiety
Turn on, tune in, drop out… of your addiction, intractable depression, and crippling anxiety? Maybe.
In patients with terminal cancer, a single dose of psilocbyin (compound in “magic mushrooms”) abolished depression and anxiety. That’s “end of life” anxiety and depression, by the way—the realest stuff around. Other studies have similar results.
Ketamine is a powerful sedative that in smaller doses produces psychedelic effects. More recently, it’s emerged as a rapid antidepressant, with single doses abolishing drug-resistant depression within 24 hours and lasting up to three weeks.
Ibogaine is an African psychedelic whose characteristics make it untenable for recreation but promising for addiction therapy. It’s been used to produce remission of severe opioid addiction. It’s effective against alcoholism and nicotine addiction, and it shows promise against methamphetamine addiction.
It goes without saying that these are all powerful substances that also happen to be illegal in most places. Exercise caution. Several ibogaine clinics are doing good work in Mexico, so that’s an option.
Red Light for Joint Pain, Macular Degeneration, Thyroiditis, Cellulite, and Hair Loss
Shining infrared light on your bum knee and expecting anything to happen sounds ridiculous, right? Well…
- Patients with knee osteoarthritis used red light therapy to reduce pain scores and increase microcirculation in the knee. That could mean actual healing.
- Literature reviews have concluded that red light therapy does reduce joint pain. even in chronic joint disorders.
- Red light exposure increases blood flow to the skin and improves fracture healing.
- It’s even been shown to improve neuropathic pain. No “physical” damage necessary.
There are other effects, too.
- Applying red light to the eyes of seniors with macular degeneration significantly improved visual acuity after just two weeks. The benefits lasted for at least three years. Yes, years.
- Applying red light to the skin covering the thyroid gland in patients with autoimmune thyroiditis for ten sessions improved thyroid function. Placebo did not.
- A red light-enhanced comb appears to stimulate hair growth in both men and women with hair loss.
- Red light may even help smooth out cellulite, though the jury is still out.
Fecal Transplants for Antibiotic-Resistant C. diff Infections
A friend of mine’s father passed from cancer a decade back. While the cancer ultimately did him in, one of the severest blows occurred when he picked up a nasty case of antibiotic-resistant C. diff in the hospital on a routine check with the oncologist. He was stuck there for weeks. Nothing worked. There’s no question he lost several months or years from dealing with the ramifications of constant watery diarrhea and poor sleep (from being woken up by his rumbling stomach).
I wish I knew about fecal transplants back then, because they are the single most effective (and in many cases, only) way to treat drug-resistant C. diff infections.
Modern sterility, medicine, and hygiene have eliminated helminths, yet our immune systems, which evolved in the presence of these parasites, expect them. There’s good evidence that our immune systems are “overactive” without a parasite load to attack, and this has given rise to the increase in asthma, allergies, intestinal diseases, celiac, and even multiple sclerosis.
Helminthic therapy—literally giving yourself worms—sounds gross, but it really does seem to help people deal with some of these conditions.
Forest Bathing for Stress, Diabetes, Hypertension, and Immune Health
Strolling along a wooded path sure is pleasant, but evidence out of Japan—where forest walks known as “forest bathing” are a cornerstone of modern medicine—shows that it can treat disease and ill health. It lowers stress and reduces cortisol, improves blood glucose control (compared to the same amount of walking in a city setting), reduces blood pressure, and increases the activity of cancer-fighting natural killer cells. What’s best of all? Many of these effects last for weeks after a single visit.
But don’t just go once a month. Go as often as possible. Get your green space (even if you’re not sick).
Low-Dose Naltrexone for Seemingly Everything
At normal doses, naltrexone blocks opioid receptors, inhibits GABA activity, and prevents dopamine release, making it great for alcohol or opioid addiction. At low doses, naltrexone blocks opioid receptors just enough to provoke the release of our natural opioids, the endorphins, which helps balance out the immune response and reduce inflammation. A growing number of clinicians are now using low-dose naltrexone as an off-label drug to treat conditions like multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, Crohn’s disease, autism, chronic pain, and cancer.
As the immune system and inflammation both play major roles in seemingly every health condition, low-dose naltrexone is also being explored by clinicians in many other fields, including fertility and autoimmune diseases.
That’s it for today, folks. I’d love to hear from you.
What alternative therapies are you curious about? Which ones have you used? Are there any you’d like me to explore further?
Thanks for reading!
I knew from the reviews this was going to be a great film, but Hidden Figures still knocked me back in my seat. Watching how these three women - and more like them - contributed to NASA and the space race of the 1960s was eye-opening to say the least, but done with so much heart and humor and in-your-face bravery that you WILL leave the theater ready to take on the world.
Hidden Figures shows the racism of the 60s at every turn, and those images and attitudes cut deep. They'll make you mad, because they should make you mad. But through every injustice, Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary prove themselves to be mighty warriors. They don't quit, they take the future into their own hands and work harder. They speak up. They educate themselves. They're brilliant and strong. They show a dignity and a professionalism and an ethic we ALL need, perhaps more than ever today.
I love that each woman has a different path and a different set of obstacles, and overcomes them all completely on her own. There is no rescuing in this movie. No lucky breaks or the hand of fate. It's hard work and gritted teeth and more self-control then I *know* I'll ever have. Plus actors Taraji Henson (Katherine), Octavia Spencer (Dorothy), and Janelle Monae (Mary) bring these women to life with grace and steel; you couldn't ask for a better casting.
As for the other characters, it's odd seeing Sheldon from Big Bang Theory (aka Jim Parson) not wearing a geek shirt, but beyond that, he's essentially Sheldon minus the charm: arrogant and irritating. Kevin Costner shines as Director Al Harrison, though. You're gonna love him. And young John Glenn.
That's another thing: I like that Hidden Figures gives us light and love and humor among the struggle. We get to laugh and cry a few happy tears. We get to leave inspired to do more, and to do it better.
It's rated PG for "thematic elements" (?) and a little language, so this is a safe one for kids. No sex, and the only violence are brief news clips of protests.
So please, take your daughters, your granddaughters, your nieces and their friends, take them all to see Hidden Figures this weekend. Don't wait for the DVD. If for no other reason than to tell Hollywood: YES, THIS. We want more of this!
Now I'm off to Universal for their annual Harry Potter Celebration this weekend - stay tuned for pics!
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.
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.
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.
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.
I was stuck for a while wondering why I ever chose the career I did… and then continued to work doing anything but that career. (There were no jobs for theater majors, who would've thunk?) But I was finally actually able to change careers, and change my path, despite having a not-too-helpful degree.
Here's how I pulled it off. Maybe it'll work for you too?
I got a lot of different jobs
I had no idea what career path I wanted to choose. I had no way to go back to school (even part-time was beyond my financial means). So I decided to get jobs that just paid the bills. I signed up for jobs that sounded interesting and gave me a living wage. I took jobs that included room and board and moving far away. I had jobs just because I needed to make ends meet. And I had jobs because I thought I might be good at them. And some of them SUCKED to the nth degree and had me crying before work and after.
I learned from all of them
I learned that I was not going to be my job… that I was not that kind of person. I learned what my skills were, what I liked to do, what I was good at, and what I sucked at doing. And I learned how to avoid being in a situations where I would need to do those things I suck at doing. I also used one theater skill throughout: fake it till you make it.
It turned out that I didn't much care WHAT I was doing, just HOW
It began as "job that pays the bills." Then I realized that I also needed to not be miserable while paying bills. I didn't have to LOVE my job, but at least be able to function without crying. I discovered I'm actually an introvert and suck at office interaction and forced socializing. I found out that even if work was monotonous, if it was for a good cause, I was happy doing it. I learned that I did not want to be my own boss (it is WAY harder than it seems). But I wanted bosses who did not suck and who respect their employees.
Make a list of things you need and things you need to avoid
Through trial and error I came up with my own personal list of things that I want from a job, and things I will avoid like the plague. What helped me find my new career path (which makes me very happy) was to think what my bottom line was. Your list is most likely going to be quite different, and mine was different when I got started with it, I've added and modified it as the years have gone by.
My personal list of things to look for in a job looks like this now:
- Makes me feel that I am helping the world be a better place.
- Pays me enough to live well and be able to save up and travel.
- Is not all-consuming (I want time for me, and to not feel tied down or overly stressed).
- Does not require me to conform or be less myself.
Don't be afraid to branch out and find other stuff you'd like doing. Search for grants, fellowships or training programs that will hire you and train you. Figure out what you ARE looking for in a job and try to search in that direction.
Anyone else pull off changing careers? How did you do it?
- Janey: I love this article. I have taken so many weird jobs! I've had 23 so far and I'm 31 years… [Link]
- Jamie: I recently changed paths as well. I have a Bachelor of science in law enforcement, with a conservation emphasis (so,… [Link]
- Mitzi: You make a very valid point. I went to college (had not finished at that point) before I joined… [Link]
- Jessica Catherine: Thank you for the refreshing article. I was talking with a friend this morning about how as we get older,… [Link]
- ang: After 3 years in family law, I can say that there's no better feeling than walking away from that emotional… [Link]
+ 10 more! Join the discussion
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Hi Captain –
I have a question about keeping yourself sane while trying to get out of a bad situation.
I’m trying to leave my job. Everyone I work with is too. I’m at a very small startup, and the main person in charge is both incredibly demanding and extremely volatile, which makes it virtually impossible to succeed. For a variety of reasons,* I can’t just quit, but I am actively looking and trying as hard as I can to get out.
The problem is that, for me at least, job searching is stressful too, and I’m much better at it when I’m in a good place mentally. Unfortunately, our head honcho makes this really difficult. It’s not just a matter of ignoring or deflecting manipulative or unkind comments; it’s that they’re in touch constantly, with all of us, making it hard to even get the time or space for reflection. They don’t have a lot of family and have devoted the last few years to making the company work, which means that they constantly want engagement and validation (even if they’re berating us), and they won’t stop trying to engage until we cave and give them the answer they’re looking for.
For example: they’ll ask, on a weekend, if a previously-undiscussed deliverable can be done by Monday. If I say it can’t, they’ll ask why we’re not working on the weekend when everyone else is working “like mad.” They’ll then keep messaging me asking what it is that they haven’t explained properly about the opportunities before me, and what they can do differently so that I understand it, and then ask if I’m receiving the messages. If I don’t answer, I’ll receive a talk on Monday asking what it is that can be done to make sure a situation like that, in which we’re unreachable, doesn’t happen in the future. (This is often followed by “I’m tired of arguing with you and want to make this work, but I don’t know what else I can do.”)
So my options boil down to either a) completely acquiesce to all requests, regardless of their merit or any other factors, or b) have a pointless, hour-long conversation that consists mostly of being reprimanded. I should also note that they also want to hang out socially with all of us a lot, and pout if we won’t, which, as you can imagine, also affects the workplace dynamic.
I will be much, much better off if I can stay in this position until I find another one or am in a better financial position to leave. In the meantime, though, I’m so stressed and busy that it’s hard for me to do anything, including look for other jobs. Do you have suggestions for scripts I can use on *myself* here in order to keep myself going? My therapist says just to remind myself constantly that I won’t be here forever and that I am leaving as soon as I can, but the more frustrated I am, the less likely that seems. And I feel like this is a situation that a lot of people get into – cutting toxic people out of your life is necessary, but it’s so complicated.
Working on Freedom (she/her)
*You can include these reasons if you want, but I left them out for brevity. I’m including them here to indicate that I really have thought about leaving, and really have decided that the best option for the moment is to stay until I get another job. Those reasons are:
– I have < 1 month of rent in my savings account, and am reluctant to borrow from my parents
– My job history has quite a few short stints, mostly due to coincidence and/or bad luck (yearlong grant programs, getting laid off, leaving a part-time job in order to take this one, and, yes, one where I was a bad fit)
– I’m in a weird specialized field where the work I’m doing is actually hugely beneficial to my ability to get a job in the future
Dear Working on Freedom,
I like a project management challenge.
Let’s trust your reasons that you need to stay in this job at least a little while longer. Let’s say that in an ideal world you’d like to leave this job for another job and not just to get away.
Step 1: In my experience, things don’t become real until you attach dates to them. Buy a cheap, fun calendar that you keep at home and designate only for job finding stuff.* Pick a date in the future and circle it. That is your quitting date, and every week you will do something to work toward leaving this job by that date. It will help with your therapist’s task of reminding yourself that this is only temporary.
Step 2: Keep going to therapy.
Step 3: It’s January 9 today. Pick a weekend in January and mentally clear your calendar. Don’t make any arduous social commitments, stock your fridge with food you like, and mentally block out the time for yourself. Write it in your special calendar: “Career Planning Weekend.”
Step 4: Consider signing up for a Google Voice or Skype other alternate phone number, or even picking up a cheap burner phone to use as your work phone. Work gets ONE way to contact you, your friends & family & others get your real number, and it’s easier for you to log out or block or turn off Work’s method when you need time to think.
Step 5: On that Friday, after you’ve left work for the day, go home, eat a food, take a shower, change into comfy clothes, and then send a version of the following email to your bosses & the rest of your team, using a friendly, upbeat tone:
“Hey team, I’m going to be unplugged and out of reach this weekend, so don’t panic if you don’t hear back from me. Looking forward to digging back into [specific work problem] with y’all on Monday.“
As soon as you hit “send,” log out of that email account, log out of work chat programs, slack channels, log out of all your social media stuff and messenger apps that anyone you work with (even the cool people) could *possibly* see, and turn off your cell phone and put it in a drawer. Become unreachable by any of them until Monday morning when you are back at work.
- You will have very anxious feelings about this. This is because your bosses have trained you to expect constant contact & pressure from them as normal.
- Your bosses will have a lot feelings about not being able to reach you.
- They may deputize your cool coworkers to try to find you (which is why you have to cut EVERYONE off).
- They will probably manufacture a situation where you are the sole person who could possibly answer a question and everyone was held up in their work “because of you.”
- They will probably reprimand you or panic at you in some way on Monday.
- They will use guilt (“Everyone else is working around the clock to make this happen, are you not part of the team?“)
- You may not feel that it is “worth it” to court the consequences of their feelings on Monday – why rock the boat when it’s only temporary?
- You may be tempted to try to give advance notice or ask permission to be off the clock over the weekend. Resist this – asking or negotiating in advance not get you what you need
- You may check your phone over the weekend and find 100s of messages & texts built up from work. Do not answer any of them. Ever. You told them you were going to be unreachable, you are unreachable. The proper answer to “Can this be done by Monday?” on Saturday is silence because you didn’t read it until Monday.
- When they reprimand you, don’t argue. Let them talk it out, say, “Ok!” or whatever the most noncommittal thing you can say and go back to work. The predictable reprimands are the price of freedom, so, decide you’ll pay the price when necessary and move on from worrying about it.
You didn’t say that you worked for an organ donation flight & surgical team, so, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say there are probably no actual life-or-death emergencies in what you do.
You need space to think and to plan your next move. They will never give it to you. Your bosses are vampires who will suck you dry and tell you it’s your fault for not having more blood when you die on them. I honestly do not think they will fire you over this. This is my theory: Most reasonable people respect other reasonable people and tend to think that if we go along and work hard and do our best to accommodate others, we will get the same treatment and respect in return. Unreasonable people do not respect people who always say yes to them – the opposite is true. When I had toxic employers in management consulting who expected me to always say yes and I finally said no after much worry and anxiety on my part and much pushback on theirs, not only did they not fire me, they promoted me! It is okay to set limits with toxic and intrusive people and stick to them. In fact, setting hard limits is the only thing that those people actually understand or respect.
Bottom line: You’ve got to get some space from the constant contact from your bosses in order to hear yourself think. These people are terrible managers, full stop, and since they reprimand you already no matter what you do you might as well take care of yourself! Like case of the lawyer from a few weeks ago, if their whole business grinds to a halt because you personally are unreachable for 2 (weekend!) days, a) they have a shit business b) that they manage badly and also c) you are extremely valuable to their business and they can’t afford to fire you right now! The first time you pull away will be the hardest time. You’ve already survived all the bullshit they’ve thrown at you to date, you can survive a little more.
Step 6: Over the First But Not Last Weekend of Freedom, take out that calendar, take out a journal, and start to imagine the life you want.
Step 6A: First order of business: Schedule four sacred hours/week for Future
Career Stuff and four sacred hours/week for Fun. You can break those hours up into little daily things or big chunks of things, but you need that time. It’s not optional.
Step 6B: Working backward from your “Quit Date”, fill in that calendar with weekly tasks for yourself. I’m spitballing some tasks I think that could be relevant – you adapt this list so it fits your field and your aspirations. For starters:
- Research job openings & companies that would be a good fit and get you closer to where you actually want to be. Keep up with what they are doing in the world, recent news items, personnel changes.
- Update your resume & LinkedIn with recent achievements & responsibilities from your current job – make sure you’re always looking good on paper.
- Make a list of former mentors & peers in your field who might be good sources of job leads and encouragement.
- Schedule time to send people on this list a note or meet socially over the coming year. For example, have a monthly catchup coffee or breakfast with somebody on that list. Keep track of their professional achievements & life events and get in the habit of sending nice notes to them.
- Research people who have the career you want 10 years from now. What steps did they take, what professional certifications do they have, what organizations do they belong to? Do they attend conferences or do speaking engagements where you live? Do they have a social media or online presence you could follow and/or start to interact?
- Join professional organizations & MeetUp groups related to your field, go to one event each month.
- Work on skills or continuing education related to your chosen field. How are your public speaking and presentation skills? How’s your wardrobe & professional “polish” level? Do you need to brush up on corporate communications or PR or a foreign language or government regulations? This is the kind of stuff you might be able to carve out during your workday, since your current position is in your chosen field.
- Apply for at least one job every month. Ramp that total up as you get closer to your quit date.
- Break everything down to the smallest possible pieces.
Step 6C: Review your self-care routines and schedule time for that, too.
- Do you get enough sleep?
- Do you move your body a little every day in a way that makes you feel good?
- Do you eat food that makes you feel good?
- Do you have your shots/Do you go to the doctor when you are sick/Have you had a physical recently?
- What’s your morning routine like, do you have rituals that let you be in your head and in your body in a way that feel good?
- Do you see friends & family enough?
- Do you get to do hobbies and fun things you like? Do you get to read a book for fun sometimes, or go to the movies?
- One way to reduce your stress is to schedule fun rewards that match up to the time you spend working on career stuff.
The fun stuff is important. You’re not an employee or a worker, you are a person. If your projected quit date is several months or even a year in the future, it’s tempting to say “I can hold off on all that good stuff – I just have to get through until I can quit this job!” but [Dear Sugar] Sweet pea, your life is happening right now. [/Dear Sugar]
Step 6D: Cross things off and give yourself gold stars as you go. Whether you can leave by your chosen quit date or not, creating a visible record of “The Year I Tried My Best To Advance In My Career And Be Happier” is motivating and potentially psychologically healing, yes?
Step 7: Plug in more intentionally, and unplug more regularly.
The culture of your company is that people work on the weekends, so it’s easy for me to say “stop working any weekends, ever!” (even though that is my recommendation) and much harder for you to do it. I don’t expect you to singlehandedly change corporate culture or your jerk bosses’ jerk expectations in one go and I don’t want it to be a sticking point in doing the rest of the stuff..
I think a few practices can make things start to work slightly better for you:
7a. If you are expected to be in contact over the weekends, schedule that time in your calendar. Log in from 2 pm to 4 pm Saturday and then log the fuck back out. No “just one more email” and no being perpetually on-call! If there is forced/expected socializing, block that out as work, too.
7b. Get out of the habit of checking work email or phone messages when you first wake up. Do whatever you can to prolong that until later in the day.
7c. Start keeping a log of all the time that you actually work. Checking emails on the weekends is work. Being expected to have mandatory work fun with your bosses is work. Every text message or needy contact from them is work. Watching your hourly rate plummet when you divide your salary by all the time you are expected to put in will be highly motivating in your leaving.
7d. Figure out the absolute minimum of work social stuff you want to attend and commit to doing it. When you go, hang with your coworkers, do your best to have actual fun and a positive attitude. The rest of the time, have “other plans” that you do not justify or explain. “Can’t tonight, other plans! Have fun, see you tomorrow.”
7e. Create a Weekend of Complete Freedom From Your Thirsty Corporate Overlords once every month. Grab it you grabbed that first January weekend: Treat it as a normal thing to want a weekend of no work and present it as a fait accompli that you do not have to ask for or apologize for. Turn your phone & other ways of contacting you entirely off. When you come back from that weekend, be in the office early, dressed impeccably, and looking eager, rested, and ready. When the inevitable pushback comes, here are your scripts:
- “I don’t know about you, but I work better when I am mentally refreshed.” or “If I don’t unplug once in a while it really slows me down.” or “I need to get out into nature every once in a while or I can’t hear myself think.” or “Scheduling real breaks from thinking about work helps me be more focused.” [+ subject change back to solving a work problem] Say it enthusiastically and in a friendly tone (rehearse with therapist if necessary), like you expect them to be psyched that you are so focused and renewed.
Reasoning: There is this gross FastCompany-ish capitalist gospel that literally everything you do in your life should benefit your career, so, if you enjoy running or meditation or making sock puppets or some other non-moneymaking activity, you can justify it by how it eventually improves your value to your corporation or personal brand or whatever. It’s extremely likely that your bosses buy into this, so, use it! “I read that top performers need periodic vision quests and I want to be a top performer, hence, I climbed a mountain this weekend to meditate about improving our bottom line.“
- “Had family thing!” or “Had friends I never get to see in town.” (Your cat/the characters in books/your own sweet self can count as “family” or “friends you never get to see” for their purposes btw. I do not enjoy lying, but the socially acceptable friction-free excuse has its place, and bosses who try to crawl up your butthole every waking moment have more than earned it).
- Forced teaming is a manipulation tool that your bosses use against you – “We’re all in this together working day and night!” Try adding “You know how it is” to use it back at them, like, “I had a family thing, you know how it is. I’m gonna jump into [WORK PROBLEM] this morning – anything I should know before I dive back in?” “Sometimes I just gotta go for a long hike and leave my phone behind, you know how it is! I thought of a solution for [WORK PROBLEM], can I run it by you?“
You’ll get the most friction the first couple times. View it as an extinction burst that will recede over time, if you are consistent and boring about enforcing the boundary. Your bosses & coworkers will catch on to the fact that you aren’t on call every once in a while and that the world doesn’t end when you do.
Step 8: Go get a new job and get the hell out!
- Two weeks’ notice when you have a signed offer in hand is probably sufficient when you quit, and you don’t have to tell them you’re searching for a new job.
- They will try to make you feel guilty for leaving and they will probably succeed, but you’ll only feel guilty for 2 weeks and then you won’t work there anymore.
- Job applications often have a “Can we contact your current employer?” box to check and it’s okay to say “No” or ask them to “wait until the offer stage.” A potential employer who gets super-weird about this is communicating a red flag!
Good luck getting out! This is not the only company that will ever hire you! You can do it!
Who else is in the “I Must Get A New Job This Year” club? Maybe the forums at friendsofcaptainawkward.com are a good place to track progress and check in and commiserate?
*Commander Logic made me do this for my wedding and she was right to.
Both my partner and I consider ourselves progressive, feminist individuals. In most things, we are great about ensuring the we are contributing equally. The problem arises when it comes to the domestic sphere. I come from an exceedingly handy, DIY family — I have been repairing toilets since I was 10. My partner (and his family) can't tell a wrench from a hammer. Same goes for cooking.
As a feminist, this rankles me. I don't want to be responsible for the majority of the domestic chores. At the same time, I don't think it is very feminist to force someone to do something they hate. I can tell it frustrates him, too, because he wants us to be equal.
Is there some way you have found balance in your relationships? Or are there any tips for encouraging yourself or partners to help out around the house (or in the kitchen)? -Liz N
This is a great question, and certainly a lot of do have thoughts on feminism and household chores. So I took this question to the Homies, and here's their well-rounded advice that overwhelmingly broke down into three categories:
1. Balance, encouragement and compromise
My best advice is to help your partner feel competent in all areas of the house. When my partner does something that I don't know how to do, he talks me through it and will encourage me to participate. Sometimes those feelings of hating a chore comes from the fear of not doing it correctly.
Often doing the things you dread end up making you feel the best when they are done. -Meredith
Balance. Have him do certain chores like the floors, vacuuming and laundry. This is how it is in our house. I do all the cooking and meal planning, plus all domestic fixes and anything to do with finances. -Shannon
Use your best qualities. My husband and I seem to take on the "standard" roles, but help each other out… I do the laundry but he puts his own away as I do mine and the kids… He does do some cleaning though, like his one chore is the dishes and handling the trash/recycling sorting. We take what we both like to do and the dislikes we divide up.
Sometimes I get so caught up in me assuming the "typical wifey" cooking and cleaning, but… I just encouraged my husband to give cooking and baking a try, helped him along the way, and now he can make some things better than I can. -Kristin
Balance and comprise… Our skills balance each other out and we teach each other as we go. I've taught him to peel a potato. He's taught me how to use the different heads on a vacuum. Win win. -Jessica
We pick the things we each haaaate and the other partner does those things. Like I would live out of a laundry basket all the time, so hubs folds the clothes. But he would let the shower scum gain sentience, so I clean the bathroom. -Kate
Does he want to help? Then figure out a way to teach him that doesn't make the task daunting and overwhelming… Plus you can always divvy the work up as "I cook, you clean. You want to swap it up, you get to learn how to cook." And if he helps cook, you both clean. -Teresa
2. Invest in the issue
This is what I did with my ex: I resented being the one to do all the domestic work. His mess threshold was far higher than mine. So I paid for a housekeeper. And reaped all the benefits.
Outside help we pay for. With all the available outside options in food delivery, cleaning service, and handyman, it makes it no longer that I am doing it all. And he helps pay for it, so it's still not a burden on me. Thumbtack, Munchery, maid service, etc. -Heather
Take a couple cooking classes together so you can both learn new things and then maybe that will help you and your partner. Make it fun and new for both of you. -Miranda
I hate to be part of the Instant Pot cult, but seriously that one gadget finally got my partner to take an interest in cooking. When he figured out he could just press button and have a meal done in 10 min, it opened doors for him! LOL.
But in all seriousness, I think it just takes the right motivation. Case in point, I taught myself basic car maintenance and repairs because I wanted a pretty European car that is notoriously expensive to have repaired. When I drove a GM, I had no interest in it whatsoever. -Emily
If your partner doesn't like chores, split all chores and household expenses down the middle, and they alone can pay someone to do the stuff they don't want to do. -Cynthia
Re-frame the way you look at it
I've had to somewhat let go of ideas about "women historically have done this, so if I'm the only one doing this it is anti-progressive or anti-feminist" — you have to do what works for you as partners, almost take the gender/roles out of it. I am the better cook and I enjoy it, so I do most of that. He does more of the dishes, and takes care of the kitty litter, and does a fair amount of the shopping.
…But I totally get you, it can rankle at times just because it is a in-your-daily-life reminder of the privilege men have and the way ideas about roles have been shaped by our society, our parents, etc. I think about this a lot when doing stuff I just sort of picked up over time that he has no idea about. Like. "how did you not pick this up?" but then it's like, "well, you weren't in the kitchen with your mom and no one ever bothered to make you learn this and you didn't think it was your job to have to learn it so you didn't ask either."
I was in the kitchen, watching, partly because I understood, even when young, it was part of my role and I would have to know how to do this stuff. But this is all the same reason I wasn't out watching my uncle change a tire. So it's two sides of the same coin and we've all been screwed by it in various ways. I wish I was more DIY/handy/mechanically self sufficient! -Emily
I do my best to see all chores as height and skill issues. Meaning I can't trim the outdoor tree branches or get things off high shelves because at 5' tall — I just don't reach. And he does the cooking because when he cooks the food is actually edible. The truth is that he's a LOT better at *most* of the daily household things than I am, so I'm always running behind in terms of feeling like we're pulling our weight equally. I do my best to even things up by wrapping all holiday presents, making sure he gets places on time and dressed in actual clothes, and dealing with sick cats, but he's the true domestic champion in our house. -Tamra
Yeah, we're kind of the same way. My husband ends up doing most of the domestic chores while I do the technical ones, but we do share. I am fully capable of doing laundry and dishes, and I do those as needed, especially when my husband is stuck working late. I don't feel like any less of a feminist doing those chores. They need to be done, and I'm the one who's available to do them. We both do what needs to be done according to our skills and time demands. It's really only anti-feminist if a woman is forced into domestic chores and banned from the technical ones because she's a woman. You can still be feminist and do all the domestic chores if that's where your abilities happen to be. -Theresa
How do YOU find a balance between feminism and household chores with your partner?
- Trinity: Our approach is mostly skill based, but we decided to set our expectations at 80/20, which is to say, I… [Link]
- Marina: It's fine for someone not to do a chore they hate. Emphasis on A chore--a single chore. It's not fine… [Link]
- Helga: My spouse and I divy up chores by what we hate. I hate dishes: he does dishes. He hates lawnwork:… [Link]
- Vaseydaisy: It always seems to be a tricky balance. My husband grew up in a very staunch traditional household, and we… [Link]
- Holly: We are the same way, but my partner is a decent cook. For years he has cooked and washed… [Link]
+ 2 more! Join the discussion
But what about STIs?
Always remember The Lesson of the McNuggets as we go into our New Years celebrations/new year of our lives…
It was last year, I was late for a holiday party, and found myself without my designated potluck item.
I had all my excuses lined up. We've all been there. There never seems to be enough time, money or energy to be the Fantasy Holiday Version of Ourselves. Unstained red party dresses, holiday gatherings with tables full of festive offerings, wonderfully wrapped presents that perfectly embody our feelings for whomever is lucky enough to receive them.
I was in the cusp of a spiral when I saw it. A McDonalds. Fuck it.
"50 Chicken McNuggets, please." "15?" "No 50. And throw in some fries." I mean, when in Rome.
The guy gave me bag after bag of more Chicken McNuggets than I'd ever seen. And? A smorgasbord of every dipping sauce they offer. Like EVERY DIPPING SAUCE.
Not knowing how they'd go over, I walked into the party with my bags of McDonalds a bit deflated.
And EVERYONE WENT NUTS.
It was the hit of the party. So much so that, for this year's installment of that same holiday party, there were requests to bring 'em back.
All this to say…
For so long, I'd defined The Fantasy Holiday Version of Myself as something I could never be — some unholy Martha Stewart/Ina Garten/Gwyneth Paltrow blend — that every year I ended up feeling that if I could just strive harder or be a bit better I'd achieve it.
Maybe this is the holiday season I embrace being Real over being Perfect.
Was there a holiday moment this year where you realized that it's okay to be real instead of perfect?
- Tribesmaid OnTheBrink!: OMG this is wonderful! I am not a cook, I am not a host, I am not an entertainer.… [Link]
- Anna M: For the last family reunion, I was incredibly tired after a long month at work and I can't cook at… [Link]
- Kristin: My husband's family reunion always has someone bringing a bucket of chicken. Feels like a cop out, until you… [Link]
- kahlanamnell: That sounds similar to when I offered to order some Dominos pizza as my contribution to a Halloween party when… [Link]
- toad22: I'm lovin' it!! (pun intended). [Link]
So I’m dicking around online this morning, and a friend shared some theories about a show she’s been watching (with spoilers amply warned for) and an invitation for friends who are also watching to discuss. Other people who watch the show weigh in and are happily trading theories and easter eggs and everything is fine until…
THE CONTENT-FREE INTERRUPTER(S)
A janky homemade Kool-Aid Man bursts through a wall.
“I haven’t gotten around to watching that yet.”
“I watched the first episode but didn’t like it.”
“It really doesn’t seem like my thing.”
“I never really got the appeal.”
Let me translate all of those for you:
“Hello! I have literally nothing to add!”
I’ve written before about how tedious I find Geeky Dominance Displays where “I am a fan of X, do you also like X?” gets answered with an automatic”No, X sucks, let me tell you the reasons!” or “Cool, let me download everything I know about X into you and truly test your knowledge to see if you are a Real Fan!” Those conversations can suck but at least everyone is, like, engaged?
Nobody having a fun discussion of a thing they are intensely watching was waiting for you (not YOU-you since y’all are pretty great Internet Discussers, but, General Internet You) to weigh in just to tell us that you don’t know anything about it. It’s okay if you haven’t watched whatever it is – there’s no pop quiz! There are also no extra points awarded for class participation.
If someone in an online discussion asks you specifically if you’ve seen something or like something (you’ll know when, because they’ll use your name), then of course answer truthfully. And as a default, if you want to talk about something you haven’t seen or suspect isn’t your thing…
…I don’t know…
…start with a question…?
Such as: “I haven’t watched it/I suspect it’s not my jam, but what did you like about it?”
It is also okay to scroll on by casual conversations your friends about things you don’t like or care or know anything about! Your silence can be its own beautiful communication of your lack of interest! Find (or start) a separate discussion of the things you care about!
Maybe it’s also my 53-day-and-counting USA election hangover, but we’ve also got to kill the “I didn’t bother to read the article you linked but I am going to argue extensively about what I suspect is in it + unrelated matters I have opinions about” comment. If you care enough to type, care enough to read. If you didn’t care enough to read, maybe you don’t care enough to type. See how easy that is? It’s okay if you don’t have time to read everything your friends post. It’s okay! No need to weigh in on something you haven’t read and don’t know about. Tell your friends and family and let’s make this beautiful Internet 10,000 times less tedious.
Captain Awkward & Family
P.S. Awkward Spouse would like to send out a special message to people who review online recipes like this:
This recipe is terrible! I substituted every ingredient with a different ingredient, cooked it for a different length of time using a different method, and followed not a single instruction. It didn’t turn out at all! One star!
Sherlock slamming the door on Anderson with the text “Yes, thank you for your input.”
P.P.S. Awkward Cat also says Happy New Year, or, what she would say if she cared about years or internet comments, or anything at all.
A tiny black-and-white cat with huge eyes.
After spending 25 hours on research and testing 18 different cups from nine different manufacturers, we found that the MeLuna Classic is the best cup for first-time users. It’s the cup that comes in the biggest variety of sizes to accommodate people of different heights, athletic backgrounds, or vaginal birth histories. The MeLuna is also available in a firmer version and with different handles. Its design can be folded the most ways, yet it popped open easily, so it was the easiest to insert, remove, and clean.
[Trigger warnings: sexual assault, racist police violence, anti-Muslim bigotry, anti-Semitism, child sexual abuse]
Valerie Aurora teaches the Ally Skills Workshop, which teaches people with more power and privilege how to stand up in small, everyday ways for people with less. She also trains people to the lead the Ally Skills Workshop. She is a long-time Captain Awkward reader and recommends the blog in every workshop she teaches.
Many of us are grappling with how to use our skills and influence to resist the upcoming Trump administration and the hatred and violence that it inspires. As Captain Awkward readers, we’ve been practicing setting boundaries, standing up for our values, and making it awkward for the right person. We are uniquely prepared for a crucial part of the next few months or years: changing the minds of people who support the Trump administration, and standing up to the abusers they are empowering. This post teaches scripts and techniques to do these two tasks, along with the theory behind them. It’s for people living in the U.S., but it may be useful to people living elsewhere as well.
First, some terminology: an ally is someone who uses unearned advantages that society has given to them (a.k.a. privileges) to reduce inequality, with the goal of eventually ending privilege altogether. Targets are people who suffer from oppression – systemic, pervasive discrimination present throughout society that benefits people with more privilege, and harms those with less.
The first question to ask yourself is, how likely is it that you can act as an ally? Here are some things that might give you more privilege in the U.S.: being white, male, cisgender, straight, a natural-born U.S. citizen, a white Protestant (or can pass as one), abled, rich, middle or upper class, university-educated, securely employed, or in a position of power. If you have any of these characteristics, they gives you more power to stand up for targets and work to end oppression (and your own privilege).
Most people have some privileges but not all of them. That means that in some situations, you can act as an ally, and in other situations, you can’t because you are the target of oppression. For example, a Jewish man can act as an ally when someone is being sexist, but will be a target when someone is being anti-Semitic. It can get more complicated: a white Jewish person often can’t use white privilege to be an ally against white supremacy since that system often also includes anti-Semitism.
If you have relatively few opportunities to act as an ally, you can always encourage like-minded people with more privilege to learn ally skills. Either way, remember: you are far less likely to be attacked when you speak up for another group than when members of that group speak up for themselves. For example, a Black person in the U.S. speaking up about racism is far more likely to get racial slurs and death threats than a white person speaking up about racism (who may even get praise and gratitude for doing so).
So let’s get into a concrete example about a conversation likely to come up at Thanksgiving if you have Trump supporters in your family:
You’re a cis man visiting your family for Thanksgiving. Before dinner, you’re helping chop onions in the kitchen with several of your family members, including your loudest, meanest uncle, Uncle Joe.
Uncle Joe: “All those women are lying about Trump grabbing them. Besides, even if he did it, boys will be boys, you know. No use trying to stop them.”
You: [Stops cutting the onions and puts knife down.] [Calmly] “I believe women have the right to not be sexually assaulted. I believe that Trump assaulted those women. If you want to condone sexual assault, you can do it without me.”
You leave the onions half-chopped and walk out of the kitchen, leaving Uncle Joe to deal with the discomfort he created. In the living room, you see your younger cousin Fred, who overheard the conversation. Growing up, he was a sensitive kid who loved playing with you.
You: “It’s really hard when family members act like sexual assault is no big deal.”
Fred: [Looks troubled] “Well, my friends say that sometimes women lie about it for the attention.”
You: [Looking Fred in the eye, speaking kindly] “Hey, I used to think that too: that people who were complaining about being hurt were just whiners who wanted attention, or maybe money. Then a friend of mine told me that when her high school coach pinned her against the wall and put his hand in her shorts, she didn’t tell anyone because she didn’t think anyone would believe her. And then she told me that half her friends have a similar story. I felt so bad for her. I realized that most sexual assault victims never say anything at all because talking about it ruins their lives. Now I assume women are telling the truth about sexual assault until I have a good reason to think otherwise.”
Fred: [Looks a little shocked and taken aback]
You: “Hey, I didn’t mean to lay that on you all at once. But if it’s hard for you to hear that, imagine how hard it was for my friend to actually have that happen to her for real. And on top of that, she couldn’t tell anyone about it. It really sucks.”
Fred: “Huh, I never really thought of it that way. But don’t women lie about rape sometimes?”
You: “Yes, rarely. The thing I realized is, plenty of people believe all women are lying. My job is to be one of the few people supporting them. That’s how we find out the truth.”
Fred: “Wow, I didn’t think of that.”
You: “Yeah, I didn’t think about any of that either until my friend told me about her coach. I’m so grateful my friend trusted me enough to tell me that. I want to support people like her because I want to end sexual assault.” [Long pause] “Hey, so what do you think of the Steelers this season?”
Conversations like this follow a broad pattern. We’ll summarize that pattern, then go into more details about it, and end with some more scripts and examples.
- Start by evaluating your ability to influence others in this situation: Who respects you? Who wants something from you? What can you give or take? Who might retaliate against you if you act?
- Identify whether you are likely to influence or persuade anyone (including the audience), and choose one of the following:
- If you are unlikely to change anyone’s mind, just set a firm boundary about not doing that behavior in places you control, and enforce it.
- If you think someone might change their mind, state your position once, firmly but calmly, then set the boundary and enforce it.
- If you think someone is likely to change their mind – they are a potential ally – then follow the next steps to start a warm, compassionate, safe conversation with that person.
- Figure out what values you might share with the potential ally.
- Make a gentle statement about how your shared values shape your understanding of the topic at hand.
- If they become defensive or angry or argumentative, de-escalate the situation and change the topic while making it clear you still hold to your values.
- If they respond with curiosity or confusion or even apathy, keep going.
- Find a way to express compassion and understanding for how the potential ally ended up with the opinions they have now (tip: develop compassion and love for your past self, who was almost certainly more racist, homophobic, etc. than you are now).
- Make yourself vulnerable in some way: share a time you made a mistake, or something you feel ashamed of, or a time you were hurt.
- Share a personal story about the topic: something that changed your mind, or an “aha!” moment when suddenly you understood why something was wrong (but be sure to preserve the privacy of others when appropriate).
- Help them have compassion for the targets of oppression: talk about how the target must feel, make an analogy with a group the potential ally has an easier time empathizing with, share your own feelings of compassion and love for the targets.
- Restate your values and how they inform your opinion on this topic, warmly and clearly.
- If they have another comment or question, repeat from “Find a way to express compassion” until they run out of questions, or you run out of energy.
- End by changing the subject to something you both enjoy, or expressing your feelings of warmth and connection for the potential ally.
All of these guidelines are intended to help you: spend your time and energy in an effective way, build psychological safety so the potential ally feels comfortable asking questions and expressing doubt, serve as a role model by consistently acting warm and compassionate while also sticking to your values, continue the discussion only as long as the potential ally is still making progress, and end in a way that makes them feel safe coming back to talk to you again.
Here are a few example scripts for each part of the conversation. Let’s start with the example comments that you would be responding to:
- “What I think is that if Black kids would just stop playing with toy guns, they’d got shot a whole lot less.”
- “You have to admit, it just makes sense to be more suspicious of Muslims trying to get into the country. I don’t know that I’m against the ban on Muslim immigration.”
- “I can’t believe how rude my granddaughter was. Why didn’t her mother tell her she had to hug her grandpa? Can’t you talk some sense into her?”
Setting a firm boundary and enforcing it:
- “It’s important to me to value and respect people of color. I won’t participate in a conversation that doesn’t respect that.” + leave the conversation if they don’t stop
- “I believe we should judge people by their actions as individuals, not by their religion. If you disagree, take it outside.” + broken record of “Not here.” “Take it outside.” “We can’t continue until you leave.”
- “Girls’ right to control their own bodies is non-negotiable for me. Let’s change the subject.” + keep suggesting new subjects until they get distracted
Gentle statement about shared values and the topic at hand:
- “I think every kid should have a safe and happy childhood, so it makes me incredibly sad that Black children are being shot by the police more often than other children.”
- “I think part of what makes the U.S. great is our founding value of religious tolerance, so excluding people from the U.S. just because they are Muslim makes no sense to me.”
- “It’s so important to me that every young girl learn that she has the right to decide who touches her body, so when you tell her to hug someone she doesn’t want to, I think about what message she is getting about saying no in other situations.”
Express compassion or understanding:
- “You know, I used to wonder about that too.”
- “I remember having that question too.”
- “That’s a really good question, and it took me years to understand the answer.”
- “I can see that.”
- “I hear what you are saying.” + kind and compassionate recap of what they said
Make yourself vulnerable and sharing your own mistakes:
- “Sometimes I still get nervous when I’m walking on the street and see someone who looks like a mugger on TV.”
- “For many years, the only Muslims I could name were terrorists who had killed a lot of people.”
- “I remember feeling annoyed and suspicious when one of my relatives told me that our uncle made her feel uncomfortable when he hugged her or looked at her. I thought she just wanted to get attention.”
Share a personal story about when you changed your mind or had an “aha!” moment:
- “But when I read about Tamir Rice playing with a toy gun and getting shot when he was only 12 years old… I remember so vividly playing with my BB gun in my neighborhood when I was 10, and I was only worried about my mean neighbor Bill shouting at me. Not getting shot by cops. I suddenly realized that the reason I’m alive and Tamir isn’t is that my skin is a different color.”
- “Then in my poetry class, we read some poetry by Rumi. His poems were so beautiful, about love and freedom from fear. I started reading more about Sufism, which is a very mystical part of Islam, and realized that Islam was just as complicated as Christianity. Some Muslims are pacifists and some are moderates and some are fundamentalists. I realized it made as much sense to assume all Muslims were terrorists as to assume all Christians were televangelists.”
- “Then I found out years later that that same uncle had molested one of my cousins several times. I felt sick when I realized I’d been on a camping trip with them during that time. I think that if we had taken my relative seriously about not wanting to hug my uncle, maybe my cousin would have felt safe telling us what was happening to her.”
Help them have compassion for the target:
- “I just imagine, what was it like for Tamir, being 12 years old and playing, and how terrified he must have been when the cops arrived, and what it was like in the seconds before he died? No one should have to go through that.”
- “I thought, what would it be like to be someone who cared deeply about love and peace and kindness, and have people look at me with fear and revulsion. How would I feel if I got on a plane and the person next to me called the flight attendant and got me kicked off for acting suspicious, because I looked Muslim to them? I’d feel sick all the time.”
- “I felt sick just knowing I was nearby when my cousin might have been molested. How much worse was it for her? Knowing that even if she told us what was happening, we would probably accuse her of making it up, the way we did with my relative who didn’t want to hug him. How lonely and afraid she must have felt.”
Restate your values and connect them to the topic:
- “I just think all people are humans, and deserve the same care and respect I get automatically for being white.”
- “I want to live in a country where people can feel safe from religious persecution, and part of that is not keeping people from immigrating based solely on their religion.”
- “I want girls and women to feel in control of their bodies, and that means supporting girls when they say they don’t want to hug someone, even if they are a relative.”
Reassure them that you still feel warmly towards them, and change the subject:
- “Thanks for listening to me, your opinion means a lot to me. Hey, have you watched that new superhero movie?”
- “I’m really glad we could talk about this, even if we don’t always agree. So, what colleges are you applying to?”
- “I really appreciate you thinking about this, even though it feels uncomfortable. Do you think it’s time to check on the chicken?”
Now it’s your turn, commenters: What are some the ways you developed the skills necessary to follow these scripts? How did you learn to feel compassion for someone who shared your values but believed something horrible because they’d been lied to all their life? How did you learn to recognize your sources of power and influence? How do you stay calm when someone doesn’t mean to be cruel, but says something awful anyway?
Thank you to Mary Gardiner, Y-Vonne Hutchinson, Leigh Honeywell, and Kendra Albert, who all contributed to the Ally Skills Workshop and this article. This post is licensed Creative Commons Sharealike-Attribution 4.0 – please reuse and modify with attribution to Valerie Aurora and the above co-authors.
This might not be the best strategy.
Last weekend we went to Dapper Day so I could take pictures, and I caught a bug that makes me shaky and tired and utterly useless... until about 4AM, when I am wide awake and shaky and utterly useless. So I've been lying in bed a lot, stewing and sighing and - ug - thinking.
You know those feedback loops our brains get stuck on sometimes? How come those are never about nice things? Like, why can't we endlessly obsess over that perfect trip to Disneyland? Or the way our favorite person looks when s/he laughs? But noo-oo. It's all, "Oooh, you shouldn't have said that thing last week!" Or, "Surprise! You forgot so-and-so's birthday and now they secretly hate you." Or, "Hey, remember that time ten years ago when you got fired? WASN'T THAT AWFUL?? Let's go relive allll the tiny details in slow-motion and with color commentary from your inner self-loathing again. And again. And again and again and again!"
This month I learned a family member thinks I don't work, and is disgusted by it. She thinks John and I are independently wealthy (hoo!) and sit around making costumes all day. She's never been to Epbot, and brags to others in our family about this, because ew, blogs.
We see her all the time, by the way, and talk about Epbot pretty often. So, I was a little rocked. I mean, I'm fine, and this *does* explain why she glazes over every time I say the word "steampunk," so it's actually kind of funny.
Or... bah, maybe I'm not fine. Maybe I'm a people-pleaser, and relatives more so. Maybe I fret for days before posting personal, anxiety-related things, and rely on you guys to assure me it's OK that I do. Maybe I pour my heart and soul into my photos, my projects, my proud cheer-leading of the things I love. Maybe this blog is the one contribution I make to the universe that I feel actually matters from time to time.
Maybe I'm just a little "peopled" out, a little sick, and need some quiet to recoup.
I'll never blame folks for thinking I don't work. I get to do things I love, and a lot of times I get paid for it. That certainly doesn't seem like work. I'm surrounded by joy and creativity and support, and most of the time I don't have to wear pants. If that's not the American dream, then heck, let's all move to Ottawa and eat Beaver Tails. (The pastry, I mean, not actual beaver tails. [Those wouldn't taste nearly as good.])
But I really do try. I put me into the things I do. Then I agonize over whether those things are good enough. I take too much time, I stay up too late, I neglect John. I lose sleep, I re-write 'til it's memorized, and I fret over readers who tell me their pain, searching for just the right words to lessen it.
I feel less when I'm not working. Useless. Unfulfilled. Like all I've done 'til now was for naught, and all that really matters is my next post. I can recognize that's not entirely healthy, but on the flip side, when I really nail a post? When I've written something I'm proud of, or show you something new I love, and think you'll love, too? Best. Buzz. EVER.
And when John brings home letters from the PO box, saying I helped? When I look at Fans of Epbot, a community that's doing its best to lift each other up, and come together, cross divides, all grounded on a foundation of commonality I helped spark? When I get e-mails and fan art that show I do have an impact?
Or when a reader gets tongue-tied or cries, because of meeting me? Me, the girl who got fired that time. The girl who says the wrong things and who will forget your name. The girl who messes up, who's ashamed and uncertain and just, you know, trying.
Those things aren't a buzz. They're a reason to keep trying.
I'm a people-pleaser. Always have been, always will. But I hope, with your help, I'll aim to please the right people, and learn to care a little less about the ones who will never be impressed, no matter how I try.
As I lay staring at the wall this afternoon, I thought again about my favorite quote from Maya Angelou: "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget the way you made them feel." I closed my eyes, and thought about how *I* feel around each of my closest friends and family. The answers actually kind of surprised me.
I realized some of the people I most want to be around are the ones who make me feel less, inadequate, uncertain - even ashamed. I realized these were the ones I was forever trying - and failing - to impress.
But other family and friends, well, just the thought of their presence made my shoulders loosen, made me feel relaxed and confident and creative.
We rise or sink to the level of those we choose to surround ourselves with. I've always known that, but this was the gut-check I think I needed. Because I need to be around that second group of people more in my life. And I need to tell them that.
So my challenge to you - because heck yeah, let's make this a challenge - is this: Close your eyes and imagine each of the people in your life, one by one, sitting in front of you. Think about how their presence makes you feel. You might just be surprised. Then orient your life, best you can, to be more around the ones who make you the best you. More importantly, tell them they make you the best you. I can say from experience, there is no greater compliment.
And now I'm going back to bed. Hugs, high fives, and I'll see ya on the flip side.
Let me start by saying: this is not real pho. Real pho is a lengthy process that involves gently simmering beef bones, various cuts of meat, charred onions and other aromatics for hours to produce a clear and yet richly flavored and lightly spiced broth. If you’ve never had real pho, I highly recommend seeking out the nearest Vietnamese restaurant and diving into a bowl as soon as possible.
Dare I say it is more satisfying than chicken soup? Those spices are everything. Remember that the next time you get a cold.
Unfortunately, life is such that we don’t always (or, er, ever?) have six extra hours to spend simmering beef bones to make our own broth from scratch. So, we have to cheat a little bit.
Faux pho, if you will.
Say it: foe fuh.
Here we’ve used pre-made beef stock, which we then simmer with some of the same spices you find in traditional pho such as star anise, cinnamon, and cloves. A beautiful tender piece of beef, sliced every so thinly, is added at the very end and cooks in a matter of seconds. It’s all served over a bed of rice noodles and piled high with bean sprouts, Thai basil, onion and jalapeno (as you dare) and accompanied by a small dish of hoisin and sriracha for added flavor (I usually swirl my chopsticks in the sauces and then dive in for a perfect bite of noodle and beef and all the fixings).
© Love & Olive Oil
My relationship to marijuana has been a journey. There was a time, years ago, when I was “straight-edge,” but now I firmly consider myself a member of the #StonerFemme contingent. Weed helps me on a near-daily basis with my anxiety and depression, my chronic joint pain, and – yes! – my libido.
I get a lot of questions about this whenever I mention it on Twitter, largely from people who are confused because they haven’t experienced this effect from marijuana. I can’t really explain it; I’m sure it depends on your body chemistry, your method of consumption, and what type of weed you’ve got. As for me, I find that sativa-dominant hybrids work best if I’m trying to amp up my libido, but really, almost every strain I’ve tried has made me feel this way. (The first Leafly review for my favorite sexytimes strain just says “Yo I was vibrating and shit,” so apparently I’m not alone.)
Hopefully I don’t have to tell you that intoxicants can complicate consent. If you need a refresher on that, read the first four paragraphs of this article I wrote. But with that caveat, I want to tell you today about the seven (!) key ways that marijuana helps raise my libido and my enjoyment of sex and masturbation…
Arousal. Oftentimes, when I go several days without masturbating, it’s because it just feels like too much work. My sex drive is more responsive than spontaneous, so if I want to jerk off, I have to spend some time warming myself up and getting turned on: watching porn, reading erotica, and/or gently touching myself in places that aren’t my genitals until that area is ready to be touched. That process is lovely when I’m in the mood for it, but sometimes it just feels like an extra barrier to entry that isn’t worth the hassle. So I skip masturbation entirely.
Weed, amazingly, helps me circumvent the arousal process. If I smoke up, I’ll reliably get turned on within about 10 minutes, without having to actually do anything to make that happen. My genitals start to feel all warm and engorged like they do when I’ve been engaging in foreplay for several minutes – except I haven’t. It’s brilliant.
I remember one time, I smoked some weed at my then-boyfriend’s house just before leaving to head back home. On the walk home, I felt my own wetness start to drip down my leg. That’s a level of lubrication I usually only reach after, say, an hour of teasing and edging and fucking with someone I find colossally attractive. And weed made it happen without any effort or work at all. Strange and lovely!
Sensitivity. There is science to back this up: weed increases our capacity to feel physical sensations. Whether it’s a partner’s fingertips trailing along your spine, someone’s soft lips pressed against yours, or a vibrator nestled against your clit, sensory information tends to feel amplified when you’re high.
I wouldn’t say that weed makes my orgasms come more quickly or easily – I’m still a tough nut to crack, even when I’m stoned – but the lead-up to orgasm does feel better than it normally would. It’s as if I’ve never felt those exact sensations before, and my body and brain are experiencing them anew. It’s pretty magical.
Worth noting: this increased sensitivity isn’t always a good thing. When I had anal sex for the first time, my fuckpal – a seasoned stoner – advised me not to smoke beforehand, because anal penetration is already an intense sensation and weed could make it so I’d feel every bump and vein. I’m glad I listened to him. But for less overwhelming sex acts, that boost in receptiveness can be positively delicious.
Tactility. So, yes, weed makes me more physically sensitive, and it also makes me more excited about the whole notion of touching people. Or touching myself, as the case may be.
I once smoked weed with a beloved fuckbuddy while at a party, and when it hit me, I became obsessed with his arm hair. We were standing close together and I kept brushing my arm against his, sloooowly, to feel his comforting hairiness slide against my porcelain smoothness. It felt shockingly intimate and sexy, despite the fact that we were fully dressed and not even looking at each other – he was absorbed in conversation with someone else and I was pretending to listen to that conversation, too. But my attention was reduced to just those few inches of skin on skin, and how fucking delightful he felt against me.
This obsession with tactile information also means that oral sex on weed is a damn good time. You know what they say about “the munchies”…! When I’m high, I’m equally thrilled if there’s a Reese’s cup in my mouth or a dick in there, and for roughly equivalent reasons.
Visualizations. I wrote about this a bit when I had my first stoned orgasm. Weed isn’t a full-on psychedelic, in the sense that you’re probably not going to have a spiritual breakthrough or an LSD-esque “trip” on it, but it can create some visual and sensory hallucinations sometimes.
For example: once, Bex was sexting with their long-distance Sir while high, and when the topic of a blowjob was broached, Bex says they could actually feel their Sir’s cock in their mouth. I’ve had similar experiences when I’ve combined weed with fantasies, sexting, or porn: I become very suggestible, such that the mention of, say, a fist in my vagina can create the sensory illusion that there actually is a fist fucking me. When I try to sexually fantasize while sober, my mind often wanders and I can’t focus enough to get a vivid fantasy going; weed makes that process a lot easier and more fun.
Disinhibition. Much like alcohol, marijuana can loosen your inhibitions so you don’t feel as self-conscious. For an anxious person like me, this is a godsend. Anxiety triggers my sexual brakes, making it hard for me to get turned on and relax into the moment. Weed lifts the oppressive weight of anxiety off my shoulders, so I can be in the moment and quit worrying about shit that doesn’t matter.
While this effect is, like I said, similar to the disinhibition alcohol can facilitate, weed is physiologically a far better pre-sex choice than alcohol. Due to how booze affects the blood vessels, being drunk stunts our sexual sensitivity, our capacity for orgasm, and our ability to maintain an erection (penile or clitoral). They don’t call it “whiskey dick” for nothin’!
Joy. Gala Darling has written that regular exercise creates “a constant undercurrent of joy” in her life; I feel similarly about marijuana. It melts my stress and transports me to a place of childlike delight, where I can see the present moment for what it is: an opportunity for happiness, growth, and play.
There is certainly a time and a place for sex that is emotionally intense, focused, and serious. But that type of sex is a rare craving for me; what I want, far more often, is the goofy, giggly, relaxed kind of sex. I firmly believe that sex is grown-up playtime. I’m happiest in my sex life when I remember that and take it to heart. Weed makes that even easier to do.
When I’m depressed, or recovering from some kind of heartbreak, I often find it difficult to get turned on, because my sexual thoughts and fantasies just make me sad instead. Weed helps with that: it puts me into a happy-go-lucky brainspace where even people who’ve hurt my feelings can’t really bother me. So I can fantasize about them to my heart’s content.
Ecstatic pain. This one is weird, and I don’t have a scientific explanation for it, just firsthand experience to draw from: marijuana sometimes makes me experience pain as pleasure.
I first noticed this years ago when, stoned at a party, a friend and I began doing sun salutations. I noticed immediately that the stretching of my muscles – usually an intense, slightly uncomfortable feeling for me – felt almost orgasmic. I moaned aloud as I moved through the poses, pushing my body farther than I normally would, because the more I pushed, the better it felt.
It took me a few years to figure out how best to use this effect to my advantage: kink! I looove getting spanked, slapped, bitten, and scratched when I’m stoned. It all feels so fucking good. When I’m in that headspace and someone really skilled is spanking me just right, sometimes it even seems like I could get off from that alone. That hasn’t happened yet, but I’m still holdin’ out hope!
How do you find marijuana interacts with your libido, sensitivity, and enjoyment of sex? Got any tips, tricks, or favorite strains to share?
In society, how you look is seen as very important — it can make or break you on getting a job, and it's how the average person creates their first impression of you. Which means that often tattooed individuals are harshly judged. Those that are tattooed parents especially get a mix of reactions…Some are positive, but those reactions that are negative can be extreme. Stereotypically, people that are tattooed can be seen as people that may take part in drugs, gangs, or generally not living a culturally acceptable "positive" lifestyle. Sure, in recent years, tattoos have become more common, but they can still carry a negative connotation. I also have several tattoos, and was once asked if I did drugs. When I asked why this person asked me that, they said "because you have tattoos."
In my years as a photographer, I have seen some amazing artwork adorned on amazing people… and the majority of them parents. They have shown love, live a positive lifestyle, and are some of the most interesting people I have ever met. This got me thinking… "I want to show the world this love!"
The people in my "Tattooed Parents in Everyday Society" collection are parents who have been judged by those that do not know them. Many of these parents own small businesses, are tattoo artists themselves, are a part of a military family, and raise amazing kiddos. They just also have all this amazing art on their bodies…
In a world where constant judging of other people goes on, those with body art and kiddos should not be put into a category of negativity. Our artwork should be admired and us as parents should be supported because in the end we are all the same!
- Jo Ann Morgan Anderson: My husband and I are inked and our kids love the temporary ones. The first ones were bought by… [Link]
- Danielle: Thank you for sharing this, I appreciate you spreading the idea that parents with tattoos can be loving. It's so… [Link]
- normajean: Beautiful pictures, beautiful families! I love this. And i love, Ariel, that you are running this series of posts about… [Link]
This excellent guide is full of gentle, direct scripts pulled from real situations.
#917: “How to set boundaries with people who think boundaries and hurt are manipulative? AKA Help implementing boundary advice?”
Hello, Cap and friends! I have a couple of questions about boundary-setting with people who don’t believe in boundaries.
The Awkward team’s advice and scripts on setting boundaries have been so wonderfully helpful in my life, but what (if anything) can you say to people who believe that setting boundaries in a family is controlling?
For an example, there are wonderful scripts you linked from the SPLC center, on how to set boundaries with family members being bigoted:
>”Your ‘jokes’ are putting unnecessary distance between us; I worry they’ll end up doing irreparable harm. I want to make sure those ‘jokes’ don’t damage our relationship.” “You know that respect and tolerance are important values in my life, and, while I understand that you have a right to say what you want, I’m asking you to show a little more respect for me by not telling these ‘jokes’ when I’m around.” “I don’t want this rift to get worse, and I want us to have a good relationship. What should we do?””
In my family (parents + siblings, I’m 30), the responses are simply, “There wouldn’t be a problem if you just laughed” and “You’re trying to control what I do by saying that. It’s manipulative to say that I’m disrespecting you if I keep saying [awful insults about minority groups, or about me personally].” I mean, in a way they are kind of right? I am literally attempting to control discourse to a degree, but somehow that feels like they are missing the forest for the trees in a way I can’t articulate. Especially since they get offended if you don’t laugh at their ‘jokes!’
Is there any way to rationally respond to people that think that attempting to set boundaries (or tears at being insulted) is “childish and manipulative”? They see that as a truly deeply harmful thing, and it would be really wonderful if it was possible to get them to understand the idea of **mutual** respect.
Thank you so very much for ANY ideas.
– A Weary Woman
Dear Weary Woman,
Here are your 4 new best friends:
- CHILLY AWKWARD SILENCE
Them: [Bigoted remark]
You: Wow. [+ maybe one of the SPLC scripts to unpack it]
Them: “It’s manipulative if you say my bigoted remarks are not okay!”
You: “Okay.” + CHILLY AWKWARD SILENCE
Them: “There would be no problem if you just laughed.”
You: “No.” + CHILLY AWKWARD SILENCE
Them: “Your problem is that you have no sense of humor.”
You: “Okay.” + CHILLY AWKWARD SILENCE
Be a broken record. Let them be offended. Let them think you’re being manipulative. Don’t engage in detail or give them reasons. If they won’t stop or escalate, say “Welp, good to see you, time to go!” & get out of there. You don’t owe them continued access to your attention. Leave the conversation and try again another day.
Whatever you do, don’t smooth it over. Let it get super awkward. Be the party pooper at the bigot party. Get a reputation for being uptight and humorless and no fun.
People have a right to their opinions, speech, and votes. You have a right to think those opinions are crap and to think less of people when they spout them. Bigots think that “everyone” thinks as they do and that their views are “simple common sense.” What bigots are looking for when they say bigoted stuff to people who (as far as they know) share their race/class/orientation/disability status/etc. is solidarity and reassurance. Deny them this reassurance and solidarity. Deny them evidence that “everyone” thinks that way. That is your power here, and it’s a pretty big one, given the way your family throws a tantrum whenever you try to use it. You’re already doing the right stuff, now it’s just about holding the line and letting be as awkward as they are making it.
If they care about your good opinion, they’ll stop saying that stuff around you. If they don’t, they won’t, and as a result, you’ll drift away from them and spend less time with them. If that happens, it’s a choice they are making. I guarantee that your folks can and do control themselves in countless other social situations, they just thought they could take their metaphorical hoods off around you and relax. Teach them that they can’t relax and that they need to behave themselves all the time.
Maybe because you spoke up a moment of self-awareness will come to them, and they will have a change of heart, but I think we should all keep our expectations about that very, very low right now and not get too invested in redemption narratives. Whenever I set a boundary here in moderation & dealing with (thankfully rare) trolling, I get pushback along the lines of “Well, with that attitude how do you expect to convert someone like me to your way of thinking?” The answer to that is: I don’t know, I’m not necessarily doing to convince you. I’m doing it for myself and for the other people who hang out here, so that we can feel safe and have the discussions we need to have. When you push back against someone’s bigoted remarks, this Thanksgiving (for one looming example) or at any other time, you’re not necessarily doing it to change that person’s heart or mind right in that minute. You’re doing it for yourself, so you can live with yourself and know that you did your best. And you’re doing it for the other people in your family, especially kids who are watching, to say, hey, I am a safe, kind person who doesn’t put up with this crap and you can be one, too.
True story: In undergrad, a professor invited Antonin Scalia (that Scalia) to our class to talk about hate crimes legislation and civil rights legislation in general. He made essentially the argument that many bigots make about this stuff – “Well, you can’t legislate people’s hearts, so why bother?” This was in 1993/1994 and I don’t have my notes anymore, so it’s not quite a direct quote that you can attribute, but he definitely said something along the lines of “If someone murders you because you’re gay or black, why can’t we just punish it like murder? Murder is already wrong enough, why do we have to saddle it with this extra burden of figuring out intent?”
What he was ignoring is the way that oppression is about systems, not personal intent. Hate crimes are terrorism, meant to send a message to people in the targeted group that the same thing will happen to them. It’s not just violence against one person, it’s a threat and should be treated as one. While it would be nice if every hate group had a change of heart, what we can control is making it harder for them to do violence to people.
You can’t legislate people’s hearts, but you can hack away the culture that normalizes their behavior one plate of mashed potatoes and awkward conversation at a time. The world needs you to be awkward and make it weird.