Tuesday, February 27, 2007

HTT, you're driving me crazy!

Dear HTT,

Ever since I found out you named your column "Here’s the thing…" I’ve noticed that I use that phrase all the time! I can’t figure out whether I’ve always said it and just never paid attention, or if I’ve just picked it up. In either case, it's starting to make me a little crazy. I’m a teacher, so I do a fair amount of public speaking, and I’m getting self-conscious about how often I start an explanation with "well, here’s the thing." How can I either stop using the phrase or stop obsessing over it?

HTT squared

Dear HTT squared,

I should recuse myself from answering this question, because I’m not an impartial observer. But you wrote to me, so I’ll try to tackle it.

Before I address your mental health, though, I do want to say this: does your quandary not prove the genius of the phrase as a title for my column? (I didn’t come up with it, so I’m not being completely immodest.) It’s working on a subliminal level, whether you’re using the phrase more than ever or merely noticing something you’ve said all along.

And you want my advice on how to stop saying it? Oy, what a conflict of interest! Does McDonald's want you to forget "two all beef patties special sauce lettuce cheese pickles onions on a sesame seed bun"? I think not. I mean, I’m pretty certain Mickey D's hasn’t used that campaign in years, and the phrase still rolls off my tongue as easily as my social security number.

I’m sorry you feel self-conscious about how often you say "here’s the thing." Don’t you think the first few people to say "iPod" felt a little silly? It’s goofy-sounding when you get right down to it. But now it’s used so frequently, that it’s practically generic, like Band-Aid. (I hope no one from Apple is reading this.) Point being, maybe someday it will be cool to say "here’s the thing"! People will give a knowing wink when they say it; there’ll be T-shirts and bumper stickers; I’ll have television ads with a hip music soundtrack.

O.k., maybe not. In fact, I suspect I have a readership of three or four, so it’s unlikely that anyone you lecture to is going to give a knowing wink when you say "here’s the thing." You’re probably the only one who notices that you say it frequently. If you can remember that, will you feel less awkward about it? I hope so, because while I’d like the phrase to be memorable, I don’t want it to drive you to the brink.

Best wishes,

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

HTT, my friend is scaring off my dates!

Dear HTT,

I have a friend (who’s newly married) who seems to get in the way of my dating prospects. For example, a co-worker of hers twice told her that he thought I was cute and she told him (and told me later) that I was too old for him.

More recently, I went out with a group of friends including a guy friend of hers that had previously expressed interest in me. He and I had a great time--dancing and laughing and kissing until the wee hours of the morning. A few days later, my friend calls me and tells me that she went to visit this guy at work and they talked about the weekend. She relayed the information that this guy likes me but he doesn't want a serious relationship right now. I never got the impression that these two were close friends, so I'm surprised at the level of detail she went into. She went on to further discourage me by saying he has many other women interested in him and that I "shouldn't chase men."

I am so angry that she had this conversation with him (not to mention the hurtful comments she made to me). So my question is, do I confront her about getting in the middle? Or do nothing and just beware, since she obviously has personal issues that I can't control? I'm afraid that if there is any possibility that this guy and I might date--now or in the future--she will kill it. (Granted, if this guy decided to communicate through her rather than with me directly, that would be another issue. But that remains to be seen.)

Also, there is a chance I'm going to run into this guy this weekend (without her around). Is there a subtle way I can let him know that I don't want to communicate with him through our mutual friend, but would like to stay in touch?

Your letter got me riled up. Where does this woman get off telling someone you’re too old? And, what in the world---you shouldn’t “chase men”? What is this, Desperate Housewives? “Man chaser” is to “someone who dates” as “unpatriotic” is to “someone who disagrees with the war.”

Working up a good head of steam wasn’t helping me get any clarity on your problem, though, so I made all kinds of flow charts and decision trees in an attempt to sort this out. They were messy and ultimately not very useful. But amid the chicken scratch, one question kept popping up: How good a friend is this?

I was tempted to answer the question myself with a snippy “not very.” But it’s naive to pretend that even good friends can’t be clueless or hurtful once in a while. And if this woman isn’t a best buddy, she might still be someone with whom you’d like to remain friends on some level.

If so, I think you should confront her. Well “confront” may be too confrontational. Ha. Talk to her. I think the whole guy/dating aspect carries too much charge, so rather than accusing her of manipulating your love life, consider emphasizing how her comments have hurt your feelings. This brings the conversation out of the “man chasing” realm, which she obviously has some sort of issue with, and makes it more personal. Can you do that? Make it less about the guys and more about the friendship?

On the other hand, if you’re so fed up with her that future friendship is out of the cards, if you suspect she’s more malicious than clueless, I’d just let it drop. And try to keep your dating life as separate from her as possible. (Probably not a bad thing to do in either scenario.)

Along those lines, if you run into the guy this weekend, do you really have to be all that subtle about your interest? Now, mind you, I’m not often one to go out on a limb in this kind of situation, unfortunately. But in your case, the risk seems low. You’ve already got pretty strong evidence that he likes you, even if it’s not in a long-term-relationship kind of way at this point. Can you say, “Hey, I’d like to keep in touch. Here’s my email/phone number so you don’t have to go though our mutual friend anymore”?

Let me know how it turns out.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Blogs without pictures are a little dull, aren't they? I'm not quite sure what to do about that on posts when I'm answering someone's question. Let's just say a guy writes to find out whether there's anything wrong with his secret cross-dressing experiences. He might not appreciate my attempt at humor if I were to post a picture of Tootsie, for instance. (Not that I've had any such letter. Yet. I'm just biding my time. When I volunteered on the crisis hotline, I got tons of calls from cross dressers. These callers didn't actually tend to be in crisis; many just wanted to brag about passing their boss in Crabtree Valley Mall and not being recognized.)

At any rate, to liven up the visuals, I'll tell a little about myself, with photos.

Which might be a challenge because usually, I'm a lousy photographer:

Although I get a lucky break once in a while:

Let's see....well, my distaste for birds borders on phobic. They're o.k. if they don't get in my personal space. I don't mind looking at them through binoculars, for example. But god help the guy sitting next to me on the beach when he starts tossing bread crusts to the seagulls. Even still, I couldn't help but feel a little sorry for these chickens:

I very much like cats of all sorts. I grew up a cat person. I actually disdained dogs. But that all changed when I got Samson. Once, I told a friend that he was the cutest dog in the whole world. And I meant it! It is a testament to our friendship that I was not offended when she stated, "You know, Suz, he's really not."

I live in an old house, with which I have a love/hate relationship. To be fair, love usually triumphs over panic attacks or bitterness about spending my vacation savings on sexy fix-ups like foundation repair. Reading my newspaper on the front porch on a mild day makes up for a lot.

I do wish I were a little more handy. In the next picture, if you look closely, you will see two screws protruding from the back of my bathroom door. I decided to install a few hooks--you know, for towels and robes--and I failed to note that the screws were much longer than the door was thick. Look again, and you will see that I "solved" the problem by simply draping a wall hanging on the door to cover up the screws. If you're over six feet tall, you might take care never to lean against my bathroom door unless you're trying to relieve building pressure in your skull for some reason.

Monday, February 19, 2007

I'm in no mood to celebrate

Dear HTT,

I recently (well, a year ago) went through the breakup of a very long-term relationship. I have had wonderful support of friends, and am getting on with most aspects of life pretty well. I've gotten used to going to sleep and waking up alone. I've started enjoying the fact that any mess in my house is mine alone. The cooking for one -- not so fun yet. But, what I'm saying is that all-in-all, I'm making progress and adjusting to this new life.

My difficulty lies in seeing other couples doing their "we're happy couples having a happy life" things: weddings, bridal showers, engagement parties, baby showers, children's parties, etc. I find every excuse in the book to stay home from these happy events. I don't even deliver gifts late with my apologies. I guess I kind of pretend they never happened. I don't even RSVP, come to think of it -- that's the denial I'm in!

So, a few questions come to mind. Am I being a self-centered terrible friend? I know I should at least RSVP, but is it horrible of me to just not want to go? How long will I feel like I can't handle "in my face" happiness? Any suggestions for helping to get over this hurdle?

Please help,
Single and (Almost) Loving It

Dear (Almost) Loving It,

Not to be flippant, but there’s a good reason the saying goes “misery loves company” and not “misery loves hanging around with happy people.” As socially unacceptable as it might be to admit, who among us hasn’t pasted on a smile upon hearing someone’s good news while we, ourselves, are suffering about something? This isn’t a character flaw, it’s human nature. Legitimate happiness for our friends and melancholy over our own situation aren’t mutually exclusive, just hard to express in a way that doesn’t make us feel like a killjoy.

So, no, wanting to steer clear of celebratory events doesn’t make you a horrible person. I’m not sure how long it'll take before the arrival of thick ivory envelopes with calligraphy and LOVE stamps will fail to make you a little sad. It’ll take as long as it takes, and you should try not to chastise yourself.

You might also try prioritizing and attend the events that you’d later regret missing, even if going takes something out of you now. Your best friend is having a baby? Go to the shower and pretend to be happy about it if need be. Your second cousin twice removed announced his engagement? Maybe you can skip that one.

That being said, I do want to discuss the RSVP issue. Do you think your failure to RSVP results from turmoil about whether you “should” attend the event? Or from your guilt over simply deciding not to go? Do you think if you forgave yourself for wanting to stay home that it would be easy enough to reply with regrets? What if you actually had other plans on the day of the event and had a “legitimate” reason for not attending…would you RSVP promptly? If so, try to accept that your reasons are legitimate, and let the party planner know that you won’t be there.

Finally, be kind to yourself and be proud of the progress you’ve made this year.

Best wishes,

Peanut butter update

O.K., seriously, I need to find readers who need advice. Otherwise this peanut butter thread could go on and on.

I returned all three jars of salmonella peanut butter to Kroger, including the jar that was almost empty. That's right, I have no shame. Then I moped my way over to the condiment aisle, dejected over the near certainty that I would now have to buy peanut butter that actually tasted like peanuts. Imagine my joy over the discovery that Jiff makes a variety called "Peanut Butter and Honey." Life *is* good.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Peanut Butter

I have THREE jars of salmonella peanut butter, one of which I'm about 80 percent of the way through. Of course, the power of suggestion is so strong, that I immediately felt ill upon making this discovery. This is my punishment for not eating the healthy, organic, stuff with nothing but peanuts. But I hate stirring that crazy organic peanut butter! The oil on the top just spills over the side of the jar, making a giant mess. To say nothing of the fact that "real" peanut butter doesn't have that sweet, honey-roasted taste of Honey-Roasted Creamy Peter Pan brand. Well, or the salmonella, evidently.

Working w/my colleague makes me go postal

Dear Here's the Thing,

I'm an engineer. I work in a world where you might think that clear communications between people is essential. But it is a daily struggle to work with a large number of people with varying levels of language and logic) skills.

There is this one co-worker that I have been called upon to work closely with. His emails are barely readible and I often find that speaking to him is like pulling teeth (and leaves me with no paper trail to follow if I need to remember details). I think he might be dyslexic. When we work on projects where we share duties, we end up stepping all over each other because we can't seem to get in sync. I've known him a long time and he is a very nice guy. But working with him makes me feel postal. Sometimes I cross the line and correct his emails to others, making him and me) look a bit of a fool.

I'm a big believer in being honest with people, but I don't think having a heart-to-heart with this guy is going to cure his dyslexia. And I don't think asking my boss not to pair me with him is going to make me look good.

I really just never want to work with him again! What to do?

Thanks for your help,
Geek with a problem

Dear Geek,

This is a pretty sticky situation. But I’m sure you already know that, or else you’d have solved the problem yourself by now!

Not knowing what your boss is like, I can’t guess how he or she would react if you asked not to work with this problem communicator any more. But you seem to think that doing so would reflect poorly on you and, perhaps, hurt your coworker’s feelings. And it sounds like you feel a little mean-spirited (or anal retentive?) for correcting his emails.

You state that you are a firm believer in being honest with people. So my guess is that the honest route has been successful for you in the past. And, if that’s true, than you’re probably pretty good at it. I think you should play to your own strengths.

No, honesty isn’t going to cure dyslexia. It’s not going to improve his writing. (Trust me, on this I have plenty of experience.) However, do you think it’s possible that in an honest heart-to-heart talk you could try to come up with a better system of communication?

For example, can you tell him his writing is difficult to understand and that it would be much easier if the two of you could speak in person? But you say talking to him is like pulling teeth. Why? Is it just that he’s unavailable or is it that he’s also difficult to understand in person? If it’s the former, maybe he’ll make himself more available after you’ve told him that you really want to conduct business face to face. If it’s the latter, well, painful as it may be, you stand a better chance of getting clarification when you’re in a room talking to someone than you do over email. You might just have to keep dogging him with questions like: “What do you mean? Can you give some examples? I’m hearing you say X, Y, and Z…is that right?” Take notes and follow up these conversations with summary emails so that you have your paper trail.

Also, as much as I hate tables and matrices and spreadsheets--which are all the rage among organized, successful, highly-functioning people--I suppose they have some utility. If you feel constantly out of sync with this guy, would it help to have some formal method of assigning duties and tracking milestones and deadlines?

When he sends emails (the ones you’re always tempted to correct), are they supposed to be speaking for the whole project team? In other words, would it be possible for you to write these emails instead? Again, I’m not sure of the context, but if you’re prone to editing his emails it might just be easier to write them yourself.

Bottom line, I think you should talk to him. I trust you can be honest and kind at the same time. At the very least, you might feel better for having stated your case and, hence, be able to refrain from going postal. And if he’s the nice guy you say he is, he should try to work with you on this.

Good luck!

toughening up and my second question

Well, I've polled several people whose opinions I respect and have received some thoughtful and supportive comments. As it turns out, all polled were anti-censorship and pro-honesty. One friend said, "How can I trust your advice if I think you're watering it down for the masses?" (I think "masses" might be exaggerating my readership, but point taken.) Another said that there will *always* be people who disagree, which means, of course, that I can't unpost every post that doesn't spark unanimous approval.

So, I'm going to apologize in advance to anyone I might upset in the course of writing this column. Most people who know me are already aware that I'm opinionated, so maybe, if you've put up with me for any length of time, y'all are more forgiving and less sensitive than I'm giving you credit for!

Dear Here's the thing...,
A good friend of mine recently got engaged. She is considering having the wedding over a holiday weekend (e.g., Labor Day or Columbus Day) because many people will have a three-day weekend, therefore making it easier for out-of-town guests to travel. She is also considering having the wedding on a non-holiday weekend. She feels very strongly that she's being considerate to her guests by having the wedding on a holiday weekend. I, on the other hand, think it's a bigger imposition to choose a holiday weekend because that it a time for personal travel/ relaxation -- not necessarily wedding hoop-la.
So, should I suggest that she choose the non-holiday weekend... or should I just butt out?

"anti-Miss Manners"
Durham, NC

Dear Anti,

I have never been married or even participated in the planning of a wedding, so to do your question justice I conducted a little research. It turns out that this holiday weekend question sparks quite the controversy in the circles of brides-to-be and their friends and family.

Not surprisingly, bride-related sites (e.g., www.brides.com) are fairly enthusiastic about holiday weekend weddings. "Extend the fun!" "Plan an action-packed lineup!" Bride-related sites are enthusiastic about everything. They use lots of exclamation points.

On the other hand, some people quoted in a NYT article (http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=950CE0DA1731F936A15756C0A9659C8B63) were downright cranky about the idea of giving up a precious holiday weekend to watch someone tie the knot.

I tend to fall in the latter camp. It's the rare wedding that lives up to its potential, at least for the guests, anyway. Oh sure, you're happy for the couple and all, but let's face it, these days the two have likely been paired up for a pretty long time. So it's not like the idea of them being united is exactly novel. But this argument isn't going to have much traction with the bride and groom. So if you're going to suggest an alternate weekend, you probably shouldn't use the "some weddings can be kind of boring and you've been shacked up for a year already" excuse.

But the question remains: should you, or should you not butt in? The answer hinges on whether your friend was actually asking for your opinion or merely musing aloud. If you think she is polling people to see what they'd prefer, by all means, advocate for a non-holiday weekend. Try to think of some reasons that don't include the word "imposition" in them...couples get testy over that sort of reference to their big day.

If your friend seemed firm on the holiday weekend idea, you're probably just going to have to suck it up and prepare for an "action-packed lineup" over Labor Day.

Good luck!


Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Well, I'm having my first advice columnist pangs of regret and I've only just answered my second question. I posted it, and then deleted it when I started considering how many friends might have been miffed by my response. I need to think about that, and about how much I should self censor. In the meantime, this is the Bono-like disguise I'll have to wear when I'm skulking around town hiding from (1) people who hate neologisms, (2) fans of Cuba Gooding, Jr., or (3) anyone who happened to read the last post before I deleted it!

So, this is where I do my blogging. "Do my blogging"....as if I'd been at this for years, on the forefront of the blogging revolution. This is my third posting! Anyway, here's my desk, advice central. Maybe it's strange to post this picture, but I once found it hard to click away from a web site I'd happened upon that was nothing but pictures of people's desks. Am I the only one who can get wrapped up in voyeuristic curiosity about someone's office supplies? Speaking of voyeurism, I'm all for reading other people's personal blogs, but I'm oddly reluctant to spread the word about mine. Which defeats the purpose, I realize. But for all of my apparent extroversion--and, honestly, that's a ruse--this public diary thing is a bit of a stretch. So, I need to scare up some advice-seekers and get down to business.

Monday, February 12, 2007

My first question (and answer)

My very first question as a bona fide advice columnist! (Does having this blog qualify me as "bona fide"?) This came to me from the same person who named this column. (Thank you!) Now, this is a fun question. No one's life hangs in the balance. It's a good place to start. I wouldn't want a life-in-the-balance question right out of the gate.

Although--please excuse the quick side bar--I used to volunteer on a crisis hotline. After 40 hours of training, I'm sitting there with sweaty palms, staring at the phone and waiting for my first call. Ten minutes into my shift, the phone rang. My first live call...my FIRST call...was from a guy who was threatening to commit suicide. Then and there. In the three years that followed, I never got another suicide emergency call. What are the chances? (Oh, things turned out fine, fortunately. But that's another story.)

Point being, a light, witty question is a great way to start.

Dear Here's the Thing ...,

You know how an artifical limb is called a "prosthesis," right? Well,
have you ever seen the movie Radio with Cuba Gooding, Jr.? He wears that

awful set of fake teeth in that movie. That got me thinking -- would a
set of artificial teeth, by this logic, then be called a "prosteethis?"

Your first reader,
Just Curious, Brier Creek, NC

Dear Just Curious,

On principle, I avoid movies featuring Cuba Gooding, Jr. But I suppose taste in movies is not the issue here.

I’m all for the use of clever neologisms. After all, where would we be without “blog” and “truthiness”? So, go ahead and use "prosteethis” with abandon, but be forewarned: until it catches on, most people will just think you don’t know how to spell.

Thanks for being my first reader.

Best wishes,

If you want my advice

Here's the thing....I edit and write for a living. I used to love writing, but my enthusiasm for it has been all but crushed by the rigors of writing for a salary. I don't get to choose my topics; I don't have the final say on my copy; and succinct, funny, heartfelt prose doesn't get much respect in the workplace.

I have neither the fortitude to write a novel, nor the talent for poetry. Instead, I've decided to do an advice column. That's manageable, don't you think? About 250 words max, a new topic every time and, I hope, a wide variety of them at that. And not to be immodest, but I think I'm pretty good in the listening and advice-giving departments. I tend to be nonjudgmental, I'm not easily shocked, and I'm empathic, open-minded, moderately analytical, and deeply practical but given to occasional flights of fancy.

Think there's already a wealth of advice columnists? I don't know...Dear Abby? Too old-fashioned for me. Are you going to write Abby about a topic that would make you blush if you mentioned it in the presence of your grandmother? What about Dan Savage? He's great, but he seems to *only* do sex questions. Ask Carolyn? Too snarky, too much of a scold. My inspiration is Cary Tennis, the advice columnist on Salon.com. He's literate and gentle and funny. He can meander like nobody's business (in the best way) but, by god, he gets right to the point when he has to. He takes peoples' problems seriously. He took my problem seriously...he answered my letter like he was talking to me, not at me.

So, please, send me your questions. Life, love, the pursuit of happiness; it's all fair game.