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 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 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.