Wednesday, January 13, 2010
So, I hope you'll join me over at http://littlehelpplease.wordpress.com/ for another year of advice columns!
Thursday, December 24, 2009
- Abby revisited the issue of reading or not reading collections of private letters between deceased relatives (I responded to this one after the original October column)
- Kathy and Marcy of Annie's Mailbox counseled a high school student who's being buillied about her Jolie-like "duck lips"
- Dan Savage, whom I read weekly, but rarely write about here (partly because most of his answers are a bit out of my range of expertise, and partly because when I started this blog I checked the "no adult content" box, and generally try to avoid profanity, etc.) gives a slight nod to "last minute Christmas gifts," but mostly covers the standard Savage Love grab bag of spanking, smelliness, and electro-stimulation.
- Miss Manners hits on foreclosure and telecommunications
- And Carolyn wrote about HPV, of all things!
- Amy hits the spot, featuring a woman (I'm guessing) who is obsessed with the fact that her relative cannot send Christmas gifts on time. The gifts always arrive eventually, but she'd apparently do away with gifts altogether rather than have them show up late. How old is she, 9? Unless there are kids thinking Santa's been run over (by a reindeer?) because the presents aren't there, what's the big friggin' deal? Amy conveys basically the same sentiment, though not in so many words.
- Prudence devotes all four of her weekly featured letters (plus the video!) to Christmas conundrums (conundra? help me, Latin speakers!). Get ready for simmering sibling entitlement, multicultural mishaps, mysterious gifts from married men, and my two favorites: absurdly political Christmas cards and prank gift wrapping that would give Wile E. Coyote a run for his money.
- Carolyn's last pre-holiday live chat also had a few doozies: gourmet cooks griping about lame holiday food, obnoxious custody arrangements, and this, my favorite one (scroll all the way down to the bottom):
Washington, DC: Carolyn
Any tips for surviving driving my sister from one parent's house to the other this weekend? It's a three hour trip and she commandeers my radio, criticizes my driving, and generally drives me nuts every time we're in the car. Plus, she'll be ready late and want to stop at every Starbucks we pass, which will make her have to pee. I'm anticipating the three hour drive will take roughly 4.5 with her in the car. How do I do it so we arrive at parent no. 2's house with me still in the holiday spirit?
Carolyn says: Read this, see how funny this is, and treat yourself to a foofy hot somethingorother on one if not all of the stops.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Dear Amy: I found out that my husband's side of the family is yet again having a "gift exchange" in which we give a gift to the person whose name we've picked out of a hat.
There is one rule — no gift cards. I am not fond of this idea, but in past years I've exchanged a gift despite my objections, and kept quiet.
All relatives are adults, and I can't see the purpose of giving a gift to a person whom I do not really even know and see only once a year.
I would much rather pool our money or donate it to someone in need. I've made this suggestion, but no one wants to mess with their tradition. I understand that the grandparents get joy out of seeing all of us open our gifts and then pass them around, but we are adults. Isn't this a bit childish, or am I just being selfish? How can I get out of this silly tradition?— Bothered
Dear Bothered:Not only do I approve of your in-law family's gift exchange tradition (especially the "no gift cards" rule), I am tempted to try to marry into the family myself in order to participate in it.
Drawing names is a great way to cut down on the number of gifts exchanged; it also gives you an opportunity to get to know the person whose name you've drawn.
When you draw "Aunt Myrtle's" name before Christmas, you have an incentive to do a little research with other family members to try to figure out what she would like to receive. When Aunt Myrtle opens her gift in front of others and expresses her delight at your thoughtfulness, this forms a connection between the two of you that will last beyond Christmas Day.
Bothered's wish to donate the money to an organization or people in need is certainly in the right place. It's a worthwhile thought at a Christmas (and any time of course) where every person is buying for every person, the floor is covered wrapping paper, the bellies bloated with pie, and the excess of it all starts to get a little nauseating. But I agree with Amy that drawing names so that each person buys only for one other person is a great way to drastically decrease the madness, while keeping the "silly tradition" (that goes WAY beyond Bothered's husband's family) of placing gifts under the tree and opening them together. Indeed, often the idea of such a name draw is to ease the financial strain on each family member--leaving enough in their pockets to make a charitable contribution that season, if they choose to.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
DEAR ABBY: Please settle a disagreement I'm having with my boyfriend. In the song "Jingle Bells," he insists the horse's name is "Bob Tail." However, I'm pretty sure it's a description of the horse, as their tails used to be "bobbed," or cut short.
DEAR JINGLE BELLE: Never wrong? Well, there's always a first time. You happen to be 100 percent right. The lyric in the carol isn't "Bob Tail," it's "bobtail." The definition of the word is in Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. (What may need some "bobbing" may be your boyfriend's ego, and I hope you had some money "riding" on this.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Today, Dear Abby addresses a woman whose husband, after 50 years of marriage, is suddenly extremely interested in her premarital sexual history. Abby had this to say:
DEAR CAUGHT: I'd be fascinated to know why, after more than 50 years, your husband is suddenly pumping you for the information. Could he find the idea of you and another man titillating? To me, "family history" begins when a couple forms a family, not before.
If discussing the subject of your premarital sexual experiences makes you uncomfortable, then don't take the bait because if you do, I have a hunch your husband will never stop fishing.
I was startled that she didn't suggest that the husband may need a mental and physical examination, because any sudden, unprecedented change in behavior--especially in later years, and especially with regard to sex, it seems--can indicate early stages of dementia or other problems.
Why did I expect her to include this? Not because I know anything about geriatrics or about mental degeneration, but because I've read it in dozens of other advice columns--including Abby's. So on the one hand, it seemed like a glaring omission....on the other, how much of a column should be made up of pat disclaimers like "see a doctor" and "seek counseling"?
Amy Richards, "the other" Ask Amy, handles this by posting commonly asked questions and encouraging readers to start there--but I don't like this way of discouraging folks from writing in because someone else, for example, already has a friend with bulimia.
Maybe a way to handle it would be to have links to resources or tips for gathering more information on common problems. Or a flow chart! This way, the columnist could respond to individual letters in specific ways that seem appropriate, but the writer would still wind up at: "insist on a thorough mental and physical examination for any loved one who suddenly exhibits drastic behavioral changes."
What would you do, if you were asked the same question, in different contexts, hundreds of times each week? In the limited space of a newspaper column, how would you include all the necessary "disclaimers" and tips, while still saying something unique that addresses the specifics of the situation and, let's face it, keeps the readers from getting bored?
Amy printed the letter of an outraged reader, who accused her of not caring what happened to the victim, suggesting that the victim may have been drugged. Amy then responded this way:
Dear Disgusted: To recap, "Victim" asked a very serious question in a very thoughtful way. She said she had gotten drunk at a frat party and went to a bedroom with a guy.
After saying in advance that she didn't want to have sex, she did have sex.
The letter writer didn't lose consciousness and she didn't indicate she thought she had been drugged. She was intoxicated.
She was wondering if what happened to her qualified as rape and she was wondering what she should do next.
In my answer, I told her that "no means no" -- before or during sex, sober or drunk (I assume the guy had also been drinking).
I told her that she had been raped, and I included information from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (rainn.org) to further educate her about this.
I told her to go to her student health center and seek medical and emotional support and counseling and to get advice from professionals at school.
I told her that the perpetrator should be confronted by authorities at school because he might have done this before and might do it again unless he is stopped.
Unfortunately, I started my answer by expressing frustration at her judgment to get drunk at a frat house, calling it "awful." This is the part of my answer that has enraged readers, who have accused me of "blaming the victim."
As a mother (and stepmother) to five daughters -- four in college -- I have counseled (and worry about) all of my many daughters because of how vulnerable they are if they choose to drink. Drinking to intoxication poses very serious security issues for our daughters and sons, because being drunk impairs judgment and the ability to discern risk.
Because "Victim" wondered where the line was, I tried to draw it for her. My intent was to urge her (as I often urge readers) to take responsibility for the only thing she could control -- her own choices and actions -- but I regret how harshly I expressed this.
I certainly didn't intend to offend or blame her for what happened, and I hope she will do everything possible to stay safe in the future.
I'm grateful that she chose to share her question with all of us, because talking about it will help others.
In her original answer, I don't think Amy explicitly said, "yes you were raped," and I don't think she was clear that "authorities"--not the victim herself--should contact the guy--two points that bothered a lot of readers. Personally (maybe because I've been reading Amy as long as shes's been around and am generally sympathetic to her), I felt that she meant both of those things--as she clarifies here. But I think her original column was probably too ambiguous on both of these points.
Monday, December 7, 2009
Dear Margo: I am a high-school senior. There's a girl named "May" who I thoroughly dislike, but she persists in trying to be my best friend. We became friends in freshman year because we were both hyper and our bus ride was long. She was, and is, cheerful, kind and friendly. However, over the past three years, I have realized that we have nothing in common anymore, if we ever did, and I am very tired of having things that are important to me shot down as stupid or boring. Sometimes I talk about things I find interesting, like current events or books — never with her, but in groups of which she is a part. If it has even a vague whiff of intellectual activity (except "Pride and Prejudice"), May shoots me down in the most contemptuous tone I have ever heard, saying, "That's boring. Let's talk about (pick one: her love life or movies, though, to give her some credit, more often movies)." I don't know what to say to someone who thinks that "The Time Traveler's Wife" was a brilliant movie. — Please Go Away, from Virginia
Dear Please: This sounds like one for my pal Roger Ebert, but the underlying problem is actually not about movies. The basis for your friendship — that you were both hyper and it was a long bus ride — does not sound like a rock-solid foundation for closeness. This girl may be cheerful, but she sounds neither kind nor friendly. If you have nothing in common anymore, just keep some distance between you and know that you have moved on. — Margo, developmentallyIt doesn't sound like these girls have much in common--but if they liked and respected each other, that wouldn't matter os much--friendships and marriages have thrived between people with totally opposite interests, skills, beliefs, IQs, and political affiliations. Not that these girls need to be friends--like Margo says, it's find to just move on if you don't enjoy each other's company.
What seems to draw them together, though, is that neither of them sounds very confident or secure in just being who she is--the one needs to show off how smart she is, and how contemptuous she is of.....romantic dramas? The other focuses on her love life (and Eric Bana's). They're growing, learning, carving out space for themselves--and can't seem to help stabbing at each other with their chisels in the process. With any luck, they'll both grow out of it and into themselves.
Unlike Margo, who feels compelled to drop the name of her "pal" Roger Ebert, seemingly out of the blue. Why, Margo? Why?