Thursday, February 05, 2009

If you want my advice.

I love advice columns, and I love advice columnists.  Wow, do they ever have confidence in giving people they have never, ever met some urging about what to do next, how to think, what to order for dinner, and how to vote.  And what they should do for a living.  For instance:
I am 53 and have decided to chuck 30 years in the garment industry to become a high-school history teacher. Is one ever too old to make such a career change? What can a late-middle-aged rookie teacher expect?

Peter Hoelter
Los Angeles, California

Dear Peter,

Fifty-three is a fine age to make a change. Fifty-four is too late. One thing you should know: students today have a great deal of knowledge. This knowledge is wrong, because it comes from Wikipedia, but they know more wrong things than you did in high school. A word of caution: because of texting and cell-phone cameras, you will have no time at all to set your reputation. Before you finish teaching your first class, every student will know whether you are, to borrow a word the kids today may or may not use, a tool. Avoid this by remembering one thing: you are not their friend, you are their teacher. A little distance can produce great authority.
This is from a newly-undertaken advice column called "What's Your Problem?" at The Atlantic 
(Mildred Krebs: "This advice column is a bad idea.  If I want advice I'll ask a friend, or go online.  Are you going to join in the trivializing of the media?  Will horoscopes be far behind? You are watering down your brand!"  
WYP?: "Dear Mildred, Please don't worry.  It's not as if we'd put a photograph of Britney Spears on the cover.").
So far, so good.

Now if there's one thing I believe, one principle by which I live my life, it's that no one should have to suffer the uncertainties of this world, which is full of quandaries, without good, trustworthy advice. Since I, better than anyone, know this, here are some of my favorite advice columnists:  

Dear Prudence, at Slate.  It used to be Margo Howard, Ann Landers's daughter, who wrote a great column, I thought, though apparently she has turned a little mean.  Now it's Emily Yoffe, and I think she does a pretty good job as well.

Carolyn Hax. The Tribune publishes her alternatively with an advice columnist I am much less fond of (she suffers from excessive earnestness, but I read her anyway, because I need me some daily advice. Even if it irks me and I roll my eyes.). Ms. Hax, on the other hand, while perhaps risking a teensy bit of smugness, is always super smart, a good writer, and witty when it's called for.  

Ask E. Jean, in ELLE.  Her tagline is "Tormented? Driven Witless? Whipsawed by Confusion?" Which, let's be serious: aren't we all?  

The Ethicist, aka Randy Cohen.  Interesting and funny--serious daily-life ethical questions. Always, always worth the time.

Social Q's, written by Philip Galanes.  New-ish, very funny: etiquette questions, sorted.

Miss Manners, aka Judith Martin.  I remember reading a bit from her column--someone wrote in to ask what, if anything, one might say when conversing on the telephone, and it becomes abundantly clear that one's interlocutor is eating whilst chatting.  Miss Manners suggested that one might say, "I beg your pardon, but I can hardly hear you--it seems there's a carrot on the line."  As a result of this advice, I feel certain that I am a better person--I keep it in mind when, upon occasion, I need to be eating something (let's say potato chips) while talking on the phone--I try at least to keep it sotto cruncho.


  1. I love me some advice columns too, maybe we should start one, a mother daughter advice blog column. How's about it?

  2. Great post, Megatouch. I think Amy Sedaris, whose advice column, Sedaratives, was pretty swell too.

  3. I think you should start an advice column, because if I needed advice, I'd ask you.

  4. I would read a Lisa/Amelia column any day of the week.

    I love the Miss Manners bit. Whenever a certain person related to me used to do a call-in show, you could always tell that he was eating a sandwich. Obviously he hadn't been reading his Miss Manners.

  5. I have on occasion cited Randy Cohen's advice as justification for something I am doing--for instance "borrowing" someone's wireless.

  6. I love the Hax. I do not like Harriett Cole. But I do like that the Trib has/had both. Yet another thing to miss about the SLC (which is kind of like the OC, but cooler).

  7. *sotto cruncho* - very nice.

    Almost you persuade me to take up on-phone munching just for the fun of trying out my sotto, molto, con gusto.



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