Here's my dilemma. Should I write an advice column? Here in this publication? Do I have the right, the inclination? The, ahem, balls? Dare I ate a peach? Seeking and giving advice is as integral to human life as speech, as eating. The idea of participating more directly in the interpersonal circus is tempting. And yet ... while the process of offering counsel seems potato-basic, it also seems, well, too terribly intimate, a whisper in the recipient's ear that tickles a little and caresses their sorest, most secret and glorious distresses. Nervous about playing such a part, I consulted seveal friends about this advice-column business. Roy, a psychoanalyst, turned bright pink when I broached the subject. "Don't you do it," he said. "It's unethical. You don't have the credentials. And advice columns are godawful." Personally, I find advice volumns kind of touching. Doesn't a huge percentage of our daily conversation with those we care about consist of comparing notes, of inquiring, "What would you do if you were me?" or "Do you think this is weird?" or "Has a man you were dating ever asked you to....?"
Skimming advice columnists on microfiche I learned that if I joined their ranks I'd have the right to declare new holidays. That's an appealing job feature. Ann Landers declared May 3 National Forgiveness Day, a day when feuders of all sorts should bury the hatchet. Kind of touching, isn't it? Esteemed reader, maybe you can write in and suggest a holiday you'd like declared, and if I find your proposal meritorious, I'll proclaim your holiday official. Maybe I'll agree to write a column where I ask the public for help. I could try to entice you bright-eyed Reader reader to solve my problems, as they come up ever week. They'd be amusing.
Some background information the management asked me to provide:
I'm a little more than halfway to being 100. Born in San Diego, I went east to college for two years and then hightailed it back to California to attend library school in Los Angeles. Upon graduation, I returned to San Diego to work as a librarian, a job I still hold. I've been married and divorced twice. Now I live with four dogs and three cats (the youngest of whom is named "Buzzsaw"). I'm no one's mother and am auntie to six kids, and counting. I'm an avid swimmer and hiker. And I love to swear. Given my age and what I look like, that surprises people. It wakes them up. My musical taste is eclectic. Currently I've been listening to Miles Davis, Elliot Smith, Nirvana, the Flaming Lips, Yo La Tengo, Frank Sinatra, and Ween. A young friend who works at a radio station keeps me posted and lends me CDs.
My background is sufficiently troubled to make me a sympathetic listener, I think. I've struggled through the usual skirmishes with drugs, fate, and my fellow creatures. For several years in my mid-20s, for example, around the time my first marriage foundered, I was convinced that if I took just the right amount of methamphetamine every day, I could inch my way toward becoming the most alert, svelte, inwardly smoldering, profound version of myself possible. The usual wages of this pursuit in terms of damaged health led me to scrap that brilliant plant before I wasted away to an ember.
I tend to dress plainly, but I'm a sucker for nail polish. Fifteen or twenty bottles can be found in my medicine chest at any given time. Lately I've been into pale green. It's a harmless enough vice compared to some I've harbored.
Since I love books more than almost anything else in existence, I often make decisions based on their counsel. In the olden days, folks on the horns of a dilemma used to whip out the family Bible, open it at random, and try to use the first verse their eyes fell on to point them in the right direction. In that spirit, when things got slow at work yesterday I fetched a few dictionaries of quotations down from a high shelf. I hoped a smattering of proverbs would help me decide whether to place myself in this questionable position of soothsayer, vice principal in charge of discipline, or sounding board.
"A fool may give a wise man counsel" was the first quote I encountered. Flipping more pages I found, "If the counsel be good, no matter who gave it." The books seemed to be having a grand old time, as books often do, conversing amongst themselves. "If the old dog barks, he gives counsel." That pretty much clinched it. High-mined reader, could you be willing to picture me as an advice giving canine? A trusty bloodhound or a water-loving Landseer? One who could help you tree your troubles like so many chittering squirrels?
The idea of turning myself into an advice dispenser makes me shudder a bit. I think of those Pez candy dispensers — you bent their little plastic heads painfully to one side and a pellet of compressed sugar dropped into your sweaty palm. Since I'm not a priest or a CPA or a sexologist, I'll have to be some kind of offbeat advisor. One who finds herself most days neck-deep in doubts. One whose idea of practicing Buddhism is to be as compassionate as her physiology permits, while at the same time cultivating a screw-you attitude for use when needed. You'll have to stock up on salt, beleaguered reader. Have a multitude of seasonings at hand to sprinkle on the counsel cooked up to order by yours truly — your frumpy assistant grave robber, your fellow new holiday celebrant, your foul-mouthed, good Samaritan, mental cleaning lady, an elderly lioness poised to roar you out of your doldrums or take you for a wild ride on her moth-eaten back, if you think it will help you to sort out what's troubling you. It's said that these days everyone wants to be on TV. Well, how about raising the bar a little, making yourself heard in a more historical, rich, and lasting medium? Write and tell me what holidays you'd like declared, your difficulties being young or growing old, what keeps you from getting a good night's sleep, what's nibbling at your conscience, your ethical dilemmas, what you want to get off your chest. I promise I won't laugh at you, and you might get to see your letter in print.