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On Ask Polly — The Advice Columnist Changing My Damn Life

“Whatever happens next, though, please keep on telling the truth and sticking your necks out. Good things come to those who are brave enough to show the world exactly who they are, without shame. And look, soon enough, you can be sure that someone will give this owning-of-your-flaws an embarrassing name, in the hopes that we’ll all get shamed back into the closet and go back to believing that every misstep and mistake should be airbrushed out or masked behind a smile and a high five.

Let’s not let them shame us, though, ok? Let’s keep on fumbling along, imperfectly, with pride, with grace, with humility, with an open heart. Let’s be messy and courageous, you and me and all of us. Let’s not be afraid to ask for exactly what we want, and to celebrate exactly who we are, and to eat lots of aged cheeses if possible. But most of all, let’s stick together and celebrate our messiness, and our courage.”

*

This is a quote written by my NEW FAVORITE WRITER (possibly favorite writer, ever) Heather Havrilesky whose Ask Polly advice column recently moved from a little Internet corner on The Awl to being hosted by The Cut. She wrote this to her original readers to assuage any concerns they might have about her leaving them–and the original Ask Polly space–behind for someplace more concerned with sunless tanner, or “how to fuck him right.” Luckily for them, after deep-diving her old columns, it seems that nothing’s changed.

But really I’m just happy for me—so happy in fact, that I literally feel warm inside writing this, like I could get up right now in my kitchen and start dancing like the midget in Twin Peaks without shame. I love many writers, and there are a few still writing today who come close to making me feel this way—the Gary Shteyngarts, Joan Didions, Teddy Waynes, etc. But all of their stuff is highly POLISHED and EDITED and made for EASY CONSUMPTION—i.e. unlike most of what I myself write or enjoy writing. And this reality often makes me feel bad, that I’m defective or not useful to employers because I don’t always use ideal punctuation or agree with “cutting the piece down” when really that paragraph is super CROOSH. Editing has its place, or whatever, but why must it be such a large place?

Which is not to say that Havrilesky’s Ask Polly responses read like unedited shitshows that you can’t make your way through—no, they’re just RAW, and often run off in a million little directions…but those directions make sense each time, they really do. And, well, if they don’t I REALLY LIKE THEM ANYWAYS. I send them to my reading-soulmate Ana with a lot of “OMGs” and then silence because there’s nothing to say, she’ll know exactly why I’m freaking out: this chick Heather (or really lady—she has KIDS guys, KIDS) is keeping it real in a way that doesn’t feel gratuitous, or primed for an episode of Girls. She’s somehow got her finger on all the paradoxical, confusing bullshit of our lives and is harping on about it like she’s been taking notes inside our brains and spewing our thoughts out smarter. That, or she’s putting a lot of those confusing bullshit pieces together for us, and helping us (okay, me) see why we act a certain way: why I’m so self-deprecating, maybe, or where that intense self-pity I was feeling a few days ago comes from. It’s free therapy, guys, but it’s super smart, hilarious, and fun—not to mention filled with “fuck.”

More than all of that, it is LIFE-AFFIRMING. Which is usually something you say in place of having anything real to say about something—but, truly, her columns have me feeling THRILLED about living; they give me faith that I’m not actually alone when it feels like someone’s standing above me with one, sole shit bucket and making it rain; instead of just telling me to “love myself” they remind me why doing so is so great and what it really requires, not just in her actual advice, but by the simple fact of how she provides it. This is a woman who is totally owning herself, who is not apologizing for the fact that she didn’t take the plum job a parent might have liked, or that she doesn’t dress to the nines everyday—she owns that she fucks up sometimes at parenting, and loving, and simply being. And while I’m sure she doesn’t wade through life consistently pleased with her own reflection, or her downfalls, she does [on the surface at least] a great job at not letting them totally get her down (read: they don’t seem to send her into a bedridden spiral of Netflix binging and pie-laced dreams). AND IF THEY DO, I DON’T WANT TO KNOW.

Because without ever having met her, and having only accosted her once on Twitter (she responded/I slept well that night), she is the closest thing to a role model for me on this damn earth. I don’t want to be her (that would go against her advice), but I would like a good dose of her courage and her give-no-fucks-about-what’s-proper-or-“right”-attitude. While I’ve been super open in writing before, I want to open up more. I want to stop giving honesty just the tip, and go full throttle. I want to show myself and other people that that’s totally okay, even GREAT.

Why have I cared up until now about the people who might care? Those people aren’t for me—I already know that. So why not just write, fully, what I want to write? I’ve been at such a standstill with writing—hence the nearly month long blog silence—feeling that I had nothing left to say, or nothing, at least, that I wanted to say. I felt I had no good ideas—but the reality is that I didn’t have any ideas that fit perfectly into a nice, little box. I had no great titles for the things I wanted to write, no clear-cut “THIS IS A PIECE ABOUT FASHION AND WHY IT’S _____” or “ANOREXIA SUCKS AND HERE’S WHY” so I decided not to write at all. I didn’t know how to serve up “THIS GUY I BARELY KNEW HURT MY HEART AND NOW I THINK I MIGHT JUST DIE ALONE” in a way that wasn’t too real, or freaky. I didn’t know how to say “I LOVE MY PARENTS BUT I WISH THEY WOULD ALL STOP SPEAKING TO ME FOR LIKE SIX MONTHS, PLEASE LORD” without upsetting them or being, quite literally, punished for it. Also I didn’t want anyone to take that “lord” part too seriously. I didn’t know how to say “I CAN’T STAND ONE OF MY OLDEST FRIENDS AND NOW I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO.”

But Heather, this elusive Heather figure who is now (unfortunately for her) my guiding light, she reminded me that the best way to go about saying that shit is to fucking SAY IT. She reminded me that that’s the kind of writer I want to be—not the kind who will please her parents, or every last person in her circle of friends. I want to be the kind of writer whose honesty and forthrightness (all wrapped up in something like sense) makes a lost twenty-three year old girl’s attitude change entirely one afternoon while she sits in her tiny Brooklyn kitchen, contemplating her future or lack thereof. I want to make other people feel something from what I’m saying, even if it’s uncomfortable, or not what they might consider “positive.” And not for the sake of getting a rise out of people, but because sometimes people need a little help feeling things, or allowing themselves to—sometimes people need another person to come in and play operation in order to better understand their own insides.

THAT is what Heather does for me. When I read her shit I’m trying not to cry—or already crying—half the time, and I DO NOT CARE if that’s dramatic or silly or strange, it just is. And I love it. I love feeling it. It motivates me. It makes me HAPPY, even if what she’s saying, in some ways, makes me sad. It taps into my youngest self and all that she desired, and all the ways that various PAINS, over time, stacked up like sediment to drown her out. It makes me want to open those doors, and truly explore them. Not in like a “Once I was bullied on the playground and it sucked” kind of way but more like “Someone once told me that everyone hated me and wanted me to fucking die—he SCREAMED it in my face, to be exact—and you know that’s really stuck with me, that’s made me super fucking defensive even towards people who have nothing but love for me.” Because FUCK, life is short (even though it sometimes feels way too long) and I don’t want to spend it sugar-coating everything, or even worse, pretending that I’m not sugar-coating everything when I still totally am.

I’ve opened up my anorexia to you guys like a fresh wound, but that’s an illness, and almost easier to share than anything else—like the more opaque stuff that doesn’t have an easily digestible name, or hasn’t been deemed by society as “out of my control.” No, I want to explore that indefinable mess, too—and I’m invigorated just realizing this, and finally deciding that it is the right way for me. And its all this Heather person’s lovely fault—blame her, Mom and Dad—and I am so thankful to her Internet presence for giving me this gift she had no clue I was trying to receive. THANK YOU HEATHER, you badass lady—I send you many unsolicited hugs, a dozen fatty and delicious donuts, and a mix CD with the dance version of that damn Dido song.

Categories: Uncategorized

4 replies »

  1. I’m linking to this on my blog, and I hope that’s okay. A girl needs a role model every once and a while, and this will go great with some other role-model musings I’ve had.
    (ps. You’ve been invited to read that blog anytime you might want to. Dude, I shared my own personal stuff… after a couple different bloggers encouraged me to… erm, but still, I fucking did it!) (Come see… http://ikillmydarlings.wordpress.com) (Please?)

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