I am at a crossroads, but it's a boring crossroads of a professional nature. Basically, I'm conflicted about how to proceed, career-wise. Part of me thinks I need to wise up and head back to the schoolhouse for education of a more practical sort. I could teach, maybe, or learn how to build boats. I'm probably too old to be folding sweaters for the bulk of my income and hustling for the occasional super-fun side writing gig with no job security and health bennies. But another part of me thinks a great opportunity could be just around the corner and I should keep doing what I'm doing (whatever that is). It could be as simple as one agent returning an email, one publisher accepting a script, one production company reading a pitch, and something fantastic could develop that is challenging and rewarding and exciting. It's probably not that simple, but what if it is? You know?
But this is one of those hypothetical situations that a lot of creative-types face, and nobody's advice is particularly helpful because everyone's outcome is different. I know a guy from a little town, for instance, who is a really good actor, dancer, and singer. After high school, he opted not to go to university, moved to a big city, went on a handful of auditions and landed a tv series within months of his arrival, and is now touring with a Broadway show. I know another guy with a fantastic, preternatural aptitude for fiction writing. He won scholarships to several universities, got his Masters in New York, got his PhD in London, now he freelance edits for a publishing company and works in a bar. It's all a crapshoot, I understand that. But it doesn't keep me from feeling insecure and questioning my decisions. And I find the best way to conquer insecurity and avoid making any life decisions of your own is to piously give advice to others. I don't have to look at my own problems if I can mull over yours. It's like how hairdressers who give fabulous cuts and styles to other people have awful hair themselves. Ignore my crap hair, and let me advise you, won't you?
Dream: Have an advice column.
Goal: Unachievable. I could never really have an advice column because I don't have random people asking for my advice, and nothing is more off-putting than asking friends to tell you their problems so you can solve them on the internet.
Case in point: Several years ago, when I was a Smaller City James, I knew I guy that I'll call Hot Dave. Hot Dave was really hot, and an excellent fair-weather friend. The type of guy who has the innate ability to make you feel engaging, even if you're not, and he can pretend to care, even when he doesn't. We met at a party, went out for exactly one coffee one time, and though we ran into each other several dozen times at Smaller City's one gay bar, never became more than acquaintances. But Hot Dave had a way of accruing acolytes, and I was one of them. Anyway, Hot Dave had a blog and I, along with a few dozen Smaller City gays, read it every week. Hot Dave decided he was going to have an advice segment and asked for submissions. People lobbed him softball questions like, "Should I still be texting my ex-boyfriend?" or "What should I bring to a gathering when I know the hosts don't drink alcohol?" (My answers, by the way, are No and Cake).
But ONE guy, a hopeless Hot Dave fan, whom I'll call Fair-to-Middling Earl, took the advice thing to the extreme by asking something like, "How do I tell my adoptive parents that I've found and befriended my biological mother?" How the fuck is Hot Dave supposed to respond to that? Presumably, FtM Earl hoped to ingratiate himself further by placing waaaay too much stock in Hot Dave's opinion, but... come on, man. Uncomfortable.
Plan: Find questions that people have asked of legit advice-givers and offer my unsolicited opinion.
This question was asked to sex and relationship expert Dan Savage in his weekly column SavageLove but I will pretend it was meant for me.
I'm an 18-year-old male about to head off to college in the fall. I'm not the best-looking guy—skinny, pale, some acne—and I'm afraid that I'm going to be one of those college freshmen who aren't getting laid. What can I do to help make my potential college sex life better? I'm a smooth-talking guy in some ways, but it doesn't work a majority of the time and I don't understand why.
Dear College-Bound Boy,
The reason smooth-talking doesn't work is that the recipients aren't as stupid or horny as the person trying (and failing) to be smooth. Despite what pop culture might depict, there is no real currency in swagger, so drop the act. Also, change your objective. If you're just looking to get laid, you won't. If you want to find a girlfriend, you might. Finally, don't hold ladies to a higher standard than you've set for yourself in the looks department. If you're pale and acne'd, don't expect a Megan Fox or Kate Upton or... I don't know, Helen Hunt, to give you the time of day. Find your tribe. It'll work out.
This was a quandary put to Dear Abby.
The adage, "If you don't have anything nice to say ..." is easier said than done. When I am tired or stressed, I have a tendency to be less tolerant of others' quirks, and sometimes I voice my annoyance. While my opinions do have a basis, I sometimes feel guilty about insulting or hurting the person's feelings. I envy those who are strong enough to not allow the stress of certain situations to affect them.I have never been a believer in "killing them with kindness" because that seems to enable their behavior. My intolerance is probably due to unhappiness about my own life. So how do I allow these annoyances to roll off my back and bite my tongue?
-- CAN'T TOLERATE FOOLS IN DES MOINES
Dear Can't Tolerate...
Well listen to you! First of all, I'm sick of the whole, "I call them like I see them" and "Sometimes I shoot my mouth off and some people can't handle it but that's just how I am" thing. That's not a personality trait, it's a weakness of character. I appreciate that you're trying to be more tolerant, but what you're asking isn't really a question. How do you bite your tongue and be nicer? You bite your tongue and be nicer! It doesn't take much to mind your P's and Q's and keep opinions to yourself. And if you really can't help yourself from judging someone's behavior, at least have the decency to wait until they leave the room, and then talk shit about them to other people. It's only polite.
This was written to Oprah's Experts of Entertaining in a 2009 Christmas issue of O: The Oprah Magazine that I don't have a hyperlink for because I "commandeered" a copy from the lobby of my apartment building
Dear J: The Jprah Jagazine,
I'm planning a holiday party next month and we'd like to serve a variety of cocktails, so we need a lot of ice. My question is: is the bagged ice you buy at the store safe to put in your drinks?
I don't even know where to start with you! First of all, yeah it probably is. People have been using bags of ice at parties for a hundred fucking years, no one's gonna get mercury poisoning at your holiday soiree. Secondly, do you know who edits this magazine? Oprah does. Oprah is one of the most famous, powerful people in the world, and this is how you're going to use your chance to communicate with her? Finally, this party is happening so far in advance that you have time to pen a letter, send it to Oprah, wait for it to be published, go to the store, buy it, and find out? Hey how about, in the interim, you buy some trays, fill the with water, and make some fucking ice!
By the way, in case you're wondering, Oprah's Entertaining Experts also concluded that bagged ice was perfectly safe. Jesus Christ.
This last one is from a YouTube series called Ask Amy where teenage girls write to Amy Poehler and she gives really heartfelt advice.
I really like this guy. We have a lot in common but I don't think he knows about my feelings. I'm sort of shy but I want to be with him. What should I do?
I know people are going to tell you to just tell the guy that you like him. That's what Poehler said, and I believe everything she says because she's awesome. And you probably should do that, if you're strong enough. But if you're like me, the thought of verbalizing feelings of this nature to a crush is terrifying, so here's what I suggest: pine. Think about him, talk about him to your girlfriends, make collages, plan fake dates. Enjoy the fantasy of him for awhile. Yes, there's a chance that this fantasy might become a reality, but if it doesn't, what a terrible bummer. Crushes pass the time. They make bumping into each other in the school hallway a momentous occasion you can journal about for weeks. If the pining is painful, if it crushes your soul not to be with this guy, then by all means, be a mature adult and tell him and let the chips fall where they may. But, if you're anything like I was when I was a teenager, you'll find the fantasizing a welcome distraction, and the possibility more charming than the reality.
It's weird, I don't feel all that better after telling people how to live their lives. I thought advising people would make me feel superior, but now I'm just questioning everything. Who am I to behave like a Hot Dave when I'm at best a Fair-to-Middling Earl? I guess the future will unfold as it will unfold and my choices will create realities with more insecurities and more questions, and that's just what life is about. For something so complicated, it's really that simple.