I try not to start sentences with “One time in Dear Abby…” I swear I do. But sometimes, it just happens. It has happened on dates, it has happened at parties, and it has happened at work. I wish I could say that it was a singular instance, or even better, that it had never happened at all, but the truth is, it has happened a lot. It will probably happen again.
Whenever I can, I read Dear Abby. I love that column. I love it dearly. I am also a 29 year old man. For those of you who do not have the soul of a 70 year old woman, Dear Abby is a syndicated newspaper advice column that was established by Pauline Phillips in 1956. (If that’s not right, blame Wikipedia. That’s where I did all my extensive research.) She wrote the column under the pen name Abigail Van Buren. The first name Abigail came from a Bible lady that was always giving out advice and the Van Buren part came from a former president Martin Van Buren. Presumably, this is because she thought he was a good president. (I don’t know. Wikipedia didn’t really say.) Pauline wrote the column until the year 2000. At that point, her daughter Jeanne started to write with her. By 2002, Jeanne was writing the article alone. Unfortunately, Pauline Phillips passed away early this year (2013).
I will admit that I do not find Jeanne Phillips to be nearly as funny as her mother. But, should Jeanne ever get wind of this, she should not fear. Jeanne Phillips is MY Dear Abby, and the love I have for the column comes from her work. I only bring it up because I need to at some point say WHY I consider Dear Abby to have such merit.
It is my opinion that any person alive could write an advice column where the advice is “right;” especially if they do not have to look the person they are giving the advice to face to face. With a clear head and some distance, it’s easy to know some version of the right thing to do. Given the right parameters or template (Christianity or Liberalism for example), any person alive could run a problem through the objectivity machine and pass along to their readers the solution output on the other side. The trouble is, when in the midst of conflict, we are not machines. We are human. We can hear logical advice, either from close friends or advice columnists, but in a moment of passion, that advice will make little difference.
I’ve also found that we are all born with the same needs. We all need to eat and sleep. We need to be safe and warm and comfortable. We need to be loved. We need dignity. The worst people alive and the best people alive both need these things and the best and worst people alive both want these things for their beloved. Conflict… dum dum dum… comes when our ability to obtain these things is challenged by others. While conflicted, we fail to think. The trick then, for the advice columnist, is not to simply give us advice, but rather, to distract us from our own humanity and direct our attention toward the humanity of others. Disarm them, lead them to discussion, and they will solve it themselves. There is plenty of room (both metaphorically and literally) for freedom. With some discussion, there is actually very little need for conflict at all.
This is what makes Dear Abby so strong. Each of the Phillips women, in their own, way have/had a natural talent for disarming the heavily guarded masses (I am including myself in the heavily guarded masses) and instigating discussion. Pauline is funny and Jeanne is so direct it often catches me by surprise. Neither can be boiled down to a bag of tricks. Both get us talking. Both are Abby. And once they’ve got us talking, we talk to each other; not back to her. Those that bear with me through my “One time in Dear Abby” starts often follow me into hour long discussions that start at the Dear Abby story and move into whatever close at hand problem brought up the Dear Abby story in the first place.
But what is all of this about? Why am I coming out of the Dear Abby fan club closet? The answer is that I have been told by a friend that I ought to write some sort of psychiatric, psychological, philosophical blog thing. Upon hearing that, my first reaction was that I hate blogs. There is no dialogue. There is no discussion. It’s just opinions, and in the massive pile of opinions online, how would I find an audience that really mattered? How could I find one that could really benefit? Then, she stroked my ego a bit and said I have a knack for it. I’m not into or very fond of peacocking, but my friend is not wrong about that. Whatever that disarming ability is, that ability that Abby has to make emotional and instinctual problems logical and simple, I have as well. People on buses (people I don’t even know) sometimes just start unloading their problems on me. Perhaps it’s because I look like Jesus. Perhaps it’s because I have a habit of walking around with a big stupid smile on my face like I’m laughing at some old joke I heard. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve got it.
So I should then, right? I should do this. But it needs to be a dialogue. If it doesn’t instigate discussion, then it’s pointless. I can’t just blow it out my ass about whatever I’m feeling might be important on any particular day. That said, the problem becomes obtaining submissions. I have not given any public advice, so there is no public that is aware that they ought to seek my help. In the beginning, I fear I need some help from friends and family. The blog (or column) will be here on this Blogger website and submissions can be sent to my e-mail which can be found by viewing my complete profile. Or, what the hell, just e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. For those not familiar with the Dear Abby format, you would submit a letter with a problem and then sign it something like “Down and Out in Dubuque.” I would see the e-mail address, but the public would never see anything other than “Down and Out in Dubuque.” You can address it to “Dear Jesus” if you want, or “Dear Patrick,” but I will probably not include either in the article. I don’t mind using the whole Jesus thing as a gimmick, but I’d rather not hide behind it too much. After a while, it ceases to be a joke and becomes actual arrogance.
If nobody responds, I won’t write the thing. I wouldn’t want to. If people do respond, I will try to do two or three a week. Submit yourself. Tell your friends. Help me help you. J