I have got to stop reading advice columns. They are a drain on my balance and peace of mind. Partly, I’m upset at what I perceive to be an unwholesome, voyeuristic interest within myself. I’m not going to read a letter from someone with problems that are similar to mine; there is no passive “oh god, I hope I can glean something useful from this column, even though I’m too scared to ever write in, myself,” to justify my interest. I am literally reading about other people’s problems just to pass the time.
But maybe that’s not a real feeling. I might just be beating myself up over a normal human foible that nobody should be ashamed of. Even so, that solves nothing. My ordinariness as a person notwithstanding, advice columns are often boiling canals of asphyxiating human misery, especially when you stumble on to one of those letters that hints at the depths of our species’ depravity, the most grotesque — yet subtle — ways.
Something like, “My husband builds child-sized coffins as a hobby, and as soon as the varnish is dried on them, they disappear, only to be immediately replaced by fresh, new ones. He says he’s selling them, but we’re hurting for money, and I haven’t seen any evidence that he’s putting his proceeds in the bank! So, Dear Columnist, my question is, how can I convince him to let me use our son’s former bedroom as dedicated scrapbooking space? Sincerely Yours, Totally Oblivious.”
Okay, I’m exaggerating slightly. The point is that when some people open up a window into their lives, the view is depressingly dark.
But there’s something much worse than that. The people with happy-except-for-one-thing problems.
“Dear Columnist: I have a great job, a great spouse, a great home in a great neighborhood, and I’m filthy fucking rich. All of these things upset me terribly, and I want to tear my own skin off and take up smoking. What’s the one simple trick that will make me happy? (It’s my stupid spouse ISN’T IT?! IT’S ALL THEIR FAULT!!)”
I try, I really, really try to look upon my fellow human beings with a sense of empathy and understanding. While certain people have it a great deal better than others, I always try to remember that being a person is hard to a certain extent, even if it’s less hard for some. Even the rich can get sick, even the famous can get lonely, even a martial arts champ can feel lost and afraid.
But these folks with the perfect-except-for-one-thing lives — they tax me. It’s not their fault of course (the bastards), but man. Man, I can’t stop reading about them even though I would very much like to. What should I do?
Dear Columnist: Since I lack any kind of discipline, is there some secret trick you could tell me that will help me stop reading your column, since it makes me so unhappy?