The Year In Advice
9

Better Boundaries, With Muriel Spark

Though I am no longer by any metric young, this year I've taken to heart a lot of Choire's advice to young people on the subject of "operators, divas, drama queens, vampires, bitter underminers and soulless careerists." To those categories one of my other favorite advice-givers, Nancy Hawkins, would propose an addition, or at least a subset: the pisseur de copie.

Mrs. Hawkins, the young widow narrator of Muriel Spark's A Far Cry from Kensington is probably best known for her diet tips: “It’s easy to get thin. You eat and drink the same as always, only half. If you are handed a plate of food, leave half; [...]

8

Hello, Animal

I am an oblivious person. I don't notice things that bother me.

That doesn't mean I live a happy, contented life, or that I'm never bothered. I am bothered, I just don't realize it. If my kitchen is messy, for example, which is often, I do not prepare food in it. That may sound like perfectly logical behavior, but logic plays no part in what is actually a series of competing impulses. The way I experience not-cooking as a function of kitchen messiness is as a Thing That Happens Over and Over Until I Start To Wonder If There's a Correlation. It's not a decision I've made; rather, it's [...]

13

I Broke Up With Writing (And It Feels OK)

I'm torn on advice. Sometimes you're given some and it matters right there on the spot. Then there's the advice that sits alongside pathetic life-as-lit, lit-as-life devices—think fantasies of watching your own funeral or accurately narrating your life as it unfolds. This is the kind of advice that, either in the moment or as memory, arrives perfectly formed and quotable, a single well-turned line that turns your life into a teaching tool for all humanity. And then there's the advice that slips by unnoticed at the time, that you cull meaning from only in retrospect, out of metaphysical necessity. How did I get here, anyway? Someone must have told me [...]

37

Don't Stop Running

I have never been a physically daring man. I'm afraid of heights such that my palms begin to sweat when I go up high flights of stairs in shopping malls. I'm awful at skiing, made slow and hesitant by an unyielding and morbid fear that I will propel into a tree or somehow shatter my femur in a devastating tumble. In middle school, when I joined the football team, in an attempt to realize my father’s thinly veiled desire that I be a quarterback, I was decidedly not one of the star players. To be very good at football, you need to be able to snuff out the voice inside [...]

17

Say I'm Alright

So this is the story of how, this year, my friends pushed me in a big direction with the advice to go back into therapy, get back on medication and stabilize my life.

First, a little background: I have struggled with periods of intense depression since high school. In college, I began to seek help. After a period of prescription missteps, the diagnosis began to shift. What at first appeared to be depression complicated by anxiety issues revealed itself to be something else entirely: Bipolar disorder, with all its peaks and crashes. High clarity and uncontrollable energy followed by a plummet into days or weeks of utter despondency. I was [...]

1

Advice: A Year-End Series

To keep you company this holiday week and the next, a series of essays (long and short) on the advice (practical and im-) that people took or ignored (or contemplated) this year. It's The Year In Advice—and it kicks off in just a short while. We hope you'll enjoy. And our thanks for reading and keeping us company this weird, wonderful year.

19

On Advice To Kids

When my friends started having children, as much as I thought about what role I'd play in their kids' lives, it was as the sort of friend of the family who, when you're teetering through teenagerdom and your early 20s, takes you out to lunch or dinner (often arriving, fortuitously, when you're most off course and down-at-heel), gives you Rilke and Asimov and the Brontes at the junctures when they can do their most good, takes your ambitions seriously, lets you be yourself while providing some calibrating sense of what the world at large will eventually expect from your conversation, etc. I had a couple such 'aunts' myself, my mom's [...]

32

The Question

Anybody who supposes himself wise is already demonstrating the reverse. Therefore the cleverest, most beneficial advice must always come disguised as something else. Because who can ever really believe that he knows better? I didn't even recognize the best advice I ever got for what it was until many years after it was given to me, and I don't flatter myself that I get it, even yet.

In the mists of antiquity I embarked on what would prove to be a mortifyingly checkered academic career at St. John's College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I was a very idealistic, very deluded kid. Ambitious, too. There was no such thing [...]

4

What Is This?

Around this time last year, I jotted a couple of notes-to-self on hot pink sticky notes and tacked them over my desk. "Feel less guilty," one read. And: "Read more current events."

I was content enough with my vague resolutions, but then something, dare I say?, ironic happened. On New Year's Day I was browsing e-books in a trance, trying to distract myself from feeling guilty about how little of The Economist I'd read. Before I knew what had happened, l had purchased a book called Mindfulness.

It was as if some stifled part of my psyche was using my Barnes & Noble account as a Ouija board to tell [...]

26

Why You Should Not Use Twitter For Corporate Customer Service: A Cautionary Tale

Last spring, my first in a new apartment, I was careful to order my air conditioner way ahead of the first heat wave. I picked out a window unit from Home Depot online and scheduled delivery for a Friday in mid-May that I'd chosen as a spring-cleaning vacation day.

That morning, I woke up and looked up my order online, only to see that it had been suddenly (I'd checked the day before) back ordered and wasn't coming for nearly two weeks. I was furious! I would not be one of those people who didn't have an air conditioner when it got hot outside! I had done everything right, [...]

14

David Mamet, Fairy Godmother

I don’t get enough advice. Maybe it’s because I spent years actively ignoring it? This year I was hoping for some good advice, and still am! No matter how well you’re doing, there’s always a sense that you’re dogging it, and there’s some bit of wisdom that will push you through the membrane of the day-to-day to untold fabulousness. A foolish thought to carry around with you, but there it is. However, while waiting for my fairy godmother to clobber me with a toaster, calendar 2012 was a year that I kept going back to the greatest advice I ever got: Never open your mouth until you know the shot.

[...]
43

Advice Is Futile

After editing an advice column for two years, I’ve decided that there is no such thing as advice. There are only problems and the ways people handle them. Advice, on the other hand, is when you hear a description of someone else's problem and then tell the person something about yourself. Hopefully whatever you say is funny or interesting, but it has little to do with actually helping anyone. It may seem or feel like it does, but there are always more variables than we'll ever be able to see or understand, and best case scenario you’re pressing on the problem a little bit in a way that engages [...]

19

The Sunday Night Facebook Cooking Club

This fall I found myself in a little Sunday night advice ritual. I would leave something half-finished in the kitchen, and then go sit down on the living room couch with my laptop and go to Facebook.

October 7, 6:17pm: “It's Sunday, so that means a cooking question for facebook. I have cashew chicken going in the crock pot – what's the best/easiest way to cook broccoli to go with/under it?”

I cook on Sunday evenings because this is the way I can manage to have meals for the week, leftovers for as many lunches as I can manage. It's a strategy I probably learned from the internet [...]

12

The Only Way Left To Be Radical In America

I like to plan ahead, so by the time I turned 30 earlier this year, I was already preparing for old age. I have a problem with rounding up, is the thing. When I was 27, I’d read about a 39 year old who went bankrupt, or a 45 year old who had a hard time conceiving, and think, Well, I’m practically 45, so I should probably start inuring myself to the hard truths life has in store for me.

I understand that this is ridiculous. I’m not old; I’m older. And of course “old” doesn’t necessarily mean what it used to. My parents are getting oldish (sorry, Mom)—enough [...]

25

One Ring To Rule Them All

As Polly Esther, The Awl's existential advice columnist, Heather Havrilesky gives advice in this space every Wednesday. Here's an excerpt from her memoir Disaster Preparedness about a bit of advice she once received.

"Find someone early, don't wait!" My father's thirtysomething girlfriend leaned across the table to deliver this advice in a stage whisper. I was only nineteen years old, and my father was within earshot. But Alice had tossed back a few glasses of red wine and she was winding up for one of her soliloquies. She didn't have kids (not that she didn't want them!) and she needed to save me from the same uncertain [...]

19

How Should An Author Be?

Writers have contorted relationships with publishers, probably because they excel at projection. Particularly this is true now in an age where publishers sue writers for undelivered manuscripts. Something about this has the ring of the disinheriting vengeful father, if you're paying half-attention, until you snap to alertness and realize that it's just a business that wants its money back.

There are writers who dream of selling books, the kind who when they were little children for some reason fantasized about having bound books with their names upon them. No one dreams, yet, of having an .epub file with his name in the metadata. (Or does someone? Who knows [...]