Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Case of the Aspiring Blogger

Women who write to New York Magazine advice columnist Ask Polly have developed a habit. They understand who Polly is. They know what she is going to say. They want their letters to be chosen, so they frame their problems in terms that Polly will understand. And they feed Polly’s tendency to whine on interminably about feelings and emotions. It’s a sad exercise, but apparently, America’s millennial generation is mired in it.

So, the letters begin to sound like each other. They fail to include details. They tell us too little about the person’s life to allow us to offer any constructive suggestions. They portray the letter writer as lacking in confidence… because this will excite Polly to explain how she overcame her own lack of confidence.

So here we have another self-involved narcissist, another aspiring writer who is afraid of failure. I do not recall how many other letter writers are afraid of failure, but “Afraid” as she calls herself has happily tuned into Polly’s fear of being found out to be an imposter... perhaps not as a writer, but as an advice columnist.

Naturally, Polly will completely ignore the only interesting part of this letter. See if you can pick it out:

I’m turning 25 in February. It took me two extra years to graduate from high school because of bullying. I’ve always been a bigger girl and up until recently I didn’t know how to love myself the way my best friends love me. I’ve been battling depression and anxiety all my life, and I recently lost my 15-year-old brother in a car accident. I’ve dealt with that pretty well, considering. I’ve only ever worked in minimum wage jobs until this year when I landed a great career working in customer service.

But I feel stuck, having lived in the same small town, in the same home, my entire life. Trapped, essentially. I’m moving in January, but into town, not farther away from it. I want to see the world and experience new things. Learn more about my culture. Write a blog and stick to it, I pay for the fucking subscription every month, why don’t I post any new content?

Because I’m frightened. Instead of sending this to you I should be posting this on my blog. I’m scared of failure. I want to push through that. But that little drop of doubt is what stops me every time. I have had every chance to sit down and just write. I’m off most of the year, and have been for most of my life, between school, and just really great timing with jobs. But I avoid it like the plague because I’m scared of not being good enough. Why should I care? I don’t know, but I do.

How the hell do I get over that? Do you ever feel that way? How do you just do it?


What is the salient detail that Polly ignores?

Obviously, the recent death of her younger brother in a car accident when he was 15. She brushes it aside as a minor detail, one that she dealt with successfully. She tells us nothing about the accident, about who was driving, about how her family reacted, about her other siblings and even friends.

And, we imagine that since she was nearly ten years older than younger brother, she most likely cared for him as a baby and a child, that she acted as a surrogate mother. A surrogate mother who loses a child reacts strongly to the experience.

And yet, for “Afraid,” the experience did not register. She stifled it. She repressed it. She put it aside as an unwelcome distraction, one that she pretends to have dealt with.

Because what really matters is writing for her blog. Come now, children. Do you really believe that there is nothing more to the one specific event that she recounts? Do you believe that she handled it all with perfect aplomb, but cannot bring herself to write on her blog… and thus to become like her heroine Polly.

And even if she handled it with aplomb, I would bet that her parents did not feel quite so insouciant. How did they react to her efforts to brush it aside, as though it was minor detail in her life?

She does say that she has some best friends, but we know nothing about them. She wants to leave her small town but we do not know whether she is running away or running toward. Now, she has a great job-- which she calls a career-- in customer service. But, she apparently wants to quit it.

She says that she was bullied for being a bigger girl, but we do not know anything more about it. We know nothing more about her friends, her family or about her romantic relationships and so on.

We know that she wants to become like Polly and write empty advice columns. But, we really know that she is so completely self-absorbed that she cannot process her brother’s death. Granted, the experience might be too painful to process, but still… it is grossly irresponsible to let her believe that she needs a pep talk about facing her fears and letting it all hang out.

For all I know she does better not to expose her pain in public... and not to expose family grief to strangers. But, that is not the same thing as pretending that it does not exist.


Sum Ting Wong said...

Sounds like a fake, put on letter to me. Bullying delayed HS graduation by two years? A little far-fetched.

Anonymous said...

Does Heather get paid by the word? I’m amazed at how much she blathers. Amy Alkon gives great advice, rooted in science, but she doesn’t have the audience that Polly does. seems so wrong.