Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Polly Sells Shamelessness

New York Magazine advice columnist, Ask Polly, has tons of fans. One of them writes in this week to offer a testimonial. She loves Polly and loves Polly’s writing. She finds it comforting and consoling. She follows Polly’s advice religiously and has even signed up with an understanding therapist.

The result: she feels like shit. She feels ashamed of everything. She feels like a trainwreck. It is quite impressive to write a letter lauding the advice that someone is giving and explaining that your life is a mess.

In a better world the letter writer would recognize that following Polly’s advice is not the royal road to mental health. It is the royal road to being, as she dubs herself, Desiccated. I wonder what a Freudian would see in that word choice, but I will not opine further.

As we will see, Polly has no understanding about shame. She is going to recommend shamelessness. And that means, for those who understand the most elementary aspects of shame, exposing your genitalia in the public square, advertising your sexuality, being indiscreet and exhibitionistic. It may not be what Polly means, but when you tell people to act shamelessly the advice can certainly lead an adolescent female to send pornographic pictures of herself to the hockey team. If she does so, she will be well within the bounds of correct interpretation.

Here is an excerpt from the letter:

I love your writing so, so much. It’s been an endless source of comfort and inspiration to me over the last year, since my long-term relationship ended and I went from knowing who I was going to marry and hopefully have kids with to being a single woman who’s now 30. I really try to put what you advise into practice, but I am struggling.

I feel ashamed of almost everything, constantly. The way my skin still breaks out like a teenager’s, the way I feel no passion for the job I’ve been in for the last three years, the way I’m not much of a planner like my other perky female friends who all seem to turn up for brunch immaculately dressed and made up, while I show up with dog hair on my jeans (I share a dog with my ex, which actually gives me a lot of joy, because loving a dog and taking care of him feels like one of the best things I’ve ever done). The way someone I was dating recently — who seemed really into me — suddenly ghosted me. 

The way I’m not close to my family — I’ve never known my dad, my stepdad is kind of distant, my mum has always traveled a lot as part of her job, and there are huge age gaps between me and my two younger siblings. I spent a lot of time with my grandmother when I was a kid and we were exceptionally close. Gran died two years ago and I miss her every day. I have good friends I can talk to, and I do, and I see an understanding therapist, but I also hate making demands of people.


It might be that Dessicated is tossing around the word shame because she knows that Polly is obsessed with it. How better to gain recognition and to be published than to use a buzzword designed to attract the mentally challenged advice columnist.

In truth, there is very little about the incidents that Desiccated reports that merit shame. I would guess that she is hiding those actions that a sensible young woman might be ashamed of. If that is too much to contemplate, imagine that she has bought the gospel of shamelessness and has chosen to be indiscreet, to share confidences and intimacies with others, to impose on them and to blurt out her thoughts, regardless. 

Polly would approve of these forms of shamelessness, but if you practice them, besides becoming desiccated, you will certainly end up with fewer friends. You might even lose your boyfriend. One thing that boyfriends, and girlfriends, hate above all else is indiscretion and perhaps disloyalty. Could it be that the hidden meaning here is that this woman followed Polly's lame advice and lost her boyfriend because of it.

As for Polly’s view, I will share a few choice words. It’s better than inviting you to imagine it:

I am good to myself, to the point where it often inconveniences others. I recommend this lifestyle. I don’t give a fuck about getting in the way and slowing people down anymore. Out in the world, I am so considerate, mind you! But just socially, in general, among whomever, being myself, I like to push it. I like to tax the patience of others. I like to truly assert myself, my needs, my musing thoughts, my fucking physical presence. Lately I’ve been through a few gigantic challenges, and I’m more of a pain in the ass than ever, and it just feels right.

It’s a very good way to lose friends and to alienate people.

Polly continues:

Love matters. Shame blocks love. Shame impedes the path of your love, which wants you to write more words, around the clock, because you’re really, really good at it. Shame keeps you from believing in the love that other people spread all over you. Shame makes you think your skin matters (it doesn’t, people can still see your pretty face) and shame keeps you from treating your skin (maybe you have acne rosacea like I do and you just need some good products or a prescription medication to keep the redness down!). Shame prevents you from doing the things you really want to do. (Maybe you want to look more pulled together over brunch? You can have that, if you want it! Think it over, at least!)

As for your skin, since Polly thinks it doesn’t matter, that means that it does. If your skin looks bad you lose face. When you reach age thirty you are too old for adolescent acne. Losing face is the definition of shame, genius.

But I want to let you know that aiming for SHAMELESSNESS is also an option, and it’s a good one that includes eating tons of pie. Because when you’re SHAMELESS, you take up space whenever you feel like it (mostly when you’re alone, not in a rude way!) and you also say what you mean, always, and you also kiss your dog on the face and call her “Nooogoo” randomly and you feel how much you love her, the big dumb idiot, and you just savor your own weird, fucked-up animal self.

I’m not sure what kind of pie Polly wants Desiccated to eat. If you miss the scurrilous innuendo, look it up in the Urban Dictionary.

The truth is, the cure for feelings of shame is to pull your pants back up. And to conform to the dress code by acting with dignity, propriety and decorum. If people see you on Saturday morning wearing your Friday night best, you might feel that you are going on a walk of shame. In truth, no one really cares what you were doing on Friday night, but they do care when you advertise it. In that case, you need simply to revise your tactics, either to start having sex with people you know or to bring along a change of clothing when you go out clubbing on Friday.


urbane legend said...

Mr. Schneiderman, you are spot on.

Dessicated, you love Polly's writing and her advice. Yet here you are feeling like a train wreck, and you are ashamed. Maybe you should see a connection? Do you really want advice from someone who expresses herself in obscenities? She says she is considerate in the real world, but you have to wonder. Does Polly talk like that to her mother, her lawyer, her gynecologist?

Desiccated, get away from Polly. You have friends? Which ones are confident, reasonably sucessful;they have a job they keep, regular hours, a circle of friends. Learn from them. And pull your skirt down. Adults know better.

Anonymous said...

Polly sounds like a real pleasure to be around, doesn't she? And this person who wrote to her has a very simple problem: she's immature and needs to get into adulthood. She's ashamed of not loving her job?? I've never heard that everyone loves their job.