This month the nation mourned the death of Pauline Friedman Phillips, the author of Dear Abby. For 40 years, Phillips dispensed thoughtful, compassionate, and occasionally wry advice in more than 1,400 newspapers. She received up to 10,000 letters per week.
I’ve always been in awe of advice columnists. They’re astoundingly astute, a rare species of human able to inhale chaos and exhale clarity. Nothing jiggles on them. Nothing flaps. They’re so smart. So sure. So shiny.
I once interviewed Washington Post advice columnist Carolyn Hax, who is perhaps the most shockingly sensible person ever to peck at a keyboard. Star-struck, I giggled nervously and guffawed embarrassingly throughout our chat. She was like the Dalai Lama, and I hoped she would bless me with a sprinkling of her uncanny-sanity dust.
But she didn’t. So let’s call it “her fault” that when I recently began writing my own advice column — Tough Love on TheWeek.com — I found the task thrilling and stimulating and fun … but chest-squeezingly, brain-painingly, teeth-grindingly hard. So far, I’ve been hit up for help by a woman with herpes, a man whose wife dresses him funny, and a mom who caught her teen smoking pot.