Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Parenting & Relationships

Hax: Ann, Abby set bar for walking the fine line of advice

RECOMMENDED READING


Ann and Abby set the bar for walking the fine line of advice

Era over. What a strange institution it is, the advice column; it's part of the cultural air we breathe, but only because of Pauline Phillips, who died last week at 94, and her sister Eppie Lederer. Dear Abby and Ann Landers to most of us, of course.

As a writer who gives advice now, I get to see all the unanswerable questions that pop into my inbox day and night, week after week, year after year. Unanswerable to some extent due to my limitations, which are legion, and also due to the limits of the human experience, where we can never fully know another's heart. Often, it's a twisted mystery just knowing our own.

And as someone who has appeared publicly in need of advice herself — as both Pauline Phillips and Eppie Lederer did at well-publicized times, especially given their rivalry — I can say that writing an advice column is also a state of being in which your private and professional lives are so entwined that the meaningful distinctions might exist in our imaginations alone. The lives we lead and witness end up in columns, and columns affect our lives, and if any of it goes awry, we end up in someone else's column.

And so a life of advice is to walk the finest of lines, between knowing and guessing; entertainment and empathy; compassion and criticism; between trying to help and presuming to; between being a public resource and a punch line.

About that rivalry. Phillips and Lederer lived this already-weird life with the added weirdness of being the Friedman Twins: identical, double-wedding-and-double-honeymooned, then transformed into fierce competitors as Phillips, the younger by minutes, pulled a classic little-sister move and launched her own column after practicing on Lederer's.

She is said to have responded to 70 letters in two hours when she tried out for the new gig. That slim anecdote encompasses what made Phillips so huge — quick, smart and breezy — and why advice columns evolved away from the bite-size buck-ups the sisters brought to virtually every kitchen table in America for decades, a feat unthinkable now. Nearly 50 years' worth of 10-year-olds used one or both of these columns to decode the cryptic world of adults.

"Ann" and "Abby" didn't provide the first public forum for the lovelorn but, in combination, they made advice into a central tenet of pop culture — one their heirs try to, variously, live up to, live down and live by to this day.

Portions of this essay are adapted from a May 7, 2012, benefit performance at Theater J in Washington, D.C.

Comments
Plan your weekend: Indie shopping, Lindsey Stirling, ice skating, Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith

Plan your weekend: Indie shopping, Lindsey Stirling, ice skating, Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith

Plan your weekendShoppingBlack Friday: Avoid the madness of the malls at a variety of indie shopping experiences this weekend. Skatepark of Tampa has one of the best sneaker selections in Tampa Bay and free skating all day Friday to celebrate. They’l...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Here's where to see Christmas lights in Tampa Bay

Here's where to see Christmas lights in Tampa Bay

Once the Thanksgiving leftovers are put away, you can stop grumbling about it being too early for Christmas lights and decorations. Let the grand illuminations begin! Despite our tropical climate, or maybe because of it, Tampa Bay goes all out when ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Disney-Pixar’s ‘Coco’ has a Dia de los Muertos theme and is, well, lifeless

Disney-Pixar’s ‘Coco’ has a Dia de los Muertos theme and is, well, lifeless

Disney-Pixar’s Coco was more enjoyable three years ago when it was titled The Book of Life and came from Twentieth Century Fox.Both animated features spring from Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos celebration, the annual "day of the dead" when departed rela...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Tell Me About It: Couple considers living on one income

Couple considers living on one incomeQ: My husband and I, both unhappy in our jobs, have determined that with some strategic penny-pinching, we can live on one salary for a while. The question now is, whose salary?The argument for my husband quitting...
Published: 11/20/17

Tell Me About It: Consistently treat twins as individuals

Consistently treat twins as individualsQ: We have 11-year-old identical twin boys who are wonderful and very different little guys. They both do well in school and their other activities, but "Dylan" is pulling ahead a bit, particularly in sports. We...
Published: 11/19/17
With Harry Potter’s Christmas, Universal Orlando proves holidays are big business

With Harry Potter’s Christmas, Universal Orlando proves holidays are big business

ORLANDO — Christmas has finally come to Hogwarts at Universal Orlando in a new holiday attraction opening Saturday. In addition, Universal Studios has completely upsized its holiday parade with more Macy’s balloons, stunning floats and snowy effects ...
Published: 11/17/17
First look: Harry Potter’s Christmas finally arrives at Universal Orlando

First look: Harry Potter’s Christmas finally arrives at Universal Orlando

Christmas has finally come to Hogwarts at Universal Orlando, with the promise of warm butterbeer, a Frog Choir singing carols and a magical light show projected onto Hogwarts Castle nightly followed by fireworks. It opens to the public on Saturday. C...
Published: 11/17/17

Tell Me About It: Mom’s stroke threatens plans for children

Mom’s stroke threatens plans for childrenQ: Recently you gave advice about how it’s "never the perfect time to have a baby," and that’s true, but does the calculation change any if you’re planning to be a single mom?I’m 36 and a year ago I broke up w...
Published: 11/17/17

Tell Me About It: Wife uses silent treatment to be cruel

Wife uses silent treatment to be cruelQ: My wife is a wonderfully sensible person and appropriately sensitive. She is the oldest of three sisters and often feels left out. The age and geographical distance make it understandable that her two sisters ...
Published: 11/16/17

Tell Me About It: Woman takes mom’s advice the wrong way

Woman takes mom’s advice the wrong wayQ: I was laid off recently from a job of 15 years. My confidence took a blow.When I told my mom, she said, "Hurry up and update your resume. And don’t forget to add your Employee of the Year award." I had of cour...
Published: 11/15/17
Updated: 11/19/17