July 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

I never was a big fan of advice columns. Not that I’ve read a great many of them, but those I can remember seem to be filled with either condescending pity or less than subtle nudgings of self promotion. If I needed to read any, I would find something comical, where the whole thing is just an excuse for some light laughter.

But then I discovered Sugar at The Rumpus.

The RumpusNot only were my ideas about advice columns shattered, my ideas about writing were shattered. Here was a writer who could bring me to tears in a public library (the letter linked to above) in an advice response, in point form.

I used to have a habit of easily falling in love, and I very nearly fall in love every time I read her column. The compassion sans schmaltz that she shows her correspondents is sometimes literally overwhelming. She attracts countless comments every week, many from people in tears and many with stories or advice of their own to offer up. Through the sheer force of her writing she has created a committed, giving and caring community that are helping each other through whatever hard times they might find themselves in.

She is never easy in her responses, but Sugar does not aim to please. She aims for honesty. As far as I can tell, her inbox is likely flooded with letters every week, and she seems to take immense care with the selections. With so many letters unable to be answered, she does her damned best to provide the most thoughtful responses she is capable of to the ones that make the cut. Despite the often dangerous ground she walks on (giving advice to parents who have lost their children, women who are leaving husbands, carers of “troubled” kids) she never shies away from the responsibilities of her correspondent. She addresses their concerns but insists on an acceptance of position and a willingness to find the truth in their situation. There is no pity, no slack, no compromise. It is complete and utter devotion to helping her correspondents be the best they can be, even if it hurts like hell.

I was very, very excited to discover that she has a new novel published and that I will learn her real name. I’ve been aching to read something else written by her, to find that voice in a work of fiction. There was an email from Stephen Elliott that promised a link to something about it, but the link was broken. I’ll be keeping an eye on The Rumpus for news, and ensuring that every day I do whatever I can to introduce a little more Sugar-like compassion into my life.

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