How to Be a Person in the World: Ask Polly's Guide Through the Paradoxes of Modern Life

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9780385540391: How to Be a Person in the World: Ask Polly's Guide Through the Paradoxes of Modern Life

*A New York Times Love and Relationships bestseller*

For readers of Cheryl Strayed and Anne Lamott, a collection of brand new, impassioned, and inspiring letters by the author of the beloved advice column Ask Polly, featured weekly on New York Magazine's The Cut


Should you quit your day job to follow your dreams? How do you rein in an overbearing mother? Will you ever stop dating wishy-washy, noncommittal guys? Should you put off having a baby for your career? 

Heather Havrilesky, the author of the weekly advice column Ask Polly, featured in New York magazine’s The Cut, is here to guide you through the “what if’s” and “I don’t knows” of modern life with the signature wisdom and tough love her readers have come to expect. 

How to Be a Person in the World
is a collection of never-before-published material along with a few fan favorites. Whether she’s responding to cheaters or loners, lovers or haters, the depressed or the down-and-out, Havrilesky writes with equal parts grace, humor, and compassion to remind you that even in your darkest moments you’re not alone.

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About the Author:

HEATHER HAVRILESKY is the author of the memoir Disaster Preparedness. She has written for New York magazine, The New York Times Book Review, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times Magazine, Bookforum, The New Yorker, NPR's All Things Considered, and several anthologies. She was a TV critic at Salon for seven years. She lives in Los Angeles with a loud assortment of dependents, most of them nondeductible.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Author’s Note
 
In the fall of 2012, I pitched an existential advice column to The Awl, a website that publishes smart, original takes on modern culture. At the time, I was a regular contributor to the New York Times Magazine, writing mostly essays about pop culture, and I had a column called the Best-Seller List in Bookforum. I’d spent seven years as a TV critic for Salon.com, I’d written a cartoon called Filler for Suck.com (the Internet’s first daily website!) for five years before that, and I’d answered advice letters on my own blog as early as 2001.

But this was something new. I’d never dished up advice to a wider audience. When The Awl’s co-founder, Choire Sicha, said yes to my idea, he made it clear that the column could be anything I wanted it to be. But what did I want it to be? Obviously, I had all kinds of outspoken, sometimes unwelcome advice to offer friends, family, and complete strangers alike. I’d been handing out unsolicited advice for years. But did I want the column to be funny? Did I want to use the column to rail against the scourge of passivity and avoidance in modern relationships or to address our culture’s burdensome fixation on constant self-improvement? Did I want to sneak in some commentary on troubled friendships, Kanye West, weddings, rescue dogs, luxe brands, commitmentphobic men, property ownership, the artist’s life, pushy mothers-in-law, or Game of Thrones?

As it turned out, I wanted to do all of these things, and eventually I did. But when I was sitting down to write my first weekly column, I just felt scared. “Who do I think I am, giving other people advice?” I thought. “I’m not qualified for this! I don’t have it all figured out. What the hell am I doing?” 

I’ve been asking myself that same question every week for four years now. And when Stella Bugbee, the editorial director for New York magazine’s website The Cut, approached me about taking my advice column over to her site, I wondered what she was thinking. Sure, this meant a much larger audience for Ask Polly and more money for me. But did she really know what she was signing on to? “You know my column is three thousand words long every week, and half of those words are ‘fuck,’ right?” I asked her. Somehow, this didn’t scare her off.

I don’t always feel qualified to guide other people to a better life. As a writer, even when I’m sitting down to start a book review or a cultural essay, as I’ve done professionally for years now, the blank page mocks me. “What could you possibly have to say?” it asks. “When are you going to give this up and do something useful with your life?” The blank page can be a real asshole sometimes.

Still, nothing I do brings me more happiness than writing Ask Polly. I’m not always sure of the right answer for any letter, whether someone is dealing with depression and anxiety, a go-nowhere job, a series of not-quite boyfriends, or an overly critical parent. But I do know for certain that when I reach out as far as I can to another person, using my words—my awkward, angry, uplifting, uncertain, joyful, clumsy words (half of which are still “fuck”)—some kind of magic happens. There is magic that comes from reaching out. I don’t believe in many things, but I believe in that, with all of my heart.

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