The Doldrums, Exeunt

it's getting better

I talked a few weeks ago about how Seasonally Affected I have been this winter, and am happy to report that my particular cocktail of coping mechanisms (exercise, light therapy, the outdoors, music, books, being offline, etc) has been working really well. It won’t work for other people, necessarily, but it’s been good for me. I hesitate to credit the horrible green juice, but it makes me feel like I am accomplishing something.

I am also very satisfied by my work. Care and Feeding has been such a wonderful experience for me, and I am getting better at it, which is always good for the soul: improvement. I sometimes think about whether I would want The Big Job (Dear Prudence) when Danny eventually decides to move on (and if I were asked), and I go back and forth on it. I do not want the heavier scrutiny, the heavier workload, but I would like to get to answer some non-parenting content occasionally. What I have learned, though, is that so much of the non-parenting content is…parenting content. That can mean helping people un-learn their own bad lessons from their childhood, it can mean giving people permission to drastically alter their adult relationships with their family of origin, and sometimes it means…mothering people. There are letters I answer which give me an opportunity to mother someone who has been badly or neglectfully or utterly un-mothered. That brings me great joy.

I am also consistently uplifted by how alright the kids are (the new generation, not my own, who are also pretty alright). The kids are very alright. Sometimes they act like dicks, like all of us, but I am so touched and moved by the kindness and empathy I see in these letters. Children who tell their parents about other children being mistreated. Adults who are attuned to the sorrows and burdens of other peoples’ children and want to know how to help without harming. Sometimes I need to be very firm with people, but so often I get to offer reassurance and love. Childhood is so difficult, but I think it’s…getting better. I see the external problems of poverty and systemic racism and classism and homophobia each week, but I also see a new willingness by parents to fuck that shit and do the work. I am inspired by my letter writers and their sweet, goofy children.

It’s rewarding. It also shows me snapshots of the future: I usually leave questions involving teenagers to my colleagues who have parented teenagers, because I have not yet swum in those waters. Sometimes the answers are clear, but sometimes I can step back and say: this is not a situation where my opinion can add value.

I think I’m good at this. I don’t know what else I would be this good at. I am better at being a parenting advice columnist than being a parent, but it has also made me a better parent. This is deeply helpful.

Advice columns are, at their core, entertainment for the readers. That’s the metric. That’s the reality. I think my first duty is to the person who has girded their loins to ask for my help or to solve an argument, but my second is to create a form of edifying entertainment. Not a pill hidden in jam, but to find a balance which can help the readers live their lives, maybe just a touch better or more sensitively.

I read the comments. The commenters (mostly) like me, because I am funny and I am decisive. I read the comments because I am often wrong, and sometimes I will write back to a letter-writer and say “on second thought, do this instead”. Slate has really done a good job moderating comments in recent times. It makes it easier to learn from them. There are people who do not like me because they do not like me as a person in general, and that is okay. There are people who say “I hate Nicole on Twitter but she’s very different here, which infuriates me,” which I understand. I am different here because it is my place of business. Sometimes I want to say, plaintively, “but I’m not even ON Twitter anymore,” but have chosen never to engage with comments which disagree with me as a semi-public human in the world or with the advice I give, because I want people to speak freely in the comments.

I enjoy being less sort-of-famous. I remember, years ago, Emily Gould trying to explain to her therapist that she was, in a way, famous, and her therapist clearly thinking she was delusional. I’m happier not on Twitter. I am fortunate that I can avoid being on Twitter and still do my job, as a large Twitter following is becoming semi-mandatory for many, many creatives. I do not miss it, though I miss many many people from it. Lots of those people have become IRL friends, and they send me things they know I would enjoy. “Tell me if anyone says something nice” is a task I have given a few friends, but I am much less dependent on that.

I got an email last year from a very stoned person (they told me they were very stoned, I am not guessing) who said they would not email me unless they were stoned, but they were worried that I was beginning to need the validation of strangers too much. They were very stoned, but correct. It’s been nice to instead desperately need the validation of my real friends, which is, I hope, the first step to requiring only the validation of my own character and my work.

I don’t think I’m going back to the bird site, but I also think I can be more useful off of the bird site. I don’t miss it this time like I have on previous hiatuses. I do plan on occasionally coming back to say hi to my beloveds, but it’s not where I want to put my energy and I am too visible not to feel extremely vulnerable. I found myself unable not to share more about my own traumas (we all got ‘em!) to explain situations to people, because the feeling of being misunderstood is so horrifying to me. There’s a lot of value in transparency, but this season of my life I find that I desire to be less visible. I think that social media, generally, works for people until it doesn’t. For many of us, it’s worth it (and deeply deeply consuming and joyful and companionable) and then one day it’s not giving you what you’re giving it anymore (time, your privacy, your three am freak-outs, your abortion story, your depression in college, etc).

I get very nice emails from people who say they are sorry I was “driven off” Twitter. I don’t think I was. It would be silly to blame the fact that people will have their own reactions to your consensual online presence or actions for you having a bad day or week over it. I do not think there was ever a time when a dustup was ultimately worse for me than the other party, and it became very difficult to know that I just…couldn’t/shouldn’t….react to something hurtful or untrue without launching a large and well-meaning horde at people who really didn’t need that in their life. But, fundamentally, I just don’t have the desire for it anymore. I don’t think that I can be useful or happy there at this point in my life.

I never wanted to do a “I’M LEAVING TWITTER” manifesto, because it’s very, very done to death, but I did want to do a “it’s okay on the other side” post, because for all you know, I’m frantically scribbling unsent tweets all over the walls of my house. Rather, I’m reading more books. I’m mad at God, though we continue to speak frequently, so no change on either point. I’m more present with my family. I’m closer to my friends. I make tea in the afternoon. I love my work. I am aware of the world being on fire, but not every single minute, and find that having the option to just crack withering jokes about it to 160k people having been taken away has forced me to find other, more constructive ways to do my bit to make the world a little less on-fire.

So, essentially, I am well. Please do not waste a second of your life worrying about me. But I am very flattered that you might want to.

As always, I love you very much.