Hysterical’s Advice Column

1. What do you say when a 70 year old man at a beer festival asks if your septum ring is for your boyfriend to pull you around with?

This situation gives the proper person a few attractive options: 1. Stare deep into his eyes and make a long low farting noise for about 3.5 straight minutes, maintaining eye contact the entire time. 2. Tell him yes and that is why God gave women septum piercings and men fingers. 3. Tell him that Jesus told you to get that piercing so that God could pull you by the ring when you reach heaven, and no man can touch it until you reach the pearly gates then ask him if he’s heard the good news. These are your only options.

2. How do you deal with time getting flatter as you age?

Youth’s stink makes moments crystalize more often: newness makes excitement makes adrenaline marks time in romantic, important memories. At 21 a bar full of strangers is a room of people you haven’t yet met and liquids you haven’t yet tasted and sensations you’ve yet to have. At 35 the same bar is just a collection of human-shaped tropes, unremarkable mixology, and time you’re stealing from your own tomorrow. So it does blend together. And if you’re lucky (by some people’s metrics) your job and your home and your partner are more stable and that sometimes makes time feel like it’s already reaching forward on your behalf. But that stability can be a foundation too, and the sheen of new falling off can allow you to focus on the things that still shine. Though time can feel more flat, you can become a connoisseur of the things that make it stand absolutely still; when its passage doesn’t matter and you don’t feel anything other than very alive. It is a skill. You can feel time hastening even as other things slow, and you have to stop and remind yourself that there is a creature beside you that you love, and that feeling is a rare thing, his soft fur and the way he smacks right before he falls asleep, his head on your ankle. You may realize that things you thought were plentiful are not. That it’s rare to feel that level of love, or that chemistry with a new friend, or to taste a meal so good it makes you bounce in your chair. That newness spice is gone, so as you age you have to learn to appreciate the things that still bring you joy and structure a life around them, if you’re so lucky, and I hope you are.

3. If you have a tendency to narrate your own day-to-day life and interactions with people in the third person limited, but you want to switch to a first person POV, or at least alternate chapters, what would you do? Are there exercises?

Stand in front of a mirror naked and repeat “I, We” until your voice cracks. When you brush your teeth say “I am brushing my teeth.” When you make coffee say “I am going to enjoy this cup of energy.” Sit cross-legged on the floor and recite “We will overcome.” Stand up. Get naked. Stare at your thighs and say “I have a body.” Think about what the body will do. Remind yourself that, yes, she will go to the store but I will take her. I will move the body. I will not got naked to the store. I will remember by tote bag. She will not forget. I will remind her to stand naked again in the mirror. Remind to recite “I, We” every morning.

4. How do you manage to both parent and write, given that you must also do so while everybody asks you how you manage to do so all of the time?

The childless staff of Hysterical did some field work, finding an actual living mother to answer this question. The response by writer Polly Kertis is as follows:

“What’s tricky about this question for me is that my knee-jerk answer is to laugh—a big, dramatic, self-deprecating guffaw that (depending on how sleep-deprived I am) may or may not transform into that totally cliché, mom-who’s-spread-too-thin unhinged sigh. Then I wipe at tears that were maybe from laughing so hard or maybe from some other, way darker feeling. BUT, you questioner, are not interested in the challenge of answering this question—you are interested in the answer to this question!

So, first, it’s worth addressing the challenge of writing without parenting. Not sure about you, but way back in another lifetime before I was a parent, I was very skilled at avoiding writing. This isn’t news. All writers say this—that when it’s time to write, taking out the trash or cleaning out your inbox, or folding your underwear suddenly seem like a really appealing things to do. The best tool I’ve found for navigating that challenge is to do my best to write even when I don’t want to, or when I think I don’t want to. Sometimes I remember this, and sometimes I have a “not so satisfying” writing time; other times, once I start writing, I realize that I did actually want to write even though it seemed like I didn’t. And sometimes, I just don’t want to write and I don’t remember that I should write anyway, so I watch stupid TV with my kids instead of writing. Maybe, dear questioner, this is something that will help you get over the basic hump of how hard it can be to sit down and do this thing that many cultural forces seem to be working to make us believe is not a worthwhile thing to do. Or, maybe, dear questioner, you’ve already leveled up, and you really just want me to cut to the chase and address this important, specific, balancing-art-and-life can of worms.

By the way, I like the way Lauren Groff answered this question recently — by refusing to answer until people start asking dads this question. But I also like the way you asked it, and I believe in supporting other parents as much as possible, so I’m going to do my best to give you an answer that’s both honest and helpful.

But of course, it’s not just balancing art and life, right? Life with kids is Extreme LifeTM—adult life as you once knew it PLUS extreme distraction, extreme emotion, extreme responsibility. I know you know what I mean, and also it’s super hard to articulate the simultaneously totally human and natural and totally surprising and strange and often uncomfortable experience of being a parent. (Some parents are actually really good at articulating this experience, and reading them may provide some form of an answer to your question! [Lauren Groff is an example of this kind of parent!])

And but so, maybe there’s a way to apply the (actually super cool and useful) qualities that are forced upon us by the role of parenting—namely being ok with imperfection and letting go of control—to writing. In this way, being a parent who also writes is kind of like being one of those writers who is exceedingly accepting of her shitty first drafts, who knows that there’s an ineffable aspect of creativity that is actually outside of ourselves—a super-writer! (Now seems like a good time to admit that I’m writing this while my 3-year-old watches The Lego Batman Movie because TV is another way to write while parenting and because apartment living is cramped and because I secretly like watching certain movies with my kids and sometimes find that their seemingly simplistic plot-lines can sometimes inspire my writing.)”

Polly Duff Kertis is a writer living in New York City who has two kids named Pete and Trudy (nothing to do with Mad Men). She sometimes makes face-shaped hot dog dinners for them, like this:


Follow her on Instagram: @pizzapolly

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