As I’ve confessed on my “About” page, I am strangely fond of reading advice columns. Of course there are times when I want to scream “what in the fucking hell are you smoking” at one of the columnists. This is one of those times…
Below is a question and answer posted at Dear Sugar from The Rumpus website.
My comments are in red.
I’m kind of new in school and I want to make friends. All I ever hear is “just be yourself” and “just be friendly” and it’s not that easy on your second day of 8th grade. Everyone already has their own cliques and groups and they exclude me from everything. Everyone already knows who they’re going to pair up with in science class, while I’m stuck with an anti-social kid who picks his nose. I really want to make friends and I don’t know what to do. Can you please help me, Sugar?
I peed my pants in 8th grade. I really did. It was in gym class and we were square dancing. (OK, odd but interesting start. A moment an 8th grader can relate to…or not depending upon bladder control issues.) Do you square dance at school or have we also left that behind with the No Child Left Behind Act? If we have, it’s a shame because square dancing is a serious hoot. (If by hoot you mean awkward and anachronistic, then yes it is a hoot.) Not only do you get to dance, you get to dance with someone else, which in my case, meant a boy. I was so overcome by the combination of romantic anxiety and delighted do-si-do-induced hysteria that I wet my drawers (Are you sure you aren’t channeling the thoughts of my new Jack Russell Terrier puppy. Seems like all I have to do is put on country music and throw a humping pillow on the floor and he pees himself with glee…). As I bet you can imagine, it was a humiliation beyond measure. If someone had handed me a gun right then, I’d have shot myself in the head.
This came on top of another, less dramatic humiliation—also having to do with my pants. You see, I only owned three pairs in 8th grade and there are five days in the school week, which meant I had to rotate through them, and mix in the odd (loathsome) skirt… (The reply continues on but my attention wanders as Sugar describes her clothing woes. Seriously, I get it.) …I hoped no one would notice. I hoped they’d only see how cool and fabulous I was. Those white jeans! They were Levi’s! (The poor thing — hope springs eternal from her as a youth. But we’ve all been there, no?)
But of course I was wrong.
Is there any group of people on the planet more eagle-eyed than 8th graders? I think not. Eighth graders are the people we should’ve sent out to locate Osama Bin Laden. They see everything. They forgive nothing. I became The Girl Who Wears The Same Pants.
This was on top of my other nickname: Porky the Pig. I’d been dubbed that because:
a) I was ever-so-infinitesimally fatter than the International Regulatory Commission on the Female Body had mandated, and
b) the year before—when I was in seventh grade—a teacher had stood before my desk and announced to the entire class in an amused tone that I smelled strongly of bacon. In this observation, she was imprecise. I actually smelled like wood smoke because my family was so poor that our rented farmhouse didn’t have a working furnace, in spite of the fact that we lived in a legendarily cold climate…(I have to interrupt here because although interesting writing ensues, writing you should check out at The Rumpus website, Sugar does seem to love telling us of her troubles. Which is fine and interesting, but by now hasn’t her 8th grade letter writer been overwhelmed by Sugar’s “you think you had it bad” schtick? As an adult, I enjoyed the writing, empathized with the story, but as a way of addressing an 8th grader waiting for an answer, well…probably not the best tack.)… Eighth grade is a universally difficult year. You don’t yet know how perfect you are and also how imperfect. (Here we go, finally the advice we are waiting for!) You’re trying to survive in a social order that’s predicated on conformity and scarcity when the life you’re leading is original and abundant (Just like yours was Sugar, we know, we know, so could you stop wallowing in your own nostalgia and answer this poor girl?!). How can you be yourself when you don’t yet entirely know who it is you are? I don’t exactly know. (What? Wait. This is what I read all the other crap for? I can get I don’t know from anyone…) Or rather, I know, but there isn’t anything I can say that will make the bright anxiety and dark confusion of this time disappear. (Aw, come on. Say it! Say it!! That’s why she fucking wrote you!) There are important things you’re learning right now that you can only learn by living them. But I can tell you that the thing that speaks most profoundly to me in your letter is not your own angst about being included, but rather your offhand exclusion of the “anti-social kid who picks his nose.” (Uhm, what? So to paraphrase Sugar — “what speaks to me most is not that you are in a painful place in life, but that you defensively insulted the one kid who might have been your friend. The one kid who you could have connected to. So what if that kid peed her pants and wore the same pair of jeans all the time…no wait, that’s me who did that. And you would have been there taunting me, you new girl. They like you and not me and you’re the new girl. I hate you. Anyway, don’t insult others. What are you twelve or something?” After wading through all the “here’s how bad I had it” and “you have to live it I have no answers “ non answers, the best this girl gets is, don’t pick on the booger eater? Couldn’t you have led with that Sugar, and then, I don’t know, given the poor girl some kind of tip for making friends? Like join extra-curricular activities, go to community teen events, or any of the hundreds of pieces of advice clearly dispensed by Ned in Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide?)
It may seem that those two things are unrelated, but they’re not. It’s a closed circuit system, sweet pea. You are not one iota more worthy of love or inclusion than that boy. (Wow Sugar, one mention of not wanting to be stuck with an outcast and you go all flashback to pee pants. I mean this kid wasn’t one of those who made your life a pee pants hell, geez.)
No matter what happens, no matter how old you are, I know for certain that so long as you believe yourself to be superior to him you will never feel okay with yourself. Until you are incapable of writing the sentence “while I’m stuck with an anti-social kid who picks his nose,” you will never truly believe yourself to be welcome among others. You must love in order to be loved. You must be inclusive in order to feel yourself among the included. You must give in order to receive. (Ok, the girl made one slightly mean remark. It’s not like she is every mean girl wrapped into one Sugar. Wow.)
It’s the simplest equation in the world and yet so complex. A lot of people live their whole lives and never work it out. Don’t let yourself be one of them. (Thanks, Sugar, I’m sure this helped her immensely. So let me boil down this answer to what seem to be your main points:
1) You think you’ve got it bad? Well listen to my pee-pants-bacon-smell-one-pair-of-jeans story and then you’ll see how bad it can be little girl. Hah, I win.
2) By the way you are a snobby mean girl. Be Mother Teresa instead.
What a long and punishing letter for a young girl to bear the brunt of.)