dear trask

Posted: April 17, 2012 in Traskland
Tags: , , , , , , ,

One of the cushiest jobs in the world is Advice Columnist. Seriously, does it get any easier? You encourage people to write to you about their problems. Then you tell them how you think they should address those problems. If that wasn’t fantastic enough, you get a large distribution network to pay you for the privilege of letting them publish your opinions. Let’s be real. That is the dream for each one of us. Add the trampoline and body oil and it is a blogger’s ultimate fantasy come to life.

If someone wanted to get started in the advice racket, what kind of qualifications would they need? I’ll tell you. Almost none. I think qualifications start with having an opinion and end with the ability to write short, comprehensible sentences. Aside from that you don’t need any specific education. You don’t need any specific knowledge. Some would argue being a good advice columnist requires relevant life experience to draw upon, but I argue anyone can reference a book on etiquette or coping with difficulties and rework those tips into homespun wisdom which seems to have originated with them. A teenager could do this, although I suppose it requires a dash of creativity and a pinch of common sense. Okay, an above average teenager. B student, minimum.

Look at the two most successful American advice columns of the 20th century, Dear Abby and Ask Ann Landers. You may know the women most of us associate with these wildly popular columns were identical twins. Pauline Esther Lederer (Abby) and Esther Pauline Lederer (Ann) were born on July 4, 1918. (And what’s with the reverse names? As if being identical twins wasn’t confusing enough for everyone in Sioux City.) While in college they co-authored a gossip column for the student newspaper. That’s right, a gossip column. After college neither one experienced any significant professional success, as writers or otherwise. Although, to be fair, times were far different and it doesn’t appear as if that kind of success was sought by either lady. At least not immediately.

In 1943 a woman named Ruth Crowley assumed the pen name “Ann Landers” and started the Ask Ann Landers advice column in the Chicago Sun-Times. She kept her real identity a secret, partly because she was also writing a child-care column for the same newspaper. When she died in 1955 the newspaper ran a contest to find a new writer for the column. Esther Pauline Lederer won the contest and assumed the Ann Landers mantle for the next 47 years. Her experience? Well, she was breathing and lived in Chicago, so I suppose that helped. Oh yes, she could also write succinct sentences.

In early 1956 Pauline Esther Lederer, the older twin, was living in San Francisco. The story goes that she called the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and told him she could write a better advice column than the one currently in his paper. Eager to dismiss her the editor gave her a few letters to respond to. She returned them the same day. Asked what her greatest accomplishment was she answered, “Surviving.” Not counseling, not helping at the local soup kitchen. Surviving. Dear Abby was hatched later that year. It seems the major difference between the qualifications of these newly minted advice gurus was geography. Otherwise they were both 37 when they began their new careers with no more life experience than most women their age. Is this a great country or what? How fitting they were born on July 4th.

Ask Ann Landers passed into history with Esther Lederer’s death in 2002, as was her wish. Also in 2002 Pauline Lederer officially retired, yet Dear Abby continues to chug along. It is now written by Pauline’s daughter, Jeanne Phillips. (Jeanne began writing most of the columns in the 1990’s, but that wasn’t publically acknowledged.) Even more telling, Jeanne started helping with the column when she was 14. 14! I guess she got decent grades.

We all need a hobby that will make us millionaires. I’ve decided my new calling is Advice Columnist. I can offer honest, straightforward and no nonsense advice on how to deal with those seemingly impossible conundrums we all face. However, to do this I’ll need letters from folks who need a bit of help, a small slice of clear thinking pie. Of course I could just make stuff up and “respond”, but that doesn’t feel quite authentic enough. I’d rather you made stuff up.

So if you’re at wit’s end, if you’re walking the plank towards the deep sea of confusion, if you don’t know which fork to use in a fancy restaurant, drop me a line at I’m here to help. And don’t worry, even though I will share your tales of woe here at Trask Avenue, I will not betray your confidence. I may laugh when I read your pitiful story request for guidance, but no one will ever know that. I’ll keep the LOLs to myself.

  1. Kana Tyler says:

    Sent! To the official email. One pitiful story. 😉


  2. rangewriter says:

    Heck, I read every one of those comments and there wasn’t one single Dear Trask there. The Dear John theme seems to resonate though. I think someone should turn Dear John and Dear Joan letters into a fine art. Dear Trask, how do I tell my dear John that he has B.O. without offending him?


    • John says:

      Dear RW,

      Remember the old Scope commercials where people would leave a bottle of mouthwash in someone’s mailbox to tell them they had bad breath? Well, that’s very ineffective. Don’t try it with deodorant.

      I suggest adding a liberal dose of your favorite cologne to his next load of laundry, like a bottle or two. Failing that, go to one of those wash your own car places and “accidentally” douse him with a high-pressure stream of water. As he’s standing there dripping wet toss him a bar of soap and tell him he may as well use his time efficiently. Men love efficiency. He’ll lather up with a smile on his face!


  3. sparklebumps says:

    Dear Trask,
    I smashed my Rockstar’s face into the stove, do you see a future for us?


  4. whiteladyinthehood says:

    OMG! This is a perfect job for us! You could give ‘good advice’ like: seek counseling, meditate on your thoughts and I well… I could give ‘evil advice’ like: Oh, quit your moaning and leave this a-hole!


  5. Hmm .. maybe I will keep you in mind when I have some confusion or a dilemma ..

    I am actually curious to see what people will come to you with…


  6. kayjai says:

    I think I’ll get my letter ready and send it along. Hmm…


  7. surroundedbyimbeciles says:

    In our student newspaper, the professor in charge writes the questions and gives the answers. The questions do not cover issues that the students care about. They are the ones that he thinks that should care about.


  8. My fear is that I woul tell them what I really think…


  9. Dear John letters have a bad reputation. Perhaps you can be responsible for turning that image around!


  10. BrainRants says:

    First: “Dear John” letters aren’t funny…

    Okay, so my thought is that is about the last writing job I’d want ever, espcially these days… ‘Dear Rants, my daughter broke off our romantic relationship with me because of my meth issue, which she heard about from Jerry (Springer). My wife thinks I’m being dramatic… what should I do? Also, the dog started crapping in our bed.’

    I’d be compelled to hunt them down and kill them. Kinda takes up all the writing time.


  11. How about giving advice on how to take great photographs like the ones you feature?


  12. I don’t know about Abby or Ann, but I do know that a lot of these columns write the questions as well as the answers. You can do that, if peoples’ questions are boring or stupid.


  13. It’s a good thing that you’re not calling your advice column ‘Dear John’ or you might get requests to help write letters to dump people. Although that might be fun, and I’m sure there’s a market for that.


  14. mysterycoach says:

    I got C’s in school, can I qualify?


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