By Erin Crowell
Amy Alkon, syndicated columnist, humorist and author, will tell youhow it is and shell do it with ferocity and flare. Her Advice
Goddess column has appeared in over 100 newspapers, including theNorthern Express, where her sharp wit and candid humor has earned herdedicated readers along with a few critics.Alkon will appear as a guest speaker at this years National WritersSeries, at the City Opera House, on February 11. She will discusseverything from her weekly column to her newest book, I See Rude
People: One womans battle to beat some manners into impolite society.
Recently, the Express caught up with Alkon via phone while she was at
her home in Los Angeles. Heres what the busy redhead had to say:
NE: How did you come up with the idea for a book on rudeness?
Alkon: Well as you know, Im from Michigan and I actually spent a
great deal of my summers as a kid up there. We would go to camp
Michigania on Walloon Lake and go around to all the places up there,
Im from the Detroit suburbs and people are much more decent where you
guys are; and Ive experienced what its like for much of my life to
be around nice, decent people; and then, all of a sudden at some
pointmaybe 10 years agoI just woke up and realized were all living
in Mean Land. Very stressful, weve become the ME, ME, ME! Generation
and people are just behaving very odiously to each other and this made
me very upset and I had to do something about it -- One second, let me
just tell my little neighbor Im home. (In the background) Hello miss
Lilly, aww, thanks for the hug. (back on the phone) She gives the best
hugs. Theyre very well mannered children because their mother teaches
them to care about other people.
NE: Speaking of that, I loved the chapter on underparenting.
Alkon: Oh yes, I did a reading here in Romans in L.A. Oh, (the sound
of a small dog barking in the background) Lucy stop that. Naughty. No
noise. (Lucy stops barking -- back on the phone) Okay, were back.
So this reporter comes whos going to do a piece on me and no sooner
do I start talking about kidsI think shes a bad mother, maybe. Or
she feels like I classify her as oneand she threw a tantrum and
stormed out of the reading. But, this is the thing: I love hecklers. I
had a heckler in Portland and she sat in the middle of the front row
and stared at me with a look of hate on her face. In the middle of the
reading she finally says, Youre rude! and I actuallythe funny
thing isall I could say was, well, yes I am. You know, Im very
rude. Were all rude. I try to recognize the way Im a jerk and try to
be better. Were all human. So, I really love those people who do
that, who make it really fun.
Sorry, you were asking me? I got off on a tangent.
NE: Thats okay, actually I was going to say that you have a lot of
critics out there. Like you mention in your book, people who say
really awful things. How do you deal with that?
Alkon: Oh yeah, in my advice column I get people who write me, Dear
Bitch, you know? Im used to this. If you cant take criticism, you
cant write things. The moment you put stuff out there, someones
going to tell you youre a bad writer, that youre ugly, that you look
like a man, whatever. I mean, people say the worst things. Im a big
free speacher, so I really want people to communicate whatever it is.
So, I dont mind that stuff.
NE: What would you say is the difference between standing up to
somebody and just being a plain bitch? Where does the line draw?
Alkon: Well, the coffee place I go to, they have a drink called
Witches Brew and Im like, (in a sing-song voice) Aww, they named it
Anyway, I dont just go around shouting at people. Theres a purpose.
Basically, theyre stealing from the rest of us, and thats what
rudeness is. But what people steal from us is our time, our peace of
mind, a good nights sleep. We need to recognize these things so we
can say Hey, you cant do that. You cant victimize me. You cant
stand here in the drugstore line and be on your cell phone and scream
your dull life into my brain. So its reactive. Its a defensive.
Youre defending against a bad thing rather than just lashing out at
NE: In your column, when you get a question worth answering, how do
you go about the process of finding an answer? Do you actually have a
process or is it just kind of common sense for you?
Alkon: Well, actually I do all kinds of research and I read the
same journals, I go to the conferences anthropology, psychology,
sexology, other fields that are related, so I really know my stuff.
And I just felt a responsibility after starting out giving free advice
on street corners as a joke, that Id better learn something.
I didnt go to school for psychology. But I read everything: Freud,
Fritz Perls and then I discovered Albert Ellis, who is really the
father of cognitive behavioral therapy. Hes dead now, but he was
something of a mentor. Using reason to solve emotional problems,
thats the basis. Then I used data from studies. I know how to read
studies and Im able to translate sort of ivory tower research that
youd never see and put it in my columns in a way thats
understandable to the average person, so they can use it to make a
difference in their life.
NE: Who do you go to for advice?
Alkon: Oh, well myself. I mean, if I couldnt go to me for advice,
what would I be worth? I use reason. My first shot at solving any
problems is, am I thinking rationally on this? Whats logical? I
have standards. I have ethical standards. This is the problem with
many people who write me. They have no ethics, no standard, no value,
so they dont know how to behave.
Then there are people I trust. My boyfriend Gregg is incredibly wise,
so Ill ask him for all sorts of advice on things I know hes better
at giving. Im the kind of person who likes to be told Im wrong, but
only by people whose minds I respect.
Also, my little sister. Shes wise.
NE: Whats the age difference between the two of you?
Alkon: My sister and me? Umm, I think its five years. I never
remember. I barely remember how old I am. I only remember because
people in L.A. dont tell their age and I dont want to be associated
with that. So I know Im 45, and I can tell people Im 45. And I dont
use Botox, and never intend to. I plan to wrinkle. You see 70-year-old
women in this town and their faces look like a bowling ball. Its
NE: Another reporter here, Anne Stanton, is actually interviewing Gregg.
Alkon: Oh, she is? Oh, I met her.
NE: Shes interviewing Gregg, and
Alkon: About me? Or something else?
NE: Well, thats what I was going ask. Im guessing she would ask him
some questions about you. Are you worried about that?
Alkon: Oh, no. He would never say anything to hurt me. Hes very
funny. This is probably TMI, but I have ADD or ADHD and he completely
gets me. Before he asks me something important he says, Do I have
your completely divided attention? (laughs).
Yeah, hes great. Weve been together for seven yearsin case youre
going to ask thisand personally I dont believe in marriage, I dont
have kids but I dont believe in marriage for myself or living
together. So we live apart. Were sort of dating and so I always miss
him. And every morning I cant wait to talk to him on the phone. He
shot the cover of my book.
NE: So do you plan on staying in that stage of just living separately?
Alkon: Well, it doesnt feel like a stage. Stage sounds so bad. It
sounds like youre on your way to juvey hall or something. Were just
happy. I dont see any reason to do anything differently.
Personally, I think relationships end because people get bored with
each other. Were not bored with each other. I never thought Id be
with someone this long, because I get bored easily. But hes smart and
interesting and hes very sweet.
NE: So do you guys have any plans for Valentines Day?
Alkon: I hate Valentines Day. Its so stupid. No, in fact I forgot it
was Valentines. I find it our national day of insincerity. People who
are horrible to each other all year round will spend money on, I
dont know, chocolate crap for each other, or some night in some
But my boyfriend is sweet to me all the time. Hes romantic. We danced
in my doorway the other day. Thats our life all week. People who let
their relationships go and take them for granted, theyre the ones who
need Valentines Day. I think people should make every day Valentines
Day -- if that doesnt sound too sappy.
NE: Youre coming up for the National Writers Series. Are you excited
about returning to your vacation area?
Alkon: Actually, the coolest thing is the Northern Express was the
second paper to pick me up and Ive been in your paper for like, a
really long time, and I know people there and I like people in
Hagerty used to be my classic car insurance company. Theyre really
nice. I mean, Im just happy to come up there, and also happy for this
cause. Plus, Im really excited because up there, they have been
writing to me for years and years and years; and I wanna meet some of
them. Its just a thrill.
NE: What kinds of questions do you get on a regular basis?
Alkon: Insane! Totally insane! This guyI havent done the column
yetbut his girlfriend wrote me because he has a fetish well its not
really a fetish, but a perihelia but he likes to see her in wet blue
jeans and she wants to break up with him; and her sister says she
should. Its like, okay, its not like hes binding you and hanging
you from the chandelier. But, is getting in the bathtub with a pair of
blue jeans a really sick and horrible thing for you? She really likes
the guy, this is nuts. It might be a little weird. But many people are
NE: Is there anything else youd like to add about your book?
Alkon: At the root of manners is empathy. Its caring about other
people knowing that other people exist, and not inflicting yourself
The National Writers Series hosts Amy Alkon at the City Opera House,
in Traverse City, on February 11. Alkon will discuss her book I See
Rude People, along with her experience writing as a nationally
syndicated advice columnist. The event features complimentary Indiancurries and food from Wellington Street Market, chocolates, music,silent auction and free tarot card reading. Doors open at 6 p.m., withthe event starting at 7 p.m. Afterglow reception to follow, along withpersonal book signing with Alkon. Tickets, $20 at the door, $15 forseniors, $10 for students, with discounts available for advancetickets. Visit CityOperaHouse.org or TreatTickets.com. Moreinformation on the National Writers Series available at