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Meet The Advice Goddess

Erin Crowell - February 8th, 2010
Write On!The Advice Goddess brings her wit & wisdom to Northern Michigan
By Erin Crowell
Amy Alkon, syndicated columnist, humorist and author, will tell youhow it is – and she’ll 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 year’s 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 woman’s 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. Here’s 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, I’m 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,
like Boyne.
I’m from the Detroit suburbs and people are much more decent where you
guys are; and I’ve experienced what it’s like for much of my life to
be around nice, decent people; and then, all of a sudden at some
point—maybe 10 years ago—I just woke up and realized we’re all living
in Mean Land. Very stressful, we’ve 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 I’m home. (In the background) Hello miss
Lilly, aww, thanks for the hug. (back on the phone) She gives the best
hugs. They’re 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 Roman’s 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, we’re back.
So this reporter comes who’s going to do a piece on me and no sooner
do I start talking about kids—I think she’s a bad mother, maybe. Or
she feels like I classify her as one—and 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, ‘You’re rude!’ and I actually—the funny
thing is—all I could say was, ‘well, yes I am. You know, I’m very
rude. We’re all rude. I try to recognize the way I’m a jerk and try to
be better. We’re 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: That’s 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? I’m used to this. If you can’t take criticism, you
can’t write things. The moment you put stuff out there, someone’s
going to tell you you’re a bad writer, that you’re ugly, that you look
like a man, whatever. I mean, people say the worst things. I’m a big
free speacher, so I really want people to communicate whatever it is.
So, I don’t 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 I’m like, (in a sing-song voice) ‘Aww, they named it
after meee.’
Anyway, I don’t just go around shouting at people. There’s a purpose.
Basically, they’re stealing from the rest of us, and that’s what
rudeness is. But what people steal from us is our time, our peace of
mind, a good night’s sleep. We need to recognize these things so we
can say ‘Hey, you can’t do that. You can’t victimize me. You can’t
stand here in the drugstore line and be on your cell phone and scream
your dull life into my brain.’ So it’s reactive. It’s a defensive.
You’re defending against a bad thing rather than just lashing out at
people.

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 I’d better learn something.
I didn’t 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. He’s dead now, but he was
something of a mentor. Using reason to solve emotional problems,
that’s the basis. Then I used data from studies. I know how to read
studies and I’m able to translate sort of ivory tower research that
you’d never see and put it in my columns in a way that’s
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 couldn’t 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? What’s 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 don’t know how to behave.
Then there are people I trust. My boyfriend Gregg is incredibly wise,
so I’ll ask him for all sorts of advice on things I know he’s better
at giving. I’m the kind of person who likes to be told I’m wrong, but
only by people whose minds I respect.
Also, my little sister. She’s wise.

NE: What’s the age difference between the two of you?
Alkon: My sister and me? Umm, I think it’s five years. I never
remember. I barely remember how old I am. I only remember because
people in L.A. don’t tell their age and I don’t want to be associated
with that. So I know I’m 45, and I can tell people I’m 45. And I don’t
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. It’s
frightening.

NE: Another reporter here, Anne Stanton, is actually interviewing Gregg.
Alkon: Oh, she is? Oh, I met her.

NE: She’s interviewing Gregg, and–
Alkon: About me? Or something else?

NE: Well, that’s what I was going ask. I’m 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. He’s 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, he’s great. We’ve been together for seven years—in case you’re
going to ask this—and personally I don’t believe in marriage, I don’t
have kids… but I don’t believe in marriage for myself or living
together. So we live apart. We’re sort of dating and so I always miss
him. And every morning I can’t 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 doesn’t feel like a stage. ‘Stage’ sounds so bad. It
sounds like you’re on your way to juvey hall or something. We’re just
happy. I don’t see any reason to do anything differently.
Personally, I think relationships end because people get bored with
each other. We’re not bored with each other. I never thought I’d be
with someone this long, because I get bored easily. But he’s smart and
interesting and he’s very sweet.

NE: So do you guys have any plans for Valentine’s Day?
Alkon: I hate Valentine’s Day. It’s so stupid. No, in fact I forgot it
was Valentine’s. I find it our national day of insincerity. People who
are horrible to each other all year ‘round will spend money on, I
don’t know, chocolate crap for each other, or some night in some
hotel.
But my boyfriend is sweet to me all the time. He’s romantic. We danced
in my doorway the other day. That’s our life all week. People who let
their relationships go and take them for granted, they’re the ones who
need Valentine’s Day. I think people should make every day Valentine’s
Day -- if that doesn’t sound too sappy.

NE: You’re 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 I’ve been in your paper for like, a
really long time, and I know people there and I like people in
Northern Michigan.
Hagerty used to be my classic car insurance company. They’re really
nice. I mean, I’m just happy to come up there, and also happy for this
cause. Plus, I’m really excited because up there, they have been
writing to me for years and years and years; and I wanna meet some of
them. It’s just a thrill.

NE: What kinds of questions do you get on a regular basis?
Alkon: Insane! Totally insane! This guy—I haven’t done the column
yet—but his girlfriend wrote me because he has a fetish –well it’s 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. It’s like, okay, it’s not like he’s 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
weird.

NE: Is there anything else you’d like to add about your book?
Alkon: At the root of manners is empathy. It’s caring about other
people – knowing that other people exist, and not inflicting yourself
on others.

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
NationalWritersSeries.org.

 
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