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Hers has never been a typical advice column. From the start 15 years ago, countless readers of The Washington Post and about 200 other papers have turned to Carolyn Hax for refreshingly frank, at times funny, and always heartfelt words of wisdom. Clever cartoons by Nick Galifianakis drive home her insights. We talk to the duo about their unique collaboration, and the challenges and rewards that come with writing and illustrating an advice column.
- Nick Galifianakis cartoonist; author, "If You Loved Me, You'd Think This Was Cute: Uncomfortably True Cartoons About You" (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2010)
- Carolyn Hax advice columnist; author "Tell Me About It: Lying, Sulking, Getting Fat... and 56 Other Things Not to Do While Looking for Love” (Miramax, 2001)
“Tell Me About It” Excerpts
Credit: Carolyn Hax for The Washington Post. Reprinted here by permission of The Washington Post. All rights reserved.
- How to end, or mend, a friendship
- Groom who wants big wedding should take lead in planning it
- To cure the blahs, look inside yourself first
A person whom I’ve known a long time, and with whom I used to be close, doesn’t get that I don’t want to rekindle our friendship. I have ignored some contact, delayed in responding, answered that I was busy to multiple invitations. Is there more I can do? I’ve been pinned down with the, “Have I done something wrong?” inquiry, to which I didn’t know how to respond (since the answer is “No, I’m just not feeling it anymore”).
Let’s (Not) Be Friends
When pinned down, you need to tell the truth. “No, you haven’t done anything wrong, but I feel as if we’ve grown apart. I’m sorry.”
I’m engaged (I asked him) and planning a summer 2012 wedding. The problem is, I don’t want a wedding at all. I want to either elope or just have a small ceremony with close family and a few friends.
He wants a bigger wedding, as he has a large and fairly close-knit family. Fine, we’re trying to budget and do this cheaply, as we are paying for everything ourselves.
My problem is when I ask his opinion on anything: He seems indifferent and says it’s up to me. Well, if it were up to me, I wouldn’t be planning any of this! I’ve told him how I feel, but we’re still about in the same place. Any suggestions?
Why are you even planning it? If you want to plan a big wedding as a gift to him, then fine — but if that’s not what you intended and this all just fell to you by default, then you have a problem that’s not going to go away when the thank-you notes have been mailed. Will housework and child care be your jobs, but will he decide how you do them? Will he get to decide how much effort he puts into your life together, while you absorb the rest?
It’s time for you to say kindly and calmly that you’re not going to plan the big wedding he wants just because it’s supposedly the bride’s job (you are female, yes?) to plan the wedding. Explain that you see the two of you as partners, and in a partnership each of you has an equal role. If it falls to you, then it’s going to be a trip to the courthouse. If he still wants the big wedding, then you will help him plan it, but he is going to have to take the lead — just as you will take the lead when your preferences are the driving force.
Hi, Carolyn: I have a bit of an open-ended question. When I’m unhappy, I tend to want to change everything — job, relationships, etc. — at once. It’s hard for me to decipher where I’m unhappy and what the best ways are to change things, rather than blow up my whole life. Are there ways to start to unpack all of this?
Time to Leave?
When you have the urge to blow up everything, the most prominent common denominator is you, right? So, the question waiting for an answer is, why don’t you feel like you’re living the right life for you?
Big stuff. That’s why, absent an epiphany, the best place to start is with small steps toward getting healthy. Are you getting enough sleep, being conscientious about any health issues, eating well, making an effort not to be sedentary?
If you’re maintaining your physical health, then move on to your emotional health: Are you putting effort into the people who are good for you, and distancing yourself from takers, criticizers, enablers or those who otherwise bring out your worst? Are you saying yes when you should, and no when you should? Are you showing up when you say you will? Are you using time productively? Are you playing to your own strengths?
If your physical and emotional habits are solid, then move on to temporary rut-busting: vacation. Or, a weekend road trip, or even a day trip, or just lunch with a friend you haven’t seen lately. Give your eyes a new place to rest. Familiarity can limit your thinking.
If you have an antibiotic-resistant strain of the blahs, then it’s time to weigh the big, external pieces of your life, such as where you live, what you do for a living, whom you befriend, date and trust.
But even then, start small: Can any of these be tweaked, vs. blown up? If tweaks don’t work, are there any changes that can be easily made or reversed? Can you walk away from anything temporarily, via sabbatical, temporary reassignment, trial separation, “a break”?
Should you get this far without relief, you’ll still have information toward understanding why demolition is your first impulse when you’re unhappy. After all, the blow-up solution pretty much assures that you can avoid facing that thing, whatever it is, you so badly want to avoid — whereas a methodical approach, honestly executed, will take you right to its door.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. When you find yourself dealing with an awkward problem or stuck in a relationship rut, where do you go for advice? Your family is likely biased either for or against. Your friends tend to tell you what they think you want to hear and your significant other, well, maybe they're the problem.
MR. KOJO NNAMDISo you might like countless others before you seek an impartial party, someone who will give it to you straight even if it might sting just a little. Enter, Carolyn Hax. For 15 years, she has served as a voice of reason for readers of her advice column accompanied by an awry cartoon drawn by her partner in guidance, Nick Galifianakis, that drives home the heart of the matter.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHere to tell us about their unique partnership is the aforementioned Carolyn Hax. She writes an advice column for The Washington Post. It's syndicated in over 200 other newspapers. She's also the author of "Tell Me About It: Lying, Sulking, Getting Fat...and 56 Other Things Not to Do While Looking for Love." Carolyn Hax, thank you for joining us in studio.
MS. CAROLYN HAXThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAlso with us is Nick Galifianakis. He is a cartoonist whose work appears alongside Carolyn Hax's advice column and in the book, "If You Love Me, You'd Think This Was Cute: Uncomfortably True Cartoons About You." Nick Galifianakis, thank you for joining us.
MR. NICK GALIFIANAKISThank you for having me.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join this conversation, call us at 800-433-8850. Apparently, people are calling already, 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIYou can send email. Do you owe people money? You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Do you read the advice column? What do you think of it? Have you ever written in to an advice column? Did you act on the columnist's suggestion? 800-433-8850. Carolyn, you were not an advice column devotee before starting your own. Did you seek out this job or did it find you?
HAXIt was a little of both. I was saying unkind things about an existing advice column to an editor I worked with at The Post and we were talking about how the genre was ailing. And I just said, what they really need is a snotty 30-year-old writing one of these things. And I said this a couple of months after my 30th birthday, after several years of working at The Post.
HAXAnd we both sort of got a -- I won't say it's an instant light bulb, but it was sort of a 24-hour release light bulb. I just sort of slept on it and came back the next day and said, you know that conversation we had, you know, why don't I try to write one of these things?
NNAMDII'm a snotty 30-year-old.
HAXThere you go, yeah. I would say if you are too, then you should go for it. It's a good line of work.
NNAMDIWell, you've been doing it long enough that I just referred to you now as a voice of reason. As the column has evolved, do you find that your own approach has changed significantly?
HAXIt has quite a bit. Well, some things I should say first, never change because I was listening to the intro and I always have this little voice in my head that just says I'm not worthy.
HAXYou know, I hear that and I live in my skin. I know what I do. I know what I think and I know that it's, oh, gosh, unfailingly human, I think, to have this. How did I ever have those words attached to me? And so there's always that little doubter in me and that will always be there.
HAXBut I will say what has changed over the years is just the amount that I'm comfortable talking about, the amount that I've lived. I mean, I've put on miles in those 15 years and I've heard from a lot of readers in those 15 years. And I think my vision is just broader than it was when I started.
NNAMDISpeaking as a charter member of the not-worthy club myself, no, Nick, for me, and I suspect for many other readers, the accompanying cartoon makes this column stand out. How did you get involved?
GALIFIANAKISOh, I thought you were going to say, is the real reason people stop and look at the column.
NNAMDIThat's what you want to say.
HAXNo, just humor him. It makes life easier for all of us.
NNAMDIThat's what he wants to say, but go ahead. How did you get involved?
GALIFIANAKISI got involved through marrying Carolyn.
NNAMDIThat's one way. That's one kind of job application.
GALIFIANAKISYeah, the front half of that story is as she said. A great editor, Peggy Hackman, was the one that Carolyn was having that conversation with about starting a column and then Peggy, once the two of them agreed to give it a shot, Peggy chimed in. I was a freelance cartoonist at the time. I had just left USA Today and it was Peggy's idea to say, well, why don't we get Nick to do an accompanying illustration?
HAXWell, actually it was. She wanted icons. She suggested icons and so she was going to have Nick put together maybe five little images that were topical and we could swap out and so anytime I had a dating column, then we could use Nick's dating icon and friendship and so on.
HAXAnd so Nick very astutely turned in the first one and it was actually an illustration of the specific column, not an icon at all.
HAXAnd so she looked at it. She loved it and a regular gig was born, very opportunistic. I was impressed.
GALIFIANAKISThank you, yeah.
NNAMDIWell, did she ask Nick, the wanted-to-be-medical student, to draw these cartoons or Nick the cartoonist to draw these cartoons?
GALIFIANAKISI had left any aspirations to being a doctor behind a long time ago, although if you ask...
HAXLife is long.
GALIFIANAKISYeah, yeah, that's right, it might come back around.
NNAMDIWell, Nick, you've said that you and Carolyn were a great couple, but you may just be greater apart. Some people were critical of your split. Was that tough to take at the time?
GALIFIANAKISAh, you know, I don't truly remember being overly concerned about what others are going to think. Carolyn and I, we simply wanted to let them know in a way that was -- one that served our privacy, but also was respectful to them.
GALIFIANAKISI mean, these are people who followed us, you know, followed Carolyn's advice. They cut my cartoons out and put them on refrigerators and so we wanted to let them know in a way that sort of honored what we did, honored each other, honored the column. And the way that you do that is, the first way you do that is you sort of live that kind of life.
GALIFIANAKISCarolyn is one of the very, very few people I know who walks her talk and I've said it before and I'll say it to the end of my life. One of the things I'm most proud of is how we split. We looked after each other. We had each other's back.
NNAMDIAnd now you're like family?
GALIFIANAKISNow we're like family.
HAXYeah, he's Uncle Nick to my kids.
NNAMDICarolyn, in case you're just joining us, we're talking with Carolyn Hax and Nick Galifianakis. Carolyn Hax writes the advice column for The Washington Post. It's syndicated in over 200 newspapers. Nick is a cartoonist whose work appears alongside Carolyn Hax's advice column. And we're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. You can send emails to email@example.com. Speaking of email, Carolyn, just how much mail do you get and how do you decide which questions you're going to answer?
HAXWell, the second question is a lot easier to answer. I decide by reading through it. I have a reading day where I just sit there and go through mail and if I feel that I have a response to it forming in my mind as I'm reading it and it isn't sort of, you know, and if it isn't two words, if it isn't, give up, get therapy, don't bother, you know, then I actually put it in a separate file as something that's worth answering.
HAXAnd then after I finish my reading day, I'll go back the next day and then start working on answering them for real. But the number is hard to answer because I get them from many different sources. And I don't count and so they come on paper. They come through a web submission portal. They come to me by email and I try to file them as I get them.
HAXSo I would say it's probably in the hundreds per week, but...
NNAMDIBut you don't count?
HAXI don't count.
NNAMDIYou just know it's a lot. From what I understand, this column is truly a collaborative effort. Can you walk us through what happens before we read the final result in the paper?
HAXWell, as I've said, I do everything, Nick takes credit. That's...
NNAMDIWorks for me.
GALIFIANAKISYeah, why would I give up...
NNAMDIWe can move on.
HAXAll right, next. No, so I read my mail. I go through and write drafts and I send the drafts to Nick who then provides his insights.
GALIFIANAKISI was wondering what the next word was going to be.
HAXSo Nick, he's actually an excellent editor in that he knows my voice so well and he knows my writing so well that he knows when I could do better and he says, you know, this is flat. This doesn't work. This joke isn't funny. Why are you using that word here? Or you're completely ignoring this perspective. I mean, he reads for all elements of the piece.
GALIFIANAKISOften I'll say, this sounds like an advice columnist.
GALIFIANAKISAnd not like Carolyn Hax.
NNAMDIWhich is not what you want. You want to hear Carolyn Hax.
HAXExactly. If, in fact, the meanest thing he can say is that this sentence sounds really advice-y.
NNAMDIOkay. So after you draft it, you send it to Nick.
NNAMDIHe edits it. What happens next?
HAXAnd then I take it back. He sends me edits by email and then I write through and incorporate his edits or ignore them.
GALIFIANAKISOr laugh at them.
HAXAnd laugh, yeah, sometimes. And read them to the family and we all just ha, ha anyway and then I send the revised version to him. He reads it and then we have a phone conversation about a week's worth of columns and all of the changes. He reads through and says, okay, okay, wait, you ignored me here, why?
HAXAnd he'll make me justify it or and then sometimes I'll incorporate that, sometimes I won't. Sometimes we'll go back to the family and laugh and then.
NNAMDIBut is he drawing yet?
HAXNo, he hasn't drawn a thing yet. And then, so once both of us sign off on the week's worth of columns, then we go in and collaborate on the cartoon lines.
GALIFIANAKISWe switch hats.
NNAMDIOh, so you get to edit the cartoons?
HAXNo, he hasn't even written them yet. We actually co-write the lines.
GALIFIANAKISShe's the world's greatest cartoonist that no one knows anything about.
GALIFIANAKISYeah, well, actually just as an aside, and I found these the other day, Carolyn. She...
HAXMy stick figures?
GALIFIANAKISYes, they're absolutely brilliant. They're stick figures.
HAXI can't talk.
GALIFIANAKISThey're stick, but the most brilliant stick figures I've ever seen. They're hysterical. And so yeah, we'll come at it that way, sort of looking at this letter, that letter and then start, you know, throw a concept. I get very wordy as you can probably tell.
NNAMDISo she has to edit your lines to go with the cartoons?
HAXYeah, so he'll start rolling with something and then I'll try to send it back and it's basically -- it ends up into sometimes a two-hour make-me-laugh session.
NNAMDIHow do you ultimately decide what's the funniest line that goes with the cartoon?
NNAMDISomebody, as in…
HAXOne of us or and if we're not sure, we'll send it to an outside laugher.
GALIFIANAKISTo make sure that -- for clarity, I have, like, a group of people that I will run it by just, you know, blind and see what kind of response I get. Do I have too much information here? No one else knows what's going on, but really, you know, sometimes it comes out in two seconds, boom, other times you work it, you work it, that's not the right word.
GALIFIANAKISI have three paragraphs and know the concept that I want, you know, and I start blathering about the psychological angle and stuff like that. And then Carolyn will just say, oh, whack and she'll whip it down to three words. That's it.
NNAMDII've got to go to the phones, but not yet. 800-433-8850 is the number to call. Please keep calling. I will get to the telephone. Has reading a Carolyn Hax column ever changed the way you think about an issue? Has a Nick Galifianakis cartoon hit close to home for you?
NNAMDITell us about it, 800-433-8850, or you can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can send us a tweet @kojoshow. Nick, for someone who nearly became a doctor, you've had quite a career as a cartoonist. What set you down that path?
GALIFIANAKISUm, scalpels. No, what happened was that actually I never lost my interest for medicine, biology, nutrition, diagnosing. I annoy my friends and family ad nauseum with that stuff still, but I'd always doodled. I'd always drawn my whole life. I don't remember ever not drawing, a common story for any artist.
GALIFIANAKISBut when I was in, I guess, college, I suddenly had something to say. I developed an opinion and it was my own opinion. I wasn't parodying my parents or something I'd heard on TV or from somebody particularly clever. It was my own opinion, right or wrong. And I had a strong need to express it.
GALIFIANAKISAnd so since I had unwittingly created this graphic vocabulary it seemed like the best way to do it. And I mean, I know that the reason I'm a cartoonist isn't so much that I happen to draw better than the next guy, but as I had a strong need to say something.
NNAMDIYeah, but yet after doing editorial cartoons for a while, you found out that that was not your real bill. That's not what you...
GALIFIANAKISWell, you know, today there's going to be some sort of political issue and tomorrow, 400 cartoonists are going to gun for it. So you're sort of in a -- course, you think your work will separate you from the sea of cartoonists doing this, but that started to bore me. Also, you look at a cartoon on the budget today and you look at, say, a Thomas Nast cartoon on the budget from a hundred and some odd years ago. Sometimes there's not a whole lot...
NNAMDIThey're so similar.
GALIFIANAKISYeah, there's not a lot of difference. So I'd really like the idea of, you know, entering sort of the smaller arena of timeless issues in way of human dynamics.
HAXAnd the crowded arena of advice cartoonists.
GALIFIANAKISRight. That's right.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Nick, don your headphones, please, because we'll be talking with Susan in Derwood, Md. right now. Susan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SUSANI am so excited, Kojo. This is...
NNAMDICalm down, Susan.
SUSAN...fabulous, fabulous day for me. I have to say that I -- this is the routine. I look at the cartoon first...
GALIFIANAKISYou can stop there.
SUSAN...I spend some time, you know, looking at it and then kind of see what's going to happen. But I've been wanting, Carolyn, to ask you this question for so long. How did you get so darn wise? 'Cause I really -- I have to say I just love reading your, you know, your spin, but you seem to, like, take an aerial view and you tell it like it is. And I have to say you also, you know, can show some compassion for an equanimity, for, you know, both sides and you really -- from my unbiased view, of course, you really seem to have nailed it. It's very, very rare that I think that you've, you know, you've missed something very, very important.
SUSANSo how did you get so darn wise and do you think you've gotten wiser since you've become a mom? Do you think that has lent something to the mix for you?
HAXWell, that's a hard...
NNAMDII know a guy named Sparky who begs to differ, but go ahead, please.
HAXThat's a hard question to answer because I will -- as I said, I'm not sure it's wisdom. And what I try to do is problem solve and to me, it's like a math problem. It's not a man on the mountaintop problem. And so I see it as looking at a letter as the person who has some distance. I mean, I'm always a couple of steps back anyway because I'm not in the situation myself. Although quite often, things will be familiar.
HAXI said early in the show that I've made plenty of my own messes and I still make them. And so often I will recognize some of the elements of it and in my own life and in the problems that I see in my inbox. My first impulse is to try to take the pieces of the word problem and solve it in some way that is realistic, that takes into account all of the facts of the situation instead of wishful thinking. Or I bring my own biases to things, but I try not to be biased. I try to think of all of the positions of the problem, what each person would be thinking.
HAXAnd, as I said, I try to figure out -- you know, it's like two trains going to Chicago. One's going 50 miles an hour, one's going 60, you know. I take the facts and try to get to an answer.
GALIFIANAKISThat's Carolyn's response. Here's the ex-husband's response to why she's so wise.
NNAMDIAnybody who has had to spend time living with Galifianakis, learns wisdom pretty quickly.
GALIFIANAKISNo. Carolyn has an incredible knack for cutting through the mess. People spend really a lifetime and certainly, I think, the bulk of their time in problem solving on the symptoms, the little things, the things that don't matter. And you can stay on that treadmill forever, or as Carolyn sometimes refers to as a hamster wheel. And she cuts right through that. She bypasses it. She'll mention it to point out that that's actually where you are and that it's irrelevant to solving the problem, that the problem actually is on a deeper level. It's on a simpler level.
GALIFIANAKISAnd it's the source of probably many things that are affecting you in your life and the way you approach things or in the way you respond to things. So that's what she does as well as anybody.
NNAMDISusan, thank you very much for your call. We're going to take a short break. If you have already called, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. The number is 800-433-8850. What's the best advice you've ever received either from Carolyn Hax or any other source? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Carolyn Hax and Nick Galifianakis. Carolyn writes an advice column for the Washington Post. It's syndicated in over 200 other newspapers. She is also the author of "Tell Me About It: Lying, Sulking, Getting Fat...and 56 Other Things Not to Do While Looking for Love." Nick Galifianakis is a cartoonist. His work appears alongside Carolyn Hax's advice column. And in the book "If You Loved Me, You'd Think This Was Cute: Uncomfortably True Cartoons About You." 800-433-8850.
NNAMDINick, it's my understanding that you draw people you know and you even sometimes get unhappy calls from friends who recognize themselves?
GALIFIANAKISWell, I do draw people that I know. Many of the people in my cartoons are either friends of mine, related to me -- temporarily friends of mine, related to me. They might be sitting across from me in the restaurant or wherever I happen to be drawing that day. But I do...
NNAMDIIn that case, I'm warning you right now, but go ahead.
GALIFIANAKISOh no, it's a foregone...
NNAMDII'm just saying.
GALIFIANAKIS...foregone conclusion. I never tell them. I never tell them. I simply put them in the cartoon and then, you know, wait a couple of weeks when the cartoon is published and the phones start ringing and the profanity starts flying. But I do that -- one of the reasons I do that is because I think that it adds a layer of connectivity to the cartoon. If, you know, you walk into a room full of people, you don't know those people, but you recognize them as people, as one of your own. You recognize them as somebody.
GALIFIANAKISAnd so when my cartoons -- you look at the characters in them often and you say, well, that's someone. And so that's just another little portal into, you know, stepping into the world that I created there, even if it's just for a couple of moments.
NNAMDIYeah well, they do look like people that you probably have seen or met someplace.
NNAMDIHere's Bob in Fredericksburg, Va. Hi, Bob.
BOBKojo, you're great, but this phone call is for Lord Carolyn. I feel the pride because I get her column in the Fredericksburg Freelance Star and I was not even aware that there was a cartoon associated with the column.
GALIFIANAKISIt's nice chatting with you, Bob.
BOBMy wife and I moved here about 19 years ago from Fairfax County and I don't really remember if Carolyn had the column at that time. As one who is about 40 years her senior, when I started reading the column, I was amazed at the maturity and the no-nonsense responses and the let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may. As I say, Kojo, you're great, but Carolyn, it's truly a pleasure to be able to tell you how much I enjoy your column.
HAXWell, thank you. It's truly a pleasure to hear it.
NNAMDIAnd you won't be hearing from her after this because Nick and I will be busy choking her after this.
GALIFIANAKISI hate it when my grandfather calls in.
NNAMDIBob, thank you very much for your call. We got this email from Marni in Anne Arundel County. "When friends come to me with problems, how can I stop jumping to conclusions and the easy answers? How can I listen for the real issue question? Is it a matter of counting to ten giving it just a little thought?"
HAXI don't know, 'cause sometimes you count to ten and you're just postponing for ten seconds the same jump to conclusions you were going to make. I think if you had bad outcomes with that, I would just suggest asking more questions. For example, somebody tells you something, instead of answering say, hum, what do you think, because then you're going to hear more. And usually the second take has more valuable information than the first take.
GALIFIANAKISYeah, and also try to account for what you know about your friend when you ask that. Because if they're somebody who's, like I said earlier, just going to sit there and go over the little details and symptoms and stuff like that and not talk about what the underlying issue is, you know something about your friend. Use that to sort of ask the question Carolyn suggested to sort of get to, well, why do you think that is? He keeps saying this -- well, why do you think that you're responding that way?
HAXRight. Or if you're about to answer and you're about to jump to that conclusion, turn it around and think -- you know, go Alex Trebek on it and make it into a question. Sort of, wow, I really think you're blank, instead of saying, hum, is it possible you're blank? You know, if you turn it into an interrogatory, you can actually get -- again, you can get more information to get you out of the conclusions that you've jumped to.
NNAMDIHere is Christina in Laurel, Md. Christina, you're on the air. Go ahead, Please.
CHRISTINAHi and thank you for taking my call. My husband and I read the column all the time, Carolyn, and my husband always goes first for the cartoon. But the one article that actually had me in tears was that one that Nick wrote right after his dog died.
HAXOh, now he's going to cry, too. And I might as well.
CHRISTINAI'm sorry, several dog lovers. And I just wanted to know, have you gotten another dog and how are you doing?
NNAMDIBefore he responds to that, allow me to read an email we got from Antony on Capitol Hill. "To me," writes Antony, "Nick's most magnificent contribution was the loving, moving and beautiful tribute to his dog. I had recently lost a cat and his words moved me to tears. I shared my feelings with him at the time and can only thank him again for his wonderful tribute. His wit may be sharp as a razor, but his heart is as soft as warm butter." Now try to follow that, Nick.
GALIFIANAKISWell, it's a good thing I have my publicist right here. No. I thank you very much. I'm very warmed by both that email and the call. I think...
NNAMDIDid you get another pet, another companion?
GALIFIANAKISI have not. I have not gotten another one. I still have one in my head and my heart, I think. And it's interesting because of the obituary that I wrote and it made its way around the country, every time a -- particularly, you know, specifically an American Staffordshire terrier or a pit bull needs adopting, somebody sends me a note with a picture. And it's terribly flattering. It's very, very flattering. It'll be a while, if ever, before I can, I think, do that again. I'm still sort of stunned at how far reaching the tribute to Zuzu was that I wrote because I still hear from people.
GALIFIANAKISYou know, a woman wrote a little while back that she was -- and, you know, Zuzu passed away on August 9 -- in a few days in other words, in about ten days, two years ago, August 9, Monday night at 7:00. I'll never forget it. And a woman wrote to me just a few months back that she was jogging. She was in Northern California somewhere and she saw something tacked to a tree. And she approached it and it was a printed out version of my obituary of Zuzu and it was laminated and stuck to the tree. And at the base of the tree was a little grave.
GALIFIANAKISAnd, you know, I don't think I did that. I think that what I did is I simply opened this little window and a tsunami of empathy came through. People have written -- thousands and thousands of people have written about their experiences with their animals. And, you know, unwittingly by writing those few paragraphs about my little dog it unleashed the greatest tribute to her I could've ever imagined.
NNAMDIChristina, thank you very much for your call. On now to Kirk in Potomac, Md. Kirk, your turn.
KIRKHello, Kojo. I love your show and I love the column and the cartoons. I was especially taken with your advice on how you tell if you're over a romance, and that is that you wouldn't take the person back no matter what they offer. But what do you do if you lost your sweetheart to a terminal illness? How do you tell when you're ready for a new romance?
HAXOh, well, I'm very sorry. These back-to-back topics, I'm going to have to take a few minutes because I lost my mom to terminal illness and I watched my dad go through this. And I think what happens is you just have to give it time and you have to let yourself grieve. I think a lot of people think there's a certain amount of time that it takes. And they also -- and a lot of feedback from friends and family will be, you know, it's time to move on. And there just is no way to do this. There's just -- all you can do is let the feelings come and they're going to come at horrible awkward times, for example when you're on the air on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
HAXAnd, you know, I mean, I've done this. This was my mom, not my life partner, but I was at lunch with some friends probably five years after my mom died and somebody asked me a question and I just burst into tears. I just -- you don't know where it's going to come. And the thing is I think the best way to get through it is to just let those moments happen instead of fighting them off, fighting them off because that just postpones it. And then you will find that they come less frequently, that the memories are less painful. There's more joy in the memories instead of agony.
HAXIn your dreams, your early dreams tend to be of your partner ill. And as you get well, the dreams of your partner are also of a well version. And you start to learn -- you laugh again and that's when you're starting to be ready to be in your life after the grief. And when you're in that life after the grief, then it's just a matter of time. Then it's a matter of when you feel interested in other people and what they have to say, when you're excited to talk to somebody, when the idea of going out with somebody just doesn't seem cruel, that's when you know.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Kirk, and good luck to you. Speaking of an analysis, we've got...
GALIFIANAKISWhat's next, Kojo?
NNAMDIWell, we are going to take it up a notch.
GALIFIANAKISHolocaust survivors with Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Anna who said, "An ex was not at all familiar with your work. I gave him Nick's book to look at and the comment was, what a bunch of bitter people. Of course, I think you're both geniuses so I don't think it's surprising that he and I are no longer together. I think his comment, which came somewhat early in our relationship, was telling of the fact that he himself had not dealt with painful things in his past. He just tried to gloss over things as if they'd never happened. What do you think about my analysis," asked Anna.
HAXWell, it's funny. I actually had a similar experience as the ex-boyfriend. When I first saw the "War of the Roses" with Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas, I...
NNAMDIDraw a line right down the middle of that house, boy.
HAXExactly. And so I saw that probably when it first came out. So what was I? I mean, I was, let me think, much, much younger. Much less life mileage. Well, I found the movie shockingly bitter. It was uncomfortable. It's like, what is this? This is just awful. Well, then I saw it about 15 years later . I was weeping with laughter. I was, like, I had to pause it 'cause I was missing lines and I didn't want to miss lines. I mean, I just thought it was brilliant.
HAXAnd for those who are too young to know this movie, it was about the formation and then piece by piece dismantling of a marriage. And as I said, you know, it's exactly what the boyfriend was reading. These are bitter people. It's like, well, you know, I'm sorry. You go through a little bit, you get used to the idea of all things coming apart and unraveling. And all of a sudden, it becomes funny
GALIFIANAKISAnd that's good for us because according to that formula in 15 years, this guy will be president of my fan club.
HAXExactly. No. We actually have a language for it, the before and the afters.
HAXYou know, there's the people who have been through the wringer, those are ones who get it. And if you haven't been through the wringer yet, it's like, well, I'm sorry, because it's coming.
NNAMDINick's book is called "If You Loved Me, You'd Think This Was Cute: Uncomfortably True Cartoons About You." Carolyn Hax is the author of "Tell Me About It: Lying, Sulking, Getting Fat, and 56 Other Things Not to Do While Looking for Love." They join us in studio. Together they collaborate on the advice column that appears in the Washington Post and is syndicated in over 200 other newspapers. A lot of you have called. We're going to take a short break.
NNAMDIWhen we come back we'll try to get to all of those calls, but if the lines are filled, send us a tweet @kojoshow or email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Carolyn Hax. She writes an advice column for the Washington Post. It's syndicated in over 200 other newspapers. She's also the author of the book "Tell Me About It: Lying, Sulking, Getting Fat, and 56 Other Things Not to Do While Looking for Love." She joins us in studio along with Nick Galifianakis. He is a cartoonist whose work appears alongside Carolyn Hax's advice column, and in the book "If You Loved Me, You'd Think This Was Cute: Uncomfortably True Cartoons About You."
NNAMDIWe're taking calls at 800-433-8850. Carolyn, some of your columns are adapted from weekly web chats that you host. Is it difficult to offer advice on the spot like that, or like this right now? It seems like a lot of pressure.
HAXIt is a lot of pressure, and I wake up in the middle of the night still 15 years in thinking I might have gotten something completely wrong. And so, I mean, I do hedge by giving advice that is more along the lines of please think about these things, instead of please do these things, because then I figure if they're just thinking, then maybe my fingerprints aren't really on in it -- on any bad outcome.
HAXBut I'd say the hardest thing about doing it live is trying to do it fast enough so that the impatient people don't start abusing me, typing to type it cleanly enough so that I don't have fall-off-your-chair-funny typo, which happens fairly often, and also trying to get all of the -- to cover the subject well enough so that the extremely intelligent people out in the ether don't all write me with a hundred different posts on what I missed.
NNAMDIHere is Darryl in northern Virginia. Darryl, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DARRYLKojo, thank you for taking my call. Your show is amazing and you do a service to this great country, so thank you. My question is a two-part-er for Nick because I think guys are wired a little bit differently when it comes to advice. Carolyn made a comment earlier about learning to share from her personal life, and since men don't do a good job of either learning or sharing, Nick, how do you filter out what you share? Do you just pull stuff from your own life, your friends, do you stay political or distant? How do you filter what you're going to share with your audience? And then the second part is, I'm curious, the real challenge the most men face, do you follow your own advice and commentary?
HAXSee, I don't see a gender aspect on that.
GALIFIANAKISNo. That was the first thing -- that was the first thing that just cast you sea of irrelevancy. I really don't think there is a difference. Now, you know, sometimes your response to it might be on the broadest of line, you know, different, but there's not a -- I don't think there's a difference. As far as sharing, I'm frankly not exactly sure what you meant by that when I choose what to share. Are you talking about in my personal life? Are you talking about in -- through my work?
DARRYLI'm thinking about specifically from your work, you know, as Carolyn had made before, she's got the mileage of life to fall back on...
GALIFIANAKISOh. Well, got you.
DARRYL...and be (unintelligible) relevant, so, I'm imagining that you're not just, you know, naked on the page as they would say.
DARRYLYou have a kind of internal filter to figure out am I writing something that's relevant? I mean, am I staying true to my artistic vision, and how do you make that determination?
GALIFIANAKISRight. Okay. Well, that is a gender-neutral answer, but I will answer it. It very much is what I see around me. Of course, I guess that is collaboration and talk with Carolyn, and what Carolyn and I talk about are how people work, how they are with each other. How, you know, I'll be out with friends, and I'll -- they'll be a couple there and I'll notice that the woman is telling a story and suddenly she's interrupted by her very nice significant other, but interrupted, no. No. No. Let me tell you guys how this actually happened.
GALIFIANAKISAnd fine, you know. You'll probably come across that today sometime. But then I start thinking, well, that's their public face. What is that dynamic like at home when it's just the two of them? Because that is a -- can be, probably is, a little bit of a sort of a controlling move. A little bit of a guy, you know, not giving his significant other proper weight, equal weight, showing her up in front of other people even though they're both smiling.
GALIFIANAKISI start thinking about those kinds of things. Those are the kind of things that interest me. Those are the kind of things I want to put in the cartoons. Those kinds of things are timeless. They've been around since two people were debating about what they were going to do when they were living in caves. So from that standpoint it's very, very personal. I do use my own life a lot.
HAXHe puts himself in those drawings so...
HAX...you know, there's no fear of sharing there.
GALIFIANAKISYeah. I put my own experiences of -- I've put break ups in there, I've put a variety of things in there. They're not hidden, they're sort of mixed into the sea of the other stuff that I do, but it's all very personal. People sometimes say, I mean, look at my cartoons, and they go, do you do any personal work, and I'm like, this is my personal work.
NNAMDIIt's all personal.
HAXThese are my innards on the page, but, you know, thanks for asking.
NNAMDIBut since Darryl brought up gender issues, Carolyn, it's my understanding that from time to time you receive mail from people who say, well, you don't really get the male perspective. You don't understand how males think, and it's ironic because before people see whatever they see in the newspaper, it's already been seen by about three or four males.
HAXYes. And I've always been a little bit thrown by that issue because on the one hand, I do believe that there are some -- that's the way women think, or that's the way men think. I think there are certain -- there are going to be some differences just naturally. But I also think that that is not applicable, because you can't -- each person has a different outlook and so while you might get general trends among men and among women, any individual you talk to could be on -- could be anywhere on that spectrum.
HAXAnd so what is -- so I have the perspective of one male in Nick, right after I put together a draft. My columns don't represent the female perspective, they represent my perspective, and I happen to be female. And so, you know, as I said, I try to balance the two by making sure that men and women read my column. It never goes through just a pipeline of women or just a pipeline of men.
GALIFIANAKISAnd -- did I interrupt you?
GALIFIANAKISOkay. But the advice is the same. She's right. Sometimes, you know, they might come in sort of general waves, you know. Men have -- and I'm speaking very, very broadly here, you know, they come at things like how can I control the world, and women are, you know, how can I adapt to the world?
HAXNo. No. No. No. No. It's, how can I control my boyfriend?
GALIFIANAKISRight. And so but her advice essentially the same to both, which is one, how do you want to be treated, that's how you treat the other person, and own your life, own your decisions.
HAXActually, over time it's not even become how do you want to be treated then treat the other person that way, and I'm sitting here, yes, I'm questioning the golden rule, I'm really sorry, but in a way it's, how well do you know this person, and do you know the way this person wants to be treated, and how capable are you without pretzeling yourself into something unrecognizable, are you providing what that person wants? But one more thing about the male-female thing that has always amused, I have to say.
HAXIt used to annoy me, but now it amuses, is that if I tee off on a woman in a column, I never hear, wow, you really are a misogynist. But if I tee off on a man, the people accusing me of hating men come piling in, and it's just, you know, actually, I'm equal opportunity hostile.
NNAMDIWatching you and Nick interact here, and how seriously you listen to each other, it seems as if you are -- you both feel that there's still more to understand about one another, that you cannot always anticipate how each other would respond in any specific situation. Is that correct?
GALIFIANAKISOh, well, I can tell you, there's something I've learned from Carolyn, nothing she's ever specifically said, but I should say learned Carolyn, since we, you know, we dated, we were married, and then we work together, and the things that we work on all sort of inform this thing, and it speaks to what you just said, Kojo, which is this philosophy of don't treat your loved one as familiar. Treat them as intimate. And by familiar I mean, what you, you know, where you predict the other person, you think you know the other person. You're anticipating how they're going to be, what they're going to say, how they're going to respond, because you cut them off from self creating.
GALIFIANAKISYou cut them off from evolving. You also limit, you know, your relationship. This happens a lot in families and with significant others, and of course, with very, very close friends.
HAXOh, and grown kids with their parents. That's a big one. Yeah.
GALIFIANAKISRight. So, you know, so Carolyn and I who have this history together, and this intense history, when we're going over other problems and well, and, you know, you look at those through your own eyes and through your own experiences with each other. I know for a fact Carolyn is constantly, you know, self creating. She's still evolving. She changed -- no one's more unafraid to say that she's wrong, and to learn from it and to move on. Like I said earlier, she walks her talk. That has been a great example to me.
GALIFIANAKISI like to think that I may fail at it, but I try to do that as well, you know, where I'm not jumping on others and to -- no, wait a minute. This person's grown, changed, what are they trying to tell me? What can I learn from it? How can the relationship grow from that?
HAXI totally knew he'd say that.
NNAMDIHere's Linda in Arlington, Va. Linda, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi, Linda.
LINDAOh, I'm sorry. I was so busy laughing over the last comment that I didn't hear you say my name.
HAXMy new best friend.
GALIFIANAKISI wasn't, Linda.
LINDAWell, three things really quickly. This session has been wonderful because it's like reading three or four columns all at once, because so many of the things that you say are universal, and have hit me right in the heart. One of which was your response to the guy who's girlfriend had passed away, and you echoed exactly what I've come through with my -- when my dad died in 1992. And I realized after a long time that it was the -- it was exactly what you said, that you are thinking about the sad things, and bemoaning the whole fact for a long time, and then suddenly the better memories start to surface and they take over.
LINDAAnd you just have to live with that, and know that it's going to be true, because I -- well, I don't know if it's going to be true for everybody, but it's still terrific. Third thing is that I wanted to let you know that I have a file stuffed with your columns because I belong to -- my husband and I belong to a group that is a 12-step program families, and it's called Families Anonymous, and it's a wonderful organization, and we take turns leading, and I don't know how many times I have read your articles and then -- or one of them at a time and then linked it to some of the readings in the little red book that we have that all come at problems from the different perspectives, and you hit the nail on the head so many times.
LINDAI have to bring the cartoons too so that I can pass them around and show people. But it's just a terrific help to me, and to I think some of the other people, and my husband likes for me to share them with him too, so thanks.
NNAMDIAnd thank you for calling, Linda. Speaking of husbands, we got a tweet from Kathy who said, "My husband and I agreed Carolyn Hax is so wise that her answer would be final say in our issue. I had to swallow my pride, but life has improved." We got another one who said, "I love your column and the cartoons. One of them changed my life. The cartoon was a human-sized version of the numeral one, and the caption was something like, I know you are a one, but how do I know you the one? Perfect. I dumped the wrong guy right away."
HAXAnd now she's dating a numeral.
NNAMDIYeah. Here is Lauren in Silver Spring, Md. Lauren, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LAURENHi. I was listening to Nick make his comments about his dog, and this is my second dog as an adult. And after my first one died at 15, my relationship with my dog was kind of like Gail Caldwell in "Take the Long Way Home" with Caroline Knapp, you know, a very close relationship, and a week after, I had another dog. And I'm just -- because I feel like it really did ease the pain, and it's such a different reaction. And I've been thinking my dog now is ten, that I would do the same thing again. And so I worry that my -- was my love not genuine.
HAXOh, gosh, no. Now look what you've done.
HAXNo. It's amazing. It's ...
NNAMDIHe did that intentionally by the way.
HAXYeah, he did. You're just -- yes. You did not have the deep love that Nick had for Zuzu. No, dogs are amazing. They just...
LAURENBut it was like I displaced the grief or something. I mean, it worked almost too well. Not that my love for this dog isn't genuine, but it was almost frightening.
GALIFIANAKISNo. They key words that you just used there was that it worked.
GALIFIANAKISWhat you did worked, and so there's need to apologize or justify or question it or...
HAXYeah. And it's not like you're walking your new dog and calling it the old dog's name and getting angry at it for not sniffing the same places your old dog did. I mean, this is, you now, the heart is -- what was the Woody Allen quote? The heart is an amazing muscle in...
HAX..."Hannah and Her Sisters." And you just…
GALIFIANAKISAn amazing resilient muscle.
HAXAmazing -- yes. Amazing resilient muscle, and dogs are just -- the thing that I couldn't say when we were talking about Zuzu because my voice was too shaky...
HAXYes. Was that Nick was saying that he didn't do this, the thing that had the laminated column by the memorial, and I was going to say, you know what, dogs do this. Dogs move humans to do these things.
HAXTo create the memorials, to get another dog immediately to grieve for two years and be unable to get another dog. I mean, it's just...
NNAMDIThank you for your call, Lauren. We're almost out of time, but we got this email from Peter in Falls Church who said, "I've long enjoyed reading Carolyn's advice column, and feel she is a worthy successor to both Ann Landers and Dear Abby." Carolyn, you've been at this for 15 years, but I've heard you say you wouldn't want to do this for 50 years like Ann Landers did. How will you know when it's time to pass the torch?
NNAMDIThat's easy, Nick will tell you.
GALIFIANAKISAnd will you let me know?
HAXYeah. That's right. When Nick is solvent, I'm out of here.
NNAMDIWell, that means they'll be doing this forever.
HAXThat's right. They're going to carry me out.
NNAMDII'm afraid that's all the time we have. Carolyn Hax writes an advice column for the Washington Post. It's syndicated in over 200 other newspapers. She's also the author of the book "Tell Me About It: Lying, Sulking, Getting Fat, and 56 Other Things Not to Do While Looking for Love." Nick Galifianakis is her partner in writing that column. He does the cartoons, and he's also author of the book "If You Loved Me, You'd Think This Was Cute: Uncomfortably True Cartoons About You." Thank you both for joining us. Please keep on doing what you're doing, and thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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