Magazine article The New Yorker

Ask-Hole

Magazine article The New Yorker

Ask-Hole

Article excerpt

Ask-Hole

Nia Vardalos and Cheryl Strayed

Early in 2010, Cheryl Strayed got an e-mail from an acquaintance, Steve Almond, who wrote an advice column--Dear Sugar--for the literary Web site The Rumpus. Strayed was living in Portland with her husband and their two preschoolers, and had just turned in the first draft of her memoir, "Wild." She'd written Sugar a fan letter, not knowing that it was Almond. He asked if she was interested in taking over the column. "He said all the reasons I shouldn't do it," Strayed recalled the other day. " 'It doesn't pay, nobody's reading it.' And I said, 'I'll do it.' "

Strayed's approach was unconventional. She would answer each question with a winding personal anecdote--about her divorce, about her abusive grandfather. "It was very much the Age of Snark in the lit world," she said. "I had sincerity to offer." The column became wildly popular. Strayed wrote as Sugar anonymously for two years, then collected her columns in the book "Tiny Beautiful Things," which the actress and writer Nia Vardalos, of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," has now adapted as a play at the Public Theatre. Vardalos plays Sugar.

"Because I have a giant family, I got unsolicited advice my entire life," Vardalos said the morning after the first preview, sitting with Strayed over coffee and pastries at the Public's second-floor restaurant. " 'Marry a Greek boy.' "

"No one ever told me to marry a Greek boy!" Strayed said. "One of the most important pieces of advice that my mother gave me, which I didn't understand at the time, was: 'Put yourself in the way of beauty.' "

"We all have those friends who ask for advice and never take it," Vardalos said. "It's called being an ask-hole." She recalled her years-long "infertility nightmare," which she chronicled in her memoir, "Instant Mom." "My best friend told me, 'Giving birth isn't what makes you a mother.' And I heard it and pursued adoption. After my book came out, she said, 'Well, I said that to you about four times through the nine years that you were struggling.' I never heard it until I heard it."

In the spirit of problem-solving, their interviewer had solicited some questions from friends. Both Sugars agreed to take a crack:

I'm reasonably smart and competent and good at what I do, but I keep taking jobs I don't especially want and then ultimately getting fired from them. It's starting to feel like I'll never have a good, fulfilling job again. …

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