Sex Is Not a Natural Act and Other Essays

By Leonore Tiefer | Go to book overview

8
Advice to the Lovelorn

I have a recurring nightmare. I am sitting at my desk when a big canvas mailbag is delivered. Envelopes of every size spill over the desk as the bag is emptied. With an odd foreboding, I reach for a small, white, neatly penciled envelope lying on top. It snaps up toward me, taking a vicious bite out of my finger. Cringing, my heart racing, I bind up the injured finger as, oh horror, another mailbag is carried in.

The dream isn't far from my waking feelings while writing weekly columns on sexuality for the New York Daily News, a job I held recently. Although each column specifically stated that I would neither print nor answer individual letters, nonetheless a couple hundred threaded their way through to the mailroom and found me.

True, no letter ever even nibbled my cuticle, but many mangled my heart, and I came to dread opening the envelopes. The more people unburdened themselves to me, the more I felt burdened. There I was trying to write trenchant little essays exploring the complexities of modern sexuality, and my correspondents persisted in treating me like a Mother Confessor. The letters that begged me for help each week began to plague my thoughts and gray my mood. Who knew this was on the agenda when I blithely took this job?


Columnists and Column Readers

Nathanael West, for one. His brilliant 1933 novel, Miss Lonelyhearts, details the decline and fall of a newspaperman assigned to write an "advice to the lovelorn" column. The columnist becomes obsessed with the misery of people and his own Christ-like fantasies. I read that book three times during the Daily News era, hoping that, like a voodoo doll, Miss Lonelyhearts would absorb my gloom and leave me cool inside a cocoon of professional objectivity. Unfortunately, suggestible creature that I am, each reading only magnified my sense of responsibility and impotence. I ended up thinking a lot about newspaper advice columnists and the peculiar doctor/minister/ teacher/neighborhood gossip/sharp-tongued big-sister role they perform.

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