Category Archives: archives

deja deja vu

When I read Miss Manners‘ column this morning (well, really it was Sunday’s column), I knew I’d read it–and even written about it!–before.  So imagine my surprise when in the deep little help please archives, I couldn’t find the post that I was sure would contain precisely the phrase I recognized in the column.

I broadened my search.  And, lo and behold, I found the post. But guess what–I never found the column. I know, I would bet the farm if I had one, that in early 2009 Amy published this letter from a woman who spills things on purpose to give her an excuse to clean up her boyfriend’s garage apartment.  I know it.  But apparently I couldn’t even find the column then, and I can’t find it now.


Takin’ Care of Business

Hellooooo gentle readers (that’s just a glass of wine and the end of the co-rec softball season talking)….

You probably won’t have noticed–unless you subscribe to this blog’s feed–that I did a lot of housecleaning last night, evaluating and clearing out categories that had been used once, lamely, in three years.  (As the librarians would say, I was working on my “controlled vocabulary,” for example, consolidating the four terms I used for “parenting” into one).

If you do subscribe to the feed, you already knew this, or at least you knew that dozens of old posts, “edited” and “published” anew when I changed the categories attached to them, were clogging up your feed reader.  To all of you folks: sorry if this was annoying or confusing–and to those who actually said they liked looking back at old posts: thanks!

If you’re very, very observant, you may have noticed that I’m not the only one who’s had this problem.  Over in the sidebar, you’ll see a new feature: I’ve finally added a feed of all the major columns I read…so now you can see what’s new, and get to it right from here!  But it’s immediately apparent that Carolyn Hax is also having RSS woes.  This has been going on for over a week now–whole bunches of her back columns coming through at once.  She and the WaPo are well aware of the problem, but it doesn’t seem to be fixed yet.

But I, too, have been happy to revisit some of Carolyn’s old columns, even though they’re from just a few weeks, rather than a few years, back.  For example, this one, published while I was on vacation in July, came to light today:

Dear Carolyn:

I have a sticky situation at work. The company I work for often needs information from “Jane’s” organization. I have been in my field for a year, while Jane is seasoned in hers.

I feel intimidated by Jane, who can be short and abrasive on the phone, and usually speaks loudly, like she’s yelling at me. She hangs up as I am ending my remarks. Like “Good [click] bye.”

When our conversation is over, I feel small and a bit run over.

I don’t know how to deal with her rudeness and present myself as a professional who should be treated respectfully. I don’t want to be argumentative, and there really is no one above her I could talk to. Any suggestions?


Jane isn’t your mother, your mate, your close friend, your beauty contest judge, your doctoral review committee, the judge at your custody hearing or even the seen-it-all, public-weary power-tripper at the window of the DMV. You don’t need Jane to like you. You just need the information your job requires.

So, put on your business skin (read: elephant hide) over your thin personal skin, state your business and be done with Jane, while expecting the same from her. It’s both assertive and pragmatic. And if her hanging up on you shaves your Jane time to its absolute minimum, maybe that’s a gift.

Hear, hear!  These are words I could stand to take to heart, as, I wager, could many of us hypersensitive, overachieving young professionals.  So often, I’ll come home from work upset about how someone was “angry” or “disappointed” in me at work.  SK, saint that he is, hears me out, and then my dramatic tale ends in a long pause…and he invariably replies with, “um…that’s the end?” (why does this happen after every story I tell?)  He often gently follows up with, “I think it’s possible you may be reading too much into this.”

I hope I’m getting the hang of just doing my job the best I can, and not fretting so much about whether I’m everyone’s favorite….but it doesn’t hurt to have a reminder to wiggle into that skin before tromping through the jungle.  Or something.

The Family Archives: Preservation AND Access. PLEASE!

DEAR ABBY: After we laid my mother-in-law to rest, my wife discovered a box of letters her parents had written to each other. Her father was stationed overseas during WWII.

My wife is agonizing over whether to read them or destroy them. Because her mother’s passing was unexpected, no instructions were made. Should my wife read them as a way to share the experiences of my in-laws’ love for each other or consider them so private they are inviolable? — STUCK FOR AN ANSWER IN OHIO

DEAR STUCK: Reading them might give your wife new insight into her parents, the challenges they faced and an opportunity to view them in the bloom of their youth. They could also be historically significant. That said, however, if she thinks her mother would have preferred that the letters be destroyed, she should follow her conscience.

Wow, it seems like this woman either has an overwhelming sense of privacy (not to mention self-control), or a secret fear of what she might find if she reads the letters. Almost anyone else I can think of, without explicit instructions not to read (or even with them), would have already flown through these.

A single letter can be a wonderful treasure–capturing the writer’s language, sense of humor, priorities, handwriting, and perspective on her world. And if you’re lucky, cool stamps and funny doodles. Having a whole collection of letters between two correspondents–especially if they shared a long and loving marriage–increases the value of such a single treasure by, I don’t know, a million-fold.

The archivist–not to mention the granddaughter–in me, asks this woman, please please PLEASE don’t destroy these in an attempt to honor your late parents’ privacy. These are the only ones of their kind. If they’re gone, they’re GONE, and there’s no way to ever get that history back.


After my grandfather’s death, my mom found a collection of letters his father (her grandfather) had written during the first world war. He wasn’t married or in a relationship at the time (or at least, these weren’t those letters). These were his letters home, to his parents and siblings–so the element of privacy and intimacy wasn’t such a concern in this case. But my mom, who’s not necessarily a history buff, learned so much about her own family, and about the world at that time. She bought a scanner and digitized most of the letters, sending images of them to me at school and to her sisters on opposite coasts.


If both parents are now out of the picture (I’m assuming they are, otherwise, why wouldn’t they just ask dad?), there’s no one to be hurt or made uncomfortable by the letters except the living daughter–so really, it’s up to her. I can imagine not wanting to share private, intimate things with my children while I’m alive, but nevertheless wouldn’t mind them knowing, later, that I had those feelings and experiences–that I had been young, in love, and struggled and triumphed just like them.

If her parents’ marriage was happy, this might be a wonderful experience. But even if it wasn’t, it still might be a comforting, or at least an eye opening one. My mom remembers her parents’ marriage as not a particularly happy one. There was a lot of tension, not a lot of joy in each other’s company, and they divorced when she was in college. So when she recently found a big collection of pictures of them together in their early 20s, I think it brought her a lot of comfort to see how happy and in love they once were–to know that, even though they changed, and their relationship changed, it was at the start a good and happy thing.

But even if this woman is not comfortable reading them herself….


Take them to a local historical society or history museum to at least see if they want them.

I had the opportunity to comb through a vast collection of personal correspondence at the McLean County Museum of History in Bloomington Illinois. In 2007 I processed (though not very well, in archivist terms…I had no idea what I was doing) something like 8 boxes full of nothing but family correspondence–dating from the 1850s through the 1970s. The very best bunch in here were the letters between the woman who donated the letters and her husband, starting from when they were in high school and he spent his summers riding his bike around Illinois and sending postcards, to his being stationed at various posts in the U.S., to their marriage, and her letters to her parents about making their family budget and living far away from home. I came to care deeply about these people, and cheered for their triumphs. I’d go home from my internship each day and tell my roommates what each of them was up to that month in 1932.

There was nothing particularly graphic or alarming in them, though there were plenty of private and intimate thoughts–but since they weren’t my family, it didn’t make me uncomfortable.

If the museum doesn’t have the space or the staff to take care of the collection, she shouldn’t be offended–but she shouldn’t turn around and toss them, either. She should consider herself a custodian of this inheritance, and even if she can’t or won’t make use of it, save it for a relative, friend, or cultural institution who will.


As technology changes, archives of handwritten letters like this one are going to be fewer and farther between. I’ve already begun to fret about how I’ll preserve the email collections that chronicle some of my closest friendships. These are the kinds of things that I’d love for my grandchildren to have one day, to see what it was like being a young woman at the turn of the millennium. But for that to happen, I’ll have to take active, careful steps to ….I don’t even know what…but to do something to pull these stories and thoughts out of inboxes and into some kind of archive. The days of correspondence that survives on its own, under a bed, just by virtue of being ignored, are numbered. To willfully destroy these, when so much family and personal correspondence of the 20th and 21st century will almost certainly be lost just by virtue of its electronic medium, seems almost sacreligious.

So please….PLEASE…..dont. destroy. the. letters.

Later, gators!

In case you didn’t notice, this blog is on vacation. See you in September, as the song goes! (Oh wait, it IS September. OK, see you in the second half of the month). In the meantime, content yourselves with 10 years of Carolyn Hax chat archives: The Hall of Repressed Memories

You may need a Washington Post account to sift through all of these…..not sure….

Day of Rest=Classic Abby

For your Sunday evening reading enjoyment, I direct you to one of my favorite Dear Abby columns of all time. I love it because it reminds me of my fiance, Sam, and how very easily this letter could have been written by him (thankfully, there was no need!). This letter was published last winter, many months before we got engaged, so I couldn’t really pass it around to people laughing and saying, “this reminds me of Sam!” because I didn’t want to incur any bad relationship/engagement voodoo. But now all’s well, and here it is, in all its glory:

DEAR ABBY: I admit it: I am scatterbrained. I’m forgetful when it comes to events and information that affect me personally, although I have the odd ability to remember facts and trivia. It is a source of frustration and amusement to others that I can remember details about the Battle of Actium, but can also lose my car for several days because I forgot where I had it parked.

Now things have gone from comical to critical. I had been planning to propose to my girlfriend of three years, and I have lost the engagement ring. I bought the stone some months ago. It’s a rare green sapphire that she helped select. I had it set without her knowledge a few weeks later. When the ring was completed, I hid it in a small space behind a drawer in my desk.

This month I planned to pop the question. But today, when I looked behind the drawer, the ring was gone. The worst part is I don’t know if I moved it myself. Did I hide it somewhere else because I was afraid she might discover it? Or did I take it out to look at it and forgot where I set it down?

My forgetfulness has caused friction between us before. I want to propose, but I don’t want our engagement to be forever associated with another irresponsible mistake on my part. What should I do? — FORGETFUL IN CHICAGO

Dear Forgetful,

I hope everything turned out all right. There is a special little place in my heart for guys like you, and a special big place for one of them in particular.

Right. This blog is no place for schmoop, so away I go.

Oh, P.S. Abby told him to 1) fess up 2) look harder and then fess up 3) buy a new stone, which would probably entail fessing up at some point anyway, unless it wasn’t as rare as he claimed. Then she told him to go get his head, and the rest of him, examined. Poor guy….I hope he found it!

Meanwhile, I hope the girl didn’t get too pissed off waiting for the big moment.

Anxious in Ann Arbor

I’ve been plotting this blog in my mind for months now, and I’m excited to finally get started! Although I have lots of retroactive posts in my head (posts that, no doubt, would wow you with my credentials to do exactly what I’m doing here!), I am disappointed to report that I can no longer access many of the relevant columns. Hmmm….now that I think about it, this will be a major problem later on, as links to new columns wither and die. I’ll think about that tomorrow, as Scarlett would say.

For now, let me assure you, about the only thing I’m qualified to advise anyone on, is advice columns. Since I know I’ll be overeager at the beginning–and since I don’t have to work tomorrow–I’ll try to post something about each of my key columnists. Hopefully this will introduce you to them (if you’re not already old friends) and also give me a chance to work out what this blog is going to be.

Carry on, gentle readers!