Questions

I receive a lot of emails, but I can’t answer them all. People have suggested I use auto-generated email responses designed to robotically thank people for messaging. But I don’t like this idea. Too impersonal.

When I was 7, I wrote the governor. Weeks later I received an impersonal form-letter with the governor’s signature, urging me to vote.

I read every email, letter and message I receive. Many of these messages are questions. So I’ve compiled the most common questions into a generic Q&A column. Let’s get started:

Q: Dear Sean, I am 1,380 years old and I have just gone through a very hard period in my life. Sometimes I read your work and I wonder what kind of advice you would have for me, specifically, during this difficult time.

A: I am the last guy who should give advice. If you knew me, you’d know I have made a shipwreck of my own life. I guarantee that my advice is not worth squat. I know some people sort of view me as Dear Abby, but in truth I’m a fool. I am just some idiot who learned how to type.

Q: So you don’t have ANY advice for me?

A: The best advice I ever received came from my mother. She told me there are three ways to achieve success in life: The first way is to be sweet. The second way is to be sweet. The third way is to be sweet.

Q: How do you find the stories you write about in your column?

A: Mostly, people send them to me. As I say, I receive emails from all over the world. Yesterday, I got an email from the prince of Nigeria. He was offering me a lucrative investment opportunity in exchange for my personal bank account number. Sadly, he never emailed back. I hope he’s okay.

Q: What kind of stories do you receive most?

A: It varies. Usually, personal accounts from people. Also, I get a lot of angel stories.

Q: Angel stories? You don’t actually believe in all that stuff, do you? There are a lot of quacks out there.

A: The question isn’t whether I believe, but whether you do.

Q: What’s that supposed to mean?

A: I have no idea. I heard David Carradine say that on an episode of “Kung Fu” once.

Q: Hi Sean, I’m a young writer, I’d really like to get my work published, but I keep getting rejected. What should I do? I’m so disappointed in myself.

A: I’m going to tell you like your mother told you after your girlfriend or boyfriend dumped you. Don’t stop putting yourself out there because of one heartbreak. Don’t quit having fun. Don’t quit going to dances. Don’t rebound too soon. Don’t bash your ex. Don’t blame yourself. Don’t revenge date. Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t be so quick to settle. Don’t eat your feelings.

Q: Are these metaphors?

A: Sure, why not.

Q: But what do I do after being rejected? It hurts so bad.

A: I suggest changing into cozy pajamas and watching your personal DVD copy of “Steel Magnolias.” If that doesn’t work, try “Terms of Endearment.”

Q: “Terms of Endearment?” With Debra Winger?

A: Yes. Debra Winger was told not to become an actress. She was rejected at auditions. She was told to give up. Then, one day she had a bad accident. She fell off the back of a truck and was blinded. She suffered a serious cerebral hemorrhage and was bedbound for a long time. Doctors said she would be blind and paralyzed for life. She resolved to pursue a career as an actress if she ever recovered, no matter what people said. She made a full recovery. The rest is history.

Q: Huh. I didn’t know that.

A: Debra Winger also did the voice of E.T.

Q: Hey, Sean, I saw you driving in traffic on Highway 280 in Birmingham. You were sitting in your truck, and it looked pretty crappy. How old is your truck?

A: My truck is 21 years old.

Q: Why don’t you buy a new one?

A: Get rid of my truck? Now that it’s finally old enough to drink?

Q: Dear Sean, I am 23-year-old woman, about to get married. I want some advice on how to be a good wife.

A: A good wife always forgives her husband when she is wrong.

Q: Dear Sean, I’m afraid to meet you in person because I’m afraid you won’t be like I imagine. I want you to be a real guy, but deep down I am afraid you’re a fake like everything else today.

A: That’s just a chance you’ll have to take.

Q: Seriously, tell me. Are you for real? Are you the same guy you write about?

A: I’m not sure what you have in mind. But I will tell you this: I am pretty disappointing in person. There is nothing remarkable about me. I’m not nice-looking. I’m not super tall. I laugh like a congested horse. My hair is thinning. Soon people will be able to see their reflections in my scalp.

I am lazy. I procrastinate. I take everything for granted. I talk too much. I commonly discuss professional baseball players as though I am directly involved in their personal lives. So you will definitely find me underwhelming. Unless you play me in Scrabble.

Q: Why? Are you really good at Scrabble?

A: I’ve only been beaten twice.

Q: Who beat you?

A: Once, it was my wife. She won because she cheated. I allowed her to use the word MOIPE. Which, I believe we can all agree is not a proper noun. The second time was by a 9-year-old girl in Texarkana.

Q: Nine years old?

A: I’m still not over it.

Q: Why do you harp on the suicide issue so often? We all get it, we know what happened when you were a child. Your dad died that way. Why not move on and quit ringing the same bell? Isn’t it time to quit talking about it and heal?

A: If you quit talking, you don’t heal.

Q: But surely it can’t be healthy to dredge up the past.

A: Says who? I talk about suicide because 800,000 people die each year by suicide. To give you an idea of how many that is, consider this: Each year, 602,000 die of cancer in the U.S.

Q: Wait. Really?

A: Yes, really. One person dies every 40 seconds from suicide. By the time you finish reading this pitiful attempt at a column, around eight people will have died.

Q: I had no idea.

A: Most people don’t. Because—surprise—nobody talks about it. The sad thing is, we have no problems talking about cancer or heart disease. But the issue of suicide gets pushed aside. It’s uncomfortable. It’s awkward.

This month is suicide prevention month, but have you heard anyone talking about it? We wear pink ribbons for breast cancer awareness. Where are the suicide ribbons?

The only time the topic gets much attention is when a movie star or a celebrity dies by suicide. In which case, the whole nation becomes very mental-health proactive for about a week. They talk about suicide on “Good Morning America,” and the hosts wear big frowny faces. Then everyone forgets about it. I think we should talk about it.

Q: What is your favorite food?

A: Chicken and dumplings. Barbecue. Biscuits. Queso dip. Conecuh sausage. Fried chicken. Pound cake. Anything by Little Debbie. Or Hostess. Or Ben and Jerry.

Q: How old are you?

A: Old enough to remember home ec teachers.

Q: Coffee or tea?

A: Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Q: Rock and roll or classical music?

A: Willie Hugh Nelson.

Q: Do you have any words of wisdom for me? I am going to graduate high school this year and I feel a little confused about what I want to do with my career. My parents are putting pressure on me to college, but I’m not sure I’m ready. Is it wrong for me not to be ready?

A: You are still a kid, you aren’t supposed to plan the rest of your life. Nobody is. Just try planning for today and see what happens. Enjoy the next 24 hours 60 seconds at a time.

Take small bites. Don’t regret anything that makes you smile. Don’t be afraid to screw up. You are not required to have tomorrow figured out. Tomorrow will take care of itself.

But only if you remember to be sweet.

43 comments

  1. Steve Baccus - September 17, 2022 7:23 am

    Probably your best one yet, Sean…not that this is high praise coming from an old Methodist preacher who has spent his life trying to be sweet. Coffee and old Rock and Roll for me.

    Reply
  2. Leigh Amiot - September 17, 2022 8:16 am

    The comments didn’t show yesterday, they’re not showing today.
    I look forward to those almost as much as your column!

    Reply
    • Marilyn - September 17, 2022 6:55 pm

      I love to read the comments also, Leigh Amiot. They are usually interesting and often inspiring.

      Reply
  3. Ed Caldwell (Bear) - September 17, 2022 8:42 am

    Thanks Sean! You’re a great writer. You help others even more than you know.

    Reply
  4. Ann Thompson - September 17, 2022 10:15 am

    Your mind works in mysterious ways…and I appreciate it! Enjoy your day.

    Reply
  5. Ann - September 17, 2022 10:25 am

    Another GREAT column…you cover so many parts of life in a few words. You are an artist and so very sweet, thank you and thank Jamie.

    Reply
  6. Beth Fenn - September 17, 2022 10:27 am

    As a kid, I always found it funny, that most parents would tell their children to be careful. Not my Mom. Every day: BE SWEET! That command covers a LOT of territory! It has served me well throughout my life! Thanks for the drops of sunshine! Beth

    Reply
  7. Gwen - September 17, 2022 10:34 am

    I so love your columns!!!

    Reply
  8. Stephen Sauer - September 17, 2022 11:11 am

    Sean, I discovered your writing when I read your Eliza’s Run recently, that piece really touched me. Now I look forward to reading you every day. My question is, what formal training in creative writing have you found helpful, or would you recommend? Thanks, Steve Sauer

    Reply
  9. Melissa Norman - September 17, 2022 11:16 am

    Bravo!!! Home Run!!! This should be printed off and given to everyone I come into contact with in the next 7 days. That would be SWEET!!!

    Reply
  10. Cathy - September 17, 2022 11:54 am

    My husband lets me cheat at Scrabble, too…but he still usually beats me! It’s a happy day when I win!! Love this column!

    Reply
  11. mccutchen52 - September 17, 2022 12:32 pm

    good advise Sean..all of it

    Reply
  12. Roxanne Taylor - September 17, 2022 12:39 pm

    Sean, I really, really want to see you speak in person. Could you wander on down to the central Florida area? I promise we would welcome you with open arms and feed you well! I am a Florida cracker born in this wonderful state and we know how to take good care of our southern family! Blessings to you!

    Reply
  13. Mariah - September 17, 2022 12:46 pm

    Why are the comments not showing? The column is always great, as are the comments.

    Reply
  14. Diana Kinser - September 17, 2022 12:47 pm

    I love reading your columns every morning. The daily email is a wonderful start to my day. I’m a writer, too. You inspire me to be more open-hearted in my writing. Keep talking about suicide. It is such a heart-breaking problem with consequences that never go away. Sadly, there are some people who are dying on the inside, too. I wish I could give every one of them a hug and tell them someone loves them. I think that’s what your column is — a big hug we all need every day. (Btw, I also enjoy reading the comments, but for some reason they haven’t been open to read the past couple of days. A tech problem, I guess. Just wanted to make sure someone knows to fix the issue.) God bless you, Sean.

    Reply
  15. Priscilla Rodgers - September 17, 2022 12:55 pm

    Great advice. Wish I’d had it 50+ years ago

    Reply
  16. Donna M Kemper - September 17, 2022 12:57 pm

    Your truck is practically new. Mine is over 30 years old. I love dressing to the nines, driving to an event and emerging from my beat up pickup. Drive on, sir. Drive on.

    Reply
  17. Beverly - September 17, 2022 1:02 pm

    Perfect!

    Reply
  18. Trudy - September 17, 2022 1:25 pm

    My grandfather committed suicide when my Dad was 14 years old. Although I never knew him, his suicide effected me. I hate what it did to my Dad and I hate I missed out on having him in my life. Keep talking about it, Sean.

    Reply
  19. WayneGina Yount - September 17, 2022 1:41 pm

    So proud of you for continuing to put suicide out there and encourage people to Talk about It. You will not cause a person to harm themselves by asking. If you’re worried about someone ask them. Just say something like “are you thinking of harming yourself” or be blunt and say “are you thinking about suicide”? It won’t cause them to do it but a conversation with a caring person may cause them to get help. It may cause them to Not Do It. We have got to all be sweeter to our “neighbors” and slow down and Care about each other. Thank you Sean for keeping the conversation going. Everyone else keep doing your part.

    Reply
  20. Freda Gipson - September 17, 2022 1:44 pm

    Hi Sean! I think you forgot to add fresh garden tomatoes in your favorite foods today😀. And I can assure you that you are not ugly. I’ve seen photos and seen you on tv. Maybe it’s tongue in cheek for you to speak bad of yourself. I’d ask you not to do that. I imagine it hurts Jamie just a bit.
    Your beauty is in that you care deeply about people and their circumstances. Remember to let it shine when you think or speak of yourself.

    Reply
  21. chris nischan - September 17, 2022 1:47 pm

    Sean my grandfather shot himself when my dad was 11. He loves your column for many reasons. I print it for him every week. I have someone take over when I am on vacation. Dad is almost 90. My wife and I are taking him to see you when you are in Franklin, Tn. He is so excited.He is a bit nervous because he has a colostomy bag that has about a 2.5 hour limit. We might have to get up and leave. Please do not think we do not like the show if we have to exit early. He is so excited!! This will be the first time in several years he has stayed out longer than church service. YOU are the reason he will experiment with being out longer…… Thank you for who you are and what you are. God bless

    Reply
  22. David - September 17, 2022 1:55 pm

    Wait!? One can use proper nouns in Scrabble? One can ONLY use proper nouns in Scrabble? I am SO confused.

    And how do I share your “good wife” advice with MY wife without being a jerk?

    Reply
  23. Sean of the South: Questions | The Trussville Tribune - September 17, 2022 2:20 pm

    […] By Sean Dietrich, Sean of the South […]

    Reply
  24. David Britnell - September 17, 2022 3:07 pm

    Do you have a way to contact this “Prince of Nigeria?” I’m worried about him. Maybe I could help him with some investment.

    Reply
  25. Kathy Chappell - September 17, 2022 3:15 pm

    I attended the Olli program in Tuscaloosa and heard you for the first time after reading several columns friends shared.You are the best writer I have every read.I look forward to reading your column everyday! I promise to try and be sweet!

    Reply
  26. Katie - September 17, 2022 3:31 pm

    I think your columns are wonderful, and I don’t think you talk about suicide too much. I’ve had three in my own family. I am perfectly comfortable talking about it, but it seems to make the person I’m talking to uncomfortable. I am surprised by the statistic in this column, however. I didn’t realize it was happening that often. Thank you for always being genuine. You are definitely “real” to me.

    Reply
  27. Patricia Gibson - September 17, 2022 3:37 pm

    Good one🙏❤️

    Reply
  28. Linda Summers - September 17, 2022 5:09 pm

    Dear Sean, I am 65 years old and have been a psychologist and psychotherapist for 35 years. I currently work with active duty service members at Scott AFB. Recently I discovered your books and blog. Not since reading Lewis Grizzard have I felt so at home as if I was sitting at the table in the back of my parents little country store. Sometimes your stories bring me to tears. It’s a good thing. Thank you for doing The Lord’s work. Linda Summers

    Reply
  29. pattymack43 - September 17, 2022 5:56 pm

    ……and all God’s people said, “Amen!” Thank you, Sean! blessings to you and Jaime.

    Reply
  30. Denise DeVries - September 17, 2022 6:15 pm

    Well said frim start to finish. TY

    Reply
  31. Vernon Souders - September 17, 2022 7:51 pm

    “Sure. Why not.” Perfect. Thanks for your good words, Sean Dietrich.

    Reply
  32. Linda Moon - September 17, 2022 8:04 pm

    “Terms of Endearment”! My Guy and I visited the house in Houston where it was filmed, and the elderly lady who lived there invited us to sit in the Gazebo where Shirley McClain and Jack Nicolson sat. We’ve seen Willie Hugh Nelson and his sister Bobbie. And Sean, we’ll see you again because you’re so sweet and talented and funny and married to the wonderful Jamie!

    Reply
  33. Bill Farley - September 17, 2022 8:16 pm

    Outstanding, totally enjoyed !
    Bill in Norman
    R T R

    Reply
  34. Mary Anne Weisiger - September 17, 2022 8:47 pm

    Thanks for talking about suicide. I have friends who started “Light the Trail” and are planning their second long bike ride to bring awareness about suicide. They have a Facebook page . Issac and Libby Manning and their friends started it. Before covid they rode the Lewis and Clark trail, Oregon to DC. Check it out great story.

    Reply
  35. Thames Robinson - September 17, 2022 8:59 pm

    I see that a couple of my specialties are on your favorite foods list. Because you are close in age to my sons and I always cook their favorites for their birthdays, I will be dropping by a few treats on Dec. 29.

    Reply
  36. Patricia Jones - September 18, 2022 4:07 am

    I am so glad you talk about suicide. You are right most people who have lost someone from suicide never talks about their feelings.

    Reply
  37. Pamela Talbert - September 18, 2022 2:40 pm

    How is it that EVERY SINGLE DAY you have the words… not JUST words, but the right words? The ones that make me cry, make me laugh, make me ponder, make me glad that so many years ago my dear friend Sarah Lane Norton (who you met in her yard) introduced me to your column. I’ve since shared you with all my friends and family. Funny, I feel like you are one- my family and my friend. Blessings to you on this Sunday morning and thank you for picking up that pen and typing those words.

    Reply
  38. Jeff Morrow - September 18, 2022 5:18 pm

    Love it

    Reply
  39. Lucy Lewis - September 19, 2022 5:15 pm

    Dear Sean. I met you once in Birmingham and you hugged me so good my friend thought we were dating when she saw the pic on Facebook. Not the least bit disappointing! You made me laugh out loud today. And cry a little. Thank you!

    Reply
  40. Woodrow Burt - September 19, 2022 5:18 pm

    Sean, you are one of the most inspiring writers I’ve ever read. I look forward to your column each day (this from a 76-year old, PhD, former university president. Keep up the wonderful work. God bless.

    Reply
  41. Paula J - September 20, 2022 1:31 am

    You are my sunshine. ☀️

    Reply
  42. Joanne - September 22, 2022 7:41 pm

    Since so many people think that suicide is the answer to their problems, this new crisis lifeline became available in July 2022 and I thought many people may be unaware of its existence and it may save their life.

    9-8-8
    Suicide and Crisis Lifeline

    The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is a national network of more
    than 200 crisis centers that helps thousands of people overcome
    crisis situations every day. It is a direct connection to compassionate,
    accessible care and support for anyone experiencing mental health –
    related distress – whether thoughts of suicide, mental health, substance
    abuse crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress. It services a
    universal entry point so that no matter where you live, you can reach
    a trained crisis counselor who can help.

    Reply

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