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.