In praise of Ask Polly

Photograph: Willy Somma

Most of Heather Havrilesky (aka Ask Polly)’s audience are young-ish (that hideous term, Millenial) women. Her recent excellent article “It’s never been harder to be young” deconstructs this: “What I discover in my email in-box each morning are dispatches from young people who feel guilty and inadequate at every turn and who compare themselves relentlessly to others. They are turned inside out, day after day, by social media.” Many of the anxieties her (admittedly self-selecting) correspondents suffer from take the same shape: “An external mob is watching and judging and withholding approval. It’s impossible to matter, to be interesting enough.”

You might be cynical about her approach — and her audience. You might be all well-adjusted and matter-of-fact and roll your eyes at “first world problems” — then her book How to Be a Person in the World is probably not for you (unless you’re into hate-reading). But if this book shows something it’s that everyone , no matter how rich or seemingly successful or how objectively easy and glossy and Instagram-worthy their life is, is fucked up in their own little way and is going through similar questions, anxieties and fears.

I love her intensity:

“Let’s just be ourselves instead, broken but hopeful, and let’s be right here, right now. Let’s look around and see the scrappy, mediocre, mundane details of our lives and proclaim them exalted and glorious. Imagine for a moment that I can see you clearly for the first time. I can see you clearly, and you are radiating pure, lusty, brilliant grace and divinity. Feel it. Believe it. Carry it with you.”

I wrote for the Guardian about why this book gives me hope.

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