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Three Pieces of Advice You Did Not Ask For, On Topics You Were Not Actually Considering


ADVICE NUMBER ONE: You should read Richard Russo on the toilet.

No, but, you really should. I was recently found by an old and very very very odd college acquaintance on the Facebook (OH! INTERNET! WHAT DID WE DO BEFORE YOU???), and when I asked him what he was up to these days, that was his answer.

“I am reading Richard Russo on the toilet.”

Well, there was more to it than that, because as you can imagine I questioned him about this …phenomenon (or should I call it a Lifestyle Decision?) quite extensively because it was such an odd answer and I am apparently not very good at boundaries. HEH.

We wrote back and forth quite a bit on this topic, and I have no idea if he ever married or had kids or what kind of work he does or where he gets his preaching or even what state or country he has settled into, but BY ZEUS! I know what the man is reading when he sits upon the porcelain throne.

It doesn’t HAVE to be Richard Russo, actually. But some great, and I mean GREAT, book. A book you LOVED. You put it in the bathroom. It’s just THERE, erm, should, um, you have need of it.

When choosing your literature for the toilet, here are his guidelines for the best experience.

1) Choose a book you read before, so you don’t have to follow the plot. You KNOW all the characters, but you don’t remember how gloriously each sentence and image is crafted. You have forgotten the EXACTNESS of it, but you remember the sense of it.

2) Never allow yourself to be so caught up that you take Richard Russo out of the bathroom. Read it in tiny bites, just appreciating the two pages or three paragraphs you get to before it is time to leave the bathroom and continue with your day. You read it word by word, just to love each word in turn. Consider the pieces, not the whole gulped thing.

3) HAVE A BOOMMARK. Lest you use your entire window of read-portunity to find your place.

He says that based on his current rate of reading, it will take him three years to finish Empire Falls. He fully expects to be a better person at the end of this time.

I have two bathrooms, ready to be loaded up with literature. I am thinking Jane Smiley upstairs, and the letters of Flannery O’Connor down?

ADVICE NUMBER TWO (see what I did there?? HA! I said number two after I was…oh Never mind. Here it is): Don’t give people advice. 90% of all people HATE to get advice more than 70% of the time. I made that statistic up, and I really feel that I have underestimated. Julie over at A Little Pregnant calls it Ass-vice. For a reason. Having to do with what one makes of oneself when one gives it.

Right now TONS of people reading this are making grumpy mouths as I intrude upon their most private moments and try to FORCE them to read Richard Russo on the toilet. EVEN RICHARD RUSSO WOULD PROBABLY FEEL INSULTED, told to take his own book into the toilet and CHERISH THE WORDS. As if he was some Philistine! As if he was not already reading PROUST in there!

Like most people, I have a very clear picture of how easily your whole life could be thoroughly fixed, if only you would LISTEN and DO WHAT I SAY.

At the same time, in MY life, I peer through a murky landscaped using a cardboard paper towel roll tube to narrow my vision to a pinhole. And I am not listening to you burble about all the parts that I am missing.

I am SURE you could fix my life, if I listened to you.

AND YET! I likely won’t. Even if you are right. Even if you have only my best interests at heart.

This is the human condition.

I have learned that when people ask for advice, what they really mean is, I WANT TO WHINE ABOUT A PROBLEM THAT I AM UNWILLING TO FIX BECAUSE IT WILL COST TOO MUCH TIME OR MONEY OR EFFORT BUT IT IS BUGGING ME SO I NEED TO HOLLER SO GAHHHH PLEASE DO NOT TELL ME HOW TO FIX IT BECAUSE THEN I MIGHT HAVE TO AND IT SEEMS HARD AND BORING.

I learned this by realizing that it is what *I* mean, much of the time. *grin*

I am trying to stop asking for advice when I don’t actually want it. These days, I just say, “I want to whine. Can you listen for five minutes while I whine and cry?” and people will totally do that. I am blessed with excellent friends.

OUT OF TIME! GAH! I will share the third REALLY HELPFUL piece of advice on FRIDAY, NO REALLY. This is not a pink sock. I WILL share it. Because I ADORE YOU, oh my best beloveds, and this advice… It could SAVE YOUR LIFE.

Meanwhile, perhaps, I AM HAVING A CYNICAL WEDNESDAY. Is my made up statistic wrong? Do people listen to advice? Have you ever had anyone TAKE your advice and go fix their life or has anyone ever fixed yours with advice? When do you listen, and when do you have to come to it on your own?

30 comments to Three Pieces of Advice You Did Not Ask For, On Topics You Were Not Actually Considering

  • How likely people are to act upon advice received is inversely proportional to how big an impact that advice will have on their lives and/or how personally critical the advice is. Tell me “You’ll be so much happier with your life and your health if you lose a bunch of weight and start exercising, and by the way here’s the diet you should follow and the exercises you should do” and I will immediately go eat pie in the most comfortable reclining chair I can find. Say, “You know what you should do?! You should pet a cat when you’re feeling stressed!” and it will totally be followed.

  • Cornelia Read

    I am always amazed when people DON’T have books in their bathrooms. And really dismayed by the Seinfeld episode where everyone complains that some book is “a bathroom book” when the character tries to return it to the bookstore. Another reason I really don’t like Seinfeld. Mencken is especially good for small snippets of reading. Proust would probably suck.

  • Reader’s Digest is the standard bathroom format. Short, quick, and pertinent. But I do prefer fiction. Remember when Reader’s Digest used to have fiction in their tiny magazine? Their RD Condensed books were the precursor of Cliff Notes. And in a true pinch, RD can pinch hit for toilet paper. RD = TP

  • First of all, I think people should read Richard Russo anywhere and at any time. Straight Man is one of my not-so guilty pleasures.

    As to advice, my husband and I had a moment once where I was trying to cut potatoes, and I was complaining about how I’d been cutting for so long that my fingers were getting wrinkled from the water and sore from gripping the knife, and he starts spouting off solutions. Of course, none of them would actually work for one reason or another, mainly my inability to use a potato peeler like a normal human being. Finally, he says, “Woman, I deal in solutions, not sympathy!” So you’re spot on. Usually, we only want to kvetch a bit.

    I try to ask for a little “sympathy” and get it out of my system.

  • No one listens. Remember that story I told you once, about the one person who ever listened to me and it saved her marriage and oh we were all so happy?
    Yeah, they’re getting divorced.
    I did give them an extra bed so her soon-to-be-ex could move to the basement until they can afford to live apart. And there’s the lesson. People don’t want your advice, but they can sometimes use your extra furniture.

  • Jill

    My brother reads Clive Cussler in the bathroom, so he calls his number 2s CUSSLERS- it is a family joke.

  • Krista

    Not sure what a “boommark” is, but if you need a bookmark in a pinch, a square of toilet paper is a workable substitute.

  • Brigitte

    I just remember giving my MIL some health advice when she was kvetching about some issue. She completely ignored me, but came back from a doctor’s appointment raving about his glorious advice . . . which was exactly what I said. Sigh! People really need to start respecting my omniscience. ;-D

  • Martha

    I have a a couple of friends who often ask me for advice and tell me how wise I am. They listen intently. They even tell me I should “go into counseling”. And YET. They don’t actually do one thing I suggest.

    I am okay with it. I get that they want to be heard and they THINK they want to know what is the next, right thing to do. It is how our friendship works.

  • Michelle

    I am blessed with 2 most excellent best friends. One calls for my advice constantly about the same problem that would be easily fixed if she’d JUST DO IT ALREADY. But she won’t for a while longer. She will eventually and then call and say she wishes she’d listened to me before. Next time, do I promise to MAKE HER LISTEN? Can I please hit her with a heavy book or make her sign a contract in blood? She’ll sign! She won’t listen next time either. My other best friend gives such fantastic and practical advice that I’ve become unable to do practically anything without first checking in with her.

  • Shelley

    Love Straight Man and Empire Falls! Anywhere. Now I need a book rack for the bathroom. I listen to advice all the time. Sometimes I follow it too. But inertia is powerful. I give advice too. I think I follow others three times as often as mine is followed. Good thing I expect to be ignored, so I’m never disappointed.

  • Shelley

    Oh and a good friend just took my advice to buy A Grown up Kind of Pretty. I’m sure she will love it too.

  • People generally listen to my book advice, but not much more than that. And I take almost NOBODY’S advice on anything, because I am willful that way. Or so my husband says.

    Short stories on the toilet. The last being The Yellow Wallpaper. Kind of a bizarre and creepy thing to read on the throne I admit.

  • My dad spent my entire childhood yelling, “Pay attention, Nancy!” and “Think!” at me. In the way of children, I ignored him. Then, one day, I didn’t. Saved my life.

  • Chris of the Woodwork

    Honestly, reading the comments is almost as fun as reading the posts here.

    Speaking of advice, did you take mine? Remember the advice to let everyone know the AUDIO version of your new book will be released the same day as the hardcover book?

    We advice-givers are sometimes known as NAGGERS or MOTHERS or worse. **sigh**

  • Melinda

    Apparently I gave very very good advice to an old friend, once upon a time. Whenever I run into her, she repeats the advice to me using remarkable moving hand flourishes and I am flummoxed for a moment thinking, “Was that really me who said that?” And, I guess it was.

  • Summer

    So happy there’s a post today! It’s like my very own present. I took a hard test this morning that lasted for a long time and to decompress I had lunch while catching up on your blog! (I’m reading backward and I’m to April 2012, while checking for new posts.)

    No, people (generally) don’t listen to advice! I think you pretty much need a burning bush or plagues to get any serious attention. My job is to give advice and I’d agree you’re underestimating. It used to bother me and I was on the road to being extremely jaded because I had plans for setting the world to rights when I graduated, but now…whatever. I just smile and send my ass-vice (ha!) out into the world and I’ve done my job…maybe it’ll be retrieved as useful info someday.

    Personally, I’m fairly resistant to proffered advice and particular about who I trust for advice. Fortunately I have a few good resources. And in my personal life, I am not a giver unless it is requested! Side effect of the day job.

    Good bathroom reading advice! Lifelong bathroom reader here. But I can’t let my books reside in the bathroom. There was this Dateline or 20/20 or some such and something about the particles expelled with flushing…can’t recall but I can’t get the (sorta) knowledge out of my brain. See, *I* would put the seat down, but everyone else in this house? Plainly not a priority.

  • Therese

    I think we finally listen to advice when we’re really ready to hear it/act on it. Before then, it’s like the adult voices on those Charlie Brown specials, “Wah, wah, wah.” And man, those voices are annoying and creepy.

    The only book in our main bathroom is a guest book, for people to sign. Very similar to this: http://amzn.to/11EBVy5 Really. And I firmly believe people only touch it before they’ve sat down or after they’ve washed their hands.

  • Jessica (the celt)

    So do people ask for advice? Yes, yes, they do. I get asked for advice all the time. And, la la, when I was a youngin’, I actually gave advice when asked. Now that I am older and wiser (ha), I have realized that people don’t really want advice. They want to complain (my mom calls it “the old B & M,” which I think you can figure out for yourself, and no, it’s not that kind of “BM,” even if we’ve already started down that path of cautious footsteps). So now I just listen and forgo the advice.

    I wish more people would just ask for what they really want, which is “I want to whine. Can you listen for five minutes while I whine and cry?” Sound familiar? ;~)

  • Cyndi

    And here is one of the very few problems with being a devotee of the e-reader. I do have Empire Falls in e-book format, but do I now need to purchase a second Kindle for the loo?

    And all I can say with authority regarding ad- or assvice is that 17-year-olds son do not welcome or heed it.

  • Chris of the Woodwork

    Something my somewhat crass father said to me about growing older: “When you became a teenager I was as stupid as the day is long. When you hit your twenties, I got just smart enough to be able to pour p*ss out of a boot. Nowadays I’m a genius!”

  • Michelle-who-is-Shelley

    I saw what you did there — you had me at “number two”! 🙂
    If you don’t want to read Richard Russo in the bathroom, the breakfast table is also an excellent place to read in small increments. I have been digesting Mary Karr’s LIT bit by bit for the past few months while I crunch my Kashi cereal.
    As to Richard Russo, you may want to save Straight Man for reading near other people because you will want to read out loud the hysterically funny parts to someone.

    I take advice when I seriously ask someone for advice, and I am careful who I ask for advice. Unsolicited advice is hit or miss. Usually miss.

  • Ali

    My favorite books in the world are my ‘bathroom books’. I have a drawer in my vanity just for them 🙂 I do need bookmarks though.

    I have one rule, though. Once a book becomes a bathroom book, it stays a bathroom book. Oh and rule two, the only books allowed are ones that I love and will read over and over.

    Adding Empire Falls to my library list. I adored the mini series they put out of it. The actors were fantastic.

  • I will often take a book into the bathroom with me, but I never thought of leaving one there specially for that purpose! Now that’s good ass-vice. LITrally.

    As for asking for and/or giving advice. People do come to me for it, sometimes. Sometimes they take it, sometimes no. I wish I could say it’s all the same to me either way, but I infinitely prefer it when they take it.

    Just yesterday night I sent an email to a friend who read between the lines and gave me some advice that was so on the money it made me cry. I hadn’t asked, but she gave it, and I needed it. That’s when you know you’ve got a keeper of a friend 🙂

  • Karen in MD

    I have a book of Bible devotions and Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go in my bathroom reading repertoire. Now I’m thinking one of your books needs to be in there, too. That may lead me become a heathen, but I’ll risk it.
    And I just listened to two of your books, and you are a fabulous narrator.

  • Sandi, I love your response! I am the same way…although I tend to rationalize it like this. I will try any advice if it sounds particularly pleasant & effortless to do so. Otherwise, all I hear is the “wah, wah, wah” noise mentioned by Therese. Conversely, I try to make sure any advice I give is pretty painless stuff. I was not always so…laissez-faire in my advising strategy.

    I can’t fully explain without spilling a close friend’s most painful secrets except to say, she was in a deep, deep terrible black hole of emotional turmoil. I listened and listened and listened as she went round and round over the same topic. When I was asked for it, I gave my best possible advice…picking my words oh so carefully. She listened, sometimes even agreed. But then the next day she would be going over the same topic and she would say,”I know you said this yesterday, but I really need different advice.” We repeated this cycle for weeks. Finally, I asked her to please see a professional. She did. After 6 sessions, in which the therapist basically told her the same things I had been telling her, he gave her one final piece of advice in their final session…he told her she should talk everything through with me because I probably had the perspective she was missing and really needed. And thus, our conversations went back into the same endless loop for…I think it was at least a year, but I stopped thinking so hard. My advice deteriorated into such idiotic bits as “you should schedule a massage to brighten your day” or “do you want to go out and get some ice cream to cheer up?” Guess what. She started taking 100% of my advice and we were both happier.

    BTW-If I ever meet that therapist, I’m going to punch him in the nose.

  • Oh, and I read in every other room in the house, leaving a trail of open &/or dog-eared books in my wake, but I reserve my bathroom time for modern & mixed media art magazines. Any book, even books I’ve read before, cause me to linger there too long…at great detriment to my circulation.

  • Oh yes, on the advice front – I am 35 weeks pregnant and HOLY COW does everyone in the world feel the need to tell me exactly what I should be doing now, or need to do with Kid upon arrival… and then last week I was rear-ended and our car was totaled (babe and I are fine, thank goodness!), and while I once thought that the baby-related rate of non-solicited advice was the high water mark, every single person who hears about the car situation has advice about what we MUST – no really, MUST MUST MUST or everything will be terrible and you’ll regret your decision for the rest of your life – make sure to do when buying a car. Lord have mercy.

  • I got a cat. I TOLD you I would. Now she needs a name. What do you MEAN that has nothing to do with your post? I GOT A CAT.

  • I am a whiner, too. Sometimes I just want someone to listen to me complain about my crazy mean drunk in-laws and the latest horrible present they have given to my husband (not one, but three animals from some wildlife group – Primo is now the proud adoptive father of a sea turtle, a wolf, and a Florida panther as his birthday present, which I assure you is not what he has been pining for). Sometimes I just want someone to say, “Wow. Your in-laws are really clueless, aren’t they?” I just want some validation. Is that so wrong?

    The key to whining, though, is to whine to the proper person. If you want to complain about someone donating to charity in your name as a birthday present, you have to make sure you are whining to someone who also thinks that someone who donates to charity on behalf of another person (when the other person has not said, “Mom, instead of buying me tickets to the Loverboy concert this summer, just give money to charity in my name”) is not doing it right.

    I made the mistake of complaining to a co-worker, who just shrugged and said, “I give to charity for birthdays all the time. If my kids and friends want something, they can buy it for themselves.”

    I should have remembered that this was the person who told me not to make a cake for her birthday because she doesn’t like cake. Instead, she brought tofu brownies to work. Which were not very good.

    I now have a note tacked to the wall of my cubicle: “Don’t talk to Janice!” Well, it’s actually, “DTTJ!” because I am scared of Janice and wouldn’t want to explain if she saw the note.