Terra Nomad

Every day is like survival. You're my lover, not my rival.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Opening the Photo Album

My mind is a photo album filled with pictures from my past. Some of them are blurry and unfocused or have someone’s thumb covering the left half of the scene. A few of them are overexposed, leaving the viewer only bright spots and shadows to discern where the faces were and who was laughing while I was crying. Some are portraits where everyone is posed in their Sunday best with hair recently cut and lipstick freshly applied. Lots of them are candid shots that depict some sense of movement or laughter.
There are some landscape or postcard shots that remind me of places I’ve traveled, and there are yearbook photos to remind me of my own painful adolescence. Doesn’t everyone have at least one school picture that they hope no one ever sees again? Some are family pictures that were obviously taken just minutes after some well-meaning third cousin shoved everyone up against the wall and demanded that they smile. Many pictures are from weddings or birthday parties. Some were taken on holidays and some are actually more like video clips or montages that depict several days that were all alike.
When it’s time to write about something that happened, I take out the picture and examine it. Fears, laughter, memories and joy come spilling out of each one. Remember how he wore his hair? Remember how cute she was when she was a baby? Who could forget that sweatshirt that I wore everyday for three months? I can easily get bogged down in the details and forget the big picture. So, it helps me to outline what I want to say before trying to write. I think some of my favorite exercises were the ones that involved imagining an event from someone else’s point of view or if it had happened in another way.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve

There are four stories to the house, a big garage that holds an El Camino and another car, a barn full of motorcycles and two old sheds. The road curves up and around the back of the house and the yard rises alongside it.The basement is where you enter the house after parking in the gravel driveway. You might have seen the dead deer hanging in tree, but if you were lucky, you missed it. Inside you take off your boots and scarf and sit by the wood stove. Soon you remove your jacket, too. Aunt Jean, Uncle Mike and their kids Adam and Heather are there. You and Adam find a board game to play while you wait for Angie to show up. Heather and your sisters start talking about boys and clothes. Adam rolls his eyes and Heather shoots him a dirty look. Once everyone has arrived, you go up to the main floor for dinner. The food is good but nobody talks at the adults' table. All you hear for 20 minutes are the kids talking, forks clanging and people clearing their throats. After dinner there is some dessert and lots of questions about school, work and how you're Mom is doing. Then, it's upstairs to sleep in the room with the scary pictures. You wonder if you are actually related to the people in those pictures.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Kevin Smith’s Universe

In 1993, Kevin Smith dropped out of film school and amassed a budget of just under $28,000 to film Clerks, a movie that was picked up by Miramax and won awards at the Sundance and Cannes film festivals. Clerks has since earned upwards of $3 million and Smith has gone on to write and direct six more feature length films, including the sequel Clerks 2.

Smith appears in most of his movies as Silent Bob, a character that speaks very little dialogue, often getting just a single line at or near the end of the movie. In Clerks, he tells the main character that he needs to stop looking for a better girlfriend, because the one he has is pretty great, she’s just not perfect. In Chasing Amy, Smith’s third film, Bob actually gets an entire monologue in which he tells the main character that he was wrong to reject his girlfriend to whom he felt sexually inferior because she had so much more experience than he did. This is a recurring theme in Smith’s movies, and he claims this is a recurring theme in his personal life.

He is married to Jennifer Schwalbach-Smith, whom he met in 1997 when she was interviewing him for a column in USA Today. Most of the time when he mentions her, he points out how lucky he is to have a hot wife, since he feels he is mediocre looking and overweight. While I’m sure he thinks he is being complimentary and grateful, I think it shows how he still isn’t over the issues he had in his teens and twenties feeling inferior to women. In fact, he has said that Chasing Amy’s plot was taken from his real life relationship with Joey Lauren Adams, his then girlfriend and movie’s female lead. He was jealous that she had traveled to Bali and wondered how she could find him interesting after having had an experience like that. Despite his tremendous success in Hollywood, he still wonders, or claims to wonder how his wife puts up with him.

There are other themes in Smith’s work that reflect his personal life. Religion took center stage in his fourth film, Dogma. In it, two angels that God previously banished from Heaven find a loophole that will allow them to return to Heaven. The movie examines what would happen if they were successful, since that would prove God wrong, and how a cast of characters from Heaven, Hell and Earth all conspire to either help or hinder the pair. Smith was raised Catholic and still professes to belong to the Church. Many of his views diverge from the Church’s teachings though, and he explores that in Dogma. The main thing I took from the movie was that personal faith and the established religions of today don’t always mesh well, but that doesn’t mean they can’t both be a part of your life.

Smith’s sixth movie is titled Jersey Girl, as an homage to both his home state of New Jersey and his daughter Harley Quinn Smith. This movie is a change from his previous films in that Silent Bob is not in it and it examines a father’s relationship with his daughter after her mother dies in childbirth. Ben Affleck plays the male lead, and the child’s mother is portrayed by Jennifer Lopez. Backlash against the overexposure of Affleck and Lopez’s relationship caused Smith to significantly reduce Lopez’ screen time in the movie. Affleck’s character struggles with balancing his fatherly duties with his career and eventually meets a new woman played by Liv Tyler.

The fifth and seventh movies that Smith has both written and directed are Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and Clerks 2. Both movies are basically extended references to the plots, settings and characters of his other films. Jay and Silent Bob tells the story of two slackers who find out someone is going to make a movie out of their lives and isn’t planning on sharing any of the money with them. They embark on a road trip to Hollywood to stop the movie from being made at all. Clerks 2 shows us Dante and Randall, the two main characters from the original movie, about 15 years later. They are still working dead-end jobs in town where they grew up. One of them is about to marry a woman from high school and move to Florida to live in a house her parents will buy them and work for her father. He has unresolved romantic feelings for his boss and is unsure he wants to leave the life he has, despite its shortcomings.

Both of these films examine the potential we all have to sabotage some of the good things we have going for us, and how it can be very difficult to know if something is actually good for us or is just holding us back. Smith even manages to make Randall both a positive and negative force in Dante’s life.

Personally, I am such a fan of Smith’s work because of how funny he manages to be while still examining serious issues. He has said that he thinks dialogue is his strong point, and I agree that most of his dialogue seems authentic. But I would say his willingness to put his own issues on the table and speak about them is what makes people appreciate his films for more than their crude humor or big-name actors. He tells a personal story with each of them, and while the plot points are resolved, he always leaves the door open for a new chapter in the characters’ lives.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

“Peace” and “Coexist”

“Peace” and “Coexist”

I have seen these two words made up of various religious symbols many places including T-shirts, bumper stickers and online. At their core, they are asking for unity and understanding between people of different religions.

The symbols making up the word PEACE are as follows:

P – The Christian cross with a half circle, a symbol of Christ’s crucifixion

E – An ornate E with a branch, possibly olive. The olive branch has been a symbol of peace since the time of Ancient Greece.

A – A hexagram or six-pointed star, known in the Jewish religion as the Star of David, in Magick as the Seal of Solomon and in Hindu as the Shatkona

C – The Star and Crescent that represent the Islamic faith to most Muslims

E – A dove with a leaf in its mouth, again possibly an olive leaf. The dove carrying the olive leaf is another symbol of peace in both Christian and Jewish tradition due to its appearance in the story of Noah and the Flood.

COEXIST uses three of the same symbols and some others:

C – The Star and Crescent again

O – A pentacle, which is a Wiccan symbol often used as a talisman

E – The scientific formula e = mc2, which means energy equals mass times the speed of light in a vacuum squared

X – A hexagram again

I – Contains the Wheel of Dharma, an eight-spoked wheel that is used in Bhuddism, Hinduism and Jainism to symbolize law and the path of life.

S – The Chinese philosophical symbol Yin and Yang, without the dots

T – The Christian cross again

So, both images contain traditional symbols for a number of different religions or belief systems. But, they each contain at least one universal, non-religious type of symbol. Peace contains an olive branch and Coexist contains a scientific formula. I have seen other versions of Coexist that use a peace symbol for the O and a combination of the two gender symbols on the E. This may be seen as an inclusion of other philosophical differences that are not rooted in any religion or belief in a higher power. The scientific formula is most likely a direct reference to the debate between evolution and creation by a higher being. Not only are they asking the practitioners of each religion to get along with those who practice other religions, but to include atheists or non-believers as well.

Why do we need reminders like these to tell us to be kind and tolerant to others? I think the problem comes when we think that our beliefs and views are the only ones that can possibly be right. It is upsetting that someone sees the same evidence we do and still comes to a different conclusion. We seek to assure ourselves that our conclusions are correct and the only way is to prove the other ones are incorrect.

Perhaps the ultimate goal of images such as these is a grassroots tolerance of differing views. If we no longer saw people of other religions as any different than us, it would be much harder to oppress or wage war on them. Cultural and political differences seem to take priority over matters of faith, but politics and culture are often a result of religious or moral beliefs. When two groups of people have such different religious heritages, it follows that they will have distinct cultures and political climates. It does not necessarily follow that those two groups can’t get along, learn from each other and eventually form one larger, more diverse group.

You might think of America as a pretty tolerant place as far as religion goes. The government does not practice religious persecution, and freedom of religion is upheld in the Constitution, but is that enough? In 2008, it is possible that the Democratic candidate for President will either be Hillary Clinton, a white woman or Barack Obama, a biracial man. This will be ground breaking in itself, since every major party candidate has previously been a white male. But what else have all of these men had in common aside from race and gender? Religion. The only President who was not Protestant was John F. Kennedy, who was Catholic. Both Obama and Clinton are Protestant so that tradition would continue if either of them won the election. The only Non-Protestant in contention for one of the major party nominations is Republican Mitt Romney, who is Mormon. Mormons consider themselves Christian but not Protestant. The first time a Muslim person was elected to Congress was just last year, here in Minnesota. Until religious minorities are fully included in our political process, I don’t think we can claim true tolerance.

So, these images are trying to remind us of how important it is to respect the opinions and beliefs of all people, whether they agree with us or not. Respecting those opinions means more then just refraining from violence against others, it also means you need to include them in secular activities just as you would someone with beliefs identical to your own. Respect means you don’t make fun of them for not eating pork or for having funny dirt on their foreheads. Respect means you are allowed to ask questions about rituals you don’t understand, since that can lead to greater understanding.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Winning the Cold War at What Cost?

“What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?” argues former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski in a 1998 with French newspaper Le Nouvel Observateur (qtd. in Blum 1). In this interview, Brzezinski is defending the Carter administration and the CIA for funding the Afghani mujahideen in their resistance to the Soviet invasion of 1979-1989. This funding, that began in secret, was meant to draw the Soviets into a conflict that would drain their resources and hasten the fall of Communism. Now nearly 30 years later it is clear; the seeds sown in Afghanistan grew into to the resurgence of Islamic Fundamentalism and the formation of terrorist organizations including al Qaeda. This essay will follow the trail from the Cold War to the current War on Terror.

In December of 1979, The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and met a resistance that drew them into a decade-long war that ultimately contributed to the fall of the USSR (Reuveny and Prakash 696). The Afghani mujahideen, literally ‘Muslim warriors fighting a jihad’ (“Mujahideen”), were the resistors but they were not alone. Journalist and documentary filmmaker John Pilger explains, “For 17 years, Washington poured $4 billion into the pockets of some of the most brutal men on earth.” (Pilger 2) In the interview with Le Nouvel Observateur, Brzezinski admits that the stream of money started almost six months before the Soviets actually invaded. He says that President Carter signed a secret directive for this aid to begin in July of 1979 and that he and the President did this to increase the chances of a Soviet invasion (qtd. in Blum 1)

In the summer of 1980, US Representative Charlie Wilson read an AP article about the Afghan resistance and was moved by the descriptions of the mujahideen resisting the Red Army, despite the Soviet’s technical superiority (Crile 19). Wilson had recently joined the Defense Appropriations subcommittee, which allowed him to make a single phone call to the staffer in charge of CIA funds and order that the aid to Afghanistan be doubled from $5 million to $10 million (Crile 20). Wilson visited Afghani refugee camps in Pakistan on an official fact-finding mission in 1982. He saw first-hand the horrors of a whole nation fleeing the Communists and that there were few men among the refugees, since most had stayed behind to fight. He spoke with tribal elders who asked not for food and medical supplies, but for “a weapon to destroy the [Russian helicopters]” (Crile 110). Later that year, Wilson actually told the CIA Chief of Station in Islamabad, Pakistan that he would “see to it that Congress approved whatever amount” the chief wanted for the mujahideen (Crile 123).

George Crile summarizes the CIA’s role in the Soviet-Afghan war: “Afghanistan … was not just the CIA's biggest operation, it was the biggest secret war in history. In the course of a decade, billions of rounds of ammunition and hundreds of thousands of weapons were smuggled across the border … At one point over 300,000 fundamentalist Afghan warriors carried weapons provided by the CIA; thousands were trained in the art of urban terror.” John Pilger explains that Operation Cyclone, the code name for the CIA overseeing camps training Islamic Militants, did not end when the Soviets finally left Afghanistan. Many of these militants would later join Al Qaeda or the Taliban (Pilger 3).

Congress continued approving millions of dollars in aid to the mujahideen after the Soviets left in 1989. In 1991, the CIA received $250 million for Afghanistan and in 1992 it was $200 million, hidden in a $298 million defense bill, and Saudi Arabia was matching this money. (Crile 514, 519). The CIA money was funneled through Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI), so that the U.S. could have plausible deniability, and the ISI funded specific factions within Afghanistan. But the Saudi matching funds, which had been initially negotiated by Brzezinski, overwhelmingly went towards supporting, arming and training Arab mujahideen, fighters who came from other countries into Afghanistan to help fight the jihad (Blackton 1). The CIA considered but ultimately decided against training any non-Afghani fighters, mostly due to the problems and animosity between those fighters and the Afghani mujahideen (Lansford 139).

So, what was Afghanistan like after the Soviet withdrawal? Crile answers “By the end of 1993 … there were no roads, no schools, just a destroyed country -- and the United States was washing its hands of any responsibility. It was in this vacuum that the Taliban and Osama bin Laden would emerge as the dominant players.” (Crile 522). Lansford claims that the U.S. had no real plan to rebuild Afghanistan after the Soviets left but began to realize the effects of a weakly governed Afghani state in the mid-nineties. Terrorism by Islamist extremists and a sharp increase in the amount of heroin coming from the Afghan-Pakistani border signaled trouble (Lansford 144).

The Taliban took over various parts Afghanistan from late 1994 to September 1996, when it was able to capture the capital city, Kabul. They instituted a series of strict, fundamentalist laws and punishments that they claimed were based on their interpretations of Islam (“Taliban”). The atrocities that were carried out did not prevent U.S.-based Union Oil Company of California (Unocal) from entertaining members of the Taliban in Texas in 1997. They hoped to build a pipeline across Afghanistan and turn it into an “oil protectorate” (Pilger 2). It might have happened if not for the incidents of August 7, 1998. Rossi details the events: On that day, the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed, and later Osama bin Laden was named the prime suspect. It was discovered that bin Laden was running Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan with the approval of the Taliban. In retaliation, the United States bombed these camps in late 1998. The Unocal pipeline deal would not happen (Rossi 134-139).

The situation repeated itself on September 11, 2001 when New York and Washington, D.C. were attacked with commercial airliners and the U.S. demanded that the Taliban turn over bin Laden. They refused and the U.S. invaded Afghanistan with renewed fervor (Rossi 138). Bin Laden remains at large today, and it is suspected that he is still hiding out in the caves along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border (Thomas 1).

While not contributing money directly to the non-Afghani mujahideen, the CIA’s “secret” war and the United States’ subsequent abandonment of Afghanistan contributed to the Taliban’s rise to power in Afghanistan. It can be argued that only Pakistan and Saudi Arabia played a bigger part. But Pakistan was the middleman for the CIA funds and the Saudis were matching our money at our request. Crile laments, “What no one involved anticipated was that it might be dangerous to awaken the dormant dreams and visions of Islam. Which is, of course, exactly what happened” (Crile 520).

Works Cited

Blackton, John Stuart. "The CIA on "Did the CIA create Bin Laden?" TPM Cafe. 21 Jan 2006. 15 Oct 2007 .

Blum, Bill. "CRG - The CIA's Intervention in Afghanistan." Centre for Research on Globalisation. 15 Oct 2001. 10 Oct 2007 .

Crile, George. Charlie Wilson's War. New York: Grove Press, 2003.

Lansford, Tom. A Bitter Harvest: Us Foreign Policy and Afghanistan. Hants, UK: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2003.

"Mujahideen." American Heritage Dictionary. Fourth Edition. 2007.

Pilger, John. "What Good Friends Left Behind." The Guardian 20 Sep 2003 11 Oct 2007 .

Reuveny, Rafael and Aseem Prakash. "The Afghanistan war and the Breakdown of the Soviet Union." Review of International Studies 1999 693-708.

Rossi, M. L.. What Every American Should Know About the Rest of the World. New York: Penguin Putnam Inc, 2003.

"Taliban." Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2007 .

Thomas, Evan. "Into Thin Air." Newsweek 03 Sept 2007

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

I am the one Who

I am the One Who…

Went to Italy for two weeks.

Wants to go back.

Loves to travel.

Buys too many books.

Eats and drinks too much.

Fixes problems and explains things.

Remembers random details.

Wonders how he feels.

Has strange dreams and has no idea what they mean.

Likes to spend time alone.

Turned thirty and found out it was no big deal.

Hates ketchup and mustard.

Stays up too late, reading or playing video games,

Has been to 48 states.

Remembers lines from movies and TV shows and repeats them annoyingly.

My boss treats better than the others.

Has too much clutter in my room.

Likes puzzles.

Loves board games and trivia.

Owns too many clothes.

Has worked at the same place for 11 years.

Hates politics.

Votes anyway.

Reads my news online.

Refuses to argue.

Speaks up.

Is reliable and sometimes bossy.

Can put almost anything together.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Kickball Kiss

He and I colluded to put away the kickballs at the end of gym class so we could be alone. Let's see, this was third grade, so I was eight and he was nine. He told me to stop and close my eyes. Once I did, he kissed me and ran out of the room so fast that I opened my eyes to see nothing but the door closing. I must have gone to the lunchroom after that, but I don't remember. At this point I knew that he liked me back. Being eight years old, I guess that was enough. He would talk to me at my locker before I went to catch the bus home. My sister would stand ten feet away and giggle. I don't remember if I ever kissed him again or even how it ended. The next year, I was friends with his sister and he started calling me names, so maybe I had ended it.

What name did he call me? "Sarah Pampers"

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007


In response to an essay about how you can edit digital photos to remove ex-boyfriends and girlfriends from pictures.

Are those people really unwanted? I think more often than not, the person doing the removing wishes to forget who they were when that person was around. Relationships can end because of some horrible misdeed, but often they just die out, lose their flavor or stop growing while the people in them keep changing. If I was to remove just one person from a photo, I'd always think of them when I saw the photo and that pretty much defeats the purpose. When I have stuff left from a relationship, I put it away somewhere and usually when I run across it again, I can look at it with fondness. I know I am lucky not to have had any relationships that would give me an urge to destroy things.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

I was born...

Tonight was my last Writing Class and we had to read something out loud that we had written during the semester. This is what I read:

I was born in Redwood Falls, MN and my parents divorced before I turned three. My mother went back to college to get her Bachelor’s and moved us three girls up to St. Cloud to finish her Master’s Degree. I learned that providing for yourself and having say in what your life becomes are essential to being happy. I moved to Minneapolis when I was 19 and I have been working full-time ever since. I am trying to finish my Bachelor’s degree right now.

I was born in Redwood Falls, MN My father was a Vietnam Veteran and an alcoholic. We lived in the trailer park until I was 10, when we moved into an apartment. I grew up thinking that violence solved problems. I hated the small town we lived in, so I joined the military when I turned 18. I was stationed in Afghanistan in 2001, met my husband in 2003 and got married last year.

I was born in Redwood Falls, MN. My mother and two sisters lived in Minnesota until I was ten, when we moved to Seattle, WA. There I went to high school and then college, where I majored in performing arts. I now work in the local music scene as a talent booker for several venues. Most of the guys I’ve dated have been either musicians or software guys from Microsoft. The musicians are too flakey and the software guys are too boring.

I was born in Redwood Falls, MN, the youngest of three girls. I went to school in St. Cloud and then college in Texas. I majored in engineering and went to work for NASA. I met my husband at work in 2001, and we got married in Italy in 2004. We take two big trips every year and we just built a house.

I was born in Redwood Falls, MN but I grew up in St, Cloud. I met my high school sweetheart the summer before ninth grade. He graduated that spring and stayed in town for college. I took a job in an office after graduation. We had a child in 1998 and then got married right after our second one in 2000. His parents helped us with a down payment on a townhouse as our wedding gift. He never finished his degree, but he loves his job at the local radio station. I am back working part time now that the kids are in school. We are currently saving money to go to Europe for our tenth anniversary.

This was an exercise in which we wrote small biographical paragraphs that examined how our lives would have turned out if major events had been different.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Condiment of Evil

I am the one who hates ketchup and mustard.

My friends all know it. BBQ sauce is almost as bad. Mayo is acceptable,but horseradish? Um, no. I find most marinara sauce to be a sad, watery excuse for Italian food, but I hate ketchup and mustard the most. Once I was at McDonald's with my mom and we were grabbing food for a bunch of people. I reached for a straw or a lid and my shirt sleeve got a small bleech of ketchup on it. I was horrified, especially when I looked around the "dining room" to see there were no napkins in sight. I ended up using a small piece that I ripped off one of the bags.

My nightmare job would be to have to clean up or refill condiment dispensers. Errant globs of ketchup or mustard make me recoil. I rarely eat burgers, so I don't have to worry too much about ketchup, but many places have begun putting mustard on chicken and turkey sandwiches. Arby's is the main offender here, so now I have to ask the cashier what sauce comes on a sandwich. If it's not mayo, please skip it!

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Monday, December 03, 2007


Tonight is my second to last Writing class for the Semester. I have enjoyed most of the exercises we did, and some of the reading was pretty good, too. I'll be posting some of what I wrote for the class here throughout December under the writing231 tag. I still have to write something to read on the last day, which will probably be an exercise where you write a biography paragraph and then you write several more imagining your life if you had taken different paths. We did it after reading a similar essay by Luc Sante, which you can read here. 3 of my papers got 'A's and one got a B+, so I am expecting a decent grade in the class, which my GPA needs quite badly.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Take My Advice

I haven’t watched any daytime soap operas since I was in junior high, and I am not very interested in the personal lives of celebrities. But, I do have a guilty pleasure of sorts that involves reading advice columns, specifically those I can read on the Internet. I get something out of reading about some stranger’s personal problem and the helpful suggestions offered by either an expert or a bunch of well-meaning fellow readers.
The main columns I read are Dear Abby, Dear Prudence and Carolyn Hax’s Tell Me About It. These all follow the pattern of a columnist/expert responding to reader’s pleas for help and guidance. Often they will print another reader’s response to a previous answer, but rarely do discussions continue beyond that. There are recurring problems and the writers do a decent job of rephrasing the same advice to readers over and over again. I like how Ms. Hax seems to draw from a set of rules that favor being straightforward and fair to others, while also being honest with yourself about your needs.
Aside from the typical advice column, there are online communities that exist for members to post their problems and have the rest of the community respond to them. I find myself on Yahoo Answers and Ask Metafilter most often. These sites have a different dynamic, since people who are answering the question are able to read several previous answers to the question. This often results in them refuting or responding to a previous answer and not always answering the original question. Since you have a wider panel of answerers than the columns, the community answers show you different points of view that can be helpful, but they can easily fall into an ‘us vs. them’ mentality.
Why is this my guilty pleasure? I see it as a way to enhance my social skills and emotional intelligence without having to expend social energy. I’m an introvert and find social situations pretty demanding on my energy level. Although I do watch a lot of television and movies and read many novels, I don’t think I get the same sort of wisdom from them. In a fictional story, the writer is trying to keep your interest and advance the plot. A single person or a small group writes most of the characters and dialogue. Characters make decisions and act in ways that may be artificial or just unusual.
If I can read about real life situations and people’s actual responses to them, I can reflect on how I’d respond in the same situation. When I have to make hard or important decisions, I try to learn from the mistakes and triumphs of people who have gone before me. Before I read advice columns all the time, my knowledge was limited to those I knew personally. Now I have the benefit of having read through many other people’s views on the subject, as well as their first-hand accounts of what exactly happened and what they have learned from it.

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