DEAR SUGAR, The Rumpus Advice Column #24


Dear Sugar,

I currently work three jobs. One is an office job I hate that I spend thirty hours a week at. One is an unpaid internship I love, and that offers me the experience I need for future goals. I work around twenty to thirty hours a week there. The last is a side job for extra cash, but the boss has offered to give me more hours if I quit the office job.  Not enough to live off, but I have some savings.

I can’t do all three jobs anymore. I’m exhausted and on edge. The side job isn’t enough hours a week to justify quitting – I’ll still be overworked. The hours at the law office interfere with hours at the internship – I haven’t seen my intern boss in over two months (she’s already left the office by the time I show up and we communicate via email). I do periphery work that I still don’t feel is good enough, and I know I could do more interesting things if I came in during the day.

I don’t know what to do. Do I stay at a job that I hate and have no intention of pursuing as a career, just because it puts money in my pocket now? Or do I risk being broke in two months without a secure job prospect, to work for free at an organization I admire and can give me the tools to fulfill my aspirations?

Spread Too Thin


Dear Spread,

You’re facing the old conundrum: our money-grubbing culture wants you to sell shit and will pay you accordingly. But if you want to do work that isn’t about selling shit, and is instead about helping others in need, or even – God forbid – expressing some aspect of your internal life, you’re moving away from the money. And there’s this very real equation in life. Money = time. Without the former, you can’t have the latter. And you spend too much of your time worrying about bills, like poor Stephen Crane. As the story goes, someone asked a friend of Crane’s what he died of, and the friend said, “He died of not having enough money.”

Unfortunately, despite what Glenn Beck says every night at around Crazy o’clock, we’re not going to become a socialist country. That would make too much sense. It would be too, you know, fair and balanced. No, we’re going to keep doing the capitalist goosestep, at least until enough welfare moms die of AIDS and our feet go bloody.

So what should you do?

Ah hell, you’re young and it’s clear you want to make just the wrong decision here, according to capitalist standards, so do. Work the volunteer gig that makes you happy, and eat lots of ramen. Consider it an investment in the future. If that’s not working for you, you can always go back to being a working stiff. It sometimes helps to project yourself into an imagined future. Meaning: years from now what will your regrets be?

(On a final dubious note, I’m going to lay dollars to donuts you’re a McSweeney’s intern. Ah, McSweeney’s – that glorious socially conscious ponzi scheme! I love everything those people are about, with the exception of stressing out young do-gooders like yourself. The least they could do, it seems to me, is feed you poor fuckers protein shakes.)


Dear Sugar,

Is it wrong to lie to your child when their pet dies? My daughter’s beloved hamster recently passed and I’m thinking about just replacing it (him, actually). But is it wrong to lie to her about such a thing? On the other hand, I lie to her about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy… Where does protecting the magic of childhood stop and lying begin?

Lying Dad


Dear LD,

How old is your daughter? If she’s, say, three, I think you can make a pretty solid argument for pulling the switcheroo, or telling her that the “old Mr. Hammy got lonely for his mommy and had to go home, but don’t worry because we got a new Mr. Hammy.”

If, on the other hand, she’s 21, you have to level with her.

As for the gray area in between … aw geez, I don’t know. There’s a part of me that feels like the effort to protect “the magic of childhood” is, to a greater extent than anyone cares to admit, a veiled effort on the part of parents to protect their own sense of innocence. But we die. That’s the bad data you’re dealing with. And eventually, your child is going to face the same lousy truth. That’s not your fault. It’s the result of that dubious condition called life.


Whatever you decide, I’d drop the self-recrimination. Nobody knows what the hell they’re doing as a parent. I certainly didn’t when my kids were underfoot. I was just winging it, doing the best I could based on my aptitudes and whatever energy I could muster that particular day. You just love them as much as they’ll bear, and you try to be honest when you can. A very young child might not understand death, but they do understand loss. They do understand that people and pets and toys they love sometimes go away and don’t always come back. For more mishna on this matter I refer you to Thomas Mann’s “Disorder and Early Sorrow.” It’s a sad story. Most of the good ones are.