DEAR SUGAR, The Rumpus Advice Column #50: Strange Proposal

By

A lot of people have taken to sending direct messages to Sugar on her Twitter feed. Instead of the regular question and answer column this week, Sugar answers multiple questions she’s received via DM:

Hello, Sugar! Glad that you decided to follow me on this journey.

Journey? Did I decide?

Who are you, darling? It’s making me crazy. I want to know! If you had to take a photograph of Sugar what would it look like?

There is a woman standing naked in the plain light of day. Perhaps she’s in the grass. Perhaps she’s in an empty room. Her hands are obscuring her face. She isn’t posing for you the way you’re used to naked women posing for you. She’s simply standing there without her clothes on. She’s flawed, but okay. You see everything but one thing.

Dear Sugar, if love were an animal what species would it be and could you train it?

Love would be two animals: a hummingbird and a snake. Both are perfectly untrainable.

Are the letters you publish really sent in by anonymous people? Most are so well written that it seems The Rumpus writers must be creating them.

Anonymous people who feel moved to write to Sugar for advice write the letters published in my column. I edit some of the letters, but very lightly. I have no contact with the letter writers and usually no ability to contact them. I simply receive the questions and answer them. The one exception is the letter from Elissa Bassist, which was published in column #48. Because she signed her own name to the letter, we exchanged a couple of emails in which I asked her to clarify a point. She did not read my answer before it went live on The Rumpus.

I had this hot dream about you and we were getting down even though I don’t know who you actually are, like if you’re a blonde, brunette, redhead, curvy or skinny or what, but it didn’t matter because you were WOMAN.

Okay.

Later I had this other dream about you and you were a big regular lion named Sugar.

Thank you.

What should I do, Sugar?

Trust your gut. Forgive yourself. Be grateful.

You could also do The Five Tibetans every day for a month and see how it feels.

In column #47 you wrote about your father. In the comments section someone said you loved him and you replied to her and said you didn’t. Can you tell us more?

I loved him as a child because he was my father. I was attached to him even though he was abusive. I hated him in my teen years and early twenties—or at least I thought I did. Of course that hate was simply another sort of passion. It was the emotion into which I poured the profound sorrow of my loss and love. I made an attempt to re-connect with my dad in my late twenties and again in my late thirties, but both efforts failed. He was the same man he’d always been.

I have moved beyond both love and hate when it comes to my father. Those emotions are two ends of a continuum that I no longer occupy with him. I still find his behavior appalling. There are memories that can bring tears to my eyes. But mostly—truly, finally—when I think of my dad, I feel forgiveness and acceptance and even a sort of weighted gratitude. I learned a lot from him. He was my darkest teacher. He taught the darkness well.

I still think you are Stephen Elliott and all of this is a giant JT Leroy-esque ruse!

I am not Stephen Elliott.

Gina Frangello also thinks you are Stephen Elliott! To quote from her introduction to her interview with Elliott on The Nervous Breakdown: “Elliott function(s) simultaneously as a spokeswriter for the disenfranchised who have traditionally existed on the fringe of artistic culture–runaways, sex workers, addicts, masochists–and yet also as a general literary “therapist,” not unlike The Rumpus’ earthy and wise advice columnist, “Dear Sugar.”

Hmm… yes. I read that a few times, too, but I couldn’t discern whether Frangello was slyly saying she thinks I am Stephen Elliott or if she was simply saying we are alike. I concluded it’s that she thinks we’re alike, which I consider high praise.

What’s an interesting thing someone said to you in bed?

That his main sexual fantasy was about fucking his sister. He didn’t have one.

Hello love-bucket! 🙂 I want to connect with you even more. Would you consider it?

I would consider it.

What’s a weird thing that happened to you?

One time I was hiking up a mountain in New Mexico. It was March, the trail still covered with snow in places. There was no one around but me for hours until I came upon two people—a man and a woman—who had just come upon each other. We were three strangers who met on a mountain in New Mexico. We got to talking and somehow within the first five minutes of knowing each other we figured out that we all had the same birthday and not only that, we were born in three consecutive years. As we were talking, three feathers blew up to us on the snow. We picked them up. That was weird.

Do you ever hear from the letter writers after they read the answers you gave them? I’d be interested in knowing what they have to say.

I’ve heard from about half of them. Each has responded warmly and gratefully to my advice. Perhaps the people I haven’t heard from are less amused by what I had to say. I imagine it’s very intense to have your letter published and answered.

I love it when you write about sex. What would you like to tell us about sex?

Snakes. Hummingbirds. Perhaps a polar bear.

I’ve been curious: how does it feel different to publish anonymously? Do readers react differently when you’re anonymous?

Writing anonymously has been liberating. I write openly and honestly in the work I do under my own name, but there’s something about anonymity that allows me to take it up another notch. Readers respond with incredible openness and love—literally after each column goes live I get messages from people saying “I love you, Sugar.” It’s interesting how the impersonal in this case allows many to feel more personal.

So that’s the positive aspect of being anonymous. The negative aspect is how maddening it is to have a secret identity. I find it especially difficult when friends who don’t know I’m Sugar are Sugar fans or when people write to me saying they’d love to read my other work if they only knew what my name was and I can’t tell them. I sometimes give in and tell, but I’ve become much more careful with my secret over time.

Can you please list some of the dumb things you’ve done?

Heroin. Meth. The withdrawl method. A blow job by a river. An idiot punk at a Beastie Boys show.

It seems like you were born to write this column. How, exactly, did you become Sugar?

On the twenty-third of February I was drinking a glass of wine and sitting with my laptop when an email from a friend with the words “strange proposal” in the subject line appeared in my inbox. The message said:

Hey XXXXX,

You know the website The Rumpus (therumpus.net), which Stephen Elliott runs and which I think is pretty damn cool. Here’s the thing: when they started, I volunteered to write their advice column, “Dear Sugar.” Then I XXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. Anyway, I had to drop Dear Sugar, but I’m wondering if you’d want to take over. It’s already got a lot of your sensibility.

Not sure why you’d want to take on the additional responsibility, especially given how busy your life is, and given that it’s a free gig. Also not sure XXXXXXXXXXXXX XXXX. But if this holds any appeal, it’s all yours.

I’ll be in XXXXXXXXXXXXXX to XXX from this XXXXXXXX of mine. I hope we can XXXXX.

Big hugs,

XXXXX

I didn’t even hesitate for five seconds before I hit reply and wrote:

Dear XXXXX,

Oh my god, YOU ARE SUGAR? I love that hard ass brilliant motherfucker. LOVE SUGAR! There is no way in hell I can be half as funny as you. Not even a quarter as funny as you. But I absolutely want to take over Sugar (and I’m bossy enough of an advice-giver to do it). I love The Rumpus. Yes, yes, yes, yes. Oh, and FREE! We love working for free, don’t we? But The Rumpus rocks and The Rumpus rolls, so what the hell.

I’ll put XXXXXXXXXXXXXX and we’ll hang out. XXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXX collect you from the airport, rally my troops, let you sleep in my house, XXXXXXXXX. I’ve been in a cave XXXXXXX. Waiting to XXXXXXXX. So I haven’t XXXXX but I will. I read your XXXX piece to XXXXXXX. It had to do with your XXX in a XX XXX. Fuck. You’re good.

But really, as you know, I’m not a funny writer. Dark, intense, emotional is more my thing. Sugar will try to be funny, but she’ll take on a different tenor under my reign. Is that cool with Stephen Elliott? If so, sign me up.

ox

XXXXX

Guess what? My name is Sugar too! Only Sugar is my real name. I’ve had it since birth.

I had a friend named Sugar once. You don’t happen to have a little brother who stabbed you in the head with a fork while everyone was singing happy birthday to you at your sixth birthday party, do you? If so, you’re her.

We must admit, Sugar, that icky thoughts turn us on.

It’s true. We must.

Where did you get that big heart of yours?

From my mother. From my father. From a crack in the sidewalk where a flower grew. From the blow job by the river. From the river. From deciding to follow you on this journey. From saying yes to strange proposals.