Dear Mr. Blue

Mr. Blue offers advice to lovers and writers.

Published September 9, 1998 7:00PM (EDT)

Note: Many readers have kindly informed me that Toronto, which I
referred to in my previous column as the "northernmost civilized
place in North America," is less northern than Calgary,
Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal, Seattle and Minneapolis, all of
which are surely civilized. It was an inappropriate remark and I
stand chastened and contrite, determined to make no more such
foolish statements, and I apologize to the residents of all of
those cities, and also St. Paul. And Anchorage. Heck, I'll even
apologize to Fairbanks.

Mr. Blue

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have a problem. I can't write more than a page or two of a
short story before quitting. I simply lose interest and start
daydreaming about a big book deal that will certainly never
come. I'm writing for myself, about things that occupy my deepest
thoughts, and yet I still can't finish, or even get halfway
through, a short story. Do I need Ritalin or am I just lazy?

At a Loss in San Francisco

Dear At a Loss,

A writer is a person who writes. It's as simple
as that. Sometimes a writer has slack periods, but basically,
writing is what defines us. If you were a basketball player and
wrote to say that you are unable to keep up your interest in the
game, I'd tell you to hang up your shoes. And that's exactly my
advice to you. Pack it up. Find something better to do.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've been seeing a wonderful man for two months, and things are
going swimmingly, but we have one pesky issue: Sometimes I
misunderstand what he says and get a little hurt and need to
clarify what he means. In turn, he wonders whether he did
something wrong, and overanalyzes it, which makes me feel like he
is questioning my behavior. He says the more we get to know one
another, the less we will have these problems, but I wonder. Are
we too codependent to be together?

Addled in the PNW

Dear Addled,

You and your wonderful man have devised a game of
communicating by poking each other with forks, which strikes me
as not so much fun as, say, tennis or bowling or canasta would
be, but perhaps it amuses you, and that's fine. It doesn't sound
like a problem to me, overanalysis of each other and picking
apart what was said and why -- the problem may be a lack of
passion. As for codependency, hey, around here we just call it

Dear Mr. Blue,

I'm a technical writer, and recently I've taken a new job as
an editor, which has allowed the full reality of my life to hit
me: I am overwhelmed by the urge to write creatively. Should I
chuck the editorial career?

Confused in Cincinnati

Dear Confused,

The urge to write creatively is an occupational
hazard of editors, and you should resist it. Do your job. Too
many wretched novellas about sad people sitting in the rain and
remembering their dead mothers have come about because an editor
succumbed to the urge to write creatively. Be an editor. If the
urge doesn't go away, then write at night. If you'd rather write
than go to movies or have a social life, then there's a sign that
you're seriously in trouble and maybe are a writer after all.

Dear Mr. Blue,

While working in Hong Kong I met a woman from my hometown of San
Francisco. At the time I was preparing to transfer to Beijing,
and then the two of us fell in love. I moved to Beijing but soon
decided I had to move back to Hong Kong to be with her, though I
didn't like life there. She was excited about my moving back at
first but then felt it was too much of a sacrifice on my part, so
she broke off the relationship and I moved back to Beijing.
I broke off contact with her for a while because I needed time to
get over the breakup. I am still madly in love with her. Recently
she told me she was going to either stay in Hong Kong or move to
San Francisco. I've just discovered two very good job
options in Hong Kong and San Francisco. Should I drop her an

Lovestruck Frequent Flier

Dear Lovestruck,

This is a situation that defies sensible advice.
Surely you know that the sensible thing to do, when a woman has
broken off a relationship, is to put it behind you. You seem
determined to pursue her. To me, an outsider, on the basis of
your letter, this seems very foolish, but you're the one who is
living your life in your own skin, and you say you're madly in
love, and so you are probably going to do what you're going to
do, and that is, to pursue her. My advice is, if you pursue her,
do it lightheartedly. Beware of obsessing on her. Don't let this
take over your life and make you unhappy. There is a drop-off
ahead, and don't cross it.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My boyfriend of over two years recently became my ex, and I am
very depressed. I am 24, a grad student, and he is a 19-year-old
undergrad. He wants some time to figure things out, though he
says he loves me. I am completely in love with him. How long do I
wait to see if he will come back to me? And how do I cope with
being the one who is waiting?

Hopelessly in Love

Dear Hopelessly,

There's nothing hopeless here, only a young man
who needs a chance to think, so back off and give him air. It's
hard to be in love with someone who is much your intellectual
superior, and between a woman of 24 and a boy of
19, there is a large disparity of wisdom and maturity. So
maybe your boy won't make the grade. Anyway, let him figure it
out. For you, I recommend the 90-day regimen of self-improvement, the surest way to heal a broken heart. Don't sit and
brood. Put yourself through boot camp, hurl yourself into mental
and physical training -- run, lift weights, clean out your
closet, learn a language, read "Ulysses," catch up on your
correspondence, lose weight, cut out alcohol, pick up your old
clarinet and get your lip in shape, memorize poems, do good deeds
-- and fill up your life, dawn to midnight, with sheer
discipline. Anyone can do this for 90 days, but if you can
only manage 30, that's OK too. Let the boyfriend do what he
will, and you take care of you.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have three young sons and the only satisfying writing I manage
these days is letters to friends about my boys. Though I've been
covering municipal government meetings in our little town, now
I'm considering teaching part time at a local community college.
I remember teaching from my work in grad school -- I was pale,
nervous, clammy from caffeine and broke -- but often unexpectedly
rewarded by the accomplishments of my students. Teaching and
child rearing seem eerily similar to me; they both require so
much mastery and heart, and I'm apprehensive about attempting
both. Will I need a transfusion every week? What do you suggest?

Energize Me Mom

Dear Mom,

Go ahead and dive in. Anyone who has three boys is a brave person
to start with, and bravery begets more bravery. Tell your husband
(I assume there is one) that you need him to cut you some slack
and cover your back for a while, and then take the plunge.
Teaching can surely energize you and may give you the juice you
need to be an even better mother. Whatever rough spots may ensue,
your boys will be better off for having a mother who is happy and
engaged and fulfilled.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Five months ago I left my post as a magazine editor to write
full time. I've been able to keep my head above water, but I have
yet to break into any big-name magazines. I know I have the
talent to write for them, but I am having no luck. A lot of
people tell me that talent takes you only so far, that you need
connections. I'm too shy to suck up to editors and other, more
established writers. Is that how to get ahead?

Too Shy to Schmooze

Dear Too Shy,

Magazines are not edited by hermits, so the
business does have its social moments when editors and writers
stand in a room and eat shrimp and drink Chardonnay, and no doubt
some valuable contacts are made that way, but in the end a writer
has to be able to put it down on paper. If what you write is
original and stylish and funny and editor-proof, then any editor
would want you, and he or she wouldn't need to have smelled your
after-shave to know that you're good. As a Midwesterner, I share
your suspicion of Connections --- I used to look on the Ivy
League as a vast intellectual mafia --- but it does your writing
no good to indulge in this, and if you're a writer, writing is
what matters, not career building. Buckle down.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am stuck, stuck, stuck. I am writing freelance articles, but I
have realized that my real passion is finding the story, not
writing it. I can see a story under every rock, but once I am
faced with actually writing the thing I get depressed and have to
force my way through the project. Should I be channeling my
abilities in another direction?


Muddled, you're not a writer, you're an editor. Buy yourself an
editor outfit, get an editing job, go to a salon and have your
hair edited, and start taking writers out to lunch in classy
restaurants where the appetizers start at $10 and the
service is impeccable and the maitre d' knows you by name.

Dear Mr. Blue,

Do people have time for themselves anymore? I ask a woman out
and she says, "I can't right now, this has been a hectic period
for me, perhaps next week." Next week rolls around and it's the
same story. What's a hopeful romantic to do in a world too busy
for love?

Impatient in New York

Dear Impatient,
Nobody who really cares about you will be too
busy to see you. Nobody who is attracted to you will put you off.
We all make time for what's important to us. The woman is giving
you a polite brush-off. Don't persist. Be hopeful elsewhere.
Someday you may find a woman who is far busier than this woman
and who will happily interrupt her busy life to see you, and
that's how you know she cares.

Dear Mr. Blue,

My soul mate recently dumped me shortly after moving to another
city and finding another man. I've never been closer with anyone
in my life, so it's unbelievably painful. I've not had a decent
night of sleep in two months. In the past, I always worked to
stay friends with my former girlfriends. But this woman really
hurt me. Should I send her a letter and say, "Leave me alone,
forever," which would make me feel better, or bite the bullet and
work through my feelings so we can be friends again?

Bad Taste in My Mouth

Dear Bad Taste,

If you really were going to write such a letter,
you wouldn't be asking me for permission; you'd have gone ahead
and written it and mailed it. But you didn't. So don't. It's one
thing to be cruel spontaneously, quite another to be calculatedly
cruel. Let her alone, and let forever take care of itself. If she
chooses to contact you in the future, you can decide then how you
feel about it. Meanwhile, it's not an issue. If you can't sleep,
I recommend the 90-day regimen for broken hearts (see above).

Dear Mr. Blue,

I have fallen madly in love with a woman from northern Germany
who came here to San Francisco for a sabbatical and we quickly
became wonderfully entangled in each other's life. The problem
is that she is quite attached to her home and family, while I
have few attachments here. So I face the prospect of moving to
northern Europe, learning a new language and making a life in a
culture that is very different from my Southwestern upbringing.
Will the difficulties overwhelm the delicate process of
building a life together? Can a fellow raised in high desert
mountains find happiness in flat, cold and dark northern Europe?


Dear Mark,

Happy people can find happiness in all sorts of
places, including northern Europe. Chipotle is scarce, and the
winters can be dark indeed, and now and then one may sense a
joyless rigidity in the inhabitants, but, heck, how often does a
guy fall madly in love? The question is: Can you now fall in love
with Germany? Can you find reasons to be there, other than her?
Do you have the time and patience to learn German well enough to
be yourself, not a child, in her language? This demands some
forethought, some calculation: The passion that leads you to the
face of the mountain is not what enables you to climb the
mountain. So you need to put passion aside long enough to ask if
you're up to the task. You will need to endure great bouts of
loneliness. You will find that she is a different person in
Germany than in San Francisco on sabbatical. Sometimes you'll cry
yourself to sleep at night. Other times you'll feel like an utter

On the other hand, leaving home for love is the greatest
adventure of all, and who would turn that down who felt it had
some chance of success? If you go, you won't regret it, even if
the romance falls apart under the stress. Mr. Blue speaks from
experience here. What one regrets in one's life is indifference,
depression, boredom, not what was done for passionate love.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am working on a master's degree in genetics and am very close to
completing the research. I dread the next step: writing the
thesis. And then defending it. The thought scares me silly. Can
you recommend a novel about a graduate student who struggles with
writing a thesis?


Dear Overwhelmed,

There is a 1989 novel, "The Dissertation," by R.M. Koster. And there is a gothic horror novel, "The Ceremonies,"
by T.E.D. Klein, but you should launch into writing your thesis
first and save these entertainments for afterward. The way to do
it is to do it.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am 25, living in a city I hate so I can finish a professional
degree. My husband, whom I love very deeply, couldn't find a job
here and went back to our hometown on the other coast. I dread
the thought of doing this for another year, but I don't feel I
have a choice. I feel this is my last chance to make something of
myself after a number of false starts. Any suggestions? Kind

Lovesick, Homesick Career Girl

You're very brave to take such a hard road, Career Girl, and
bravery is good discipline. After this year, the ordinary little
bumps of life won't jar you so much. You and your husband will
treasure each other's company more. Your domestic tranquillity
won't be disturbed by nattering worries and trifling complaints.
Meanwhile, this separation is an opportunity for you and your
beloved husband to become correspondents and lavish letters on
each other that describe your lives and thoughts in intimate

Dear Mr. Blue,

I am a bisexual who recently came out of the closet. I am
seriously attracted to my best friend. I haven't revealed to him
that I'm bisexual or that I have romantic feelings for him, but I
want to. I don't seriously want to have a romantic relationship.
I just want to tell him so I can let go of my attraction for him.
My therapist recommends that I should let go of this myself.
Should I tell him? We are very close, almost like brothers. I
don't wish to ruin it by freaking him out.

Twenty Thousand Dollars Worth of Therapy Later

Dear Twenty Thousand,

There is no reason to make a pass at your
best friend unless you really long to have a romantic
relationship with him. If you do make a pass, then you run the
same risk of rejection that anyone else runs. But surely you
shouldn't use your friend for some kind of theatrical therapy.
And if there were a real possibility of a romantic relationship,
probably you'd know it.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I told a woman friend that I want to be "more than friends" and
she said she hasn't been friends with a sexual partner in years
and can't really comprehend what it would be like. We are very
close in every other way, and it nearly killed me to tell her I
have feelings for her because the thought of her telling me she
does not have feelings for me is petrifying. Should I keep
spending time with her, hoping? Or stop seeing her and practice
your 90-day regimen?

In Agony

Dear Agony,

It can be agonizing to expose yourself so to a
friend, but you did, and don't worry any more about it now. Your
friend's response could mean that she was surprised and needs
some time to ponder this, or it could be her polite way of saying
no thanks, but in either case, worry no further. You said what
you had to say, and now it is up to her. If she doesn't want you
for a lover, too bad, but you needn't lose her as a friend. So
don't stop seeing her. A failed overture could lead to an even
closer friendship, which might be much preferable to what you
were proposing.

Dear Mr. Blue,

I've been a journalist for going on 20 years and make
a not-bad living writing slightly bitchy cultural and social
commentary. Two years ago, my companion died after a long
nightmare illness, and I started to have trouble summoning up
that slightly bitchy tone and re-igniting my interest in a lot of
stuff I used to find fascinating enough to write a thousand
words about. Now it seems frivolous, pointless. For the last year
or so I've been writing old-lady stuff about antiques, historic
renovation projects, which is far from thrilling. My personal
life is starting to revive a little bit, but I still feel pretty
out of it at times. Is it possible to return to the old
style at the age of 43? And if it's not, what then? I have
nightmare visions of myself writing a pet column.


Dear Stymied,

Your life is leading you in an interesting
direction, and why not pay attention to it and allow yourself to
be educated? Your bitchy commentary was a performance, and
probably a stellar one, but it has been overtaken by experience,
and now you must find the way to write as the person you are now,
not the person of two years ago. Don't be embarrassed about the
"old-lady stuff" you're writing -- something better is around
the corner.

Dear Mr. Blue,

About five years ago, my husband and I moved from New York to
Indiana with our two daughters. Ever since, he's been writing
short stories about a writer who moves from New York to Indiana
with his wife and two daughters and has a bunch of unhappy
affairs with young women with pierced tongues. It's fiction as
far as the facts go. But story after story about this same
miserable, desolate guy? What am I supposed to think about this?

The Wife

Dear Wife,

Your husband appears to be in a rut, but that has to
be his problem to solve. If you're troubled by the obvious parallels, you
ought to take it up with him. A writer needn't be so literal as
this. Maybe he isn't a very good writer. I hope he's a good

By Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------