So much confusion

This week, Dr. McFeely attends to bowel movements, death and the Backstreet Boys. Let him tell you how to feel!

Published July 20, 2001 7:00PM (EDT)

Dear Dr. McFeely,

My daughters are popular. Well, only one is popular, but the other one does have some friends. When I was a kid, I never had any friends, and I've always thought that this was "character-building." All of my grown-up friends had no friends when they were little. Maybe when my daughters grow up, I won't be able to understand them because they are so well adjusted. HSIF?

Muddled Mum

Dear Muddled Mum,

You should feel like poking a little at your impulse to understand your daughters. What's more, you should feel like these frivolous, happy women will pay for your retirement home one day. They'll come visit in their pantsuits and you all will walk slowly to the dining room, which will be called "The Strawberry Room" or "The Bunny Room." You and your abundance of character will have a cigarette hanging out of your mouth while you slurp your mush, and your daughters will blink when you mention pathos. But then, back in your room, you'll all flip through photo albums. The yellowed picture of you three at the parade that windy day? It was so brisk! Character will be in spades.

Dear Dr. McFeely,

My son is 18 and a Zen master of selfishness. He was thrown out of a surfing program in Costa Rica for insubordination and smoking pot. Now he tells me he's having a terrible summer because he has to work when everyone he knows is backpacking in Europe. "F-you" is his most frequent salutation. I've tried discipline, therapy, love and tough love. Nothing works. I adored him when he was a dear little boy. How should I feel?

Disgusted Mom

Dear Disgusted Mom,

In Montreal in 1977, a cat fell 20 stories to the street below and didn't die. In fact, all it did was fracture its pelvis. On the surface, the point of the story is that sometimes things work out. But the real essence is the story itself. Its elements are: height, danger, Canada, magic and a pelvis. Tell it to someone and watch it come out like grease.

You should feel that your dear little boy, suddenly old, will have a great story to tell in roughly four years. It'll be decent in three, but great in four. Kicked out of a surfing program for pot? A summer of whining? This will become funny. You have four years to prepare for the moment you'll be called upon to roll your eyes dramatically.

Dear Dr. McFeely,

I am just shy of 30 and am completely infatuated with the Backstreet Boys, especially the youngest one who is only 21. I know I should move on and try to find a nice man to settle down with and yet I continue to turn again and again to them instead. How should I feel??

Stuck in Teenybopper Land

Dear Stuck in Teenybopper Land,

How do they dance in formation like that? The doctor thinks it's hard enough just paying his state taxes on time, even though he got an extension, a luxurious three-month extension, but now that's come and gone and what? What progress has the doctor made? Those dance moves are impressive. These guys must be so incredibly organized. How do they manage everything? They probably always remember to move their cars when it's street cleaning time, and they probably even see dentists.

You should feel like you're on the right track. If you can bag one of those dancing paragons of organization, you will have bagged the elephant, and the elephant probably comes with a Palm Pilot you can borrow.

Dear Dr. McFeely,

I work on the 39th floor of a skyscraper in Manhattan. When I need to move my bowels I take the elevator downstairs so that I can smoke a cigarette before. Then I use the bathroom in the gigantic hotel across the street. I look forward to this little routine so much, but I know it's slowly killing me. I also tell people about it and then they don't talk to me anymore. HSIF?


Dear Ashamed,

You should feel eupeptic but also curious and anemic. However, the doctor refuses to talk to you any further.

Dear Dr. McFeely,

She's Latina, she's beautiful, but every time I suggest moving to New York City she protests that it's "too white." She's never been there. When she was a little girl her parents had an exorcism performed on her because she saw a disembodied head floating in a second-story window. She also thinks is "too white." She speaks no Spanish. She wants to move to Alaska. How should I feel?

Too White

Dear Too White,

You should feel like getting this woman to talk less about white and more about the disembodied head. Was it smiling? Frowning? Indifferent? Was it made of light, or could she have gotten it with a butterfly net? And what would she have done with it, if she'd gotten it? You probably can't bring those things to Alaska.

You should also feel obliged to tell her the truth about Salon and New York: Not so much white as headless.

Dear Dr. McFeely,

In the last two weeks, I've left my husband, come back, lost a grandmother and passed a college course. My oldest turned 5 and the weather has been over 100 degrees hot the whole time. Nobody at work seems to feel the need to show up regularly, excepting myself. My car's repair has run double the estimate, but I've lost 10 pounds and quit drinking. I think I am oddly elated. How should I REALLY feel?

Hot Mama

Dear Hot Mama,

The doctor bets a dollar you're putting three shakes more salt on your eggs than normal. When a decade's worth of events, feelings, weather and weight loss gets squeezed into two weeks, things that aren't monumental must taste so bland they're invisible. Therefore, in addition to exhausted, miserable and sporadically proud, you should feel cautious. When minor things grow invisible, people walk into sides of barns or eat too much salt.

The doctor is sorry for the loss of your grandmother.

Dear Dr. McFeely,

I have many friends, see. Some of them do exciting things, like answer phones at art galleries or bookstores, and some of them do other exciting things, like answer phones at publishing houses or film archives.

Usually, I like the exciting things I and my friends do. With all of this phone answering, I feel that we are in the center of some sort of communications nexus. We are the gatekeepers of the nexus, and no one can deny that this is a very exciting and powerful place to be.

But then why, sometimes, usually when I'm riding the bus to work in the morning, do I have a vision of myself in a cozy library, a steaming cup of Earl Gray in my warm, curled palm, snow falling hushedly outside leaded panes of old glass, and me, poring over a Dostoyevsky text in the original Russian? I don't know how to read Russian, and have never previously desired to learn it. This vision or daydream concerns me. HSIF?

Gatekeeper, concerned

Dear Gatekeeper, concerned,

The doctor suggests you reread your letter. Your life is described as made up of phones, buses, excitement and power. Your vision or daydream, on the other hand, consists of coziness, hushed snowfall, quietude and curled extremities. The doctor regrets to inform you that none of us, not even the astronauts, can return to the womb. We can buy snug warm coats and splash around in hot tubs, but you can't get the toothpaste back in the tube.

You should feel like the library and the Russian are misinterpretations. And then once you recalibrate, you should feel like saving a baby skunk whose mother was hit by a car. You can have them de-scented, you know. Think of its soft, soft nose. You should feel like holding it tight and naming it Fyodor or Little Poopie.

Dear Dr. McFeely,

How should I feel? People are supposed to ask you how they should feel? They don't know? They have to ask? You DO know? Sure you might know. Or you might not know. And you certainly can say witty things about the various subjects, but why are people asking you this question? And why is a moral imperative ("should") associated with feeling? What epistemology and ethics underlies the question? I'm quite serious.

Isn't the answer always "you should feel as you do feel"? Maybe the question people are really asking is "why don't I feel anything?" And if that is the question, then the immediate situation hardly seems relevant to the question at all.

Miles [this letter was abridged]

Dear Miles,

You should feel ready for a big party. So big there's a pony there. You'll get on its back and trot around in the backyard. "He's t-t-too big for that p-p-pony!" the other guests will stammer, but you'll just break into a gallop. The pony should feel the strength of a hundred men, and together the two of you will leap over the wall into the neighbors' yard. The neighbors will be naked.

By Chris Colin

Chris Colin is the author most recently of "Blindsight," published by the Atavist.

MORE FROM Chris Colin

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