"Ask Amy" Talks with Sandwiched Boomers

Today we are delighted to welcome advice columnist Amy Dickinson to our blog for sandwiched boomers. Amy is the author of “The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter and the Town that Raised Them.” In her book, according to washingtonpost.com, Amy “comes across very much as you’d expect an advice columnist to: smart, humorous, common-sensical, not prone to deep self-analysis and – despite having lived in London and Chicago and worked in New York as a television producer – a passionate proponent of small-town American values.” Now see for yourself:

Nourishing Relationships: Why did you write this book, Amy?

Amy Dickinson: I’m a syndicated advice columnist (“Ask Amy”), and by far the most common question I’m asked when people meet me is “How do you know what to say to people?” People are understandably curious about my qualifications to tell others what they should do.

My book is the answer to the question of how I know what I know. It tells the lessons of a life spent watching, doing, and learning from my own mistakes – and I’ve made plenty of those. I didn’t go to school to become an advice columnist (I was an English major), but I have been well-schooled in the fields of relationships, marriage, divorce, and raising my daughter Emily as a single mom. I’ve been in debt and clawed my way out. I’ve picked up and moved households several times. I have been on too many bad blind dates.

Fortunately for me, I haven’t had to take my winding journey alone. Along with my daughter Emily, I am blessed to be from a large family of funny, inspiring, and opinionated women. These are the women Emily christened the “Mighty Queens,” and these are the people who helped teach me what I know.

Rather than write an “advicey” book, I decided to tell my own story. In the course of writing the book, I returned to live in my little home town of Freeville, New York. After living in London, New York, Washington DC and then Chicago, coming home to a village of 458 people has been an adjustment and a joy.

NR: What’s the downside to writing a memoir?

AD: It’s always a challenge and a risk to tell a deeply personal story. And because my own story is littered with incident – many comic, but some sad or serious – the decision to lay it all out there was not taken lightly. Sometimes I cried as I wrote, and sometimes I laughed out loud – and readers tell me that they respond to my book with the same range of emotions I felt while writing it.

I was inspired not only by my own story, but by the many people who write in to me for advice. My readers share with me their deepest dilemmas and their saddest life stories. They also reveal a stunning goofiness from time to time. I share many qualities with the people who trust me enough to write to me for advice, and I wanted to demonstrate that it isn’t necessary to be perfect to live a perfectly good life.

My biggest concern was not about my own privacy, but that of my family’s, because their story intersects with mine. If there is a downside to writing a memoir, it is the fear that I somehow wouldn’t be able to honor other people’s sensitivities. My family is still speaking to me. Of course, it would be very challenging for them to stop speaking – to me or anyone – because we’re big talkers and don’t shut up easily.

NR: How have people you wrote about responded to the book?

AD: “The Mighty Queens of Freeville” has created quite a sensation locally – and otherwise – and local people tell me they scan the book for their own presence in it. One person I went to high school with and mentioned in the book was not happy about her presence in my story, but otherwise it has gone very well. My family members have all been amused by their new-found celebrity and I think they’ve enjoyed it. It’s nice, once in awhile, to be able to cut to the front of the line at Dunkin Donuts.

Most importantly, the two women in my life who are central to my story – my daughter and my mother, Jane, have offered their hearty approval. Emily is now a sophomore in college and when others ask her if she’s mortified that her mom wrote about her, she has responded to them – and to me – that she is proud. My mom said I “got things right,” which is very high praise coming from a woman who led a very tough life, but has almost always gotten things right, herself.

NR: How has the book impacted your life?

AD: I didn’t set out to inspire people. My goal was to tell my own story. But my book has become one of those special books that women pass around to each other.

Every day I hear from people – women especially – who tell me that my story resonates with them and has inspired them to look at their own lives in a new way.

I receive letters addressed to me and sent to “Main Street, Freeville, NY” (I receive them all because it’s just that kind of town) telling me that mothers and daughters are sharing this book, talking about it in book groups, after church, or at the local diner. This is an incredibly gratifying surprise, and I absolutely love it. The themes of my own life – of learning from and laughing at one’s mistakes, women’s empowerment, small town values, and prevailing through tough times – are themes that run through many lives. Women see themselves in my story, and they are nice enough to tell me so.

I’ve also been busier than I thought possible, traveling around the country and meeting readers and book sellers. I’ve always been a reader and so meeting with and talking to other people who read has been a joy.

NR: Thanks so much for joining us today, Amy – and for your honesty and humor. Your tribute to some of our most important relationships is like a breath of fresh air.

We’re also grateful to all the readers and sandwiched boomers who have dropped by. Click on the title at the top of this post – that will take you to Amy’s website where you can learn more about her and “the Mighty Queens of Freeville.”

If you have questions for Amy – about the most valuable words of wisdom she’s given her own daughter, how to find a support network of women, embarking on a new career as a single parent or even the process of writing such an intimate memoir – please click on “Comments” and let us hear from you. Log on again tomorrow – we’ll be summarizing your questions and Amy’s feedback.

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