When I was younger I had a habit of falling into existential troughs of despair. It looked like a deep, dark pit. I am a small person with freckles on her nose and an energetic walk. Sometimes I think I went to these places so I could take myself seriously and then be hopeful that others would do the same.
As the Kenny Chesney song goes, I wanted it all, and that's what I got, so I no longer worry about being taken seriously. If I am not a grownup now, I won't ever be.
But when I am feeling a little self-centered--and, to be honest, morbidly curious about what the person in the next cubicle might have happening in his life--I have a few on-line spots where I go to read about people who are truly a mess. It's faster than sitting in front of reality shows, and I like my sanctimonious thrills to be easy.
So, in no particular order, here are my favorite agony cafes:
David Eddie's Damage Control. This is on the Globe and Mail website, and Eddie is deeply Canadian--sarcastic and practical. It's cold there. No time for Southern passive aggression. The questions are also a bit pedestrian, but along the lines of Advice You Can Use. For example: "Our kids grew apart. Do we have to stay friends with the other couple?" Yet his answers are funny and manly, which I think is more fun than the navel-gazing women's magazine nonsense that is more prevalent.
Since You Asked. Cary Tennis is the most brilliant advice-giver I've ever run across, but be prepared. He is a recovering addict and clearly from the Bay Area. Still, people write in about all sorts of crazy stuff that wouldn't make ink (or screen space) in mainstream media. I don't really read the rest of Salon, but I've loved Cary's stuff for years. He was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer back in November and is on hiatus, but his archived columns will keep you busy until he gets back. Be prepared to be shocked and maybe cry. Then laugh. Or at least have a wry smile elicited from your cynical little self.
Dear Prudence. She looks a little prudish, no pun intended, in her Slate photo. And yet, she tackles much beyond Emily Post. "My husband slept with my best friend. Should I confront her?" Here she offers pretty smart stuff. I admire her non-hysterical attitude. She addresses all queries with the unspoken question of, how can I address this very uncomfortable thing while still maintaining my dignity?
The Divorce Doctor. From the author of, "He's History, You're Not," this is really a column for middle-aged women who've been shoved off the gravy train. So far I am a little frustrated with the letters asking how on earth they will ever find another husband at 60. Hardly the point, IMHO. This is from someone who did get divorced and knows the answer is always, keep your day job (hello, Silda Spitzer) and if you don't have one, get one, even if it's not your dream gig. And: Get. Your. Own. Credit. But still, if you are in this place, she is like a good friend in the trenches. We all need several in the heat of it.
What's Your Problem? If you have a lot of whiners around you and you need a smart-ass sidekick, Jeffrey Goldberg, Atlantic columnist, is your guy. "What Happens to E-Mails When I Die?" (This questioner is probably going to make his wife consult The Divorce Doctor, but that's another issue.) Goldberg says that when Atlantic employees, die, their email and other electronic correspondence are "collated, bound, and offered for sale to the general public."
So there you have it. Gorge yourself on the misery of others. It might not make you a nicer person, but it's much cheaper than a trip to the mall.