I check every couple of days to see if Captain Awkward has updated her advice column, and feel a little twinge of disappointment when she hasn’t. Filmmaker, teacher and storyteller Jennifer Peepas is one of the contemporary writers who’s doing the most with this form. Her columns are essays, shapely and voiced; the advice is good, focusing on useful scripts for hard conversations and concrete sets of actions for ugly situations. I’ve used it to guide my own behavior and to ask potentially helpful questions of friends, and it’s one of the five sites I recommend first-year student advisees explore (the others, if you’re interested, are Know Your Title IX, Ask a Manager, Scarleteen and Unfuck Your Habitat).
I read advice columns the way some people read true crime stories or books like Into Thin Air and The Perfect Storm: nosiness, voyeurism and armchair suffering all play a part. When people write into advice columns it means they’re willing to go public in exchange for a response; reading them means I get to be nosy and voyeuristic about something that someone’s already decided to share.