The Impossible Questions
Plus the inaugural AUDIO edition of the Dear Sugar Letters!
I was in Amsterdam last week doing publicity for Tiny Beautiful Things and every journalist I spoke to asked me if there are some questions I get as Sugar that I can’t answer. I’ve been asked that a lot in the dozen plus years I’ve been writing the column and the first thing I think before I start saying whatever I end up saying is: YES! EVERY DAMN QUESTION!
They all feel impossible to me at the outset. They all seem entirely unanswerable. Each column is an intricate web I’ll never be able to weave.
I thought about this as I selected the letter I’ll be answering in this month’s Dear Sugar (which will be sent to subscribers on the 31st). It’s a devastating letter from a woman whose twin teenage daughters were killed in a car accident last year. Who am I? she asks me, impossibly. Will I ever be happy again?
When I contemplate the enormity of the suffering that rattles through her words, my mind goes perfectly blank.
And yet I’ve learned to trust that blankness. I almost always begin to answer the impossible questions from the place of not knowing, in hopes that I’ll write my way, if not to an answer, at least to an offering of empathy or a spark of insight. Of the many things that writing has taught me, this is perhaps the most important because it so clearly replicates what all of us are forced to do in life. We are always pushing forward not knowing where forward will lead, not knowing if what we find will be what we sought, not knowing if what we imagined would be true is indeed true.
The easy times allow us to believe we have some measure of control over what’s ahead. They lull us into thinking we know. The hard times tell us we don’t. They’re days and sometimes years of impossible questions we cannot live with, but do.
This month marks the second anniversary of this new iteration of Dear Sugar, when I decided to start writing my newsletter and column here on Substack. I’m grateful to all of you for reading and subscribing and commenting and being part of my life in this delicate but real way that we can be part of each other’s lives as writers and readers. I took the photo I included at the top of this letter two years ago, a week before I began this newsletter, while I was walking on the Oregon Coast Trail near Yachats, Oregon. I was so astonished by the wonder of the spider and its web that when an elderly couple came walking down the trail, I stopped them and said they had to look. They did and together we marveled at its beauty before we continued on, walking in opposite directions. I chose this photo for today’s newsletter because writing on the internet feels to me like that. Among all the many things, we strangers meet fleetingly and say here, look at this. The wonder, the pain, the beauty, the terror, the confusion, the glorious, complicated, clarity.
So thank you. Your support means the world to me.
Over these past two years many of you have asked me to add an audio edition of the column and I’ve decided to start doing that. You’ll find the inaugural audio of the Dear Sugar Letters at the end of this letter. I selected a column from the archives—Dear Sugar Letter #9, “We Are The Solid,” which was first published in July of last year. The letter I answer is from a woman who is estranged from her mother and she wonders if she should send her mom a birthday card.
Going forward, I’ll include an audio file in each monthly Dear Sugar Letter, though it will be of the previous month’s letter. In other words, each month will include the current month’s letter in written form and the previous month’s letter in audio form. (You might also get some dogs barking and cats meowing and teenagers grumbling in audio form because, well, it’s a zoo around here, but I think that only makes it more interesting.)
Speaking of anniversaries, the tenth anniversary edition of my book Tiny Beautiful Things will be published on November 1 in both the US and the UK. It has a lovely new cover, a new preface by me, and a handful of new columns. You can purchase yours wherever books are sold (and for goodness sakes, please do!). The column I’ve read in the audio edition included here is one of the new ones in the book.
As always, I’m rooting for you as we walk together and separately through the times that are hard and easy and everything in between. I’m wishing you a thousand glimmering spider webs along the way.
To listen to Dear Sugar Letter #9, “We Are The Solid,” click the arrow below.
Thank you for sharing this story about you father. I can relate because my Dad was the exact opposite of my Mom. I really couldn’t stand him, but my Mom asked me to look after him the day before she died. Even though she filed for divorce 3 times. He would go into the VA hospital for manic depression. My Mom always ended up staying with his sorry ass. She knew there was no way in hell my sister would do anything to help him after she was gone. My brother had mental health issues and he wasn’t a fan of my father either. My Dad’s brother who lived a few blocks away said, he didn’t deserve to have Kathleen (my Mom) as his wife. To say my father was wildly unpopular with my Mom’s friends and relatives would be true. I ended up helping care for him when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. It was in Aug 1994 -Jan 2002 when he died. I called my sister to tell her he died. She said something about him being an asshole and how she didn’t want him buried anywhere near our Mom. His current wife donated his body to science. No funeral, no celebration of life because it turns out you need to be missed by someone to have those things. I did actually cry some when he died. I set up a few pictures of him on the table at my house in Berkeley and lit a candle. I have a few good memories of him and some abusive traumatic memories too. I hope his soul evolves and he learns to be a better person if there is such a thing as being reincarnated.
Thank you for this newsletter. The letters and your replies linger with me for quite some time after I’m done reading them. Through them I find new perspectives.
Dear Sugar means a lot to me. I know I’m not alone in that sentiment.