Family Relationships

Join other women in the sandwich generation - share ideas and solutions as you learn to nourish family relationships without starving yourself.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

"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, 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.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too have a daughter and to get a vote of approval like you did from Emily would shock the hell out of me. She's only 15 so what you say gives me hope.

7:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

your book was a great read. What did you have to 'get over' in order to be so self disclosing? Monica

7:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mainly, my book is a celebration of the great relationships I've been blessed to have with the women in my life -- my daughter, my mother and my sisters. I have always had a good, respectful and pretty honest relationship with my own mom, and I modeled that in raising my daughter. But when you're single, as I was, it might be easier. There is less opposition, I think. Less to "push back" against. So she never had too much to rebel against. Amy

8:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What did I have to "get over?" Mainly my fear that I would somehow betray other people's privacy. I don't value my own privacy that much; I've been a sort-of public person for awhile, as an advice columnist, and I've always shared a lot of my story in explaining my personal views in my column. So I wanted to dig a little deeper and show where the advice comes from. It wasn't that hard, really. Sometimes I'm sort of a jackass, and I don't mind showing that sort of humanity...Amy

8:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has your life changed much since your book has been published?

8:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm raising two teenage sons alone and sometimes I get frustrated and discouraged. What gives you the strength besides the women in your life?

8:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read your column every day and I like that you're straightforward. Sometimes I get criticized for being too honest. Does that ever happen to you? Julia

9:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am asked whether I'm ever criticized for being "too honest." In my mind, that sort of feedback is really code for "you're too blunt." My job in my column is to lay it out there in few words. My job in life is to be honest about myself and sometimes protective towards other people. I don't like making statements like, "you always do this." I'm more likely to say, "do you think you always do this?" This prompts a conversation, and it's a trick I learned in theapy, and from my mother, who is never blunt, but always honest. Amy

10:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My life has changed greatly, and richly, since the book was published. I married my great love, Bruno, and we have five daughters between us, and now a granddaughter -- well before our time, I'd add -- the baby's mother is 19 and we are all raising the baby (and mother) together. It's challenging and fun and maddening and life-affirming. Amy

10:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess I get my strength, if you could call it that, from my faith and my sense of humor, from friends, and from the occasional box of wine and box of kleenex. Sometimes, like Scarlett O'Hara, you just have to tear down the drapes and make yourself a new dress. Enlist your sons in the effort to help them raise themselves. And make them help you with the dishes... Amy

10:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved how you get to the heart of the emotion in your book. Your daughter has been in college for a couple of years now, I think - mine will be leaving in a few months. A few words of wisdom?

11:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You say that you cried and laughed out loud when you wrote your book. I'm a coach and often encourage my clients to keep a journal. You also mention being in therapy. Did the idea about writing your memoir come from that experience or diaries you had kept?

12:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I sought therapy as a way to process some of the events in my life story as a way to think about writing about them. The therapist I worked with specializes in working with artists and other creative types and I found the experience to be challenging, but ultimately very rewarding. I've frequently kept journals but more I think as a writing tool; I recommend journal writing, list making and lots of pondering...Amy

1:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You write about such serious subjects in your advice column, like the woman today whose classmate attempted to rape her. Do you ever find it hard to leave your work at the office? I'm a critical care nurse and it's often hard for me to clear my head and relax. Bonnie

1:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I struggle for words of wisdom about letting a child go when its time to go to college, except to say that if everybody has done their job and the relationship is good and solid, I think its easier to let go. I miss my girl but, well, she's happy and as a parent that has always been one of my goals. And we write letters back and forth, which has been nice for us... Amy

1:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having so many wonderful and supportive women around you is a gift. Not all women have that, but for those who don't, creating their own circle is so important. It took me too many years to realize that.

1:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The energy of women together is always a wonder to behold. How great for you and your daughter to have had that support. I have not read your book therefore ask if your daughter was exposed to any positive male influences as well?


2:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now that the book has been published is there anything that you would change? Would you add any additional information or stories?

2:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now that your book has been published, is there anything that you would change? Did you omit something that you would include if you were submitting your work for publishing today?

2:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found the interview very interesting. It is always informative to explore the process of an author. Thanks for providing this opportunity.

7:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found the interview very interesting. It is always informative to explore the process of an author. Thanks for providing this opportunity.

7:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found the interview enlightening and affirming of the wisdom of caring, supportive women. Common sense, sincere interest and the perfect balance of honesty, sensitivity and tact are your hallmarks, Amy. Thank you for sharing that each day in your column. I look forward to reading your book!

9:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was writing this book the kind of experience that makes you want to do another? If so, what might that be about?

10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amy here: It is very hard to leave some of these painful topics behind at the end of the day -- especially when a kid writes in with a serious problem. But I'm reminded of something Ann Landers' former editor told me. Ann's words of wisdom on this were something like, "I try to remember that these people's problems aren't my problems. I've got my own problems." That helped. And as a nurse of course you know that in order to do your job, you need to be rested and as non-stressed as possible. Thank you for the important work you do....Amy

5:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amy here: The question is whether my daughter received any positive male influences in her life.
Fortunately, the answer is yes. Her father is kind and generous to her and she now has a wonderful, loving and supportive step-father in her life, who I know she really cares about. But mainly -- the women in our family and in my life have tried to fill in the spaces...Amy

5:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amy here: Answering the question about whether I would change anything in my book -- honestly I don't think I would. It's not perfect, but mainly I feel like I said what I set out to say. I feel it's honest and heartfelt, quirky and charming. I still like it when I read it, so that's probably a good sign. Thanks for asking. Amy

5:49 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home