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January 10-16, 2007

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Ask Sydney

This advice column is penned by a Sonoma County resident and our new weekly sage. Go ahead! Ask her anything.

Dear Sydney, I got divorced after 16 years of marriage, sold a business that was my second family, had my mother pass away after a long struggle with cancer, met and then lost the love of my life--all within a six-month period. Five years have passed since those events, and I am now out of work due to a serious disability. I am spiritually, physically and financially drained. There is a shadow on my heart and soul that will not seem to lift no matter how much I talk to myself. Where to turn to now?--Searcher

Dear Searcher: Life is full of rotten turns of fate, some worse then others, and there is no sure way of predicting or explaining what brings these unpleasant shifts and turns about. But there comes a time when you have to move on, find the positive in what you have and focus on it. You have to consciously put your energy where it will make good for you, and if you can't do that, then you have to find someone or something that can help you along.

Look at your finances. Do some research. See if there is a way to get low-cost counseling. If you like to write, and if counseling sounds too heinous, then think about joining a memoir group (the junior colleges are an oasis in this regard). If you need to stretch, check out a yoga studio. Whatever it is, do something! Don't just sit there and be miserable.

The people we love die. The relationships we once worshipped corrode. Our bodies get hurt. This is the human condition. Don't expect to be able to talk yourself out of misery; the inner voice is not something that can be counted on for unwavering support, or even for very good advice. Consider looking outside of your own mind for other ways of healing.

Dear Sydney, what motivates you to spend the time to both listen to the problems of others and to offer solutions? I believe most people, especially men, are reluctant to ask for help because our culture sees asking for help as a weakness. Do you ever suspect that the people who write in are not sincere or that they use aliases to protect their identities? If so, does that matter to you? Would you answer their questions even if you were 100 percent sure they were not using their real names?--Zorro

Dear Zorro: People often confide in me and my fascination with human relationships has long driven me to look for answers to some of life's more mundane but nonetheless painful challenges. A question is an intellectual puzzle that I must answer with nothing but a set number of words at my disposal, and I derive great enjoyment in doing so.

As for men being reluctant to ask for help, there may be some veracity to this statement. However, it doesn't apply to me, because I don't offer help, I just offer advice. You don't ask for advice out of weakness, you ask for advice out of curiosity. What do you think I should do? Because you haven't actually asked me for any help, you can always ignore or otherwise criticize my answer. You owe me nothing. If my advice turns out to be helpful, this is just a side bonus; it incurs no further obligation. For this reason, I think I receive an equal number of questions, from males and females, though I can't be sure, as these questions are anonymous, and many leave out the personal pronoun when writing in. I always respect the anonymity of question writers. Even if a name is included with a submission, I remove it. It is not my concern "who" is writing in, only that the question be true of heart.

Hi Sydney, I'm a pretty regular stander at the Sebastopol intersection [where war protesters and supporters alike gather every Friday]. I appreciate most of what you said to Distraught on Red (Dec. 13), but I do have one disagreement. You say, "The only aspect of the Main Street dance that makes me uncomfortable is when the peace people have a henchman on the war corner."

Sydney, "henchman" implies that someone is delegated to stand on "their" corner. Not so. All the corners belong to everyone. At the beginning of the Afghan war, when there were many more "war people," they would often stand with the "peace people." Now there're very few of the "war people," and they tend to stick together.

I've got to admit to you, I don't respect the opinions of those on the Southeast corner, because I've never really been able to figure out what those opinions are. Usually, I have no quarrel with their signs, which tell us to support the fire and police departments and voice truly incomprehensible things like "The Land of the Free Because of the Brave." It's like when people drive by and flip me the bird or give me a thumbs down. My sign says "Peace Now," and I always wish I could ask what part of that phrase there is not to agree with. Oh, well. I've been standing places with various signs for going on a half century, and people are still yelling at me to "Get a job!" Thanks for your great column.--Stander

Dear Stander: You took umbrage to my remark for good reason. Sometimes I reel off a word without truly considering its meaning, and often I discover later that I have misconstrued the meaning based on my own loose and often fluid interpretations. The word "henchman" has a much darker connotation then I had intended. What I meant to refer to was an undercurrent of aggression that I sometimes perceive between the two demonstrating parties. True, the very nature of the situation lends to discordance.

I have driven past while two women yelled at each other, one red in the face and waving a peace sign, and the other purple with rage and waving the red, white and blue. But this is just human nature, isn't it? If we had control over it then we wouldn't be in this mess to begin with. I admire your commitment to continually putting yourself in a situation that often brings out the worst in others. The corners do belong to everyone, but it is also important to remember that sometimes standing too close to the opposition can make it difficult for observers to hear either voice with clarity.

No question too big, too small or too off-the-wall. Ask Sydney.