For years, we’ve marveled at Mallory Ortberg’s “Dear Prudence” column over at Slate. While we generally love Ortberg’s wise responses, she is, at times, a tad too earnest—and way too sensible—for our tastes.
Announcing Dear Jekyll: Entropy Magazine’s new bi-weekly off-beat personal advice column with a snarky passive-aggressive streak. Do you have relationship problems? An irritating work situation? Perhaps a bad case of fleas no soap yet invented can treat with the gentle care you demand? If so, please email your questions to email@example.com!
I’m a female lawyer on the brink of making partner at a midsize firm. I’ve been passed up several times in favor of male colleagues who bill fewer hours and generate significantly less business. When I asked what I needed to do to get there I was told I needed to smile more, come out of my office, and attend more company events and happy hours. I attend all holiday parties and major firm events, but I am already working 70-plus hours a week, which leaves me little time for my family. The happy hours are every week and last for hours, and I don’t drink! I am friendly and make conversation with the partners and get lots of praise from clients. I am already burned out, and it is affecting my family life and health. I’m just not sure I can give any more and the men that were promoted above me rarely attend any of these events, leave the office at 4, and I’m willing to bet were never told to smile more! I feel like this is a subtle form of discrimination. There is only one female partner out of 20 and these are the people voting. I’ve invested a lot in the company so it’s not that simple to just leave.
—70-Hour Work Week
The Jekyll Response:
There’s only so much time in our wallets, so much love in our toes. I once knew a clown who, each morning, grease-painted onto his face a ridiculous red-and-white smile. I’d see him stepping out of his apartment building, him in an iridescent golden parachute suit and me in what passed for standard office attire—khakis, a blue necktie that I hoped would cover the coffee stains running down my white or blue button-down shirt, and a pair of black oxfords that were no match for his oversized orange platform shoes. We’d look at each other, assessing our attire, but oh what a fine thing it was, seeing that happy joyous bubbling clown as I trudged off to catch the morning bus into the sulfurous city.
I am convinced that grease paint is the answer to all your smiling needs. Because you’re a lawyer and presumably earning good money, splurge for the pricier stuff offered at professional clown stores. Tomorrow, during the time you’ve been advised to socially mingle in the hallways, go up to your managing partner. Tell him how much you enjoy a good smile. He’ll likely nod and say something to the effect that smiling is good. Unscrew your jar of white grease paint. Dab your finger into the cool contents and then bring your finger to his face. He’ll likely freeze in anticipation. Drag your finger over his dry chapped lips, whitening them. He’ll gasp, but do not let this deter you. A law firm partnership is at stake and it is crucial that your first smile is memorable, so smile while you grease-paint the managing partner’s face. Extend the arc of his smile over his cheeks, allowing him to grin from ear to ear.
When the managing partner’s smile is complete, lean into him and whisper in a voice only he can hear. Tell him that smiling is easy and fun. Ask if he’d like you to paint the same smile on others attorneys who somehow have managed to achieve partner without billing as many hours as you have.
About my friend, the clown: I felt bad when I heard Ringling Brothers went out of business. Last week, I bought him a white carnation. When he stepped out of his apartment, I stuck the carnation in the lapel of his golden parachute suit. He laughed. It was good to see him laughing despite his employment problems. When he laughed, water squirted out of the carnation onto my face. Please don’t go all Freudian over this—some things are better left undigested.
My husband died unexpectedly a week ago, shortly after I discovered he’d been having an affair with his boss, “Laura.” I never got the chance to confront him about it, and my grieving process has been complicated by my sense of betrayal and because I’ll never get the answers I’m desperate for. I’m focusing on caring for my two young children. Laura began a fundraising campaign without consulting me, not that I would have taken a call from her in the first place. I can’t deal with her now or ever, although I’m not in a position to turn down money. I also don’t want her at the funeral. What’s the most concise way to excise this person (who begged my husband to leave me) from my life?
—Mistress Won’t Leave Me Alone
The Jekyll Response:
Dang! Another question about the love in our toes! After death, toes shrivel quickly, drying out and becoming gnarled little shrimps at the end of a stumpy foot. In ancient Mesopotamia, grieving windows strung their deceased husbands’ toes together with hemp twine, creating remembrance necklaces which they wore proudly—this despite the fact that the toes placed on such necklaces rotted within days, such was the heat of the Mesopotamian sun.
Why settle on merely excising Laura from your life? You have it within your power to ruin Laura’s life. You realize this, don’t you? You realize that any boss who begs an employee to dump his spouse so they could embark on a romantic fling together is incredibly vulnerable in today’s workplace climate. You will never be able to respect yourself if you take Laura’s money.
Though I speak my fair share of gibberish, I’m no attorney. But perhaps consider hiring one? It’ll cost you more than a few shriveled toes, but it’ll be worth it. Seek out the Director of Personnel at the company where your husband and Laura worked together. Outline Laura’s affair your husband, how she begged your husband to run off with her, and the stress it caused your husband before his untimely death. Express the desire for a court to adjudicate a financial settlement for Laura’s sexual harassment of your husband.
As for how to excise Laura from your life? They say there’s a little bit of Mesopotamia in all our genes. I am not suggesting you chop off your husband’s toes, but surely other things are capable of rotting within days when placed around a grieving mistress’s neck. Such, after all, is the heat of the sun nowadays. Sardines? Chicken wings? No doubt your two young children will have suggestions. Are they still in diapers?
One of my colleagues, “Amanda,” recently left our company. Amanda and I worked closely over the past few months, as I’m relatively new to this position. “Rachel,” our manager, said that she thinks I’d be a good replacement and that Amanda had herself suggested me before she left. Rachel emphasized that I shouldn’t feel pressure to accept, that the position wasn’t even posted yet, but that I should think about it; I said I appreciated it and wanted to discuss the idea further. She said it was a role they had made specifically for Amanda and that the position could be reshaped.
The problem is that Amanda was almost always the first one in and the last one out. Other colleagues have said things like, “It was only a matter of time before she burned out” and joked that I’m “smiling now” but won’t be once I’m staying at the office every night until 9 p.m. I’ve already been given a lot of Amanda’s old tasks while we search for her replacement, and it’s become clear that a lot of her time was taken up by project management (as opposed to the creative title in her job description). The good news is that we’ve recently hired a new director, and they are looking to add a project manager.
What is an appropriate way and time to bring up my many concerns about Amanda’s workload? Should I do that with Rachel, the new director, both together, or both separately? Additionally, I’m not sure that this is an official promotion, since both Amanda and I reported to the same person. What’s the best way (and time) to discuss a raise? I don’t want to seem presumptuous, since it’s not like I have the job already. I want to create a document that lists some of the pain points in the new position and a corresponding list of solutions I propose. However, is that information I should only present once I have the job?
—Jumping the Gun
The Jekyll Response:
The wind is so fierce outside my window. A ball of gray fluff becomes airborne, soars across the street, and then whacks into a streetlamp. Moments later, the ball of gray fluff uncurls itself and whelps. My neighbor’s schnauzer has never looked so frightened and in desperate need of a good hug. But me? I’m afraid to step outside, so fierce is the wind. Garbage cans roll this way and that, and the few pedestrians brave enough to be outside anchor themselves by hugging street signs, bus stops, and graffitied dumpsters—anything to maintain their purchase on solid ground.
I am not a Hallmark card, so please don’t stuff me in an envelope and mail me to some distant relative as an expression of sympathy for their troubles, but life gives us choices. Sooner or later, wind’s going to get us all. If you’re lucky, it’ll only tousle your hair. Don’t let it turn you into an airborne schnauzer or the next Amanda.
Right now, you see two options—stay in your current position or accept the “promotion” into Amanda’s old role. Don’t look at this in strictly binary terms. Neil Young was wrong—it’s not better to burn out than fade away. Hunt for a third option. Say, another position within your company that you truly covet. Or, at very least, a solid dumpster to hug should the next sirocco threaten to turn you into a listless 60+hour/week wage slave.
*a question posed to Slate’s “Dear Prudence.”