Doing Things the Hard Way, Made Simple

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From DeHart to Your Heart

Dear Readers,

I apologize for the long wait between advice postings recently. I ask for your patience in the next few weeks; this time before spring break is full of project deadlines and oodles of homework for me, and while none of them are as fun as answering your questions, they’re still taking the majority of my attention. Soon, I’ll have more free time again and will be able to get your questions back to you within a few days of receiving them.

Thank you for understanding!




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College Quandary

Dear Zoe,

I am a senior in high school. I want to go to X college, but my parents really want me to go to Y college. (I am leaving out the names [of the schools] so you won’t be biased. They are both pretty good schools—X is more expensive, but I was offered a lot of financial aid there, so it comes out about the same. My dad went to Y, so he is very attached to the idea of me going there. I am an only child.)

This might seem like a simple disagreement, but it’s not. I don’t feel like I can compromise about something this important, but my parents say that if I go to X they won’t pay for it. I’m thinking of not going to college at all now. What should I do? Is there any hope of changing their minds?

X or Bust

Dear X or Bust,

I can’t tell you which college to choose, that is your decision and your decision alone.

(In my opinion, your parents could do with this reminder as well.)

You say yourself that you don’t feel like you can compromise about this- so don’t. You, my dear, are the one who is going to college, not your parents. You have already made your decision.

Sit down with your parents in a non-combative setting. Tell your dad that you understand that he’s really excited that you got into Y, and that you know that he just wants you to have a college experience as amazing as his, but that you really think that X is a better fit for you. Tell them some things about it that will make you happy. Tell them why you’re so excited; ask them to be excited with you. Tell them that their support of your decision, whatever it may be, is really important to you- not just financial support, but emotional support as well. The two of you want to enter this new and exciting stage of your life on the same team.

If they still refuse to pay, take a little while to think about it.

Will you be resentful if you go to Y just because you can’t afford X on your own? Will it damage your relationship with your parents if you go to X anyway?

Though it will certainly be harder to go to X college if you have to pay yourself, it isn’t impossible! You can work and take out student loans. And if you leave things with your parents respectful, they might change their minds about paying once they see how happy you are.

Also, it is possible to transfer a year or two into college. Ask them if they’ll entertain the idea of you starting at X, and then switching if you aren’t happy, or vice versa.

Whatever you choose, do so without resentment. Start this new chapter of your life with the best attitude possible in order to get the best out of it.

Good luck.



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No Take-Backs

Dear Zoe,

Is it ever okay to ask for a gift back after you’ve broken up with someone or after they’ve broken up with you?


I Want My Stuff Back!

Dear I Want My Stuff Back,

Oh Jeez.

On principle, this makes me cringe a little bit. When you give a gift, you’re (hopefully) giving it to the person because you think they’ll enjoy it, right? Isn’t the whole point of giving them something that you want to make them happy? So I don’t entirely understand why you’d want to ask for it back.

The only exception I can think of is if you’ve given them something that’s really valuable to you, like, let’s say, your great grandmother’s antique brooch or your autographed copy of the original Iron Man comic. Even then, it’s kind of awkward. I’d advise you to ask only once, and if they say no, let it go.

As a general rule, no, it’s not. You really liked this person at one point. Let him or her enjoy their present, or not, as they choose.

And I’m sorry about the break up.



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“Psychedelic as a bruise”

I recently finished Mark Slouka’s heartbreaking novel, Brewster. The second half was a slowly unspooling nightmare, the kind you wouldn’t wake from even if you could, because you are so engrossed in the story, even as you want to wail “no!” It’s one of those books that gets into your bones. Beautiful.

* the title phrase is from this review

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Dog Days

Dear Zoe,

How does one politely tell their neighbor not to let their dog run in the street for fear that the dog will get hit by a car?


A Concerned Neighbor

Dear Concerned Neighbor,

Oh, my!

My first reaction was, like yours seems to be, deep concern for the dog, but it was tempered with a dollop of judgment. I have two dogs and I inwardly cringe at the thought of them frolicking in our busy street. I had to remind myself of two things:

Firstly, my dogs are often to be found in places they shouldn’t be, and, as little as I like to admit it, I often have only moderate control over their activities. They humor our 6 foot fences, but they’ve demonstrated on several occasions that they can both clear the fence with several inches to spare, and seem to stay confined in our yard merely out of respect for us.

My Olympic champion-like dogs aside, I had to remind myself to reign in the judgy feelings a little bit; I know next to nothing about your neighbors or their dog.

This is not to say that your concern is misplaced or invalid. I’m just suggesting that if/when you approach them, you don’t do it from a place of judgment, because they will pick up on it and your kindhearted worry will probably go un-dealt with.

Are the owners standing by supervising when their dog dashes into the street, or are they elsewhere, like inside?

Let’s assume they’re outside watching:

Head over to them, greet them, and then say something like, “Jeez, when I see Sparky running in the street I get so worried! Cars go so fast on this road, and I would hate for something to happen to him….” Hopefully, they will respond in agreement, or at least with an explanation for their allowance of his roaming. You could suggest some dog parks or fields for them to take him to stretch his legs. However, even if they are resistant, there isn’t much else you can do. It is, after all, their dog. Shrug, smile, and say to yourself (or out loud if you’re feeling sassy) “Well, at least I tried.”

If they’re inside or out of sight when he’s in the road, I would suggest heading over to their property and knocking on the door. Depending on your comfort level with the dog, you could take him with you back to his home, or leave him in the street for them to deal with. When they answer the door, give them your spiel.

If they aren’t home when the dog goes gallivanting, (and you’re comfortable with him,) you could scoop him up and deposit him into your own (fenced)  back yard. But please, make sure to leave a note for them so that they know where he is.

As always, if you’re seriously concerned about the dog’s well being, you can call the Montgomery County Humane Society at (240)-773-5960.

Best of luck.



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Advice for Aspiring Mermaids

Michelle Tea’s young adult novel, Mermaid in Chelsea Creek, about a gritty, tattered mermaid, thirteen-year-old best friends who play the pass-out game, and a community of talking pigeons is totally worth the read. I came across this interview with Michelle Tea by Carolyn Turgeon, self-described mermaid expert.

This is Tea’s advice for aspiring mermaids:

Make your own mermaid mythology. Remember that history gets written by the winners, and what we know about mermaids comes from people who probably didn’t understand them properly. They’re not just pretty, long haired seductresses. They’re fierce and intelligent and full of wisdom and experience, just like you.

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“Everyone gets smashed to bits: it’s your best opportunity to grow.”

I loved Caleb Powell’s interview of Poe Ballantine in The Sun. 

Some bits of wisdom:

If you want to make a difference and stand out, you’re obliged to sound the depths.

on the role of morality in writing:

We all have moral choices to make. We can go out into the world with reckless disregard for anyone but ourselves as we struggle to get what I want, or we can help and teach one another.

hard learned lessons:

Little in the way of wisdom and enlightenment came for Jonah until he was swallowed by that fish, and it was the same for me until I was swallowed by reality. Getting smashed to bits gave me humility, gratitude, and the ability to love and appreciate my fellow humans. Everyone gets smashed to bits: it’s your best opportunity to grow.

to young writers:

Stay open to experience, and realize that most of your years of effort will look like failure. You won’t be alone in your failure, but it will feel like it.

I can’t wait to read Ballantine’s new book, Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowherea true-crime story/memoir about his new marriage and family and his Nebraska small town.