A Love Letter to Sugar

11 Feb

I keep trying to write about Sugar. It’s far more complicated than I expected. I’ve started this post five separate times, with five separate focuses, each one starting as an ecstatic Ode to Dear Sugar, each one ending as a rough tumble of pathos and oversharing, eventually abandoned. After all, this is a blog about feminism and pop culture, not an online diary. And yet this conflict seems remarkably appropriate for a post about Sugar.

Should you not know Sugar, she writes an anonymous advice column called Dear Sugar for the online culture magazine The Rumpus. Sugar is an experienced writer, someone whose name we may or may not recognize, and her anonymity has been an ongoing source of fascination throughout her tenure writing the column. (Another Sugar wrote the early posts.) Many readers have worked out her identity on their own, and I have my guesses, but I can’t say for sure. Her identity is a source of curiosity in a way Dear Abby’s never was because Sugar’s responses to readers’ questions are so intensely intimate. In offering advice to others, Sugar calls upon the most visceral, painful, joyous, frightening, ugly, blindingly personal elements of her own life. She doesn’t respond to readers’ questions with remote, assumed wisdom. She legitimizes their sorrows and reassures them their fears and struggles are universal by exposing her own devastations and desires. Then, somehow with unwavering compassion, she bitch-slaps them to self-consciousness by insisting the only way through their trials is a willingness to confront their own fucked-upedness.

To me, Sugar is all about wallowing in the muck between the public and the private, the selves we want to be and the selves we are. She demands we recognize the intense energy we devote to preserving our illusions. She insists we grant ourselves the same generosity we offer to others. She forces us to look into the blackest corners of our selves and acknowledge the honest motivations behind our choices. She does this by example.

It doesn’t matter the question she’s answering in any given column. Whatever topic she’s tackling offers some insight into my own chaos, and I’m not alone in that response. That’s part of the huge appeal of Sugar. I cannot always read a Dear Sugar column on the day it’s released. Sometimes I have to save them up because I know I’m in some sort of vulnerable place and that reading her column will destroy me. I have openly sobbed in public after reading Dear Sugar columns. I have printed columns out and kept them in my purse so I can go back to them again and again, rubbing my face against the truth and warmth of them. They’re terrifying. They’re comforting. That’s part of why every time I try to write about Sugar as a force of good in the world, I wind up falling into the mud puddle of my own life. That’s what Sugar does.

Nonetheless, I have felt some urgency to write this post. On February 14th, Sugar’s “coming out.” I’m not exactly sure why his/her/other’s impending revelation makes me want to rush my own love letter to her. I think it has something to do with a fear that once I know who she really is, I’ll react in a more contextual way to her posts. Not that I won’t like that — I may like it very much — but it will change how I feel about Sugar. Her perspective has always been so feminine to me, with all the strength and vulnerability that implies, that should she turn out to actually be male, I’m not sure I’ll feel the same about her writing. I’ll be stinking impressed that he can write with such a voice, but I may not feel the same. Or maybe I will. I’m certain I’ll still love the column, but maybe in a different way. I don’t know.

So Dear Sugar, whoever you are, Thank you. You are wonderful.

If you’d like to check out Sugar’s work, here are a few of my favorite posts:

My first Sugar: The iconic We Are All Savages Inside about facing your envious, fearful self and doing what scares you most.

Tiny Revolutions about self-acceptance.

The Truth That Lives There deals with facing and trusting our ugliest, and most valid, fears about commitment.

And Tiny Beautiful Things, in which she writes a letter to a younger woman.

5 Responses to “A Love Letter to Sugar”

  1. Kate February 11, 2012 at 1:41 pm #

    This is a lovely tribute, Darlene. Thanks so much for articulating so beautifully how she works her magic. You’ve said everything I’d want to say in a much more coherent way than I’d be able to. I have become a Sugarvangelist since discovering her.

    • Darlene February 13, 2012 at 10:25 pm #

      Thank you, Kate. I’m looking forward to the big reveal, though. I love literary intrigue!

  2. stephprecourt February 14, 2012 at 6:31 am #

    Thank you for leading me to her!


  3. Niki February 18, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    I followed you hear from Dear Sugar’s Twitter feed. Thank you for writing this. I, too, have to set her columns aside when I’m feeling fragile, and have often found myself sobbing after reading a post. I find it difficult to articulate Sugar’s awesomeness when suggesting her to others; now I can direct friends to your post first.

    • Darlene February 19, 2012 at 9:17 am #

      Stephanie and Niki — thank you. That’s very kind. I imagine you’ve heard who she is by now. I wonder if anyone has any responses to that.

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