Meredith Goldstein is the author of the new book Can't Help Myself: Lessons & Confessions from a Modern Advice Columnist. She also has written the new young adult novel Chemistry Lessons and the novel The Singles. She is a features reporter and writes the "Love Letters" advice column for The Boston Globe. She lives in Boston.
Q: In your new book Can’t Help Myself, you discuss your work as an advice columnist and how you handle your own life. Do you often see parallels between your life and the advice you give your readers, and what impact has writing the column had on you?
A: I didn't when I started. In the beginning, I couldn't see the direct parallel between my own problems and those of my readers. But then, during that first year, I got a letter from someone who'd been dumped – and it was a letter I could have written myself.
After that, I felt a bond with every letter writer. Sure, their problems are unique and have nothing to do with me, but it's impossible not to learn something from every single one of them.
Often, by thinking about someone else's issues, I walk away with a better understanding of my own. I'm so grateful. (If you're interested, this is the letter that made me realize we're all in this together.
Q: Your book deals with some very sad and difficult experiences, but you also write with a lot of humor. What do you see as the right balance between the two?
A: My sister taught me to see the humor in almost all situations. I don't think my family has ever had a moment of sadness without eventually falling into laughter. Even as we lost my mother to cancer, we made jokes. She would have wanted that, I think.
Life can be miserable and funny, and I believe those emotions are meant to be experienced together. One saves you from the other. I always think about my favorite scene in Steel Magnolias, when Sally Field cries in grief – and then her friends make her laugh. I want that in every story. I want that kind of joy in my own life during the worst moments.
I hope I pulled that off in the book. I love a good Steel Magnolias cry.
Q: How was the book’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?
A: This book had so many names! We couldn't decide. And then my Globe editor, Janice Page, said, "How about 'Just Can't Help Myself'?" And I said, "Take off the 'Just.'" So we both get credit. I love that it works on three levels: helplessness, impulsiveness, and, of course, the song title. It's been in my head for a year.
Q: You’ve also written a young adult novel that was published recently. What was the inspiration for Chemistry Lessons?
A: Chemistry Lessons is about a teen who gets dumped (much like I do in Can't Help Myself), and has just dealt with the loss of a parent (like me). The rest of it is fiction; it's my breakup fantasy book. The main character, Maya, an MIT-bound science student, tries to manipulate her love life in a lab. If only I could have done that in real life.
I love reading YA and am honored to have a book out in that world. Most nights, you'll find me curled up with an excellent young adult novel. (At the moment, it's Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson.)
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Another YA book about love and loss, of course. I am always very on-brand. Laughter and tears, hopefully.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I welcome letters to my column! If you like "Can't Help Myself" and want some love advice, visit Boston.com/LoveLetters and join the party. Worth noting: There have been two marriages that have come out of my comments section. It's a good place to be.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Meredith Goldstein.