It's that time again! Here at the secret underground lair of Auntie SparkNotes, we've been noticing a few frequently-asked questions about the nature of this column popping up in the comments and in our inbox. So today, we're taking some time off from advice-giving to satisfy all your most burning curiosities about how this whole Auntie thing works. Ready? Here we go!
How long does it take you to answer a question?
If I answer your question (more on this in a sec), it'll usually be within 2-4 weeks of your sending it. Sometimes, it may be sooner. I try very hard not to let a letter sit for more than a month. Which brings me to...
It's been months! Why haven't you answered my question?
I can't answer all the letters I get. I wish I could! I wish it so much! But you guys send me dozens of emails a day, and only one can go up on SparkLife.
Can't you just pick one letter for the SparkLife column each day and then answer the rest personally?
Not if I want to eat, sleep, and occasionally enjoy a view of Mr. Auntie SparkNotes that's unobstructed by my laptop screen. HUNDREDS OF QUESTIONS, YOU GUYS. (I will very occasionally send a personal reply to a letter-writer if I have time and think I can help, but not often; it only happens a few times per year.)
How will I know you received my letter?
The advice inbox isn't automated, so you won't get a "Thank you for your email!" email, but I solemnly swear that any letter you send will be received and read by myself, my editor, or both. You must trust us, grasshopper.
How do you pick which questions to answer?
To begin with, my editor goes through the email@example.com inbox every couple weeks and chooses several dozen emails to forward. Any question that looks interesting gets passed on to me. Sometimes, there will be multiple incarnations of the same problem (e.g. "I'm in love with my best friend, what should I do?!"), in which case she'll pick the best example and forward it. When your questions arrive in my inbox, I go through them, choose the ones I'll use for the column, and put them into a folder to be answered (usually in the order they were received.)
What can I do to improve the chances of you using my letter in a post?
You could buy me a pony! I've always wanted one.
Just kidding: actually, you're more likely to see your letter on SparkLife if it's well-written, concise, and original... although after three years as Auntie, there's not much you can send that I won't have seen before in some form or another. (Oooh, except we did just receive our first-ever question about how to keep your genitals fresh! So, y'know, never say never.) I try to include letters on a variety of topics each week—from friend drama to parental problems to school anxiety to sex stuff—so that things don't get redundant. I also try to pick letters that I know you guys will enjoy discussing in the comments. So if you've got a highly debate-worthy problem on a topic we haven't tackled recently, chances are good it'll make it in.
As for the actual writing of the letter, just try to keep it short, sweet, and grammatically correct. The less I have to edit your questions, the better. And if you can, try not to bury your problem in a mountain of information; I don't need an uber-detailed history of your relationship, or a laundry list of all the ways in which your parents are crazy... although one or two hilariously terrible examples are, of course, always welcome.
Are all Auntie SparkNotes letters anonymous?
My editor and I will see your email address (and name, if you have one attached) when you send me your question, but we will never, ever reveal those details to anyone else, not even if they threaten to pull out our toenails and drop sea urchins down our pants. I also do my best to edit or change any details in your letters that might reveal your identity.
If you don't want anyone, even me, to know who you are, you can always create a burner email to send your letter from; however, I much prefer that you use an active email address to write to me, so that I can get in touch with you if I need to ask a follow-up question.
Why don't you answer more serious questions about death, depression, divorce, and mental health issues?
These are serious topics, and they deserve attention—but they also don't leave much room for a creative or helpful response. For letter-writers in real trouble, I can only urge them to seek qualified help from a person who doesn't live exclusively in their computer. I also can't urge you guys enough, if you're in serious distress, to please get help immediately. Remember how long it takes me to see your emails? Please, don't pin your hopes only on me; the National Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) and the RAINN helpline (1-800-656-HOPE) are both excellent resources staffed by live human beings who can connect you right away with the help you need.
My letter was published, but I regret sending it. Can you take it down?
Alas, we cannot. Even if you don't need advice anymore, your letter might resonate with other readers in a similar situation. So if you send a question, you accept the possibility that your letter will appear on SparkLife, be edited for length or clarity, and be accompanied by a cheeky cartoon in which you may be represented by a googly-eyed maniac and/or a badger... and that if it does, it will live on the internet for all eternity, or at least until the zombie apocalypse.
Got any other questions for Auntie, about Auntiedom? Leave 'em in the comments, and she'll endeavor to answer them! And to get advice, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.