the author of the nationally syndicated “Ask Amy” advice column, which succeeded the “Ann Landers” column in the Chicago Tribune. We originally interviewed Dickinson in 2010, when she was speaking at the Power of the Purse luncheon, which is slated for June 16 this year.
Rochester Magazine: Here’s a question my wife wanted me to ask you. So I’ll just read it verbatim from her email: “Dear Amy, My husband is such a wonderful, wonderful lover. He is literally my soulmate—I truly feel like our souls have mated. It’s like an angel floated down from heaven and handed me this very special gift. What kinds of things can I possibly do to repay him? Signed, Lucky Lindy.”
Amy Dickinson: Wow. She sounds like a lucky woman. In this case, I would suggest that she simply do whatever her husband asks of her. That’s what must be done.
RM: Hey, that’s great advice! Thanks!
AD: Yes, right.
RM: How many questions do you get?
AD: I get around 300 emails a day, and probably 20 letters a day.
RM: Even that, the physical act of clicking on 300 emails a day, at a minute an email, is five hours.
AD: This is why we love the subject line. If 27 percent of the email coming in says “You suck” it makes things so much easier. Here’s what I say to myself: I’ll come back to that later, when my self-esteem is not so shaky. People don’t realize I read all the mail myself.
RM: What’s the best Dolly Parton song?
AD: I’m sort of obsessed with her. Well, I’m not obsessed with her, but I love her. Best song? “Little Sparrow.”
RM: No, it’s “Coat of Many Colors.”
AD [singing “Coat of Many Colors”]: Yes, it is “Coat of Many Colors.” You know why? It’s a story song. It’s got everything a country song should have. It’s got people living in happy poverty in close proximity. It’s got a Bible tie-in, which you want. People don’t realize what an amazing songwriter she is.
RM: I’m going to try and guess three songs from your lounge singer setlist. First, what years were you a lounge singer, so I can narrow it down?
AD: OK. I was a lounge singer from like 1982 to ‘85. Back in the day. Although my act wouldn’t change. So that’s a hint.
RM: “Feelings”; “Both Sides Now”; and “Send in the Clowns.”
AD: I did do “Feelings.” I did not do “Both Sides Now” or “Send in the Clowns.” My song selection was better than my act. I did standards. I did “Feelings” because in that era it was absolutely demanded. Like the “Freebird” of today. I sang “Someone to Watch Over Me.” I would never sing “Send in the Clowns.” It was too morbid and required a bigger voice than I had.
RM: The advice column fans can be very loyal. I wrote a piece gently jabbing Heloise a few years ago. The backlash was incredible—I was afraid to turn the ignition in my car for a few months after that. But it’s cool people care so much about it.
AD: That’s so funny. When I first got this job, a friend of mine put me in touch with Heloise. She was coming though Chicago and asked me to come have breakfast with her, and I did. I was on my way into the Tribune at maybe 7:30 in the morning and I was going to go into the Trib and run on the treadmill. So I hadn’t bathed—I was going to do all that later. What was I thinking? I was thinking I was popping by for coffee. So I meet her. She was completely great in every way. She was dressed perfectly. She gave me advice about agents and book contracts and TV shows. She’s very savvy. Just as we were leaving, she said to me. “Now Amy”—she’s from Texas [Amy goes into a Texas accent]—“you’re gonna wanna be camera ready at all times.” And then she started giving me tips on hair and makeup and clothes. I’m like “Or bathing would be good.”
RM: Heloise is right in a number of things, though. Brightly colored index cards do work great as name tags.
AD: Yes! There you go.
RM: I almost referred to you as the “next Ann Landers.” But I was afraid Margo Howard might read this. [Margo Howard, an advice columnist and the daughter of Eppie Lederer, who wrote as Ann Landers, has a long-standing feud with Dickinson].
AD: She will kick your ass. I’m not kidding. I think she has me on Google alert—my name and her mother’s name on Google alert. I feel sometimes like she follows me around. Here’s what I love: I had this book come out last year—very big splash. She was like on my tail. I was on “The View” and minutes later she’s posting this snippy, nasty, “Open Letter to Amy” on her blog.
RM: I read that.
AD: It’s like I say sometimes when I give speeches: I got the job after Ann Landers’ death, and, no, I had nothing to do with it. I never knew Ann Landers. I had nothing to do with her passing.
RM: Cheesy psych quiz. Your favorite animal and three adjectives to describe it.
AD: My favorite animal is a cow. Speckled, pillowy, milky.
RM: Second favorite and three adjectives.
AD: This one is a specific animal, Chester the cat. He’s like Don Knotts, orange, and needy.
RM: Third favorite, three adjectives.
AD: Are we going to include humans here? If not, I’ll say our black lab named Calvin. He’s swift, sleek, and dumb as a post.
RM: OK. Your favorite animal represents how you think others see you. You said “Speckled, pillowy, milky.” Your second animal is how you see yourself. You said “like Don Knotts, orange, and needy.” And your third animal is how you really want to be. You said “swift, sleek, and dumb as a post.”
AD: It’s perfect. It really is. I wouldn’t change a thing.