I have a bookmarks folder called “extremely good shit” and 25 percent of it is Ask Polly. That’s not an estimate; I crunched the numbers. Another 3 percent is non-Ask Polly articles by Heather Havrilesky.
Havrilesky is a wide-ranging writer, but she is best known for Polly, her “existential advice column” that she’s been writing since 2012, first for The Awl, then for New York magazine’s The Cut. On July 12, Polly goes print, with Havrilesky’s book How to Be a Person in the World, which is mostly made up of new columns, with a few of her greatest hits sprinkled in.
In anyone else’s hands, an existential advice column could be too navel-gazy, too repetitive, too insubstantial to actually be helpful. How to be a person in the world? There is no broader question. But Havrilesky keeps the existential tethered to the earth with stories from her life, plenty of well-placed “fuck”s, along with pop-culture references and extended Kanye West analogies.
There’s something nourishing in every column. (“We have to be self-protective but still vulnerable” is one I’ve been chewing on from the book.) But sometimes she writes things that are like opening up the fridge and finding the universe inside. You’ve come to expect that there’s going to be some sustenance in there when you open that door, and instead you get entire worlds. “Savor that precious space,” she writes, of time spent alone, working on something you care about. “That space will feel like purgatory at first, because you’ll realize that it all depends on you. That space will feel like salvation eventually, because you’ll realize that it all depends on you.”