Ask Jeannie: Advice from Jean Grae for December

Ask Jeannie: Advice from Jean Grae for December

Jean Grae
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I live in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and I’m tired of the winter and all the train delays. I’m also bothered by the profusion of aspiring novelists there (but I’m a fan of The Believer so maybe I will eventually grow to like them, if and when they release their works-in-progress? Idk). Would you happen to know what the New York City–to–LA pipeline is all about? I keep reading about it and am thinking of switching coasts, but I’m wondering if I’m just making a superficial shift from one expensive city to another. Please help!


Brooklyn, NY

Jeannie responds:

Hi Casey. 

I’ve been a New Yorker for forty-two years, since I was three months old. That’s almost half a century! Oh shit, Casey! I am an old. As an old/Old New Yorker, there isn’t a day that goes by that doesn’t include my husband and me pondering moving out of New York City. Mostly pondering WHY we are stressing ourselves out with the cost of living here. A few job reasons, but really…[girl shrugging emoji] I think a lot of it at this point is refusing to be defeated by gentrification. Is that the best choice to make? For the next few years it will be, acting within the parameters of a three-year plan we’re working with. We have a lot of reasons to strike so many places to live from our lists, like delicious racism, or the fact that I don’t drive. (Mostly it’s the delicious racism.) 

Things could change, though, and we could end up leaving New York for other reasons. Perhaps the winds of work or our hearts will carry us to LA, the same way they have carried many of our friends. I love sun. I love work. Not too big on dying in an earthquake. I also really love seasons. Change. Enough about me! 

Here’s the basic deal: You can go. You can come back! Why not try it? New York City will be here. Rent will rise exponentially, $876,482,642,364 more dollars per month, until you return, but it’ll be here. Change is never superficial. Trying something that might be good for your heart and spirit isn’t either. This is long because it’s close to my heart and no one can tell me what the fuck to do thaaaaanks, Casey! GOOD LUCK! 




I notice that you really dislike the word femcee; I totally understand and agree with your reasoning. Are there other words you disdain, and if so, why?


Auburn, NY

Jeannie responds:


What a lovely question! I love talking about words. I’m rarely asked about words, because people keep talking about me being a “femcee.” Isn’t that the coincidence calling the kettle a coincidence pot. 

Hold on a second, guys. I’ll be right back. I have to call my FeMAlE LAwYer, my FaWyer. Then I have to make an appointment for a root canal with my FeNTist. 

OK. Thanks for waiting while I went to that land of stupid. 

I thought about this for a full day to see if perhaps I was wrong about that being the only stupid “word.” I don’t even have any disdain for moist. I quite like it. 

I do LOVE some words, though, including:

Amalgamated. Oh. Oh, gosh, that has a delectable five-syllable count and you make such good mouth shapes with it. Might be my favorite. 




dolt; ninny 

tempestuous; pestilence 





Noelle. We could be here all day. Thank you so much for asking me about words. My mouth feels so great right now. That sounded weird. Yeah. 




Hi hi,

A married acquaintance has a bunch of different women in his phone under the names of fast-food restaurants. I’ve learned that when people do this, they’re usually renaming their cheat-
buddies in order to avoid having their significant others discover that they’re stepping out. I’ve asked this buddy if it ever gets confusing to have, like, five or six Pizza Huts, McDonald’s, Burger Kings, etc., on his phone, and he seemed nonplussed. I don’t know how he’s able to keep everything straight. The issue I’m having is that now every time I eat fast food I think about infidelity. How can I reorient this association in my head?


San Francisco, CA 

Jeannie responds:

Hello. Hize. 

Lorraine. Yes. You must have an act of dissociation. The act of dissociation that must occur is between you and this shit smear of a dude. Stop even being an acquaintance of anyone who would both do this AND be responsible for you not enjoying some motherfucking nuggets and fries without thinking about cheatin’-ass bitches. 

Boo that motherfucker, Lorraine. Boo. 




I am obsessed with doing “the work,” meaning going to therapy, reading books, processing my thoughts with friends, and generally trying to be a considerate, evolving adult human woman. I know that conventional wisdom says that “the work” of becoming a better person will never be done until we’re dead, but is there a way for me to gauge when I’ve gotten close enough to completing certain stages of that process?

Adrian G.

Reno, NV

Jeannie responds:


Yes. In your last moments before death, you will be close to completing the stages of that process. Not because you’re actually done with “the work,” but because you gonna die. Outta time. Bloop. Dassit. 



Dear Jeannie,

I recently learned that the New Radicals’ one-hit wonder, “You Get What You Give,” is a cult favorite among the musical elite. Apparently Joni Mitchell called it “the most brilliant song” and said that it “gave her hope” and stopped her from quitting the music industry. Ice-T is a fan, and so is The Edge, from U2, who claimed that the song is the only one he’s ever been jealous of. Are there other unlikely songs that are secretly influential among such a wide swath of musicians? And if you can’t name any offhand, what’s a song that’s a likely candidate for that kind of low-key appreciation?


Arlington, TX

Jeannie responds:

Hey Denise! 

We used to have a lot of celebrity Denises (Denisi) in the ’80s. Not so much anymore. I can’t even think of one. Shame, ’cause it’s a great name. 

Just listened to it, ’cause I couldn’t place it by group name and title. Ah yes. That one. Yeah, that’s a really good jam. Well written, gets the job done. Hits the formula. Keeps it simple. I see it. I see it. 

I think everyone likes Britney Spears’s “Toxic.” I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like that song. I don’t think it’s stopped anyone from quitting music, but who knows? Denise. I’m gonna get a list together, ’cause this question is kinda like when you go in to sign up for karaoke and suddenly forget every single song you know. I’ll include it in the next column as a personal note to you, because I want to remember all the conversations I’ve had with fellow musicians about songs like this (and we have had them). 

Thanks for asking such a cool question and making me do some brain delving. I shall return with my inside findings! 



Hi Jean,

I’m on-and-off broke, and when I’m really down to my last, I gravitate to the self-checkout lane to avoid the embarrassment of having my debit card declined (and to ring up organic avocados as conventional ones). Also, I learned through my cashier friends that they are sometimes so burned-out and aggrieved by rude customers that they don’t like talking to shoppers. For those reasons, I continue to prefer self-checkout. But now I’m worried that my frequent trips to the automated lane ultimately make way for cashiers to lose their jobs. What should I do?


Yeadon, PA

Jeannie responds:

Marquise, what a sweet person you are. I hope things pick up on a more steady basis for you. I sincerely mean this. Super simple here. Do what makes you feel best. Worry about you. Not in every single situation…We should be concerned about one another. Compassionate and caring. 



(Yes “also” can be a full sentence; don’t correct this in editing.) 


Just go on ahead and let’s fulfill the robot wars’ prophecy so they can destroy us. 

The prophecy shall be fulfilled. 



Hi Jeannie, 

A bunch of my friends have suggested that I write in a diary. I’ve started jotting down my feelings in a journal, and now I’m worried about my thoughts being outside of my head, on paper—mainly, I’m concerned that others could somehow access my deepest anxieties (not anything dangerous or violent, just private thoughts). I fear that having them written down is somehow the first step to having them revealed without my consent. There was a comedian who said that having kids feels like having his heart jump outside of his body and grow legs. That’s what this feels like. How do you keep a journal safe? And what do you do with it when you’re done divulging your entire heart on the page? Do you burn it? Now that the ideas are out of my head, what do I do about them?

Isabel K.

Asheville, NC

Jeannie responds:

What is Isabel? I guess just: What it Isabel? ISa-b—OK. 

Hmm. Well, for me, my diaries and journals are all out in the world. They’re all the albums. All the songs. All my relationships, feelings, names, anxieties, greatest joys. All of it. All out there. 

Perhaps at some point (but I don’t remember) it felt scary to put them out in the world. Then it became all right. Or what I think is… maybe I just didn’t care. 

I’ve always seen myself as someone who had nothing more to lose—which I think makes me an extremely dangerous person. Being in that place allowed me to just let it all go, without fear, without worry. When I did have real, tangible things I could lose, I wasn’t afraid. People knowing what I may be afraid of, or having access to my beautiful thought process, isn’t a bad thing. 

What it can be is inspiring. First, for you. Then potentially, if you decide to share it with others, for them. Maybe they’re having the same problem. Don’t be afraid of your thoughts. They are your things and they are beautiful. They can’t hurt you and no one can use them to hurt you. 

If some need burning, burn them! If they need singing, sing them. 

Do what you want. They’re yours. It sounds like they are some pretty powerful spells.

Let them be magic. 



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