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Quinn Cummings Gives Bad Advice

By Laurette Ryan

Quinn Cummings Gives Bad Advice is a guilty pleasure that has recently made my commute a bit more delightful. Podcasts are a media staple these days; they cover pretty much any topic. Do you want to know about the paleo lifestyle, politics, religion, or math? There’s a podcast. How about sports, finance, comedy, or history? There’s a podcast. They are created by celebrities, experts, and everyday people.

Quinn Cummings Gives Bad Advice piqued my interest for a couple of reasons. First, the title—I was intrigued. How bad could this advice be? It is like someone shouting, “Don’t look!” How can you not? I asked her how she came up with the title.

“I’m a fan of underpromising and overdelivering,” she reveals. “Also, I’m completely unqualified to give anyone any advice ever. I have trimmed my own bangs at home with nail clippers within the last five years. If you listen to me, don’t say you weren’t warned.”

The title of this podcast is highly inaccurate, in my opinion.

Cummings is an actress who was nominated for an Oscar for her work in The Goodbye Girl in 1977. She also had a recurring role as Annie Cooper in the 1970s television drama Family. That’s just the beginning of this versatile woman’s résumé. She’s worn many hats in the entertainment industry. She is also an inventor and entrepreneur who created the HipHugger—a sling-type device for carrying a baby, which was inspired by the birth of her daughter. Recently, she attended a course to learn to bartend, which seems to be a natural fit for giving advice. Cummings seems always to be trying her hand at new projects.

I asked her what drives and inspires this in her. My brain is like a border collie in that it requires constant small jobs or it acts out,” she says. “I keep adding things because nothing I do is a full-time endeavor, and I must keep my mind from metaphorically tearing up the couch.”

She is also a published author. “As the cliché goes, ‘Write what you know,’” she explains. “I have written three books. One is about being a well-meaning idiot, one is about being the world’s least-likely homeschoolers and the larger weird world of American homeschooling, and one is about the animals in my life. So, two are about how I’m a well-meaning idiot, and one is about how pets are awesome and do not care if I’m an idiot.”

I first rediscovered Cummings on Twitter. (I admit, I had been a fan since The Goodbye Girl.) I really enjoyed her storytelling on this platform, and the fact she had taken up Pilates recently had me hooked on her feed (I am a trainer). She called the threads “A Small Story,” and they were wonderful.

I’ve been writing threaded stories about my life at least four times a week since October of 2018,” Cummings says. “How I come to what I write is never exactly the same, but what usually happens is that I will be in Pilates class in the morning, which means I am focusing very hard on not being catapulted off the Reformer (this happened once—it’s really astonishing how far a full-grown woman can sail through the air). Somewhere in the middle of remembering my breathing, knee placement, dropping my shoulders, and no catapulting, please, my brain coughs up, ‘Remember that time a temp job for a company that might have been illegal gambling traded you to another office for copier paper?’ And then I smile in relief because the difficult part is done and also because I think the office that traded me was raided not long after that.”

As you can probably tell, Cummings is a gifted writer and a very engaging storyteller. She’s also incredibly glib about all of it.

Her podcast is genuinely full of commonsensical, thoughtful, funny, and heartfelt advice. You can listen to these twenty-minute gems and be uplifted, amused, and educated by what I consider to be excellent advice!

Whatever skills I have as a storyteller, I’ve worked damn hard to get them,” she says. “Telling stories gives me pleasure and, probably more importantly, allows me to figure things out. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of Joan Didion’s quote ‘We tell ourselves stories in order to live.’ Sometimes, I don’t even know how I feel about something until I’m telling it to someone later. Storytelling is a habit that rewards hard work; the better you write a story, the more you get out of it. Also, when something is going really badly, I comfort myself with what a fabulous story it’s going to make.”

Her style on the podcast is part Dear Abby, part Erma Bombeck, and part your best friend who is blunt but honest. (The one who tells you, for your own good, when your smoky eye is less sexy and more raccoon-like.)

I inquired, “You come across as very direct—do you think that’s why people ask your advice?”

Unfazed, Cummings says, “I think it’s a blend of things: one, being direct (which I would swear I’m not, because I know the parts I am restraining myself from saying, and it could be so much worse); two, being an autodidact, which leaves your brain filled with dusty piles of random facts; and three, functioning mostly as a cautionary tale (see: trimmed bangs with nail clippers). If someone is going to dislike me, it’s better they should dislike me for exactly who I am. I tell the truth and I live with the consequences.”

So, what inspired Cummings to delve into podcasting?

I felt as if the world was really lacking in podcast options (oh, I just slay me),” she laughs. “For the same reason anyone picks up a hobby: it sounded fun. My own problems are an annoying mystery to me, but other people’s problems and challenges are catnip. And then, when I get an email telling me that my blathering was useful, I swear, it’s like a shot of dopamine directly into my brain.”

Her podcast is genuinely full of commonsensical, thoughtful, funny, and heartfelt advice. You can listen to these twenty-minute gems and be uplifted, amused, and educated by what I consider to be excellent advice! Some of those seeking help are lighthearted, but others present complicated and challenging questions. Cummings explained her perspective and approach to these difficult inquiries.

She shares, “My mother wasn’t a bad person, but she was a hurtful person, a person who had broken parts of her soul that were only really happy when they were drawing blood from those vulnerable around her. Me, I was her caretaker for the final seven years of her life, and I’m glad I did it, but I neither liked her nor trusted her, which meant, ultimately, that I couldn’t love her. I’ve written about this to exorcise it from my life. The unexpected side effect is that a lot of people who feel this way have reached out to me. I get at least one letter every week to the effect of, ‘My parent is old, and they weren’t the worst parent, but they certainly weren’t the best. What am I supposed to do with how I feel? What’s it going to be like after they are gone?’ I try to keep answering it if for no other reason than the number of private messages I get from people saying they feel like this but feel too guilty to admit it, even in an anonymous letter.”

Lastly, I asked Cummings if she were giving herself advice, what would she say?

“Oh, I have no idea,” she says. “That’s why I love everyone else’s problems; they seem so much simpler than mine. I need to find someone to hand my problems to, someone who will say, ‘You ninny, do these four things, in this order.’ Actually, I probably would tell myself to get a Waterpik. Those things are damn useful.”

— V —

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