Friday, June 11, 2004

How many shrinks does it take to unscrew a lightbulb?

One. But it has to really want to change. rimshot!

While surfing on recently to look for additions to my reading list, I came across a book that looked like it dealt with an issue I've been mulling over since the trying events of this last year. It's called: Second Innocence: Rediscovering Joy and Wonder: A Guide to Renewal in Work, Relationships, and Daily Life by John B. Izzo.

Usually I'm leery of self-help books because so many people in the self-help and motivational speaker industry seem to be there simply because they don't want to, or can't seem to, hold a real job. ("Those who can't 'do'...")

I worked in a bookstore for about two years and when times were slow, we were free to explore the shelves and read. One bored day, after reading every freakin' magazine on the rack,* and having combed through the photo books for all the nudes (I was in my early twenties folks, boys of that age have a natural fixation, so cut me some slack, mang), and having caught up on all the fiction I cared about, I wandered over to the self-help rack. Previous to that day, I directed my attentions to that rack only when I had to stock the latest fad tomes, and even then I giggled uncontrollably at the titles, and guffawed at any given paragraph when I cracked a spine to have a look. But there I was, so I scooped about 5 off the rack randomly and went back to the desk to read them. Later, the guy across the way in the shoe store wandered over to ask me what was so darn funny.

*TLD: That was an interesting side-effect of working in a book store; I did get a chance monthly to literally go through every major magazine out there. I was amazingly media-savvy for a while. Note that I didn't say "well informed." My major discovery during that time was how little is actually reported in magazines - even the news mags. Also, this was during the time of Reagan (queue Elvis Costello: "They thought he was the king of America..."), and as a recent Salon article pointed out, the media in those days was the Teflon that covered that addlepated old fool. So, along with Neil Postman's opus, that fact made me distrust the media even more than I did already; liberal bias my ass. And, yes, I know, we're supposed to be worshiping Ronnie this week. Meh. I mean, may he rest in peace and all, but I really despised his presidency. He made a complete mess of the country for a while. Yes, he got us past Carter's "malaise" by reminding everyone that America is really a great country after all, and we are (notwithstanding our recent egregious defiance of the Geneva Convention). But outside of that one thing, we would have been better off without him, imnsvho. But, as indicated ("TLD"), I digress. Magazines, and the media in general, besides not having a lot to say in the first place, tend to recycle things a lot, too - something I wasn't aware of until after my two years on the magazine racks. Rest assured that if any big news happens, you'll hear about it without having to consult "Time" or "Newsweek" or even "People."

Thereafter, my limited exposure to self-help stuff has been the odd show on PBS during a pledge drive. Most of them are (still) maroons in my opinion, with the possible exception of Barbara Sher. I like her snarky, realistic assessment of the world. I haven't read any of her books, yet (link linkety link), but probably will. And if they're anything like her "yeah, life can suck, but let's get past that for the moment and paint something, eh?" PBS shows, I'm sure I'll enjoy them.

Anyway, the title - Second Innocence: Rediscovering Joy and Wonder - nailed what I thought I might need. I'd told my wife at one point recently that I felt I had lost my natural innocence and wonder in the past year, and here was a book about just that. I've always been a very optimistic person, and have experienced firsthand how hitting the day expecting the best and stopping to smell the proverbial flowers makes a huge difference in how life feels. But, when you've been bitch-slapped off your happy hobbyhorse by fate and tumbled down a cliff only to land in a bed of cactus, it's hard to get your Pollyanna mojo back.

And, as C.S. Lewis observed, grief makes you lazy. It's probably fortunate that carrying around the weight of the world is a lot of work; you want to drop that sucker as soon as possible.

The advice in Second Innocence is simple, and some of it's obvious, but it's still potent. If life has given you a wedgie, or even if your engine's just knocking a little bit, I recommend this book.

My favorite bits of advice were these:

1. Have Courage.
2. Ask, "What does life want from me now?"
3. Just Start...

These litigious days, stained with the moral relativism of post-modern stupidity, we are often told to find the thing to blame - parents, government, that bastard down the block, the boss, Starbucks - and once you've identified it, you can begin to fix what's wrong. And, yes, for some things that can be helpful. But a lot of the time, what's wrong is that everything just blew the hell up. Identifying the cause is not the issue, because a big smoking crater is pretty obvious, and being able to point at it doesn't accomplish much (outside of insurance claims, of course). Sometimes, things can't be fixed. Sometimes you just have to have courage. Simply hearing (or reading) that can make all the difference. Have courage. Good to know.

Proper perspective is good, too. I'm just as guilty as the next person of going too quickly to the thought, "What do I want or need right now? What will make me happy?" Odd how that often doesn't have the desired result. Odder still is that asking, "What does life (or God, or _____) want from me now?" is the very thing that brings happiness and solace.

Finally, fear, entropy, laziness and many other artifacts of grief and loss can create a huge center of gravitational pull on your ass. It just wants to stay planed to the chair. Getting up and doing anything just seems futile. Further, it seems like so much work. Why bother? It's all gonna fall down anyway, so what's the use in trying? Well, to quote Lyle Lovett "But what would you be if you didn't even try? You have to try." (From the song "Here I Am.") Even so, gravity can be pretty strong. How is it overcome? Pretty simply, it seems. "Just start..."

I've been employing that simple tactic for a while now, and I probably haven't found a stronger rocket fuel for getting off the pad and back into orbit.

So, memo to self: Have courage and just start. What can you do for the world now?

TLD: Y,know, dammit, I had started this post before I read Michael Blowhard's little blurbette in the midst of one of his posts about self-help books. When I ran across it last night, I was like, "Well, F@¢&!" Look, dear readers (all five of you), I am not aping the great M. Blowhard. Couldn't if I tried. I am increasingly convinced there's something to this synchronicity stuff, though.


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João said...

I was just asking to Google: "What does life want from me?" Then I got here... And I'm happy to be one of those 5 readers.. heheheh!! And probably you're also happy, because a lost brazilian boy came here to read your stuff.