Truth: Life Is Messy

“Self-help” abounds. It drives me nuts.

Not because I don’t think that we should take responsibility for ourselves, but because almost all of the purported self-help is far too sloppy to be helpful. Cute articles with catchy titles, and slick lists of x-numbers of “easy” ways/steps to win the world–it’s kind of infuriating.

Because its like telling some how to change light switch plates, or paint or room or–for the very daring and committed!!–patch a hole in the dry wall–when what really needs to be done is to tear everything down to complete rubble and re-evaluate what a house and a home really is. There are very few people who actually want to tackle head on the big scary questions of “what life is about”. About life and death. About that fact that our past shapes our present and our present shapes our future.

Everyone has these questions. I don’t care how adorable her clothes are and how perfect her nails and how cute her hair cut–part of being human is wondering why we’re human and what that means. Some of us stuff those questions down deeper than others, try to smoother them harder than others, and some of us recognize that they’re there but try to fix the problem with Spackle and paint. But very few people want to lean over the edge and count how many lions are in the den. It makes those of us who are counting wonder if we’re all alone and why no one else is talking about the lions–but no one really escapes the reality that they’re there.

Fix-it lists and articles are all avoiding the fact that life is just to messy to be contained in dietary advice and “green” methods of housecleaning. It can’t be fixed with a one size fits all, and it certainly isn’t easy, no matter how you want to abuse that word. If it were easy, we’d all be doing it by now, not still wistfully reading about it and wondering why we can’t get our act together. Self-help instruction also implies that it’s our fault–that anyone can and should “take control” of their own life. Like if we just consciously decide what success is, and set our energies on it, well, duh: we’ll get what we want.

Realities are much more unordered. We don’t really know what we want, but we pick something so as to not seem directionless. Later, we decide we didn’t really want that, or perhaps changed our mind–or something changes that totally devastates our world view and what we thought was important. Or we think we want something, but the more we pursue it, the more meaningless it becomes. And in the meantime, the cat barfed over your favorite shoes, the car repair bill was six times more expensive than you thought it would be, and your mom was just diagnosed with cancer. Go zen that. Perky ponytails and green “de-tox” drinks aren’t going to save you now, or give you any direction. The bills still have to paid, the barf still stinks, and you can’t save your mom. Yay, control over the direction of your life.

Some people say, “no, no! It’s about you and your response, not the physical realities!” And I’m like, “Mind, meet body. Body, meet mind.” They are together, intertwined, and cannot be divorced from each other. No one is going to feel blissful watching their loved ones suffer. No one is going to be happy realizing they are out of money and out of options. And if there are fortifications that can be made to ameliorate these sufferings, it’s not five easy steps and someone else’s mantra. It’s not going to be avoiding the hard questions by studying laundry detergent recipes and giving up donuts.

It’s just that. . .we all want the hard questions answered, and no one can do it for us. There is no self-help article that can slog through the trenches for you. No one out there who can take a long look inside of you except yourself. When the narrator yells, “PLOT TWIST!” and all you can think is, “well, crap, now what?” nobody gets to answer that question except you. That’s both the beauty and the curse of being alive, and the chintzy self-help degrades both halves of that–the true torment and the equally true privilege, drowning in societal fads and an unrelenting whisper that if you just wanted it badly enough, tried hard enough, you could be a different person.

Look away, look away, look away. . .

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