Tag Archives: Self-help

Decisions Decisions


Every day there are thousands of decisions to make. Do I pick through these old blueberries for breakfast or get a greasy egg sandwich from Dunkin Donuts? Do I bend down and pick up that ball of dog fur or walk past it again? Do I write to my Congressman or watch reruns of Parks and Recreation? Do I sort through this Mount Washington pile of mail or stuff it in an old shopping bag for later? Should I let my 17 year-old newly licensed daughter take the car tonight to see a movie with her friends -because there is construction around the theater and it might rain and it will definitely get dark and it’s a 10:00 PM movie so I’ll have to stay up way past my bedtime until she gets home and if she’s late it will take at least 2 weeks off my life from the stress and terror.

A lot of decision making is automatic (I just keep walking past that dog fur), and a lot of it seems small but is big (that damn movie), but a lot of it also takes energy and focus and time. And I am not always great with this. I get distracted or I use up all my decision making powers at work so I make poor decisions at home (pizza again for dinner) or none at all (let me just sit on this couch for 20 minutes in a fugue state). You have to decide what to eat and wear and buy and say. You have to decide whether to cook or clean or get an oil change or go for a walk or call a friend. You have to decide how to parent and treat colleagues and support your spouse.

You have to decide whether to write.

Perhaps I could be the person I want to be if I was better at decisions. Perhaps I could take greater risks and do the things that would ultimately, to use a horrid self-help statement, bring me joy. There are multitudes of books on how to do the things I want to do. How to magically change my life by tidying up or create 7 habits for myself to be highly successful or dare greatly or rise strongly or master self-love. How to write a novel in 90 days or loose weight, gain more energy and never diet again, or have pain free posture, or do the ultimate memory exercises to keep my brain from crapping out. But these books aren’t magic. You have to decide to do the things they talk about. You can’t take action until you decide to take action. You can’t change until you – uhg – decide.

And thus the rub. How do I get better at deciding? I’ve had a lot of therapy and that hasn’t worked. I’ve made plenty of bad decisions and didn’t learn enough from them to make me a better decider. I’ve certainly aged a lot, and that doesn’t seem to be helping.

There’s a tiny voice inside me that’s reacting to all of this as I’m writing it. A whisper of a voice I can barely hear. She’s saying, you have to be worthy. You have to feel you are worthy of these decisions.

And I must be listening to her today because I’m writing. But if this is going to last she’s going to have to speak up. Shout even. And then I have to decide to listen.

I am learning a little—never to be sure—
To be positive only with what is past,
And to peer sometimes at the things to come
As a wanderer treading the night
When the mazy stars neither point nor beckon,
And of all the roads, no road is sure.
Carl Sandburg


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Help Yourself

I buy books about writing like other people buy self-help books. They inspire me for a few weeks, get me back to the writing and make me feel like I can finish and publish a novel some day. My latest find, however, is an actual self-help book, written by one of my favorite writers and someone who I consider an authority on self-help because he has had a shit storm of a life and lived to tell. Or perhaps more accurately, told to live.

Augusten Burroughs of Running with Scissors, Dry and a host of other hilarious, gut wrenching memoirs is one of my many literary heroes. His latest, This is How, offers kick butt advice on just about everything that ails you. If you can’t find yourself in this book you are either an alien or a Stepford wife. I’m going to reread this book until the pages are thin and stained beyond recognition with coffee and greasy Frito thumbprints. I’m thinking if I read this book for one hour a week it will save me a fortune in therapy bills and I can stay home in my pajamas.

OK, so maybe this book won’t transform me overnight, and maybe it won’t be the answer to my existential crisis of late, but it gets me thinking about things I am uncomfortable with like failure and shame and grief. And it gives me hope. Not Hallmark hope or Obama hope and not even as Emily Dickinson said, the thing with feathers. It’s a small hope. Smooth like a stone that’s been dashed by a thousand waves. Surprisingly strong, like a baby’s grasp around your pinky. There in the morning when you hit the alarm and stagger into another day. There at night when you drift in and out of dreams like a stranger. There when a friend calls out of the blue and saves you from loneliness.

But maybe none of this floats your boat. Instead, you can always go get Jane Fonda‘s latest self-help book, Prime Time. I cracked it open in the bookstore and randomly landed on a page where Jane was interviewing an eighty-something man in an assisted living facility. The topic: sex. Yup. Apparently this man, Norm or Bob or whoever, was crushing on another octogenarian in the home and finally got up the nerve to ask her out. After a few dates in the dining hall they went up to her room and got busy. Jane says, isn’t skin on skin great Norm (or Bob or Fred or whoever). Sex isn’t just about penetration, right Norm, wink wink. I swear she said this (ok I added the winks). Really Jane? This excerpt did not make me want to purchase your book. In fact, it kind of scared me. I always thought I’d like going into a nursing home. Bus trips to the mall, bingo with the high school volunteers, yoga sitting in a chair. But I really don’t want to wind up in bed with the likes of Norm or Norma or whoever and have them spill their guts to Jane Fonda. Can’t say I recommend this one but Fifty Shades of Grey is being made into a movie so what the hell do I know.

Maybe you’ve read a self-help book that changed your life. Or a book on writing that inspired you to new heights. Don’t hold out on us. Tell all.


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