Saturday, April 25, 2009

Is Calling a Small, Adorable Asian Child "Dim-Sum" Racist? Probably?

...A doorbell rings.

I ignore most doorbells, as they have an uncanny habit of ringing when I am either asleep or devoid of clothes. (Perhaps I spend an inordinate amount of time sleeping or naked? Hmmm…) However, as I was neither of these things, nor engaged in anything especially interesting, I begrudgingly answered the door. There was no one there- Oh wait! A tiny boy child! How may I help you, small dumpling on my doorstep?

“My blue ball fell in your yard. I threw it too high and it went in your yard. I was playing. Can you go get it?”

This led to what was, by far, the most satisfying interpersonal event of my day (total time ten minutes, tops).

We went to get his ball, he pet my puppies, he extrapolated that my dog Mustard must be shy. (He is an astute observer…I see a budding future as a botanist, or perhaps as a behavioural marketing strategist?) I met his mother (“That’s just my mom.”), and now actually sort-of know my neighbours, which is quite the feat in modern individualistic society, and given my intense fear of human connection. Yay, life!

The highlight of our conversation, and perhaps my whole week: “I had a fish but he died. His name was Tommy and he died.”

Dear tiny boy who lives next door: I want to eat you!

Me of the Day

Current Mood: Existentially perplexed

Current annoyance: The single, random curl of hair on the right side of my head, which makes me look like a sexualized child star from the twenties. The rest of my hair is decidedly straight…what the hell, hair?

Current achievements: I finished planting my garden, only an entire month late, AND I learned that the compost bin in the my backyard is entirely functional (after I cleared away five years worth of vegetation blocking its bottom door…and then composted the vegetation! Ta-da!) Also, I cleared away at least two hundred grubs in the process of creating my garden plot (mostly out of fear and disgust…they are the ugliest of all god's precious insect children), which I now suspect has incurred the wrath of beetles everywhere and will lead them to band together and kill us all in the very near future. Sorry about that, world.

Current plans: Well, crap. It got sunny again. I suppose I need to go out and frolic gaily without a care in the world. Seriously, I’m a little bummed…I was comfortable at my desk.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Me of the Day

General mood: Slightly anxious, slightly tired, slightly in a rut from which I cannot excavate myself, but at the same time aware that my rut is not really that big of a rut, and hardly worth complaining about, which makes the whole experience of being in the rut all the more frustrating…This is bound to continue until the inevitable day I wake up in my own asshole.

I am amazing: This Earth Day (today!), at a staff meeting, I successfully sold the concept of building a Barn Owl House as a natural means of combating the rat problem in our back alley (Barn Owls are an endangered species that loves to eat rats and can only live in man-made boxes, apparently.) Avoiding poison and cruelty! Saving owls! Preserving habitat! Go me! (we'll see if this plan actually pans out, of course)

I am a failure: I promised to bring my two excessively fluffy puppies to my friend’s residence program. She works in a first year residence for university students, who are currently in the middle of exams - she thought that having puppies to play with in their sunny courtyard would be a great stress relieving activity. I have puppies, and they like attention - win, win, yes?

Yes, except through a series of small inconveniences, I arrived about an hour late (there is no excuse, so I won’t bother with excuses…FAIL), while my tiny friend had been forced to deal with approximately twenty five excited first years desperate for puppy love…ach…

We eventually arrived, and the puppies were loved (though they had to overcome their initial shyness, triggered by the sound of twenty girls simultaneously squeaking ‘awwwww!’), and my friend’s program was a great success. I still, however, feel like the shitty friend who shows up an hour late and wastes twenty five cumulative hours of people’s time.

Wait, no, I am an even Bigger Failure: After the program was finished and my puppies were galloping freely about my friend’s courtyard, a student with a seeing eye dog appeared suddenly from behind a bush (exiting the cafeteria), and my dogs, being oblivious to the concerns of the disabled, began acting like assholes and barking loudly and running to meet their new puppy friend. I called them away, but my one dog proceeded to sniff out of sheer excitement (the blind student was at this point yelling at my dog, which of course did nothing to quell his curiosity and barking instinct). He came away the third time I called (this entire incident lasted all of ten seconds, maybe), at which point the blind student proceeded to yell at me (well, actually, he yelled at everyone, because he could not see where I was) that THAT’S WHY THERE’S LEASHES, WHY DON’T YOU KEEP YOUR DOG ON A LEASH?! (The capitals are to contain the vehemence and the volume, if that was not implied).

I held my puppies and felt terrible and terribly ashamed.

(I feel a bit of a need to defend myself - 80% of Vancouver’s dog owners feel comfortable letting their trained animals go off-leash in controlled situations, like on an abandoned field of a park, or an area with a couple of people who are okay with the dog’s presence. The university grounds function as a large public park, sort of, and of all of the dogs I have encountered there, the majority have been off-leash. We were in an area surrounded by buildings where I thought my dogs could not possibly be causing problems or endanger themselves - and my dogs are both approximately a foot tall and terrified of anything that moves, so unlikely to cause anyone harm...and neither even came within a foot of the other dog? And if I’d only been able to see the kid coming, I of course would have gotten my dogs out of the way- Ach. I still feel terrible. I know it was a mistake, and that if anything the yelled criticism was an overreaction, but I still feel like a girl who let her dog run up and bark at a seeing eye dog.)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Candid, Opinionated, and Otherwise Cynical Advice

1. If you want to stop kids from smoking, then stop kids from smoking. Yes, you can penalize cashiers…or…you could STOP KIDS FROM SMOKING. Slap them with fines, slap their parents with fines, patrol your local high school at break hour, and have kids nark on the adults who are buying them smokes (then fine them, too)…viola. Underage smoking is no longer an issue, and the government just saved about 75 billion dollars in health care costs down the road.

2. Stop listening to the Pope (we asked him to stop talking, and that didn’t quite work). Responsible consumerism can, and should, be applied to religion. If you’re tithing your local catholic church, you are supporting a pope who thinks condoms cause AIDS and that birth control is always wrong. Why is this man’s impeccable logic worthy of your attention? Stop listening, encourage others to do the same, and he becomes just another opinionated old guy yelling at young people from his porch.

3. It is impossible to Save a Life. We can delay death for a finite amount of time, but we can never actually save a life (e.g. if you performed CPR on someone and then they died in the ambulance…not saved. If you save a kid from drowning and he gets hit by a car while walking away…not really saved). It’s okay to want to delay death (for days, months, or even decades). But the medical system is fixated on a pursuit which is largely imaginary, and this concept takes away from the much more achievable goal of Improving Quality of Life during our finite time on this planet. (Apologies if this sounds anything like the excessively awful movie Patch Adams, which both decreased the quality of life of everyone who saw it, and brought us all a full two hours closer to death. Robin Williams should be tried for his crimes against humanity.)

4. If you want to save the world this Earth Day, try NOT recycling. Your cans and pop bottles are not the cause of the Earth's problems (and neither is that plastic bag you bought them in, though it might smother a sea turtle or two). Rampant consumerism and a societal attitude of convenience and complacency? A much more likely culprit. So throw away your pop bottles, and feel bad about it, and feel bad about the rest of your garbage, too (recycling causes a ton of greenhouse emissions, anyways). Feel bad about the meat you eat, and the bananas you eat, and...whatever else you eat. (I have limited knowledge of food products, as you may have noticed). Feel bad enough to change your lifestyle accordingly, even if it's not socially acceptable and/or easy. Recycling is easy. Saving the planet is not.

5. Play with a puppy under a cherry tree in full blossom. There should be sunshine, and possibly a book of poetry read by a handsome European without a shirt. There's no real reason why you should, but...just do it. It'll be fun.

All Other Self Help Books are Stupid

Should we all try to be a little bit more content with our own lives? …Sure.

Should we engage in public dialogue on which pursuits are beneficial to living a happy life? …Well, okay, that makes sense.

Should we create approximately ten thousand different books telling people how to live happier, more meaningful lives, written by people who in general have always been pretty happy? …No. No, let’s not do that at all.

Allow me to explain: Let me string together a bunch of essentially meaningless platitudes - I will start with ‘Be Yourself’ and a serious of anecdotes explaining how you can be like me. Let me put it together with a condescending tone of one who is Truly Enlightened and therefore superior to you, sad grasshopper. Let me repeat myself over and over again, using illustrations drawn solely from my own life, and then pepper my monologue with non-contextualized wellness professional quotes or a poorly explained psychological study. Fifty pages and big print? No problem, I’ll add some quotes from the Dalai Llama.

And…Ta Da! There you have it. I have written every single self-help book that ever was.

If you yourself are looking to make a dollar in these hard economic times, perhaps you, too, should consider writing a self help book. Seriously, do - there are a lot of sad people out there, and those numbers keep on rising. Happiness projects, today, what the latest diet crazes were twenty years ago. In an increasingly obese population, who doesn’t want to be thin? And as more of use get diagnosed with depression or continue to face huge losses, self help authors offer us an allusive cure…why wouldn’t you buy their book? Don’t you want to be happier??

And therein lies the problem, I suppose. We all want to be happy- er, happier. And just like thinness or beauty or wealth, there apparently is no portion control or ‘happy’ medium. We want to be HAPPY, with smiley faces and rainbows and butterflies, dancing through Disney world with Santa Clause at our side, while a puppy dog injects us with heroin.

Perhaps you can sense the pitfalls of this insatiable pursuit - because life, you may find, has some innate shitiness. People die, and people stub their toes, and people face literally hundreds of events within a given day that warrant an emotionally healthy response which is not, in fact, Happy. We are desperate for a state that can never be achieved, and the casualties of this pursuit take many different forms (from the very human Octomom* to the lizard-esque Micheal Jackson, and everything in between).

My issue isn’t really even with that: the mentally healthy individuals who’s desire for perpetual bliss will never be satiated. In the end, they are, have been, and will always be ‘happy’ in the generic sense, experiencing the ups and downs that life has to offer and feeling some angst along the way. If they want to find a book and learn a happiness mantra, let them. But there are other people out there who are much, much, less happy, and my main issue is with them: self-help books prey upon the vulnerabilities and hopes of those who are significantly, clinically, and medically depressed, and that is not okay.

There are people for whom getting out of bed is a daily struggle. But don’t they get hungry for the deliciousness and wonder of food? Well, no, and that’s the point. Are they lazy, these people? Well, no, not exactly - must of us hem and haw about performing any arbitrary, strenuous, potentially painful chore. But for depressed people, pretty much everything in life has become that chore. These people are seriously hurting, and for them life has lost its intrinsic value which so many others feel completely, without question, to the point that its absence seems…crazy? Well, yes, kind of. Depression is a mental illness and a medical matter. It is a serious illness which will directly kill 15% of those diagnosed via suicide - the rest may be simply disabled, temporarily or periodically, throughout their lives, or come down with a cancer that they may otherwise have fought off (depression tends to increase a person’s odds of getting sick and worsen the outcome of any illness). The cause? Genetics, trauma, and hormonal changes - not exactly anything that can be prevented. But why would I blemish an article on happiness with such a depressing, miserable subject? Shouldn’t we focus on happy things?

Unfortunately, any discussion on Self Help Books, like the industry itself, could not function without depressed people. Self Help books prey on those for whom happiness is truly, chemically elusive - they offer a bittersweet hope that if a person reads enough, believes enough, and wants it enough, that the depression will lift. While there are strategies an individual can use on their own to address mild depression, few self help books spend much time on those principles. For individuals with moderate to severe depression, the effect can be harmful - a book claiming it can lead a severely depressed person to happiness is the psychological equivalent to telling a patient with chest pain that he can lower his blood pressure with sunshine and lemon drops - as explained in my all new self help book, only $19.99!!

If I were to write that book, I suspect that someone would sue me, and at the very least a doctor or concerned parent would become indignant. But there are thousands of books claiming that they can lead unenlightened folk to blissful ecstasy - books which are pored over by individuals desperate for a solution to chemical imbalances and a shrunken hypothalamus.

Every single book I have issue with has been written by an author for whom mental health has never been a concern - they centre around a philosophy which is deeply personal (and therefore not especially applicable to readers). There are exactly two target audiences - those who are too depressed to be helped by these books, or those who are not depressed at all but have been suckered by a society that can never be too happy. Neither groups will be helped - one group may seriously be harmed. I hate you, Self Help Books.

To learn more, please buy my book. I call it: All Other Self Help Books Are Stupid - Except for This Self Help Book, Which Is Actually The Key To Happiness - A Personal Journey by Ivy Donegal.

*I have a lot of sympathy for Octomom. Yes, she seems selfish and na├»ve. No, she shouldn’t have had fourteen kids while living in her mom’s two bedroom house. I get that. But being scrutinized on a national stage has led to one fact which seems indisputable - that woman loves her kids like crazy. Her face is full of joy and care when she is around them, and she wants to give her whole life to them (and yes, fourteen kids probably deserve more than one full life, but nonetheless). She should have not had a great deal of those children, probably - but then again, 75% of all pregnancies probably never should have happened (and that’s probably a gross underestimate). The only thing that makes this case different from the Catholic family down the street from my mom’s house (thirteen kids, abuse, divorce, and no paparazzi) is that she had eight children at once. Smart she may not be, and unethical her fertility doctors certainly were, but at the centre of it is a woman who wants the best for her children, and that’s okay with me.