Monday, November 28, 2005

You Say I'm A Bitch Like It's a Bad Thing

"Self-help books!" Terra spits the word out at me in disgust. "Honestly, Jenn you should write one. You'd become an instant millionaire. There's plenty of stupid people out there who needs some unqualified idiot to tell them what to do. They need to see it in print before they can recognise the bloody obvious!"

I squirm uncomfortably. Like Bridget Jones, I have been known to search for life's answers in one of these learned tomes. They helped me through seriously horrific patches. I passed on the wisdom to others and hey, light came streaming in through our murky windows. We held hands and danced naked around campfires, chanting the old hymns: Live your dreams. Follow your heart.

Terra doesn't notice my discomfort. She is on full rant mode: "All the idiots in my class swear by this book. But everything this guy says seems to be so damn obvious, I tell you ah, I can't believe that we were that stupid at their age. A hot guy is a hot guy, but if he treats you like shit consistently..."

"Um, which book is this exactly?"

"He's Just Not That Into You.

Inaudible sigh of relief. Am not guilty of this one. "So what's the problem with it?"

"OK, there is this girl in class. When she goes out with her friends, her boyfriend invites himself along. But when he has plans with his friends, he never lets her come. Not once. And they have been going out for a year. Then she reads this dumb book and it's like a fucking lightbulb goes off in her head and she says, Terr, he's just not that into me. And I say, well duh, haven't I been trying to tell you that for months?

"And there is this other girl. Attractive as hell but really dumb when it comes to men. She goes out with this army guy who takes her to meet his parents and then tells her to back off, because she's started to act like his girlfriend. And she says, but you took me to meet your parents, what was that all about? And he says, I take lots of girls to meet my parents, it doesn't mean anything. She too, had to read that bloody book before she realised he was not that into her. I mean, come on, there are limits to stupidity, right?"

I laugh with her, but am wondering all the same: Did I need to get permission from a book to quit my dead-end job? Um, yeah. Quitting my job went against conventional wisdom because, although it starved my soul, it allowed me to suffer in relative comfort. And the flak I got when they heard I was taking a degree in writing (Writing? are you crazy, what kind of job will you get from that?) Loads of well-meaning advice from people who wanted me to realise that life was a serious, serious thing and that my misery was par for the course.

Where would I have been without Martha Beck? Or Sonia Choquette? Or Julia Cameron? I'll tell you where; stuck in some sad corner of the office, trying to find new ways of writing about venture capitalism. Or biotechnology. Or (God-help-me) photonics.

So sometimes even though it seems fricking obvious to the rest of the world, I guess I just need the external validation to be found in the pages of these books. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Follow your heart. Live your dreams. Follow your own North Star.

I'm trying Martha, believe me, I'm trying.


m said...

I'm not a big fan of the self-help genre - but HJNTIY was a guilty pleasure, I must admit.

The one self help (for want of a better was more of an information book) that *really* spoke to me was a book called "Quirkyalone: A manifesto for uncompromising romantics" by Sasha Cagen. It was like "finally, someone totally gets me". That was a cool feeling.

Jenn said...

Are you Quirkyalone? I did this internet quiz thingy (I really don't remember what) and registered as Quirkyalone as well. I got the impression that it was about being happy with being alone and doing things by myself.

m said...

yep, I'm definately a quirkyalone. It's about being really happy doing your own thing, even if you also happen to be in a relationship. I never could maintain that idea of couplehood of wanting to do every single little thing together *shudder*.

goldennib said...

I say, if a self-help book helps you get where you want to be, how is that different than listening to the advice and counsel of a friend. Sometimes we need someone else to put our wants/needs/ideas into words outside of our heads, if for no other reason than to help us clarify.

I could never figure out what couples who were joined at the hip could find to talk about.

Jenn said...

M: Quirkyaloners of the world unite! After which we go our separate ways and read our books or write in our pretty notebooks in cafes, relishing our solitary existences.

Goldennibs: Thanks. I could never figure it out either. Joined at the hip is a bad place to be.

Andy said...

I haven't read "He's Just Not That Into You," but the follow-up "It's Called a Breakup Because It's Broken" gets the Sublimely Mundane thumbs-up. Worth the price, if you're experiencing heartbreak.

I'm not big into self-help, either, but I'm with goldennibs on this one: If you find it helpful and it's not hurting anyone else, hey, go for it.

Jenn said...

Yeah thanks Andy. I always do. Go for it, that is. Although I guess sometimes we can get lost in looking for answers, ignoring the action that needs to be taken. I have a friend who buys a book once a week or so to give him a boost. The boost lasts for about a day or two. And then he goes back to being depressed.

lemontree said...

i am not a big fan of self help. just like i am not a big fan of management books etc. no prejudice. but i love fiction- and use fiction as self help - as in fiction helps me relate and make sense of my reality- so self help/ fiction what's the difference

Jenn said...

Lemontree: I like fiction too. Although that evokes different feelings in me. I guess my fave fiction/self help author would have to be Paulo Coelho.