Saturday, June 4, 2011

how i spent my life reading self-help books

impossible but true: once upon a time the self-help section of your local bookstore did not exist. any books like 'how to please people' filed under either business or religion. (now all the business books encourage self-renovation as a first step!) of course, americans always bootstrappers, and reading walt whitman like absorbing 'how i got out of a lethal hetero and into a same-sex marriage'. yet, forty years ago a new spirit emerged.

the first real book in the genre, 'your erroneous zones' by wayne dyer. a girlfriend and i read it to patch our relationship. it really pissed her off and she ran away with a friend. so much for #1. dyer's next book full of real-world advice, 'pulling your own strings' (recommended). for example he said always call authority figures by their first name. 'hello, barrack, will you have soup or salad?' i actually put this into practice. i woke up one morning at the lookout with a pain in my throat, the result of another misplaced love-affair. nine doctors later, one solved the problem: an acid-eaten ulcer in my throat. (gerd born at the same time as personal improvement books. i wonder if there's a correlation?)

the only doctor to act normally when i called him by his first name the last one. he told me a teacher taught him to really listen to the patient. also, he'd read about the breaking-news acidic stomach in a recent journal. believe me, most doctors just jump to a very quick conclusion, no time taken at all. that a big lesson in itself. and the one who zeroed in on me, he who found the cure. ah, taking antacids after all theses years!

if a person of power reacts badly to you calling him by his first name, look elsewhere for help. and, of course, a pharmacist in sun city, arizona told me shortly after, 'oh, my wife had that problem. we took her off acidic producing substances.' now you can't escape books on the subject. and sex. and marriage. and dealing with your teenager. my mother said i was a book baby. she followed dr. spock religiously, letting me cry myself to sleep at night. enough said, i blame all my peccadilloes on that sad fact.

it did surprise me when a whole bunch of books showed up for sale at the local museum. i bought one for a writer friend, a guidebook to paris in 1927. evidently the fellow who'd passed onto an easier heaven to inhabit, inherited money and spent his life reading manuals on how to make his life better. i know that after paris, he retired to correct all his inner and outer faults with an extensive collection of the personal reconstruction literature available before the subsequent boom. a man, certainly, ahead of his time.

whenever i get tired of zen, i'll pick up 'it's never too late,' or 'don't sweat the small stuff'. i'll even read the rich man's guru, bagwan rajneesh, now known as osho. comforting, indeed, to know someone has the answers.

guess i've been a wise-guy myself: otherwise known as 'how to be a lover in a married world.'