Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Self Help(tred)

My mother collects self-help literature. Or she did, right up until her third marriage, the spare bedroom in the basement an extensive catalogue of empowerment philosophies. Deepak Chopra’s earlier works. The annotated Reviving Ophelia. Gift book editions of The Art of War. I don’t remember her buying them, the books simply appeared, redoubled, the space allotted to them lengthened.

She wrote extensive notes in response to thsee books on yellow legal pads. The approach of the “healing” varied, but the tenor of her bullet points didn’t: “I am a person—with NEEDS” “I have a RIGHT to what I want” “I can VISUALIZE a successful relationship” all in her loopy hand. The organization of her notes, I remember, always resembled her grocery lists: milk, chicken, broccoli, respect, earning power, self-esteem.

When she got married for the third time, she gave the books away—in what seemed to me a brazen gesture, she bestowed them upon her fellow realtors in her office. I asked her: “Did you connect the subject of the book to the giftee? Isn’t that a little…presumptuous?” She found it funny, I think, or maybe she had reached that apex of success—she was finally getting married, and she was imparting her method of stability upon the have-nots, the still-single realtors in neon and coral suits.

I don’t think my younger sister ever saw those notepads, but I can’t be sure. She is an adult herself now, and when I visited her apartment in Minneapolis I was poking around her very adult kitchen. (She has cupcake tins. I don’t have cupcake tins. I don’t even have spare towels, or a grocery store savings card, or air freshner.) I opened her spice cabinet and threw up in my mouth—there, taped to the inside of the cabinet was a list of goals with a depressingly familiar manner: “I will quit x. I will weigh y. I will cook for myself more. I will reign in my pb intake.”

What is PB, you may ask? It turns out she was downing close to a case of peanut butter a month.

She owns more than one version of “Chicken Soup for the Gullible,” and I am beginning to fear that this trait has a genetic component, especially this week as I have been considering where to live next. The Princeton Review’s Career Quiz targeted my gmail account this morning and the mouse moved magnetically, almost automatically, I clicked on it.

I DETEST: Crestfallen

Off to Philadelphia!

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