[SB C. Jane (Hinesburg SBs) sends out a weekly Love Letter. I thought she sent it only to me, but turns out she has a multitude of lovers. If you haven’t read her book Spirit Traffic, you should get a copy. https://cjanetaylor.com/?mc_cid=e9a8bfd513&mc_eid=c7b89b8ab4 I’ve highlighted the paragraph in this missive that I find very poignant. SB SM]
by c. jane taylor
I used to think self-help was just a book, now I think it might be a way of life. I’m not sure I’m on the right shelf yet, though. I’m still too young.
I recently read Jane Fonda’s My Life So Far. It is an old sort of self-help book, written in 2006 back when she was a young hottie in her 60s. To be honest, I don’t read much anymore. I am exophoric, which means my eyes tend to point outward making for excellent peripheral vision but shitty reading speed. Like Springtime in Vermont, I take forever. I listened to the book, read well by the author, though there were some words she consistently mispronounced, and she had cooky glottal stops like Adele or someone from Connecticut trying to sound Gangsta.
Though I tend to despise self-help books, I mostly enjoyed My Life So Far. Her feminism and anti-war stuff was pretty interesting. Her overall premise was that she was entering the third act of her life. And as in theatre, the third act is the one in which everything that happened in the first and second acts finally makes sense. In other words, this is the time of life in which one must get one’s shit together before it’s too late.
I know it’s too late for some things. It’s too late for that one guy I really loved. It’s too late to become the rock climber I dreamed of becoming when I went on an Outward Bound trip at age 30—the beginning of my second act, according to Jane. It’s too late to make a ton of money. Too late to fit back into the hounds tooth checkered chef pants I wore when I worked in a kitchen in 1988. Too late to eat a healthier diet in my 50s.
Wait. I still have a couple months left in my 50s! And I’m not really a too-late kind of person. As long as I am alive, I can start something. As I enter the decades further from the single digits of youth, the thing I start might be watercolor painting instead of underwater free diving, but I do believe that if I am determined enough to win kayak races or dance all night or become a rock climber (which might require a move to Colorado or Wyoming or somewhere with actual rocks), I will be able to engage in a program of uplift that could get me there. With determination, patience, and good self-care, who knows?
I don’t know if such desires constitute self-help. Self-care and self-help are different fingers of the same hand. Self-care is like kale, whereas self-help is like a boot strap. I don’t have any boot straps anymore; I gave away my cowboy boots years ago when my husband said that only Eastern Girls wear Western boots. That I was an Eastern Girl proved his point, however uncomfortably. If I had those boots now, I’d be walkin’ just like Nancy Sinatra. I’m not old enough to have seen Jane Fonda’s metallic go-go boots in Barbarella, but I am old enough to know what they looked like. Zippers. No straps. I don’t think Jane was a bootstrapper, nor did her memoir provide good self-help advice.
The best self-help advice I ever got was from my grandfather, George Lindquist. “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” This advice came to me as a hand-me-down from Mom who became more vocal on less-than-nice-things after his death and less so nearing her own.
Many people think of yoga as self-help. As one of the three resident experts in my house on the subject of yoga, (Dewey, of course, is primus inter pares) I have come to believe them and George.
I have been studying the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali off and on for about twelve years. I think I’m finally starting to get it. Perhaps the Yoga Sutras are the first self-help book? The Sutras were written 3-5,000 years ago, which is a huge window of human history when people were walking around not knowing how to help themselves. But let’s get back to it.
It occurs to me that Grandpa’s “If you can’t say anything nice…” is not unlike Patanjali’s “By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.” George was an undeclared and unacknowledged self-help guru guiding Mom’s and later my spiritual progress toward undisturbed mind-stuff.
This is just what I needed to get back to rock climbing!
[You can never go wrong by including a live version of Carole King performing It’s Too Late. SB SM]