Thank goodness all the hubbub of New Year’s resolutions has finally died down. The worst thing about the New Year celebration is the vague inspirational one-liners that float ’round the web as people make implausible resolutions. That fluff is always present, but it surges hard for a couple weeks in January, pushing itself into my consciousness like a properly aimed gust of wind bringing me the foul, pestilential stench of an out-of-sight port-a-potty from down the street. I should just plug my nose and go on about my business, but I can’t stop myself from sniffing, spurred on by the unanswered question in my mind: does this shit really help anybody?
This year I spent way too much time on Facebook, scrolling through screen after screen of upbeat one-liners pasted onto images of cute animals and back-lit tree-scapes. And sometimes psychedelic images, which is even better. I eventually managed to get a handle on my dry-heaving and hari-kari-miming, and then I remembered that Marci Shimoff inspired me to own my grumpy by trying to fill my soul with chicken shit so that I could be happy for no reason.
Sorry, slip of the tongue — it was chicken soup she was selling, wasn’t it. Catchy.
Anyway, Marci’s an uber-master of irritating and meaningless one-liners.”Plug into presence.” “Forget the coffee, try a morning cup of connection.” “Feel your feelings.”
Just… Bite me. There’s an inspiring one-liner for you.
It is hard to top Marci’s mastery of the vacuous uplifting quote, but that’s not stopping humanity from trying. Here are some of the lines that crossed my path this year and got my grumpy aura glowing wildly.
Wait. An apologetic before I continue: I know what’s coming is going to sound and seem hostile and, well… It is. Sometimes I have a lot of hostility toward peeps who pour on the random upbeat, positive, can-do crap. I’m too cynical for that. I can’t look at the miseries of life and say, gee, this isn’t so bad, it’s all in my head, blah blah blah. I guess that helps some people. Not me. I’d rather look at the fire I’m walking through and scream “THIS SUUUUUCKS” and come out the other side thankful to be alive, relieved my burns aren’t so bad (i.e., I’m not dead), and grateful if there’s anyone there to help me. See? I’m optimistic and upbeat. I just want my upbeat a certain way. Reality-based and very specific.
Right, so here’s my grumpy list of useless inspiring inspirational inspirations:
ACCEPT YOURSELF. (flowers and sunrises)
But what if I’m an asshole? I don’t think I should accept that at all. In fact, I think the root of change is exactly the opposite of acceptance. DON’T accept yourself. Maybe forgive yourself for being an asshole, and then stop being an asshole by whatever means are available to you — therapy, self-flagellation, confession, meditation, charitable work, whatever it takes.
I get it. Don’t beat yourself up for those extra pounds, don’t look in the mirror and hate on yourself, and so on. But if that’s what the one-liner is getting at, then it should say so. “Accept the things about yourself that are acceptable.”
Dr. Abrams, Jesse’s therapist, has this incredible approach to her self-loathing. When she tells him she’s hating on herself for something she’s done, he typically answers, “Well why don’t you change the things that are making you dislike yourself?” Aha, and duh, and why didn’t I think of that. You want to make a new year’s resolution that matters? Don’t accept yourself. Identify the ways you suck, and then try to fix them.
LIVE, LAUGH, LOVE. (rainbows and trees)
I have an admission to make. I bought a box at Michaels that said these three words on the cover, even though this alliterative word string drives me crazy. In my defense, I bought the box because it was on super-sale and just the right size I needed for some Christmas ornaments and it wasn’t a totally hideous color. Otherwise, honestly. Please don’t ever tell me to live, laugh, love and expect me to be moved in any way. I DO live. I’m doing it RIGHT NOW. Still doing it.
Miraculously, living just happens to us while we’re alive.
If you mean to tell me to live a certain way, to experience life more fully or something like that, then say so. Jeez. Why be so cryptic?
As for laughing and loving — well, shit, that’s a pretty big directive. If a person is having trouble laughing and loving, there might be some significant problems going on, like maybe her life sucks, or maybe she’s depressed or has some issues. Maybe she isn’t well served by a superficial directive that says, in essence, go stop sucking.
But I guess it’s not as inspiring to put this quote on a picture of a sunrise. “If you’re unhappy and lonely, and you have trouble connecting to people, seek help. Therapy is a good option.”
MAKE IT GREAT.
Make WHAT great, asshole? I know, I know, whatever I’m doing. Well what if I’m taking a dump, or wiping my 5-year-old son’s ass after he takes a dump? Do I really need to make that great? Can’t I just survive it and move on?
I followed a silly-looking link one day to a website whose tag line was “I inspire.” Wow. You INSPIRE? That’s hubris. And very broad. The person who wrote that inspired me to leave his website immediately.
I’ll tell you what inspires me. When people DO inspirational things. Yes, MLK Jr said many inspiring things, but they would have been empty tripe if he hadn’t acted. He inspires me by virtue of what he did, not because he told me he’s going to inspire me. I have a friend who just ran her first marathon and she’s almost 50. I’m inspired. And she didn’t even tell me she was inspiring me. Oh wait. She wasn’t trying to inspire me, in her own mind. She was just running a marathon! Still totally inspiring.
And now I’ve written and said that word enough times that it looks and sounds funny. Inspire. Inspired. Inspiring. Inspiration.
LIVE EACH DAY LIKE IT WAS YOUR LAST.
Worst. Advice. Ever. As Anthony-the-economist put it, this advice tells you to discount the future by exactly 100%. That’s just stupid.
If I lived each day like it was my last, I would never do any of the following things. Wash clothes or dishes. Clean the house. Take my kids to school or the dentist. Make healthy meals. Take a shower. Read a book. Exercise. Take my blood pressure meds. Care about anything. Instead I’d spend every day fighting off bitter, angry tears over my imminent demise. I’d cling desperately to my children (I’m talking physically) until they got freaked out and ran away from me. I would live a raw, insane existence.
Come to think of it, sometimes I do live like this. Huh.
(Extended awkward moment of silence while I think about what the hell I’m doing with my life.)
I’m back. Sorry about that. Anyway, I beg you, DO NOT live each day like it was your last, even if this inspiring phrase and the beautiful sunset photo accompanying it come through your Facebook feed. I don’t think it’ll turn out well.
MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
Awww, come ON. This stupid one-liner was in a list of things you allegedly need to do before you turn 50, or something like that. It’s just empty nonsense. Adolf Hitler, Osama bin Laden, Charles Manson and Timothy McVeigh made a difference.
You want me to make a difference? Point me in the right direction. I’d rather make NO difference than an evil, life-destroying difference. Incomplete advice like this might just create the next Darth Vader.
DONE IS THE ENGINE OF MORE.
Uuuuuugh. My head just flopped backwards at a 90-degree angle. My tongue fell out of my mouth. And nooo, it’s not because of the margarita I’m drinking. Here’s all I need to say to the person who tells me “Done is the engine of more”: fuck you.
TRUTHS ABOUT SUFFERING.
This isn’t a one-liner but an inspire-you list someone posted to Facebook, so I’m going a little off-message — but bear with me. A fellow named Jeff Foster apparently wrote some “truths” about suffering. He says things like this. “Circumstances cannot make us suffer… You could probably boil all of your suffering down to this: ‘I want to control this moment but I cannot.'”
Yeah. Tell that to victims of violence, of torture, of war, of famine, of cancer, of all manner of disasters and vicious diseases. I bet most of them disagree.
This guy also talks about “innocent energy clouds.” Oooooh (eyebrows up). I’m crossing the street when I see Jeff Foster walking down the sidewalk toward me, because otherwise I will want to sock him square in the face and tell him this. Jeff, my friend, you are a complete asshole and a thoughtless lout. Circumstances CAN make us suffer, even when we know we can’t control the shit that’s happening. I have a neighbor whose young son was in the ICU for days with whole-body staph-like infections. There were question marks. It was horrible and scary, and those circumstances made her family suffer. I have a friend suffering from a brutal auto-immune skin condition that makes him experience pain like a burn victim, and the treatments have been awful and it’s all very difficult. His suffering is circumstantial and REAL. Even if he accepts that he can’t control the moment, he will continue to suffer until his condition is brought under control.
Can these folks survive what’s going on with grace and acceptance? Of course, and they are. But not with platitudes and false one-liners. They are struggling, fighting to find a path that brings light and hope into their lives. I love them for it. I love them for sharing their suffering and their needs and their journeys, without faking like they’re okie-dokie.
I mean, I get it. If you’re talking to first-worlders who bitch and moan about their opulent lives without having any real trouble to speak of — say, first-worlders who are, I don’t know, grumpy for no reason — then making the point that we, I mean, they shouldn’t be “suffering” is great, because really, we have it good. And I guess it doesn’t work to paste the following one-liner over a picture of a happy polar bear mommy rolling in a snowy bank with her two cubs: “Get over it. Your life doesn’t suck.”
* * * * *
I understand that I’m probably outside the mainstream. Some people need these one-liners to cope with tough moments. But it doesn’t work for me. If you want to inspire this grumpy girl, you’ll need to get really specific and really plain-spoken. Like this:
Have you looked in the mirror lately? (motivation) Get a haircut. (inspirational directive)
You smell bad. (motivation) Go take a shower right now. (inspirational directive) (Anthony uses this one on me regularly. It works every time – I go straight to the shower.)
You don’t help other people enough. Go volunteer some time for a charitable cause.
You’re really grumpy. But it’s okay, I still like you. (See? I told you I was an optimist.)
* * * *
Now that I’ve gotten all that off my chest, I’m realizing what a downer I am. I need to change. I need to see myself a new way. I will imagine a different me. This year, I’m going to start over. Because every day is a new day. Every day is the beginning of the rest of my life. And I have the power. I am the master of my feelings. Love can lift me up. Acceptance can bring me closer to happiness. I can make a difference. I just need to smile a little more, because everyone smiles in the same language.