Archive | February, 2014

The Nature of Help

UNIVERSEc1750_001“For a certain kind of highly disciplined, possibly Swedish person, the day comes naturally segmented into task-length periods of productivity” – Emily Gould, “ MFA VS NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction“, published today by Faber & Faber and n+1 and stolen by me in awed recognition of certain parallels. I hope I will be allowed to keep it here.

A friend of mine sent me this. She saw the inevitable parallels, I expect. She sent the link without comment, thus preserving whatever changes were intrinsic in discovery. For this, I thank her.

Thus, she helped me.

Many of you are at one time or another moved to “help” someone. You have a relative who just can’t get started, or a friend with chronic insomnia, they are complaining miserably and so you want to voluntarily provide The Key to Success. You can’t. Forget it.

First of all, don’t volunteer.  Nobody who actually wants help leaves it up to the helper to step forward. That would only happen in a zen world, and that’s too zen to qualify as a path to success.  The Universe rarely wants You to succeed. At most, the Universe may be willing to permit some effort or another to succeed; put another way, the results of some effort may be lacking currently and so the Universe would welcome that effort. Help should only be extended in response to an acknowledgement of a specific difficulty, and a  specific request for help. The more specific the afforded assistance, the more easily success will be obtained.

My friend is an editor at a publication to which I’ve submitted work. We’ve discussed my writing ordeals, and hers, since she is also a writer. In suggesting I read this excerpt, she was continuing our extended dialog, not jumping to a new conversation.

There may be only two rules for helping someone. There may be more, in which case these two are merely the beginning. but if so these two are the linchpins. All other rules refer back to these.

First of all, you can’t help anyone do anything they’re not already doing themselves. This is a function of the English language. If someone is not engaged in a particular activity, they can be blackmailed, bribed, charmed, coerced, compelled, dared, forced, induced, inspired, shamed, tricked or talked into doing it, but not until she is actually doing it can she be helped in any way whatsoever. To help, you’ve got to alleviate difficulty, and someone who isn’t doing it is not faced with any difficulty relating to the work.

By the way, “Difficulty starting work” is a whole other thing, a pile of psychological issues that have to do with the individual, not the work. And it’s always a whole bunch of issues, including self-image, fear, depression and anxiety, and it’s rooted real deep. The non-starter needs to work with some professional for an extended period to deal with all of it.

Alcoholics who are not going to meetings, not in counselling and still drinking are not “trying to stop drinking”. Those who hear that bullshit and don’t don’t confront it then and there are “enabling” them to continue drinking.

Secondly, for you to be helpful, you have to be asked for help.

Correlative to the above, Nothing is ever done by one person for another’s Own Good. Whatever is done, it is for the doer’s good. If anything beneficial to the other party comes from that act, it is coincidental.

– # –

What, you might ask, was that all about? Where did it come from?

I make it a rule never to give advice. I was taught by some very well-schooled, intelligent people that  “what you should do” is a phrase that leaches all the value out of the rest of the statement. Like bleaching flour, that phrase kills – sterilizes – all the nutrients out of the stuff.

Instead, I speak only of my experience.

Frankly I haven’t any idea what prompted me to think those thoughts right now.  Probably, it has something to do with what I’m doing right now, working at selling a story idea to a magazine editor, something I’ve never done.  In fact, I just spent a half hour writing this when I’d sat down to write a letter, pitching the idea.

So, in the end, this was procrastination.

Wonder if it’ll ever help anyone, anywhere?


Random, rainy thoughts

IMG_0018 (3)Nobody writes songs about rainy Wednesdays. Forgotten, superfluous, they simply have to be endured. The eagle, as you know, flies on Friday. Take courage.

I regard Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer, a hero for our times. He has shown repeatedly that neither yappy chihuahuas  nor ebullient Great Danes need be endured, that through the application of gentle, firm methods such obnoxious, even dangerous, behaviors can be made to vanish. I’d like to be like him.

Dogs were made from wolves twelve thousand years ago by people who loved what the wolves could become. These people understood certain principles of behavior modification and of breeding, created prototype pointers, retrievers, shepherds, and, later terriers and ornamental dogs, through Mendeleev-ish breeding, and accomplished things (not only before genetic science was developed, but before Mendeleev, even) that are staggering to behold. More often than not, a collie who trots onto a playground will proceed to herd the children into a cluster; a setter, on a walk down city sidewalks, will point at every pigeon she sees. Behavior has become grafted onto identity so thoroughly that one is indistinguishable from the other.

I have read voraciously since I was four. My son has not read a book one end to the other – I am certain of it – and he is now thirty. My daughter, on the other hand, reads everything she gets her hands on, and then some. I raised them both alike, read to them at bedtime … I’m not disappointed, or anything. I mention this common scenario to point out that embedding habits in babies can’t be confused with taking candy from them.

I’m not doing a piece on breeding, here; no experts, no interviews. Just wool-gathering until it stops raining and I can go to the store and get some dog food and cat food …

Cesar Milan claims that dogs don’t think. They respond predictably to stimuli. A dog ‘learning a word’ amounts to the dog having learned a response to a specific noise. It makes sense to me.

On the other hand, cats do think. However, they have no language. So whatever crackpot idea my cat comes  come up with, it’s hers. I can’t talk her out of  it.

It says here that dogs, if they do think. thing something like this:

“The human feeds me. He shelters me, and cares for me. He must be God.”

The cat, on the other hand, thinks,”The human feeds me, He shelters me, he cares for me. I must be God.”