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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Sibling Rivalry, Self-Help, and Success

It's folly to measure your success in money or fame. 
Success is measured only by your ability to say yes to these two questions:

Did I do the work I needed to do?
Did I give it everything I had?
-Cheryl Strayed

Got myself a little book by Cheryl Strayed, Brave Enough. It’s a collection of inspirational tidbits lifted from all of her writings. I like it. I also feel that I should be producing uplifting, hardscrabble inspirational quotes in my writing. I don’t think of myself as an uplifting, inspirational writer, though. I need those inspirational uplifters myself. No, I’m more of a scrabble-around-in-the-mess kind of writer. 

Self-help gurus have the ability to make the complex simple. Worried about your self-esteem? Tell yourself “I’m okay, you’re okay.” Having trouble understanding the opposite sex? Simple, just remember, some are from Mars, some are from Venus. Cheryl Strayed seems to be on the way to becoming one of them. Thus, the inspirational quotes. 

I seem to possess the opposite - I won’t say “gift” - quality. I make the simple complex. I like to complexify things. Or rather, I don’t like to complexify things, but I do. The more I look at things, the complexer they look. And look at what I did right there. Complexify. That’s not a word. It expresses what I mean, though, so why not add it to the vocab? Sure, “complicate” works; but that’s exactly my point. There’s a nuance to complexify that I prefer for this scenario. 

Take my blog, for example. Success. It really should be a simple concept. Yet I’ve got nearly 300 posts related to it. And I STILL struggle. 

Or take something no doubt much simpler - sibling rivalry. We understand about that, right? Siblings rival one another for brattiest in attempting to win parents’ attention away from the other and on to them. Sibling rivalry is straightforward. Maybe the older kid wants to kill her sister, say. Maybe she even goes so far as to hold her sister’s nose (while her sister is an infant in a high chair, let’s say). What is the reason? Sibling rivalry, of course. The older hates the younger for usurping her spot in the family. Simple. 

But wait just a second. See, there’s also love. The older loves the younger, too. Was very excited to see her when she came home from the hospital and loves to hold her. Longed for her birth. Often plays wonderfully with her. Loves her. 

So why try to kill her? Well, let’s put it this way. It’s not exactly that she hates her sister. That’s not why she holds her nose. It’s that she hates the feelings her sister’s presence brings out in her. The jealousy, in particular. It’s intolerable. She feels awful to feel so awful, plus her parents tell her she’s awful for feeling that way - because they tell her to make nice with the baby and not to bean her with a stuffed animal - or hold her little nostrils together. And that makes her feel awful, too. Therefore, with a certain logic, she tries to kill those feelings by getting rid of the sister. Ta-da! Love and hate and ambivalence all wrapped up together. 

This might or might not be a true story. And the younger sister might or might not now be a successful psychoanalyst. Finally, that career choice might or might not have any connection to the sibling thing. But I think I’ll take credit for it. 

In any case, my point, Readers, is that things are usually more complex than simple. At least to me. 

Which leads to the conclusion that I am no self-help guru. I’m not sure what kind of writer I am. Novelist in the past. Memoirist in the present. Humorist? Hmmmm. 

If I have something to offer via writing, I hope it is duo-fold (like that really great underwear from the late 80s), two-ply, or if you prefer, layered. 
  • First, I hope to entertain. 
  • Second, I hope to reassure. 

These two goals are intertwined and mixed up, as is most of what I write. By scrabbling around in the land of ambivalence, turning over this stone and lifting up that log and seeing what runs out - and how it tends to squiggle around in conflicting and confused directions that overlap and tangle and don’t necessarily lead to a clear destination - I hope to show that my confusion of dreams, fear, anxiety, hope, optimism, and despair is pretty much the same as everyone else’s. I hope to reassure that we all have mixed feelings about life, and negative feelings that we would like to bludgeon with an axe (sorry, I just read Crime and Punishment, which features such an act). No petty emotion is too petty for recognition. No lofty one is completely free of hints of baser ones. That’s what I know. That’s what I offer. It’s not definitive, is it? But it’s true. I think that facing what’s true in ourselves, even those unpleasant nuanced truths, is the only way to grow.

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