Monday, November 19, 2007

DW: Cutting the Self-Help Cord

Last week I made good on my promise to my husband about purging boxes of books, pottery, and other incidentals that have been taking up valuable space in our basement storage area.

It was very funny when I got to the boxes that housed my self-help library that begun in the late 1980’s. Let’s see, there was The Dance of Anger, Seat of the Soul, Drama of the Gifted Child, Linda Leonard’s On the Way to the Wedding. I looked at these books with their scores of highlighted passages with affection and humor. They were so vital, so absolutely important to me at a very specific time in my life. Their pages were a map to the Jungian-spiked trail I followed on my journey self-discovery.

I was surprised that I was able to let go of most of them. It was almost like coming upon my beginner French books, and realizing that I know how to conjugate verbs in the present tense now, so why bother keeping something I no longer needed. It’s a very strange feeling when you realize that there are certain things that you have not only “gotten” but have also “gotten past.” That isn’t to imply that there aren’t other roads to be travelled, but some particular roads just don’t need to be revisited.

This all lead to a very interesting conversation over dinner where my husband said he never understood why people read self-help books. In his view, he always knew when he was making a bad choice, and didn’t feel that he needed to explore the origins of those decisions any farther. I explained to him that my impetus for reading these books was a bit different. Of course I knew I made questionable choices, but I didn’t want to keep making them, and in order to reverse the process, I had to understand what compelled me to make them in the first place. Bottom line: I felt that if I could understand something, then I would be OK.

While I may have moved past the self-help stacks, I am still warmed when I see those same books sitting on someone else’s shelves. It triggers an immediate assumption/projection that they too are struggling to find answers and are committed to understanding their own history.

When we were in France last month we had our final group dinner at Le Grand Colbert, a beautiful classic French bistro that was featured in the movie “As Good As it Gets.” My friend Andrew made a very sweet toast saying something to the effect, “to Debra, one of the most evolved and present women I have ever met.” That was a lovely thing to say—especially since I’m clearly still evolving! I can thank many of the aforementioned books for encouraging me to be intrepid and cross the jagged continents of my personal atlas.

So, at the end of the week-end purge, I decided to keep a few old issues of Parabola and my Alice Miller collection just in case.

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