Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Self help? No, I'll just keep paddling.

Some time ago, I was at my local library preparing for the prospect of a new college semester. After hours of temple-rubbing work I decided to actually take advantage of the thousands of books surrounding me. I have been interested lately in finding a belief system that both conforms to my personal beliefs, and allows me to grow and flourish as a citizen of this universe. This pointed me in the general direction of eastern religions by the sheer notion that you never hear of a radical Buddhist or extremist Hindu. Also, their view of the universe seems much more evolved than the religions of the western world. Subsequently I picked up this book:

Zen and the Art of Happiness: by Chris Prentiss

It was a quick little read, and my thoughts on it are thus. This book can be helpful to some, and by some I mean those who have sunken to rock bottom and need to build up the fundamentals of having a life that is functional in our society. It's continuous mantra is "everything that happens to me is the best possible thing that can happen." Now, I don't disagree with this ideology fundamentally. But I feel as though it's application is off-center. The author (co-founder of Passages in Malibu, California) calls on analogies and anecdotal evidence proving that having this blindly ignorant outlook on life is helpful. I agree that having a positive outlook on the world and the events that befall us can effect our overall happiness. I know several things to be true, and have learned a lot since my life came crumbling down around me. I have learned that it's nice to look on the bright side, put a positive spin on things to get you through the darker times of your life where all hope seems lost. I have also learned that it's OK to admit that the universe is just fucking with you sometimes. This is just how the world works sometimes, it doesn't seem to me that there is any logic that can be applied to terrible events. I don't believe that I, or anyone for that matter, am being punished by some vengeful God that looks down at us and punishes the wicked and rewards the pure of heart by making their life any easier or difficult. I think I was just dealt a bum hand. You take a sudden agitation of chronic medical conditions, add the vindictive selfishness of someone who I thought was looking out my siblings, with a dash of family tension and you get the first couple years of my 20's. That's what happened, there's no rhyme or reason to it, sometimes the shit-storm of your life shakes out some terrible things
over the course of a month. The point I'm getting to is that we can't just cling to self-affirming words that help build the foundation of a subservient life. Instead of just passively allowing the world to do what it may, I prefer the guiding words of THIS "self help" book:

Paddle Your Own Canoe: by Nick Offerman

The words in this book are all about taking control of your own life and living it the way you want. I subscribe to the notion that if you grab life by the balls and be a man about your problems, you'll turn out alright. You might not have everything that you want, you might not be happy with everything that's ever happened in your life, but at least it's your life. I have a hard time reading a book that tells us to sit shotgun while life just goes about it's business a takes a hard right or quick left every now and again. I would rather take the wheel and be the master of my own destiny. Thank you to Mr. Offerman, for giving me a practical guide to being a man and bending my fate to my own will.

There are many tales of drug and alcohol-fueled adolescent mischief throughout the book, which I happen to enjoy from a story-telling standpoint. But the last 4-5 pages of every chapter are hard-nosed life advice from a man that's been around the block a time or two. While these pieces of advice compliment and overlap the values of his Netflix stand-up comedy special, American Ham: Ten Tips for a Prosperous Life (which if you haven't seen or even heard of, I recommend you use the device you're reading this blog on, and witness it immediately). I find them just as useful, comforting and easy to get behind in print as I do in a more audio-visual medium.

The thing I'm getting at is one of the main points that Mr. Offerman brings up time and time again in both versions of telling us to "paddle [our] own canoe," and that piece of advice is to get a hobby. It may be beneficial to explain that Nick doesn't want want you to take up a hobby in the high-school-club sense of the word, but more of a discipline. Woodworking is a discipline mentioned and called back to heavily throughout the two pieces. So I'm trying my hand at writing, or crafting words to express my inner feelings. They may be very on the nose like this blog post, or they could be more subversive and mysterious in the form of a poem or a work of fiction. The point is, I'm trying to put something out there they can make a difference in someone's life, even if the only person's life it effects is mine. Because I'm going though a rough patch, I'm needing some validation and an outlet to express the things that are difficult to talk about in person. I just want to let you all know that I'm taking Nick Offerman's advice and paddling my own canoe, but with a keyboard, or paper and pen. This is how I'm going to help myself be the person I want to be and help shape my world. not by repeating to myself, "everything that happens to me is the best possible thing that could happen to me."

I think it is also worth mentioning that Mr. Offerman has another book that will be released soon. I am elated at the notion of reading more about what one of my personal heroes has to say about some of histories gutsiest troublemakers, hopefully it's peppered with golden nuggets of wisdom like Paddle.

Out May 27th.

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