To Hell And Back


Hey Park Sloper! What’s new? Thanks for all the letters responding to my column last issue. To answer your questions, yes, I do take the time to think about my answers before responding. I do try to consider people’s feelings when I’m giving advice. And yes, I’ve already been to Hell and have no plans on going back. Thanks for the suggestion, though.

Sheesh. Hot buttons on some of you Park Slopers. How’d you all get so sensitive? Is it the parking situation or the overflowing schools? I think I need to remind you that Park Slope is crowded because it’s so awesome! You live in one of the most vibrant communities in the country, maybe even the entire universe! Awesomeness comes with a price. Where else can you live in a college town without having to deal with college kids?

I stand by my reply to the Israeli single mother of two with the disgruntled neighbor (She should move back to Israel). You tell me to be more careful with what I say. Being careful is very foreign territory for a life coach. Theoretically you pay a life coach to boss you around. We aren’t therapists. Therapists make you come to your own conclusions and believe me, that can take forever. You don’t want me to be careful. Tell your brain surgeon to be careful. Tell your nanny to be careful. Tell yourself to be careful. Life Coaches tell you what they would do if they were you (unless, ahem, they’re big fat hypocrites).

Does anyone remember my old columns? Five years ago I wrote about composting, recycling, being more kind to one another. Did anyone read that? Exactly. You live in Park Slope. There are probably over fifty quadrillion people telling you to reduce, reuse and recycle. I honestly feel that a better way to use my skills and your time is by responding to an actual Park Slope or adjacent neighbor in need of advice. If my writing offends, just band together with like-minded Slopers and get me fired. Instead of paying your 2009 taxes or doing the seven trash bags of laundry out on your fire escape, pick up a pen and write an impassioned letter about how offensive my advice was. (Didn’t you read my article on community activism? I never followed that advice, but you should.)

Wow, am I angry or what? I am sorry. This is no way to start the new season of growth and renewal. I take it all back neighbor. You and me, we’re a lot alike. A little misguided, but passionate and loveable as all Hell. We don’t mean any harm. We’re just squirrels trying to get a nut to store for leaner times. If we work together, we can have more nuts and work less. Maybe we could even take up a hobby like some squirrel version of Scrabble. Scrabble even sounds like a squirrel game. Maybe they were the ones that invented it?

Now that we’re friends again, I’m going to answer a letter. And I’m going to go out on a limb here (like a squirrel, remember? We’re squirrel friends?) and predict that my answer is going to piss you off. I’m sorry. I liked when we got along. It’s just hard to sustain. Here goes. Wonder how long it will take for the bile to fill your mouth this time? Stopwatch poised.

Dear Hypocrite,
I have a problem. Or maybe it’s more of an issue. I know you’re going to say that I need a therapist. I do. I know that. But before I make the call, can’t you take a stab? I’ve been in therapy before and I find it incredibly painful. I’d rather just wait to hear what you think. You’re so practical. When I read your answers to letters in your column I find myself nodding in agreement. Please, just let me know what you think.

I am a failure in life. I know that sounds dramatic but it’s the truth. I am 40 and I have no marketable skills, no partner, no kids, no passion. I come from a close family and all my brothers and sisters have excelled at whatever profession they have chosen and have wonderful families that seem like they exist in a Land’s End catalog but with really good food.

Growing up, I was the child that everyone had the biggest expectations of. I was the oldest and was really good at math and an excellent artist. I would spend hours in my room drawing or sculpting things out of clay. My parents would brag about me to their friends and tell me I was special and that I was really going to be something when I grew up. Out of all us kids, I was the one who was bound to deliver.

This never happened. I blew off college, I phoned in grad school and now I’m a manager at a bagel store on Seventh Ave. I’m not asking for pity. I’m just asking for guidance. How did things go so perfectly mediocre for me if I was initially full of such promise? And furthermore, do I get out of my present situation OR just make peace with pushing carbs?

Time to Make the Bagels

Dear TMB,
First off, thanks for the compliments. I like you, too.

I understand your situation more than you know. I also know it’s not your fault that you’re a “failure”. You are the result of a psychological experiment that was regularly performed on children growing up in the 70s and 80s. It’s rarely discussed but I’m willing to break the silence in hope of one day learning your true identity and scoring some free bagels.

I’m not going to blame the whole thing on Mr. Rogers but I think he needs to take responsibility for selling the notion that all kids were “special.” It started with the best of intentions. Back in those days some children were most definitely falling through the cracks of society. They were behind at school and had parents that were absent physically, emotionally or both. Mr. Rogers’ heartfelt response to this issue was to look deeply and serenely into the lens of the TV camera and sing songs convincing his home audience that they were truly unique. What Mr. Rogers should have said was they were not “special” but “different” from each other. It’s a semantic game, for sure, but the distinction between the two terms is an important one. Special vs. Different. Worlds apart in meaning.

Those that swallowed the “special” pill came to the logical conclusion that with very little effort on their part “special” things would happen to them. When they got out of school and had to fend for themselves they were surprised at the lack of enthusiasm people had for their “special”ness. Couldn’t the casting director/CEO/human resource drone see their glow of bona fide awesomeness? Many disappointments for these poor souls followed and they were inevitably left with shattered self-esteem and little sense of identity. Those who sneaked under the radar of Mr. Rogers or any other well-meaning yet very misguided adult survived and prospered.

TMB, while everyone around you saw great things in your future, your siblings grew up in your shadow. They learned to expect life to be what it is—full of good things, full of bad things and full of a lot of pretty mundane moments. Because of this, life has not disappointed them. Unfortunately, they have become resilient and successful human beings.

This leads us to the harsh reality. I don’t enjoy being the one to tell you this but I have a feeling you suspect the truth already. Here goes: You are not special. You never were. You had some strong fine motor skills and above average eye hand coordination when you were young. You were adept at addition and subtraction. Special? No. You had some early identifiable talents. I would like to apologize for everyone who made a fuss over you. They didn’t mean to secure your failure later in life. They had no idea what they were doing was wrong.

The good news is it’s not over. You still have a lot of life to live. Here’s a new mantra and one that is admittedly very, very un-American. Repeat after me: “Nothing good is going to happen to me today.” I stumbled upon that marvelous sentence ten years ago and it’s solved so many of my problems. Feeling entitled to a good day is a massive handicap. If you don’t have any expectations you can sail through life. When the show you want to see is sold out, no problem! Just try to get tickets for tomorrow night. When you don’t get past the first stage of American Idol? Oh well, at least you got to meet Randy. He called you a “Dawg!” When you get horrible news from your doctor, instead of “Why me?” try “Why not me?” People get sick. It had to happen to someone. Learn from it in whatever way you can.

Uh-oh, I can hear the critics. “You need to think positively. If you don’t think good things will happen to you, then they won’t. You create your own reality.” I don’t think so. I bought that garbage in my twenties. I was pretty precious about it. It was gross. As it happens, thinking you’re not special is actually a very positive thing to believe. You’ll find it’s much easier to work in groups, much easier to drive through traffic and so much easier to go to Target on the weekends.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t have dreams. I’m not saying you shouldn’t work on things you believe in. I’m saying if you have an entitled mindset, you end up being grumpy and disappointed a lot of the time, and end up feeling like a massive failure.

So to you TMB, I think you’re on the road to recovery. Skip the therapist. Take a drawing class, join an adult math club. They’ve got to have one of those in Brooklyn somewhere. If they don’t, start one. Chances are you’ll meet your mate, make a million dollars and land a fulfilling job. (I’m just kidding. Remember: Nothing good is going to happen to you today.) Please let me know how this works out. You might be my only fan out there. I need to keep in touch with you.


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