Why so glum, Old Chum?

I’ve been getting awfully angry over the dumbest things lately. Why?

1.

I don’t know why I read the Style section of the Sunday New York Times. It just irritates me. That section is ground zero for the vapid, shallow aspects of society. [Although I find it tremendously gratifying to see same-sex marriage announcements alongside the blue blood pedigree announcements.]

Yesterday, there was an article about a woman who received a 3.9-carat platinum engagement ring. The ring was magnificent but she was concerned about how her hand would look in her Facebook and Instagram SELFIES, so she got a “handlift.” It’s like a facelift except it’s for your hand. Apparently, lots of women are getting them. Women are worried about their hands showing age spots, veins or looking bony or chubby while showing off their engagements rings in SELFIES, so they’re paying upwards of $3,000 for plastic surgeons to make their hands perfect. For their SELFIES. Christ, I hate that word. It’s infantile. It’s the blankey and ba-ba for millennials.

The woman in the story is only 30-years old. How bad can her skin be? The article treated the subject matter with all seriousness, without a hint of tongue-in-cheek or irony. To her credit, the beauty director at Brides magazine was quoted as saying the money could be better spent elsewhere, like building a nest egg. I was so angry I had to read it twice and then blog about it.

2.

My 7-Year Old received her first holy communion a couple of weeks ago. A beautiful ceremony, to be sure. Lots of family present, some from out of town. We entered the church, found our reserved pew and I sat to read the program. This is the quote they chose for the cover:

photo(8)Always with the threats of damnation. Why couldn’t they have chosen a passage from the bible that was uplifting and poetic? One of the Psalms, perhaps? Something that affirmed the positive spirit of community my daughter was about to join? Yet another decree by velvet fist. How did the church stay in business all these years?

3.

Last week, a woman in North Carolina died in a car wreck. She was posting SELFIES to her Facebook page while driving and crashed. Seconds before the crash, she updated her status to: “The Happy song makes me HAPPY.”  Then she drove off the road and died. This is also known as “thinning the herd.” People are so afraid of being alone. They’re terrified of silence. I stayed good and angry all day over that one.

4.

There’s a movement in left-leaning universities to post “trigger warnings” to material that containes potentially offensive subject matter. Books like The Great Gatsby, The Merchant of Venice, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and many others would carry warnings for students who might be riled by the content. Trigger warning guidelines call for professors to:

“Be aware of racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression.”

I’m not even sure what half of those words mean. Good luck with that, professors. Good luck writing your class syllabus with that hanging over your head. Good luck coddling those frail, fainthearted, über-sensitive princes and princesses of higher learning. Hope you’re not worried about tenure.

*     *     *

I’m not marrying that idiot who got a handlift. [Good God. Can you imagine being married to that?] That woman didn’t drive off the road and crash into my family. The communion ceremony was mostly lovely. I don’t have a kid in college. Why did this stuff rile me up? Why do I get so angry?

Back in my 20’s, I saw a therapist. The most valuable lesson I learned was, when you’re angry, you’re not angry about the thing you THINK you’re angry about. There’s something else going on. Look for it. [The other valuable lesson was: You can’t solve all your problems, but you can learn to make peace with them.]

Not long before this, I was listening to Howard Stern interview comedian George Lopez. They were discussing Lopez’s horrific childhood. Lopez said he doesn’t have any photos of him as a child. Not one! Stern said, “That’s awful. When a parent doesn’t bother taking a picture of their kid, that means they don’t care. Their own kid doesn’t count for anything.”

Do you want to see something?

photo(9)There it is, folks. That is, literally, the ONLY photo of me as a child. There are some pics of me in high school but from ages 0-16, nothing. I’d always given my parents a pass, saying they were too broke to own a camera but do you know what? That’s bullshit. We weren’t THAT broke. The truth is they couldn’t be bothered. Stern was right. I didn’t count. I still don’t think I count.

How’s THAT for a trigger? Now that I’ve figured it out, I’ll set about making peace with it straight away.

The lunatic is in my head. Yours too? Here’s a neat trick.

Mental health is mostly a matter of personal choice. That’s the theory put forth by psychiatrist and ex-Clevelander, Dr. William Glasser, who just passed away at age 88. Dr. Glasser wrote a series of successful books about how mental health problems can be resolved by accepting personal responsibility for our own actions. He believed that people are more in control than they realize, which is a scary proposition for many. It’s a heavy responsibility.

“We choose everything we do, including the misery we feel. Other people can neither make us miserable nor make us happy,” he wrote. This will sound familiar to anyone who has dabbled in Buddhism or meditation.

These theories were rejected by psychotherapists who were proponents of prolong, deep-dredging psychoanalysis. Dr. Glasser shifted the power to heal from the doctor to the patient. You can see why this didn’t sit well with many. It’s hard to buy a sailboat when your clients are leaving in droves to cure themselves. Dr. Glasser was adamantly opposed to drug therapy, which upset the pharmaceutical industry. He also believed that efforts to change other people in our lives are doomed and could actually be the cause of further emotional duress.

He encouraged teachers to abstain from class rankings and grading, seeing them as corrosive. “Once children start failing, they begin to believe that they can’t do anything. They give up.” That was me. I was an academic failure. I didn’t do well early on and it fed on itself, like a cancer. If there had been standardized, mandatory testing in order to graduate, as is the case today, I wouldn’t have been awarded a high school diploma.

There are, in my view, valid criticisms. Children shouldn’t be burdened with that much responsibility. Also, there are serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, and cases of ongoing physical and psychological abuse that require outside intervention. But in many instances (certainly, mine), satisfaction can be achieved and sustained by avoiding the urge to blame others and relive past hurts. It’s hard work, but it can be done.

I’m not exactly a bastion of psychological strength, but I shudder to think of the mess I’d be if it weren’t for my continued efforts to stay grounded. To that end, I have a little trick I’ve been employing for years. Whenever I start to spiral into my dark, terrible thoughts, be it on my long commute or staring at the ceiling at 3:15 a.m. or even walking up Madison Avenue, I’ll stop myself and my inner voice will say, “Or, I can choose not to,” and I tend to snap out of it. Not every time, but often enough. It‘s beautiful.

I just reread that last paragraph and it sounds silly, but it’s a powerful tool. And the more you use it, the more effective it becomes. I’m terrible at meditation, but at least I took that much from it.

“People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

Abraham Lincoln

*     *     *

Here are a few selections from this weekend’s trip to the local botanical garden. I can’t name any of these flowers. Not a one. It’s not my thing. But I can tell a first edition of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter at five paces. That’s got to count for something.

photo-22

photo-23

photo-41

I think these next ones are daisies. Right?

photo-311

photo1

photo-32