The Fixers

I’m thinking today about the idea of “self-improvement.” So many courses are available that promise to improve your self-esteem, your ability to market, to clear out issues from the past, and many other tempting possibilities.

In many (not all) of these offerings lurks the suggestion that something in you is broken and that if you take this course, you’ll get fixed. All you have to do is buy the “Inner Mechanic’s Guide.”

This approach resembles the basic concept of Western medicine: that the body is a machine in need of repair. In contrast, holistic approaches to health propose a system of mind-body integration.

Because I, like many of you, grew up going to Western medicine doctors, I’ve been trained in the mechanical approach to the body and have translated it to the emotions and mind. I often find myself thinking I have to fix something about myself. Today, when I caught myself thinking that, I suddenly heard a very definite “No.” And it felt good.

I don’t need to be fixed. And neither do you. Everyone has areas in their lives—thoughts, beliefs, and habits—that may keep them from living the lives they want to experience, but that doesn’t mean we’re broken. We developed the thoughts and behaviors that now seem to be malfunctioning because we thought we needed them to be happy and/or safe.

Once we realize this, we don’t have to blame ourselves for having them. When we discover that we no longer need them, we can thank them for doing their best, thank ourselves for doing our best for ourselves, and move on.

This is much easier to do when we know that we’re not broken.

I’m not.

Neither are you.

Is Blogging Harmful to the Brain?

I was at an event with friends last night. One said that too much immersion in social media lowers intelligence. Judging by some of the posts that come onto my Facebook feed, I would say the damage has been done.

Here, though, is the irony for a writer. Long gone are the days when you could submit your book to an agent or publishing house and sit back and let them do all the publicity work. (It is quite possible that those days never were.) Even traditionally published authors are now expected to put on their big-girl or big-boy pants and engage with social media.

Some of this engagement is downright soul-sucking, for example decoding Amazon algorithms. What, you might ask, is an algorithm? In its simplest terms, it’s the secret formula that enables readers to find your book among the millions of books on Amazon. For me, though, the word “algorithm” conjures up memories of struggling with math, and that makes me want to curl up into a ball and read the nice book I found at the library.

I have no doubt that trying to master algorithms harms the brain, but I will conquer them. Maybe.

Other forms of social media are somewhat less frightening in the math department but still challenge me. One must always avoid saying “Buy my book” in either a shout or a whimper. One must think of entertaining things to say. This is difficult to do on demand—which brings me back to blogging.

I abandoned this blog in November, 2016, around when I first stepped into algorithmic territory. Having finally figured out how to link my blog to my site, I have returned. I don’t know how often I’ll post here, but I’m aiming for once a week. My aim is not that good.

Still, I’m excited to be writing my first Word Press blog entry, so for me that’s a win.

How To Succeed: A Squirrel’s-Eye View

As I write this, a squirrel is living in an outside wall of my house. When I discovered the hole in the wall, I tried a number of ways to cover. I will not detail these methods because none of them worked. They failed because my efforts, designed as temporary measures until I could call a carpenter, failed to take into account two primary aspects of a squirrel’s nature. These are imagination and persistence.

Of these, persistence is probably more important. As anyone who has ever had a bird feeder knows, squirrels do not give up. Unlike humans, they don’t say, “This problem has no solution,” “I’m tired of trying,” or “I quit.”

They never (or rarely) quit, and because of their determination, they’re able to explore many creative possibilities. Persistence fuels the expression of imagination.

I once saw a video that documented the impossibility of outwitting squirrels. One scene showed a squirrel who’d learned to trigger a candy machine in Times Square so that it ejected a candy bar. Amazing as that was, I was more impressed by its ability to navigate street traffic.

Several episodes documented the efforts of scientists to devise squirrel-proof bird feeders. The most elaborate of these was a twenty- or thirty-part section obstacle course that included chutes and ladders, doors that had to be sprung a certain way, seesaws, and various other ingenious obstacles. It took the inventors of this course a month to design it. It took a squirrel less than a day to outwit it.

Some humans have squirrel-like tenacity. When asked by a reporter if he felt like a failure for not having yet discovered how to make a light bulb that worked, Thomas Edison replied, “Young man, why would I feel like a failure? And why would I ever give up? I now know definitively over 9,000 ways that an electric light bulb will not work. Success is almost within my grasp.” After over 10,000 attempts, he succeeded.

You might not be up to 10,000 attempts. I’m not. My only goal is to make one more attempt before I give up. And then another. And another. And when I wonder if I’m wasting my time, I ask myself what else I was going to do with it.

Then I remind myself that if I quit now, I’ll have a lot of time for regret.

And I’ll have to live with the knowledge that when it comes to manifesting one’s goals, a squirrel is smarter than I am.