On self-help, black and white and the appeal of grey

By Maria Doogan – CBD worker

More and more people seem to be writing books about the importance of not running away from pain and seeking happiness. And I’ve read quite a few of them. 

Because, as I’ve admitted before, I’m really, really into self-help books, which can make me sound like a tragic I know, but it’s something I’ve had to learn to accept about myself. 

It takes a certain amount of discontent to be constantly reaching outside of one’s skin, ceaselessly searching for more and more truth (in said books), more and more beauty, more and more happiness maybe? And yes, I am guilty as charged. I, like most sentient organisms, choose comfort and ease over discomfort and dis – ease. 

Perhaps this is what leads me to download books on Audible that fall into the category of “psychological thriller”, which is really just a way of saying “something light you don’t have to think about too much but you can pretend is way better than something that is truly non-literary”. 

So, I regularly kid myself that I am listening to quality fiction when, really, I’m doing the cerebral equivalent of eating a bowl of Cheerios (something my 19-year-old son who used to be into clean food is now totally into, much to my concern). 

The book I’ve been listening to on my commute is called Our House and it’s a twisty thriller with an unfaithful, totally reckless husband with no moral compass and a dutiful kind of featureless wife who appears to be the one who is wronged – at this point anyway. 

I am only part way through it and still to come across the twist, which I feel sure it is one, two, 10 or 50 pages away. And that keeps me going. But I’ve gotta say, I’m a bit lukewarm about it all … however, having chosen Cheerios instead of a more robust and health-filled chia porridge or smashed avo, I’m going to persevere. Perhaps it has something to do with embracing pain? Or is that over-complicating it? I’ll come back with a more complete view on this next time.

For my two book groups, I am well and truly into robust and wholesome territory. For the Brunswick-bound-bookstore one, we’re reading a book set in Brunswick called Relatively Famous, a fictional account of what it’s like having a “relatively famous” largely-absent father who is also a bit of a pr!#k and who is a writer. I do a lot of Googling around authors and subjects of books I read, and I haven’t as yet Googled who the relatively famous author may be based upon, but I’m sure I will.

The other book, which I finished in a kind of fever of three-hour-long stints to the detriment of any kind of reputation I was trying to develop around binge-watching content on Netflix, is called Pachinko – like the parlour game which is popular in Japan. I wish now that I’d played it when I was in Japan last year with my boys, but we were too busy amassing ridiculous amounts of steps walking to temples for such frivolity.

I enjoyed Pachinko because it actually really gave me an insight into Korean and Japanese culture and what it is to experience hardship – like real hardship of the hungry kind.    

Having said that, I have experienced adversity in my life and I’ve gone through stages where things have been pretty hard. And I’ve gotta say, part of the reason things were hard was because I was pushing pretty hard against the discomfort, trying to put it all behind me, denying it, not talking about it, and pretending that stuff didn’t happen. It’s only lately, perhaps over the past year, that I’ve decided to accept it, integrate it into my life, let it take shape as an intrinsic part of my personality.

Like books, people are rarely classifiable as simple good or bad – there’s a whole lot of in between that is far more interesting.

 ‘Til next time, Maria X

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