categories: Cocktail Hour
Listen! I bring glad tidings of good cheer! Because if you’re reading this blog, you’ve already had the great fortune to be born a human, here on planet earth. Which means that from the moment you first opened your eyes, however many years ago, you woke up in a world as Technicolor and full of magical possibility as Oz. And guess what else? You, nobody else but YOU, are the man behind the curtain! Which means that however unassuming or even inept you may sometimes feel, you in fact have the power to bestow heart, brains, courage, and a one-way ticket home to the life of your dreams. And if you’re capable of bestowing such wonders, hey! Why not start with yourself?
Yes, my dears, I am feeling energized today. More to the point, I am feeling like a BADASS, because I just finished reading Jen Sincero’s fantastic book, You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life. It is a self-help book, that’s true, but one as cheese-free and inspiration-full as only Sincero — the lead singer of a band called Crotch and the author of The Straight Girls Guide to Sleeping with Chicks — could write. Think Tony Robbins meets Tom Robbins meets the coolest, funniest, most on-your-side friend you could ever want.
Many years ago, when I was a smart but disaffected teenager, I read as much Kurt Vonnegut as I could get my hands on. Even after devouring all those life-changing novels, the work of his that still pops into my mind regularly is one I never actually read because he never finished writing it: a short story called “Asleep at the Switch,” which Vonnegut describes in his preface to the novel Jailbird.“Asleep at the Switch” stars Albert Einstein, who dies and goes to heaven, where he discovers that before being permitted to pass through the pearly gates, people must first sit down with auditors, who carefully explain each and every missed opportunity in life. If only you had invested in this stock option, the auditor explains, or looked behind the frame of that old flea market portrait, or accepted that invitation to the party that the girl of your dreams attended…things would have turned out very differently.
The purpose of the audits is to prove to people that life was actually fair, so they have no right to complain about misfortune, at least at the hands of God. All the opportunities were presented, they just happened to stroll past them. Or, in the words of the auditors, “There you were. Asleep at the switch.”
The result of the audits is that everyone in heaven is miserable. Einstein, who was fairly adept at seizing the day, walks through the clouds with his beloved fiddle, but he’s unable to enjoy himself because everyone else is moaning and hair-pulling over all the great brass rings that were never grabbed, or even noticed.
Of course the point of this unwritten story isn’t our own lack of motivation or alertness. Kurt Vonnegut (and likely Einstein) knew that life is too often grossly unfair. But still. How many of us ignore the opportunities that lie within us – our own voices telling us what we want to do with our lives – out of neglect or complacency or fear? “We tiptoe through life,” Jen Sincero quotes an anonymous source, “hoping to safely make it to death.”
Sincero’s book isn’t just for writers. It’s for anyone who wants to do something but hasn’t yet managed to make it happen. Opening a flower shop. Losing twenty pounds. Finding romance. But I do think it’s about the best book a writer could read, partly because Sincero is a writer herself. Because so many of us know exactly what we want to do – write books — and so many of our loved ones want us to go into law, or web site development, or God help us, advertising.
I just finished teaching a Senior Seminar for graduating BFA students, all of them talented and passionate, and also terrified to pursue their heart’s desire. At the last class I wrote in big letters on the board: BE BRAVE! I could also have quoted another of Sincero’s sources, Ralph Waldo Emerson: “God will not have his work made manifest by cowards.” Perhaps more relevantly (and because I know at least one of this website’s hosts is a devout atheist) YOU will not have your work made manifest by a coward. You must be brave enough to listen to yourself and no one else when it comes to choosing your life’s work. You must be brave enough to quiet all your own cautioning, practical voices. Or, to quote Sincero herself, “In order to kick ass you must first lift up your foot.”
Look. This could very well be your one and only spin on this Technicolor planet. Make it everything you want it to be. Be brave. Be a badass. Be the man behind the curtain. And if you need a little help with that, read Jen Sincero’s book. Because it never hurts to be reminded to love yourself enough to pursue your goals with the relentless determination and optimism they deserve.
“Love yourself,” Sincero exhorts. “And you can do anything.”