Rockcrit and A-Mama Ann Powers thinks way too hard sometimes

Saturday, November 05, 2005

DT's: Self-Help; Song: Casimir Pulaski Day

So I'm over at my mom's with Bebe, and I notice she has a copy of "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" hidden amidst the old issues of Reader's Digest and grandkids' drawings crowding her coffee table.

"Mom," I say, "are bad things happening to you?"

"Oh no," she replies. "I've just known abut that book for a long time. And you know, I've always wondered, why do bad things happen to good people? And what do people do when they do happen?"

That's my mom. Like me, a connoisseur of problems.

I love a good self-help book. I don't even mind mediocre ones. Their narrative pull is so triumphant. The self-help author, whether scientist, person of the cloth, or somewhere in between, is really a soothsayer. She regards the crises of the millions and maps alternate futures for anyone willing to play her Tarot game. For example -- you've been dumped, but if a healing deep relaxation session crowns you, and a confrontation with your bad adolescence is behind you, and ten weeks of Pilates is before you, then your final outcome will be true love. Or a loved one has died, but if some ritual grieving's in your past, a hug from your kid's on your agenda, and a reiki session's scheduled for next week, you will experience renewal. Make your plan and it will add up to something, say the books -- which is not always what life says, of course. The talented self-help writer lays out the cards in a variety of ways, to accomodate the twists and turns of people's willpower and circumstance, but the outcomes are always enriching, if not immediately joyful. The whole genre is very likely a total load of bull, but what an emboldened load of bull it is.

Life itself can be much crueler than our minds easily accept. Sufjan Stevens' song "Casimir Pulaski Day" evokes the awesomeness of random tragedy. A Christian girl gets sick and dies, and a Christian boy tries to figure out what he and God have to do with it. Stevens' choirboy whisper suits this story perfectly: equal parts glamor and humility. I love it at the end, after he's thanked Jesus for giving his all in that abstract sense (that mythos of ancient sacrifice), when he mutters the weight of his own human burden under his young-boy breath: "and He takes and He takes and He takes." That's Christianity to me -- life's real losses made bearable by willfull acceptance of the distant idea of a bigger, better sacrifice.

Parental moment: Halloween. Bebe did not want to wear her dinosaur head, even though she'd picked it out from the Goodwill. So for a minute she was a bunny (thanks to her aunt Cindy, who has a closet-full of costumes), then a witchy, then just a chocolate covered kid. Her total lack of interest in trick-or-treating reminded me of how much early parenting is really about the parents' desires, not the kid's.


Blogger Charles said...

We love Halloween!

Our daughter Skylar really likes that song. She thinks about it hard. "Decatur" is her favorite, but she always requests them both when I have the album on.

Anyway, I was searching "Sufjan Stevens" out of self-interest and realized that I'd forgotten to check in with my insanely buusy days.

This blog entry links to something I wrote that derives from my experience seeing Stevens in concert. It's not a hyperlink, but you can paste it in:

8:59 AM


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