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Monday, August 4, 2014

24

Go On With Your Bad Self: Misadventures In Self-Improvement

Amy Jellicoe, We Salute YouThere is no shortage of ways to attempt to improve your life: pricey gym memberships, ambitious diet plans, social media experiments encouraging #100happydays, recommendations to keep a journal, to eat fewer dairy products, to turn off electronics long before bedtime. We usher in each new year by resolving that it’s time we’ll reach our highest potential.

Self-improvement is a funny thing.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to become better, but there’s something comical about the misguided, hairbrained attempts at doing so that are most certainly doomed from the start. Those are the ones I find interesting, having been compulsively guilty of undertaking them. (I also derive great pleasure in hearing about anything that has a hilariously disastrous outcome.) In lieu of actively trying to change problematic behaviors or enact a plan that will have long-term positive effects, it’s easy to latch onto one small project with the conviction that it will be life-changing.

Take my attempt at community gardening. The summer after I graduated college I was the most unhappy I’d ever been. (No shit—I even felt like I was a special snowflake for realizing I was afflicted with special snowflake syndrome.) I hated my job, my boyfriend at the time, and the city I lived in. I was drunk more often than not. My brilliant solution was to rent a community garden plot near my apartment for $25 per year. I immediately posted about my acquisition on Facebook, spent the next two weeks ignoring the plot, half-heartedly attempted to clear it out, planted three things, grew a single tomato, posted a photo of the tomato on Facebook, then stopped going until I eventually moved to a different neighborhood and abandoned the project. I thought that taking care of something would help me get my shit together, but I completely ignored that I had terrible seasonal allergies, was horribly impatient, and not a fan of manual labor, dirt, and being outside for long periods of time. There’s also only so much you can reap or sow when you’re constantly wasted.

This, of course, wasn’t the first time I’d gone straight for a quick fix that I thought would change my life. The summer before, I decided to try out the Master Cleanse. My idea of how a human being should eat was fairly fucked up at the time, and sipping nothing but lemon water flavored with maple syrup and cayenne pepper for ten days seemed like the reasonable thing to do to tap into my best self. Proponents of the cleanse reported not only dropping pounds and feeling more energetic, but reaching a new state of mental clarity. Plus, Beyoncé had famously lost twenty pounds for Dreamgirls in record time by sticking to the plan. I lasted for seven days, lost 14 pounds, was a monster to anyone I interacted with, then went on to eat an entire cake at the end. Most importantly, what Bey fails to mention is that you have to drink a salt water flush periodically throughout the cleanse that essentially makes you pee out of your butt, an experience that I’m positive was the sole inspiration for Pretty Hurts. (Stars—they’re just like us: afflicted by bouts of explosive diarrhea.)

There were countless other times when I’d followed the same sort of pattern: I was drawn to attempting something entirely unsuited for my personality to try to eliminate a spell of unhappiness. These never were rational strides towards meeting my true, overarching goals. Volunteer projects were cut short when I realized I was terrible with children, meditation ruined by the pounding anxiety that sitting still caused, Facebook accounts deleted then reinstated within two weeks. If I was alive in the 60s, I would’ve undoubtedly become a Hare Krishna, then bailed after a few chants.

When I wrote this, I wanted to hear if other interesting, intelligent women had also found themselves subject to that sort of irrational hurtling towards self-improvement. Here’s what they had to say. 

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After my high school boyfriend and I broke up, I tried volunteering at an underfunded city school. On my first day, I wore pumps and a new dress from the Gap.

It took me 90 minutes to get to the school: I rode the subway to the end of the line, transferred to one bus and then another, and walked uphill for 20 minutes. It was eight o'clock on a Friday morning and I was 19 years old, with no professional training or certification to speak of.

The kids were excited to meet a new person. They had little pencil cases and bad handwriting and sparkly backpacks. I sat one-on-one with each student, reviewing their homework assignment ("write a paragraph about your summer") and talking about spelling and grammar and opening sentences. It was a little overwhelming, but kind of wonderful.

An hour into the school day, there was a commotion. One student had arrived late. She had a note from her dad explaining that their car had broken down on the way to school. The teacher ridiculed her for being late and not prioritizing her school work, and made the little girl stand in front of the classroom and apologize to each of us individually for disrupting the school day. I wanted to cry. My rose-colored glasses came off. The teachers were mean to the students, the students were mean to each other, and nobody cared about me. What was I doing here? I ate my sandwich in the bathroom stall.

I knew I was sad and lonely and searching for something meaningful. But then it came to me: what I really wanted was attention. I quit the volunteer gig after the first day and I started making out with people at parties instead, which required a shorter commute and usually no heels.

Eliza Rosenberry

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Last summer I went to my first wedding—my best friend's older brother's. I was getting ready the morning-of and realized I hated all my clothes and felt like I looked shabby and unkempt. My dress was "vintage" and way too gaudy. My hair was short at the time so there was nothing to do with it. I don't wear makeup. My shoes were borderline hiking sandals. I was on a tight schedule because I had to drive an hour away for the wedding but I decided to stop in this shopping area to see if I could find anything to fancy myself up.

I walked past an upscale makeup shop and went in. Soon I was being made-up by this girl at the counter. she had all these little tricks, talked about how to bring out "shapes" and "colors." Most of what she said meant nothing to me, but as more and more little powders and pencils and sticks kept coming out of this crazy chest of drawers, I got sucked further and further into a certainty that I needed to start wearing makeup. It seemed to be this quintessential aspect of womanhood that I lacked. I connected my cluelessness about makeup with my cluelessness about dating and sex. Maybe if I became this kind of woman—the kind who wears makeup, I would become that kind of woman—the kind who dates and has boyfriends and sex.

I bought almost $200 dollars worth of makeup that day. I've worn it maybe 10 or 12 times since I bought it and now it's expired.

Yeah, I still do dumb stuff like this all the time.

Hallie Bateman

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When I graduated high school I convinced myself everything would be fine as long as I owned no more than 50 items total. The weird thing was, I wasn’t a hoarder of any sort, but I did possess a sort of Allison-from-The-Breakfast-Club feeling that I should only own as few things as possible just in case I had to jam. What began as an exercise in minimalism and the hope for a feeling of lightness and carefreeness became a manifestation of my long dormant OCD. Every morning I counted every shirt I owned. (No more than six, because who needs more than six shirts and one pair of pants??!!!!! I MEAN HONESTLY!!! HAHAHAH! Things are really bad right now you guys, HAHAHA!!!) I went on this way for years. And if, god forbid, someone gave me a gift, I would go into a panic and immediately have to get rid of something else I owned. As with most indulged neuroses masking as self-improvement, I’m pretty sure it just served as a form of controlled chaos that ultimately made me feel crazier, but I still miss it.

Lane Moore

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When I lived in San Francisco and was wildly depressed—unhappy with my job and my friends and my apparent lack of direction—I moved into this little efficiency studio apartment and started spending almost all of my weekends alone. It was a mix of heartbreak and dissatisfaction with my life that I decided must end in voluntary isolation. For some reason, it seemed imperative that I start reading the Sunday edition of the New York Times, every week, cover to cover. I did it in this weirdly ritualistic way, and started to regard it as my life-giving force, and something to bolster my sense of myself as an adult.

It was a strange time in my life. At the same moment that I was basically disenfranchising myself from any shot at human connection, I spent hours reading about, by and large, the sufferings, strivings, failures, and successes of other people. It sort of worked as a self-improvement exercise. I felt pretty informed in that specifically coastal metropolitan kind of way. And I felt more connected to people—distant people, the names in the pages— by reading the news, and the book review, and the magazine personal essays, even as I increasingly felt like everyone immediately around me was a totally alien.

If you follow the news very closely, it starts to become like watching a serialized TV show—the characters become familiar to you, and you can escape into it like you can escape into entertainment. Except it's 24/7 and people congratulate you for being plugged into it.

Olivia Taussig

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I've been a chronic journal-keeper my entire life. I decided once a few years ago that I wanted to streamline my journaling process so it wasn't so intermittent and scattershot and instead was presented with clarity for my children, biographers, and fans in the future. I got a journal that was called something like "Building the Best You" that required me to answer dumb, feely questions every single day for two full years, things like, "How are you feeling today?" and, "How could your mood be improved?" and, "What should we work on tomorrow?" It goes without saying that this was the biggest mistake I'd ever made.

I started to get passive-aggressive with the journal, writing one-word answers and skipping days, then noting that "I was busy yesterday, sorry." I began to resent writing in that journal so much that, despite its intended purpose of making my life better and more wholesome, I had began to hold onto feelings of disdain and anger toward it, so even as I was writing down my most intimate feelings, I wanted to throw the whole thing down a hallway of blood and carrot peels.

I abandoned the journal about six months in and haven't turned back since, except when it appeared among my other journals when I was moving recently. I didn't even flip it open to see what I'd written, knowing full well it was page after page of, "I'm fine. I'm fine. I'm fine."

Dayna Evans

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I decided I was going to learn French because my boyfriend at the time was French and I wanted to communicate with his parents and their family friends. Because I want people to like me and desperately seek validation. You know.

So I went to my library and took out Learn French With Michel Thomas on CD. It said on the cover that he is ~The Language Teacher to the Stars~. I uploaded hours and hours of French audio courses to my iPod and worked out to that instead of vulgar hip-hop and Katy Perry. I ran along winding backcountry Connecticut roads with my headphones in, repeating, "My name is Maryellen! Je m'appelle Maryellen! How are you? Comment allez-vous?! What time is it? Quelle heure est-il? I would like to eat something! Je voudrais manger quelque chose!"

Turns out, you can't really learn how to have conversational French with native speakers from 10 hours of Michel Thomas. Not long after, I was at my boyfriend's parents house for dinner, completely lost in translation per usual. His father took my drink order and I quietly said, "Vin blanc, s’il vous plaît" and decided English is a complicated enough language and I'll stick with that.

Maryellen Stewart

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For the past six months or so I've been obsessed with changing my hair and I know it's because I'm unhappy with my job so I'm fixating on something totally irrelevant to make myself momentarily feel better. Since fall, I've gotten bangs, baby bangs, a long bob, a long bob with a side part, and now I want shorter hair but my new thing is going completely blonde. My thoughts about it are almost consuming. I envision my potential blonde hair a few times every hour and I’ve vowed that as soon as I can afford it, I will treat myself to the temporary hair of my dreams.

Angela Vitello

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My biggest was trying to get back into the enjoyment of reading after an 18-month intensive Masters Program. I felt, "Why not pick up Infinite Jest!?!" I should have known immediately that it would never come to fruition, even as I just checked it out of the library. I mean that book weighed about as much as all my undergrad & grad course packets put together I think I got through about three pages and when the book was recalled for another patron. I handed it over immediately—I knew defeat when I saw it. Needless to say, I admire anyone who even starts that book, much less even finishes it.

Erin Couture

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When I first moved to NYC I only knew a handful of people. Though I saw them all semi-frequently, I lived far into Crown Heights off the 3 train and worked for a start-up and couldn’t really afford to go out a lot. I was working 60 hours a week and getting paid next to nothing so I would drink in my house all the time and started to feel like moving to New York was a terrible decision. I wasn’t sure why I had left a cozy life in Philly—where I had a job with benefits, a real social life and boyfriend who I dumped in the process of moving—to sit in my apartment all the time.

Thankfully, a friend of mine took notice of my impending downward spiral and invited me to come to a Quaker meeting in downtown Brooklyn with her. I grew up in a religious home, though since college I’d distanced myself from organized religion as much as possible, but I figured I had nothing to lose. They met in a one-room, church-like building and the podium was in the center. I listened to various speakers share stories, talk about their communities, and when someone stood up and read a Mary Oliver poem, I was moved to tears. I stuck around after and met a few people and went back sporadically in the next few months. It didn’t make me feel like I was improving myself exactly, but I felt less lonely. My life in New York gradually began to take shape; I stopped drinking alone all the time, started running, and meeting people through the wonder of the internet. Eventually, I quit going completely. I’ll always look back on that time and feel very thankful that I had somewhere I could go to put things in perspective. I think about going back every once in awhile but it’s on Sunday mornings, which usually interferes with my brunch plans.

Emily Cody

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I like myself a lot but I am always sure I can get better. I have, recently:

- Spent upwards of $100 dollars on makeup items at Sephora because a magician there made me look beautiful. I now own several tubes of lipstick, lipliner, lipgloss, and a lip tint (??) that all make me look like I consumed a cherry popsicle three days ago and haven't yet washed my face.

- Given up carbs no less than 100 times, often while eating potato chips and rationalizing because they were fried it didn't count, and if I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge to get home instead of taking the train it didn't count. I was doing this in an effort to get my body into ketosis, which is something I learned about on Reddit.

- Tried to change my life with advice that I've gotten on Reddit.

- Insisted on attending yoga for the "health benefits" even though every time I go I inadvertently 1) pass gas and 2) fall asleep at the end.

- Subscribed to The New Yorker.

- Sat in a chair for five hours while a woman braided a pound of fake hair onto my scalp so I could see what I looked like with a ponytail (okay).

I am still unmussed and illiterate.

Jazmine Hughes

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Here's to trying.

 

Previously: My Struggle Bingo

Gabriella Paiella writes (and tweets) from Brooklyn. Yes, her name rhymes.



24 Comments / Post A Comment

AmbiSinister

"I wanted to throw the whole thing down a hallway of blood and carrot peels." What an incredible phrase.

Summer Petersen@facebook

Oh man, Eliza Rosenberry, I had to re-read that a few times to be sure I didn't write that myself...because I totally 100% relate. Thanks, I feel a little less lonely on my birthday, but, (dismay) not like less of a terrible person.

jhonsons

Woaah!! Interesting.@j

Dove

Erin, after grad school I got back into reading for fun by reading anything entertaining and fluffy (or at least not too emotionally and intellectually taxing). I read my first romance novel (as in, sweaty man embracing a woman in a big skirt romance) and then read 20 more. I reread a lot of Agatha Christie and all of Dorothy Sayers. It took a year before I could read anything long and serious and not want to throw it across the room.
For the record, some romance novels are really good :)

Edie W

In my experience, Infinite Jest is actually really good once you get into it, but getting into it does sort of require reading 200 pages of bizarre US-Canadian counterinsurgency tactics and footnotes about experimental film, so there's that. It took me three tries to actually read the damn thing.

Ame Wx@facebook

@Edie W Yes, you just have to get into it. But then once you finish you are the only person you know that has read it and there's no one to talk to about it.

Edie W

@Ame Wx@facebook I joined a group on Goodreads so I could talk to people about it! Because, otherwise, yes.

knmarley

The amount of times I've enthusiastically started a journal/online daily writing prompt/a blog only to give up after three days is embarrassing. It always started positive and by the end I was crying about crushing loneliness and thigh fat induced chub rub. I also do the makeup thing, because it feels like if you buy all these amazing, expensive products with fake-science words in the name (youthvampicone!) your life will vastly improve. It never does! WEIRD.

NellyBly

@knmarley But! Except for the spending money part Hallie Bateman has the right idea-- I am useless with makeup and I love to swing by Sephora and get them to "show" me how to do my eye makeup, especially if I'm on my way to a wedding or some other fancy thing. (I'll usually buy some small thing out of guilt)

Jam Jam

I only get stuff to better myself if I can expense it

duongluong

me how to do my eye makeup, especially if I'm on my way to a wedding or some other fancy thing. (I'll usually buy some small thing out of guilt)

dumont

What article! In any case thanks for sharing this. It was interesting to read. And Yes, we always regret that it was only after doing.

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TC Çapulcu Hakan@facebook

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TheGreenLady

It's comforting to know that I am not the only person guilty of intensive, condensed makeovers.

@knmarley: I have lost track of all the different blogs I have started only to abandon a short time later. It's the same with short stories/novellas and definitely something I still struggle from.

@Angela Vitello: I have done that so many times, too! It has led to some awful haircuts in the past. It's funny how much obsessing over something arbitrary feeds this desire for more control. I've finally stopped messing with the hair, now it's over things like choosing the perfect day planner or finding the ideal productivity app.

I'm not sure if TED talks mollify or exacerbate this OCD self-helpery...

Wendy Streeter@facebook

How to restore a broken relationship and marriage

My name is Wendy Streeter from the United States of America and am here to share a testimony i would please want you to read careful. I was married for seventeen years until misfortune came in. My husband and i were living happily with our children and enjoyed the company of each other. Our eldest daughter eloped with her boyfriend and this cost my husband his job because he could no longer concentrate on his job and this almost tore our home apart. My husband lost his job and we were living on the little income i was making from my cabbage. This really tormented our home cos my husband loves her more than our other kids. I tried all i could do to make my husband happy even when i wasn't happy. This happened for sometime and he had cardiac arrest. We spent virtually all the money we had and still the condition did not improve. I was left with no choice than to sell the stuffs in our house, I was able to realise some money which was spent on his medical bills. I did this for a while until we had no money on us again. We came home and was hoping he could get better. He continued like that for some months and we decided to seek for solution else where. I went online where i met many self acclaimed doctors and spell casters but none could help. I then came across this particular caster whose testimonies i have read. His name is Dr.Brave he promised to help and he did in a way i find very surprising to explain. He told me that he would cast some spells to make my daughter come back and to get my husband his job back. It was like an impossible task. But with the help and intervention of this prophet of GOD, my daughter came back home and saw her dad was sick and she cried and asked for forgiveness. My husband after a week became whole again and another spell was cast to get him his job back. Like a dream it happened. My daughter is back home and my loving husband is well again and now has his job back. So good people of the world i want you to help me in saying a big thank you to Dr.Brave for his intervention. This is one Dr i will seriously recommend for anyone with issues of such nature or any other problem. Simply contact him on his email via bravespellcaster@gmail.com,or kindly visit he website http://bravespellcaster.yolasite.com .

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Ruby Rosa@facebook

my name is Rosa i want to testify about a great spell caster that help me cast a spell that brought my ex boyfriend back to me without any delay. I broke up with my ex with just little misunderstanding hoping we will get back shortly,but things was growing worse until i contacted Dr EBOSA .spell priest who help me with his historical powers to bring him back, without charging me any money for his work but i was only require to provide the items needed for him to cast the spell and after the spell has work i should testify about his good work on any web which i'm doing now,wow i have never believed in a spell caster until i came across Dr EBOSA spell home, Well it will be of great sin if i should go out from here without dropping the contact of this great spell caster,in case you need the help of this great spell caster you can contact him through his email once you contact him all your problems will be over,once again i say very big thanks to you sir for helping me to recover my ex back, and please sir keep your good work cause people need your helping hand in their lives.once more contact him on his email:ebosaherbalremedy@hotmail.com Wow wow....

Ruby Rosa@facebook

my name is Rosa i want to testify about a great spell caster that help me cast a spell that brought my ex boyfriend back to me without any delay. I broke up with my ex with just little misunderstanding hoping we will get back shortly,but things was growing worse until i contacted Dr EBOSA .spell priest who help me with his historical powers to bring him back, without charging me any money for his work but i was only require to provide the items needed for him to cast the spell and after the spell has work i should testify about his good work on any web which i'm doing now,wow i have never believed in a spell caster until i came across Dr EBOSA spell home, Well it will be of great sin if i should go out from here without dropping the contact of this great spell caster,in case you need the help of this great spell caster you can contact him through his email once you contact him all your problems will be over,once again i say very big thanks to you sir for helping me to recover my ex back, and please sir keep your good work cause people need your helping hand in their lives.once more contact him on his email:ebosaherbalremedy@hotmail.com Wow wow....

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Hà Văn Quảng@facebook

This summer, Manchester M88 has a new appearance under new coach Louis van Gaal time, after a dark season of "chosen one" - David Moyes. Reds revived after less than 2 months, the best example is the tour of the United States when MU played and sublimation ICC champions Trophy m88
passing a series of big names such as AS Roma, Inter Milan, Real and M88 rivals Liverpool implacable in the finals.

Diane Stech

Diane Stech is very much impressed with the post.Will be keeping track of all the comments.

Mccart Kate@facebook

Am here to testify what this great spell caster done for me. i never believe in spell casting, until when i was was tempted to try it. i and my husband have been having a lot of problem living together, he will always not make me happy because he have fallen in love with another lady outside our relationship, i tried my best to make sure that my husband leave this woman but the more i talk to him the more he makes me fell sad, so my marriage is now leading to divorce because he no longer gives me attention. so with all this pain and agony, i decided to contact this spell caster to see if things can work out between me and my husband again. this spell caster who was a woman told me that my husband is really under a great spell that he have been charm by some magic, so she told me that she was going to make all things normal back. she did the spell on my husband and after 5 days my husband changed completely he even apologize with the way he treated me that he was not him self, i really thank this woman her name is Dr Aluta she have bring back my husband back to me i want you all to contact her who are having any problem related to marriage issue and relationship problem she will solve it for you. her email is supremespellcaster@gmail.com she is a woman and she is great. wish you good time.

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