Tuesday, December 11, 2007


You Always Take Yourself With You

Originally published in the New York Mills Herald on October 31, 2007 and credited to my alternate identity, Elisa Korentayer.

There’s a common notion—in practice, if not in theory—that one of the best ways to solve a major problem is the geographical cure. The geographical cure is considered the magical remedy for maladies as diverse as alcoholism and broken hearts. This “new location” cure suggests that, in order to solve your problems, you only need to move away from your present location to another where circumstances are sure to be different. For those unwilling to move too far away, there are also a variety of variations on the theme of the new location cure. I call all the cures of this ilk the “New Cures”: the new job cure, the new house cure, the new haircut cure, the new body cure (AKA the diet cure), and the new [insert item here] cure, i.e. washing machine, lawn mower, car, designer outfit, etc.

It’s only after we arrive in our new town, or wash a few loads of laundry in our new washing machine, or drive a few hundred miles in our new car, that we realize—too late—that the New Cure is a chimera, a fantasy. In other words, it doesn’t really work. The New Cure may appear to work for as long as it takes for the new place or thing or state of being to lose its factory shine, for that blissful time with a new toy that lasts until we can see past the novelty to the shoddy workmanship.

With the number of new cures that I’ve already attempted, it’s amazing that it took me so long to become aware of the real problem with these cures. Yes, it’s true that they don’t work. But the real problem is that the cures have nothing to do with the cause of our maladies, because the cause of our maladies is us. Our fixed, obsessive desire to change one thing on the outside of our lives serves to hide our need to fix something that feels broken inside us. Here’s the difficulty: no matter where you go, there you are. No matter what new thing you buy, find, get, or build, it’s still you who relates to it. In other words, you always take yourself with you.

The New Cures are insidious in their ability to blind us to their failures. By their nature, they fold in upon themselves to distract us from the fact that the root of the problem is us. They provide us a bevy of excuses to help us avoid doubting their effectiveness. First, there’s the honeymoon period, during which we have the opportunity to appreciate all the things that our new situation has that our old situation didn’t: a more flattering fit, a shorter wash cycle, better gas mileage, nicer weather, better heating, more attractive potential dates, or whatever. Then, there’s the transitional period—an especially twisted condition which allows us to feel bad about the new thing in our lives while still believing that the new thing was the right cure for our problems. During the transitional period, we feel frustrated with the change we have just made, but we blame the extent of our frustration on the difficulty of change itself. “Don’t worry,” we tell ourselves, “You’re just not used to it yet. As soon as you get through this transitional period, you’ll see it was the right decision.”

At some point, however, the glitter of the new fades under the wear of the everyday. The diamond dulls under the dishwater. The silk DKNY dress is snagged by the dog’s claws. The Mazda 6 breaks down. And we can no longer blame the nature of the transition for our renewed frustration with our lives. As our old fantasy becomes our new reality—it brings with it all the shades of gray associated with everyday life. Soon enough, we’re looking for the next new thing. But this is when we have to nip our New Cure fixation in the bud and realize that the problem is us.

For example, as a person with tendencies towards depression, I will continue to tend towards depression no matter how many tall fruity blended drinks with paper umbrellas get handed to me on white sandy beaches in the Caribbean. No matter how many shiny new dishwashers I get, or little vanity items I accumulate. No matter what, it’s still me here. I can cover up my skin problems with expensive make-up. I can clothe myself in fine fabrics. I can doll up my abode by remodeling the bathroom. But, at the end of the day, it’s still me underneath it all.

So, this begs the question, what should we do about our general sense that our lives aren’t working? My answer, discovered after years of trying different New Cures, is that I must plod day-by-day, one step at a time, with occasional backsliding, towards loving myself warts and all. Happy with myself, I am okay with the rain, okay with the fact that my old washing machine makes these funny belching sounds, okay with the hours each day that I am forced to spend washing dishes by hand. Happy with myself, three weeks of Minnesota monsoon can’t touch me. Unhappy with myself, nothing helps. And here’s the kicker: loving ourselves takes time and energy. Way too much time and energy, in my impatient opinion. But there’s no rushing it. I sure haven’t been able to, and trust me, I’ve tried. The only thing all of us can do is gently, courageously, and lovingly treat ourselves with the care and nurture we need. If you are always going to take yourself with you, then the best thing you can do is to accept yourself as you are, where you are. Of course, I don’t mean to say that we don’t all need a little change sometimes. But I do mean to say that we need to start that change from the inside.

That said, I figure, if I am going to be starting the long process of changing myself from the inside, there’s no reason that I can’t have a new dishwasher to do the dishes while I’m waiting.

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