~A critique by someone who has no business critiquing anyone~
Did your mother ever give you a “Chicken Soup for the Soul” or some other such book for Christmas? Your mild bemusement turns to mild irritation when you realize your mother thinks you need a self-help book. Upon leafing through, your mind suspects it’s dealing with pure hokum. The advice seems way too simplistic for the wise person you just know yourself to be. You then begin to wonder why this seemed to your mother to be tailor-made for you. It’s a vicious circle, to be sure. Drew Zandonella-Stannard’s article feels a bit like said book. To make matters worse, while the beginning of the piece seems straightforward enough, (perhaps a bit broad) the later bits really veer into incoherence. It’s harder to draw an analogy here as you’ve never made it close to the end of your gift book, but you suspect these types of pieces are always tough to wrap up succinctly.
The obvious conclusion upon first reading of the Zandonella-Stannard piece was that it might just be me, as my judgment is rarely infallible. So, I gave it to a person who is never shy about giving her unvarnished opinion on anything, ever. I was careful to not give away any of my prejudices so as not to sway her, but the verdict more or less matched my own. I then appealed to my sister because she is frankly a tiny bit square. I wanted to make sure my smarmy, cynical brain wasn’t vetoing something of value. When she came back with roughly the same assessment as us more hip people, I suspected I was on to something.
I may be past the age she is speaking about here (the three of us are, just for disclosure) but her thoughts didn’t really stir any of the memories of younger me either. The whole piece didn’t ring true. For instance, I’d desperately hate to think my mind had hardened and become immutable in my 20s. There are too many things I have discovered since then that a rigid personality would have passed over for this to be a comforting possibility. What’s more, statements like “We are attracted to people who were loved in the ways we were loved as children. We are attracted to people who are lacking in ways we understand.” try to sum up the complexity of human attraction into what amounts to a soundbite. This may perfectly crystallize her thoughts but sweeping statements about “we” sort of irritate me. If humans are so predictable, why do we exhibit such a dizzying array of truly insane fetishes? We don’t seem to be able to even distinguish between what turns us on and what might make us happy in the long term. With sentiments like this the feeling of mistrust only increases. It is at this point that the mix of “get out into the real world”, “don’t sweat the small stuff”, “we’ve all been there” and “carpe diem” messages begins to merge and seem formless. Even though you’re still reading, in your mind you’ve given up as if it were the real “Chicken Soup” book.
Anyway, when your mother buys you something that seems to showcase a lack of any deep understanding of you as a person, you may become frustrated. Nobody truly gets you. You may also pause to consider that you could have just as easily been born in a part of the world where you’d be more worried about avoiding roaming bands of people wielding machetes than either “Taco Tuesdays” or why “Taco Tuesdays” might bum you out conceptually. Kvetching over first-world problems can make you feel silly.
Original article here!