Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Magic Radio Station/Self-Help from 1925

I am in love with this radio station. No matter when it's on, there is always something bizarre or wonderful playing. Ok, the djs are obnoxious, but I think that's a genetic requirement for all djs, and they tend to ramble, but it's better than listening to commercials, and their amateur stylings have a certain charm.

This morning they were playing a show that was all irish/bluegrass music themed around storms--the wind and the rain. You'd be amazed how many narrative ballads are structured around wind and rain--possibly because when it's sunny out, people are running around frolicking rather than telling stories or singing songs. Anyway, then they announced that this band, The Gourds, is playing tonight. I KNOW I've heard of the Gourds, but I can't remember from when or where. So I thought, hey, I'll go check them out, they play dance music, and I like to dance.

So we'll see if I actually go. I am training myself to go to things alone; sometimes it is fun; often it is merely uncomfortable. I LOVE going to movies alone, but that's easy--you're in the dark, there's no interaction necessary--and you don't have to have some inane discussion with your fellow movie-goers afterward. Going to shows alone is tougher. Plus I have to drive to this one, on dark old highway 9, scene of many accidents, so I can't drink. But I should go. I don't know why I should go, but I have a feeling.

This morning in the lobby of my house someone had put out a weird assortment of free books. The one I grabbed was a self-help book written in 1925! Not substantitively different from affirmation books now, but the language and use of references is sooo dated, it's fascinating. It uses Christian tropes to peddle the same hooey that new age gurus are shucking today. I didn't realize the self-help industry was not of recent vintage.
The book is called The Game of Life & How to Play It, and it's written by Florence Scovel Shinn. It mixes Christian law with Freudian psychology and basic superstition/sympathetic magic. Some of it reads almost as Wiccan rede--the law of three, etc, and some of it reads like a fundamentalist tract. And yet I had to have it.

Here's a quote:
All disease, all unhappiness, come from the violation of the law of love. Man's boomerangs of hate, resentment and criticism come back laden with sickness and sorrow. Love seems almost a lost art, but the man with the knowledge of spiritual law knows it must be regained."

It goes on and on in this vein. And it makes me wonder about the persistence of human superstition, human need for magic, human doubt. How old is this mythology--the myth of affirmations, of mental magicks? Is it, in fact, a mythology? Is it 'true', or is it a plausible program sold to dupes? This makes me wonder about prophets and charlatans, about will and magic and the power of the mind, the power of desire, of weak-mindedness, of hope, of an industry (religion, self-help) built on the back of the basic fact that people suffer loss and lonliness, poverty, ill-health, misery, injustice--and want, more than anything, to find out WHY. These self-help books all posit a WHY--and with the WHY a way to eradicate it, or to reverse ill-fortune. If you know WHY you lost your money or your love, or why you fail, then you can go about changing it, making it better. But what if there is no WHY, just a BECAUSE? Then these self-help books are just placebos, pastilles that get their writers rich (some of them) and their buyers--the brief hour or two of comfort that comes from believing, as they read, that there is a reason for misfortune, and that it is something that, with the mastery of the correct methods, can be averted, again and again.

I look around and see an epidemic of lonliness. But I bet Florence Scovel Shinn would advise me otherwise. Allow me to consult her at random
Says Flo: "I knew a woman who always went about bragging of her troubles. So, of course, she always had something to brag about."

This book is my new oracle.


Blogger Boz said...

Says Flo: "I knew a woman who always went about bragging of her troubles. So, of course, she always had something to brag about."

I love that!!!

12:16 PM  

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