soon you’ll be dead and it won’t matter anyway
so chill the fuck out and give up your hopes and dreams already
Love notes from Siel is a weekly newsletter from Siel, who used to live in Los Angeles but is currently traveling around. If you love the notes, subscribe for free.
Dear friend —
Last month I started binge-reading self-help books again. The catalyst was the end of a relationship that prompted me to seek advice about breakups — but then I lost focus. Now on my kindle are books on everything from getting up earlier to showing up for friends to putting together a capsule wardrobe. The titles range from Joyful (make your environment pretty!) to The 4% Fix (get up earlier to write!) to Let It Go (declutter for happiness!).
This amounts to a lot of advice about what I should and shouldn’t be doing! In fact I’ve read so many self-help books that lately the books themselves have started warning me that perhaps I don’t need so much self-help. To wit, here’s a quote’s from Fuck Feelings: One Shrink’s Practical Advice for Managing All Life’s Impossible Problems:
Many things can’t be changed, and acceptance of limits, not limitless self-improvement, is the key to moving forward and dealing effectively with any and all crap that life can throw your way.
I think I read self-help books not so much to improve myself so much as to be soothed. The idea of personal development can be very comforting, after all. Usually, the books start out with gentle reassurances that whatever issue you’re dealing with is understandably distressing yet also perfectly normal — and that a solution is close at hand. Trauma can be healed! Challenges conquered! Fatigue shaken off! True love found! All you need to do is follow these steps and voila — you’ll be a better you, Siel 2.0.
Or at least those were the types of self-help books I gravitated toward in the past. Now that I’m older and, well, more jaded, I find myself seeking out the type of personal development books described by reviewers as cheeky, or contrarian, or counterintuitive. These books don’t promise big breakthroughs or dramatic improvements. In fact, they don’t promise to improve your life at all, but instead encourage you to be — more realistic.
Want to achieve something great? Well, most of us are hardly geniuses and are pretty ill-equipped to change the course of humanity, so chill the fuck out and give up your hopes and dreams already. Wish you weren’t depressed? Well, depression tends to be a chronic condition that dogs people susceptible to it their entire lives, so forget living this fantasy life free of debilitating low moods. Can’t fit everything you need into your schedule? Well, soon you’ll be dead and it won’t matter anyway so who gives a shit, fuck your silly schedule.
My favorite of these is 4000 Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, which advises this:
What you do with your life doesn’t matter all that much — and when it comes to how you’re using your finite time, the universe absolutely could not care less.
This is now a sentence I repeat to myself like a mantra whenever I feel stressed or anxious — which is often, because I don’t even know where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing later this year. Much of my life is in a strange holding pattern right now: I have a storage unit that’s held stuff I haven’t touched in more than two years, a car I’m making payments on but haven’t driven for ten months, a virtual mailbox that gives me a California mailing address but doesn’t actually exist.
What should I do with these? And what should I do with my life? It’s surprisingly comforting, in the moments when I get worked up about these things, to remind myself of life’s ultimate meaninglessness. Should I work on finding more freelance gigs or make progress on my novel or go visit Museo Jumex or watch Dirty John on Netflix? It doesn’t matter! Should I stay in Mexico City or move back to the U.S. or try living in Sydney or disappear into the woods and become a hermit? No one and nothing cares!
For now I’ve made decisions easier by simply saying yes to the opportunities that come my way. Ragdale offered me a writer’s residency — so I’ll be going to Illinois next month. My alma mater invited me to come do a reading — so I’ll find myself in Indiana early October. After that, my sister in St. Louis wants me to come visit. If you happen to live there and need a housesitter in October, let me know! In my ideal fantasy scenario, this house comes with a cute dog —
Life just continues on — one thing, then the next thing, then the next thing — and I’m still learning how to float along. One day I’ll figure out what to do with my storage unit and my car and my writing and my life. In the meantime, I’m deep into reading Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad. The universe may not care, but I plan to finish writing my second novel this year.
And you? How goes your August so far?
Three links you might like:
Americans are flocking to Mexico City — and creating new frictions. “In recent years, a growing number of tourists and remote workers — hailing from Brooklyn, N.Y., Silicon Valley and points in between — have flooded the nation’s capital and left a scent of new-wave imperialism.”
Men are flocking to Istanbul for new heads of hair. “I tumbled down the rabbit hole of the Hair Transplants subreddit, fascinated by the endless stream of Before and After pics. Here, hundreds of bros proudly share their transformations from Baldie to Hottie; it’s a surprisingly friendly brotherhood that often divulges where they went and what they paid.”
The rich are flocking to megayacht shows. Why live in a mansion when you can show off your wealth by sailing around borderlessly in a gigantic yacht?