The tragedy of wishful thinking, or why cookies don't make you thin

 No really, that’s who I am…

No really, that’s who I am…

“Life punishes the vague wish and rewards the specific ask.”

Tim Ferriss



It’s everywhere around me, more common than wet slush that clings to cars in the winter, and about as annoying. Have no idea why so many people think it’s useful. But they sure indulge with disconcerting ease. 

Wishful thinking. 

Why? I mean, what is the point of even believing it might be useful for anything other than preventing silence from making us all happier? 

Wishful thinking is passive. It doesn’t do anything, and that’s if you’re lucky. Because here's the thing: it’s actually worse than useless. It’s victim-talk of a kind that gives its sufferers the false impression they are doing something to make themselves into a better person when in fact they are not. It’s like a guardrail made of crepe paper. Mildly attractive on the surface because it looks reassuring and safe, but if you rely on it you’re screwed. 


There is a lot more wishful thinking around than you’d assume at first glance, especially when you agree that yes, we shouldn't really rely on guardrails made of crepe paper. But we've all done the idiotic thing of leaning on it anyway. We’ve all fallen prey to its allure at one point or another in our lives (very much including myself here), and I suppose that's fair enough. Nobody's perfect. 

But. 

Some people elevate an occasional moment of weakness to the status of constant companion. They make a lifestyle out of thinking wishfully. And then are all surprised and bitter when they realize life is totally unfair to them. 

It makes me want to scream, and not in a good way.

Wishful thinking is wanting to be fit but not exercising enough. Wanting to lose weight but scarfing cookies. Hoping someone will like them but never telling the other person how they feel. Dreaming of a raise but not wanting to bring it up with the boss. Longing for more sex but and sulking about it instead of initiating a conversation (or, you know, losing that spare tire and getting a fresh haircut). 

We sit and fantasize about a better life in only. That's what wishful thinking is; a big giant if only. 

And when the miracle you wish for predictably fails to materialize, you retreat further. You watch porn. Eat more cookies. Stop exercising. Because what’s the point of trying it’s doomed anyway so why not embrace sugary crumbs on the keyboard that might or might not fall into the massive indent that lardy behind left on the tattered IKEA chair. 

That’s bullshit. All of it.  

When you want something to be different, you have to change it yourself. Sitting there waiting for someone else to do things that are advantageous to you is, to put it gently, spectacularly pointless. Your partner will not guess what you want. Your boss won’t offer you anything unless it’s to his advantage to do so. Your weight won’t come down unless you drastically change your eating habits. 

People don’t do things for you. That’s because they’re too wrapped up in wishing for you to do something for them instead. You need to do it yourself. Whatever it is you want, you have to get it for yourself.

Also? Cookies don't make you thin. 

Sophie's Secrets - Chapter 17

The latest chapter of my Sophie’s Secrets is available on Medium. It’s a work of fiction that includes very mature themes and, well, commensurate language. If you’re easily offended, this isn’t for you.

A bohemian inspiration

Went to see Bohemian Rhapsody yesterday, against the better advice of many a film critic. Apparently they all hated it. At any rate, the ones I heard and read did.

Not sure why. Maybe they think biopics are kitsch. Maybe they’re right. But I didn’t care. Because I was watching something else.

What got me crying like a baby at the superplex had nothing to do with cinematic prowess (although I thought the casting was supremely well done). I was inspired by an artist who dared to be who he was and who believed in himself even when no one else did.

The Freddie who stood up to opposition from his parents, his lack of friends, his bandmates, the suits, everyone because he had a vision of his work, of what he was meant to be, and didn’t intend to let anyone or anything stop him. He’s the one who gripped me by the guts and pinned me down into my cushy reclining chair. I don’t know how true the movie is, if the real Freddie Mercury was genuinely like that. But the actor made me believe it.

He knew what he had. He had a voice, a presence, a way of connecting with the audience. He was out of this world, almost too big for it. And he was himself, to the very end. He didn’t compromise, and never wavered. Be Freddie or don’t be. No in-between. No half-assery.

I don’t know how many times I have to repeat it to myself before it really starts to sink in, but whatever the number is, I will do it. We all have a vision of ourselves, of who we’re meant to be. For many of us, that vision clashes horribly with the expectations of everyone around us, and we struggle as a result. Between daring to be who we are come what may, and going along to get along. Or some existentially unhappy mixture of the two.

Bohemian Rhapsody says never go along to get along. Do your thing, whatever it is. The louder the better.

Ey oh.

Your job in life

Someone asked if we are supposed to be a reflection of our parents. Oh boy. No. 

You are the product of your DNA, whether you like it or not — and I personally don’t.

I spent my adult life working to be what my parents weren’t. They were very strict with me, sometimes violent (I got hit with sticks when I didn’t behave), and not at all supportive of who I was and what I wanted to be.

They had an idea of what a good daughter should be, and I wasn’t obliging. I wanted to be an artist, and I didn’t care too much about settling down into an old-fashioned marriage. They were hoping for something much more mainstream, and I don’t think they ever understood my path.

It’s one thing not to understand your child. It’s quite another to work against who she is.

That’s what I don’t want to do, ever, with my kids. And the good news is, you can change who you are, you can change your nature.

Debbie Millman is fond of saying that music can change our DNA. I believe it. So can discipline and behavior. If you are determined to become someone different than your parents, you can.

Your job as a person is not to be anyone’s reflection. Your job is to find your path and work as hard as you can to be the best version of you there is, no matter where it leads.

The thing about not caring is that you don't care

I was out having coffee with a dear friend a few days ago and he asked how incensed I was over Premier Ford’s thing with French-language services.

“Don’t care.”

“What?”

“Do. Not. Care.”

“But!” the slightest hesitation, “you’re francophone!”

“And?”

“Most francophones I hear from these days are upset.”

“Not me. In fact, I couldn’t even tell you what people are upset about. Services cut? Or handled by a different office? Unless not? We’re not even sure? A university that didn’t exist will keep not existing? Meh. I mean, I'm not against having another French university, and quite possibly it’s a mistake not to build it, and obviously a change in services will annoy people who might in theory have benefited from said services if only they knew there were some services to be had, but it takes a lot more than that to upset me.”

I’m still not sure he believed me.

Here’s what I care about though: French, the language and culture as spoken and lived by people who love it - whether they were born with it or came to it on their own from other cultures.

And, you know, the quality thereof.

My friend, who is Jewish, understood my position better when I pointed out to him that Jewish culture, including Yiddish and Hebrew, survived persecution much worse than whatever Doug Ford could come up with on his worst day and managed to thrive not only without official government support but despite active neglect or worse on the part of public authorities in just about every country you care to name.

Why did Jewish culture survive? Why is it still going strong? Because Jews care about it enough to pass it on to their children properly. Because they know that if they didn’t do that, it would disappear. And they’re probably right. I say good for them and well done.

On the other hand, you have a French culture and language in this country that’s very much coddled, subsidized and protected by law yet a great many French speakers can’t be bother to write it straight. I’m not against funny accents and quaint regionalism; not everyone has to speak like a snooty Parisian. But between that and writing phonetically with nothing remotely resembling correct grammar, seems to me there’s a happy medium somewhere.

I’d bet you a lot of piastres that most francophones in this province had no idea what services the Ontario government was offering them. I sure didn’t. But threaten to make changes and suddenly we’re told to resist like this was a pogrom or something.

Fine, complain and bitch about service reduction. That’s democracy. But we don’t need undue drama, do we.

And anyway I have a better idea. Instead of spending so much energy paying attention to what Doug Ford says, which can’t be good for your health, why not worry about keeping that beautiful French language alive and well by looking after it ourselves? Start by spelling it more or less properly and go from there. If we all did that we wouldn’t care one bit which government office delivers services we wouldn’t need anyway.

C’est tout.

Sleep, my pretties

 Shhh, don’t ask questions, trust the experts, take the pills, and be quiet.

Shhh, don’t ask questions, trust the experts, take the pills, and be quiet.

Some people I know make a point of ridiculing me for believing that nutritional supplements are useful to the human body in some circumstances. To wit, my own carcass, sort of all the time. My doctor, whom I mercifully see on an roughly never basis (not that this has anything to do with how I manage my health, you understand) has a great deal of trouble suppressing a smirk when discussing vitamins. Except of course for when I was pregnant, during which time he instructed me to take more vitamin D, omega 3-6-9, and that thing that’s supposed to prevent spina bifida. Pregnancy sure is special if it makes doctors change their nutritional advice like that.

This is the same doctor, by the way, who didn’t hesitate to prescribe two rounds of steroids to my then-three-year-old daughter who had a bad case of eczema. His pharmaceutical enthusiasm stopped at two rounds because I put my foot down and said enough with the steroids I’ll find another way. Which I did; after a friend told me of a similar problem with one of her children that was related to lactose I took all dairy off my toddler’s diet for a week. Nothing happened. So I put back dairy and removed eggs. Nothing happened. So I put back the eggs and removed gluten and in three days her eczema completely cleared up. I kept her on a mostly gluten-free diet for a while, maybe about a year, and gradually reintroduced gluten. Her skin stayed beautifully clear. Whatever it was that was causing eczema so bad the doctor feared a skin infection and prescribed steroids disappeared, never to come back. Without pharmaceuticals.

Was her eczema in her head? Maybe. It could be that this particular kid, at the age of three, had decided to play tricks on everybody after reading crackpot anti-gluten blogs on the interwebs. I wouldn’t put it past her. She’s a weirdo just like her mom, and almost as stubborn too. Or maybe there was something in those foods her little body didn’t like and just giving her system a chance to clear that something was enough to fix a problem that was threatening to become a real medical issue.

So yeah. I take supplements. For my joints, for my bones, for my skin, and the occasional iron boost. Oh, and probiotics, especially when I’m hormonal and living under the thing I refer to fondly as my Eternal Cloud of Hopeless Doom.

The little happy gut bacteria with the funny Latin names help make me less depressed and mood-swingy during those special moments in my cycle. I don’t know how, or why. But I know that they do. Possibly it’s all in my head. But hey, since that’s where my Cloud of Doom resides, I’ll take it.

You can go ahead and cackle, too. Just like my doctor and other Serious Scientific People, who laugh at me but don’t bat an eye when they hear someone’s on SSRIs or their kid’s on Adderall, or their dad’s taking Viagra, or [whatever, pick your poison the list is endless]. I read somewhere a few years back that the average Canadian filled out nine prescriptions a year. Even if you discount birth control, that’s a lot of pills.

I take none. So evidently somebody somewhere is taking 18. (That’s how math works, yes?) I don’t remember the last time I had to fill a prescription for myself. I prefer monitoring my body on mine own and so far, I think I’m doing a fine job of it.

You do your own health care any way you like, of course. But in the end, belief in Xanax is no less smirk-inducing than belief in vitamin D, if I do say so myself. And may the healthiest crank croak last.