Maybe less than a year ago I was the kind of person who rolled her eyes as she passed the self-help aisle of the bookstore. They all seemed like the same: “Why Don’t I Feel Normal?”: A Guide To Helping You Feel Normal.
Now I’m that girl grabbing those books. Reading them. Using a pen. What?! I don’t write in any book, and now I’m doing self-help homework? Like a total girl.
[Pamela is exhibiting negative behavior about herself. She has recently learned that she’s not supposed to do that, like when she calls herself a dork, a klutz, a spaz, a geek, a nerd, a loser, a freak, a weirdo, or scrunches up her face after receiving a compliment. But if she stops doing that, who will she become?]
Anyway, the point is these books keep telling me how I’m supposed to think I’m awesome, and then somehow everything will become awesome because awesome people lead awesome lives. I may be simplifying it.
I’m not very good at this I’m Awesome! part of it. I can’t say it without sounding like I don’t mean it. And, whatever, I write a blog. Obviously I have some kind of opinion of myself that includes thinking other people give a shit about what I have to say. I never said I was meek. I have opinions. Clearly.
So I’m driving home the other night and Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All” starts on the radio. At the risk of writing an entry twenty-one years past its expiration, I am going to take a look at the lyrics, because I don’t know that I’d actually listened to them before. I know them all, but I didn’t really pay attention to the song.
This is the best song to sing quite loudly in the car when there’s nobody else. I don’t think I’d ever get the nerve to sing it in public, not without Whitney’s backing vocals, because I bet while I sound quite loud, it is most likely not good.
The beginning. Everybody knows it.
I believe the children are our are future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Right. Who could disagree with that? Children will actually be the people who are living in the future, so while it might be Whitney’s belief, it’s just factual. And it’s also important for children to get an education. Nobody’s arguing with Whitney on this one.
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
This doesn’t sound like enough life skills to me. A kid’s going to need more than a mere sense of a feeling of pride before it’s going to get easier to get out there in the real world. Or maybe that’s just my own experience. Remember, I’ve been reading books that are asking me to get in touch with some anger that sometimes involved someone stealing a crayon from me during Hand Turkey Time in the first grade.
Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be
See, here you know Whitney ain’t happy. Laughter, for her, is an experience she remembers from the past. This is foreshadowing. I never noticed it when I heard the song before, but I used to listen to this song thinking it’s about kids needing good schools.
Everybody searching for a hero
Everybody searching for some apostrophes and “s”es as well.
People need someone to look up to
I never found anyone who fulfill my needs
Yeah. I’m just going to let the grammar be what the grammar is, because this is probably where Whitney learned to believe that children need an education. But here’s where I noticed the song for the first time. This line, right here. Whitney has stopped talking about the children, and turned the song right around to be about her. The story has come to a needle-on-the-record screeching halt and changed direction.
I recognize this because it’s what I keep doing in my own life. Someone will ask what kind of potatoes I’d like — mashed or baked — and I find a way to answer with, “Did I tell you what happened to me last week?”
A lonely place to be
Sing it, Whitney.
So I learned to depend on me
Maybe not these days, but it’s nice to know that Whitney had the original intentions of depending on herself. But see, even if I learned to depend on me, I could still end up a crack ho crawling on the floor, begging Bobby Brown to go buy me another Diet Coke. And that really bums me out.
I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone’s shadows
If I fail, if I succeed
At least I’ll live as I believe
No matter what they take from me
They can’t take away my dignity
I’m starting to recognize the co-dependent pattern here. If you’ve read all the psychobabble I’ve been shoveling into my head lately, you find out that we learn a coping mechanism in our childhoods (the children are our future, i believe), which then we take into our adulthoods. Sometimes it’s complete independence, but not really. It’s the idea that you’ll be in someone’s shadows, but you won’t walk there. You’ll be there, but you’ll tell yourself you’re not there. You will do everything you can, but not really, and as long as you know you put yourself there, you live as you believe, and when you end up broke or alone or unhappy, you can still have your dignity because you put yourself there.
Right? Or something. I’m not done with this book yet. I’m still in the process of learning.
Because the greatest love of all
Is happening to me
I found the greatest love of all
Inside of me
The greatest love of all
Is easy to achieve
Learning to love yourself
It is the greatest love of all
Okay, let’s just say for the sake of argument, that’s true. Loving yourself is the greatest love of all. That’s it. That’s all you have to do, and somehow it’s easy, even though there are thousands of books and just as many professionals all dedicated to the notion that it isn’t easy to love yourself. But when you’re wrapped up in the singing, it is easy to get carried away and think you’re awesome. And when you honestly believe you sing this song well, you really must love yourself. So that means at least right here, in this part of the song, I’ve experienced the Greatest Love of All.
Okay, so then Whitney repeats everything, all the way from the beginning, back to the kids and the school and the shadows, and goes through the chorus once again. And by then you’re really with her in the song. You love yourself, you love children, you love shadows. Everything is loud and thunderous, and you don’t need your self-help book or your therapist or anything but a volume knob that will go even more to the right so that this song can just shake the windshield with its power.
And then Whitney sings this:
And if by chance, that special place
That you’ve been dreaming of
Leads you to a lonely place
Find your strength in love
If I finally get to the place I’ve been dreaming of, my happy place, my safe place, the one thing that I’ve been living my life to find, to achieve… it could still be lonely? It could be the wrong thing? It could make me miserable? What kind of crap is that? I finally fall in love with myself, which opens all of the doors to happiness, and leads me to make the right decisions with the right attitude for the right reasons and then I’m… lonely? And then, instead of killing myself, I’m supposed to just… love myself harder?
The silence in my car when the song ended, when that last verse faded away to some other love song on the kost, reminded me of the time I tried to ski but didn’t know how to stop, so I’d slam myself into a snowbank. I’d rush down the mountain, veer to the side, slam face-first into the white and then — POP! — everything stopped. Just quiet and cold and the realization that I’m not moving, that nobody’s going to pull me out of there, and that I slammed my own face into frozen water chunks on purpose because I didn’t know how else to stop moving.
So, what have we learned? The children will be the people who are alive in the future, it’s important to keep your own needs and desires in mind when living your life because you’re the only person you can depend on no matter what, and when you finally get to where you want in life, you could find that it’s incredibly lonely, and that’s why it’s important to love yourself.
That’s like, six self-help books in one song.
I really hope this is just a weird phase I’m going through, because my brain’s getting tired.