“…the guru is an expert at gaming privilege. Many of his so-called life hacks are just that, hacks – sly methods of disrupting other people’s resources for the sake of your own. If you happen to have a few demographic advantages, plus the raw self-loathing and lack of affection for humanity that tend to accompany any sustained imperative to maximize your own delicious supremacy behind fortress walls, the guru can make you king or queen of all that you survey. Everyone else can, of course, get fucked.” –Heather Havrilesky, What If This Were Enough?
January is to the guru industry’s bottom line what December is to the retail industry’s. Since we still haven’t yet internalized the sheer futility of New Year’s resolutions, aka swearing that *this year* will be different, vapid, predatory, overprivileged fuckwits, aka “gurus” are all too happy to seize on our shame, insecurity, and unhealthy individualist impulses. Every January, including this one, it seems, we’re subjected to countless articles and talk show segments telling us how to finally be successful this year. We’ll get it right this year! I loathe those self-help “advice” articles written by gurus and entrepreneurs. They are classist, ableist, inauthentic, platitudinous, and abstract to the point of unhelpful. But, that’s the whole point, is it not?
2018 was a very difficult year for me personally. Mr. Wallace and I initiated a boatload of change for our life. We moved from the city to the suburbs, we bought a house and fixed it up mostly ourselves (which of course took three times longer than we budgeted). We met new friends and neighbors, we bought a second car. This was all intended to be good change, change we willingly instigated and signed up for. Imagine my shock and consternation at how utterly destabilizing it all was. I wasn’t prepared for how homesick I would be, for how long it would take to adjust to this new life – you know, the life we actively chose, so like, why is there even an adjustment period? To pile on, I decided to get angry and frustrated at myself for not loving this new existence. I live a life of privilege in so many ways. We’re lucky to be able to afford this change at all. “Do you know how many people would kill to have what you have?” I continued to yell at myself. I snapped at my husband. I wandered through the year disoriented and anxious all the time. I wasn’t enjoying the goods right in front of me, instead missing, more like aching, for my old apartment in Queens. My only real resolution for 2019 was a new headspace. Because this clearly wasn’t working.
So I did. I learned a lot about shame and vulnerability and trauma in the process. We humans aren’t simple creatures. It’s never a straight line, whatever “it” happens to be. I learned that our bodies react to good change and bad change in much the same way, which means that good change is often disruptive, physically upsetting, and destabilizing. We can shout “YOU CHOSE THIS!” or “THIS IS AWESOME!” all we want, but our bodies don’t register that. They just feel upended and need time to process and adjust to the new normal. And that needs to start being okay.
So if we absolutely must make more New Year’s resolutions this year, could we at least reorient ourselves and focus on reality instead of abstract “success”? Could we prioritize accepting our human messiness, fulfilling our civic duties, cultivating compassion and kindness for those who need and deserve it while making more effort to shame, sideline, and vote out those who seek to harm us and our planet?
Could we resolve to accept our weak, unpredictable, traumatized bodies and traffic in reality this time? For instance, could we stop our uncritical, slobbering praise for morning people and stop subjecting ourselves to yet another dumb article on some celebrities’ morning routine? More importantly, can we stop tying that to their success? Jack Dorsey is not a billionaire because he takes an ice bath (an ice bath! I shit you not!) before six am. He’s a billionaire because he’s privileged, exploitative, and doesn’t pay taxes. I am not a morning person, and I’ve learned to accept that. It doesn’t mean I’m dumb or doomed. It’s just how it is for me. I’m hardly alone. And I learned we night owls don’t have to force on ourselves something that will never fit right, that will just torment us. All the blathering about Mark Wahlberg’s 2:30 am alarm won’t change our biological orientation. So, fuck Mark Wahlberg. He committed a hate crime.
And maybe, finally, in the year of our lord two thousand and twenty, let’s finally accept our broken, weird brains and find helpful workarounds and support instead of listening to narcissistic gurus telling us to “Just Follow My Tidy Formula and You’re All Set”. The vast majority of us have some sort of trauma that makes linear progress and straight lines exceedingly difficult, if not impossible. Our human brains are just quirky and unpredictable and damaged and fragile and tough at the same time. Maybe it’s time to accept that we all struggle sometimes. My executive function sucks. It just sucks! For those unfamiliar, executive function is that part of our brain that tells us the next thing to do in habits and routines. The part of our brain that says brush your teeth, okay now take a shower, okay now towel off, now apply deodorant, get dressed. If executive function, well, functions, then that happens automatically. But having faulty executive function is like forgetting why you walked into a room on steroids. I learned that if I don’t set a timer at ten minutes for my daily shower, then I will stand in the fucking shower for up to thirty minutes because I can’t remember if I shampooed my hair yet. I used to abuse and deride myself for this; now I’ve learned to just accept it and set the damn timer. So much easier, kinder, and more peaceful that way.
We’re all a little fucked up. Things don’t happen easily for most of us. Our bodies don’t make logical sense most of the time. And we need to create space to clear the shame and stop pretending otherwise. Humans just don’t function the way gurus say we do. They’re like fundamentalist religious zealots: invent the disease so they can sell you the cure.
Gurus tell you to make all these supposedly positive changes, but leave you high and dry when your body rebels against those supposedly positive changes. They don’t teach you how to cope and have patience and practice self-care through that awful, transitory period. They don’t even acknowledge it’s gonna happen! So then you’re left wondering what the hell is wrong with you, to never be told that nothing is wrong; that reaction is normal. You’re left feeling alone when you’re actually not. Gurus tell you to be more productive, but totally ignore the fact that our human bodies simply haven’t evolved to function properly in this most brutal, barbaric, unchecked form of capitalism we’re currently experiencing*. Most gurus are straight white men unencumbered by household chore drudgery – they all hired or married a woman to take care of that crap. Yet they never acknowledge either the practical or emotional freedom this allows, freedom most of us lack. But that’s how gurus make their money: implore essentially impossible tasks, then when you struggle to implement or maintain them, well sure, I can help you with that! Once you order my next tape.
They can all go get bent. We need to support each other, acknowledge that the world is on fire, that fascism seems to be winning worldwide, and it’s traumatizing all of us, whether we realize it or not. No matter how technical our career or day job, we all need to create space for art. For rest. For beauty. For anger. We need moments to breathe, to collect ourselves, to give our brains and bodies a necessary minute to sort things out. We need collective compassion and patience. We need to focus much less on climbing one more rung on a proverbial ladder and much more time on our civic responsibilities. Those of us with more privilege need to hold space and protection for the more vulnerable. I hope this is my tiny contribution to a desperately needed refocusing of efforts this year: to civic participation, to fighting for democracy, to accepting our trauma and quirks. I can’t in good conscience say it’s definitely going to be a good year. In many ways it probably won’t be. But we’re here, dammit. And that’s a lot.
*To clear up any potential confusion, I am not a socialist, or Democratic Socialist, or whatever. I actually think socialism versus capitalism is the precise wrong conversation to be having anyway. Any societal system is capable of widespread destruction if left unchecked. Proper regulatory mechanisms and a firm check on corruption in whatever system we have to keep things as balanced as possible is all I’m really interested in at this point. Right now in America, we have let capitalism extend to its furthest and most harmful extremes; a nice pat switch to any kind of socialism, which itself has the potential to run amok and destroy people if left unchecked, will not solve anything.
Chocolate Tahini Sheet Cake with Tahini Frosting
- 1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
- 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 ½ tsp kosher salt
- 1 ½ tsp baking powder
- 1 ½ tsp baking soda
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 tbs vanilla extract
- ¼ cup flavorless oil, such as canola
- ½ cup tahini, well stirred
- ¾ cup boiling water
- 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ½ cup tahini, well stirred
- 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
- ⅛ tsp kosher salt
- ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease and line a 9x13-inch baking dish with parchment paper. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, vanilla, oil, and tahini. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and whisk to sort of combine. It’ll be super thick and overmixing cake batter is bad, so don’t be precious here. Next you add the boiling water and whisk to combine, and this is where it will come together.
- Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish and bake for about 32 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted sideways into the center comes out clean. Let cool completely.
- In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the butter and tahini until creamy. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar with the mixer on low or medium-low speed. Add the salt, cinnamon, and vanilla and mix again to combine.
- Use an offset spatula to mound the frosting in the center of the cake, then spread it out evenly to the edges. You can use the spatula to make pretty swirls if desired. Cut into squares and serve.