Dorothy Wilhelm: See-through situation not covered by self-help books

“There are no self-help books in this library!”

A glance at the neatly organized shelves at the Lakewood Senior Activity Center told me the library volunteer was right. There were lots of James Patterson’s Alex Cross novels, plenty of light romance and action books, but not one copy of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” Not even “Miss Piggy’s Guide To Life.” Why?

“Because at our age, if you still need self -help books you’ve got a problem. There’s something really wrong,” said the library wizard, who gave me permission to call her Joan. Possibly because that’s her name. She spends a lot of her time making sure the library is available and readable. “We had a whole set of Clive Cussler, and they just disappeared,” she said. “I don’t know who took them, but they’d better bring Clive back.”

But why no self-help? I think Joan’s reluctance to shelve self help may be the belief that if we don’t have the ability to discover answers from our own experience or the wisdom of our friends by the time we arrive at our seventh or eighth decade, there’s not much a 30-something writer with a Ph.D. from Vassar can add. The more I think about it, the more I think she’s probably right.

Now, I’m not opposed to all self-help books. I’d like a practical book to help with real-life situations.

For instance, last week, my son invited me to dinner. Delighted, I dressed by touch in my closet because I didn’t want to take the time to replace the light bulb. I reasoned that after 82 years, I pretty much knew where everything was. I slipped into a brand-new top that I was wearing for the first time and felt quite glamorous, spending a full seven seconds on makeup. As we headed out the door, my son said quietly, “Mom, did you realize you were wearing a see-through blouse? I mean, it’s really see-through,” he continued. “Now I’m not saying there’s anything wrong if you’re making a fashion statement, but I just wanted to be sure you knew.”

What’s needed for a moment like that is a practical self-help book that offers rock solid options. Do I proudly and nonchalantly stroll out of the house displaying to the world many droopy things it never wished to see? Do I run back and change into a sweatshirt with appliqued birds on the front? Or do I race home and curl up under the electric blanket? What is socially correct in such an event?

An article in Psychology Today points out that many of the 417,000 self-help books available today have become wildly popular despite the fact that they don’t present an accurate view of the problem they’re trying to address and so they don’t help and can even make problems worse. We really have all the experts we need in our own home. We all know that those we love will tell us everything we need to know about self improvement from the minute they begin to talk.

As my grandma always said, “Old hens make the best broth.” It’s comforting to think that we all carry our own wisdom in a virtual self-help library. Wisdom that comes to us in the voices of mothers, grandmothers, aunts and even the crabby lady down the street who yelled when you stepped on her grass.

Many of us are at the place in life where we either have problems or we are one. My daughter, who is a nurse, tells me that the best way to get past pain and suffering, and generally unpleasant happenings, is not to stay home and whine, no matter how good at it you’ve gotten. Instead, get out and have fun.

She’s right. So on Sept. 14, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. I’ll be demonstrating super-easy, stress-free cooking at the Washington State Fair while members of the Empty Step Tai Chi Association demonstrate easy tai chi exercises to get you started, and it will be fun.

In the meantime, stop by the Lakewood Senior Activity Center. You may find something you like in the library, maybe donate a book or two of your own. But here’s a tip for the person who has the Clive Cussler books: You’d better bring them back pretty soon. Joan wants to talk to you.

Dorothy Wilhelm is a professional speaker and writer. Follow Dorothy’s blog at itsnevertoolate.com. Contact her at P.O. Box 881, DuPont WA, 98327. Phone 800-548-9264, email Dorothy@itsnevertoolate.com.