The Only Self-Help You’ll Ever Need

I HAVE DECIDED UPON A WAY OF LIFE, a strand of philosophy that has existed since Greek antiquity but never put into so many words on a digital word processor; it is the key to happiness, and I wanted to write it down so that I wouldn’t forget it by tomorrow noon.

We may dub this school of thought “Neo-Erasmianism”, as it follows the basic writings and ideas of Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, only without all the Jesus. In fact, the existence of God is strictly optional; one may choose to believe in him only insofar as He created life and then ducked out of the picture entirely, like a runaway husband who fathers children in every state he visits.

The trick is to embrace pessimism—just because life is depressing, doesn’t mean you should be. If you hate your job, remember that everyone else agrees, hating not only your job but likely their own as well. There’s no reason to be miserable to those waiting in line five minutes to buy a two-dollar cheeseburger just because you’d rather be in your basement on mushrooms jaunting through a tortilla chip forest.

“People love being depressed collectively:
consider funerals or anyone who saw
Schindler’s List in theatres.”

This steers our discourse directly into the heart of Neo-Erasmianism: that life is unpleasant. It is dreary and depressing, filled with illness, death and pimples. Enjoy it. As my grandmother always said to me, “Zit happens.” I am to this day unsure of whether her pun was intentional or a result of her cleft palate, but judging by the amount she drank we’ll assume it was a momentary stroke of brilliance.

Always be pessimistic. An optimist is constantly disappointed; a pessimist can only be impressed. You’ll be happier, more correct and attain a false sense of superiority that will lead to greater self-esteem. You’ll thank me when you’re 40.

Don’t drink to excess, because that is escapism; rather than run away, delve into the heart of the misery, embrace it with conscious sobriety. Go to a karaoke bar and sing “Build Me Up, Buttercup” on repeat; better still, find other depressed people and wallow together. People love being depressed collectively: consider funerals or anyone who saw Schindler’s List in theatres. This path is more admirable and builds a stronger character. You’ll thank me when you’re 39.

Your sunset will vanish, and so will the girl,
along with the $50 you owe her for the night.

In the case of extreme depression, do not consider suicide. Or, better still, consider it but don’t do it. Slit one wrist, but never both. I had a friend who did that once; now his book is on Oprah’s Choice. I don’t quite know what that means, but I imagine it’s like Sophie’s Choice, only featuring independent black women. To sum up, suicide is not preferable, if only because it is more enjoyable to laugh than to be dead. Presumably.

If you ever are temporarily blessed enough to forget how much life totally blows, then enjoy it, but remember that this is temporary. Every so often, life will try to win you over by throwing you a majestic sunset with clouds painted orange, or a girl who seems like everything you’ve dreamed of. But the sunset will vanish, and so will the girl, along with the $50 you owe her for the night. You’ll be thrust back into reality, where you have to write an essay on Descartes or have dinner with your in-laws.

Most important, when regarding depression—don’t sweat it. Even if you try to be depressed for more than five hours straight, you’ll realize that it gets boring. Know that life stinks and laugh anyway. Don’t be oblivious; just be content. Be pessimistic and you’ll find yourself smiling more, knowing that just because you’re having a bad day doesn’t mean you should stop laughing.


How To Write An Effective Philosophy Paper

AFTER ASSISTING NUMEROUS first-year philosophy students with their essays, I have come to discover a number of handy tips one may refer to throughout the course of any level of essay writing. The following is the culmination of these tips, in no particular order.

- When making new points, say “ultimately” to make it seem like you were getting to that point all along.
E.g.: Plato was a brilliant thinker. Ultimately, Plato wrote “The Republic”.

- Throw in “fundamentally” wherever possible. This will make your argument sound precise, for you are addressing not the thing itself, but the thing’s fundaments. To bump that B+ up to an A-, switch it off with “inherently”.
E.g.: Hannah Arendt is inherently against totalitarianism.

- Refer to themes and notions as “underlying”. If you’re unsure as to whether you’re outright making something up, odds are it’s lying under something else.
E.g.: If closely examined, one can see the underlying themes of agoraphobia in Descartes’s Meditations.

- Use semicolons instead of periods. Your professor will be so impressed by your literary flair that he’ll be more inclined to bump that up that A- to an A.
E.g.: Nietzsche did not have sex until he lost his virginity to a prostitute who gave him syphilis; Nietzsche did not like women.

- Refer to arguments as “critiques”. Generally, words with “q” are more insightful than those without.
E.g.: Kant’s critique of Descartes is a quarrelsome quarry, quintessentially quarantined in Iqualuit. Wait, did I say Kant? I meant Qant.

- Instead of saying “existence”, refer to it as “existence as such”. This remedies the common error of generalizing “existence” as all of existence, and specifies it as such, which is considerably less general and means something to professors. Just don’t ask what.
E.g.: So what exactly is existence as such?

- If you feel your argument is lacking merit, say it echoes antiquity, because it probably does.
E.g.: Women are fundamentally inferior to men. This echoes Aristotle.

- When using secondary sources, praise their scholarly value. Your professor will agree and bump that A up to an A+.
E.g.: To quote Karl Löwith, who beautifully summarizes my crummy thesis in his 500-page book on the same subject…

- If ever you don’t understand something, call it an “inherent contradiction”.
E.g.: Neoplatonism is an inherent contradiction.

- Use “polemic” a lot. In fact, make up words stemming from it, like “polemicize”.
E.g.: I once heard Professor Kierans use the word “polemicize”. I looked it up in the dictionary—it doesn’t exist.

- Use as many philosophical synonyms as you can to make it seem like you’re referencing various authors whom you’ve encountered previously. This will show your knowledge of past ideas, bumping that A+ up to a request for you to lecture at your university next year.
E.g.: Heidegger is concerned with the a priori, rational, invisible, metaphysical, unseen realm of principles, realm of God, kingdom of principles, unconscious realm, hypothetical realm, Heaven, infinity, infinitude, ad infinitum, ad nauseum, pleasegodletmebeover1000 words, realm of ideas, the theoretical, the dialectical, the Good, the Nous, nothingness, pure anxiety, the sublime, the void, the abyss, my basement apartment.


How to Stay Awake at the Symphony

NOTHING IRKS ME MORE THAN WITNESSING A WASTED TICKET AT THE symphony. Too often do I spot lazy husbands’ heads bobbing up and down as they fight the urge to fall asleep, only to afterwards claim that their eyes were closed “to more fully appreciate the music.”

I pity the poor soul whose heart does not go aflutter when in the same room as dozens of elderly penguin-suited men and overly made-up women sitting down for two hours in a heated room with the lights dimmed! To me, there is no better value one can attain from a $150 ticket and excuse to wear Victorian tails outside of my bedroom. My wife protests, but I’ve learned to drown her out by humming Mahler’s “Symphony No. 3 in D minor” all the way out the door.

To the unfortunate spouses of more devoted classical aficionados, it is to you whom I offer this list of tricks and ideas to help you stay awake when in the presence of the majestic strings, woodwind and brass; with luck, perhaps next time your snoring won’t be mistaken for the roaring timpani drum during the climax of “In the Hall of the Mountain King”.


• Pinch yourself every time a new concerto begins.

• Pinch yourself every time your head falls down unwillingly.

• Pinch yourself every time the conductor looks like he just had an orgasm.

• Join in the concert by air-playing along with whatever instrument you play at home. If you are the sort of soulless heathen who does not engage in the creation of aural beauty, then air-Guitar Hero along.

• Pinch yourself every time you think the concerto has ended, but really it’s only just begun.

• Predict the conductor’s next move. For instance, I once saw Vivaldi’s “Autumn-Allegro” performed entirely out of karate chops and “touchdown!” arm motions. Another time, I bore witness to Bach’s “Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor” orchestrated exclusively with a pinky toe.

• Give a standing ovation to every concerto, regardless of its quality. If in Europe, you probably won’t be alone in this.

• Mentally place the conductor in a dance club, transforming his maestro moves into dance moves. Then have your mental DJ play “Touchdown” by T.I. feat. Eminem, just for kicks.

• During intermission, find the other men who are falling asleep even while waiting in line for a scotch and swap tips on wakefulness.

• Don’t order a scotch.

• Return from intermission, see if you can switch seats. You may not think there’s “very much to look at”, but from different angles you can see how various players look like long-gone celebrities from the 1980s, such as George Michael or the drummer from Styx.

• Divide the orchestra into Jets and Sharks and play out who would win. Note that the brass horns and the percussionists really shouldn’t be on the same team, as they would totally kick the string sections’ asses.

• Try to place what song is featured in what really long dramatic film. Hint: the answer will almost always be The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.


Thus Spoke Zara's Thruster

As I walk down the street in the potato sack I call a shirt and my mother calls a disgrace, I cannot help but beam with self-confidence and a genuine zeal for life, boasting the knowledge that I don’t care what my mother thinks anymore.

I used to be what they call a fashionista—hot on haute couture, sharp on all that was chic. But after a full year of devoted subscriptions to Esquire and GQ, I had something of a nervous breakdown, tearing up all of my shirts, eating my ties and throwing my tied-together shoes over the telephone lines of slum neighbourhoods. Now, as I walk down Lower Jarvis in my unsightly but undeniably comfortable torso sack and plastic bags tied around my ankles with rubber bands, I can’t help but grin as passersby yell at me to get a job.

To start at the beginning: in the autumn of my 19th year, to celebrate my finally hitting puberty, I decided to get a job. I quickly scored an interview at a nearby Zara clothing outlet; during the interview the manager asked if I would be willing to spend a minimum of $500 on a new wardrobe, as the checkered pants I was wearing would be unsuitable for the workplace, though he liked “the cut of my jib”. I agreed, ignoring his obscure and presumably Jewish expression, and he hired me on the spot.

And so I began dressing better. I held a bonfire in my backyard for my old faux-argyle pocket-tees from Old Navy, and the next day began jaunting in gentle woven shirts and sauntering in dark-wash boot-cut jeans. All of a sudden, my life started to improve—girls began sweating near me in a good way, for a change, and my mother stopped threatening to disown me.

My life started to improve—girls began
sweating near me in a good way, for a change, and my mother stopped threatening
to disown me”

“So this is self-esteem!” I exclaimed to the first dressing-room mirror to see me in my new skin.

My first day of work was a dream—I loped in with proud epaulettes on my shoulders and a bourgeois spirit in my heart. I helped lost souls find fitting shirts and blouses, and as they walked out of the store, dejectedly looking at their receipts, I seriously felt I was doing some good.

I continued like this for a number of weeks before I first noticed the man howling into a megaphone on an upturned milk crate outside the store. Standing in a plaid collared shirt with cheap chinos and sandals, he was shouting things at passersby on the street like an unfashionable Harvey Milk, if one could consider Milk fashionable to begin with.

He began by shouting catchy slogans like “The Fashion God is dead!”, “Stop the fascist fashionistas!” and “Zara’s clothes always struck me as inconveniently overpriced and sometimes kind of silly-looking!”

As it happens—I would read a few days later in the Globe—the man was rallying against Zara because he felt he had been unjustly fired from the company after citing nihilism as a medical condition justifying his three months of sick leave. They decided to let him go, and he threatened to sue, but eventually just gave up, saying, “But what’s the point, anyway?”

Thus he began protesting Zara’s unfair policies and overpriced jeans, which is right around when I started needing to dodge tomatoes to get to work every morning.

“I have a dream,” the man exclaimed,
“that we can live in a society where a
man is judged not by the colour of
his socks, but by the integrity of his

“I have a dream,” the man exclaimed, “that we can live in a society where a man is judged not by the colour of his socks, but by the integrity of his seams!”

A hearty cheer rose up from the crowd, and he continued:

“I have a dream that one day, on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former retail workers and the sons of former customers will be able to shop together at the mall of brotherhood, and for once the customers will not feel like they’re always being judged by the salespeople just for wearing polo shirts from Sears!”

Cheers again rose from the crowd—except from one African American man who just looked very confused.

“I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of posh and flair!

“I have a dream today!”

I stood in awe of this man’s dignity in spite of his sandals and real, not artificially intentional bedhead. How could he stand up against the fashion gods looking like that?

I dodged the usual fruit storm to get in through the front door, but my manager told me the bad news: that they were closing the branch until all this blew over. He then walked outside, dejected, and got hit in the face with a watermelon.

This fight is bigger than both of our pants put together. Nobody is closer to you than your clothes.

I re-emerged from the store to find the crowd dissipating, and decided to engage the urban rebel about his philosophy. His name was Tobias Stoddard, and he told me words that I usually forget but currently remember: “My friend, this fight is bigger than both of our pants put together. Nobody is closer to you than your clothes. Until you respect your clothes as you respect yourself, you will be cursed with the disregard you show them every day.”

Confused, I asked, “Did you just lay a curse on me?”

But with that, he vaporized, a cloud of pinkish dust remaining in his place. I contemplated his words—was it true that I did not respect my clothes? Was I lacking a personal relationship between fabric and man that ought to exist between every soul and its coverings? His words echoed through my head for the better part of the following five minutes, after which I promptly went home and, wet from a panic-stricken sweat, collapsed unconscious lying parallel to my floor atop a large rectangular box as I do every night.

The following morning I awoke with confused anxiety, and decided to immediately get dressed. I opened my closet and threw on my usual work clothes—black pants, a striped shirt and a skinny black tie, but they felt tighter than usual. I heard a distinct snicker choke out from my trousers. All of a sudden, my shirt started to undo itself! I tried to get it off but my tie had me by the throat. My other clothes began tormenting me, too—my belt tightened around my gut, t-shirts were flying off the shelves, and I heard a some very snide racial slurs coming from a particularly stiff pea coat.

I began to feel so self-conscious and neurotic that I tore my clothes off like an ancient Israelite in mourning, screamed and ran out of my house.

I never did see Tobias again, nor did I ever return to work. The entire experience left me jaded and put off of fashion forever. And so, I reflect, Tobias taught me a valuable lesson that day—that no matter who you’re trying to impress, you should always wear a potato sack; partly because it’s easier, partly to avoid pea coats making anti-Semitic remarks when you’re not looking.


Love at First Bite

first saw her in the produce aisle during the 24th hour of the 24-hour Sobeys. I recall being unable to move, breathe or register that the woman behind me was asking to get to the broccoli. Her beauty was unmatchable: she was that special kind of sexy that could make asexuals horny as rabbits. She sported freshly shaven uggs and a delicate merino wool sweater—the kind that made me envious of the lucky sheep whose hair wound up hugging her bosom all day. Her hair was a golden blonde that could force dandelions into retirement; her pupils loomed out of the greenness of her irises as a puma would in a baseball field. How the puma got onto the green, nobody knows.

I spent several intent minutes admiring her from the bulk nuts, contemplating my approach. In contrast with her miniature monolithic beauty, I stood with the sexual prowess of a young Woody Allen. Every part of my body was intimidated as much as it was intrigued: my toes were scared to meet her toes; my ankles no match for hers; my eyebrows seemed like nothing by comparison, and not just because of my alopecia.
“What would I say? I’m bad with words.
Specifically, speaking them”
I pictured myself walking up to her, casually, my unworthy fingers daring to tap her the slender blade of her shoulder, which alone bested all parts of my body. She’d turn, taken aback as to why a man who bore such a striking resemblance to Quasimodo would bother approaching her at all. But before she’d have a chance to register my numerous imperfections, I’d act hastily in her confusion like a gazelle in a thunderstorm, and whisper sweet nothings in her ear, such as…

“I’ve got sweet nothing.”

What would I say? I’m bad with words. Specifically, speaking them. She’d see through my guise and instinctively beat me up, or worse—roll her eyes and walk away.

What about eye contact? I could leer at her from the coffee aisle, gesturing my finger in a “come-hither” fashion. After she’s hypnotically drawn towards me, I would use the coffee as a perfect segue for our first date: “How’s about you and I pour coffee over each other’s naked bodies?”

I contemplated circumventing the kosher section to wind up with the condiments, where I could really lay my trap. She’d never get past aisle three—with her foot caught in the bear trap, I’d leap to her rescue, taking just enough time securing her foot from the metal jaws that I could ask her name, hobbies and personal ambitions; she’d be so grateful that she’d have to go to bed with me, right there among the Dijon mustards.
“She’d slowly raise her head to
look me in the eye: “You had me
at the Jell-o,” she’d confess”
Conversely, I could just talk to her. I’d wait for her by the waffles, pretending to peruse the whole-grain cheeses—when she’s finished her shopping, I’d say, “Excuse me—sorry—we haven’t met or anything, but… well, I just think you’re really cute and seem pretty interesting, and I think we passed each other a few aisles back and I just kind of wanted to say that, sorry.”

She’d pause a moment, catching herself, thinking it all over—did that just really happen? Does anyone ever have the balls to do that, let alone a nebbish computer programmer with a shopping cart filled mostly with 39-cent Mr. Noodles and Blue-flavoured Gatorade?

She’d slowly raise her head to look me in the eye: “You had me at the Jell-o,” she’d confess, flinging herself into my shopping cart, sliding her legs through the openings made for six-year-olds, just before we’d race down the aisles, into the sun-dried tomato-coloured-sun…

“Excuse me, sorry—”

A voice woke me from my love-struck stupor—a female voice! I spun around, mouth wet with anticipation of the best French kiss of my life, only to find the stringy-haired 40-year-old Manager On Duty, whose face seemed to perpetually resemble Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”.

“Sir, you’re drooling on our floor.”

Alas! Indeed I had been. So much for the French kiss. But, wait, where was my well-woolen, blonde-haired enchantress? Confound the world! Hesitation truly is the bane of man.

I leapt to the parking lot in one grand bound with the hope of finding her; otherwise, how were we expected to start a family, rent a Honda Civic and argue over mortgages?

The Scream watched me gallop off, then stared at my salivated puddle.

“Clean up in aisle one?”