September 8, 2000
Flipping My Horse


Remember when you were a kid, and you actually believed all those advertisements in the back of your favorite comic books and magazines?

You know the ones I'm talking about. The ads for gimmicky magic tricks, cheap toys, free samples of acne medication, fabulous career opportunities? (Make Money, Get Prizes! We're Looking For People Who Like To Draw! You Can Be A Model ... Or Just Look Like One!)

(Your Neighbors Will Buy A Box of Christmas Cards From You ... Just So You'll GO AWAY!)

Did you ever order any of this stuff, expecting it to be lots better than it actually was? I certainly did.

My little brother always went for the onion gum, or the bug-in-a-plastic-ice-cube, or The Amazing Finger Chopper. David says that his little brother was suckered in by the "Learn To Throw Your Voice" ad, which turned out to be a tiny reed whistle you held in your mouth with the tip of your tongue.

*I* gravitated to the girlier stuff I found advertised in the back pages of Teen and Ingenue and American Girl magazines. 200 Glow-in-the-Dark *Flower Power* Stickers For 99¢. Free samples of Ten-O-Six and Tame Creme Rinse. "Autographed" posters of Jonathan Frid and Bridget Hanley. Peace medallions. Plastic fingernails that broke before you even got them out of the package. Snoopy earrings.

And I was especially fond of self-help books. In those days we weren't calling them 'self-help books' yet: they were just books that promised to take an awkward, socially-retarded bookworm, namely: me, and transform her into a poised, alluring Boy Magnet. Usually in thirty days or less. (Somewhere -- upstairs in my ex-husband's attic, maybe -- I still have a dogeared copy of "How To Talk to ANY Boy About ANY Thing!"  It features an adolescent Kathie Lee and her sister Michie, in matching 'That Girl' flips, serving English Muffin Pizzas to a rec room full of boys. Everybody is wearing white turtleneck sweaters and laughing a lot.)

Intellectually, I think that twelve-year-old Secra knew that this stuff was a big bunch of crass, manipulative hokum. But she still hoped. And she still faithfully mailed in her two dollars and her SASE and camped out at her mailbox for the next 6-8 weeks.

(Forty-two-year-old Secra is STILL waiting for her goddamn sea monkeys. But that's another story for another day.)

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As embarrassing as this is to admit ... this is precisely how Grown-Up Secra has become about "professional seminars."

Intellectually, I know that most of them are a bunch of crass, manipulative, new-agey hokum. I live in CALIFORNIA now, forcryingoutloud. I should KNOW better. Every week another twenty or thirty of these stoopid seminar brochures land in my Totem Pole mailbox, addressed either to Franz or to me (or to the last eleven women who have held my job since 1998): "Speak with Confidence and Clarity!" ... "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff -- And It's All Small Stuff!" ... "Real World Organizational Skills For The Chronically Disorganized!"  Every week I routinely toss 99.9% of them into the wastebasket without so much as a blink.

It's the remaining .1% that gets me in trouble.

I invariably find myself sucked in by phrases like:

" ... Even before the seminar was over, I felt like a more calm and logical person."

"The biggest shake-up of my life. Dynamic, dramatic, the ultimate truth!"

"By far the most valuable seminar I've attended. Every human being deserves this information."

"My heart was touched to tears by the truth I was hearing."

That's how I happened to end up at the "Self Discipline and Emotional Control" seminar today, along with The Human Resources Director Person (who *I* talked into going with me, mostly so I wouldn't have to take the bus home afterwards). The brochure landed in my mailbox a couple of months ago. I read the blurbs on the front cover. I believed the blurbs on the front cover: they spoke to some secret need in me, to be more calm and in control, to not cry at the office, to not kill Franz totally dead each and every day. I immediately ran across the hall to the HRDP's office -- ironically, demonstrating neither self discipline nor emotional control -- and shouted, "We MUST to go to this one!"

So how was it, you ask?

In a nutshell? I have just spent the last nine hours of my life listening to an abrasive, saliva-intensive woman in a crewcut tell me that I need to flip my horse if I want to get to the Yellow Brick Road.

(But before I can set out on the Yellow Brick Road, I have to practice being "90% Mr. Spock and "10% Dragnet." In fact, I am supposed to spend ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes in the evening, every day for the next two weeks, closing my eyes and reciting the phrase "I am logical. I am interested in just the facts, ma'am.")

I'm also not supposed to think about doughnuts.


They even sent me home with a "homework assignment." I'm expected to finish working on my *Body Graph* this weekend. The *Body Graph* is a visual tool which will help me decide which level of pain I would tolerate, in order to permanently change the behavior of my *Problem Person.*  (Would I be willing to suffer a laceration and four stitches, for instance, in order to make Franz behave like a "normal" boss? Would I notch it up a bit -- to voluntarily fracturing my nondominant arm, say -- if he started bringing me coffee in the morning? Would I consider dismemberment a reasonable exchange for an occasional Friday off?)
Plus I'm supposed to fork over $249.99 for the *Power Package* of motivational tapes, videos, workbooks and an attractive official "Self Discipline and Emotional Control" mouse pad.


We spent most of our day constructing our *Body Graphs,* drawing little pictures of kegs suspended from wires, shaking hands with our neighbors a lot, and listening to long disjointed lectures about our "horse" (aka our subconscious mind) and our "rider" (the portion of our brain in charge of learning new things). If we want to change our emotional behavior, the premise goes, we have to flip our horse over onto its back. I have no idea what that means. Wouldn't our "rider" be, like, immediately crushed and killed and stuff? Or would our "rider," at that point, be dancing down the Yellow Brick Road with Leonard Nimoy and Jack Webb, eating doughnuts? 

I'm so confused.

At one point in the festivities, we were asked to reach over and touch the nose of the person sitting next to us ... "to make sure it isn't bent out of shape by anything that's been said here today." (Human Resources Director Person: "Don't you dare.") At another point, we were told to raise our right hands, recite an oath stating that we are not, in fact, in charge of the Universe, and then sign a pledge to that effect in our little workbooks.

It was the most ridiculous afternoon of my life.

It wasn't even worth a day away from the Totem Pole Company. I can't believe I stuck KLEENEX into my purse in the morning, just in case I made some sort of huge emotional break-through. If *I* had paid for the stoopid thing,  I would be demanding my money back, right now, along with those nine hours of my life.

(In fact, the only even remotely-helpful nugget of information I gleaned from the whole mess? I'm supposed to envision Franz in a bunny suit, the next time he's screaming at me about overdue spa invoices. Until now I'd had him in a tutu, but I've got to admit the bunny suit is a more effective visual.]

Am I disappointed? Yeah, maybe slightly. I go into these things honestly expecting to come out of it a better person. Or at least a person with something new and interesting to think about. This afternoon the only thing I was thinking, as I exited the seminar in relief, was "I am never ever going to believe one of those stoopid seminar brochures again." I am simply too old -- and too smart -- and too BUSY -- to fall for that sort of crass, manipulative hooey. I've got lots better things to do with my time ... and with my brain.

(Now if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go check the mail. Maybe my sea monkeys are finally here.)

two years ago: c'est vrai?

throw a rock