I’ve never been to therapy, but I know what a therapist would say about me blaming myself: I shouldn’t do it. I know I was too young. I was a small child. I know it’s OK that I didn’t tell anyone. And I know I don’t have to own anyone else’s pain. Not my mother’s, certainly. I know I’m not her. I know my daughter’s not me. These maxims have leeched into the air of modern life the way hormones from birth control pills have seeped into the water, so why would I pay for them to be laid out like tarot cards?

I’ve never read a self-help book or new age tract, but I know I should be grateful. I know I should live in the present. I know I shouldn’t compare myself to others. I know that life’s not fair, that it’s not a meritocracy. I know I should work harder. I know how lucky I am, and sometimes I feel the luck deeply; it’s a luminous polished stone that fits perfectly in my palm. I gaze on it with wonder, rhythmically rub the cool smooth belly of it with my thumb. But often as it evokes gratitude this fortuitous possession inspires in me fear and guilt, which I know is not helpful. Gratitude. Practice gratitude. Also, breathing is very important. I know if I put the mortgage on autopay it’d be one less chore but frankly, I can’t always be sure there will be enough money in the account on any given day. I know we should be saving more. Five hundred dollars a month per kid for college, one chart said. Bah ha. I know the kids should be read to or reading twenty minutes or more a day. But most days works, right? And ten will do, in a pinch?

I never read health magazines, but I know I should drink eight glasses of water and that the vast majority of us actually do need eight hours of sleep and that I should get my kids in bed in time to get ten and I shouldn’t smoke a single cigarette and no way should I have that second beer when already there are only seven hours left to sleep if I can fall there fast enough. I know I shouldn’t worry about falling asleep, that’s only going to make it worse. I know sleep is aided by a cool, dark environment, that alcohol disturbs it, that there should be no technology in the bedroom. That one’s easy for me, but some sources say I shouldn’t even bring a book to bed. Just one more chapter. I know I should close it right now. I never read women’s magazines, but I know to keep the love alive I should shake things up sexually with my husband, we should take up activities that are new and exciting for both of us, we should speak in I statements when discussing our relationship, I feel, not you make me feel. I don’t know if the I-statements rule applies to sexual matters, I can see there might be some gray area there, but I know I should take responsibility for myself, be proactive, be the change I want to see in the world. I know plastic shopping bags cause damage six ways from Sunday. I should have brought those reusable shopping bags. I usually do! My husband should do it, too. Why does he always forget? I know I should run out after him with the shopping bags in hand. Or actually, I shouldn’t do that. I should let more go. I should let go more. We all should. I know, right? We need to lighten up.

I know I should have told that Walgreens checkout person to take the sunscreen and Trident out of the plastic bag. I intended to put them in my backpack, but I didn’t tell her fast enough, and Jesus, maybe in this case saving the bag is less important than not annoying her with another request. She’s had a rougher day than me. I sense it. I know I shouldn’t be afraid to ask for what I need, I know that as a woman I don’t ask for raises often enough (although it didn’t work out so great that one time; I should have read some tips first). I know most sunscreens are shit for you and that I should put some more on my kids right now because they’ve been in the water for over an hour and they’re about to fry. It’s the childhood burns that really set you up for cancer and premature aging, I know that. I know Olay ProX products are supposed to be really very good. I know it wasn’t my fault. I never said it was. I never thought it was. These issues have never bothered me much except insofar as a culture that makes the counterclaims so insistently and declaratively suggests that perhaps they should. That at least I should consider them.

I don’t watch TV or read celebrity magazines but I do look at the internet a lot and for the longest time I didn’t understand how Fergie so often found herself photographed nude. If the British Duchess was really running that far off the rails, surely I would have gleaned it from the supermarket checkout aisle, as I had her involvement with a weight loss plan. But now I know the names of the individual Black Eyed Peas and I saw them in the Superbowl halftime show, and it all makes sense. Sometimes it’s just the one missing piece that makes the whole come together. Ah-ha! That’s it! I get it! I can rest easy now.

I love self-help.

I love it as a concept, I love it as a physical, tangible reality of subliminal tapes and mail-order DVDs and weekend seminars, and I love the earnestness of the gargantuan industry that surrounds the idea your bootstraps are not only a handy way of tying your shoes, they’re also the very first rung on the ladder to happiness. I love books with relentlessly upbeat titles and smiling, tanned people on the front cover, packed with page after page of advice and instruction on how to turn a life around in the space of a few focused months of consistent, applied effort.

In the past several weeks I’ve given a lot of thought to reinvention. This is, in no small part, due to the fact that I’m trying to completely reinvent myself as a woman, friend, potential lover, and as a participator on this weird, spinning ball.