I have a two-year-old son who is basically trouble incarnate. This child positively delights in doing things he knows he shouldn’t, and thinks up new ways to aggravate me on a daily basis. His elder brother was a much easier child, so I’m at a loss for how to deal with the little weasel. He isn’t old enough for time-outs yet. Any suggestions?
— Exhausted Parent
How have you been disciplining the child up till now? You say he is not old enough for time-outs, because he may not be developed enough to understand that ten minutes in a corner is supposed to be a punishment, rather than simply a considerate rest period before the next mischief. Yet even without a capacity for higher reasoning, the child, like any animal, will respond to more primitive stimulus.
Perhaps a more severe variant — a Super Time-Out, if you will — should be considered, where instead of being confronted with an abstract absence of stimulation (difficult to make the cognitive leap into behavior deterrence), the child is instead thrust into a stressful survival situation. For instance, if he teases the cat, submerge him immediately in a box of spiders. He will quickly learn not to tease the cat.
I want to lose weight, but never go to the gym. I want to become a writer, but lack the discipline to write on a daily basis. My car is in disrepair, my house is a mess. I seem to be suffering from chronic laziness. How can I whip myself into a more industrious lifestyle?
— Lazy Bones
For what reason do you seek a life of furious industry? Being from a race that gathers into a hive formation each autumn, take it from me — there is no great benefit to working hard. Being even halfway competent at anything means you just end up crowded against a thousand other hand-picked Champions, trying to lift a billion-ton mountain and throw it into the sea, as has been prophesied by the Elders. But no matter how hard you strain and try to lift that mountain, it remains rooted in the soil as firmly as ever. I don’t even know whose dumb idea it is to keep trying every year. It doesn’t even have handholds, you guys. That would be a good place to start, and if the Council would still take my calls I would tell them so myself. I do not know if they read this column — due to their advanced age, their eyes may have tuned out of the visible-light phase by now.
What do you claim your problems are? According to your letter, you are fat and creatively dissatisfied, with a diseased car and a horrible house. Rivers have carved this deep canyon in you over time, and it is not as simple as saying “Go back uphill, river.” This is your river on purpose, and the best you can do is dig a canal or make this downward-flowing river turn a turbine for your benefit. Recast your failings as strengths and attempt to view life with these “undesirable characteristics” as an immutable constant. What new opportunities present themselves that you may have overlooked? Can you be a fetish model for hoarders, or hire yourself out as a “before” specimen for infomercials? These are just a few examples. If you forget your petty ambitions and instead accept yourself as your life has thus far molded you, then technically this counts as a win for me and I get a bonus for this column, without you even having to do anything.
In my country, our governors have adopted a ferocious funding-cut policy instead of dealing with the much worse problems of corruption and tax evasion. Thus, as college students, my colleagues (even the most eager-studying ones) and I are being put in the position of not being able to take all the examinations in our academic curriculum by the end of the standard term, thus being forced to pay tuition for an extra year in order to graduate.
Isn’t this unfair? Should I get politically involved to try and fix this situation? What would you do?
— Aggravated Student
Political organizing will only put you further behind on your schoolwork. You are committing the typical human mistake of assuming that problems have solutions, and focusing your energy on the perceived injustice rather than on progress toward your goal. Sometimes, problems are simply problems. Let me give you an example.
Earlier I mentioned the mountain on Gax that is prophesied to one day be thrown into the sea. Our Elders have decreed it will happen, so once a year everyone entwines their necks and gets onto a synchronistic hive frequency, and then we pick the strongest thousand adults and duly go try to pick up the mountain. (I was on the varsity squad three years in a row, until I threw out my stomodaeum. Threw it at one of the Elders, actually. Long story and epic poem.) And it’s kind of a stupid ritual because nobody ever lifts the mountain.
But — and it took me quite a long time to realize this — that’s the point. Nobody will ever lift the mountain, no matter how hard we try. So, at the end of the Festival, when we all go back to our warrens and caves and volcanoes and split-level townhomes made of chitin, we know that if nothing else, the mountain is still there. We tried to move it, and we couldn’t. So now we have to just plan our lives around it. You humans have feasts and you toast to old victories over defeated enemies, but that puts it in your head that all situations have enemies that can somehow be defeated. On Gax, the Festival is a reminder that sometimes, when we’re trying to go somewhere, there’s just a mountain in the way, and that’s okay. We can deal with it without going all to pieces shouting and railing at the mountain.
I mean if you want to get all agitated, you could write some angry letters and satisfy your urge for action. Then you can take correspondence courses, or have a bake sale to raise tuition money, or pay a hobo to take one test while you’re taking another so you can use your time more efficiently. After all, what would be cheaper: hiring a hobo to learn the material and then take the test, or paying the extra tuition for yourself? In other words, there are things you can do to manage, but you have to make plans assuming that the world will not change for your sake.
However, you do not mention if your academic curriculum involves cultivating a supervirus. If that is the case, your options widen considerably.
[Gax is an alien from the planet Gax. Have a question for Gax? Leave a comment on this post.]