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Catastrophizing is not just about watching slow German films and feeling as though life is an intolerable and senseless joke. Or reading Russian literature and feeling as though life is an intolerable and senseless joke. Catastrophizing, if practiced properly, should take place in response to any stimuli and against any backdrop.

Take, for example, a birthday party for puppies attended also by babies. A catastrophizer should be able to look at a shining furry or hairless face and think: "Not for long will those faces be shining. Soon the vicissitudes of life will take their terrible toll."

But perhaps that's too obvious. Also, there are many people who will dislike puppy/baby parties simply because Society tells them they should find such things adorable. So the example really should involve something that is not overly German or overly puppy-ish. 

Let's consider, then, a lazy Sunday afternoon doing chores and watching a bit of TV. It's not a great day, but neither is it a regrettable one. Let the catastrophizing begin. There are a number of possible jumping-off points:

This is a Sunday and it is not bad. Tomorrow is Monday and will probably be bad. Then there will be a Sunday again. And a Monday. Everything changes and ultimately comes to an end. Like life, and mine in particular.

This is not a great day. But later on in life, when I am aged and infirm, I will probably look back on such days with yearning because I will have no friends and no television.

How much of my life has been spent doing chores? Just keeping things going? Doing things that are not actively enjoyable? A great deal. Waiting in lines. Commuting. Going to pot-lucks. It's possible I will end up having had one really good hour of life by the time I die. Not that that will matter. I'll spend much longer being dead.

Remember: if catastrophizing does not come naturally to you, never fear. Or rather, always fear. And soon you'll forget you ever did anything else.

Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HERE. I will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough.
 
 
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The Secret Life of the American Teenager is more than just a television show that deals regularly and in a hard-hitting fashion with the real issues teens face. It's more than simply a vehicle for the return to public attention of Molly Ringwald and BLOSSOM (!). It is a phenomenon, and in the constellation of things it has spawned can be found an advice blog. That's right! If only 90210 could have responded to my agonized adolescent queries while forming my expectations about love relationship and teaching me about "body shots."


Your Question: There is this boy at school that I really like but he doesn't know that I tried to become a tomboy and hang with his friends and him but I want to get closer to him.


1) Perhaps you should manage to really like a guy in the grammar and punctuation club instead, so that while you're trying to get closer to him, you can gain some valuable skills.

2) Don't you want him to know the real you? NO. You absolutely do not. No one in high school reveals his or her real self. And if they do (I'm not going to "he/she" anymore because it's just plain cumbersome) and they find themselves weeping about body image issues at a party on Saturday, they'll find themselves friendless on Monday. No one likes a downer.

3) It's time for you to realize that whatever you choose will prove to have been the wrong choice. If you reveal to your love that you played down your femininity for him, he will wonder aloud about how desperate and insecure girls can be. If you never reveal to him that you are playing a role to gain his favour, the two of you will settle into an affectionate and sexless friendship. Either way, you're better off dating a guy from another school who'll never know how unpopular you are.

4) Where are the friends to whom you should be turning for irretrievably flawed advice? Are parents now so concerned about possible meth use that they no longer bother to agonize about the specter of premarital sex? 

5) Just a quick note: when it comes to trying to ingratiate yourself with a high school boy, always go slutty. 



Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HERE. I will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough.

 
 
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I'm concerned about the Catastrophizer. Not the individual (although there is much there to be seriously concerned about), but the column. That's right. Column. Not blog. Blogs are about descents into depression, whether knee-high boots are passe, and/or whether political discourse in the US has become poisoned by increasingly poisonous forms of partisanship. Or they're themselves poisonously partisan. Columns are different. They're written in the New Yorker or by me. My concerns are as follows:

1) Smugness: How smug is too smug? A certain degree of didacticism is unavoidable, as I am trying to instruct others in a specific way of thinking. A whiff or two of reproach may rise from my responses to letter-writers as I am generally gently pointing out that they are witless. But will readers read these attitudes as indicating smugness? Imagine me chuckling richly and smirking complacently as I review my work? I scan each sentence with a suspicious and disappointed eye. A sinking feeling accompanies every edit. Each column is less worthy than the last, which itself was undoubtedly gruesomely inept. I may play the role of instructor, but only because the subject is dispiriting. 

2) Repetitiveness: I'm beginning to notice that my responses to letters are beginning to resemble one another. For how much longer will people read my column if it becomes simply an exhortation to the letter-writers to stop being stupid and to start questioning themselves instead of others, which they probably won't do very well anyway because they're stupid? 

3) Premise fatigue: Initially, this column was supposed to record my reflections on and instructions for catastrophizing. Then I realized I could not possibly find enough to say about catastrophizing if I were doing this twice a week, so I introduced the Dear Catastophizer angle. Very few people indeed took advantage of that, so I started purloining letters sent to other people. That has given me something to talk about. But will the column become uncomfortably reliant on the letters? Will they become merely props? Or rather, will people become tired of the fact that they are clearly merely props? But what if I assume my always potentially hostile readers have tired of the letter concept and switch it up, only to find they really enjoyed it and have stopped reading the column as a result?


Catastrophizing is like exercise in that makes you tired. It is unlike exercise in that it doesn't make you look any better. 


Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HERE. I will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.
POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough.
 
 
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The Brits are so deliciously degenerate. Who has the guts to field their desperate queries? Miriam Stoppard. And, of course, the Catastrophizer.

Dear Miriam,
I had an affair with my husband's father a few months ago. I know you will think I was mad. I ended the fling as soon as I came to my senses and realised I did love my husband.

I haven't been married that long and my husband would leave me if he found out about the affair.

I truly regret what I did and I've told my father-in-law I feel guilty and ashamed. However, he says he'll tell his son about it all unless I carry on sleeping with him.

The worst thing is, I find it very difficult to make love to my husband because of betraying him and I don't know how to cover things up. What should I do?

Beth

1) I only regret the fact that you cannot break up with yourself. Leave yourself. Reject yourself, pack your bags and go. You get the idea.

2) "I ended the fling as soon as I came to my senses and realised I did love my husband." It's THAT realization that threw cold water on your fiery ardour? Not the realization that you were sleeping with your husband's father? 

3) This will be very similar to 2). "The worst thing is, I find it very difficult to make love to my husband..." THAT's the worst thing? Really? The worst thing isn't that slept with your husband's father?

4) I understand your attraction to your husband's father. I really do. Everything you say about him indicates he's a really great guy. You know, the sex blackmail thing. Awesome.


5) If you tell your husband, he'll probably leave you. After all, you've been doing with his father what his father did with his mother to make him. It's odd. If you don't tell him, you'll be obliged to sleep with both him and his father. That's also odd. I would recommend that you begin judging your judgement, but you SLEPT WITH YOUR HUSBAND'S FATHER, so I suspect that analyzing yourself would not result in much in the way of analysis. 

6) If you want to avoid such situations in the future, either remain celibate or have sex only with fatherless men. Although sonless men would probably be more plentiful.

7) But why try to put a stop to such hard-to-believe depravity? You are truly a catastrofabricator! You are not content simply to wait for the nastiness that life will inevitably throw at you - you actively court such nastiness. And by creating catastrophes in your personal life, you help other people (e.g. your husband) to become catastrophizers, so I am eternally in your debt. 



Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HERE. I will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough.

 
 
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It turns out that Reader's Digest is more than just the equivalent of comic strips Cathy and Family Circus smushed together. It also has Ask Laskas. For some reason, I feel as though that should have an exclamation mark. Ask Laskas!


Some of my coworkers have decided that I am a horrible mother because my 21-year-old daughter still lives with me while she finishes school. These busybodies have no children of their own but comment liberally that they would kick their kids out at 18, it's the best thing for them, blah, blah, blah. I would rather not discuss my personal business with these folks, but every day they ask me if she has moved out. How do I answer? 
—Wish I'd Kept It to Myself



1) Are you sure THAT'S why they think you're a horrible mother? So many people assume they know their own flaws and that they're aware of why they repel people, but no amount of self-analysis can reveal the full extent of anyone's short-comings. Maybe you're just annoying.


2) I would like to congratulate you, because I sense that you are already on the path to becoming a catastrophizer. You state that your co-workers have decided you are a "horrible" mother. Have they told you this? I doubt it. You're assuming a couple of irritating criticisms mean a wholesale repudiation of your mothering. Bravo. 

3) Maybe they're right. I'm not saying they are, just that it's a possibility. Why haven't you considered that possibility? Just because people are frigid and childless doesn't mean they can't know better than you when it comes to your own offspring. Are you nervous about what you might find if you started digging around in there? Don't be! Every new revelation of failure will help you catastrophize with more gusto. 

4) Tell them she is forced to live with you because you gambled all her college rent money away on "the dogs." That will keep them busy talking to each other for a change. 

Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HERE. I will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough.
 
 
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I am going to attempt to respond to a bizarre and confounding question. A REALLY bizarre and confounding question. A question more bizarre and confounding than any I ever expected to receive. Here goes.

I am confused: who is more pretty, Michael Jackson or My Fair Lady?

Well, it depends. Am I to compare Michael Jackson to Rex Harrison? To Audrey Hepburn? To the spirit of the film as a whole? I will try to do this and more. Well, maybe not more. But certainly this.

1) I think when it comes to Michael Jackson vs. Rex Harrison, Michael comes out on top. He had about eighteen chiseled cheekbones on each side of his face, and Rex just looked plain severe all the time. And 87 years old.

2) Need I say who would prevail in a prettiness battle between Michael and Audrey? Doesn't matter. I will, whether the need is needed or not. It's Audrey all the way. She makes the rest of us look like strange, half-developed, crawling, grey creatures. Michael might have tried to graft images of Audrey at every stage of her career onto his face all at the same time, but he cannot possibly equal her for prettiness.

3) Billy Jean vs. I Could Have Danced All Night? If my totally deranged questioner had used a word other than "pretty", I might have gone another way with this. But when it comes to prettiness, nothing can beat Audrey swaying about in floating, fluttery dresses with that guy who looks like her grandfather. Consider also the effeminizing effect of cockney charm, and you have no choice but to give the film the prettiness title. 

4) But didn't the film people give the role to Audrey instead of to the bowl-cutted magnificence that is Julie Andrews? And that after she'd been in the role on Broadway for ages? I didn't check any of my facts on this, but I believe I'm right. I will disregard the fact that my beliefs have been in conflict with the facts in the past. Facts are disputatious things. If I AM right, and I will proceed as though I am, I will have to disregard claims one through 3 and declare Michael Jackson the prettiness victor. Because it's one damn ugly thing to cross a singing nun.


Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HERE. I will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.


POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough.

 
 
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What follows is my interview with acclaimed YA author Y.S. Lee, author of the dispiritingly good A Spy in the House (the cover of which I have altered, just in case there was any doubt), the first in a series of three novels set in Victorian London. The book is available in North America as of tomorrow, so rush out to your nearest reputable or disreputable bookseller and purchase it.

Y.S.: Catastrophizer, I need to warn you that all my answers today will annoy and disappoint you. This is not because I’m trying to pre-catastrophize this interview but because I’m a combination upbeat/nervie. Having said that, thank you SO MUCH for having me here – you’re awesome! (Although I’ve probably already committed all manner of inadvertent illiteracies and thus earned only your undying disdain, rather than disgust.) Okay. Let’s go.

C: What do you think about death, and how often do you think it?

Y.S.: My death date is fixed and there’s nothing I can do to change that, so there’s no point in fearing it. I guess I’m either a fatalist or spectacularly in denial. Same difference? 

C.: What has been the greatest disappointment of your life and have you enhanced or rationalized it?

Y.S.: My greatest disappointment is a pattern of quitting things that I wasn’t naturally, effortlessly, instantly excellent at – ballet, music theory, and organic chemistry. I went on to overcompensate for such early scenes of shame by making myself finish things I really didn’t need to – eg, a PhD in English literature. I am intellectually lopsided but no longer 100% a quitter, and that is rationalization enough for me.

C: Your books are richly detailed and inventive, and as such, I resent you. Do you ever fear that the ideas in your head will run dry, as though they were a river made up of ideas that ran dry?

Y.S.: No. 

C: Your protagonist, Mary Quinn, is plucky, funny, resourceful and determined. Why create such an unrealistic and unappealing role model for young people?

Y.S.: It’s essential for all people – not just young ones – to have unrealistic role models. Without these remote ideals, how can we measure the dissatisfying inadequacy of our daily lives? And where would we escape when confronted by the crushing reality? Without escapist fiction, we would be forced to perform clichés like pulling up our bootstraps and changing our ways. With fiction, we can instead feel the benefits of transformation without exerting ourselves.


Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HERE. I will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough.
 
 
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I'm not sure exactly who this Harlan Cohen is, but the fact that he contributed to Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul III certainly speaks to his credibility. Although he has appeared on Sally Jesse Raphael, which makes me think he is not, in fact, "one of the youngest syndicated columnists."

 
Dear Harlan,
I am a single 35-year-old woman who has not dated very much -- in large part, I believe, due to my shyness. I have had a few short-lived relationships but have never been in a long-term relationship. I am curious to know, from your perspective (as a guy), if men would see my lack of relationship experience at my age as a red flag.

Dateless and Doubtful


1) Never assume you know what other people find repulsive or off-putting about you. You hypothesize that it's your shyness that repels people, but it could just as easily be your looks.

2) Did you continue to be shy during these short-lived relationships? If not, what about the rest of your personality do you think cut these relationships short?

3) Men might not see your lack of relationship experience as troubling, but they might be concerned by the fact that you are extremely insecure and apparently inclined to look for advice and emotional support from online advice columnists. 

Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HERE. I will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.


POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough.


 
 
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A question! A veritable question! From someone I don't know! Or at least, from someone I haven't known for that long! At least, not for longer than ten years! Or so.


Your friend has published a novel. It is, of course, terrible. In fact, it's worse than terrible: reading more than one sentence actually makes you nauseous. And now your friend is asking if you've "had a chance to read it yet". What should a good Catastrophyte do?


1) Feel violently jealous and allow yourself to be seized by a devastating sense of personal failure. The book may be execrable, but it is also now published and it is well known that many consumers lack the gag reflex.

2) Good catastrophytes desperately fear conflict of any kind because it will undoubtedly bring about the end of a friendship or, possibly, yelling. So the first response to this situation should be: stalling. You've been busy at work. You've been sick. You've been sick at work. You've really been feeling down. Pull them all out. If your friend persists, and some strong souls will, proceed to 3).

3) Clearly you cannot tell the truth. That would be both foolhardy and brave. And totally unnecessary. If you told the truth, your friendship would obviously either be finished or irrevocably damaged. If you've been passive-aggressively attempting to extricate yourself from this friendship for years, by all means, be honest. But if there's still something to be gained for you from this relationship, there's only one thing you can do: lie.

4) Lie. I cannot say this enough. LIE. Don't compromise your principles entirely; just lie a little bit. Let's try it. I loved your chapter transitions. The font choice was very believable. I always thought you'd be capable of writing such a book. Or, simply gaze at them, clasp your hands together earnestly and make low, keening noises. That can be interpreted in any number of ways.

5) This is yet another truly delicious catastrophizing scenario because it gives rise to a larger question. Why are you friends with someone who writes nauseating prose? How's your prose?

6) What's so beautiful about this is that it will have a lasting impact on you. If you are really convincing when you lie ever so slightly to your friend, you will learn never to believe any compliments paid to you ever again.

Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HERE. I will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.


POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough.