I recently received the following letter from a reader:
I am only two years short of being an official senior. My fingers are arthritic and gnarly. My hair is thinning. I have one or two chronic illnesses. My best friend is dying of cancer. My old house has never been renovated and it is falling apart. My dog is very farty. I don't have any savings. Do you think granite countertops would give me a much needed boost? If so, do you know where can I find someone who would be willing to pay for my new countertops in exchange for my "friendship" (wink. wink.), or something else that I can afford to swap (maybe the farty dog????)?
This letter presents me with an unusual challenge. For the most part, I spend my time transforming seemingly insignificant things into promises of future disappointments, disillusionments, and tragedies. I focus on how one unimportant decision can result in totally unintended and appalling consequences, or how one stupid, selfish butterfly in Brazil can flap its stupid, selfish, flappable wings and cause me to make an unimportant decision that then results in totally unintended and appalling consequences.
What I find it difficult to do is to respond in a flip, glib, or hyperbolically pessimistic way to someone already well aware of life's hazards and griefs. It's the people who burble on about how you should always be positive and how I should really read The Secret I'd like to trick into watching anything by Ingmar Bergman, followed by anything by Lars von Trier, followed by Up.
So, because I can't make snarky, negative comments about much of this, and telling someone her life might be really hard at the moment, but her sense of humour and her use of "farty dog" in such a manner as to make it sound like a euphemism for something naughty and distressing should really be a great source of comfort is trite and unconvincing, I'll focus on the one thing I can in good conscience catastrophize: the suggestion of exchanging sex for kitchen renovations.
It's entirely possible that granite countertops would bring you a much-needed and well-deserved boost. I also think it's entirely possible you could find someone who'd provide you with some countertops free of charge if you subjected him to your feminine wiles. The problem is, such a man would undoubtedly be either a) a dangerous pervert, or b) desperately lonely and vulnerable and dull and interested in you for more than your wiles. Either way, you'd find yourself resenting those granite countertops that initially promised so much pleasure and delight.
I have found, though, that feeling smugly superior to other people can also inspire sensations of pleasure and delight. So I recommend the following: visit the houses of people you know who have beautifully-renovated kitchens and bulging savings accounts. Then, concentrate on how boring they are, how much less funny than you they are, and, if they leave the kitchen for a moment, encourage your dog to fart on their counter.