Saturday, March 04, 2006

Type Cast 7

If recent election results (remember the election?) and our Winter Olympics performance (so well behaved, so pot and judge bribery -free, so boring to those of us who only watch the Olympics for the scandals) are reliable indexes of our national mindset, Canadians are swarming to the medial standard like blowflies to bull pucks. The lowest common denominator is not just a point on the grid anymore, it is the grid. Yes, this country is in it’s annual mid-winter funk, our pale days of brine and neurosis, our macaroni salad days.

But let’s take a more global perspective and put our bad hair months in an international context. Even in our worst moments, we’ll never be as insignificant as Luxembourg or iron-deprived as most of Britain. And, of course, right next to us is the world’s greatest collection of low ballers, mouth breathers and layabouts - an ever expanding empire of browless wonders who spend their days gutting catfish, spelling phonetically, and washing with sticks. And I’m not talking about the good people of Greenland.

It is one of the great blessings of living in Canada that whenever we feel that we are wearing the ugliest sweatpants in the mall, we have only to drive 20 minutes south for a quick ego boost. And with the arrival of American humourist Dave Dunseath’s self-harm book Aim Low: Quit Often, Expect The Worst, and other Good Advice , you don’t even have to dust off your passport to get an all-you-can-eat portion of Yankee mediocrity.

Dunseath is a Nashville session drummer who, according to his author bio, has recorded with Lee Ann Womack, T. Graham Brown, Billy Dean, and Dan Seals. If, like me, you have never heard of any of these artists (my taste in country music begins and ends, abruptly, with Dolly Parton), well, that just proves Dunseath’s point. He’s a nobody, he proudly asserts, and Aim Low will teach you how to be an out, proud and happy loser too.

Broken into Big Issues chapters such as “Money”, “Love”, “Work”, and “Parenting”, Aim Low offers easy to read instructions on how to expect nothing but the least in any given life situation, and, Dunseath’s argument follows, thereafter learn to be happy with what little you have.

It’s not exactly Buddhism, or a monkish, Christian piety that’s being proclaimed here, but the idea of succeeding by failing, of having no goals or desires and therefore no disappointments, does have its precedents in both Eastern and Western philosophy (not that Dunseath would ever advocate attempting to read such texts). But his arguments are best understood as a kind of po’ white trash response to the endless striving, sacrificing and self-evaluating offered by middle class gurus like Dr. Phil. Let the educated and privileged worry about the morally upright or spiritually sound paths to contemporary happiness, Dunseath tells the reader – they’re the only ones with the time and money to fret over such things.

Some of Dunseath’s advice is surprisingly sound. On money, for instance, he reminds the reader that “whatever it is you do for a living, you probably had a pretty good idea going in what it paid”. So don’t waste valuable energy complaining about your crappy wages. On the merits of saving, Dunseath offers the sobering assessment that “you can never save enough – ever. Whatever you think will be enough, won’t be. And it’s a bad omen. … Whatever you save will be matched by a serious problem costing at or more than the relative value. In other words, save it and you’re just begging to blow out a knee or an engine.”

On the thorny subject of forgiveness (a thriving talk show staple crop, watered regularly with telegenic tears) Dunseath provides a handy cut out page, complete with a dotted line along the edge and a little illustration of a pair of scissors in case you miss the point (as will most of his target audience). Forget all that soulful breast beating and cut to the chase, proclaims Dunseath’s Forgiveness Affirmations fridge note: “When I make a horrible mistake, I should rectify it immediately with an apology. But if an apology alone is not accepted, I’m gonna see if a hundred bucks will smooth things over.”

Words to live by, and probably the best deterrent of bad social behaviour since public flogging. If I had to pay out a hundred bucks for every fit of rudeness I’ve spat at the world, I’d have to write three of these columns a day.

Americans can screw us on softwood lumber, drag us into their interminable culture wars and send us diplomats who act more like pro wrestlers than statesmen, but we will always be thankful to southern cousins like Dunseath for the priceless gift of odious comparison.

Brown and snow packed as our grass may be this winter, at least the lawn is not covered in rusty truck parts and plant pots made out of KFC buckets.