Saturday, October 21, 2006

I can hardly wait to get to my Fs!

Recently my publisher forwarded to me a letter from Joan Belzer, "certified graphologist." On very nice personalized letterhead, Ms. Belzer writes, "I finished reading your book, SHAM, and couldn't agree more with your conclusions how the self-help movement made American helpless."* Having said that, she proceeds to tell me about her new self-help book, which she took the liberty of enclosing—and which may be the most unintentionally comical thing I've ever read. It's called The Handwriting Therapist: rewrite your life in five minutes a day.

The premise of Belzer's book is that "handwriting is brain writing." She cites several famous historical figures, including Sigmund Freud and Alfred Binet (considered the father of modern-day intelligence testing), who, she says, endorsed a link between penmanship and the inner workings of the mind—though she presents no scientific or empirical evidence for this notion, which she fleshes out on page xii of her preface:

".... Handwriting is affected by the subconscious aspect of the brain. The subconscious is affected by the life experiences of each individual person. The content of your writing (e.g., words and message) represents your conscious thoughts while the form of your writing (e.g., shape of letters, location within the page) is a reflection of your subconscious. Since no two people have the same subconscious, no two handwritings are exactly alike, like fingerprints."
Over the next few graphs, Belzer argues that, therefore, by working backwards—changing your handwriting—it stands to reason that you can change your subconscious mind and thus your behavior. It takes 21 days, she says.

It's not often that one encounters an author who, before her book even gets into actual page numbers, undercuts her whole theory. Just because handwriting is "affected" by the subconscious (which, remember, she hasn't proved to begin with, and is a pretty vague statement in any case) does not mean that the reverse is also true—that by changing the handwriting, you can "affect" the subconscious. That's kind of like saying that because normally you wear heavy clothes in winter, if you simply switch to lighter clothes—heck—you can change winter back to summer! Well, no. The fact that A causes B does not mean that changing B will necessarily have any direct effect on A. Further, one doesn't want to get too nitpicky, but it strikes me that if you're going to self-publish a book on handwriting (a topic that just naturally focuses one's eye on the written word and its usage), you should pay a bit more attention to grammar, or at least proofreading. There should be fewer sentences like: "The history of graphology or study of handwriting, begun as early as 1000 B.C., when a Chinese man named Kuo Jo Hsu recognized that one could tell a person's character by the way he made his strokes." No matter how you slice it, that sentence needs work. Belzer's book is full of such sentences. At times, she almost sound like she writing in Ebonics. From page 62: "Do the lower zone loops come all the way back to the baseline? If not, divide you age by where they stop." The logic doesn't get much better, either. And the actual exercises she gives you to spark this grand metamorphosis...well, that's where much of the humor comes in. I have already read the material on pages 58 and 59 several times—and I still can't quite stop laughing over the idea that changing the way I loop the bottom half of my y's is going to help me enjoy sex more.

Anyway, you can begin rewriting your subsconscious mind, and enjoying sex more, for the low-low price of $14.95 (a $5 discount off the regular price, the author informs us), by sending your check to, um, the author. But please be sure to add the $5 back on (actually, just $4.95) for postage and handling.

And if you'll excuse me now, I'm going to get back to working on my y's.....

P.S. SUNDAY a.m. I hadn't even glanced at the back cover before now—not sure why—but it says that through Belzer's therapy, you'll "gain control over your life...lose weight...raise your self worth...help with AHDH...release your past disappointments...." And so on. Wow! So all you need is this $15 paperback and your life will be peachy-keen? You can dispense with any and all other types of psychotherapy or counseling, and throw away your meds? In fact, you won't even need those other books by Dr. Phil, Tony Robbins and the like? Who'd-a thunk...!

* The "about" that this sentence would seem to call for between "conclusions" and "how" is missing in the original.

11 comments:

Cosmic Connie said...

Y, o, y, Steve, do you keep making fun of serious scientific works? This poor woman is only trying to help people make their lives better. :-)

If nothing else, Belzer's work is a good argument for hiring an editor (or rewriter), whether one is publishing independently or planning to approach a trade publisher. It's amazing how so many folks indignantly insist their work has already been edited and doesn't need anything more.

The Rev and I talked to one such person not too long ago. We told him our price for editing, and he practically spit in our faces. "I'm not paying ANYONE that much, especially since this thing's been edited to death already!" he sputtered. Some good friends of ours who were in on this conversation (and who had introduced us to him) were quite taken aback by his rudeness. However, he *was* interested in our feedback, so he gave us a partial manuscript of his novel. We said we'd read it when we had time. We found it to be full of anachronisms, misspellings, awkward phrasing, questionable dialogue and other potentially fatal flaws. But since he was unwilling to pay us to edit, we elected not to give him any feedback, and as far as we know, he's going ahead with trying to get the thing published.

But I digress. Grammatical errors aside, Belzer's book sounds pretty...ummm...loopy to me. I'm not discounting the idea that handwriting can reveal some things about a person's state of mind or even their personality. (My own handwriting reveals that I am the sort of person who is better off typing.) But to claim that changing your handwriting can change your subconscious mind and therefore your life...well, that sounds like more ho'poannoying claptrap to me.

a/good/lysstener said...

Very funny stuff, Steve and Connie. To me, if I'm going to work on my sex life, I'd prefer to do it with an actual live human, not a series of handwriting exercises. The right human, of course.

Anonymous said...

Well, if you find something that works, more power to you. In all aspects of life, self-help preys on the desperate. So those people who have tried everything and have nowhere else to turn for help have no hope but to work on their y's...

I'm sure the book would sell a few copies.

RevRon's Rants said...

"I think, therefore, I am." - Descartes

becomes

"I write, that I need not think."

Aummmmmmm

Steve Salerno said...

"Cogito ergo dumb"?

Cosmic Connie said...

I do have to admit that certain people with a Y chromosome -- most notably, the Rev -- have made my life immeasurably better. :-)

a/good/lysstener said...

I have friends my own age who say they have already given up on men, if you can believe it. They say you can have a perfectly good time with your own little X, if you want. While that may be true, I think every girl knows in her heart she needs a good Y to really feel complete.

Trish Ryan said...

This is priceless. As is the author's conviction that with a little bit of flattery, she'd convince you to abandon everything you believe (or don't believe, as the case may be) and embrace HER SHAM.

Are you sure your publisher isn't playing a joke on you???

Steve Salerno said...

No, Trish, much as it might seem so, this is no joke. I am holding the actual 119-page book in my hands as I write this (which shows you how good I am at typing, though I grant you that my actual handwriting could, indeed, use some remediation). Random House may be a huge company, but they're not going to go through the trouble of creating a practical joke like this just for my benefit. Trust me on that one.

The irony is, if you think about it, Ms. Belzer's "program" isn't that much more absurd than many others currently in vogue--and raking in millions for the gurus who preach them.

matt dick said...

So... what does it reveal about my state of mind that I basically stopped writing entirely about 10 years ago in favor of typing, recording my voice, or just plain forgetting?

Steve Salerno said...

It reveals that you're hopeless, Matt. But then again, maybe that's why you're forgetting everything--because you stopped writing things out in longhand. I'm sure Ms. Belzer could cure you of that by changing the way you loop the L in her name, on the check you send her for $19.95...