The author of perhaps the most famous self-help book ever written, The Power of Positive Thinking, was Norman Vincent Peale, a bigoted evangelical Protestant preacher who, when confronted with the imminent election of John F. Kennedy (a Roman Catholic) in 1960, declared, "Our culture is at stake," and openly worried that "our right to free speech may disappear." Maybe it's just me, but holy crap, that kind of thinking doesn't seem positive. Despite the obvious fact that he was a pious and hypocritical old fartbox, in 1984 NVP was awarded America's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by, you guessed it, Ronald Reagan. I can only surmise that this honor was for another of his gifts to literature from 1957, the magnificently titled Stay Alive All Your Life. The stupid son of a bitch must have been Irish.
It's been several years since my last book was published, and almost three since I quit drinking, narcotics, and believing I was indestructible. I've also turned fifty and become addicted to road biking, which, in an irony I didn't find at all comforting, nearly killed me a lot faster than the alcohol and painkillers. What's more, it really hurt. The only way I would have found anything remotely amusing about the experience was if the truck that ran over me had been hauling alcohol and painkillers. Now, I don't care who you are, that would have been funny.
I don't expect this book will help anybody a whole lot, but then again, according to mental health professionals (then and now), neither did Positive Norman's. But you never know. Laughing, or even smiling, can be at least as effective as expensive therapy in banishing negativity from a person's thoughts. I wonder how many people are thinking positively when they are swallowing all their sleeping pills, attaching their larynxes to exhaust pipes, or teetering on some pigeon-stained ledge. I suppose they might be positive that they're going to die, but I'm not sure that's what Norman was trying to get across.
At the depth of my bout with addiction and depression, I too considered grabbing my own hat and assuming room temperature more than once, but there was always something or somebody who did something that made the part of me that was still alive giggle a little and take a step back up from the bottom of my amygdala, which is the landing that sits in the middle of the emotional stairwell of our brains. (I know that because I had a lot of expensive therapy.) Sometimes it was one of my children, or Anita, my beautiful and long-suffering wife, but more often than not, it was one of my dogs. All of my life, I've looked at dogs and imagined what they were thinking. Why do they look at me, embarrassed, when they are snapping one off on my lawn? Willard, my elderly Schnauzenweiner cross, will stop in midsqueeze and wait for me to lose interest before he'll continue. In one dog-shit psychology experiment I counted five or six rest rings in his offering, which coincided exactly with my glances in his direction. What the hell does he want—for me to look the other way and whistle, like there's nothing to see here? There most certainly is: Apparently, I can sculpt dog turds using only my mind. I don't know about you, but I bet Sigmund Freud would have been deeply impressed.
So there is less about golf in this book, and more about scat and other similar material, like life in general, which is just other people's scat when you think about it, which you positively shouldn't. That's the whole point—sorry, Norm—positively don't think. Just get on with whatever it is you're doing and pay attention to the present moment. If you can forget the past and disregard the future, you're right here right now, which is lucky, because right here, right now, is all you ever have. It's that simple.
From the Trade Paperback edition.