Hi Uptight, I have a friend who's involved in those personal-growth workshops they used to call EST and now call "The Forum." Now he's trying to get me to go, too. The pattern is this: He'll invite me somewhere, but then cancel those plans and promise better ones. The "better plans" turn out to be a Forum workshop at a hotel conference room in Federal Way, with Safeway deli trays and lots of "great" people. WWUSD?Shrinking Violet
Dear Shrinking Violet, I've been to a few seminars, meditation retreats, and sweat lodges in my time. And the Center for Spiritual Living down on Sand Point Way, I've been there a few times. (Good folks, if a little, I don't know, enthusiastic for me, with that big choir and everything.) If I had to boil down everything I learned at all these places, it would be something like this: Forget that Eurocentric nonsense about being the captain of your soul. You're more like the assistant manager. So who's general manager? Kurt Vonnegut said he believed in whatever guides monarch butterflies to Mexico. That's good enough for me. The important thing is to be filled with a vague, pleasant feeling. Like a portobello ravioli. Anyway, Violet, there are plenty of honest people in the personal-transformation business. And giving them a small donation to help them pay their rent can be perfectly OK. But if they demand more and more money, tell you you're not allowed to pee, or serve Safeway deli trays? Get away, fast. Dear Uptight Seattleite, I just got one of those REI-style rain jackets you mentioned last week. It's great, but I often have the uncomfortable feeling that my hood is about to fall off. Help!Loose Hood
Dear Loose Hood, Stand tall, my friend! You're still hunching over the way people do when it rains. No need for that now. You're wearing a high-tech garment that renders you as perfectly adapted to this climate as any mammal can be. Leave the hunching to the style slaves in their fitted coats, whimsical scarves, and Civil War caps. And to those skinny young people shivering in their thin cotton "hoodies." Hold your head high as you pass these slinky creatures, your spine the proud center pole of your tentlike profile. This upright posture will hold your hood firmly in place, and you'll be home and dry while they're still wringing out their Chucks. Dear Uptight Seattleite, Don't you think traffic circles are inconvenient?Dizzy Driver
Dear Dizzy Driver, Traffic circles are many things. They are brave oases of nature in a desert of pavement. They are inspired by advanced European theories of traffic flow. They are utopian havens of communal gardening. (Though some communal gardeners apparently need to be reminded about traffic circle no-nos, so let's go over the list again: nonorganic fertilizer, nonnative plant species, and Dennis Kucinich signs. They were OK in 2004, but we've since found life beyond scrappy, doomed idealism. It's time to hop on the Hope Train, people!) But inconvenient is one thing they're not, my carbon-burning friend. In fact, they need to be more inconvenient. Some people do not yet feel sufficiently admonished for using the streets for driving. That's why certain neighborhoods are experimenting with traffic bio-swells, traffic battlements, and traffic moats. Dear Uptight Seattleite, How should I toilet train my tot?Puzzled Parent
Dear Puzzled Parent, The most important thing is to avoid shame. After all, when he has an "accident," he's just doing what comes naturally—really no worse than me wearing my most comfortable sport sandals and wriggling my hairy toes around for everyone to see. Or, when even that isn't comfortable enough, slipping them off and giving myself a little foot massage. If other people have a problem with my level of self-comfort, that's their hurdle to overcome. Likewise, you should readjust the way you see your child's bodily functions and gently redirect his impulses. Suggest that, as wonderfully luxurious as it may be to take a crap in your pants, sitting on the toilet can be even better. Tell him not to force the rhythm, to let it come to him. The right reading material is essential—stay away from The Nation, or anything else that may get him riled up about the state of the world. I suggest 100 Poems From the Japanese. While other bells that will toll in his future may be less pleasant (adolescence, death), there's no reason why this particular call of nature can't be an occasion for contemplative repose. Have a question for the Uptight Seattleite? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.