Giving your troubles some troubles too

Instead of trying to escape your life, why not give your troubles some trouble too? Learning from Dr. Seuss' bildungsroman.

Giving your troubles some troubles too
The last page of Dr. Seuss' "I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew" (1965)

Instead of trying to escape your life, why not give your troubles some trouble too?

This is the message of Dr. Seuss's I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew. This bildungsroman from the whimsical doctor illustrates some key insights for young people on how to navigate a world full of troubles, accidents, storms, and shysters! And like the best children's stories, Dr. Seuss hides truths which can entertain and enlighten adults of any age as well.

(1) Troubles will come – and more than you can be ready for!

The book starts out with our protagonist who lives in the Valley of Vung, and claims that "nothing, not anything ever went wrong." Like the Buddha though, our sheltered protagonist needs to come into confrontation with the sufferings of this world before he can attain the wisdom which only comes with experience.

He has nothing go wrong, until the day that trips on a rock and sprains the main bone in his tail! Thinking he has learned his lesson, he carefully watches his feet wherever he walks. Until... he is bitten from behind by a Quilligan Quail! Thinking that this time he has learned his lesson, he resolves to look forwards with one eye and backwards with another at the same time – until he finds himself assaulted from above and below as well!

His carefree life is dramatically cut short by an accident – a pebble in the road – and these troubles simply keep multiplying, no matter what countermeasures he deploys. Life is full of more troubles than we can imagine, and even our attempts to guard against suffering create vectors for new and unthinkable forms of misery!

(2) Someone is always peddling a solution...

But wouldn't you have it, our young Siddhartha meets a friendly chap on his way to the city of Solla Sollew "on the banks of the beautiful River Wah-Hoo, where they never have troubles! At least, very few." (an unfortunate caveat with interesting consequences later in the story)

The sojourner offers him a ride to this fantastical city, and naturally our protagonist takes him up on the offer. He says it's not far, but after more than a day of travel they have still not arrived yet. To make matters worse, their camel falls ill, so they must carry the camel up the mountain in search of a camel doctor!

(3) ... but it might not be a solution for you!

But wouldn't you know that somehow our protagonist ends up being the only one doing the pulling? The chap proposes that they practice some "teamwork" in which he provides the brains and our young man provides ("the muscles, the aches, and the pains." The traveler knows he can take advantage of him because he's young.

Thus, we watch as the protagonist has gone from one set of troubles to a new set of troubles as he allowed himself to become entangled with this unknown person's dubious quest to locate a solution for his own suffering. Along the way, the traveler has managed to find an unwitting patsy to alleviate his own troubles at the expense of increasing the troubles of our young protagonist.

In the end, he leaves the protagonist high and dry, with nothing but the advice to head down the hill to catch the Happy Way Bus which leaves at 4:42.

(4) Institutions are not so solid as they seem

Well, it turns out that this Happy Way Bus has been crippled because it drove over four nails! The kind and lyrical notification from the Bus Line President Horace P. Sweet delivers the heart-sinking news to the young man who now has to continue hoofing it all the way to this fantastic city of Solla Sollew.

Institutions can and will fail you. When the background processes we rely on break, revealing themselves for the fragile and fickle things they are, it can be highly disorienting. It can feel like our world is falling apart, and it multiples our suffering in ways that we had likely never even considered.

(5) Salvage the resources left behind by those who ran away

"It's the Midwinter Jicker!" cries the old man evacuating his home in the pouring rain. He warns our young protagonist that the dreaded storm has come early this year, but that he's welcome to stay in the old man's house to try to stay dry.

Sleep doesn't come easily, as the young man tosses and turns as the storm rages outside and families of owls and mice chitter inside.

He makes do with what he has, taking advantage of the shack which the old man abandoned for fear of his life. A long way from home, caught in a storm, and delirious with exhaustion, our protagonist manages to grab some sleep. He comforts himself with a luxurious dream of soft pillows in a palace in Solla Sollew.

However, he finds himself rudely awoken by the house sliding off the cliff into the ocean! The Midwinter Jicker has brought a "flubbulous flood" which sets him adrift on the water for twelve days.

(6) Beware those who call upon you to do your duty

As fate would have it, our protagonist is fished out of the flood by a rope, only to be greeted at the top of the cliff by a zealous general leading his troops into battle! "There's a war going on. And it's time that you knew, every lad in this land has his duty to do" barks the general as he presses the young man into military service.

The general and his men conscript our young protagonist into their campaign against the Perilous Poozer of Pompelmoose Pass, arming him with a pea-shooter and only one bean. However, when they army discovers that there is more than just one Poozer in the pass, the general quickly rationalizes a retreat, and abandons their newly minted private.

Those who speak of duty pay deference to high ideals and press us with moral urgency, but they often , and leave us high and dry when it counts most. You are always expendable, despite all the lofty moral discourse. Institutions in society often play a "heads I win, tails you lose" game with us, and the sooner we can recognize this the better chance we have of not getting caught in the crossfire.

(7) Avoid the byzantine tunnels of modern living,

Our unfortunate protagonist barely manages to escape the pack of ravenous Poozers. As he runs for his life, he encounters a tube marked "Vent No. 5." He asks no questions, jumping right in, but...

... this serendipitous salvation gives way to a dystopian discovery – a caravan of birds all traveling through a dark and mossy underground tunnel to an unknown destination. In the damp darkness he must desperately travel against the crowd going who-knows-where. Birds caught in servitude, crying children, uneven terrain, pollsters, breakable plates, horns and drums, every conceivable modern horror of travel packed into a single tube. It's a nightmare.

But isn't it just like modern life too? Everyone is just trying to get where they need to go, all queueing, all miserable, and all relegated to subterranean forms of seemingly mundane suffering which are all pressed together in a suffocating proximity.

But our protagonist must run, fall, and crawl against this pressing crowd to find his way to salvation – the city of Solla Sollew. Which, with the lucky discovery of a tiny trap door, he does reach his destination!

Although, things are not over yet...

(8) Even if paradise existed, they would have troubles too!

The city of Solla Sollew has one giant gate for its entrance, and a friendly man stands at the ready to let our young protagonist into the city with no troubles, at least very few.

It turns out that one of these few existing troubles has been quite troublesome – a Key-Slapping Slippard has taken up residence in the door to the city, and so the gatekeeper has been unable to open the door to Solla Sollew for two weeks! Of course, it's bad luck to kill a slippard, so our protagonist is in quite a jam.

Locked out of paradise, the gatekeeper has made his decision to ditch Solla Sollew entirely. He informs the young protagonist about an even better city! "I'm off to the city of Boola Boo Ball, on the banks fo the beautiful River Woo-Wall, where they never have troubles! No troubles at all!" As it turns out, even those with very few troubles dream of a place where they can experience none at all!

But finally, our protagonist has begun to learn his lesson. He's starting to think. So, he hesitates at the gatekeeper's tale of Boola Boo Ball, the city where they never have troubles (no troubles at all!).

Instead of running away again, he stops and considers how to respond to his life. After some thinking, he decides to head back home to the Valley of Vung. He accepts that troubles will come, but now he carries a big bat, and declares that "now my troubles are going to have troubles with me!"

This month has been slow for Samsara Diagnostics, so thank you for your patience – I've had a paid writing project that needed my attention, and I've also been preparing for my daughter's birth in the next couple weeks.

The good news is that I have many half-begun pieces that I'm excited about, but I'm not quite sure yet how they fit together or in what order they should be released. Rest assured, they will see daylight as soon as is feasible.

In the meantime, I hope that you enjoy Dr. Seuss as much as I do.

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