Useful Fictions

You can pick up little pieces of life-changing advice in the damndest places. Schlock TV and movies, for example.

I remember an episode of Marcus Welby, M.D. back ever so long ago, in which one young woman, at the bedside of her dying father, says something like, "All I wanted was for you to love me, and all you could give me was money. Why?" And the dying father replies something like, "I lived through the Depression, when the most important thing in the world was that next dollar. Because it meant there would be food and shelter." He went on in this vein (vaguely reminiscent of opera stars singing long last-minute arias before dying), but I don't remember anything of it. Because I had similar issues with my dad, and I started thinking about how he had come through the depression and had six kids and a stay-at-home-in-the-fifties-wife, and started his own business - and right there on the spot I stopped judging my father for thinking more about money than love. Thank you, Dr. Welby.

Another favorite comes from a travesty of a movie remake. Point of No Return was a terrible American remake of the French film Nikita, which I heard was pretty good but I still haven't seen it. The American version starred Bridget Fonda as an assassin in training and featured Anne Bancroft as one of her instructors in the art.

Bridget's character had some severe issues with anger management and, after several failed attempts to curb them, Bancroft instructed Fonda to repeat a certain mantra every time she felt an angry impulse. That mantra was: I never did let the little things bother me very much.

Brilliant. It does much more than get you over this particular hurdle. It sets up a fantasy history in which not only does this particular incident have no effect on you, but incidents of this trivial sort have never bothered you. At all. In one fell stroke it creates a whole other you - but not a new you. Someone else entirely, who has never had a problem letting anger get the best of them.

I never had trouble with uncontrollable anger. I do sometimes swear violently at innocent appliances that aren't doing my will, but mostly out of earshot of sentient beings. Nevertheless, I have found that little mantra useful from time to time.

Something's bugging me and I can't do anything about it. I never did let the little things bother me very much.

Plans go awry. I never did let the little things bother me very much.

Someone can't come through for me in ways I hoped s/he might. I never did let the little things bother me very much.

A pie plate cracks open with a finished pie inside it. (This happened last night. A previously undetected crack.) I never did let the little things bother me very much. Although that came after a bit of unrehearsed swearing.

It's a very useful little piece of self-deception. Try it sometime. Knowing that, actually, you never did get upset over little things like that gives you a former, albeit nonexistent, self to live up to. You don't have to try to become the person you want to be. Because that's who you always were.