Thursday, April 17, 2008

"Is This A Strange Way To Think?"

Last weekend, I accompanied by wife, Dr. M, to a place where she’d serve on a panel questioning someone defending their PhD. dissertation. That’s the exciting kind of life we lead, my life being even less exciting than hers. She was at least doing something boring; I was just accompanying her.

The college campus we went to was just south of Santa Barbara. It felt like an estate that had been turned into a college. We later learned that’s exactly what it was. The property had once belonged to the Fleischmann family. They had apparently made enough money selling fake butter to purchase an estate.

After lunch, my wife went off to do her thing, and I looked for a place to hang out. It was a magnificent, spring day. The sky was blue, a light breeze was blowing, horses were neighing in the distance. In short, it was very nice place to wait for your wife.

I found a wooden bench under a tree. I sat down and read an entertainment column in the L.A. Weekly, something about the Lifetime channel stealing Project Runway from Bravo, or at least that’s how Bravo saw it. Then, I checked out a series of mini reviews of movies I didn’t want to see. I was having a pretty good time. I was reading meaningless drivel, but at least none of it was making me angry.

I put down the paper and looked around. I’m not a good describer, but the surroundings were breathtaking. Immaculate, Spanish-style buildings, flanked by sturdy trees, their branches rustling in the breeze. Rich, manicured lawns, and beautifully tended gardens planted with a rainbow of multi-colored flowers. (I don’t mean that each flower was multi-colored. Different flowers, different colors. I told you I wasn’t good at this.)

Birds were chirping, insects were buzzing around. I saw a rabbit. Everywhere I looked, there were spectacular, green vistas.

Put it all together, it spelled, “Perfect.”

What would you say is the appropriate response to a situation like this? You’re feeling the feeling the setting is inspiring. Exactly what feeling would that be?

You might think, “What a spectacular day.” “What I lucky person I am to be here.” You could simply sit back and sigh a deep, relaxing sigh. “Life is wonderful,” you might think. “Not a care in the world.”

Or

You might think like me.

There I was, basking in the sunshine in an idyllic locale. And what was the thought that popped happily into my mind?

“I could die here.”

I need your objective opinion: Is there something wrong with that? An exquisitely satisfying moment, and what comes spontaneously to my mind is, “What a wonderful place to wrap it all up.” What do you think about that?

I can’t judge. I have strange thoughts all the time. But that doesn’t mean I don’t wonder about them sometimes.

I wonder what thoughts other people might have in the same situation. Thoughts of love? Thoughts of hope and optimism? Inspiring thoughts, opening your mind in new and exhilarating directions? I can imagine other thoughts. I just did. But those thoughts belong to people who aren’t me.

My only thought was that it was the perfect spot to call it a day.

A tiny revelation: I practiced. A little rehearsal. I took one last look around, smiled peacefully, I heard a soft “Goodbye” escape my lips. Then, my head dropped gently to my chest, and off I went.

That’s not so crazy, is it? Dying is an important moment in your life. You ought to practice it, don’t you think?

Of course, it’s possible I was simply employing my patented “reverse” strategy, the one where you say the opposite of what you actually want to happen. You’re saying out loud, “I could die here”, but what you’re fearing inside is, “I could die now.” You don’t want to die now, so you say it’s okay if you do. It’s a little twisted, but there it is.

I’ve been told I’ve been pulling that kind of stunt since I was a kid. My brother relates that, once, as kids, we were in some neighborhood club, and every week, they raffled off a box of cookies. Apparently, the whole week before they drew the ticket, I kept saying, “We’re never going to win.” “We’re never going to win.” “We’re never going to win.”

And then we won.

That strategy seems to have stayed with me. On some level, I believe that’s how things work. You say, “We’re never going to win” and you win. You say, “I could die here” and you won’t.

It seems to have worked again. I’m still here.

What I’m thinking now is that maybe I did want to die there, just not that day. Or soon. The question is, why was I thinking about dying at all? Why wasn’t I just enjoying myself? Or is that just the way I enjoy myself.

Let me know about this. Imagine yourself in an idyllic setting, and tell me, how far down would you’d put “I could die here” on your personal list of possible responses. Sometimes, it’s helpful to know how crazy I really am.

It’s one of the things I think about:

“How do we know things?”

“Is there a God?”

and

“Where do I fit on the continuum of craziness?”

10 comments:

Ger Apeldoorn said...

I do this all the time, Earl. In fact, it has got to stop.

Why? I'll explain.

See, I'm doing your style, here.

Anyway, the reason it has got to stop is, that I also do it when I am writing. Yes, like you I am a comedy writer. But unlike you I can't afford to quit yet.

For twenty years I have worked with a writing partner. I thought that was because it made the writing better and more fun to do.

Uh-uh.

Being like you, i.e. someone who is so afraid of something bad happening that he has to brace himself for it all the time, whenever we turned in an assignment or finished a project to go on television, I was saying all the time: 'They're going to hate it". I drove my partner mad, but it kept me insane. And sometimes they didn't hate it and sometimes they did. But I could take it.

But now my partner has found out he can make the same money (or more) being a tv presenter, so he left me and I have to learn how to do it on my own.

And I just can't do it. Okay, I can - but it takes a lot out of me. Because now, everytime I have to turn soemthing in I have no one to tell me it'll be all right.

Because sometimes it is. And sometimes it isn't.

I could die here.

Beth said...

Well, Earl, the scene you described sounded a little like an idealized cemetery. Perhaps that had some influence on your thoughts.

diane said...

And I think that I am nuts for always thinking that the worst things are going to happen. For example, last night on the radio someone mentioned that his father had been carjacked at knifepoint. There I am, peacefully driving along in my car and my mind takes me to a situation where I am now being carjacked by a knife wielding crazy and all I can think about is how to convince him that I need to take my dogs with me. Does politeness count when being held up? Will the dogs barking make the situation worse? Oh, I can go on and on, but I'm pretty sure that you don't need me to. I go thru these miserable scenarios every other day. I would much rather have your proclivity for death scenes.

Earl Pomerantz said...

I appreciate all your comments. They make me feel less alone, and more part of a group. A not too healthy group, perhaps, but a group nonetheless. I'm proud to be a member. You may be strange, but you're articulately strange. That's the best way to be strange I know.

Michael said...

God made Dr. M your soul mate and you wonder "Is there a God?"

"continuum of craziness"
Is that our beloved Earl or John Lahr?

sal said...

You understand reaction formation! Excellent.

jesk said...

Actually, ger apeldoorn...you can afford to quit it.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

jesk,

Actually, things are looking up again this week, so I guess I'll stick with it for a bit longer.

I guess your remark that I can affort to quit is not some smartass comeback, but rather a philosofical statement about the fact that we can all change our lives if we want and maybe should if we are unhappy with it. But the fact of the matter is that I am happy when I can write and create and since I am seeing bad things everywhere anyway, I don't think that another job would make me more easy going. I've learned to live with the fact that I am a miserable bastard and find my highs inbetween.

Anonymous said...

I read your reaction and thought, 'Yeah? Isn't that everyone's normal reaction?" Then I realized I might need help.

Ken Levine

PALGOLAK said...

I concur with the others.