When a fake is nearly as good as the real deal

When I look at a situation that needs changing, I first try to imagine how the flawed situation would look in a perfect world. That at least gives me a target to shoot for. I then either rearrange things that can be rearranged to head in that direction, or I camouflage the situation such that it at least looks closer to the ideal. I’m not sure how well this works on a small scale but I find it pretty effective for big-picture scenarios. And maybe that’s because the details don’t matter quite as much.

For example, when I was younger by a couple of decades, I used to imagine myself a published author. In addition to stealing hours from the night while the baby slept or from my lunch hour on my job in order to write, or to read craft books and structure endless query letters and so forth, I had this habit—usually indulged while I was driving when nothing more constructive could be accomplished—of imagining myself as a successful author being interviewed by Oprah on her show.

Feel it, baby! You're almost there!

Feel it, baby! You’re almost there!

Just the feeling of stepping into that role—smiling benignly when asked by the Big O about where I got my story ideas or did I feel guilty receiving eight-figure advances when there were still starving people in (fill in the blank)?—helped me feel more confident in my dream of becoming an author. And trust me, as with a lot of things, feeling the part goes a long way to being the part.

There’s a lot to be said for feelings following behavior. I once dated an actor who was wonderfully good—brilliant, in fact, in the way he could transform himself from an impoverished, not particularly witty thirty-year old living in Atlanta, Georgia to a smoldering powerhouse in the character of Silva Vaccaro from Tennessee Williams’ 27 Wagons Full of Cotton. It wasn’t just my fondness for him that made me think his portrayal was one of the most mesmerizing performances on stage I’d ever seen. He was that good. Which was why when he scraped the makeup off it was so perplexing to have him resort to a whiny, depressed artiste—nothing like the characters he brought to life on stage.

Oh, fie! Where is yon lip gloss...?

Oh, fie! How canst thou smile if yon lip gloss is gone mayhaps forever?

When “Robin” complained to me about some amorphous tragedy he was in the midst of (it was never anything specific like needing rent money or having an annoying boil on his nose or something), I would say: “You’re an actor. Just pretend you’re happy! If you smile—like you do on stage—you’ll eventually end up feeling that way!” (BTW: This tact totally didn’t work with him. OTOH, I imagine my Pollyanna advice was at least as irritating to him as his whining was to me.)

19088982I’m not saying I believe that we can necessarily control how we feel or what we think. I get that unwanted thoughts and emotions squeeze into our minds during our daily round derailing our best intentions, our plans, our goals. But I think creating a pretend-world is a lovely exercise in make-believe that can, for at least a little bit, supplant reality when you really need reality to be blotted out. Or if you just need a level playing field to get your mood up, your confidence running, your mojo topped off—and I think once you’ve done that—and even gotten in the habit of doing it quite a bit—you’ll end up feeling a little better.

Anybody else subscribe to the fake it ‘til you make it line of thinking? Does it work for you? Got another idea?

 

When our heroes track mud on the living room carpet

Seventeen years ago, I found an awesome book called Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach. I have worn this book out, underlined it, typed whole sections into my smartphone over the years, mined it for never-fail gems upon which I have launched many a blog post. I remember loving her voice, her assuredness as I re-read her words of wisdom, much of it researched by great writers and thinkers, explorers and doers in history and enhanced and made current to our lives, our time by Ms. Breathnach’s own gentle voice and common sense perspective.

It’s not hyperbole to say that she touched my life. I found comfort and balance in her words and reached for this book often. If you’re not familiar with it, she gives an essay for every day of the year and while she mostly speaks to women, her essays cover everything from raising children to digging out of credit card debt to finding your passion to cooking a simple meal.

Today, I looked up the chapter where she addresses Spending Habits. She wrote: “One of the greatest gifts my husband has ever given me is the ability to think before I spend. This is how savers behave. Savers don’t get a high from recreational shopping. Savers don’t shop in order to make themselves feel better…Today, be willing to gently explore your life-energy expenditures. Don’t blame yourself for bad choices. Do attempt to make better ones. Most of our problems in handling money stem from unexamined patterns rather than from uncontrollable urges.”

Okay. Very nice, and as true today in 2012 as it was when she wrote it in 1995. You might have read this in last month’s O Magazine, it’s so current sounding. In fact, Ms. Breathnach appeared on Oprah’s show 11 times.

Which is why I was so shocked to discover that a few years after selling 7 million copies of Simple Abundance, Ms. Breathnach ended up divorced, broke and sleeping on the couch at her sister’s. (As a writer, myself, this is definitely not how one dreams that being a mega-bestseller author will end up.)

We all have heroes that fail us. We are all human. I get that. I think it’s remarkably gutsy to write a book saying you have researched all the answers and then go on Oprah eleven times to underscore the point.

And then trip.

My hat is off to her for trying in such a big way. In fact, I may currently be even more impressed with Ms. Breathnach than I was before her fall. It’s one thing to be all Yoda and wise when you’re sitting in your comfy middle-class home when you don’t have to worry about a day job because you have a working spouse. It’s quite another when you’re homeless, in debt up to your eyeballs and jobless.  Here is one Phoenix, however, I have to believe is destined to rise from the ashes.

Not surprisingly, she’s got a new book out about her journey. But for me, I think I’ll pass. Don’t get me wrong, my hat is off to her and her unsinkable Molly Brown ability to fashion opportunity out of failure, but I’ve gotten a few years under my belt since I last looked outward for my heroes. Today, I’m looking closer to home for that and sorting out the codes and values that define my life the old fashioned way: by trying to live them day by day instead of reading about them.