Tuesday, September 17, 2013

we can see each other tomorrow

Sometimes even to live is an act of courage – Lucius Annaeus Seneca

And, sometimes it’s just going through the motions. As I write this particular entry, I’m a couple weeks away from the fall quarter starting, a couple weeks away from being really busy. Some days—today, for example—this blog is the only commitment I’ve got. I went to a movie screening last night, might go to one tonight… alone. At least my only option isn’t Heidi II. The thing is, I’ve been thinking about the passage of time, how we reference the past or the future, how we put some things off for later even when we’ve got nothing to do. I’m reminded of a line from Tremors:

Yeah. See, we plan ahead, that way we don't do anything right now. Earl explained it to me.

I look at a group of post-it notes with ideas scribbled on them and instead I start writing about something else. The post-it notes are like a safety net for when I’ve got nothing to say. The weird thing is, I want to complain about something that isn’t even in Groundhog Day today, mostly because I realized Phil Connors probably has lost all reference to recent events in his life… I mean, how does he talk about what he does, when he bothers to tell people? In the film, he only ever tells Rita, but in Ramis’ second revision, Phil just blurts it out all over the place. And, I wonder, if he ever gets into the details, how does he reference previous February 2nds? There’s no yesterday anymore. There’s not really a tomorrow, though he does refer to tomorrow when speaking to the kid who falls from the tree. Oh, and he also tells the Old Man one morning, “Catch you tomorrow, Pops.” There’s no Sunday, no Monday, no Wednesday, no Thursday, no Friday, no Saturday. It’s always Tuesday, February 2nd, 1993. And, I’d like to think that Phil doesn’t bother with a meaningless phrase like “the other day.”

Now, I’m going to potentially ruin some TV shows for you readers now, because, synchronicity and all, you’re going to start noticing this all over the place, in just about every episode of most sitcoms or episodic dramas. Characters never seem to know how long it’s been since anything happened. If it was in the previous episode or before, it was “the other day.” Hell, if the current episode has covered a few days, then events at the beginning of the episode were “the other day.” Now, there’s a practical reason to use this phrase from episode to episode—most shows do not want to get bogged down in continuity. If I ever rewatch Lost—and, given my views on its ending, I’m not sure if I will—I will have to pay attention to this because that was a show where the day count was specifically tracked not just by obsessive viewers like me but by the makers of the show.

There is a reasonable use for “the other day” in regular conversation as well, and it is this: you don’t remember what day it was but it was recently. The Free Dictionary (citing Webster’s) tells us that “the other day” means “at a certain time past, not distant, but indefinite; not long ago; recently; rarely, the third day past.”

(I like that last one. So, going backward, we’d have yesterday, the day before yesterday, then the other day.)

The Urban Dictionary has a great take on this phrase:

A meaningless definition of time used in reference when speaking to the past. Most typically 'the other day' would connote to being as far back as a week or maybe two; but has been so grossly overused, and therefore, any meaningful annotation slaughtered, that it clearly can now define ANY period of past-time leaving the many delusional to refer to infinite time as just 'the other day'.

Bro 1: Dude, you totally still have a thing for your ex! Remember, you just got drunk and slept with her like, the other day!!

Bro 2: Nah dude, that was like, 6 months ago at the New Year's party, then she moved out of state & I haven't seen her since. It's June now, bro.

(Just ignore their use of “bro” and that extra exclamation point, because those things are even worse than the phrase “the other day.”)

Time becomes meaningless when you institute phrases like “the other day.” Personally, I like knowing when things happened. It bugs me when I can’t remember the specific day or date.

You know what else bugs me: when Rita says, “Let’s talk about it back in Pittsburgh.” I mean, yeah, on the one hand, she’s putting the conversation about Phil’s apparent insanity for later. But, imagine the van ride back to Pittsburgh, how awkward that would be if they don’t have the conversation then. That’s like an hour and a half of Phil being insane and Larry and Rita being… I don’t know, suspicious about his insanity. Like, is he homicidal crazy? Should we have a police escort? Shouldn’t we have noticed his insanity the other day?

How easy would it have been for the line to be, “Let’s talk about it in the van”?

(And, why does the doctor sound so condescending when Phil mentions the blizzard? Wouldn’t the doctor have some inkling of who he’s treating? If a professional weatherman mentions a blizzard to you, you should probably figure there’s a blizzard. Now, Rita, on the other hand, has good reason to question Phil about the blizzard because she knows he said it was going to miss them. But, the doctor? No, he’s just a jerk.)

And, now Phil’s driving with Ralph and Gus and the big turning point is about to come—“What if there were no tomorrow?” My counter—what if there were no “the other day?” And, I don’t mean the phrase, necessarily, but the past, an accounting for all we’ve done before this moment. Consequences don’t really come from the present, technically. They are a response to the past. Hell, everything’s in the past, if you want to be literal about it… If you’ve got 7 minutes, give this a watch:

Then again, “now” is just a word, and we decide what it means. So, of course, now is now. We live in the present, because that’s what the present is. And, everything else happened the other day, I suppose. And, Rita’s right when she tells Phil “We can see each other tomorrow.” For Phil, it’s unimaginable—there is no tomorrow. But, there’s always tomorrow. And tomorrow is as bright and happy as we imagine it to be. Mary Anne Radmacher, self-help book author, made this observation once:

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says, “I’ll try again tomorrow.”

But, then you counter that with a little Yoda:

Do or do not; there is no try.

And, what do you have?

Or maybe we should live today like it’s our adolescent phase in the time loop. I’m not saying we should steal bags full of money just because we can, but why shouldn’t we wear costumes to go to the movies or pick up strangers and spend the night with them? If it feels good, do it…

But, then, like David D. Nowell, Ph.D., over at Psychology Today, I’ve got to wonder—and maybe you should as well—“what really feels good?” Isn’t the point to Groundhog Day that the hedonistic impulses don’t lead to anything that feels good except right here, right now? Isn’t Phil’s big lesson the idea that doing for others is what feels good?

And, I know this entry is jumping around… but hey, maybe that’s the approach the feels good today.

Nowell assesses “good” like this:

But if I'm listening attentively to feedback from my body, and asking deep questions about what is really "good," then everyone around me will benefit. I may try doing this for myself alone, but cannot help improving the lives of those around me.

When I'm enjoying better health, when I'm sleeping better, and when I'm enjoying more honest and true relationships, and when I'm engaging in exactly the right work/life balance, then I'm a better brother, student, clinician, and teammate.

Sounds a little utilitarian to me (at least on a simplistic level). That which benefits not only me but others—that’s what’s good. But, we’re not all in a place in our lives where we can always do for others, or even do for ourselves a lot of the time. Nowell concludes:

As you think about your next meal, your next conversation with your partner, your next bit of unstructured free time, what choices will you make? What would feel good?

Now, pause for a beat and a half, and ask the question again, what would feel really good?

And what's keeping you from “doing it” right now?

Is it that you are afraid? Is it that it’s inappropriate, say, socially or culturally? Is it because reality gets in the way and circumstance makes it impossible? Or is it just because you’re so used to not doing what you want that you don’t know how to get started? Is it just because you’ve been doing the same crap every day and the other day and the day before yesterday and yesterday and today and tomorrow and the day after tomorrow and… well, whatever comes after that, are all the same because that’s life?

Today’s reason to repeat a day forever: to never do the same thing two days in a row, and to go after the things I want, damn the consequences.

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