Archive for June, 2010

“Corny” isn’t necessarily bad — a book and a movie

June 9, 2010

I just read a book and saw a movie, and each had “corny” elements. But I highly recommend the book, and disagree with the critics who said the movie is terrible.  Corny, by the way, can be defined as “overly or simplistically sentimental” or as “trite and melodramatic.”

The book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, does have a sentimental and predictable main plot triangle, but is very readable and takes you to a world you may not have known about.  It could be minimized as “chick lit,” but this male liked it a lot.

The movie, Sex and the City 2, could also be dismissed as predictable and overly dramatic fluff (as most critics have said), and it is mostly meant for SATC addicts.  However, it deals with several important issues (marriage, parenthood, menopause, women’s rights, sexuality, friendship) and some of the scenes illustrate these issues in memorable ways.  Many will hate it (especially since it is 2 1/2 hours long), but I didn’t.  I found the Abu Dhabi segment interesting; I suspect they accurately portrayed some of the cultural contradictions.  I won’t rate it highly for acting, and the conspicuous consumption (and product placement) can get sickening, so if you go, go with low expectations.

The main reason I decided to write a post about this is I want to defend “simplistic, trite, sentimental and melodramatic” a bit.  Life experiences and lessons learned can be corny, yet also profoundly meaningful.  Melodrama and sentimentality permeate our lives, and seeing them in the mirror of art (or entertainment) can make us uncomfortable.  “Trite” means over-used, and “banal” means commonplace, but the other sides of those coins (to use a trite phrase) are “familiar” and “universal.”  Do we only value that which is original and unique?

What do you want? A three part question.

June 6, 2010

Many years ago, when I was a young psychiatry resident, I went through a period of great confusion, in my personal life and as a neophyte professional. A trusted friend, a psychologist who was older and wiser than me, looked me straight in the eyes and demanded my full attention before asking me, in a tone fraught with meaning, “What do you want?”  I sat there in stunned silence, my mind suddenly clear of the jumble of racing thoughts that had prompted her question.  Instead, I had only one thought, echoing in my mind and making my head hurt:  What, indeed, did I want?

Now, decades later, I often think of that moment and smile at the simplicity of the question and the obviousness of the answer.  But it took me years of trial and error to really grasp the import of the question.  What I want depends on the unstated part of the question:  Right now, in this moment?  Or, in the near future?  Or, in the long run?

For example, if I am at a restaurant surrounded by people I enjoy and having a grand time, do I really want to order another martini?  It would taste good, and the rush would certainly feel good.  But, past experience tells me I would not sleep well that night, and would feel less than my best the next day.  In the long run, if I regularly doubled my alcohol intake, I might put on some unwanted pounds and suffer other negative consequences.  I have never regretted NOT having a second martini, but have often regretted having one.  So the answer is obvious: No, I do not want another martini, thank you.

Little decisions mount up to big ones.  And big ones, of course, may come at us all at once, as in “Do I want chemotherapy?  Do I want to marry this person? Do I want a divorce? Do I want to adopt a baby?”  I contend the same three parts apply: immediate gratification, short range implications, long term likelihoods. We may have to delay the decision pending some research, or the counsel of others.

What makes this point worth writing about is that so often, in my psychiatric practice and in my life, I have seen people fooled into thinking what they WANT is immediate gratification.  The denial of that (saying “No, thanks” to the offer of a second martini) is not seen as what they want, but as what they SHOULD do, or what they KNOW, but not what they WANT.  That, to me, is ridiculous, because there is no reason to define what we want, really-honestly-deeply want, as simply what is tempting in the moment.

Stating our decisions as what we WANT is a way of taking full responsibility for ourselves. That is why I say so often in this blog that the secret to happy, healthy living (at least that part we control) is re-framing our thinking from what we should do, to what we want to do — in the moment, for the short term, and for the long run.  Striking a balance among the three versions of “want” can be tricky; no one promised it would be easy.  Do you WANT that bag of french fries, or don’t you?  What about that puppy?