February 17, 2015

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Over vacation, my brother read me a great passage from Joshua Ferris’ latest novel, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. In it (pasted below – it’s worth looking at), a neurotic dentist in NYC ponders the psychology of perspective.

I’ve tried to remember the passage as we sit, sun-starved, wondering when this winter will ever end.

Those living in this blanket of seemingly eternal frozen, look at pictures on social media and in magazines, in which everyone lives in warm weather and, the lucky ones who do, seem to exist on a plane free of problems and stress.

And we really believe this.

We’re good at convincing ourselves: if only I lived in the sunshine…it could be so much better.

It’s easy to get lost in the pity party that is the by-product of this particularly brutal and relentless winter.

Then, one glance at the news gets me thinking that it could also be so much worse.

If my biggest problems are lack of sun and fresh air, combined with the characteristic inertia that settles over everyone as they try to stay warm, then I’m pretty well off, right?

It’s hard to maintain this perspective, though.

Sometimes I’ll drive by someone who’s walking the streets, without a home, and the shock of someone else’s cruel reality will snap me back into feelings of gratefulness and appreciation.

If only until someone cuts me off a few blocks down.

To maintain a proper perspective, whether one lives in sunny Arizona or frozen Montreal, is a challenge.

Or so we like to tell ourselves in the Northeast.

Quick Fix: reading a good passage can make you pause, think and, when needed, recall it as sustenance, when grasping for something to make you feel even the tiniest bit warmer.

Excerpt from Joshua Ferris’ To Rise Again at a Decent Hour:

After Connie and I broke up, I played a little game with myself out on the streets of Manhattan. It was called Things Could Be Worse. Things could be worse, I said to myself, I could be that guy. Things could be worse, I said not a minute later, I could be that guy. Parading by everywhere were the disfigured, the destitute, the hideously ugly, the walking weeping, the self-scarred, the unappeasably pissed off. Things could be worse. Then a woman would pass by, one of thousands of New York women, coltishly long legged, impossibly high booted, always singly, or in pairs and trios, in possession of that beauty whose greatest cruelty was that it meant no harm, and as I died a little of want and agony, I said to myself, Things could be so much better.
Things Could Be Worse And Things Could Be So Much Better—that became the game, my running commentary on the streets of Manhattan, and I played it as well as the other slobs just trying to get by.

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