The other day a friend asked if I would trade my ability to recall instantly the words to any popular song I have heard on the radio — a small talent, but one that makes me inordinantly proud — for the chance to be tall and blonde.
She thought it would take me time to decide. She was wrong.
“You bet I would. In a heartbeat,” was my answer.
We kept going. And that’s how I realized, for example, that were I were asked to choose between the extinction of a certain breed of biting ant and the right to use Raid to keep bugs of any stripe out of my bedroom, you know I would choose Raid.
Yes, I KNOW better. I know that the ecosystem is an intricate web of delicate balances beyond the perception of selfish, indifferent, moron Philistines such as myself.
However, however, however — ants in the bedroom?
Given the chance, you know I am going to buy lots of those little plastic things you put in the corners to keep the bugs away and the delicate ecosystem can cover its own crawling butt.
What do these observations have in common? Life is about perspective. Not about reason, or logic, or conscience. Not about sensitivity and understanding and decency. Life is about getting through the day as best we can.
And it isn’t just me.
I have friends who are more grateful for the widespread availability of disposable diapers than they are for all the novels of Tobias George Smollett. Combined.
Acquaintances who are happier to have an effective, nonstaining roll-on antiperspirant than they are that somebody in a lab discovered quarks.
Colleagues who rely more heavily on their cellphones than they do on clean air.
Neighbors who would be more likely to remember — and able to describe in detail — where they were when the final episode of last season’s Dancing With the Stars aired than where they were on their mother’s most recent birthday.
Relatives who would no more trade their iPhones than they would sell their children. Actually, quite a few of them would trade their kids for good stuff, such as season tickets to the Yankees. Or box seats to a really good game. Or one seat in the bleachers. Or the chance to watch the Yanks on their iPhones.
What other perspective-related confessions can I make?
The fact that certain brands of soup now come in flip-top cans gives me a richer, more sustained, more complex sense of pleasure than several long-term relationships gave me in my youth. I wouldn’t trade flip-top cans for, let’s say, the ability to raise a wonderful garden. I know that’s just wrong. I know I am a Lesser Person for admitting it.
But now that I’ve started, I’m sort of enjoying myself …
Hmmm … what else are imaginary tradeoffs?
I would give up the music of Wagner for continued access to Scrubbing Bubbles. I could forgo the pleasures of eating Chinese food if you promised me wonderful Indian food. I’d give up mirrors in the ladies’ room for those fancy revolving-plastic seat covers like they have at the casinos.
I’d give up Scrabble for Monopoly. I’d give up The New Yorker for People.
I would give up the paintings of Van Gogh for The Simpsons.
I would give up Marilyn Monroe for Mae West, T.S. Eliot for George Eliot, Arthur Miller for Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway for Virginia Woolf, Woody Allen for Lily Tomlin, Naomi Wolf for Cynthia Heimel, Andy Rooney for Dave Barry, and Andy Warhol for a flip-top soup can.
Let’s make it personal. I would I would give up red wine for elegant high-heeled shoes that didn’t hurt my feet. I would give up chocolate for a bra that actually fit right, looked good, and didn’t scratch in the back. I would give up lunch for permanent hair removal. I would give up grilled cheese sandwiches (see, now we’re getting serious) for the ability to fall asleep easily. I would give up champagne forever (now we’re getting very, very serious) for the guarantee that my next book would make it onto the bestseller list.
What wouldn’t I trade?
I wouldn’t give up independence for safety, wouldn’t exchange a calm life for a glamorous one, wouldn’t swap my work in the classroom for an administrative office, wouldn’t barter the right to be myself to be admired for being somebody I am not. And I wouldn’t give up my bitchy sense of humor, or my old friends, or those great students who really get the point, or my husband’s cream-cheese scrambled eggs, or the right to speak up and make trouble, for all the riches or expediencies in the world.
(crossposted from psychology today/blogs/snow white doesn’t live here anymore)