November 15, 2006
Just as every fairy tale starts with "Once upon a time," they all end with "And they lived happily after." Sure those Grimm brothers will tackle poisoning, enslavement and eating Granny a la carte but would they tackle married life? Nuh uh, that's way too scary. Prince Charming and Cinderella have to ride off into the sunset only to emerge as a husband having an affair and a housewife trying out prostitution for fun in some sort of French New Wave movie.
Many of the original folk tales such as those by Hans Christian Andersen did not have such neat and abbreviated endings. Sure the little mermaid snagged her landlubber lover but her human feet left her in excruciating pain (think running a marathon in Jimmy Choos) and she missed the sea. That's never going to make it onto the lunchbox. Culturally, we have an abundance of story lines, fables and fantasies on finding true love, yet few authors are willing to answer "Then what?"
This gray matter was brought home to me as I was consulting a therapist who asked me a logical question since I'm a writer: "If you could write the ending for your own love story what would it be?" I was dumfounded because usually it's that pesky second act in screenplays which is the most problematic (any screenwriter out there will know exactly what I'm talking about) but now I was stymied by having to consciously create happily ever after.
Is it marriage? . . . Maybe, but I tend to dislike institutions.
Kids? . . . I'm sure they're rewarding but a huge responsibility.
Hot sex every day? . . . Great, but what about the other 23 hours?
Financial security? . . . You bet, but his or mine or can we both be billionaires if we're spending all our time in Kama Sutra class?
A live-in best friend? . . . Okay, but the matching windbreakers make me nervous and if he likes to shop as much as me then the financial security thing is out the window.
Someone to hold your hair as you throw up when you suffer from the flu? . . . BINGO! But not exactly cinematic.
Seriously though, where are the models of the evolved happy couples who face the realities of everyday life and maintain a deep level of commitment and satisfaction and that uber balance of personal and professional lives? I can't even find a good short story to plagiarize. Part of the problem is that TV, film, novels and network news are all about one thing — drama.
Contentment is not the fodder of fables and peace rarely reaches headline status. The Greeks never devised a myth to explain PMS (although they did talk about some very, very angry women) or why who picks the kids up from soccer practice is a life or death issue. And I can't seem to remember a god devoted to divorces.
We weave the fabric of our lives and of our stories to create consciousness. From the original once upon a time we spoke of our waking worlds and our dreams out loud and simply by uttering the words we made it so. I can think of no more worthy pursuit than trying to create our own happy ending (massage parlor analogies aside) and spending serious time thinking about just what that would look like.
No wonder we live lives of quiet or not so quiet desperation. We're striving to reach a goal, and we have no idea what it is. Maybe that's why lottery winners never seem to be satisfied.
So I am off to create, at least in my own mind, my "happily ever after" utopia. Then hope and pray that me, my therapist, and Walt Disney, will not say "No way. Who's going to believe that?"
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