Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Fortune's Whims

My guy and I are very fond of Chinese take-out, especially on nights when we're on our own for dinner and one or both of us are frazzled by some project that has run into overtime. Last night it was changing belts and pulleys on a neighbor's lawnmower (his project) and sorting through an editor's comments on a manuscript (mine.)

The nice lady at our favorite takeout place always includes fortune cookies with our order, and of course we have to crack them open and compare them. Sometimes they're hilarious (my daughter once got one that read Eat more Chinese food!) but most of the time they have something seriously wise to impart. The fortunes also heavily favor my guy, who nearly always gets one that is positive, uplifting and/or rosy about his future. Like this one from last night:

Beautiful, isn't it? Could anyone ask for a better fortune? I don't think so. And since my guy tends to have a particularly charmed life through which he sails with nary a ripple at the bow, it's also fitting. He does have pretty much everything he needs (he says a couple of million would be nice) and he doesn't worry about much of anything at all.

Then there's the sort of fortune that I usually receive:

Mine aren't depressing, exactly, but they generally insist on me doing something to better my situation: Think. Change. Grow. Try hard. Try Harder. Now this one, which advises me to Hang In No Matter What if I want to achieve my goals.

I admit, after I compared our fortunes I got a little grumpy. Where was my No Worries cosmic reassurance? I have to work harder while my man gets to kick back and not trouble himself over anything? How is that fair?

You might think the same thing when you next walk into a bookstore and see that nice table of hardcover novels. You know, those glitzy BSLers with the amazing cover art and endless marketing for which the authors were probably paid more advance money than you'll gross in the next ten years. Or maybe you'll spot that towering bookdump chock full of some lucky slob's platinum debut, like the one with the novel "everyone is talking about" which is currently in the front of every single book store where I shop.

At such times all that good fortune belonging to someone else can be feel like a slap in the face. Your face, as you've slaved away for five, ten, even twenty years at your craft and have never been granted such good fortune. You may be a better writer than most of those BSLers or Madam Bookdump. So what do you do? Get mad and see red, burn up with jealousy? Go home and curl up in your bed and cry over the sheer lousiness of your fortune?

There are books that will tell you how to handle being forever on the downside of the whims of fortune. Off the top of my head, the usual methods are to use some form of positive reinforcement combined with a negativity reducer to brush it off, like telling yourself "it's not my turn right now." These are mostly decent ways to help you cope, I think, as long as you are realistic: you may never get a turn.

Feeling that twinge of jealousy, envy and other the other negative emotions so often invoked by the whims of fortune is natural -- to a point. Every time I meet another woman who is over six feet tall, for example, I'm going to turn a little green. I can't help it; I've always wanted to be tall. Not just tall, either; really tall. I have a brother who is six-five, and whom I've envied forever. When I was younger I used to give myself blisters and backaches by walking in four inch heels; this to project an illusion that I wasn't such a shrimp. Eventually I figured out that no shoe in the world will ever change the fact that I am the shortest person in my family.

If given the chance, would I actually persuade the Height Fairy to give me that extra ten inches? I'd be terribly tempted, but I like to think I'd say no. I have a friend who is six foot two, you see, and from her experiences in life I know exactly how hard it is to shop for clothes, date, and deal with shorter men (many of whom unsurprisingly intensely dislike women taller than them.) Also, she's told me countless times she wishes she were shorter, and that she envies me for being so petite.

While I've spent my entire life being short, I've also learned that it does have some advantages. I never have to duck to avoid smacking my head into anything. I can rest my cheek against my guy's heart without crouching or standing on tiptoe (I also fit perfectly against his side.) And like most short gals who sew, I can flawlessly alter the hem on any garment in under five minutes.

Jealousy over the dazzling good fortunes of others has a lot to do with our own insecurities and self-esteem issues. If you're unhappy with yourself or your situation in life you're likely prone to regular and serious episodes of envy. So instead of stomping around muttering Must be nice under your breath every time someone else wins big at the Wheel of Fortune, you might turn your back on them and focus on yourself.

You can start by making some lists. Of what you do have, what makes you happy? Of what you can do, how can you improve? I know you have dreams, what are you doing about them? Once you've worked it all out, choose to do something about one item on your list every week. In fact, if you channel all that negative energy from envy into making things better for you and your loved ones, you'll be too busy to worry about what you haven't got.

This isn't a fixer method. Your fortune probably won't change, and you will likely never make millions or become the next Madam Bookdump. What you'll be doing is inviting into your life that elusive thing that no amount of money, fame or success can give anyone: happiness.

Fortune dotes on very few souls, and believe or not that's a good thing. The outrageous variety of success does not build character as often as it destroys it. It also paints an enormous bullseye on the recipient; one that anyone having a bad day, month, year or life is going to aim for with all their ire. I don't envy that in the slightest, and neither should you.


  1. Anonymous8:04 AM

    My fortune cookie the other day said:

    "Do or do not. There is no try."

    Apparently, Yoda issues fortune cookies now.

    Laurie F

  2. Ren Benton10:15 AM

    Getting a "turn" is like being struck by lightning--it's not a selective process, nobody it happens to really deserves it, and while it gets them lots of attention for a while, much of it is of the morbid variety.

    Better to do work you're proud of. If the satisfaction of a job well done is the only reward you get, at least you know it's one you've earned.

  3. I remember walking home from high school one day thinking about the advantages other kids had that I didn't (expensive gadgets, better marks, etc) and said, "What I wouldn't give to have..." Oddly enough, when I answered the question my envy disappeared. What I wouldn't give to have a Saga Genesis: my health, memories from the trips I'd taken with my family, my camera, my ability to sing, my friends, etc. We have so many things to be thankful for, sometimes it's good to remember what we DO have, rather than always wonder about what we don't.

    Great post. Thanks. :)

  4. Very wise words. Thank you.

  5. My list starts with my amazing family who believes in me and supports me every step of the way. It's the best inoculation against the ugly green monster of jealousy that I can think of.

  6. Okay. message read. message received. but I would still like a bit of doting. Just a bit.

  7. Thank you. Lovely post. A reminder I always need.

  8. I can second the frustration of many others in their pursuit of publication. It's sad to me that, though they are highly skilled in my eye, they lack the one ingredient you obviously have - a sense of humor! Keep laughing....


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