I went to get my nails done once and the woman took one look at my cuticle detritus and asked (rhetorically), “This is your first manicure?”
“Heavens, no,” I said. “But I have a two-year-old.”
“Only one?” she asked. I assumed the face of someone bored to death by yet another manicure, but the friend who was with me wasn’t buying.
“Forget it: She’s a complete stranger,” Joanne soothed.
“But she sucked all of the fun out of pointing at stuff with chatty red nails!”
“Don’t sweat the small stuff,” Joanne suggested.
That had heretofore made sense to me as a philosophy, but at that moment it made me want to slap two faces instead of one. Adrift, I went in search of a new mantra.
I’ve discovered that in the niche market of guiding principles, no one is in charge. For instance, the person who coined “don’t sweat the small stuff” and the one behind “the little things matter most” didn’t put their heads together to work out the inherent contradictions before going public.
Is success secretion-based or size-based? It would certainly look better in print if I could tell you I hit upon a philosophy that included echoes of Zarathustra or the Tao Te Ching, but here is what I have so far: Dream big (big is good); value small (small is good); sweat is bad across the board.
Surely the real test of a mantra would be its ability to quiet my mind in moments of agitation?
I had a chance to try out my theory on a flight from Toronto to San Francisco. An elderly woman seated behind me sucked her teeth through the entire flight. Whatever she’d gotten stuck in there was probably – I grant you – small. Is it the little things that matter most? Damn straight.
Then there was a time I was stuck in traffic, inching along behind a guy who kept his left-turn blinker on for more than 45 minutes and then turned right unannounced. Blinker is small: Small is valued. I sweated big.
If size does matter, then I see why so many people want me to dream big. I should see everything as being possible. In fact, the more fantastical the dream, the better.
I remember seeing a man who was in his mid-30s, I’d say, auditioning as a ballet dancer on So You Think You Can Dance. When he stood on one leg and tried to lean forward, wobbling dangerously, I was taken instantly back to my Grade 9 gymnastics routine.
Was this gentleman wise to “go for it?” He was dreaming big, no question. A televised audition with millions of people watching counts as big. But the big dream was a bad idea for both of us. I dropped phys ed and he ran offstage in tears.
Dreaming big is appealing because it lets us make our life a work in progress. We can keep observing that “tomorrow is another day.” The big dream lets me believe that the pin in my hip in no way dashes my plans of becoming an Olympic hurdler.
I should persist in trying to be a rocket scientist even if I am told: “Get lost, you only have Grade 9 math.”
I am this far into my mantra search and I still don’t know if Don Quixote is a hero or a dork.
I’m reminded of a story involving Mordecai Richler in which a young fan is said to have approached the author at a cocktail party and gushed about his work.
“I feel I have a gift for writing, too,” she admitted shyly. “The only thing I struggle with is putting my ideas into words.”
Picture the look on Richler’s face. Whether or not this really happened, it captures for me the moment when we must choose between being evasively optimistic and looking an issue squarely in the eye.
People use “the important thing is that you tried” response because of their inability to say “you stink on ice,” or “what were you thinking?”
While many would argue that Yoda and the Buddha shouldn’t be named in the same article, we all smiled knowingly when the little green guy told Luke: “Do, or do not: There is no try.”
If I go to visit a friend who broke both his legs when his bungee cord snapped, I know right off that I can’t walk up to him (in intensive care) and say: “The important thing is that you tried.”
And if it was only effort that mattered, the Olympics would become a nightmare. Picture the size of the podium for the winners.
When I value the little things, the tooth-sucking plane lady’s raspberry seed becomes huge. I imagine an entire planeload of people cheering for me as I set her straight. This constitutes a big dream for me.
But hang on, this daydream of something that never happened messes with the Buddha’s urging that I should live in the present moment. Still, while I’ve lost the support of the Buddha, I’ve gained the respect of a Jedi Master.
The effort of keeping every mantra alive causes me to break out in a sweat. Nuts. This is where I boarded this train. I really thought I had it there for a moment. Oh well, the important thing is that I … geez.
Jennifer Hennekam lives in Toronto.