We’re going to try a little game right now. Pretend you are one of your parents, and you forgot your reading glasses and are having trouble reading the small newspaper print. Get your face really close to this column, so close that you can get high off the ink. Right now, you are metaphorically the Boston Red Sox on the eve of the World Series, i.e., “this close.”
If you tell a baseball team it is cursed often enough, you are only ensuring that the aforementioned baseball team is going to be a psychological mess. Those who talk about the curse perpetrate the curse. And it’s not just my home team that has come “this close” only to psych themselves out.
Enter the personal parallel. I psych myself out like it’s my major (and it’s not, my major is anthropology). I don’t just lose all my tennis matches because I am a terrible athlete — I lose them because I am convinced from the very beginning that I cannot possibly win the match. I use humor and blame fate prematurely in order to mask my insecurities. And, lo and behold, I lose. And, baby, I am not the only psych-myself-outer.
Everyone does it: “I’m going to flunk this exam;” “I won’t get this job;” “That boy is never going to leave his Bible-thumping, non-bed-thumping girlfriend and ask me out.” When you keep saying these things to yourselves, they come true. We curse ourselves. Our negativity hexes us, and what’s worse, once we start, we have trouble stopping believing in it — to the point where we think we have screwed over all of humanity simply by being there.
I, personally, am convinced that the reason the Red Sox win or lose a game, or the reason Lleyton Hewitt wins or loses a match, is entirely central to my watching the game or checking the score online. I personally feel like my physical or virtual presence taunts fate, and thus causes my athlete(s) of choice to blow chunks. The reason the Red Sox won game 5? I stopped watching. If the Red Sox lose the World Series, it’s because I wrote about them too much in this very column. If the Red Sox win, well — then, wahoo!
The same holds true for the elections. A certain friend of mine wants Kerry to win so badly that she is actually afraid her wanting it has officially jinxed him. She also couldn’t sleep for a few days because she kept worrying about not being able to sleep. While drugs could help this neurotic individual, she isn’t alone in her fears. In this day and age, failure isn’t just an option — it’s a whole alternative lifestyle.
It’s important to understand that I am discussing two pieces of a single disease. One is real: if you fear not being able to sleep, you will not be able to sleep. Your fears do in fact have a physical effect on your abilities. The other is a fantasy: if Kerry loses the election, my friend is not at fault. It’s those bastard idiots in the Midwest and the South who are to blame.
I’m not saying we should try to be more self-confident or put our faith in a benevolent higher power that actually likes us. Though that would be nice, the upbeat outlook is not a foolproof against failure and disappointment. Think of it this way. We have an amazing talent for fooling ourselves. Why not use it to our advantage? Rather than saying, “I’m going to fail this test,” say, “Not only am I going to ace this test, I’m going to be the only person in the class to do so. And I am bleeping hot.” None of these positive statements may actually be or come true, but they will be entertaining and put you in a good mood. I don’t believe in self-actualization; I’m not that optimistic/stupid. Yet a sense of humor is necessary to keep yourself from sinking into the doldrums, staking your claim on the territory, and building a lonesome homestead with logs of depression and bad luck.
So, when it comes to the Red Sox, Bostonians need to realize that a) the Sox are not going to lose if they don’t pray enough or that God likes St. Louis better (seriously, come on now) and b) shut up about the curse — bringing it up incessantly is detrimental to the cause. There ought to be a moratorium against the words “Bambino,” “curse,” and “1918.”
Finally, my solution can be summed up in three easy steps: stop thinking you have an effect on things you don’t, stop thinking you’re going to mess up the things you do have an effect on, and interfere with the First Amendment in order to ban stupidity and newspaper discussion of the c-word.
Oh, and a word to Jimmy Fallon about the whole unwarranted optimism thing. You are very cute and funny. I love you dearly. But you are never ever EVER going to be a movie star. Go back to SNL. Now. Before it’s too late. Ditto to Chris Kattan.
Katherine Stevens is a baseball prophetess, no C-word, and is a better writer than her editor.