4:30 pm. I just want one thing: to get to the subway station in Greenbelt, Maryland so I can then get to Reagan airport.
My workshop had ended at 4 pm; I’d been waiting at the hotel since then for a taxi that was still not here.
Negative thought: I’m going to miss my plane, miss my plane, miss my plane . . .
New thought: Front desk clerk says I can walk to the station in 15 minutes. Sunny day, I like walking. Off I go.
4:45 pm. At the subway station, the only thing I want is to get the right ticket—or just any ticket—from the self-service machine.
Negative thought: I don’t have time to figure out the entire Maryland-Washington D.C. subway system.
New thought: Ok, this is doable. Not to brag, but I did take 8th grade geometry.
5:30 pm. Finally at the airport, I just want to get through the security line.
Negative thought: I can’t believe how long the line is. Ridiculous.
New thought: It could be worse. At least there’s a line. They could make us stand in an obtuse triangle, or a rhombus, or some other nightmare shape from 8th grade geometry.
6 pm. Once through the line, the only thing I want is some food. Is there time to grab a sandwich? I head to a place near the gate.
Negative thought: How old are these sandwiches? Pick the wrong one, you die.
New thought: The chicken caesar wrap looks ok. It certainly won’t kill you—don’t be silly. At worst, you’d just become violently ill.
7 pm. On the plane, pilot warns there’s a “bumpy” ride ahead. Flight attendants, he commands, stay seated. The only thing I want is to land. Unfortunately, we haven’t taken off yet.
Negative thought: Bumpy??? Bumpy is not good. Roller coasters are bumpy. Are we on an airplane or a roller coaster?
New thought: This is temporary. Breathe . . .
“The main question in drama,” says playwright David Mamet, “is always what does the protagonist want.
“Do we see the protagonist’s wishes fulfilled or absolutely frustrated?” (The New Yorker, 6/29/15, quoting 1997 interview in The Paris Review).
In life, what you want can change from minute to minute—but obstacles are a given. The main question, when frustrated: how much drama do you create?
Tip: For less drama, challenge your thoughts.
© Copyright 2015 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.