The numbers

Telluride Daily Planet, Friday, January 2, 2020


In the old days, I used to buy the occasional lottery ticket, a quick-pick version, since choosing important numbers was stressful. What appealed most would have been winning like the 110 people eating Chinese food once did, by playing the same correct five fortune cookie numbers, each one winning half a million dollars. (A little rom-com karma doing its thing.)

I really bought tickets, however, not because I thought I’d win (you can’t win if you don’t play, of course), but to see what it was I was dreaming about.

Inevitably, what would happen, though, was that I’d get bogged down. I’d be stuck standing at the farm sink of a new kitchen’s window trying to figure out where I was. Was that a cherry tree outside my window or a palm? Would living in the Marais in Paris be just another version of running away? What kind of paints would I use in an MFA program? I wasn’t sure what I wanted, in other words, given free financial rein. In a world of manifesting your dreams, this was problematic.

Annoyed by over mentalizing a process that was supposed to be playful and fun, I just stopped buying lottery tickets. Obliquely, the case was strengthened by what generally happened to Powerball winners taking home $134.2 million cash, even when they were sure they knew what they wanted. It was money, after all, and winning lots of it notoriously spoiled everything. Plus, even on the Powerball website they warn you: Please remember, it’s just a game. So is dreaming, I might have added. So don’t sabotage it, if you want to win!

Lately, however, I’ve experienced an upsurge in my recurring reverie of remote places. You could call it Quaint Norwegian Fishing Village Syndrome, an Instagram-informed fantasy of tiny colorful houses nuzzled together on the coast of a cold, dramatic sea or at the base of some majestic fjord. Where you can’t even use your cellphone, perhaps?

The syndrome feeds on every other such fantasy of remote places we’ve all had for years, even before cellphones gave us quantum reasons to want to flee: the Irish stone cottage on a grassy knoll, the lighthouse in Nova Scotia, the Civil War era tent in a misty meadow, the thatch-roofed bungalow on an endless sandy beach.

Because the lottery predisposed you to think of having more, it was highly unlikely you would dream of winning lots of money to pare down your life. This is what was really sabotaging me: I was going in the wrong direction! Liberated to think of a lottery as something affording you money to give away, it felt completely different.

And if you really extrapolated and got to mentally visualizing yourself in one of those off-grid fishing villages, you would realize that wherever you went, you still had yourself along as a companion, and if that companion needed to simplify things, it needed to happen in reality instead of fantasy, in order for it to stick. Here and now you could, for instance, turn your cellphone off and enjoy the perfectly visualized Norwegian village, which probably activated your brain synapses in the same way actually being there did.

Of course, in this new age of digital detox vacations, Norwegian fishing villages are marketed and money is to be made from them. You can be swept off to Alaska, Tasmania, Fiji, Malawi, Patagonia, South Africa or the Arctic Circle for some of that nearly extinct down time. Or you can do it in a spa at Baden-Baden or a 10-day silent meditation retreat. Tech dead zones are all the rage. So now it actually is possible to dream of winning a lottery big enough to fund a version of simplification.

Some of us are prone to romanticizing everything, including lottery winnings. We think if we just had better paints, we’d paint better. If we just had an Irish cottage, we’d write better. Even this one: If we just had more money, we’d somehow be in a better position to simplify our lives. Hahaha!

Henry David Thoreau said, “As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.” Oh, sure, I could dream of going to Walden Pond where I’d presumably understand this better, or I can step into the sun of every new day hands empty, face up and heart open to rid myself of all the clutter I carry.

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