"Oh...I assumed it was locked." The boys volleyed back and forth repeating this line again and again, giggling harder each time. On Friday, we watched Tintin (who, by the way, is a boy and not a dog). In one funny scene, the boy-reporter (actually maybe he's a man... unclear)—desperately trying to escape a bunch of people who are trying to kill him—meets Captain Haddock in a cramped captain's cabin.
"I've been locked in this room for days, with only whiskey to sustain my mortal soul," Haddock explains. Tintin easily opens to the door, prompting Haddock to deliver the line that cracked up my kids for a solid seven minutes. "Oh...I assumed it was locked."
This presentation of the idea that it's often our own stories trap us in small, limited lives—even miserable harmful situations—isn't new to me. There's that oft-shared allegory of the monkey who holds himself captive in a cage because he won't let go of a banana. To free himself, all he has to do is drop the fruit and slide his hand through the bars. But he can't let go.
It's pretty easy for me to name loads of times when I've locked myself in a cabinet with whisky—metaphorically (literally, the times are far fewer):
For instance, I assumed that I could never work in the publishing industry if I left New York City. But, in 2002, I accepted a fellowship to study nutrition at the University of Vermont anyway—and my freelance career took off. Editors assigned me feature-length stories, which I'd never had a chance to write when I was on a magazine staff. Within a couple of years, I landed a retainer contract that more than paid my bills and allowed me to pitch other publications too. For a few years, I freelanced full-time—until a publisher in Vermont (EatingWell) offered me a job and, tired of sitting in my garage in my pajamas all day, I accepted. Happily. When I was living in the city, I'd never contemplated that a situation so suited to my needs at the time (moving) was even an option.
I often opt out of physical activities with my friends, assuming that I can't keep up. But I'm pretty sure I could make my way down a black diamond slope on a snowboard without killing myself—and likely would enjoy it. I don't swim well, likely because, well, I never swim. When I was a kid, my mom took me to the quarries every day; I was a proficient paddler. I've passed a tread-water test more than a once.
My prison-bar beliefs impact even the tiniest decisions of my days. I've skipped runs before work before reasoning that I'd get into the office seven minutes past the time I felt I should be there and I can't stay late because I have to pick up the kids. But I have the luxurious flexibility of typing on my laptop after the boys are in bed. I always get it done. And jogging the clutter from my brain before I sit down at my desk actually makes me more far more productive.
In lots of ways, I'm still an inadvertent inmate of my own making—but I've gotten better at challenging myself when I recognize that I'm languishing inside a cage. And now I have a beautifully motivating mental movie to keep pushing me: two sweet boys giggling uncontrollably at how ridiculous it is for someone so free to stay stuck just because he thinks it's so. May my guys always find this scene laughable.