Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Tolstoy's full of it

I'm pretty sure it was Tolstoy that said all happy families are alike, but that unhappy families are unhappy in their own way. Based on my ever so scientific and objective observations this holiday season, Tolstoy had it all wrong.

It being the holiday season, I had the opportunity to observe several family units at work and play. In my opinion, it's the unhappy families that were all alike. At the center of each one of those unhappy families was a narcissistic asshat engaging in sometimes nearly epic douchebaggery. The three NAs that I had the misfortune to observe are all self-involved, egotistical, controlling and cruel. The only thing that varied between them was the level of substance abuse. Other than that, they really were completely interchangeable.

Now the happy families, the other hand, all had their own take on things. Now, this isn't to say that the happy families didn't have problems. One of my favorite happy families we were with this holiday is headed by two people who, well, might have more than a touch of obsessive compulsive disorder. For instance, the amount of equipment required to make a cup of coffee in their house takes up most of a counter. Not only is there a coffee maker and a grinder, there is a stop watch and a thermometer and a special tamper and some other things I didn't recognize. This attention to detail and need to do things exactly right is applied to everything in their life. They actually had to rent the house next door to theirs because they have so much stuff, they were bursting at the seams. Now this might make for an unhappy situation. People pursuing perfection to the point of self-destruction. But no, they support each other and make it work. The love that flows between them and two their child is almost palpable in their home.

Another of the happy families I was with is one of those groups of people who all have really diverse ways of looking at things. This means that they don't always see a situation the same way (unlike my sweet OCDers who tend to agree about how things should be done) which could cause lots of problems. Instead, this family talks to each other and more importantly, they listen to each other. Each one wants to know what the other thinks because it gives a glimpse into the mind of someone he or she loves and because it could each one more insight into the situation.

My point is that each of the happy families has found their own path to happiness and really isn't that what we write about when we write romance? Aren't we always looking for new and unique pathways to happiness for our characters from their own particular starting places?

So again I say, Tolstoy had it totally backwards.


Maureen McGowan said...

Eileen, epically good post. Seriously.

I think Tolstoy was probably a Narcissistic Asshat himself and saw all happy families as boring because he couldn't figure out how to gain control of and destroy them.

And I think this does get to at least one of the roots of prejudice against romance. If they end happily, they must be all the same or boring. How untrue.

PS. You've got interesting family/friends. :)

Eileen said...

Thanks, Maureen. It was a particularly dramatic holiday season, even for us.

Molly O'Keefe said...

I think you're so right, Eileen. The root of much unhappiness in families can usually be traced back to one person - it gets distorted as time goes by as people respond to the asshat with thier own bad behavior, but so often it just takes one asshat. And a substance abuse problem.

And I'm so sorry that your holiday was so dramatic - here's to a bland new year!

We're starting the new year with the flu - I didn't post yesterday because I was drugged out of my mind on nyquil. Here's to a better second week of the new year.

Eileen said...

It is shocking how just one asshat can ruin everything. Even their removal from the scene isn't enough. They leave some sort of douchebaggy residue behind them.

I am SO hoping for a bland new year. Let's hope for a healthy one too. Being sick sucks.

Stephanie Doyle said...

Molly sorry your sick - feel better.

Eileen sorry you're surrounded by asshats.

But thank you for giving me the exact terminology I needed to describe a particular person.

Sinead M said...

Love the term asshat and to assume any family is alike definitely makes him an asshat.

Molly, get better, and try not to stress..

Cecilia Grant said...

Have you read Sherman Alexie's YA novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian? The protagonist reads Anna Karenina, and...

"Gordie, the white boy genius, gave me this book by a Russian dude named Tolstoy, who wrote, 'Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.' Well, I hate to argue with a Russian genius, but Tolstoy didn't know Indians, and he didn't know that all Indian families are unhappy for the same exact reasons: the frikkin' booze."


Eileen said...

Cecilia, that's awesome! I heard Alexie speak once, but haven't actually read any of his books. I did see Smoke Signals, though. :-)

Regardless, I feel so much better now. I like the idea of having Sherman Alexie in my corner.

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