Escaping the Groundhog Trap

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

I’m not a big fan of Groundhog Day—the holiday or the movie.

As a kid, the holiday just confused me. Why a groundhog? Can’t you just see if you cast a shadow yourself? Or if a bush, a stone, a dog…anything casts a shadow? I wondered at the particular properties of groundhogs, and why their shadows might be somehow different than those of any other thing on the planet. I suppose I never quite felt like anybody adequately explained the magical properties of particular varieties of burrowing rodents for me to really get behind the holiday or its alleged meaning.

The lack of a real explanation is one of the things that keeps me from enjoying the movie, Groundhog Day as well. What caused this to happen? And why is the resolution what it is? What would make any magical powers of time control so interested in getting Bill Murray’s character, Phil, together with Andie MacDowell’s character, Rita? Perhaps a resident of Punxsutawney is one of the aliens from Edge of Tomorrow who accidentally infected Phil with the time control powers. But that can’t be it, because then Phil would’ve had to die every day, and he only died on some of those days.

Beyond that, the movie just follows the theme of so many movies from the 1980s about how great small-town America is, and how some cynical guy from the big city needs to learn to appreciate that. As for Murray’s arc in the movie, it’s rather similar to Scrooged.

The audience is also expected to root for Phil to ‘get the girl,’ even after he uses his powers of time repetition to manipulate one of the local women into sleeping with him, and then trying to manipulate Rita into falling for him by pretending to like everything she likes—information he gathers from her in conversations she will never remember.

Ultimately, Phil has to get through one day being kind and helpful, rather than acting like his usual, egocentric self (but, again, why is this the resolution—and would it really matter whether Rita decided she liked him or not?). But that last, single day of generous Phil doesn’t feel much different from the videogame-style resets that go on through the rest of the movie, or in Edge of Tomorrow, and hardly seems like a long-term change to his character as much as it feels like him resigning himself to being a decent human being for one day if he ever wants to get out of Punxsutawney. How is his decency not just more manipulation—another possible route out of the repetition he is trapped in?

Many people have labeled Phil’s situation in Groundhog Day an “existential dilemma” or otherwise termed the movie as existentialist. Properly speaking, though, if Phil’s was an existential problem, he wouldn’t have a long period of being able to make whatever decisions he wanted with no thought, responsibility, or consequences at all, only to be pushed into making the “right” decisions–as judged by whatever power kept him perpetually trapped in Punxsutawney on a particular day–until he did what was deemed correct by that power and the “spell” was broken. He would be responsible for whatever he did, and nothing would compel him to do anything.

groundhog drive

The most important lesson of all–Don’t drive angry.

Still, it’s something of a tribute to Groundhog Day, the movie, that it has become synonymous in our culture with repetitive behavior or situations. And it is perhaps the fantasy that we could relive a particular day until we did it right, managing to impress everyone around us, and connect with our one true love in the process (as well as the opportunity to indulge in a great deal of irresponsible behavior along the way), that has led it to this level of popular recognition. Or perhaps it’s the underlying idea that we are trapped by our own behaviors in repetitive cycles, and that we can change ourselves in order to achieve a better life—along with the wishful notion that we need to be good people if we really want to get what we want.

After all, the idea of breaking out of repetitive cycles and habits, or perhaps of creating better habits and repetitive cycles, along with being better people…good people…our best selves, is what underlies much religion, philosophy, and, yes, therapy.

We all struggle through our own behavioral patterns, habits, and the potential sameness of our days, the rut of weeks, months, seasons, and years. But no bizarre fluke of time is going to trap us in a loop and push us to do things differently and become better people, or pursue what we want. That’s on us.

Whatever I might think of him, Phil found out that it wasn’t a groundhog, or the celebration that surrounded a groundhog’s shadow, that was at the core of his problem. Rather it was his own shadows, the darkness he threw out into the world.

So maybe Groundhog Day is the perfect time to look around at our own shadows and what they say about our forecasts—how much more winter we may have in store—and then think about what, if anything, we want to do to change that.

Happy Groundhog Day.

 

Advertisements

Merry Elvismas!

by JC Schildbach, LMHC

Well, it’s Elvismas time, pretty baby.  And the snow is fallin’ on the ground…

In years past, I held Elvismas parties each year on Elvis’ birthday (January 8), as well as “Departure Day” parties, on the anniversary of Elvis…leaving us.

I won’t get into all the gory details right now, but will say that I do hope to get the house put back together enough to where I can get the shrine, or a version of it, put back up.

In years past, my dear friends over at Creepy Cult (see their web site–under construction–here: Creeps;  or their Etsy page here: And Creeps;  or their Facebook page here: And More Creeps–all with plenty of nifty things) would print up postcards for me on the occasions of the parties–at least when I got them the artwork on time and they had extra space on a print run to fit them in–because they’re cool like that, and because I’m cheap like that.

Elvis consumed

The image above is one such postcard from all the way back in 1993, when I devoted a bit more of my time to doing design work–if you want to call it that.  Elvis had a twin brother, Jesse, who never got to see the light of day; and Elvis easily had enough cool for at least two people.  So the image addresses that concept, along with Vernon Presley’s story that on the night of Elvis’ birth, he saw a powerful omen–the sky ringed in blue.

Peace, y’all.

A Christmas Wishbone

by JC Schildbach, LMHC

Christmas morning, I found myself cleaning the remains of a chicken and stuffing out of the Crock Pot, to make way for the roast I was going to crock—which I suppose made it a crock rather than a roast.

As I scooped stuffing from the pot, and rent that flightless bird’s flesh from its bones, I came across a fully intact wishbone. I paused in my work, rinsed the wishbone, and set it on the kitchen windowsill.

Not quite a partridge in a pear tree, but you take what you can get.

Not quite a partridge in a pear tree, but you take what you can get.

Continuing on with the operation, packing the chicken and stuffing away, neat and tidy in Pyrex containers, then prepping the roast…er, crock…the tradition of wishbones rolled around in my head. I’m not talking about the origins of the whole wishbone thing—where it came from, who was first to practice it, but rather, the more personal memories around it.

I can’t say as I have a whole lot of specific personal memories around wishbones. I know if mom was cooking a chicken, then there would be at least a minor squabble around who would get the wishbone—or, perhaps more accurately, when somebody found the wishbone, there would be a minor dispute around who would get to break it with the lucky discoverer. If one of my older brothers came across it, there would be inevitable teasing, just to see if they could get a rise out of one or more of us.

And then there was that time I won the wishbone-breaking contest and was rewarded almost instantly with the new bike I had wished for, and then felt bad because I could’ve wished that my cousin Brad’s hypochondria would be cured instead.

Okay, that never happened.  I don’t even have a cousin Brad.

I thought on how I had witnessed my kid and her best friend, when they were probably about seven years old, engage in the wishbone-breaking contest immediately on finding one during dinner, despite my having never taught/explained it to my kid. There is, perhaps, some lesson in there about kids picking up all kinds of things beyond the specifics of what their parents teach them, but I’m not really sure what to make of that, or its importance. Weird things permeate the culture? I failed in this particular instance of ensuring that I was the one to pass a bizarre superstition on to my offspring?

I briefly entertained the question of whether two people could conspire to wish the same thing, thereby increasing the chances of the wish coming true. After all, so long as they didn’t speak of it afterward, they couldn’t truly know what the other had wished. A wishbone technicality would still invoke the magic—right?

At any rate, as soon as my wife got up from her mid-morning nap, and got herself a cup of coffee, I presented her with the wishbone. She immediately grabbed hold.  I warned her she needed to think on her wish. She closed her eyes briefly, then gave me the nod.

It was on.

After a few seconds, she remarked on how the wishbone was too wet (from its days packed in chicken-fat-soaked stuffing at the bottom of a crock pot) and not likely to break.  She relaxed her effort. There was a brief pause where I hadn’t quite processed what she said or did, and continued on with the match. Then, just as I followed her lead, conceding that the wishbone was, perhaps, too saturated to complete the fight, she resumed the pull, and…snap. She won. Was it a brilliant strategy, or dumb luck? I didn’t ask, just conceded. Victory was hers.

Victory is hers!

Victory is hers!

I like to believe she wished for something like I wished for…you know, that silly garbage about another year of relative happiness, good health, and enough stuff.

Still, I daren’t ask. Because maybe she did wish for that same silly garbage. Or maybe she wished for world peace. Or maybe she wished for a new bike.  Or maybe something much better…or much worse.

But whatever it was, I don’t wanna jinx it.