This morning reintroduced me to the concept of an “attack of the Little Brains”. It’s an idea I learned about in an old movie. “Little Brains” are not very smart. They are dogged by fear, and they don’t want to take risks. Sometimes your “Little Brain” can get you into trouble. And sometimes, an “attack of the Little Brains” owned by others will hold you back in life.
Years ago, I watched the movie, Defending Your Life, for the first of many times. It’s a very funny and thought provoking film by Albert Brooks. The film was made in 1991 and starred Brooks, Meryl Streep, and Rip Torn. Brooks plays Daniel Miller, a wussy guy who dies accidentally, and lands in Judgment City, a “weigh station”, of sorts, before the next life. He finds himself having to “defend” his most recent life on Earth. In Daniel’s case, there are nine specific days that are going to be examined. These are days when he didn’t evolve the way he should have. During his most recent life, Daniel was supposed to work on being more courageous and taking more personal risks. But, on nine specific days, he failed to act with conviction.
Daniel suddenly died after buying a luxury car. He was hit head on by a bus, as he fiddled with the CD player in his brand new BMW. In the above scene, Daniel is talking to Bob Diamond (Torn), an advisor who uses 48 percent of his brain. Bob explains to Daniel that, like all other earthlings, Daniel is a “Little Brain” who only uses 3 percent of his brain. Daniel’s life’s purpose was to learn to use more of his brain, so he could then graduate to a more challenging life. But, because it’s not clear that Daniel succeeded, he now has to “defend his life” in a trial. The session is much like what an earthling would expect in court.
Bill and I have both seen and enjoyed this film. We are both fans of Albert Brooks, who is hilarious and brilliant, and makes wonderful movies that make us think. We were having a conversation as we were eating breakfast this morning. I was reminded of a specific scene in this film. I can’t find the clip on YouTube, but here’s a description…
Daniel and Bob are sitting outside eating lunch. Daniel’s roasted chicken is very appetizing and appealing, and it obviously tastes really good. Bob’s lunch looks disgusting. Daniel asks Bob what he’s eating, and Bob tells him he wouldn’t like it because he’s a “Little Brain”. Daniel wants to prove Bob wrong, so he insists on trying the food. Bob smiles and says, “You’re curious, aren’t you? Good, I like that about you!” He lets Daniel try it, and sure enough, it’s disgusting.
Bob laughs and says, “A little like horseshit, isn’t it?”. Then he explains that as people get smarter, they can manipulate their senses. The food tastes a lot different to Bob than it does to Daniel. Bob can appreciate the “shitty” tasting food, because he uses more of his brain. As a “Little Brain”, Daniel only wants what’s easy and obviously tastes good. He’s not ready to expand his horizons with something a little more challenging and complex.
Daniel shows that he’s not a total coward. He tries something new, even though it looks disgusting. His initial impressions turn out to be correct. But his advisor tells him that with a little more brain power, he can learn to appreciate more. Still, it’s inconceivable to Daniel that as a smarter person, he might enjoy Bob’s lunch more than his own.
I relate to this scene from Defending Your Life. Sometimes I hesitate to try new things. On the other hand, sometimes I am keen to take chances. When I met my husband, I took a big leap. I was never one for dating. I first met Bill in a chat room. It was a chat room for “adults”, so to speak. We met at a time when it wasn’t that common to meet people offline after encountering online. This was especially true, given the specific type of chat room where we met. The first time Bill asked me out, I was very reluctant to say “yes”. But when we were still chatting a year later, he asked again. I was then more sure it would be a good thing to do. Twenty years later, it’s clear that I was right to take the risk.
Our marriage has not been without its challenges. I’ve written many times about Bill’s ex wife. She doesn’t directly harass us anymore, but she still hangs out on the fringes. We hear about her antics from Bill’s stepmother, sister, and his younger daughter. Sometimes, it amazes me that Bill ever got tangled up with his former wife. They have little in common. Then I realize that he married her because she love bombed him. He didn’t dig deep, but just accepted the artificial sweetness and convenience of what she served up to him. He listened to her sob stories about #1, and thought he could rescue her. When she complimented him, he believed every word. And worst of all, he didn’t think he could do better.
In Defending Your Life, as Bob and Daniel are finishing lunch, Bob asks Daniel how much he gave to charity. Daniel immediately gets nervous and defensive. He says he gave a lot of money to people on the street, but never got receipts to prove it. Bob reassures Daniel that there’s no right or wrong answer to his question. Then, he wisely points out, “There was one person you were really cheap with, over and over again. I wish you had been more generous with him.” Daniel asks who that person was, and Bob says “You.”
I thought about how Bill spent almost ten years of his life trying so hard to please someone else. He worked swing shift in a factory, even though he was a career Army officer with an international relations degree. He tried to be all the things she said she wanted, but his efforts always fell short. She ridiculed him for the things he enjoyed, and shamed him when he wanted things for himself. And she repeatedly told him he would never find another person to be his wife. For years, he believed her, and accepted her paltry and unsatisfying “Little Brain” offerings. Clearly, neither of them were satisfied.
Then one day, she dramatically presented him with an ultimatum. She boldly did this in Bill’s father’s house over Easter. She thought she knew what his reaction would be. Hilariously, she was wrong. Instead of romantically fighting for her, Bill accepted her proposal to divorce. It was not the response she had anticipated. Yes, it was scary, but it was the right thing to do. He moved on to another world. She’s apparently still stuck in the previous one. To keep this on the foodie theme, here’s a literal example of how their lives diverged. He’s eating graduate level cuisine in Michelin starred restaurants. She’s still eating convenience foods out of a box.
Meanwhile, I can’t help but think that maybe it’s time I took more risks, too. I have my own “attack of the Little Brains” to deal with sometimes. Does this mean I might finally do something different with my life? I don’t know. Maybe it means something as little as finally seeing a doctor for the annoying discomfort in my gut. Perhaps I’ll change some bad habits. January is the time for doing that, right? I could lose some weight… exercise more… take a class in something. Maybe I could just drive my car somewhere besides the vet’s office. Or try to make a new human offline friend. The possibilities are endless.
Anyway, I might need to watch Defending Your Life again. It’s a great film! I also love Albert Brooks’ movie, Lost in America, with Julie Hagerty. Brooks seems to be preoccupied with the idea of taking risks and dealing with the consequences… or not. Sometimes it’s good to take a risk. You never know where life will take you, if you can move beyond your fears.
Well, it’s time I ended this post. Bill is taking the day off, since it’s MLK weekend. I wish we were going on a trip somewhere, but we’re not. Oh well. It’s the off season, anyway. But I could do with a trip to Spain or something. Or maybe Morocco… I’ve never been there. Maybe 2023 is when I’ll try something new.
Ex, by the way, seems to be hoping for the same…