Ellen Langer, Sully Sullenberger, and the Rat King

As I vowed last week, I did get a book on mindfulness out of the library (Mindfulness by Ellen Langer – original title, no?). It ended up being about a different kind of mindfulness than the one I wrote about, but it was still interesting.

The author’s photo from the book jacket. Yes, it was published a very long time ago.

To borrow from Amazon’s description, Langer “explains how the mindless – as opposed to the mindful – develop mindsets of categories, associations, habits of thought born of repetition in childhood and throughout schooling.” This is bad, she says, because it leads to deterioration of one’s mental capacities, including the ability to think creatively.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this theory. In playwriting class in college – where we seemed to learn about everything except how to write a play – our professor once told us we should brush our teeth left-handed to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. She basically was saying we should try doing an everyday task in such a way that we’d really have to think about it to get it done.

And perhaps that was more relevant to the class than I realized. I ended up writing my final play more or less about my breakup with my high-school boyfriend. I changed the names, but pretty much everything else was taken straight from life. Maybe some left-handed toothbrushing would have enabled my brain to come up with, I don’t know, an original story?

Coming up with stories nowadays is hard. As a kid, I was quite the storyteller. Somewhere at home, I have a book of all my original tales from 1st and 2nd grade (featuring such greats as “Nana the Pig” and “Missy the Horse”). But now, if someone asks me to tell a story, my brain doesn’t want to do it.

I hadn’t been asked to tell a story in years, until a couple months ago, but first, some context: After the LCD Soundsystem show, we all crashed on Christine’s floor. I got stuck in the kitchen, so I was too far away to hear the original telling, but I guess Carly told Rebecca and Paul a story about Sully Sullenberger and the Rat King. (We were delirious after so much dancing and Zazz, and we had seen a bunch of rats on the subway platform. Not sure where Sully came from.)

Don’t ever Google “rat king.” The thumbnails alone made me want to gag, so here’s Sully.

When we went to OCMD in June, I had to share the sleeper sofa with Paul, who requested a Sully Sullenberger bedtime story. I had a really hard time coming up with one, and the final product involved Sully and the Rat King getting Choco Tacos together on the beach. (And I had had a Choco Taco on the beach that day, so it wasn’t really a big stretch of the imagination.) It was Paul’s turn the following night, and his story was even worse. (Sully and the Rat King went to Fish Tales and rode home in a minivan-cab with a driver who played Nicki Minaj…exactly what had happened in real life, just with different characters.)

We all suck at coming up with stories – except for Carly, maybe – and mindlessness could be to blame. My beef with Langer’s book is that she didn’t really explain what we could do about it. I want to be good at telling stories again, at least before I have a kid. That won’t be happening anytime soon, but in the meantime, I don’t want my brain to shrivel up any more than it already has. Help me, Sully!


About Meghan Loftus

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One Response to Ellen Langer, Sully Sullenberger, and the Rat King

  1. Allison says:

    Sounds like an interesting book! I agree that many of us suck at coming up with stories. Look at Hollywood – they need to re-make old movies and turn books into stories. I do think that some novelists are truly creative and inspiring storytellers. I don’t know how they do it!

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