Put a Frame Around It

You can make a thing magic by declaring it so.

Posted Aug 07, 2017

 Creative Commons
Source: Source: Creative Commons

Not long ago, the novelist Jonathan Safran Foer bought a ticket for Game One of the 1965 World Series. He paid nine dollars for it. The game meant something to him, not so much for what happened in it as for what didn’t happen. Sandy Koufax had been scheduled to pitch, but declined because the game fell on Yom Kippur. That gesture of religious principle made the game matter in a way it otherwise wouldn’t have. “It’s important, as Foer put it, for what it wasn’t.”

Foer also collects blank sheets of writing paper from important and beloved authors, which he acquires from their estates. In principle, each sheet is the next piece of paper the author would have written or typed on. It is a placeholder of pure counterfactual potential, a “negative artifact.” We’ll never know what magic it might have held.

Foer puts each of those blank sheets in a picture frame. And that alone changes them. It turns them from something worthless to something priceless. Now they have meaning. They have a story. The difference is that frame.

I’ve come to think of the days of our lives in the same way. You can change an otherwise unremarkable day into a special, almost sacred, event by putting a frame around it. By setting it aside for a particular purpose. By giving it a name and a place on the calendar.

For example:

Saturday July 9: "Epic Family Quest"

There. We just claimed the 9th of July. It’s ours. For once we’re not at the mercy of anybody else’s plans. We give it a fancy name, and every chance to live up to the billing. The family buys in. By consecrating the day, we have elevated it. Maybe it even becomes an annual ritual.

Another reason to put a frame around a day well in advance is to stoke anticipation. Having this great big bauble to look forward to is pleasurable. Sometimes, ironically, it’s more pleasurable than the thing itself—a phenomenon psychologists call “rosy prospection.”

Here’s a second real-life example:

One of my regrets is that I didn’t read the Harry Potter books with my eldest daughter. I was preoccupied, and she tore through them so quickly that before I knew it I’d missed the train.  

But there’s still a chance for a dad-and-daughter Harry Potter experience. We’ve put a frame around a day in September. We’re going to watch the movies together. All of them. A Harry Potter marathon. Dad and daughter day. It’s our mulligan. Or maybe our muggle-igan. Rosy prospection is setting in already.

It won’t be a “productive” day in any measurable sense.

But I'll bet you nine Galleons it’ll be priceless. 

For more on this idea, go to onebigday.net