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MARTHA SEZ: It might be time to swim off the island

May 7, 2013
MARTHA ALLEN , Lake Placid News

I remember sitting on the floor in my bedroom in Birmingham, Michigan, staring out the window one beautiful spring Saturday while comparing myself to Cinderella. My mother had decreed that my sister and I could not go outside until the room we shared was clean, or at least "picked up."

Looking back, I see that my situation was very different from Cinderella's. Her evil stepmother and ugly stepsisters wished her ill, whereas my mother just wanted the room tidy, and perhaps also was trying to teach me responsibility or something. Luckily for me, my little sister, who was incidentally far from ugly, was busily putting away the clothes and dolls while I moped, so that we could walk to the library together.

Sometimes, however, people are assigned impossible tasks for bad reasons. Beware of situations like Cinderella's, in which someone who does not have your best interests at heart holds all the power and makes all the rules. You stay, trying to prove yourself, but you would do better to get out.

I know a young woman named Cilla whose housemate, Renee, once her best friend, has become her tormenter. Renee now marks her eggs and hides her yogurt so that Cilla won't eat them. She leaves mean notes and has turned the other students who live in the house against Cilla. They say that unless she shapes up she's out. They have assigned her a list of irksome duties, and will judge her performance. It's just like reality television, except she doesn't have to eat squirming grubs or fall into pits of mud. Not yet, anyway.

It's so unfair! Cilla says. I never ate that carrot! Cilla wails. And she didn't make those long distance calls, either. That was Malcolm, Renee's boyfriend. Get out, I tell her. Just walk away. But they'll keep my deposit, she argues. Even so, I say. Like the fox who leaves his tail in the trap. Go.

Under the United States Constitution, a citizen has rights under the law, no matter how much we may dislike him for various reasons.

Take for example the case of Paul Kevin Curtis, recently accused of trying to poison the president of the United States and other important people. Not only is Curtis an Elvis Presley impersonator, but he blogs on a crank conspiracy theory website and owns a dog named Moo Cow who ran away when Curtis was arrested.

And yet, Curtis was set free. Several pieces of information came to light during the FBI investigation. Apparently, he had been framed by his arch enemy, James Everett Dutschke, who may be the true culprit. Moo Cow came home.

Moo Cow notwithstanding, our justice system is neither arbitrary nor vengeful. Imagine how things would have turned out had Dutschke been accuser, judge and jury.

In fable, fairy tale and myth, the underdog who is set impossible tasks always prevails. In real life, this is very seldom the case.

The miller's daughter is ordered to spin straw into gold, which she does with the help of a horrid dwarf named Rumpelstiltskin, in return for her future child. Then the child is born. Rumpelstiltskin says, you can keep the baby if you can guess my name, which she does, because someone told her. It is probably a small town.

Psyche, the beloved of Cupid, is so beautiful that Venus is jealous and sets her impossible tasks in order to get rid of her. Psyche gets help with all the tasks. Even some ants are moved by her extreme beauty, it seems, and they sort a huge vat of mixed seeds for her.

Hercules is the son of the god Zeus and a woman, thus incurring the hatred of Zeus' s wife, the goddess Hera. She gives him one impossible task after another, most of which Hercules is able to successfully perform by virtue of his brute strength. He reroutes two rivers to clean the Augean stables.

Both Psyche and Hercules eventually wind up as immortals on Mount Olympus. This is not the norm.

The norm is more likely to resemble reality TV. Ask Donald Trump.

If someone is setting you impossible tasks, either in your personal or professional life, ask yourself: Does he or she have my best interests at heart? Or am I being set up to fail? Unless you are under arrest, you can walk away. You don't have to cleanse the Augean stables. Swim. Get off the island.

And have a good week!



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