I’m not a big TV watcher, but in the 1990s I was hooked on Seinfeld, the classic sitcom featuring Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer. As I sat there splitting my sides, I hardly suspected the show about nothing would help me frame the theme for my novel, The Opposite of Everything, nearly two decades later.
One episode in particular, “The Opposite,” stayed with me long after it aired in 1994.
In it, George Costanza is so fed up with life he resolves to do the complete opposite of what came normally. He orders the opposite of his normal lunch, and introduces himself to a beautiful woman who happens to order the same lunch, saying “My name is George. I’m unemployed and I live with my parents.” To his surprise, she is impressed and agrees to date him.
The “opposite” concept appealed to me as a novelist on several levels.
Through much of the 1990s, I felt as hapless as George. I was a busy New York City journalist struggling through stress at work, health problems, and a failed marriage. So when I sat down to write my semiautobiographical book, long after Seinfeld went into repeats, I drew on the opposite theme for inspiration. My struggle to write the book, like my life it depicted, was overwhelming. At times, I wanted to run away from both. Instead I fictionalized the trauma, viewing my life through a contrarian lens. The further I distanced myself from the situation, the less I felt like a victim.
Like George, my main character – Daniel Plotnick, an ailing divorced journalist based on me -- resolves to do the opposite of everything that hurt him. He dates a Latina doctor, who accepts his illness, whereas his first wife couldn’t handle it. Deciding to get remarried, he plots to make his second wedding the perfect opposite of his first. He cancels the caterer, corrals guests to cook, and replaces the priest with Buddhist monks.
Plotnick’s contrarian strategy collapses, however, when he undergoes chemotherapy during his wife’s pregnancy. Their side effects converge. They both turn queasy. He loses hair; she grows hair in new places. Something grows inside each of them. Ultimately, the birth of their daughter reaffirms Plotnick’s faith in a more benign growth -- the one to be nurtured with love and caring.
My book’s epigraph, naturally, is the famous quote by George Costanza:
It became very clear to me sitting out there today, that every decision I've ever made, in my entire life, has been wrong. My life is the complete opposite of everything I want it to be. Every instinct I have, in every aspect of life, be it something to wear, something to eat ... It's all been wrong.