Do You Know Your Influences?

One of my favorite stories is a chapter in Louis Sachar’s Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger. A dubious character named Dr. Pickell hypnotizes a woman to help with her smoking addiction. He tells her the cigarette will turn into a worm in her mouth; then, as is his wont, adds a twisted behavior at the end of their hypnosis session.

“[Dr. Pickell] rubbed his beard and smiled. ‘Whenever your husband says the word “potato,” you will slap him across the face.’

‘When – Fred – says – ‘potato’ – I – will – slap – his – face.'”

A few paragraphs later, we learn the effects of Dr. Pickell’s meddling.

“It was an interesting thing about the word ‘potato.’ Whenever Fred said it, she slapped him. And he’d ask her why she slapped him, but she never remembered slapping him, so they’d get in a big fight, each calling the other crazy. Then they’d kiss and make up, which was nice because her breath didn’t stink.

“They never figured out it had anything to do with saying ‘potato.’…

“But deep down they both must have realized it somehow, because while they used to eat lots of potatoes, they gradually ate fewer and fewer, until they finally stopped eating them altogether.”

You would be surprised how often I think about this story in real life. Sachar is a master children’s author, crafting a deep story in a few, easily understood sentences.

Although I could go on for a bit longer about children’s authors, Louis Sachar, and pickles vs. potatoes; I bring this story up to discuss influences in our lives and whether we notice them or not.

Just think: when you walk into a store, what do you see? Someone has planned what you will see. Someone has looked at studies that say how much space a shopper needs upon entering before he may encounter something on sale. That someone knows that angled aisles are better but not as space-efficient (so they hang tags off the shelves), that we shoppers look for sales, and that we need enough space in an aisle to avoid the ‘butt-brushing effect.’

Advertising is a sneaky business, and one we often think of when considering this subject. As prevalent as purchasing bits of our mind is, however, that is not the influence that I am interested in discussing.

Instead, I want to think about less-evil, subtle influences we are ignorant of; things like choosing to act like our hero, striving to never wear red because you think it’s evil, and picking a genre of music after a coworker won’t stop listening to it.

In my life, I’ve seen examples of all of these behaviors. My brother is in medical school because one of his scout leaders was/is a successful doctor. One of my relatives will not wear red. And our family all got hooked on dubstep because my husband’s coworker played it nonstop.

For me, personally; I do not sew because my mother did not, I read and write because she did, and I abhor shopping and matching and new trends because she always tried to get me to wear (what I thought were) ugly combinations at the store. On sunny days I feel more capable and happy. If a friend makes a nice comment, I feel more confident. A jarring chord or fighting at home raises everyone’s anxiety levels.

When I think about it, the influences seem obvious. When I don’t, they don’t. Either way, I behave impulsively.

When the day is grey and ordinary, do you huddle up and wonder why everything’s dark and depressing? After hearing a favorite song from your youth, do you find yourself fondly (and ignorantly) reminiscing? Or, are you self-aware enough to buck the trends and have a happy-ever-after without any pickles princes?



Check out what I wrote this week. These posts may affect your day:
Wednesday, March 6: Wrote “It Takes Pains to Be Beautiful but I’m No Masochist,” a discussion of whether beauty is skin-deep and how much some people need to help that.
Also, “A Ghost of a Pinned Chance,” in response to Peregrine Arc‘s writing prompt.

Thursday, March 7: “The Cure for Depression: Get Outside,” another suggestion in a series originally posted over at The Bipolar Writer Mental Health Blog.
And, typed up a free-verse poem, “Seasonal Perspectives.”

Friday, March 8: Winner of the Weekly Terribly Poetry Contest. Congratulations to Michael Fishman!
I was prolific this week! Wrote “The Seedy Underbelly of Writing.” Be careful out there, people.

Saturday, March 9: Announced the 17th Weekly Terrible Poetry Contest. The theme is Under-the-Table Deals. PLEASE ENTER!

Sunday, March 10: “I’d Like to Mouse Wheel a Motion,” my entry for Carrot Ranch‘s prompt this week.

Monday, March 11: “Wilhelmina Winters, Eighty-Five.” Pants Hands-down, one of the funniest in the series so far
Tuesday, March 12:  An inspirational quote by @Girlbebrave.

Wednesday, March 13: Today.

I also posted all this week at my motherhood site. I wrote “Selfish Selflessness,” “The @#*&% Diet,” and quoted Erma Bombeck.


Photo Credit:
Image by Photo Mix from Pixabay

26 thoughts on “Do You Know Your Influences?

  1. That’s quite a Pavlovian twist on potatoes. I thought it was hilarious. Every time I hear the Beatles, my mind rushes back in time to Carnaby Street in London’s west end and I live my youth again.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I noticed this ‘effect’ some time ago – maybe it’s something you only ‘see’ when you get older than, say, 30. White Christmas? Purely media/ad created – I’ve never experienced one, ever, and yet that IS Christmas. Mom always used white bed linens. I actually found it difficult to sleep on non-white linens at someone else’s house because it just felt ‘wrong’. I felt betrayed when I learned that Mom was no longer using Tide or Cheer detergent. She ALWAYS used one of those, and after I left home, I always used one of those. I didn’t even think about whether there was anything better – that’s what you used to do laundry. Then Mom changed and I was thrown for a loop.

    I read a story, I think in Reader’s Digest, where a new bride fixed a roast. She cut off the ends, put it in the pan and cooked it. After this had happened a couple of times, hubby got up the nerve to ask her why she cut the ends off. She didn’t know – her mom always did it. She called her mom. Mom didn’t know – HER mom always did it. Mom called grandma who informed her she did it because it was the only way the roast would fit into the only roasting pan she had.

    I’d venture to say everyone has at least one, and probably many more, thing(s) they do just because that’s what they’ve always been seen, or were taught as a kid. No thought, just do it, but there isn’t really the hard and fast rule to it that we think there must be.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. See? That’s the effect I’m noticing. It can be as slight as singing a song later that someone was whistling to as major as always dating unsavory people because that’s who your mom or dad dated.

      😀 I remember hearing the story of the roast, too. Maybe MY kids are watching odd things I do and absorbing.


  3. Influences are everywhere and butt-brushes are real. We can thank Paco Underhill for this bit of anthropological research. Retail psychology is all about influences. And funnily enough, so is book writing. We get readers to buy into stories about D. Pickells. I enjoy your thoughtful posts, Chelsea.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 🙂 Thanks, Charli.

      I knew I had read a book all about retail psychology and simply could not come up with that phrase for my search term. I keep getting results for “top book sales” instead of “a book about sales.” 🙂

      Yes; influences are everywhere. We are hardly immune; hardly innocent of applying them ourselves.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Music doesn’t seem to work well for me. If it’s sad and slow, I will feel exactly that. If it’s too jolly, I will turn into Sylvester Stallone and start needing to go into a boxing ring. Frankly it’s exhausting so I tend to listen to dreary news channels, but that makes me want to shout at the politicians. Xx

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Being easily influenced is just a part of human nature I think. I mean look at the bibles rendition of how we came into sin… We can avoid acting on the influences, but I doubt our minds are capable of at least cognitively being influenced by them.. Very interesting topic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I agree! I’ve been back-thinking on what I wrote, and thought, “Well, of COURSE, Chelsea!”
      I’m mostly intrigued by our ignorance of the influence, and especially of how people continue to surround themselves with what has influenced them -then claim am unbiased approach.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Hmmmm not sure I totally agree with this train of thought. . I think our surroundings influence us both positively and negatively. But, I also believe we can outgrow it. My parents had three children. I assumed I would too. But two worked better for my lifestyle. So I made my own choices. My mom pressured me not to let boys know I was smarter than they were or could be a better athlete than they could be because then they wouldn’t like me. I thought that was stupid. By the time I got to college I realized that her beliefs were outdated and absurd, and so I protested for Women’s rights in college. As a child we do as we are told or we rebel and get punished. I was a rebel early on. Why? Because I was a thinker. If something didn’t make sense to me I questioned it. That’s not to say my surroundings didn’t influence me. But certainly not for my entire life.
    I had two other siblings. We all grew up in the same home. Both of them are left brained, quiet people. I’m right brained, out going, loved theater, played in a rock band and in a crowd I am not shy. So our personalities are very different. We are all very close even though we don’t live near each other. Our interpretations of our upbringing are quite varied. We all think we had a good childhood, but they both resent how over protective our mother was. Yes, we a mom who was afraid to let us go to camp, afraid to let us sleep over friends’ houses. Her issue. I got over that in my 20’s. It was annoying, but it was obvious that she couldn’t handle that her babies had grown up. They were still angry at her decades later. I remember saying, don’t you think it’s time to stop blaming our mother for her insecurities? It didn’t dawn on them to just stop the silliness. Most People do the best they can. It’s up to us when we grow up to accept responsibility for our actions. I can’t blame anyone for my quirks. I love Shakespeare, my sister hates him. I am afraid of heights. I don’t know anyone else in my family who is. Sometimes stuff just happens. I hate rap music. My oldest son loves it. My youngest son loves old school rock and roll. Different strokes for different folks.
    *And btw, what the heck is dubstep? I even googled it and still I am clueless. ???
    Oh… the weather doesn’t usually affect my moods unless it gives me a sinus headache.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You have hit the sweet spot of self-awareness that I was aiming to unearth in my questioning; yes! People slog about in their influences and do not rise!

      And dubstep is a style of music. It’s like adding a dance track, with a lot of bass drops and metal traps and…I can’t remember the other term… to music. Sometimes it’s just noise! but is good exercise or cleaning music. 🙂


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