I'm editing a chapter in the new book today and I thought I'd share a funny piece with you. I have a section called "The Armory" that explores the various armor and masks we use to protect ourselves from vulnerability.
I'm considering naming one of the more popular protection strategies, "The Serpentine." The term is based on a scene from the 1979 movie, The In-Laws with Peter Falk and Alan Arkin.
Here's a brief plot overview from the IMDB website: "In preparation for his daughter's wedding, dentist Sheldon Kornpett meets Vince Ricardo, the groom's father. Vince, a manic fellow who claims to be a government agent, then proceeds to drag Sheldon into a series of chases and misadventures from New York to Central America."
The movie is a little corny in places, but Peter Falk is brilliant as the outrageous agent and Alan Arkin is the perfect uptight straightman.
My very favorite scene is Falk telling a terrified Arkin to avoid a flurry of bullets by running in a zig-zag pattern. He yells (as only the awesome Peter Falk could), "Serpentine, Shel! Serpentine!" I don't know why it cracks me up but I get hysterical every time I see it. Maybe it's because I remember watching it with my dad and brother and falling out! To this day if things are getting tense in a family conversation, one of us will say, "Serpentine" and we'll all laugh.
It's the perfect metaphor for how we spend enormous energy trying to dodge vulnerability when it would take far less effort to face it straight on. Also, the image conveys how fruitless it is to duck and weave in the face of something as expansive and all-consuming as vulnerability.
Serpenting is trying to control the situation, back out of it, pretend it's not happening, or maybe even faking not caring. I serpentine a lot when I feel vulnerable. If I have to make a difficult call, I'll try to script both sides of it, I'll convince myself that I should wait, I'll draft an email while telling myself that it's better in writing - I'll emotionally run back and forth until I'm exhausted.
When I catch myself trying to zig-zag my way out of vulnerability it always helps to have Peter Falk's voice in head shouting, "Serpentine, Shel!" It makes me laugh which forces me to breathe. That's always helpful.
Here's a link to the scene on YouTube. Sometimes they pull these down, so if doesn't work check out the film. Make sure you get the original! The production values are not great by today's standards but the acting is great.
If you remember that scene - let me know. I'd hate to use that if I'm the only one who gets it. If you think, "Duck and Weave" is better - weigh in! I'll crowdsource the chapter title. Also if you have any strategies around serpentining, please share!