Every once in a while I go off on a wild goose chase, i.e., begin an article or paper that winds up becoming something much different, more complex, more fascinating, and oftentimes much longer and more troublesome than I’d anticipated — indeed, a journey unto itself.
a 1972 Cornell senior history thesis about Emile Coue and the self-conscious autosuggestion movement of the 1920s;
a 1981 assignment to write a column for Omni Magazine about an institute of resource management Robert Redford was inaugurating in the wilds of southeast Washington State;
a 1988 City University of New York History seminar paper for my professor, former Kennedy aide Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., about the intense, potentially destabilizing behind-the-scenes battle between the Kennedy Administration and the Air Force-industrial complex over the B-70 bomber; and
a 1995 essay about Sweden for the Wilson Quarterly,
All of which wound up morphing into dissertation-long exegeses, as well as significant, even life-changing personal passages unto themselves.
This was certainly the case with “Day By Day in Every Way I Am Getting Better and Better,” my 12,000-word eloge about self-conscious autosuggestion, the workaday system of self-help that revolved around the repeated use of the soothing phrase, “Day by day in every way I am getting better and better,” and its kindly, if ever-so-slightly daft founder, the French pharmacist Emile Coue. I don’t recall exactly what “brought” me to Coue; I believe it was a reference in “Our Times,” Frederick Allen’s popular history of the fad-infected 1920s (bear in mind, this was a time when I was absolutely mad about the decode, even dressing in period white pants and bucks for a while), but once I did I couldn’t let him go.
When you read “Day by Day” — which, in addition to being one of the funniest things I have ever written, still stands (so far as I know) as the definitive account of the true father of the American positive thinking movement — you’ll understand why I was so enchanted with Coue. Here was a bona fide “lost” chapter of American cultural history, as well as one that was, and still is, very emblematic of the — how shall I say? — more suggestible aspect of the American mentality.
Perhaps, too, you will understand why the hapless professor of American studies for whom I wrote my demented tract was at once persuaded that (a) I had a future as a writer; and (b) I was too eccentric to be an academic historian.
Was I? You tell me. Anyway, enjoy. And remember: Day by day in every way, you are getting better and better…