An Open Letter to George Bailey


Hey there, old Building-and-Loan pal!

It’s holiday season again, which means another It’s A Wonderful Life viewing is right around the corner. And you know what, I’ve been thinking. I’ve spent my last thirty or so Christmases with you, and I feel like I’ve gotten to know you pretty well. But now that I’m a wife and mother myself, I have to admit—and I don’t want you to get all emotional about this because I know you can be sensitive—but TBH I’m running out of patience for your bullshit.

Look, I say this with love. I’m into your whole deal; I always have been. Nothing says “beloved American Everyman” like a lifetime of disappointments. You thought you were going to do great things! And you didn’t. Bummer, right? Well, join the club, you warped, frustrated young man. It’s called middle-class American life and really, it’s not that bad. Your brother almost died in World War freaking II, so I think you can handle some low-key job discontentment. Get a good night’s sleep. Drink a green juice. Start a podcast or something. You’re fine.

Now, as a Jew, I can get down with a good allegory about how the Christmas season makes y’all go crazy and feel like broke, miserable failures, I really can. I mean, do you ever stop and think about why so many Christmas movies are about people losing their shit over their finances? Think about how many Christmas movie dads are accused of being too involved in their work and not having enough Christmas Spirit™? Just who do their families think pay for their boughs of holly and tankards of egg nog—Santa Claus? Ha ha, gentiles, am I right? Well, as an outsider I can break it down for you: Making a personal-finance-busting holiday carry the weight of magic is just too much. It’s a simple issue of holiday overreach. I, on the other hand, have never felt holiday-related stress in my life. Jewish holiday celebrations basically include a meal. And it’s usually not even a very good meal, it’s, like, the delicacies of the shtetl. Offal, yay! Seriously, as a kid, do you think I lost my mind with anticipation in the days running up to Yom Kippur? Did my dad have an existential crisis every Hanukkah? I mean, there aren’t any twinkly lights or angels, but we don’t spend a month’s income on presents to pile under a dead tree and then get all stressed and try to jump off bridges.

That’s not even really the point here. You do you. Christmas is a thing, I get it, I do. But what you don’t have to do is be a colossal dick about everything.

I know that sounds a bit harsh, and trust me, twenty-five-year-old-me totally related to your constant state of distress. You didn’t get to go to Europe? TOTALLY, OMG, HUGE DISASTER. Aw, you got handed the family business on a platter? BUT WHAT ABOUT YOUR BIG PLANS? Twenty-five-year-old-me thought it was cute that on your first date with Mary Hatch you left her naked in a thorn bush. Twenty-five-year-old-me thought it was adorable how later on you invited yourself into Mary’s parlor and then moped around like a lesser member of the Smiths, while she tried to be a welcoming fucking hostess.

You know what, George? I’m older and wiser now. I’m more tired. Specifically, I’m more tired of men’s fragile egos and emotional laziness. Almost-forty-year-old me has had it with this shit. That’s right: George Bailey needs to chill. Don’t @ me.

But look, here is the most important thing I have to tell you: You need to start treating your wife better. You think you have long days working at the Building and Loan office? For real? You know who has long days? Mary Hatch Bailey, that gorgeous creature who has single-handedly fixed up your haunted mansion of a house, volunteered for the war effort, and had four—FOUR—babies in an age before iPads and microwavable dinners. Did you even see that montage where she’s pasting up wallpaper while the babies chill in a play-pen? Sure, she might be smiling because she’s high on paste fumes, but she’s also wearing high heels and her hair in curls. If that isn’t a recipe for a nervous breakdown and/or pain pill addiction, I don’t know what is. And then, at the end of her busy days, she has you to deal with—you, slouching through the door, bitching and moaning, self-pityingly muttering about how she should have married Sam Wainwright, her wildly successful former beau. You’re darn tootin’ right she should have married Sam Wainwright! You think she doesn’t think that every fucking day? But she doesn’t say it; no, she smiles and hosts another family get-together, because she’s a grown-ass lady, and she handles her shit. Don’t you make her do your emotional labor, sir.

Listen. You know when you come home pissed off and have a temper tantrum in the living room? You know how you knock over your architectural models, like, oh wah my hopes and dreams? Why the fuck are your toys in the living room, George? Your house has, like, eighty-two rooms. Set one aside as your office and dust your own toothpick bridges.

And, later on, when Uncle Billy loses that huge deposit for the Building and Loan and you respond like Eeyore and Sylvia Plath had a baby and that baby is you? First of all, why the fuck did you let Uncle Billy be in charge of anything? Have you seen his office? I have, and it is literally full of wild animals. He’s insane. Give him a job he can handle. What kind of manager are you? Uncle Billy can be the greeter, okay? Not the guy in charge of all the money. And yet, every year you ignore me yelling at you, and Uncle Billy loses the money and you’re like, I know how to fix this; I should kill myself. Brilliant. That would be a fine how-do-you-do to Mary and your kids, asshole.

Thank goodness Clarence lets you see what life would be like without you in it. You know how you see how Mary’s life would be if you’d never married her, and you freak out? What is your problem, anyway? Look, I know it’s 1945. But then again, it’s 1945! Women are running factories and flying airplanes. Why is it the end of the world if Mary Hatch becomes a career woman? If she works at the library and wears sensible shoes and spectacles? Quelle horreur! She doesn’t wear a girdle and can probably breathe! Maybe she’s happy living her own life, George! Maybe she has more energy now that she doesn’t have to assuage your damaged ego every night—maybe she’s writing a book in the evenings after work! Remember how she spent her college summers working in New York? Maybe Mary would have been just fine without you—so count your blessings, and start pulling your weight around that drafty old house.

This year, George, I beg you. Take your meds. Try yoga. Breathe deep. Don’t be another moody child for Mary to take care of. The mental load is real, pal. Mary’s grinning now, but give her a few years and she’s going to crack. So look, George Bailey: this is your chance to see what your life would be like if you chilled the fuck out.

You’re welcome.

Sincerely yours,


Image credits: feature image, second image.

Amy Shearn is the author of the novels The Mermaid of Brooklyn and How Far is The Ocean From Here. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Real Simple, Poets & Writers, The Millions, Electric Literature, Five Chapters, DAME, and elsewhere. She is the assistant director at Sackett Street Writers Workshops, and the assistant editor at JSTOR Daily. She lives in Brooklyn with her family. Visit her at / @amyshearn More from this author →