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To You Other Pessimists Out There

She shares this sort of thing with me regularly. The other day, my wife sent me another article – this one from Marc and Angel – on how to be an optimist. An excerpt:

…when an optimist experiences a bout of success she might say, โ€œThatโ€™s just as I had anticipated; I studied hard and my diligence paid off,โ€ while a pessimist might say, โ€œGoodness, was I lucky to get a good grade on that test,โ€ not giving herself any credit and literally snatching her own defeat from the hands of victory.

It is worth reading in full. That latter is definitely me. Iโ€™m by far more of a pessimist about life than an optimist.

For me, there is always a new darkening cloud looming on the horizon. Out of the gate my gut reaction is it will NEVER go well – whatever IT is. I have also for as long as I can remember been someone more likely to see a glass as half empty:

[Excerpt from Distances: Atlantic Lives, 1996-1997. Paperback. Photo by me, 2019.]

I long ago realized my now late mother – especially – ingrained in me growing up a basic negativity, a shaky self-confidence, and a sense that the best thing to do is always to take cover and to play perpetual “defense” against a world that is out to get me. I’m not blaming her for that. She had many excellent qualities, but to be honest a zest for life and a positive outlook were definitely not two of them.

I’m always fighting it. However, before I open a door or answer a phone, I still initially feel it is NEVER figuratively opportunity perhaps knocking or ringing; rather I cringe, sure it will be someone demanding something I usually canโ€™t give them or have to struggle to give to them. (To this day, I hate answering the telephone if I don’t recognize the number; Caller ID is a gift from God to me.) There have even been particularly bad days over the years I have wondered, “Does it make the slightest bit of difference really if I died next week or thirty years from now?”

Interestingly I have found a release and a freedom inside of my books. In some ways, they have been unexpectedly therapeutic. As in that Distances excerpt above, in which I actually noted it, writing has pushed me to try to consider the “demons” in my mind from the outside while looking in.

The first time I ever mentioned – back in university nearly three decades ago – that I was interested in visiting France, my mother turned to me and was immediately harshly negative: “Are you nuts? They hate us.” It opened a pretty acrimonious exchange between us I never forgot and which I eventually partly fictionalized in my first book.

On a trip I finally took about a year later, I found myself in a bar/restaurant at a table with a French woman of the same age who spoke little English. My French was hardly fantastic. At one point a mutual – thoroughly bilingual – French woman friend having stepped away from us, we ended up by ourselves for a few minutes.

Did I think, well, this is great? She is pretty and has been really nice? She doesn’t seem like she wants to pretend to need the ladies room or to run for the door?

Nonetheless my brain went to my “default” reaction. My mind raced: Oh, God, this is like a scene out of a really bad movie. As I was trying to make myself understood, and to understand her, I was sure she was going to make fun of me. I recall fretting: this will be a DISASTER.

Slowly, though, I got that my pessimism was what was misplaced. I came to discover she was also somewhat embarrassed as she struggled to communicate with me too. Among other things I did learn over our drinks was that she liked Mozart; she was going to be a nurse; and she wished she could speak better English. We spent most of those ten or so minutes trying to make sense to each other in bits of both languages and gesturing and laughing.

I thought as I relaxed: she sure doesn’t seem to hate me? My mother’s relentless negativity – over the months she had never really let up on me about the coming trip being a mistake – had, I felt, contributed to my fears and my worries. I found out later as well that mutual friend had deliberately vanished for a time in order to “encourage” us to be alone together and to talk directly: she had been trying to do a bit of lighthearted matchmaking between me and her friend… Valรฉrie (a name some of you may recognize). ๐Ÿ˜‰

[Sunshine over the village green. Codicote, England. Photo by me, February 15, 2019.]

You other pessimists: we do have to try to see life’s upsides. We have to resist thinking IT will ALWAYS go wrong. It won’t.

Try to have an optimistic day, wherever you are in the world. ๐Ÿ™‚

2 replies »

  1. Robert, this is why weโ€™re friends, lol. We are mirror images. Was your mother German perhaps? Mine is. Whenever my brother or Iโ€”in our younger yearsโ€”would whine, โ€œBut thatโ€™s no fun!โ€ she would intone in the most lugubrious fashion, โ€œLifeโ€™s not fun.โ€ Aye yi yi! No wonder my brother and I are so pessimistic! In fact, we have a little brother/sister joke we share with others when chastised for our pessimism: โ€œWe are optimistic pessimists. We always expect the worst, and when something good happens, weโ€™ll be pleasantly surprised!โ€ Have an optimistic day? Not sure, but perhaps weโ€™ll be pleasantly surprised! ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • Ah, Germans! We have those in my family. But my mother was a New Yorker thru and thru: of Italian ancestry. For whatever reasons, she was utterly unadventurous and always trying to shut down anything “exciting” I wanted to do. I had a constant battle from about age 12 to do anything. My late uncle said she took after their mother, but my grandmother I always felt was MORE adventurous than my mom. (My mom never flew on a plane even once, whereas my grandmother did a bunch of times.) In her last years, I reminded my mom that when I was a little kid and we were passing, say, a playground and I wanted to go off and play, she would tell me: “The man said it’s closed.” I would point to the other kids. She would say, they are leaving soon. She never traveled and never did much of anything other than look after us and the home – and did both very well. By the time I hit 20 I suspected she was always utterly stressed out by me – as if she didn’t know what I would surprise her with next. Girls in my life especially rattled her – in particular the two most serious ones I brought home: one was French (God, that was a million laughs), and then the one I eventually married. ๐Ÿ™‚

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