This, was an informal essay I did for my Rhetoric class a couple of years ago. I figured I'd share, just because this gives a wee glimpse into how my mind works.
Confessions Of A Tired Optimist
Let a smile be your umbrella. The sun will come up tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day. These nuggets of wisdom are passed on to us by happy, positive-thinking people everywhere. The people who never tried to grin their way through a thunderstorm. The people who never swear and grumble in the first blinding moments of daylight as they step out to start their day. The optimistic people who want to deny the fact that tomorrow will be a another day, but that day will still carry a touch of the stigma and misery that today carried with it from the day before. In other words, the people that aren't me.
That's not to say that I'm a completely bitter, miserable bastard. No, if anything I tend to throw the people that know me off a bit. Alternating between the positive and the negative, I've actually caused arguments over my being viewed as either very upbeat or very cynical. When, in all honesty, I tend to think that I'm optimistic enough to see the bright side of things, but carry just enough common sense to know the flaws in my own thinking. Or as I once explained to my mom, “I'm a tired optimist, and we just look like pessimists in a bad light.”
But here is my question: at what point does a person's world view start to decay? Is it a gradual fade on one's glow of cheery positivity? Or is it more like the emotional equivalent of metal fatigue, wearing and cracking the longer it's sustained until some unforeseen moment when everything just snaps under the weight of harsh reality?
Does it make optimism a guide for life, or some form of limited resource that we should squirrel away for those rainy days when we so desperately need a silver lining in the clouds? In my own personal experience, it's become more of a topical ointment. Optimism is more of a short-lived fix for the general pains of growing up the way I have with the world view I've accumulated. Optimism has become nothing more than a tool to be used to better help me gauge my observations against those of others.
Late comedians like George Carlin, Bill Hicks and Lenny Bruce often peppered their routines with this darker look at the up-side. Dark comedy frequently skews the way people look at the lighter world; it pulls a shade over the rose-colored glasses to let us better see the contrast between what we hope for and what is really there. Many people tend to migrate towards one worldview or the other in a way that renders their perceptions a little blind to anything that opposes it. The trick I've found is to strike a balance between hope and misery, much like the men I previously mentioned.
Nothing best sums up my perspective on hope quite like something I call “The Birthday Window Of Doom.” Named for a karmic running gag that's hit me time and time again, the Window fills the seven days before and after every one of my birthdays. This fourteen day space has brought misery with events ranging from the year-apart deaths of my grandparents to temporary incarceration to job loss. Two decades of minor annoyances and major misfortunes have given me a prevailing sense of dread for a day that normal people tend to view as a time for friends, gifts and warm squishy feelings.
Not that I'm not opposed to those warm squishies; hell, warm squishies for everyone. There's just an underlying subconscious need in me to dismantle those happy little everyday moments. I have to expose the twitchy springs and turning gears to better understand why I should accept the world as the miserable mess it is and go crawl back into bed. Maybe it comes from a childhood of mood swings, being raised by a single mom, and growing up a slightly warped and sarcastic brat in a world where the adults were more intellectually interesting than kids my own age. Maybe it comes from having the heart of a romantic, the brain of a geek, and the soul of a bitter old Las Vegas lounge comic. It doesn't change the fact that experience has taught me some hard lessons about the way the world works, while still leaving me some small glimmer of hope that it can change.
I'm not one for judging those that always look on the brighter side of life. I say more power to those people able to smile in the face of extreme adversity. The world needs people that believe the world is a fair place, that people are inherently good, and that life can always get better. And as long as these special little snowflakes have the common sense to stay in their own place on the playground, I should be able to get on with the process of living in relative peace and quiet. Because some people, myself included, have hoarded our little miseries as a constant reminder that our bitching and moaning is justified just to get through the day. With no bragging, I can state that my gripes and complaints are elegant works of pessimistic art, and too much of a good vibe can bring the end of a perfectly crafted nihilistic mope quicker than anything. After all, Emily Dickinson described hope as “A thing with feathers,” but so are pigeons; and both are barely tolerated by people who have nice things and want to keep them that way.
In fact, hope and optimism may rarely be needed by the Haves of the world. Compare Donald Trump to a homeless man with bad hair and I can tell you which one is more likely to think that things can only get better. Or look at the backside-blessed life of media fame-vortex, Kim Kardashian. Kim has millions in the bank; her face and/or derriere is on every other newspaper page, TV screen, or web page in the free world. Kim can afford to pay ungodly amounts of money for the wedding of a marriage that lasted only a few days longer than her mother's last Botox injection. Kim is a name on many people's lips, even if the context is less than flattering. But could it be that Kim has so much that she doesn't really need optimism anymore? It may be that all the fame and money has given her such a false sense of security that optimism has been replaced with an almost divine self-obsession.
But does that make optimism only a commodity of the unfortunate? Looking at the Bible might show Job as an example of optimistic hope as more of a light in the face of pure, unrelenting adversity. Stripped of everything he valued and cherished, Job wasn't as much of a life lesson until things went wrong and he had to rely on faith to believe that yes, there is a plan to the universe. Optimism as the ultimate light at the end of the tunnel - the equivalent of throwing an emotional rope to a drowning man.
Maybe, like so many things in the world, it all boils down to perspective. Circumstances shape our hopes, and the downs in life give our ups contrast. Who knows, the universe may need semi-miserable people like me to help the upbeat feel better about themselves. My incessant complaining and bitter quips are the equivalent of vertical stripes; all the better to make your day heavy with bad thoughts seem slimmer by comparison. Or it could just be some form of sadistic, visceral thrill in taking potshots at that bluebird of happiness on your shoulder. It's my own little way of feeling better by spreading the lack-of-love as it were. For all I know, I could just be an erratic flake, and my ups and downs are purely the side effect of faulty brain chemistry.
Still, at the end of the day, I'm struggling to keep my head above financial water. My social life is defined by whatever is on TV or in my Xbox. My Bi-Polar Disorder can't help but wax and wane until I can afford a better medical treatment. My love life has been dormant for long enough to be declared legally dead. And if I really am just doing all of this for you happy people out there, you guys are wearing me out.