I Am a Pessimist, I Am an Optimist

I’m both of these things:

Pessimist:

The Doomsday Clock moved to 2.5 minutes to midnight for the first time since 1953 because (I’m paraphrasing the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists here) a Twilight-Zone solipsistic evil pre-teen has nuclear codes and no idea how to shut the fuck up.

I believe this was a correct adjustment of the Doomsday Clock.

We’re setting back climate recovery by at least a decade, and my son is almost guaranteed to live in a world of zero icecaps, fatal tides, superstorms, and probably a resulting megaplague that kills untold numbers of people.

Everything I write, including the novel I started a year ago, is the best and most heartfelt work I’m capable of and yet it’s irrelevant, watery-gruel nonsense in a world where everything suddenly counts so much more, in so many different ways.

Privately, I’m a needy person who expects unreasonable levels of openness and bravura in interpersonal relationships, and is therefore destined to frighten most people away and spend much of my life wondering why so many relationships devolve into superficial defensive bullshit or explode/implode altogether. At which point I blame myself for being a bad, needy person.

Optimist:

Our country held together (sort of?) through the 1960s, when the President, his brother, and MLK were all shot dead; the Cuban Missile Crisis brought us one boat-turn away from nuclear war; students were killed; black people were beaten, jailed, or savagely murdered for doing things like going to college or riding buses; and we were lost in a war that even the warmongers knew we couldn’t possibly win. Despite (or because of) all of this, progress was made.

Humans are weirdly smart sometimes, and make ridiculously awesome breakthroughs when nobody anticipates them, like landing men on the moon pretty much just to show the Russians we’re badass; and getting everyone connected with pocket computers; and maybe discovering some miraculous clean-energy tech that makes oil look as stupid and bloody and humanity-boiling as it actually is. We don’t always do things for the best reasons, but every now and then, we do something amazing for some damn reason and things work out.

Art matters. It works. I hear people say yeah, well, The Beatles and Janis and Hendrix and Dylan didn’t magically make the 60s a wonderful era now, did they? Bono and Madonna and Lauper and Michael Jackson didn’t exactly heal the world after all. Did Warhol matter? Did Toni Morrison? Are Run the Jewels and Ta- Nehisi Coates playing old violins on the new Titanic?

And I say: what if artists weren’t there? Things would have been worse. So egregiously worse. Artists aren’t supposed to make everything perfect. They’re supposed to counterbalance the corrosive anti-creative shit, and inspire people, and reveal beauty and hope, and present visions of the way forward, even if those visions aren’t ever perfectly realized. Without art, there’s despair—no inspiration, no hope, no chance.

Privately: I’m demanding in relationships because I look for the best in people. I’m naïve and over-hopeful about it. When I stop being this way, let me wither and die, because I’m not worth knowing and not worth existing.

Human connection is everything: it’s friendship, it’s art, it’s politics, it’s loving, it’s fucking, it’s raising children, it’s faith in God (or humanism, or whatever more-than-self belief system you embrace), it’s life.

If we’re not courting the upper-grade potential in others and ourselves, then we deserve the Doomsday Clock. I won’t ask of anyone something I’m not personally willing to give, or at very least support. So I ask for a lot, and I try to give in equal measure, because otherwise it’s all a sad waste of time. I’ll ask more of other people, and ask more of myself.

Optimism isn’t a feelgood catchphrase. It’s good work.

Raison d’être

It’s a grind week: sleet, insomnia, creative doldrums. News anxiety is wearing me out. My son has a low-grade fever. I usually rely heavily on music, and this week nothing lights me up.

One of my friends lost his father today. I love this friend. He’s one of the unfamous heroes of the world—a father himself, a man with a comic range of talents and enthusiasms, a practical idealist.

I’m going through a blah patch. He’s facing the death of his Dad.

I don’t have a bold insight into that contrast. I’m just feeling it tonight. We need reasons to move through the unremarkable grindstone weeks, and we need reasons to move through the life-changing weeks.

But what are the reasons? That’s easy to answer some weeks. Other weeks, tougher.

Faucet and Brownies

My son had a snow day because we’ve had sleet for 24 hours. It sounds like it’s raining glass.

Last night, I stood outside while our dog took forever to do his business, and I enjoyed the peculiar sensation of standing in a downpour without getting wet — just a thousand little ice bits pinging off my head.

Today my son spent the morning playing video games, reading MAD Magazine, and playing guitar. I spent the morning reading The Road to Character and writing the end of a doppelgänger scene in my novel.

We had lunch midday and watched an episode of Friday Night Lights, and then I took him downtown for his guitar lesson and a dog-food pickup.

After that we made brownies and replaced the other faucet in the upstairs bathroom. The faucet replacement went a lot quicker than last time, and we got to eat brownies as a reward.

Faucet and Brownies After