I have been pondering optimism and, in particular, why some people have it and some don’t. I have never been very optimistic — more of an Eeyore, as certain of my readers have already heard me say more than a few times. Even when things have been going well in my life, I’ve never been a particularly sunny character. It’s not that I’m always as much of a drag as I have been lately (thank G-d for my sense of humor!) but more that I have a tendency, even in good times, to notice the flaws. Even the tiny ones. They don’t necessarily ruin it for me, but I can’t not notice them.
Is this tendency hard-wired, or is it a habit? I’ve always fallen back on the notion that it must be hard-wired, because I always eventually revert to it, despite any efforts I might make to cultivate a half-full glass. My mother has the same tendency to notice flaws, and it’s something we’ve fought about for years — especially when the tiny flaws she can’t abide are mine. Knowing that I grew up under that kind of influence makes me think that even if it is a habit, it’s a habit of 41 years’ making, which can’t be easy to undo.
And yet. I have a colleague with whom I performed several years ago, a person of enormous gifts who was also enormously troubled. He was angry, dark, and profoundly cynical both times we worked together. I saw him again recently when he was in town for an event at the theatre we worked at, and was struck by how changed he is. He’s gotten sober, gotten engaged, gotten happy. When I looked in his eyes, I saw something I never expected to see there: peace. I emailed him about it and we had a brief exchange about the changes in his life and attitude. He admitted that it’s hard to keep a positive attitude, but that it’s worth the effort. From anyone else I’d dismiss such a platitude, but from him it demands attention.
He wrote to me that the important thing was to keep trying, that aiming at the target was a habit I could cultivate. He specified (knowing me well, perhaps) to forget the bulls-eye and aim only for the target.
I like to think that I really want to be more sunny and optimistic — if not for myself, then for my poor kids, who are suffering so much in this ordeal on account of my inability to keep it together. And yet, I keep wondering, while I’m aiming at the target, “What do I do with the way I really feel?”