Pretty Optimistic, For A Pessimist

Oh, 2020. So young, and yet you’ve already dumped on us heaps of human dumbassery. No, I apologize, arbitrary number on a calendar, you didn’t do this. We’ve dumped it on ourselves. It’s so tempting to throw up one’s hands and concede that while homo sapiens sapiens are persistent, loud, and creatively destructive, we’re really not that smart, or that nice. Each new year seems to bring new reasons to lose faith in human nature and our supposed intelligence. We fumble our way into misinformation, unnecessary power struggles, wanton destruction of the very things that sustain us…ugh. Throwing up in my mouth a little as I write this.

Fun facts: humans have the largest brains of any vertebrate, relative to size. Over the millennia, Mother Nature has knit us a toque of trillions of synapses. We’ve got the grey, squishy goods to write symphonies, to explore other parts of the galaxy, to craft poetry, to fawn over sunsets, to restart someone’s heart. For the love of Pete, we were smart enough to invent butter tarts. And, even on a good day, all of this is grossly overshadowed by many, many instances of people repeatedly playing a worldwide, championship game of “You’re Hitting Yourself. Stop Hitting Yourself.”

Nope. We can do better. And when I say we can do better, I’m not saying that we should do better. Of course we should, but we really are able to do better. We’re waaaaaay smarter than this. Sometimes, it’s because we underestimate ourselves, our own intelligence, just like we underestimate the incredible smarts of kids, or animals. Sometimes we get flustered at the effort it takes to act like a clever species. Sometimes we’re overwhelmed at the amount of responsibility that comes with brain power. If you know better, you should be doing better, and you kind of can’t just excuse yourself from it. Regardless of our motivations, we are not living up to our potential. Not even close.

Remember this quote?

IMG_8088John and Yoko were really onto something, and I think you could easily replace”war” with  “stupidity”, “foolishness” or “irrationality”. Even if the movie Idiocracy is slightly less than fictional, and we are, in fact, shrinking in our intellectually capacities, we still have a ways to go before we lose it entirely. For the time being at least, we are smart, and we are savvy, and we have the equipment necessary to not think like moldy kitchen sponges. It’s right there, people.

Do I think we’ll see an improvement in human behaviour in 2020, or 2011, or 2030? Probably not. You see, I’m a bit of a pessimist. It disappoints, but does not surprise me when my fellow humans make a circus act of their very worst actions. When I turn on my phone every morning, this is pretty much what I expect to see.

But there’s an optimist that lives in my head as well, and although she’s tiny, she “wears heavy boots, and is loud” (Henry Rollins).  I know what we’re like most of the time, but I also know what’s available to us, all the resources and talents we have tucked away. I’ve seen it in the kids I work with, who celebrate their sparking, overloaded minds and hammer their elders with questions. I’ve seen it in my students, who manage to find really good ideas in the midst of the heavy task of finding themselves in the world. I’ve seen it in random strangers I meet at community events, when I get a glimpse of some nugget of wisdom they’ve been hanging onto for years. I hear it in a comedian’s punchlines, on the pages of my kid’s graphic novels, in song lyrics, and in protest movements. This tiny optimist is why I bother to do what I do, both professionally and personally. She won’t stop pointing out these possibilities to me. She’s why I brace myself for the worst in people, but still squint to see what’s hiding underneath the ick.

So we still have another 11 months left this year to redeem ourselves as thinking beings, and yeah, if we don’t screw things up too badly, we’ll have a lot longer than that. Let’s not blame the year itself, or the stars, or each other. Let’s just use what we’ve been given, and think.






cardboard box

Tidying Up, In the Bleak Midwinter

Before anyone starts thinking of possible prescription meds to solve this, I’m happy to report that I’ve found an effective treatment. Last year, while immersed in the post-Christmas doldrums, I binge-watched a show on tidying up (yeah, it was that one). Then I went on Amazon, the officially supplier for cold-weather shut-ins, and had a whole whack of itty bitty boxes with dividers delivered. Then I systematically went through everything. I mean, everything. For a couple of months, I picked through every drawer, every cupboard, every closet, and toted out bag after bag of nothing in particular (and yes, I thanked it before I pitched it).

It felt really good, good enough that the fact that it was winter didn’t bother me so much. Like, good enough that this year, once the holiday hullabaloo was over, I just automatically launched into it again (holy crap, it’s amazing how extra stuff can grow back in only a year). Like, good enough that I actually look forward to the next domestic vivisection.

While I am somewhat beholden to a certain home organization guru for kicking me off on this endeavour, this post isn’t intended as a testimonial or an endorsement for any particular methodology. It’s just that, while I’m turning over proverbial rocks and dealing with everything that scurries from underneath them, I feel the need to also take stock of my reasons for doing so. I like to gut my mindset as I gut my closets.

So, into my second winter of epic tidying of the space between walls, here’s what I’ve found in the space between my ears. Being inside most of the time forces one to be alone with one’s thoughts. Yeah, I know, good Canadian girls get out and go skiing and skating and tobogganing, but…ew. For better or for worse, I spend the winter months reorganizing my ideas, my priorities, my goals. And just like the space at the back of my cupboards, sometimes it ain’t pretty. Type A extroverts like me tend to let things stack up, go unnoticed, get moldy with neglect. I’m forced to ask “Why did I ever think that was a good idea?” and then I’m obliged to thank it for doing its job, stuff it into a proverbial bag, and take it away.

As is part of the process of tidying my possessions, cleaning up my mental space also necessitates that I revisit the good ideas as well. There are sparks of awesome that get hidden underneath routine and foolishness. As I dig out cute, snarky t-shirts, cartoon socks and a pair of jeans that fits like it was meant to be travelling pants, I also excavate happy thoughts, plans that might still work. It’s strange how good ideas get lost in the shuffle just as often as less-than useful ones, maybe even more often. Good ideas are sometimes hard to wear and use, and easy to put away and forget.

Do I still feel at odds with winter? Hell yes. Do I still want the apple fritters, the hot baths, and permission to nap unabated? Absolutely. But I’m finding that a stack of empty bins, some garbage bags, and a little time to take stock of the clutter both inside and outside of my head can make it easier to find contentment as I wait for spring.