Edition #79: Optimism, Pessimism, and Grace

Plus, the trick of life, Britney Spear's conservatorship nightmare, and a greeting card service

A Note From the Editor

Do you consider yourself an optimist? By definition, an optimist is “a person who tends to be hopeful and confident about the future of the success of something.” Optimism is a sexier quality than pessimism. It’s more palatable. I can’t imagine people claiming to be “perpetual pessimists” on their dating profiles with the same vigor as the contrary. I used to identify as an optimist and I like to think it was genuine, not just performative lipservice. When something went wrong in a loved one’s life, I would assure them, likely to a frustrating degree, that things would get better. Circumstances would get better, job prospects would get better, we would get better. That was the way things always seemed to work.

It was only recently that I began to poke holes in my self-proclaimed optimism. On two different occasions, I spoke to two very different people—one date and one professional contact—about the state of our polarized nation. We discussed different topics, but my point remained the same; we’re so divided now that we cannot recover and we haven’t really learned any meaningful lessons. In both cases my conversational partners pushed back, citing the positives that have resulted from our recent struggles: a nation finally willing to acknowledge rampant racism and racial inequality, a nation of people who are willing to step up and help each other in times of crisis (which, hopefully, will bleed into times of non-crisis). I went home afterward and thought about it. I looked at myself in the mirror, wondering whether the woman looking back at me was hardened for good and whether this newfound hardness was justified. I considered whether naive optimism in the context of our country is a self-preservation tactic or a powerful tool for change, whether anger was either of those things.

Where I had always considered myself an optimist, I had never considered myself particularly religious—not in a secular manner, anyway. I was raised Irish Catholic and felt no connection to the pomp and circumstance of Sunday mass, nor was I wooed by the southern Baptist services my friend’s parents would drag me along to on the Sunday mornings my mother didn’t pick me up early enough after sleepovers. Still, I’ve always felt spiritual and have always believed in some sort of God, though I continue to be unconcerned with the logistics.

After reading this profile on Russell Wilson and Ciara’s relationship and having a conversation with a religious friend of mine earlier this year, I decided to start praying. To whom exactly, I couldn’t say, but that wasn’t the point. In the morning, I said thank you for the gift of another day and set an intention. At night, I reflected on the day and took a moment to send well wishes to the people I loved. I did this on my knees, at the foot of my bed, with my head bowed and my eyes closed (because old habits die hard). I prayed at first out of desperation. At the time, I feared I was edging dangerously close to a full-fledged depression, worried that I made the wrong choice by coming back to New York, fearing that my life was empty and lonely and that I served no purpose. In my prayers, I asked whoever was listening to guide me. I tried to practice surrender, to alleviate the pressure to make every decision and do everything right. I recognized how desperately I had clung to control, attempting to superintend every facet of my life up until this point. I just needed a release, to feel like someone or something was looking out for me. My prayers worked in that my mind began to quiet. Prayer gave me a chance to step outside myself, to reflect.

I’ve kept up with the habit since then, and in the past week or so has something began to happen during my nightly prayers. As I go through the list of people I want to pray for—my mother, my siblings, my father, my friends—I have begun to include of those people on the fringes of my life who I don’t know very well. The man who was the recipient of an aggressive racial slur I witnessed last weekend on the street, the woman I had a conversation with who is attempting to get away from her abusive ex. And then, without consciously deciding to do so, I prayed for the perpetrators. The man who shouted the slur, the abusive ex. Though in both instances I felt red hot anger boiling inside of me that I directed towards these men, in the moment of stillness in my bedroom, on my knees with my eyes closed, things were different. Instead of my own anger, I saw their pain. My head, or my heart, reminded me those perpetrators are also human beings who have likely been through it. I prayed that they find healing, peace. that they can forgive themselves for whatever is haunting them.

In doing so, my entire perspective shifted, albeit subtly. The anger, optimism, and pessimism were all superseded by grace. It felt like taking a deep gulp of water after a long walk in the heat; relief and inevitability. A state of being that isn’t ruled by conflicting ideologies or simplified categorizations, but by empathy. By shared humanity.

Cheers, my dears, and as always thank you for reading.

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Three Pieces of Content Worth Consuming

  1. Britney Spear’s Conservatorship Nightmare. If you haven’t already read this explosive piece of investigative reporting by Jia Tolentino and Ronan Farrow, you should. I assumed I’d learned most of the dynamics of this situation from the New York Times documentary, but this piece gives an even more holistic, frightening account. A must-read for anyone following this situation and an important reminder about the flaws in our legal system.

  2. The Trick of Life. This beautiful, tender essay will be relatable to anyone who has expereince a form of depression or anyone who has struggled with being stuck in their own head. It was also my inspiration for today’s essay. A simple trick about the best way to escape the prison that can be your mind and get mos perspective (and relief).

  3. A Flight Attendant Drafted Her Novel on Cocktail Napkins. It Took Off. Color me shocked that the New York Times approved this terrible headline, but I squealed in delight after reading this one all the same. I love a good beat the odds story, particularly when it comes to a profession I am trying to pursue. I’ve already seen promotions for this novel all over the digital world, and the rights have already been bought by Universal—after the novice author got rejected by over forty literary agents. A success story we love to see.

Perhaps You Should…
Send More (and Better) Greeting Cards

My mother is a greeting card enthusiast, to put it lightly. If she meets you once and finds out afterward that your dog is sick, or that you lost a job, or that it’s your birthday, she’ll send you a handwritten card by mail. She sends so many cards that the people at her local Hallmark store know her by name. Though we tease her for this, it’s wonderful to be on the receiving end of one of her ultra-thoughtful cards, and as such, I’ve tried to adopt this card-sending habit myself. Snailbox is a monthly greeting card subscription service (that I initially discovered when I gifted it to my mother for her birthday) and it’s a cute gift idea for someone else or for yourself. The cards are created by a different artist each month and they are ten times cuter than the ones you’ll find at CVS.

**Bonus Content** (A Cool Trick )

People are really good at editing videos and it shows.

A Quote From A Book You Should Read:

“One time on an island I swam through a green lagoon and saw through the clearness of the water the simple fact of my limbs. Afterward, I lay down on the sand and concentrated on the sun warming my kneecaps and shoulders. I can count moments like that on my hands. My dream is for you to have many such moments, so many that you notice only the times you slip into your own brain and recognize those instances for the traps that they are.”

-Animal by Lisa Taddeo

This newsletter is best served with a side of conversation, so drop your opinions, reflections, and thoughts in the comments below and let’s get to talking.

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Or, share the most thought-provoking piece from today’s edition with someone you love, then call them up to discuss, debate, and percolate. As a wise woman once said, “Great minds discuss ideas.”