Optimism Is the Powdered Sugar On My Bitter, Cynical Doughnut

I  suppose I owe you an explanation of what exactly an “optimistic cynic” is, should one exist beyond hipster irony.  I have branded myself this after a great deal of thought.  The question about the glass–half-full?  half-empty?  It seems a little simplistic to me.  If it does it for you—“I’m an optimist!  Super big YEAH for a half a glass of something!”—then I am a little suspicious of your intelligence.  If you are going to get all weepy about the glass being partly empty, well, go suck that egg somewhere else.  Sure, it’s half-empty, but I’m pretty sure we can DO something about it if you stop whining for a minute.

Sad glass is sad (and pensive).  Perhaps it is thinking about when it was a full glass.

Sad glass is sad (and pensive). Perhaps it is thinking about when it was a full glass.

It comes down to this minor point: Optimism and cynicism are in a struggle for my immortal soul.  Optimism is a form of humility.  The optimist believes that others are probably doing the right things, that the world will work out, because they feel somewhere inside that they are not the pinnacle of creation.  Those sunny optimists are always ready to believe that someone outside of themselves could, probably even DOES, have a good answer.  The right answer.  This is very, very silly, but bless their little hearts anyway.

The cynic is inherently arrogant.  She can find a problem with your plan in five seconds flat, has no reluctance to tell you about the problem, and harbors a suspicion that you will pretend to listen, then go off and do your damn fool thing anyway.  I worked for a company at one time that tried to “value” this as a necessary part of progress, despite it being very annoying.  I did well there.  I also worked for a company that nearly fired me for it (that, and my lack of appropriately dangly gender parts).

Here's a close-up of dangly bits!  (No, this is not that blog, you can stop looking.)

Here’s a close-up of dangly bits! (No, this is not that blog, you can stop looking.)

That experience led to a year of pretending to be someone I was not, in order to keep my job.  It was transformative and awful.  I had to keep my know-it-all, how-dumb-are-you, that-is-the-worst-idea-ever mouth shut.  FOR A YEAR.  I still knew that the folks in charge of the projects were wrong, and I still knew that my idea was smarter, better, more efficient, etc…  I just didn’t say anything.  I learned to take orders.  I found another job and QUIT.  The partners were sort of shocked, because they hadn’t seen that the cynic was still there, chafing at every stupid command.

Let's pretend!  I'll be the Japanese schoolgirl.... (No, this is not THAT blog either!  Move on.)

Let’s pretend! I’ll be the Japanese schoolgirl…. (No, this is not THAT blog either! Move on.)

The transformation was this, however:  I listened.  I had to hear out the idea/opinion/thoughts of the people in charge, and sometimes, it was fine.  It was good enough, and it was easier.  I didn’t love it, but I learned to trust a few people, and I learned some things from them.  In this new and humbler incubator, the repressed optimist stirred, stuck her hand up out of the primordial ooze, and claimed a breath of life.  Couldn’t put the silly tart down after that.  She keeps popping up.  “That’s the dumbest thing ever, but it just might work!  Let’s try it!”

Get thee down into my belly, thou evil tart!

Get thee down into my belly, thou evil tart!

Some amount of cynicism is a requirement in the world we live in.  You could believe all the stuff in your e-mail.  You could have lots of friends in Nigeria that you help with a little cash.  If you hadn’t sent that chain letter out to 200 of your Facebook friends, you probably would be bald and impotent!  Great job!  Coconuts are a miracle!  I know, pretty snarky, but in order to avoid the bad actors with bad motives, it’s necessary to evaluate a lot of things with the presumption that the “person” on the other end is all-in for themselves.

That said, it is just as necessary to operate with a degree of optimism.  If you don’t have some hope that things are going to turn out alright, how do you get up in the morning?  How do you touch a doorknob, knowing that half the people who touched it before you probably just pottied and didn’t wash their hands?  You have to grasp that knob like an old friend, and believe that whatever germs and crud are living on there will get along with you just fine.  Having children is the Xtreme version of this.  I can’t think about all of the things that are going to go wrong there long enough to write about it.  I just hope for the best and try not to screw them up too badly.

Yes, I did just compare touching a doorknob to raising a child.  Toooooouch meeeee!

Yes, I did just compare touching a doorknob to raising a child. Toooooouch meeeee!

Where does this leave me when I face another day of washing approximately six million Disney-branded plastic dishes?  I am still going to see all the things that are wrong with your thought/idea/project/baby, and if you catch me at the wrong moment, I will tell you all about it.  Most of the time, though, there will be enough sweetness to keep you hopeful that somehow, it will still all be okay.

PS.  If you like the term, by all means use it.  I have a feeling a lot of us GenXers are in the same boat.  The same poorly constructed, taking on water, probably built by one-armed orangutans, just might make it to the other side boat.  We need some sort of secret handshake.

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How To Talk To Strangers With Disapproval

Sitting in the nail salon, getting a second-tier pedicure, and overheard this exchange at the door:

 Woman Poking Her Nose in the Door (Woman):  Does anyone in here have their dog in the car?  Is anyone’s dog left in the car?

All:  *Silence*

Woman:  There’s a dog in a car out here, is it anyone in here’s (sic)?

Perfect Stranger Minding Her Own Business:  My dog is in the car.  Is there something wrong?

Woman:  Well, I’m not a fan of that. 

Maybe more effective, and reusable.

Maybe more effective, and reusable.

She is  Not.  A.  Fan.  This has stuck with me for weeks, for several reasons.  No obnoxious inflection.  It was not, “I’m not a FAN of that.”  She simply wanted to let us know that she wasn’t going to hit the “Like” button anytime soon.  I don’t think the woman getting her nails painted was campaigning for fans.  I saw no evidence that she had taken a poll.  I’m betting (just a hunch) that she doesn’t have a blog called “Leaving Dogs in Cars” that she updates obsessively and checks the hits on every five minutes. 

 Before you decide I am on the dark side of the force here—I don’t take my dogs in my car.  They are geriatric pups who DO NOT enjoy the car, and if the temperature is one degree above balmy, they start acting like wee dachshund drama queens having their toenails torn out (or clipped).  I am not saying that leaving your dog in the car in warm weather is great.  I am saying:  If you are going to attempt a public shaming of a complete stranger, please have a better punchline. 

 As a public service, here are some suggestions:

 The Soapbox Preacher:  “You, Madame, are in league with Satan himself, and I shall forthwith make a cardboard sign decrying your villainy for the entire world to see.  The people will see it, and the shame reflected on humankind will make them WEEP.”

Here's a template for a cardboard sign.  This must be a very sad place to live.
Here’s a template for a cardboard sign. This must be a very sad place to live.

 The Psychotic:  “Really?  That’s your dog?  Because it looks a lot like MY DOG.  The dog that disappeared when I was eight, and my parents said went to a farm.  I know it didn’t go to a farm, though, because I called all the farms in a 500-mile radius.  I think YOU have my dog.  I think insert random dog name is in your car RIGHT NOW.”  (Even better if you are 40ish like me, and the dog couldn’t possibly be insert random dog name.)

 The Barney Fife:  Go ahead and make a citizen’s arrest.  Point at the offender and yell, “I hereby arrest you!”  Dig around in your purse/pocket for something to restrain them with, like a set of headphones.  Look at the item, say, “Well, shoot, guess I need to call Andy, ‘cause this ain’t going to work for handcuffs.”  Walk out whistling the theme to The Andy Griffith Show.

Keep it in your pocket, Barney.

Keep it in your pocket, Barney.

 The Reality TV Moment:  “Great!  I’m a producer for the show, “Animal Neglect: Mobile Edition,” and I’d like to get your signature on a waiver so that we can show your dog on TV.  You’re going to be famous!  Please spell your name for me so that we can get it right in the caption.”

 The Marcel Marceau:  Everyone loves mime.  Once you’ve found the nasty culprit, start into an extravagant set of mimed gestures that make it clear that you are really mad that the dog is trapped in a box.  Extra big bonus points if the wind is blowing or there are unexpected stairs/ropes.

 The Simplicity Itself: “It’s dead.  It was too hot and its head exploded like a can of biscuits.  Sorry to have to tell you the bad news.” 1

 Evil prospers when good people do nothing, I know that.  There are times when you are morally obligated to speak up or out or against some behavior, even in a room full of people you don’t know.  But do it with some flair, people—some blown-up, memorable, she’ll-think-twice-next-time FLAIR.

 

1 I was going to insert a picture of an exploded can of biscuits here, but that’s a mess to clean up and you didn’t really want to see it anyway.  Let’s just pretend.

Haiku, Do You?

Haiku, Do You?

bad haiku corner
syllables over substance
mediocre

Just as a minivan can make a natural vista more ordinary, Americans have spent many hours making the haiku an egalitarian effort.  ANYONE can write one, including third graders (be honest, how many of you wrote about your pets?) and there is no Board of Haiku Preservation to put a stop to it.  Given that, I think we should have some fun.  Not an incredibly original idea, I know, but I have been known to send professional e-mails entirely in haiku, or biblical verse, or Pig Latin.  I’m in withdrawal.  So…. I will occasionally post a picture with a starter verse.  Any poetry is welcome.  If iambic pentameter is your thing, fly that freaky flag in the comments.

Yes.  I know that last line only has four syllables.  Now you get it.

Dads With Daughters, Listen Up

It’s June, time to get out my crayons and glitter and make a card for Father’s Day.  I’m sure my Dad will appreciate a poorly made construction paper creation from his 40ish daughter. “Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, How’s that retirement thing treating you?”  Maybe I should just get him a gift card for Best Buy.

Thinking about Father’s Day, and being a girl, and being a mom, there are things you dads need to teach your girls.  Oh sure, self-respect, self-worth, confidence, etc…  Those things are nice and good and important.  I’m not talking about that, though.  I’m talking about the things that will make a difference between a plain old day and a terrible, no-good, bad day for your little girl once she grows up and has kids (an “entourage”) of her own.  Think of it as picodisaster preparedness.

Sticking Stuff with Sticky Stuff:  This is first on the list for a reason.  The other day I had to use a glob of thick cyanoacrylate and cotton fibers from a Q-tip to permanently glue a connector peg to some Thomas track  (if you are not familiar with Thomas, ask any random three-year-old boy).  My husband got all excited and told me I made a “natural fiber composite.”  Nerd. I did save a switchover track that probably cost $20.  Today, I used clear packing tape to fix the 6371st book where baby sister ripped the pages off the binding.  My medicine cabinet includes a bottle of cyanoacrylate, a bottle of all-purpose Gorilla glue, and bottle of Goo-Gone, a bottle of Elmer’s, the tweezers that I use to hold the little bits in place… you get the idea.  I have five different kinds of tape.  Tell your daughter how to glue wood vs. paper vs. plastic, and every combination of materials.  Give her a big bag of assorted tape.  Yes, it’s a weird present.  She’ll get over it when little Fauntleroy is crying about his ripped page and Mommy fixes it.

On the Outside Looking In:  An outdoor key safe is a lot cheaper and faster than a locksmith.  The little darlings will someday figure out that locking Mommy outside is fun.  At first.  Then it will be so scary that they will forget how to unlock the door and stand wailing at the window.  They may also figure out the mechanics of the door locks before they understand the purpose of door locks.  A combination key safe designed to be used outdoors is about $35.  Even better if you put your car’s valet key in it, too.

Hi!  Hi!!!!  HI!!!! HHHIIIIII!

Hi! Hi!!!! HI!!!! HHHIIIIII!

How to Unclog a Toilet:  The precious snowflakes will try to flush anything.  They will also occasionally create gigantic poops that will not go down without assistance.  Having the kids’ toilet full of **** for any minutes longer than necessary is asking for trouble, especially if you have more than one.  Enough said about that.

Kicks & Hammers:  Stroller wheels usually unstick with a good kick.  Some things are better hit with a hammer.  You probably have an opinion.  Make sure your daughter knows that both are options, but usually only one is appropriate.

In this case, the hammer seems to be an inappropriate choice.

In this case, the hammer seems to be an inappropriate choice.

Screwdrivers:  Every damn thing has batteries in it now.  Even toy trains have batteries.  Screwdrivers are not one-size-fits-all.  Please teach your daughter how to pick the right size/head screwdriver to open every battery compartment you can find. Give her a set of micro screwdrivers as a baby shower gift.  Stripping the head of the tiny little screw that protects the Alphaberry’s batteries from prying little monkey fingers will mean a trip to Target to buy a new Alphaberry.  Or a really bad afternoon.

Lighting Pilot Lights:  I admit, I had to call my husband when the wind blew the water heater pilot light out.  I am not allowed to light things like that, because of certain issues that will not be discussed.  I am also not allowed to change light bulbs.  This is completely unreasonable, because the feeling in my thumb came back.  Eventually.  You might want your daughter to be better qualified in this area than me.

Basic Breaker Box Geography:  Isn’t it sad to imagine your daughter sitting in the dark because she doesn’t know to check the breakers?  It is very sad.  I am having a sad over it right now, and she’s not even my daughter.

This is your daughter sitting in the dark.

This is your daughter sitting in the dark.

Turning Off Watery Things:  Sinks.  Toilets. Sprinkler systems.  The whole place.  You know why?  Because it takes basically zero time for gushing water to ruin everything it touches, and flooding creates a dirty moldy mess that isn’t safe for anyone.  It also takes a child about 5 seconds to break a faucet, flood a toilet, or break off a sprinkler head.  Ask me how I know this.

Creepy Crawly Commando Ninja:  I have captured and killed more than a handful of black widow spiders in the Pacific Northwest.  The last one was making a cozy nursery behind a picture frame.  I am quite capable of putting a cup over the spider, sliding the whole thing onto a plate, and then squishing it to its eternal reward somewhere the entourage can’t participate.  Spiders are the most common dangerous pest here.  In your area, it might be scorpions, snakes or overly enthusiastic Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Whatever it is, make sure your daughter knows how to safely contain it and remove it from the premises.  Let her watch you do it, if you have the chance, so she sees that you aren’t screaming and standing on a chair.  Although, if you’re standing on a chair screaming at Jehovah’s Witnesses, I want a YouTube of that.

You are now ready to start Picodisaster Preparedness Training with your girls.  She may not understand it now, and depending on her age, you will get any range of reactions from fascination to outright scorn…but do it anyway.  Happy Father’s Day.  Hug ’em tight while they still let you.