How pessimism might serve us
I hit my edge after Supreme Court zealots upended women’s rights, the EPA’s power, the separation of church and state, and made people’s desire to carry a weapon more important than our children’s safety. As the world tilted away from sanity, obscuring what I understand as just, moral, correct, the waters of grief began to submerge me.
Underwater, I swam through shock, anger, sadness, horror. My intellect could not be reached through the emotional response I could not tame. I wished to be more pragmatic, like my husband Eddie, who reminded me that we are in California, that everything is fine for us now. Fine. A word that doesn’t make sense to my American sensibility. A word that we’d never accept as a compliment (“You look fine.”) or for a dinner party (“Everything tastes fine.”). Fine was not acceptable. Fine, I knew, was a temporary state.
I’d been fine. And now I wasn’t. Should I dull my angst? Curb my rage? Mask my sadness? Rationalize the darkness away? Find intellectual routes to feel better?
On some level, I didn’t want to feel better. Feeling better, feeling okay, feeling content, or safe was what got us here. So I let myself feel the violation, the weight of the reality that all that had been worked for was now being systematically stripped away.
And you know what happened when I let in all those big emotions? When I let my heart feel hopeless? Defenses down, raw and ragged, I got COVID. For five days I sat isolated in my bedroom (on the mend, but still foggy) having to now face head on the illness I’d feared for years, the thing that stopped me from traveling, and made me wash the plastic wrap on my toilet paper when Eddie brought it home from the grocery. My fears finally happened.
And now that it has, I’m not worried about it anymore.
Pessimism can be your friend
While I was sitting in bed with COVID, just when I thought I couldn’t feel worse, two editors rejected my book. I’m used to rejection. In fact every year I make a goal to get 100 writing rejections a year — more rejections always means more acceptances; I mean, the year I started that goal I got my first byline in the New York Times.