Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Optimist, The Pessimist, and The Realist

The optimist sees the half-full glass, the pessimist the half-empty. But who is right? Obviously both, says the realist. "I'm not being (optimistic/ pessimistic), just realistic," is often said, for both the optimist and the pessimist would prefer to be thought of as a realist.

I have no quarrel with either optimists or pessimists who own their ism. But I do have a quarrel with so-called realists who believe their rose-colored perceptions against all evidence, and with cynics who refuse to see anything positive in a situation. I think realism is often invoked unrealistically as a mask for cynicism.

Optimism, pessimism, and realism alike are inherently flawed by being only mental constructs, predictions for things that have not yet occurred. But of the three, only realism is not based on hope or fear, but prior experience. Only realism is patient enough to await outcomes and evidence before proclaiming what is true.

But realism isn't always easy to adopt. It often requires a willingness to give up some deep-rooted prejudices and preferred beliefs, and it can make one vulnerable to all kinds of slings and arrows. It's harder, I think, to be realistic than to be either optmistic or pessimistic. The rewards, however, can be greater than the risks, and ultimately it is the stance that will put one on the most solid ground as a general outlook on experience.

The truth is what actually happens, what really is. But it is not always simple or easy to apprehend, and definitely not easy to perceive by everyone the same way. Truth is, as they say, in the eye of the beholder.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Neatness and the Muse

Who was it that said something about a cluttered desk indicating a busy mind? Was it Marx? His desk was always piled high with his papers.

I've always gotten messy when I'm the busiest, working on a project or focused on a task. And I've observed that most people I know to be Oscars are very busy doers. They make new things. Those I know to be Felixes, on the other hand, tend to be dreamers. They don't create many new things but battle to keep the status quo in perfect order.

My normal modus operandus is excessive--probably compulsive--neatness. I hate clutter. I tell myself that it's just a matter of efficiency: when things are out of place or hidden from view, I can't find them easily. My grandfather must have passed this neatness gene to me, because he always said, "There should be a place for everything and everything in its place."

But I recognize that neatness per se doesn't help me think or imagine better. When I clear my desk and put away my projects, I feel a certain sense of control returning but don't have any new ideas; all I've done is restore things as I remember they were. So I've concluded that at least in some cases, things strewn all over means that someone is busy, and whoever made the mess needs the mess in order to do what he or she is trying to do. I guess that when we create, we make a mess.

Ironically, I try to tickle my muse by endless tidying and straightening, and it never works. The more orderly things are, the less I'm inspired. I wonder if this is just me or there's some relationship between neatness and creativity.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Merry Christmas. Now Get Out of My Way.

December days go by faster than any other month; I can't believe it's the fifth already. In South Florida the month from October 24 when Hurricane Wilma struck through Thanksgiving crept along as slow and punchdrunk as the traffic, halting and crawling through lightless intersections like refugees through a minefield.

But the Thanksgiving through Christmas month seems by contrast to be a free-for-all worthy of the Amazing Race, a blur of traffic whizzing around all over the region from dawn through midnight every day. It seems that everyone is out and about at once, and unlike the post-Wilma slowdowns, no one stops. No one can. Once someone leaves the driveway, there's nowhere to park!

Courtesy is the first casualty of the shopping season, with the crush of stressed shoppers pushing, shoving, and grabbing the disappearing merchandise of video games, ipods, perfumes and purses with the same feverish panic they snatched up pre-Wilma food, ice, water, batteries and generators. Perhaps "Peace on Earth, good will to men" is more than just a Christmas ideal; perhaps it is also our feeble attempt to apologize for all the aggravation we created since Black Friday.