Good-bye, pessimists. I’m sorry.
October 19, 2013 by Thomas Wictor
My father Edward Joseph Wictor was the most pessimistic person I’ve known. His favorite pronouncements were, “It’s really scary” and “Nothing’s ever gonna get better.”
Here’s Dad at the age of twenty-three in 1951, serving in the U.S. Coast Guard at LORAN Station Bikati.
Dad being Dad, the only thing I know about his time at this station is that one of the men stabbed the commanding officer to death. An affair with a Gilbertese woman somehow caused the murder. LORAN stands for “long-range navigation.” It’s a terrestrial radio system that allows ships and aircraft to determine their position. The station broadcasts low-frequency signals that voyagers pick up with receivers. Dad was a beacon, keeping people from losing their way.
I hope it counts for something, because Dad lost his way very early on, and I don’t know if he found it at the last moment. He transmitted to me that he was sorry. I take him at his word. What I hope is that he locked onto a signal that carried him to a safe harbor. Did he deserve a safe harbor? That’s not for me to decide. If asked I’d say, “Yes. Let him be saved. But do me a favor and keep him away from me for a while. I need time off from him. Let’s say a billion years. For starters.”
The deaths of my parents were the worst torture ever inflicted on me. They far surpassed anything in my childhood, and I was sure that nothing could top my past. I’ve never been more wrong. After Mom died I needed desperately to get my bearings again. Nine months ago certain radio talk shows and blogs were my LORAN stations in this confusing world. Now I find these shows and blogs unbearable.
It’s the ridiculous, theatrical pessimism, which I hadn’t really noticed. Before I go any further, I’d like to say to those who self-identify as pessimists, “Am I talking about you? If not, then keep your shirt on, okay? Don’t take offense if you’re not one of these pessimists. End of disclaimer.”
Since Mom and Dad died, I can’t deal with the need to broadcast bad news. What is the possible motivation? The only reason I can determine is the same one that motivated my father: making everyone as unhappy as you are. Pessimists also tend to regard themselves as smarter and more realistic than optimists. Those of us who refuse to give up are called “willfully ignorant.”
On one blog someone said that the US is in decline because except for the Internet, we haven’t come up with any major technological advances in the past twenty years. Well, I just spent nine months witnessing science-fiction-level medical treatment. Mom and Dad would be alive today if they hadn’t committed suicide. Those who say we haven’t come up with any major technological advances in the past twenty years are the ignorant ones.
Dad was an oilman. He talked oil all day and night. I know everything there is to know about the oil industry. Again, to say that there’ve been no major technological advances in this field is just plain wrong. In a couple of years, we’re going to be the world’s biggest oil exporter.
The problem is that pessimists hate good news. When you tell them that the world isn’t ending, it makes them even more glum, and then they insult you for being a chirpy little bluebird of happiness.
Look, fuckers: My suffering-cred is far more impressive than yours. My entire life has been one disaster after another. The one constant has been pain. So don’t tell me that I’m ignorant, or unrealistic, or childish, or somehow deluded. When it comes to my suffering, I’m an iceberg. I’ve allowed you to see about 10 percent of it. If I tied you to a chair and started going through the list, you’d beg me to shoot you after five minutes.
Some guy told me that in prisoner-of-war camps, the optimists die while the pessimists survive. Studies have shown this, he said. Optimists have unrealistic expectations and keel over dead when their dopey hearts are broken, while steel-nerved pessimists understand the real danger they’re in and adapt.
I knew he’d pulled this factoid out of his rectum even before I looked it up. He ad-libbed that baloney about POWs because he thinks pessimists show fortitude, bravery, and nobility in their negativity; he has a need to see himself as courageous and superior. And of course, the exact opposite is true. Optimism is what saves prisoners of war. It’s a “protective factor for confronting trauma[.]”
My life has been extremely traumatic. Mom’s suicide was just about unendurable. I lived through it because I’m optimistic that my life will improve, and I’m optimistic that Mom found the peace she craved, or she’s in the process of finding it. She’s being helped.
Too many pessimists are ungrateful drama queens.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Who wrote that? An alcoholic chain-smoker who drank himself to death at the age of thirty-nine. How pathetic. He reveled in his own mythology, and where did it get him? Dead. For no reason.
“I’m so horrified by my mortality that I’m going to kill myself!” He defecated all over the gift of life.
My father did too, and then he followed Dylan Thomas’s game plan and burned and raved at close of day; he raged for a month against the dying of the light. All it did was subject his two sons and his cancer-stricken wife to the abysmal grotesquerie of his madness. He died anyway, it took years off his sons’ lives, and it certainly contributed to my mother’s suicide. Dad’s death—the gibbering, the yelling, the smashing up of his room, and the panicked galloping through the house—so revolted and saddened her that she simply lost the will to live.
Dad’s antics permanently diminished him in my eyes too. I wanted to slap him and shout, “KNOCK IT OFF! YOU’RE NOT THE FIRST PERSON WHO EVER DIED! SHOW SOME DIGNITY, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE!”
I get to say that because I was told in 2007 that I likely had multiple sclerosis, and then in 2009, my liver failed. I turned as yellow as a lemon, and my urine went coffee colored. In both cases I thought I was about to die. What comforted me was all the men, women, and children who’d died before me. I felt communion with them. They gave me the strength to face my fears. I wouldn’t let them down.
Piss off, pessimists. I’m done with you. You’re besotted with juvenile Weltschmerz. Since I’ve been through actual hell, I have no patience for your pretend-suffering. And you’re unreachable. You’re actually hostile to people who try to show you that things are never as bad as you think. I can’t stand poseurs, especially when it comes to such important issues as life and death.
You say it so glibly: “We’re all doomed.” Have you ever actually had to deal with one doomed person, much less two, much less your own parents? Have you known months ahead of time that they wouldn’t make it, but there was nothing you could do? Have you had to go behind their backs to sign off on programs designed to kill them? Have you watched them thrash on their deathbeds, in agony over the terrible choices they made all the way to the very end?
Doomed? You have no idea. None at all. You can praise yourselves for being so much smarter than stupid me. Call me a “sheeple,” a term that only unmitigated cretins use. Chain-smoke and get drunk as you sit around in your little sweat lodges, bitching that “Nothing’s ever gonna get better.”
Here’s the face of indestructible pessimism.
Compare it to the image at the top of the page. See anything beautiful, romantic, or admirable? All I see is the pain that transformed my father from a handsome young man into an ancient, genderless Chinese. Others have gifted me with enough pain to last several lifetimes. I refuse to inflict pain on myself, and I reject those who insist on dragging me into their phony, self-aggrandizing darkness.
As an optimist I don’t think I’m superior, smarter, more realistic, or groovier than pessimists. I just disagree with their conclusions. Since they despise me for that and think I’m stupid, I won’t bother engaging them anymore.
They should thank me for not bringing them down with my positive worldview.
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