Believing that things will never improve takes no imagination: “I’ll keep losing money. I’ll keep getting fatter. I’ll never find anyone I love. People will continue to kill each other. The planet will keep getting warmer.” But believing things can improve requires thoughtfulness and creativity to envision reasons why and ways how they could get better. Unimaginative people are boring. Creative people are interesting.
Believing that things will never improve relieves yourself of the burden of trying to make them better. It takes no effort to deteriorate. But believing that things can improve necessitates the effort to make it happen: you have to work harder, overcome unpleasantness, challenge yourself. Lazy people are boring. Industrious people are interesting.
Believing that things will never improve murders ambition. If you presume your career is doomed, your love life is doomed, the world is doomed, then you have no reason to set goals, let alone try to achieve them. You give yourself a permanentexcuse to let your dreams whither. But believing that things can improve means believing that nothing prevent you from reaching your objectives other than yourself. Complacent people are boring. Ambitious people are interesting.
Believing that things will never improve makes you whiny, angry, and generally a turd to be around. Turdish people are boring. Pessimists are boring.
This is a story I heard yesterday. It was told by a young guy at the cafe table next to mine, with a shaved head and rippling muscles, wearing a tank top, cargo shorts, and dog tags. Earlier that morning, he explained, he had been sitting by himself outside when a stranger approached him.
“I think I’m going to kill myself,” the man said.
“I think I’m going to kill myself.”
The young guy looked him over. He believed the man. “Okay,” he said. “Sit down and talk to me.”
The stranger wouldn’t sit down, but he didn’t leave. “Why do you want to kill yourself?” the young guy asked. The man told him he’d had enough. He said he planned to shoot himself. He didn’t know what else to do.
“I’d like to help you. Can I help you?”
The stranger shrugged.
“Can I call the police to come help you? I’ll stay here with you until they get here.” The man nodded.
“Are you carrying a weapon?” He nodded again. “Okay, look — we don’t want there to be any trouble when the cops come. So can I take your weapon away from you?”
Another nod. The young guy stood and gently patted the man down. He found a pistol in his clothes, which he removed. He ejected the clip, unloaded it, and set the disassembled gun down next to them. Then he called the police.
When the cops arrived, they talked to the stranger and asked if he wanted to come with them. He said that he did. So they led him to the car, taking the young guy’s phone number before they left. They called him that afternoon to tell him the stranger’s name and that he was getting the help he needed.
We look at the hate and death in the news today, and it’s hard not to despair, but we are not doomed. We feel helpless, but none of our actions are futile. We change the world the most by intently being as good as we can, by approaching every decision with the aim of being kind.
“I guess I did a good thing today,” the young guy said without pride or drama. We are not hopeless.
While digging through my storage space recently, I yanked some particularly Goodwillable sweaters out of an old trunk and underneath found a stained manila folder. Inside was something I thought I’d lost — the only known extant photocopy of my music newsletter from many, many years ago, “The Bird Stump.” It contains the final interview with one-man Partridge Family tribute band, In a Pear Tree. I’ve scanned in all four pages, below.
In May of 2012, I finished a five-month stint of watching all the James Bond movies in order. When I was done, I somehow found myself no less unemployed than when I’d started, so I opted to rectify that the only way I knew how: by reading in order all of Ian Fleming’s 007 books — 12 novels and two short-story collections. It took me over a year, a rate of about one book per month.
I’d read two of Fleming’s stories before — Casino Royale 12 or 13 years ago, and Goldfinger when I was a teenager, from which for some reason I’ve always remembered the sentence, “Bond felt the skin-crawling tickle at the groin that dates from one’s first game of hide and seek in the dark.” — long enough ago that I didn’t know what to expect in terms of quality, theme, character, or anything else.
I traveled back to my hometown of Pittsburgh this week for the first time in two years. I made the trip for my grandmother’s ninetieth birthday party, so there was a lot of going through old family photos. I kept a few of the ones of — with apologies to all the humans I’ve known — the best friend I ever had until I met wife, my childhood dog Mindy.