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Ask the Pessimist

Misinspired by George Saunders’ “Ask the Optimist!

Dear Dr. Pessimist,
Don’t you find pessimism “negative”?!
–Just Sayin! in Cincinnati

Dear Just,
Just think of me as helping you obey the first and second laws of thermodynamics. In the real world, not only is energy always conserved (as it can never be created or destroyed), but also: all natural systems (and hey check it out! you are one, too!) tend to go south as it were, towards maximum entropy, towards irreversible disorganization. Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold (you know the rest).

So as I see it, my job is to cancel you and your optimism out, so that nothing of you or of what you say remains, just a perfect, eternal nullity. No loss, no gain, nothing, nothing contained in nothing—just nothing, nothing at all.

Zilch, nada, nichts. Rien, niente, nanimo. Nothing.
–Just sayin!

*     *     *

Dear Dr. Pessimist,
Whenever I’m not distracted (which is not very often if I can possibly help it, and I always find Tumblr and its ilk quite useful in that regard) I sometimes catch my self almost admitting to myself (if not to others, since that would be social, not to mention career, suicide) that, yikes! I might, perhaps, be a pessimist too(?) But really: UGH! That’s a downer, verging on an outright bummer. Which is depressing, in-and-of-itself, if you think about it. Which I don’t like to, can you help? Help!
–Fretfully-On-The-Fence in Fresno

Dear Fenced-In,
Don’t fret, friend: it gets better, truly it does–by which I mean worse, of course! But I suspect that you already understand that, at some level. So pay no heed to the bleatings of what you call your “self”, and go on, get out there, get real, and get over it. And then get on with it: because it’s all you can do, and it won’t be for all that much longer, in the grand scheme of things.

*     *     *

Dear Dr. Pessimist,
Are you for real? How do you get through your day? Are you capable of patting a dog with a reasonable facsimile of contentment, or of looking with a faint glimmer of hope at a baby? Finally, I’d would like to ask why you even go on existing, but I won’t. Instead, how about this: why do you even bother to write this column, since you manifestly have nothing positive to contribute to humanity?
–Up With People in Uppsala

Dear Up,
One, two, three, four questions, wow! Aren’t we special? Five if you count (as I do) the drive-by insult that disingenuously and passive-aggressively poses as a question–one that, for some esoteric reason known only to yourself, you have sulkily and haughtily withdrawn, as if to punish me for having committed a crime that you alone are qualified to adjudicate. A-anyhow, here goes:

  1. Repeat after your literal-minded self that since fiction has nothing to teach us that could not more easily be reduced to an easily memorizable entry in a catechism (one passed down, in the name of everything holy in that sado-masochistic compulsion that we sentimentally label “tradition”), that therefore I am entirely fictional.
  2. I’m as real as you are. I mean, I take my reality from your own: you’ve given birth to me in your imagination by asking me these questions, because some secret part of you worries about the many virtues (and ultimate truth) of pessimism. Deep down, you suspect that there is no ‘deep’, and that you’re not really Up, but down .
  3. I get through my day setting wayward souls such as yourself onto the straight and thorny path that leads unerringly to the heaven of knowing that you do not have a soul.
  4. I love to pet dogs, or to see young children doing so. It helps me to remember what an insignificant species we are. Dogs are also one of our few remaining links to paradise, to the time before –to the time before pessimism had to be invented to counter the heresy of optimism– so I’d hate to see them go.
  5.  I go on existing as an educational service to human kind, though I am indeed pessimistic that you people will learn the lessons that have been set for you.\
  6.  See #5.

*     *     *

Dear Dr. Pessimist,
Have you tried affirmations? I personally find them affirming, as well as uplifting, blissful and simply serene. They help you envision (and in-vision) the rosy halo that surrounds everything on our God-given earth, like you are walking just a quarter inch above the ground? Deep down, I suspect that you know what I’m talking about, I mean really deep down, in your heart of hearts and soul of souls. At your soul LEVEL, but also in your, like, spirit, which is more above you but also, all-embracingly OF you, do you see what I’m saying? [BTW that was just a rhetorical question, I feel, more deeply than you might yet realize, that you do indeed resonate with my wavelength, and that you and I have known and will have communed with each other from somewhere both before and beyond. It’s an intuition and I’m good at those, and I’d like to help you trust your own].

But I also know what you’ll say, and I say this out of love (I do) because you’re a very, now don’t hate me for saying it…negative…TYPE of person, or at least that’s what you think of yourself, because life once gave you lemons and you forgot that there was sugar in the cupboard, and you somehow couldn’t IMAGINE that there was a cupboard or couldn’t you dear? You’ll pretend to ignore me and reply “Affirmations? Did you buy this from some infomercial? And were you hoping for some form of material gain from this program that Amanda Heartsong generously supplied a MIRACULOUS one month plan with three easy installments for?” And before I answer in the AFFIRMATIVE! (Get it?) let me just add that really, it’s not AT ALL what you think: yes, the material realm shall always remain with us (if not OF us) so long as we be immortal souls (and spirits!) incarnate in our mere temporal bodies (as the Amanda Heartsong song ”Heart Song” goes, “we ARE the inCARnation NAtion!”), but truthfully—to speak the truth but also IN truth—once you come to this perception of perfection, to vision the material plane as the extension of and embodiment OF the higher (and deeper!) realm, and then as you come to accept the many manifold gifts of EACH mode of being (and if that does, yes, include monetary gain, then yes, we MUST accept those as well, with the attitude of gratitude that affirmations teach us to say yes to), you will come  to hear and see and feel what I’m saying here, yes?

Be embracing, embrace being, BE!
–Blessed in Boise

Dear Blessed,
Every day in every way I am getting better and better at letting revelations reveal themselves through themselves to themselves. Today is certainly no exception.

*     *     *

Dear Dr. Pessimist,
Are you a licensed doctor? Cos whatever you are doing in your “advice” “column” seems kind of heterodox vis a vis the Hippocratic oath and all…
–Curious George in Cincinnati

Dear Monkey-boy,
I’ve done more real doctoring than your dentist, your chiropractor, your professors of [insert useless subject here], or that creepy guy at your office whom you all call “Doc” for no fathomable reason except that you are all afraid that, if he ignores you, you will be the perennial peckee on the workplace pecking order rather than the peck-er.

I am a real doctor in that I can cure you of what ails you–your illusory happiness, you sad, willfully self-delusional parasite farm. In fact, you could say that I’m both a pathologist as well as a proctologist, as I am concerned with etiology and am forever probing seemingly idiopathic *******s (that’s a technical term) such as yourself.

*     *     *

Dear Pessimist,
You depraved, dirty f**k. You fetus-killing, gun-banning, terrorist-appeasing, liberal atheist c**t. Go hug an illegal immigrant tree-hugger you pinko commie gay FAGGOT. If flag-burning, secret-Muslim-loving, self-hating Jew-boys such as your self aren’t stomped out off the face of the earth, how can America ever hope to be the Land of the Free not to mention the Lighthouse-slash-beacon for all oppressed peoples everywhere, forever? If you hate this country so much you sad sack of imported sh*t, why don’t you move back to the Russian (or –preferably– the Soviet Union if Putin [now there’s a REAL leader] ever brings it back) mother-land, mother-f**ker?

I hope to see you smoking a turd in hell one day quite soon, goddamn you.
Yours in Christ,

Dear Unitard,
Why thank you ever so much!!

*     *     *

Dear Pessimist,
Isn’t your project just more than a tad inappropriate? What would your mother say? And what of the children?
–Disgusted in Dubuque

Don’t dis the dis, dear Dis,
Cos a triple negative would create a positive, and we can’t have that in this column! Anyhow, since I had no idea what “appropriate” meant I went and looked it up: “suitable for a particular person, place or condition.” My mother would say that that is a pretty good definition of the word, and that pessimism suits or “is proper” to me since I’m pessimistic by nature (and nurture). As for the children, well, they are our future, so we better make sure that they learn about the present –which will then be their past, when, in future, they in turn have children, who will be their future and for whom they will be their past, and so on and so on…Can’t you see? It’s not only the pronouns that start to get blurry at infinity. Happy child-rearing!

*     *     *

Dear Pessimist,
Me & all my friends and I were wondering? Like, do you even have any friends!? Or are you like one of those losers and geeks and weirdos and creeps who, you know, sit at the back of class! drawing goth cartoons on their desks or they would except they can’t see through their Emo fringes? Are you like them?
–Ashlee, Kait-Lynn, , Caitlin and Ashleigh,
Co-co-ordinators of Spirit Week, Prom Week, Homecoming Week (and more!) at your old high school (we think)

Dear K.A.C.A.,
I am, in fact, your civics teacher, and I know that you cheated on your Democracy project (thank you, Google!), which will stay on your permanent record–as you are no doubt aware. This means that you will all get a zero on the assignment, which means that your grade-point averages will all drop below 4.0, which means that not a single one of you will get into an Ivy League school. At best, you might get into a tier-two private liberal arts college, where there will be a shortage of boys to choose from (since, as you know, boys no longer read and aren’t going to liberal arts colleges), which will force you to sell yourselves considerably below what you consider to be your “true” value and to marry dull, not-well-connected boys with merely middling prospects, boys who will secretly despise you for stooping to marry them, for marrying for reasons other than love, and for becoming their increasingly nagging mothers.

Kait-Lynn and Ashlee, since you cannot afford a private school, you will say goodbye to your “friends” Ashleigh and Caitlin forever: your fate is to take some superficially “relevant” course at an underfunded Junior College in your home town and to console yourself for this loss of status with frequent tanning bed sessions as well as with weekly Vodka Cooler blowouts. One of you (I won’t say which) will be impregnated at Spring Break in Tampa, drop out of college and buy a Jeep TJ to compensate for the baby that you might have had, while the other will become a millionaire! In multi-level marketing! And take frequent Caribbean cruises well into your lonely, botoxy cougar years! And beyond!

Have a great spirit week, girls.

*     *     *

Dear Pessimist,
We’ve just come through this incredibly hard winter. The snow has finally melted, the river’s opened up, and the sap in the maple trees is running with such power, with such unmitigated, ineluctable insistence, in fact, that you can’t even park your car anywhere near them, lest they drip all of that proverbial capital-L capital-F Life Force all over your paint job! Yes, and while a lot of previously hidden dog turds have now been exposed, the way the afternoon sun refracts through last year’s now-nearly-translucent beech leaves (still clinging stubbornly to the branches like soldiers refusing to abandon their posts until the General orders in reinforcements from behind the lines) quivering in the same lively, south-western wind that brings the swallows, those harbingers of regeneration, back north from their winter abode in Capistrano–well, doesn’t one just have to say to oneself: Well! Spring is about to arrive! Yes? Yes! The answer to that is a resounding yes! Yes, and yes again, I say! And… and why not? Yes: Long live life, yes!
–Hopeful in Halifax

Dear Hope-less,
In a word:  no.

But also, two things:

First, you are writing to me, not to Dear Abby or to the Penthouse Forum, so think about that for a minute–why me? Either you aspire to somehow convert me to your way of thinking (the way that secretly homosexual, homophobic “therapists” hope to convert their hapless gay “patients” –and thereby themselves– to straight-en them out), or you genuinely fret about being not sufficiently optimistic (perhaps you can’t quite bring yourself to sing as loudly as your neighbors in church, or you worry about how you’ll cope when your marvelous puppy–surely the most perfect puppy that ever was born–dies before you do, and so on and so on). Either way, you have turned to me, perhaps unconsciously hoping that you do so in search of some form of solace, some compensatory anodyne, but knowing full well that you will get the full-on slap in the face that I am now delivering to you, and free of charge at that.

Second, your entire rhetorical approach appalls me, for you invoke one of the most timeworn of gestures (remember: calling a cliché “proverbial” doesn’t make it any less of a cliché). Let’s just do a quick Google search, shall we?

To everything (turn, turn, turn!)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn!)
And a time to every purpose under heaven…

Oh Wind, if winter comes, can spring be far behind

Even the hardest of winters fears the spring

And death shall have no dominion…

Ah yes, the cycle of life! A comforting idea, if you don’t think too closely on it but make of it a warm, calming, de-stressing bath. Easter bunnies! Fertility! Crocuses, poking their “me first” snouts out of the newly-thawed earth! Ice seems hard until…it melts! And then suddenly a miracle occurs, and you can at least take a few layers of clothes off if not-quite-yet go barefoot, let your toes wriggle in the grass, and think green thoughts–what’s there not to like?

Hopeless, hey: there’s a false dilemma lurking beneath the rococo facade, beneath the nature-worship imagery festooned to your spiel: either hope, on the one hand, or no enjoyment of spring on the other. Embracing spring means you must embrace hope, or, or…! Or what? Is it not possible to raise a glass to the warmer weather without looking for intimations of immortality? Spring is just spring, not sufficient reason to wax sub-philosophical about how it needs must connote transcendence.  Just as Mr. Paley looked at an eyeball or an ear or some such and decided that it was an excellently made clockwork that necessitated a divine clockmaker, so we are to look at spring and impute some consoling, nay affirming capital-M meaning to it all?

Again: no. Remember Ockham’s parsimonious razor–when deciding between contending hypotheses concerning a given matter, choose the one that introduces the fewest complications to the proceedings, the one that makes the fewest assumptions. Simply wanting a thing to be so does not, in fact, make it so. You desperately desire that spring be Spring, to be a symbol of some “spiritual” “truth”–the way early Christians imagined meaningful, one-to-one correspondences between each & every last one of God’s earthly creatures and some symbolic, ideal heavenly counterpart. If only it were so!

Actually, if it were so, the only value of this god-forsaken world would be its function as a mere way-station on the steep and thorny pilgrimage toward an eternal resting-place for meaning…as a deficient and faint echo of some timeless, perfect melody…as a lowly clue to a stumper of a cryptic acrostic excogitated and contrived by an infinitely canny and endlessly obtuse puzzle master…as a humble, almost imperceptibly tiny, accretive increment serving (in-no-way-that-we-can-fathom) to help implement the master-plan of a megalomaniacal, ceaselessly delegating micro-manager …as

Ugh. How exhaustingly tiresome would the crossing be if this world were a Vale of Tears designed merely as a test of our endurance; how masochistically depraved we would need to be if our patrimony were nothing but a petri dish into which our cosmic sadist of a Father had strewn us so that we might feast upon pain as the sui generis, requisite means by which we might grow, and somehow culture a “soul”. No, Hopeless, no, a thousand times no: the spring is the spring, and the world is all that is the case–take that as your harvest as you spring forwards and fall past summer into your winter of discontent. And so what if winter in Halifax ends in June? Go on, get out there and gather ye rosebuds while ye may.

*     *     *

Dear Pessimist,
Another year has passed blessedly by, and suddenly—it’s Christmas time! In the city! The lights are up, snow’s comin’ down, it’s—looking pretty! And there’s a world outside your window, a world full of hope and cheer, so what’s the use in clinging (while all around you, folks is singing) to that ragbag full of sorrows, to that sad little vow of frowns?

Oh, and who’s that a-knocka-knocka-knock-knocking on your door (granted, on a weekday night after eight-thirty, and they didn’t call ahead did they, but it’s not just any weekday, it’s a Christmas week weekday you Silly Billy, the last week of Advent, so save those otherwise reasonable objections for Ordinary Time!)? Why, it’s none other than your fat ole Uncle Albert (or is that your good ole uncle, Fat Albert?), all three hundred and fifty loving, cheery deary pounds of him, all mostly likely concealing (and…yes?…ding! right again!) his fat but simply, truly lovely family of four.

So of course you let them in (and give yourself a hearty good pinch for thinking otherwise, now)! And no, they’re not here to raid your liquor cabinet (or your pantry—my how we’ve got our prejudices, don’t we? Give yourself two sterny-werny little pinches for that), or to have you fondly peruse their PhotoStory DVD of last year’s Christmas trip to both of the Disneys, Land and World (but hey! No complainy-wainys now, as you’ve only seen it twice!), no! No, these lovely, loverly people are here for you, you Secretary of Sad-Sackery, you!

Just look at them! And then take a good look at yourself. And back to them! Now back to yours truly. And now let’s play a game of let’s pretend: let’s pretend (though that’s hardly your forte) that you’re not…you (a stiff, bitter, brittle, meagre-portioned, hollow-eyed, blanched ole thang, if we’re being honest), but an anthropologist from Mars, newly arrived in this here burg and hardly knowing the lay of the land, much less how folk tend comport themselves…. So, given that you’ve only just landed your spaceship moments ago, and have been briefed on the incredibly wide spectrum upon which the behaviour of human beings can fall, so tell me now and tell me true, who is more deserving of the manifold gifts of the season—them? Or you?

Wrong again (trick question!—God how I love those!)! Everyone is deserving at Christmas time, if you look deeply enough into their immortal souls. Admittedly, Uncle Albert et famille have had to look pretty darn deep into your Scroogey little heart (indeed), but there it is (!) nonetheless, still beating—cantcha hear it thumpa-thump-thump?

Yup! And their very visitation is such a gift to you, such a blessing! Just as yourreceiving them, with such, well, politeness at least, gives back to them, (even if almost—well, ok, pretty much—in spite of yourself)  manifold! Yes, your simple presence here, frumpy pyjamas and early-to-rise bedhead or not, is a monumental if not-quite-yet-joyful gift to each other, surely a case of “win-win” (or, strictly speaking, “win-win-win-win-win) if ever you saw one, am I right?

I’m not wrong. So offer them a drink, why don’t you? You know they’ll decline, so what’s the harm in asking—it is the thought that counts, right? “Egg nog, anyone?” That’s it, there you go! See how the smiles grow like…growths on all those cherubic faces, even (as you flick the switch that engages the lever that winches the winch of your Grinch muscles into a socially acceptable position) your own!

See, they don’t want anything from you, so remember to lovingly chide yourself (physically, but just a little), later, for suspecting otherwise. They just want to join you, for you all to join together and—yes!—hold hands! In a circle! Symbolicizing, of course, the perfectest completeness that we carry inside us all! But which is made manifest , and brought to fullest fruition only through communion, a joining of hands that leads to a joining-together, a holding-on-to-each-other that in turn holds us all—as One! Can’t you feel the electricity flowing from hand to hand (strictly speaking, from hand-to-hand-to-hand-to…well, you get the picture!)?

What’s that? Bow our heads? Why, of course we shall, just like all those Whos down in Whoville, families joined to families, as communion creates community and caring rhymes with sharing, right yes bow our heads, and—huh? Uncle Pessimist is  going to lead us all in—what? Prayer?  Prayer!?  Why, Pessimist, I never knew you had it in you (well, I did, really—that was just a stock phrase I use when playfully kidding [like now, in case you didn’t know that I was playfully kidding]).

No? No?? Oh, ok, it’s ok, I’m so sorry Uncle Albert will take it from—there, all done! Was that so bad? Really, as all that? Well, don’t blink now cos we’re on to the singing.

Yes, singing! What on earth did you think they were here for, after eight thirty on a weeknight on a night such as this, a night with the snow falling, gently falling, falling on everyone alike, falling almost indiscriminately, and covering (it seems) the whole, wide world.

Pessimist? Psst, Pessimist! They’re asking, they’re asking Uncle Pessimist to start them off with your favourite Christmas carol, here in your own living room! And then to join them! As they make their way, all together through the neighbourhood (so full, of course, of neighbours), and out, out and over your tiny, ever-shrinking horizon.

–Your? Soul?

Dear My Soul,
Touché ?


Your comments are welcome!