Lessons on Optimism

You've probably heard that "life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it"---the sentiment of Charles R. Swindoll, an evangelical Christian pastor, presumably a man of faith and optimism. In the second volume of Anaïs Nin's diary, she cites two different people who proclaimed that her diary would never be published. Stuart Gilbert, a famous literary scholar said: "You have the makings of a Proust. This is too natural and will never be published." Denise Clairouin, a French translator of novels, said: "The diary will never be published. People can't bear such nakedness. You are so much in life."

Of course, seven volumes of Anaïs Nin's diaries were eventually published, making her a feminist icon of the 1960s, a woman studied and celebrated and often quoted.

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image via typewrittenword.tumblr.com

The thing is, she started seeking publication of her diaries as early as the 1930s. It took thirty years to see her diaries in print and yet she never stopped writing them. Some of the closest people in her life fought to break her dependence on her diary--her mother, her mentor, her lover, her therapist, her friend. But it was her diary who became her best friend and confidante (wikipedia). She wrote 15,000 pages, which today fill two four-drawer filing cabinets in a Brooklyn bank vault.

She didn't need the permission of others, not even her loved ones, to fulfill this deep calling. She gave herself permission to do it. May we all be so bold.

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image via etsy.com

May we all stop thinking about what it is we are supposed to be doing, how we are supposed to be parenting or working or spending or living. Forget about what you've started and what you've promised, not for always but for now, and think about what you freaking want to do with your life.

Maybe you want to quit your corporate job and move to the country where your children can run free.

Maybe you want to move to a bustling metropolis and devour culture with every one of your senses.

Maybe you want to live like a monk and write poetry.

Maybe you want to tell your boss to fuck off (maybe in polite terms, maybe not) and then go start your own company.

Maybe you want to create pockets of passive income so you can travel the world and work 4 hour weeks à la Timothy Ferriss.

Maybe you want to break up or get together or have children or stop having children or read more or kiss more or sleep more or move more or write more.

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I think you should do what you've always wanted to do. Give yourself permission. Don't seek it outside of yourself. Be inside your body. We feel trapped beneath the skin for a reason, right? There is a time and a place to transcend the skin, but right now, while pressed against this earth, it feels good to be grounded in our bodies. Who we are, what we want to do, what and where we feel called to live.

If we don't follow these tugs, these whispered callings, we're not playing with the universe. We deprive the greater good of our individual goodness, our gifts, our passions. No one else is me or you. Our DNA is 99% the same but it's that wild card of a 1% that makes each of us irreplaceable.

I wonder what these comments about her diary being unpublishable did to Anaïs Nin, if anything. Obviously she didn't believe them. She believed in herself instead. Do I believe in myself? It's a question I keep asking.

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Anaïs Nin famously said: "we don't see things as they are, we see them as we are." An optimist sees opportunities, notices blessings. An optimist takes criticism as fuel rather than bullets. An optimist knows that she can do a whole lot with her reaction. If Piper Kerman had wallowed in her prison sentence rather than immersed herself in it and written about it, we wouldn't have my new favorite television series, "Orange Is the New Black"

I'm talking to you as much as I'm talking to myself, perched upon a soapbox of beautiful intent: I hope you believe.

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I Am Enough

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"He's always thinking about how to change things. He's never satisfied with the way they are." Samuel smiled at him. "They say man lived in trees one time. Somebody had to get dissatisfied with a high limb or your feet would not be touching flat ground now."

- John Steinbeck's East of Eden

I'm reading "East of Eden" because I saw it on someone's Facebook list of 10 books that changed their life. I don't remember who. Thank you whomever you are.

When I first read this passage, I thought Yeah! This is how we make the world a better place! By never being satisfied. And we can and we do. Like a certain preschool teacher mentioned on our march for Martin Luther King Jr last week, he made the world a better place for us. She said to the children, Someday your face will be up on a sign. Because you're going to make the world better, too.

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 When I saw a little girl kiss the head of her walking partner (a much smaller girl in the younger class) like a doting mother, I knew this teacher was right. These kids have hearts big enough to cradle the universe. The sky's the limit for them. For all of us.

But the more I considered this sentiment, the more it troubled me. If we are never satisfied, how can we enjoy our lives? There is no destination to reach but death. All we have is now, the journey. We are alive. Can we feel gratitude for what we have while still wanting more?

I think the answer lies in seeking balance, recognizing how far we've come while acknowledging how far we still have to go.

For example, in the context of Martin Luther King Jr's cause, schools are no longer segregated legally but they are anyways because of economic and racial privileges.

Personally, as a writer, I am more likely to start a new project rather than work on the third drafts and query letters of the novels I've already written. If I am "never" satisfied with my work then how can I share it? I believe in my stories, but do I believe in my ability to tell them?

As a wife and mother, my patience has grown though I still speak sharply and my presence has improved though I still get lost in my to do list and my iPhone and my thoughts. I am trying to be better while also celebrating my progress.

I believe I will always be a work in progress, which is both daunting and exciting. For better and for worse I expect a lot from myself and from others and from this human experience. But it's tiring, this dissatisfaction. I seek the balance of knowing that despite my yearnings to evolve, I am good enough just as I am. Not at some point in the future. But today.

I write enough, I work enough, I blog enough, I exercise enough, I smile enough, I laugh enough, I have enough, I do enough, I am enough.