A Resilient Optimism
Illegitimi non carborundum - don't let the bastards grind you down
A few hours after I published my last newsletter, I lost my job. This had nothing to do with me specifically or with anything I wrote, it was merely an outworking of the distressed state of my company.
I spent about forty-eight hours being sad about it, largely due to the loss of connection with the good people who have been my compatriots and colleagues for many years. I spent the time since then trying to decompress. In that process, almost by accident, I sensed something that I didn’t expect shining through the cracks everywhere I look. Despite the bad news and worry about the future, I’ve detected a small but steady stream of optimism all around me.
I don’t see a lot of optimism these days and I worry that I myself am not a reliable source of it. I spend a lot of time on Twitter and the vibe there has become relentlessly negative, almost to the point of despair.
I hate despair in the way that most people hate cancer. It’s easy to fall into despair and hard to crawl out. It creeps into our lives through a daily trickle of bad news, slowly poisoning our hearts. It infiltrates our minds and changes our entire worldview so that we perceive our world as inevitably hostile, a place destined for suffering and pain. Then it waits for a trigger that can send us spiraling into an abyss.
I don’t want to deny that there is bad news. I would rather take a hard look at reality than ignore bad news simply to maintain a sunny disposition. But I have felt my own worries and burden become lighter as I’ve seen these rays of optimism peeking through.
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We Did It Before
My “normal” job has been as a software engineer with Disney. A few days after I got the news that they were letting me go, I scheduled an emergency trip to Disney World for my family. I am still technically an employee, which means my employee passes into the parks are still active.
There was something really powerful about Walt Disney’s belief in the potential of mankind. Perhaps it was somewhat a product of the era in which he lived. He was an American born before the invention of flight and died only three years before we landed men on the moon. He was heavily influential in the effort to bolster the sense of American industry and ingenuity that was fostered during World War II.
But it would be unfair to dismiss Disney’s optimism as a product of his time. He honestly believed in the limitless potential of mankind through hard work and ingenuity, and he believed wholeheartedly that it was his duty to tell the story of human innovation and promote it through his art and in his company.
The Spaceship Earth ride (which is inside the giant Epcot ball) is a lovely animatronic journey through human history, chronicling our progress so far and hungry to discover what new things we will accomplish in the next few centuries.
This attitude is reflected in a more tangible way on the Living with the Land ride, which takes riders on a boat trip through the planet’s ecosystems and the strategies Disney employs to make their parks more sustainable. The undercurrent to this experience is not “we must restrain our ambitions to protect the environment at all costs” but “technology and human innovation will give us everything we need for a brighter, healthier world.” It’s only a ride, but it is suffused with this can-do optimism about what we can accomplish.
The Joy of Creation
I’m intending to write more about the changes that are taking place in the world of education and, in my pursuit of that story, I recently spent some time in Charleston meeting with teachers and students at the American College of Building Arts (ACBA). ACBA is a university created to teach students to be true artisans in the crafts of timber framing, stone carving, plasterwork, carpentry, and blacksmithing. I have written about it previously, but want to do something more in-depth with the school.
I’ll write later about the physical things I saw (which were remarkable) but the attitude I saw was the most inspiring thing. The students are optimistic down to their bones. You can see it in their faces and in their work. They are learning to make things and they are overflowing with enthusiasm. They’re excited to show off what they have made and eager for a future in which they get to make more things, better things. This optimism isn’t just refreshing, it is life-giving.
It was also contagious.
Less than a week after I visited ACBA and a few days after I got the bad news from Disney, I started a long-delayed project. I’ve been planning for months to build a reading nook with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in my house. I’ve decided that I should take advantage of this break between jobs and start building.
There’s a lot of work still to be done. I’ve got some cabinet doors and inlay metal standards that I’m waiting on before I can move forward. But it’s coming together and it’s exactly what I wanted. My house will be a better, more beautiful, more pleasant home when it is done.
On my way home from Disney World, I stopped to visit two acquaintance / friends of mine, John and Charlie. Charlie had just come back from a trip to Italy and he remarked that, although Italy was wonderful for what it was, it didn’t have the eager dynamics forward-looking optimism of the United States. Something about this country and its people are relentlessly up-beat, like we feel that we’re making the future and the future is going to be bright.
That’s an attitude I want to nurture in myself and spread to others. There’s a lot of work to do and I’m excited about it.
Disney Shorts: Daffy - The Commando
Since I mentioned World War II, I thought it would be appropriate to watch one of the Disney WWII shorts. All the Looney Tunes and Disney cartoons that address the war directly are anti-Nazi but this is the most joyful one. It hits the Nazis as screwballs and doofuses and it unleashes Daffy Duck on them in his unapologetically wacky and mischievous form.
Daffy parachutes into German territory and wrecks manic havoc on the Nazi commander and his hapless assistant. He then makes a mockery of their defenses, mincemeat of their air force, and is shot out of a cannon to directly assault Hitler himself.
There is plenty of good mockery of the Nazis from all cartoon publishers during this time, but (like modern political cartoons) many of them are a bit too on the nose. This one plays the anti-Nazi cartoon devilry is a way that plays like any decent standard slapstick cartoon.