Recently, while discussing something or other with a long-time friend of mine, I made an off-the-cuff remark. Something so typical that I don’t honestly even recall what it was. But her response, I will assuredly not forget. Very matter-of-factly she replied: “Yeah, but that’s because you’re a pessimist.”

A pessimist.

The words hit me hard. It was like finding the corner piece to a jigsaw puzzle. Suddenly things started making a lot more sense.

A pessimist.

I wanted so badly to argue. To refute her analysis. To advocate myself as a shining beacon of hope and positivity. But, when it comes right down to it… I have no argument. I have no retort. I have no ground to stand on.

I am a pessimist.

This isn’t to say I think of myself as a bad person, or even a depressing person to be around (for the most part). I laugh and dance. I smile and take joy in many things. I revel in the beauty this world has to offer. I love with my whole heart.

I guess I’ve always just considered myself a “realist.”

 

Planning for the worst, working on contingency, and never expecting miracles. But the glass must either be half full or half empty– it’s not just half. And, to be completely truthful, when you show me a half glass of water, I’m most likely to say it’s half gone.

So. I am a pessimist. A doomsdayer. A nay-sayer.

In this day in age– this era of instantaneity, with a 24 hour news cycle and live streaming from the other side of the globe– it feels difficult to optimistically project a future. War, pestilence, and oppression abound– and maybe that is, and always has been, the human condition. But our wars are no longer fought with sticks and stones; spears; or even simple guns. The reality reflects a planet at the mercy of egotistical apes. Take that evolution.

Americans, meanwhile, are hell-bent on self destruction, as distinctly evidenced by our celebrity culture. Our perverse infatuation with not only watching, but encouraging those in the lime-light to make all the wrong decisions has reached a critical mass. Countless “celebrities” over the past few decades have lost everything to overindulgence. And everyone sits home and laughs while stuffing their faces with foods we know are killing us. Because, as I hear casually stated far too often for my own comfort, “everything gives you cancer!” Excusing away our own bad behaviors is much more simple when we can compare them with the self-negligent behaviors of others. Drugs and binge drinking are not healthy, casual sex is extremely risky, and laying in a tanning bed is FACT: bad for you.

The glamorization of morally and questionable decision-making does not bode well for our society. Gen Y, grasping desperately for idols, comes up somewhere between Lindsey Lohan and Charlie Sheen– a tragic drug addict promoting himself successfully as an “unemployed winner.” Our culture of shameless excess is beginning to repulse me.

For much of my life, I touted myself as merely cynical. I’m realizing now that perhaps cynicism is just a symptom of an entire worldview. A helplessly dismal perspective on the universe as a whole. And I see, in the discouraged faces of many of my over-educated unemployed peers, that I may not be alone in my outlook. While I cannot speak for a whole generation, it does seem undeniable that Gen Y has quite the uphill battle ahead. Toward what end, there are no guarantees. Our culture’s self-depricating, overtly cynical sense of humor bears the brunt of harsh reality. Mama bear always says– you can either laugh or cry.

Most of the time, I am more than capable of coping with my emotions. While my initial reactions tend toward sheer negativity, I balance it out in my head. I know not everything is as bad as it initially seems. But I can’t fight that instinct which jumps to the worst case. No sooner has an idea has been conceived in my mind, than I’m on the “what if” committee throwing out disaster scenarios. Tossing monkey wrenches into the dream works.

Call me reality police.

I wake up every morning and live my day in fear of the “other shoe dropping.” Good things, in my perspective, never come without the bad. The bad is often worse than the good. Everything ends. And everybody dies… Depressed yet?! Sheesh…

Not too long ago, I read quite possibly the most beautiful and inspirational thing I’ve ever read. A fact I have been obsessing over since learning it. Billions of years from now– after the sun has flared up, incinerating the planets and unhinging our universe as we know it– the gaseous ball will cool into carbon. At the end of relative time, what was once the life-providing center of our galaxy will overzealously destroy everything it sustained, then proceed to lay dormant for eternity– forming a gargantuan diamond at the heart of our solar system.

The sun ends it’s glorious life as a diamond. For whatever reason, this brings a passionate spark of hope to my pessimistic little heart.

Shine on.

Unlisted.

January 28, 2011

I don’t know what it is that compels me to make lists of everything, but it’s a habit I have yet to break myself of. Whenever I’m feeling the need to organize my thoughts, a bulleted, segmented, thrice-written inventory has always been my preferred methodology. The end result of my list-making varies on the purpose of said composition. Lists work great for “To-Do” and “Shopping” but I think I take it to a whole new level sometimes…

My most recent list was penned out a few days ago in hopes of ascertaining some semblance of linear progression in my life. That is to say, I was trying to boil very complicated ideas down to the lowest common denominator. The lists were as follows:

“Things I want out of life”

“Things I stand for”

Easy right?

Wrong.

I wrote these two headlines. Traced the letters thoughtfully. Asked myself to be truthful, candid, and self-aware when responding. I doodled in the margins as I debated response; these two simple inquiries, staring me in the face.

I wrote half an answer. I scribbled it out. I closed my eyes and tried visualizing myself being/ doing anything I wanted. I wrote another half answer. I scribbled it out. I realized: I had no fucking clue. On either count, really. I didn’t feel confident in any of my responses enough to “solidify” them on paper– even just for my own reference.

I then spoke, out loud, to myself. “Come on, Kat,” I coerced. “This isn’t that hard.”

But, still, the swirl of uncertainty flushed my mind. After about half an hour, I had the same stupid cop-out answers I always give to what “I want out of life,” and– and it’s not with pride that I confide this– absolutely nothing in the “Things I stand for” section.

Nothing.

On the verge of tears, I gave up on my list and ingested half a benzo before I experienced a full-on anxiety attack. I felt utterly confused. Helpless. Stupid. Staring at a blank page where my fundamental beliefs should have been proudly staring me back.

Goddammit.

Days later, I still have no good answer. To the questions I wrote down, to what my problem is, to any of it. I’m thinking, more than anything, I am having a commitment issue– the plight of the college-educated journalist. I can’t stay interested in one thing. I can’t pick a side. I have a hard time putting myself into the story. But what do I do about this?

Stop making excuses for myself, as step 1. And step 2 would probably be JUST PICK SOMETHING. There is no gun to my head, no life or death scenario here. In fact, the only one expecting me to answer these questions is myself! Just pick a passion and roll with it. I can change my mind tomorrow. The next day. Or next year.

Much like standing before the pasta selection in my local airport-hangar sized grocery chain, the world is presenting me too many options. Too many ways to not just make a decision. Bowties or Elbows? Capellini or Rigatoni? I wish I were joking that these decisions stress me out, but I’m quite serious. Apply this indecision to my entire life.

So instead of drawing some faux conclusion, which I am always tempted to do when I write such entries– make it seem like I’ve got it all figured out just because I’ve broken it all down– I am soliciting advice…

How does one make the hard decisions in life without their hand being forced? How can one decide, with no reservations or doubt, what they stand for? How does a person follow their passion when they can’t even be certain what that even IS??

Once upon a time, our country experienced a depression so great that the middle class disappeared entirely. People stood in line for hours to procure moldy bread and meats. Children shared bathwater, people mended their socks, and hovels became coveted homes. The opulent lifestyles of the wealthy shone like homing beacons in the midst of the unwashed masses.

In modern America, not quite a century removed from these desperate times, we find our country in a much different mindset. The end of the second world war, and the years of fear-fueled war economics that followed, seemed to relieve America of it’s “depression.” The government injected the market with occupational programs, social services, and military-related vocations. Women were not only common in the workplace, but now expected to be there: half due to necessity, half due to the social push for independence.

Two working parents meant that people could now afford toasters, televisions, and cars– the middle class was experiencing a heyday unlike any generation before them. Disposability became a mainstay of our culture– single serving dinners, disposable diapers, and plastic ballpoint pens. An entire generation was raised on processed foods, aerosol hairsprays, and prenatal vitamins that caused deformities, as this country strove to be at the forefront of a cultural evolution. They were told that new was best, fast was convenient, and concerns were for “squares. ”

This generation, although instilled with a sense of disposability, maintained some of the previous generation’s sentiments. They had seen their parents clipping coupons, saving pennies, and creating nest-eggs. They had been warned, by those who had lived it, of a time when people fought rats for food. This was Gen X.

As this segment came of age, in the seventies and eighties, they rebelled against society, then embraced it. They hated their possessions, then fell in love with them. They were told they could feel how they wanted to feel, and damned if they weren’t feeling angry! At what? Their parents? Cultural expectations? Global unrest? It didn’t matter. This generation felt it was their right and duty to be expressive.

As Gen X begat Gen Y, a new era of entitlement was born. Since the days of their youth when Gen X had first “stuck it to the man,” many of them had become “the man.” They put in their 40+ hours a week, ingrained with the promise that this was the formula for success. Gen X wanted, more than anything, to spare their children the faux pas social struggles, and the fear of the past.

Gen X promised Gen Y a better world.

The result of this promise has been a twisted sense of entitlement to that world, and a whole generation left dazed by reality. I know I am not the only one feeling slighted.

It was all there, in every message our school teachers delivered us, that we could be anything we wanted to be. That we were all very full of potential, and that hard work alone was the key to unlocking our dreams. It was all there in every feel-good self-esteem-boosting book, poster, and mantra: the world was our oyster. There was even a roadmap– graduate high school, go to college, get a good job in our chosen fields. We could, then, feel professionally satisfied; could then live the comfortable lifestyles we had always known.

All we had to worry about was “being true to yourself,” making friends, and the pursuit of happiness. My generation invented MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, massive multiplayer online games, and YouTube. Being popular doesn’t even involve leaving your computer– which, by the way, now fits in your pocket. Our social lives are infinitely more complex than any generation before us. We’re so cool!

But, in the meanwhile, the global marketplace has become saturated with goods– shipped from overseas– and it’s not only the manufacturing sector that’s become outsourced. America is only beginning to understand the true nature of economics, only now realizing that we are by no means immune to “depression.” Only now realizing that the diploma-mills which comprise most of our “higher education system” are producing well-educated waitstaffs and sales reps in a country that can’t employ more philosophers, journalists, or music theorists. It’s no wonder my generation is so damn frustrated. If we held out for the jobs we wanted, a vast majority would be unemployed.

I heard a statistic the other day that really hit home. The talking head on PBS informed me that 81% of college graduates last year graduated without a job offer. So I did a little research on the subject.

According the a 2009 Survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, only 40% of graduating students who had applied for jobs received offers; less than 20% had secured a job for after graduation.  These statistics are contrary to everything we were told. So what do we do? Keep going back to school? According to this survey, that’s precisely what 26% of my peers are doing. Why? Because it’s “the next step,” obviously, and we take immense comfort in linear progression. Some of my contemporaries live with their parents well into their twenties. We like our hands held; we’ve been well-sheltered from anything dismal by cable television, pop music, and the illusion that we’re working with unlimited resources. According to these statistics, 41% of graduating seniors EXPECT to rely on their parent’s financial assistant after college. WHAT!? Well, I suppose someone has to carry the burden of our shattered expectation. We certainly weren’t prepared for this.

… Everything is going to be ok, right?