Just do it?

The man who told me I was an optimist

3 minute read
Have I really been on the sunny side of the street all along? (Photo by Alaina Johns.)
Have I really been on the sunny side of the street all along? (Photo by Alaina Johns.)

It’s frustrating to have a nice dinner in Center City with people who refuse to validate your personal narrative. In this case, I was enjoying a longstanding monthly meetup with science-fiction writer and longtime BSR music writer Tom Purdom, along with a few other writing colleagues. Purdom enjoys telling people I am his editor, which is funny, because he has been writing for several more decades than I have been alive.

Murphy’s Law

I’m not sure who I’d be without my lifelong cycle of major depressive episodes, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be an optimist. It’s just easier to assume the ultrasound will reveal something more complicated, expensive, and painful than the doctor thought it would; that it’s going to rain heavily on the day I have three back-to-back meetings in different parts of the city; that the warm and interesting guy will project his own unresolved trauma onto me as soon as he gets comfortable in the relationship; that every good gig will soon dry up.

But when we were eating dinner, talking about writers and pessimistic outlooks, Purdom wasn’t having it.

“You’re not a pessimist, Alaina,” he said over a plate of cheeseburger sliders. “You are an optimist. Do you write for a living?” he asked. “Have you kept at it day and in and day out for years when other people quit and find different jobs?”


“Well, there you have it,” Tom decreed. “You are an optimist.”

I had to stop and sip my beer.

“Don’t you want a real job?”

What is optimism? I always thought it was the way you feel.

If Tom is right, I need to seriously reevaluate my perspective. My pessimism might be the way I feel, but my optimism is what I do. In college in the early 2000s, I wanted to be an arts writer.

What did I do, as arts sections disappeared and newspapers folded around me? I became an arts writer. I groomed dogs, worked cash registers, did hospice care, and gave tours until I could support myself fully by writing and editing.

People ask me, “Don’t you want a real job?” or “But really, how does that work, freelancing?” or “If you were successful, wouldn’t you be on CNN or something?” And I have to ask myself, alongside all the necessary struggle and skepticism — who is a bigger optimist than the freelance journalist?

Facing facts

If this is what I’ve done with my life so far, especially as even my liberal friends parrot a fatalistic criticism of “the media,” disdain for journalists metastasizes, and everyone forgets that professional writers are worthy of payment, I have to face facts. My professional actions have made me an optimist.

And that’s what I’d like to bring to BSR in 2019. I may not change my perennially sad and stormy outlook. But it’s what we do that matters. What will we do together at BSR in the coming year?

I can’t wait to find out. And if Purdom is reading this, he can say, “I told you so.”

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