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Optimism, Pessimism, Semism

My Gracious Host’s recent post about Worry, hope, and jinxing things gives me a spur to write about my own combination of optimism and pessimism. That isn’t exactly what the post is about, but I have been known to go off on my own tangents before.

You know the half-glass of water? It’s difficult for me to describe myself as either an optimist or a pessimist; I tend to say that the glass is half-empty, but that it’s probably potable water, good to drink. You know? My usual formula is that I tend to think that the worst will happen, but that it won’t turn out to be so bad, after all. My recent travel experience makes a story worth telling about that attitude.

We were changing planes in Chicago.

No, at Midway, but still. Southwest, the mad scramble for seats, but we had A group tickets. For those who haven’t done the Southwest thing, they don’t have assigned seating, but ticketholders can go on-line twenty-fours before departure time and get a group assignment. Group A boards first, then Group B, and so on. Within each group, there are numbers, so the holder of A-15 will in theory board fifteenth of all, and it’s better to have B-5 than B-41. Your chances of getting the seat you want, or if you are traveling in a group the seat configuration you want, are dependent on getting a good assignment and on the people in front of you wanting different seats. And, of course, if you don’t show up in time to board with the A group, having an A assignment is worth bupkess.

Well, if that’s all clear, then follow me further: we are connecting at Midway with a short layover of, say, forty-five minutes. The plane we were on is twenty minutes late boarding, and then backed up on the runway, so it becomes clear that we are likely to be something like an hour late coming in to Chicago. I become convinced, absolutely convinced, that we will miss our plane. Because, you know, we are going to arrive in Chicago after the scheduled departure time. So. We’ll miss our plane. Pessimism.

On the other hand, I figured there would be another plane to Hartford that night, or if not, then they would put us up at a hotel for free for a night. Either way, not really a problem. I mean, an annoyance, but nobody was meeting us, and it was on the way back, so it wasn’t cutting into our visiting time. So I was pessimistic about catching our plane, but optimistic about our evening and night.

Then I said to my Best Reader, you know, says I, the worst thing would be to get to the airport with two minutes to get to the other gate, have to race through the airport and then find it all filled up so we wouldn’t get seats together. Meaning, Gentle Reader, to put in perspective the annoyance of missing the plane entirely. I expected the evening to contain a moderately unpleasant discussion with an overworked gate agent, an hour and a half to kill in the airport, and then a late flight home. Not so bad. Optimism.

Of course, what happened was that the Hartford-bound airplane was also delayed, so our plane pulled into the gate with two minutes to get to the other gate, and we had to race through the airport and then find the plane was all filled up so there were no seats together. There were ten or so middle seats empty; all the aisle and window seats were taken. Some nice chap gave up an aisle seat so that my Best Reader could sit with the Youngest Member; YHB sat behind my Perfect Non-Reader across the aisle. And it was fine.

Of course, in a situation like that, there is no way that the luggage made it from one plane to another like that, right? I said as much, on the plane, and then again whilst waiting at the baggage carousel. Pessimist, me. On the other hand, we were on our way home, and there wasn’t anything in our checked luggage that we desperately needed overnight. In fact, it would be slightly more convenient to have the bags fail to show up and then have the airline drive them to the house the next day. Or the day after. I mean, there’s the whole filling out forms, I would guess, and a conversation with an overworked agent, but on the other hand I wouldn’t have to schlepp the bags to the car.

I’m not sure whether it counts as optimism or pessimism. I mean, an optimist would believe that the bags would be on the plane, that we’d catch our plane, that we’ll stop global warming, that we’ll stay out of a major Depression, that we’ll have good weather on the night of the School Fair. A pessimist would believe that the bags were permanently lost, that we’d be stranded in Chicago, that global warming will lead to hundreds of refugees from drowned cities fighting over a diminished supply of food, that by next winter the frozen bodies of the homeless will be stacked up like unaffordable cordwood, and that the School Fair will be miserable whether it rains or not. I tend to think that our bags will come home to us wagging their tails behind them, that there will be another flight home or else a reasonably comfortable hotel room, that some particularly clever people will find a way to house the refugees and feed them, sparking not violence but fascinating new cultural friction, and that the millions of jobless and homeless will find fulfilling work, productive and creative and lasting. And so on.

Any attempt to reconcile this fence-straddling attitude with my attitude toward John Henry will be doomed to failure. But the failure won’t be that bad…

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


I think I'd still classify you as an optimist. :)

But I realized, thinking about it later, that I always saw the moral of John Henry that it was better to go out in a blaze of glory than to run away or give up. The indomitable human will, standing up for what you believe in, and all that. Never saw it as a issue of labor vs business at all. Weird, huh?

so, what happened with the luggage?

Oh, right, the luggage. It was on the conveyor belt, just fine, no problem. Kind of a disappointment, in a way. I still have never lost any luggage on a flight, though, so I'm still on a roll.


I think I'm the same kind of optimist: I don't necessarily think that every individual thing will always work out (duh), but I do have a deep and abiding faith that things in general will work out. Especially if you stay positive and keep an eye out for ways to improve/salvage/whatever the situation. :^) But in all seriousness, I think it is somewhat self-reinforcing: Thinking that there's always a way to improve things, and looking for those ways, makes you more likely to find those ways, than if you go around thinking that things are probably not going to work out and that nothing you do can change that. Relentless optimism!

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