Optimism in the Time of COVID-19

Did you hear the NPR piece about whether optimism is learned or innate? After reading a transcript, I’ve been thinking about the psychologist Martin Seligman’s comments about optimists and pessimists – and wondering if alternating between these two ways of being explains my changeable reaction to life right now. Seligman says an optimist assumes the problem is “temporary, just this one time and controllable,” a pessimist believes bad events are “permanent, pervasive, uncontrollable.”

Controllable – whether the pandemic is controllable or not – that’s the fluctuation and uncertainty. If we knew more, I might indulge my fantasies about motorhomes (new for me). My first notion (mostly as something to talk to Sweet B about) was the proposal I rent an RV and park it in her driveway. I threw that suggestion out on FaceTime, and Sweet B said, “hmmm, my mommy’s car is parked there.” She was quiet for a minute, then said, “we need to give that some more thought.” Indeed.

When we next spoke I proposed the LA family rent an RV and drive it up here, and we discussed the logistics of such an journey. A pleasant distraction for people to whom planning (and controlling or at least arranging outcome) is a pleasure no longer available.

Creative projects can be controllable, but these days the big blankness at the beginning intimidates me. I’ve liked watching other people’s creative moves though: my painter friend makes little water media paintings that I picture as big oil paintings someday, and as a daily discipline, my old friend who lives on the island makes postcards to mail to her three grandsons. She includes riddles, odd facts, and lists the things she is grateful for. The Wordsmith grows a garden destined to be bountiful with food and beauty.

Some have used the time to teach and to learn. My friend who paints in the woods posts video tutorials about her work methods on Instagram, another friend, a woodworker, whose daughter expressed interest, makes furniture with her – imparting skills to last. My physical therapist completely gave in to his teenage son’s long held obsession with llamas, and together they built the llama barn and fencing required to adopt two llamas, Ned and Giovanna. My good-natured husband (certified optimist) continues his pursuit of the Greek language – ancient and modern.

But I often retreat to the repetitive, familiar, doable task of mask making – more than 150 now, sending them to the project initiated by Washington’s Lt. Governor and the United Way, where mask makers are matched with volunteer organizations like shelters and food banks.

Sometimes I wonder if I’d have done more creative work if I didn’t make masks, but maybe I’d just be doing more “doomscrolling.” (What a great new phrase to describe that which we do too much of!)

One heartening thing has been to see the ever-changing costumes of Lord B, like the one below. I asked for identification of the knight – Mrs. Hughes replied, “just a run-of-the-mill knight.” But the ballcap and basket lid seem inspired.

At least we can control our outfits and accessories, if not the outcome of our current plight.

10 thoughts on “Optimism in the Time of COVID-19

  1. We love our masks! Thank you again. I have been traveling through reading, most recently to Nepal in “Second Suns: Two Trailblazing Doctors and Their Quest to Cure Blindness, One Pair of Eyes at a Time.” The author previously wrote “Three Cups of Tea” and unwittingly promotes a dishonest scheme. After completing this book, a much more compelling and thoroughly researched work, he died by suicide. Tragic. I recommend the book.

  2. I think that mask-making and portraying the creatively attired and accessorized boy are ever so much better than “doomscrolling,” a term new to me, but totally pertinent. I did hear that piece on optimism. I’ve always thought of myself as an optimist, but some days lately it seems difficult to be one. But I’ve found that looking forward to certain rituals and moments of comfort during the day helps deal with the long term uncertainty. A cup of tea, a daily phone call from a son, a stupid, but entertaining, evening tv binge, and the bliss getting into bed and going to sleep, make me more cheerful and easier to live with. xoxo

    • Mask making and drawing Lord B are certainly more rewarding than searching for never found answers on our phones! And you are right about the small, daily things – and being thankful for each and everyone of them!

  3. Your blog and its watercolors are certainly creative endeavors. And the mask making is a Good Deed. Sounds like you’re doing well. I admit to doing way too much Doomscroling but I remain, at heart, an optimist, despite all the awfulness the world is throwing at us just now. Perhaps, watching Spring unfurl her greens aand pinks and yellows, I’m an optimist for the Earth herslf, more than for humankind.

  4. I do like the watercolor in your blog, it is not as easy as some think. I showed my fiance this blog and he mentioned that he rented an RV and park it in the driveway for a week. He said he used it for the overflow of the extra couple visiting. It was taken out once, for all to go to a local amusement park, but when it was turned in, he said the rental place was disappointed how little mileage was on it, because they did not make much on it.

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