What Is Optimism? (Lessons I Learned from The G'Mork)
Updated: Aug 6
I've previously mentioned how I typically tend to be a negative person. To be clear, I'm not one to spew sadness and purposely try to bring others down, but I harness this pessimism in a tight, dark cloud, residing in my chest. My negativity is personal, and a way that I keep myself grounded. Most strive for happiness, but despite what I wish to believe, I deeply find the idea of being happy to be inherently selfish. How can I possibly be happy when there is so much bad, and many people are suffering? I feel that experiencing true happiness is to abandon everyone and everything I need to fight for.
On the rare occasion when I feel my chest open up, warm and full to the sky, full of light, the ball escapes. I am relieved of the burden I've been feeling, but the ball inevitably finds its way back, reminding me that I was careless in my ignorance. If I hold the sadness in, then there is a better chance that I can keep it from others and help them to experience the happiness that they deserve. When I already have so much privilege, I also tend to feel that I don't deserve happiness. There are better people in worse situations who should be happy before me, and there may only be so much happiness to go around. I'd rather someone else have it.
Orey and I were talking about our goals for the new year, and he mentioned how he had been trying to be more optimistic as of late. I told him that I wish I could be optimistic, but it wasn't a part of my makeup. I had tried, but the mindset seemed forced and faked. It would last for a few hours, or maybe a couple of days, but would inevitably wonder away again, leaving me more broken than before. Like, who was I kidding? I always think that the worse will happen, even if I don't express that to others, because on some level I believe that if I prepare for the worst, then I can keep it from happening. If I obsess over it, it will go away, or if it does happen, then I will be ready. It's just all a fun little byproduct of anxiety that I'm convinced will work, although it really hasn't yet. The hard things are still hard, no matter how much you try to ready yourself.
Orey and I could agree that the world, although with spots of goodness, has a lot of bad in it. We both buy into the blank slate theory that a person is shaped by their environment and surroundings, but with so much evil, people may get the wrong influence. His defense for being optimistic is that no matter how horrible things got, he could be happy. If the world was going to collapse around him, at least he would be laughing. Happiness would exist in him if nowhere else. He may be all that he has.
I feel at this point, I must also clarify that I don't want others to be unhappy. I admire positive people who experience happiness and optimism regularly. I do not feel that I am enlightened, or better than anyone else, or that they too, should be negative. It is a standard that I hold to myself--thinking that if I can look out and prepare for everyone else that I love, then they will be okay. That I will be, well sad, but hopefully able to slowly move forward. That everyone else deserves to be optimistic, and maybe some day I will too, although the weight sinking my body farther down sometimes makes me forget what true bliss really feels like.
A couple of days later, my boyfriend coincidentally brought up a new school of thought he had recently read about. He shared an idea with me, that it is okay to be happy as long as you experience sympathy and empathy. If you experience sympathy and empathy for others, then you must perceive those emotions as a positive thing--something that is good to experience, and that everyone should feel. Doing a positive thing is inherently a little selfish, because you are doing something good for yourself, even if it is indirect. You are helping others, but also benefiting. Therefore, it is okay to care deeply about others, feel sadness for them, and still ultimately have permission to be happy. This idea resonated with me, actually making some sort of sense. For the first time, I believed that perhaps I could deserve happiness, which could even lead to the unattainable concept of optimism.
But like I've mentioned, optimism seems hard and forced. It doesn't feel genuine, but instead, out-of-reach. However, some people do experience it regularly. They preach it, they teach it, and they live it.
So then, what is optimism?
Last night, it was my turn to pick a movie. Between the three of us who live together, we alternate picking movies with an event that we call "Goathouse Presents" (because our house is called the Goathouse for uh, reasons). We typically don't knock out a whole cycle in a week, but on Sunday Orey picked Hedwig and the Angry Inch, on Monday Tobias picked Office Space, and then I finished off the round with The Neverending Story. They both hadn't seen the 80's film, and it shaped me so greatly as a child that I had to share Fantasia with them.
It was nearing the end of the story when Atreyu approaches the menacing G'mork. The G'mork explains he is a servant to the Nothing that is destroying Fantasia. (It was also becoming painfully clear to me at this point that The Neverending Story is actually a huge metaphor for depression and becoming an adult. An evil Nothing is taking over the land, and turning everything it touched into "nothing" as well. Bastian had the power to save the land, but was hesitant because his father kept telling him to "keep his feet on the ground". I hadn't watched the movie since college, but even then the message wasn't clicking with me as much as it did last night.)
Atreyu asks The G'mork what was happening to Fantasia, and why? Then, The G'mork gave the most grounding answers that I've heard in a long time (the following is from IMDb.com):
The NeverEnding Story (1984)
G'mork: If you come any closer, I will rip you to shreds. Atreyu: Who are you? G'mork: I am G'mork. And you, whoever you are, can have the honor of being my last victim. Atreyu: I will not die easily. I am a warrior! G'mork: Ha! Brave warrior, then fight the Nothing. Atreyu: But I can't! I can't get beyond the boundaries of Fantasia! [G'mork laughs and Atreyu gets a little angry] Atreyu: What's so funny about that? G'mork: Fantasia has no boundaries. [laughs] Atreyu: That's not true! You're lying. G'mork: Foolish boy. Don't you know anything about Fantasia? It's the world of human fantasy. Every part, every creature of it, is a piece of the dreams and hopes of mankind. Therefore, it has no boundaries. Atreyu: But why is Fantasia dying, then? G'mork: Because people have begun to lose their hopes and forget their dreams. So the Nothing grows stronger. Atreyu: What is the Nothing? G'mork: It's the emptiness that's left. It's like a despair, destroying this world. And I have been trying to help it. Atreyu: But why? G'mork: Because people who have no hopes are easy to control; and whoever has the control... has the power! Atreyu: Who are you, really? G'mork: I am the servant of the power behind the Nothing. I was sent to kill the only one who could have stopped the Nothing. I lost him in the Swamps of Sadness. His name... was Atreyu. Atreyu: [the ground shakes again and Atreyu is knocked down. He grabs a knife shaped piece of broken stone and stands up, ready to fight] If we're about to die anyway, I'd rather die fighting! Come for me, G'mork! *I* am Atreyu! Tobias and Orey were patiently waiting for the movie to be over, primarily because Falkor gave them the creeps (which received a lot of side-eye from me). But I was sitting on my couch, feeling like the story was unfolding for the first time. Perhaps that's why it's neverending--with each adventure, it meant something new.
"People who have no hopes are easy to control; and whoever has the control... has the power!" --And I didn't want to be powerless anymore. Here I was, thinking that if I worried about all of the horrible things that could potentially happen, that I was in control. That nothing could hurt me because I was already hurting myself. Instead, I was giving power to my Nothing, and it was eating me from the inside out. I was being destroyed, giving my depression and anxiety strength, letting it control me.
And the whole time, this negativity was taking away my imagination, my fantasy. Fantasia, universes, our world suffers if we give into the Nothing. Worlds depend on our hopes and imagination to keep growing and evolving. If we have creativity, ingenuity, and hope, then we hold the power. We can fight.
While processing all of this, I again wondered, but What then is Optimism? And I've come to the conclusion that optimism isn't easy. It isn't natural, but instead, something we must fight for every day. Optimism is keeping our hope, even if the Nothing is biting at our heels. It is keeping the world alive, and working to have the power. Optimism is gaining control and never losing your imagination.
I cannot say that I will be fixed today, or tomorrow, or within the coming months. But I know that optimism is something I can work at, and as long as there is hope, at least there is something. Don't give up the control, my friends. Keep your fantasy. We can build worlds and keep the Nothing at bay. It will be difficult, and a different battle every day, but if we are to survive, it is our only choice.
"If we're about to die anyway, I'd rather die fighting! Come for me, G'mork!"