It seems to many of us that the world all but requires us to be pessimists, but I propose we possess the Optimism Option. Scientifically, even as we observe a half-full glass of water, it’s under the effects of osmosis and therefore less than half full. Accordingly, the pessimist is correct: the glass is indeed not only half empty but less than half empty. What can we make of that fact, let alone earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, landslides, wars, epidemics, economic meltdown, mass psychological upset, political impotence, and hemorrhoids?

The question answers itself: ignore facts of life. No one ever got very far with facts. A fact is heavy and doesn’t travel well. Upon arriving and opening one’s briefcase to reveal a fact, the observer will likely deny that the fact is a fact. “That appears to be a fact, I admit,” the handlebar-mustachioed observer bellows, “but it’s less than a fact, not even the opposite of a fact, but something else: a delusion!”

You trudge home with your fact. What good has it done you? Like a Mormon youth on his mission, nothing has been accomplished but the traveling. And if you complain about your troubles, you’re likely to hear this admonition: “It could always be worse.”

First, let us confront that statement on its own terms. Yes, it could always be worse:

  • If male, your testicles might fall off.
  • If female, some amok hormone might cause your breasts to expand until they explode, fertilizing the earth but not doing you any good.
  • Had you challenged that mustachioed postmodernist to an arm wrestling match, you might have had your hand ripped free of your wrist, producing a bloody mess and a spectacle that your opponent would deny occurred. Thus, no ambulance would be called, and you’d bleed to death, your fact blotted out by your own blood, leaving nothing of your existence but two bodies: yours and that of your amputated hand.

The list of ways in which it could be worse proves infinite. I call this failed response to pessimism Optimical Illusion. Why would reminders that life could be even worse than it already is improve your spirits? Do not fall prey to this illusion. Let it rest as a phrase people pipe to rid your troubles from their minds while feeling content that they’ve done you some good when they’ve done just the opposite.

Faith isn’t going to offer any help, either. Should some terrible event befall you, your faithful friends will come to your non-aid with statements such as, “God works in mysterious ways,” and, “It’s all part of God’s plan. You’ll see that it all works out in the end.” Part of God’s plan is Armageddon. So far, you’ve good reason to be pessimistic.

As to love, must I enumerate the equal possibilities of its producing joy and/or emotional devastation? Meanwhile, nothing deserves to be so loathed as the love/hate relationship. Even if equilibrium in love is reached, watch out for adultery. You may very well become a cuckold simply by not being, it can only be put, an asshole. You’ve lost your get-go. You’ve become a blur of contentment. Oh, but contentment is not optimism! All that can help you now is to say to your loved one, “I could bag somebody else in five minutes, and I may very well do so.” That should keep the would-be errant lover in check.

Such a response enlightens the Optimism Option (OO). The OO is tactical in its approach. It possesses no philosophy. It trifles not with ethics. It’s entirely self-serving and fares well under any economic system, though the more self-oriented that system, the more effective OO proves itself. Luckily for you, just such an economic system has wrapped its hands around the earth. Barring miracles (forever barred because they don’t exist), your OO will travel, unlike pathetic facts. So pack your bags with plenty of OO and leave the facts in a trash can, where they’ll serve as impotent bombs no matter what their purported import. No one will notice their nonexistence, including the garbage collector.

Now, to specific OO tactics:

  • Someone makes the mistake of saying to you, “It could always be worse.” Your response? “And it could always be better! I’ve 1 in 18 million chances of winning the lottery.”
  • You’re told, “The Lord works in mysterious ways.” Your reply? “Not as mysterious as mine. I’ve no idea what I’m doing, no plan, no goal, only the rampant self-satisfaction of my own needs, much like God Himself.”
  • You randomly encounter the amputating postmodernist in some future setting. “Well, hello,” you say. “My dear friend, you taught me a valuable lesson when you dismissed my ‘fact.’ It was so valuable a lesson that I now deny your existence. To prove my point, I’m going to rip off your mustache, and you won’t feel any pain because you don’t exist. Ready?”
  • A lover questions OO. “You’re getting a little carried away,” he says. “Piss off!” you answer. “By the way, have you any friends between the years of — what’s that prime sexual age? — 18 to 23, and without your excess cargo?”
  • Your balls fall off. No problem! It’s time to employ OO: “Who needs balls, anyway? As if I want children. Fuck off, balls, and if you see my amputated hand, don’t expect it to wave hello.”
  • Here’s another OO affirmation, borrowed from AA but adapted for our purposes: “EGO: Edging God Out!” Indeed, edge God out and build up that ego. Who needs God’s superego when you’ve got your more-entertaining id?
  • Add a similar affirmation to your repertoire, known as IRE: “Id rules everything.” Whose id? Your id!
  • If you run afoul of the law, state the following to the police officer(s): “I’d hate to break the news to you, but the law doesn’t exist. It’s too complicated for me to get into now, but go home, remove your uniforms and follow your id! Start breaking the law; it’s already broken, anyway!” The officers will shake your remaining hand and gladly dismiss themselves from their unruly tasks.

Now that you’ve armed yourself with tactics, it’s time to consider your grand strategy. OO’s grand strategy can be summarized by the term GAFFE: “Giving a fuck fractures ego.” Would you break your hand on purpose? No! In the same way, why would you break your now-global egotism? No need to be creative; just follow Webster’s definition: never relinquish your “exaggerated sense of self-importance.” When all else fails, issue an SOS: “Sense of self-importance!” Arrogance is your friend. Use that friend, for you’re beyond tit for tat. You’re beyond everything. You’re out of this world, and the further you go, the better!

I had never considered myself a negative person. I thought life was good. I had no kids or property to tie me to my ex. I had a decent, though boring, job as a corporate writer, a cute apartment close to Central Park, and the time and money to take last minute trips around the world. I had friends I could rely on, family I loved, and all my limbs. I was a glass half-full kind of girl.

That spring, Graham told me otherwise.

Things started out well enough. Maybe too well. Our first date lasted eight hours, ending with us making out on his bed. For two weeks we couldn’t get enough of each other. He came up to my office and we made out there. We kissed on the street, at the movies. We hung out at his place on a Saturday and wrote all day, me on my memoir, he on a history book he needed for tenure. He cooked for me, and told me I was beautiful. He said that he had found me.

Then it started to get weird. His ex for one. He really wanted to be friends with her. I mean, really. They went to movies, and when it didn’t go well, he became very depressed.

“There wasn’t much to say,” he said.

He thought I should be friends with my ex, although I preferred not to, thank you very much. After he cheated on me and had a baby with his mistress, I decided he was probably not friendship material.

“It might help you move on,” Graham said.

Keeping someone from my past in my present wasn’t my idea of moving on.

When I asked if he was dating anyone else, he laughed and said, “I’m not kissing anyone else.”

That didn’t answer my question.

“Let’s live in the moment,” he said.

Still not an answer.

Finally he said, “I’m afraid I’m having a negative influence on you.”

Now. We had known each other fewer than thirty days. I doubted I was so malleable that he’d have a personality-changing influence on me. And what did he mean by negative?

The cases in point: we were on the subway, and a girl was leaning against the pole. Her whole body on the pole. You know what I mean. Since she was being so obliviously rude, I obliviously shoved my hand behind her to grab the pole. I looked at her. I did not apologize.

Two: we were walking down the street and caught up with slow walkers. Slow walkers who decided to take up the entire sidewalk. You know of whom I speak. I huffed, sighed, and rolled my eyes before finally speeding around them.

So this was negative.

Still, being a conscientious and growth-liking person, I thought about what he had said. Maybe I was making up for something with my toughness. As kids my brother and I were called chink and chingchong at the bus stop every day, but were always too timid to say anything. Our mother bossed us around. The bossing got worse as I got older. The yelling turned to screaming whenever I said anything back. I couldn’t even sulk without a scolding.

In high school I decided I was angry. An angry poet. I hated everyone, or at least pretended to. Secretly I wanted Bud Warner to pass me notes in class, to give me a rose on Valentine’s Day, to take me to prom, none of which, of course, happened. But being angry was easier. It gave me a nice coating.

In college I became an Asian American activist. Every racist was a kid at the bus stop saying chingchong. I went to a Miss Saigon protest and yelled fuck you to Cameron Mackintosh for not hiring Asian actors, for saying Asian actors were no good.

Then I fell in love.

I fell in love with an angry guy, only he didn’t seem angry at the time. At the time he was sweet and loving, funny and smart. The anger emerged later, after I was in deep and it was too late. We broke up, got back together, got married. He got angrier. I couldn’t blame him really. His parents expected so much. His mom was sick. They never thanked him for all he did, the way he never thanked me. Everyone was against him, everyone that is except his mistress.

So in comparison, was I really so negative?

Still, I would try.

Maybe I didn’t have to make my disdain so clear as some dim bulb yapped loudly on her cell phone. Perhaps I didn’t need to growl, “Watch it,” when a guy twice my size bumped into me. I might try not yelling, “Are you kidding me!” when someone came to a dead stop at the top of the subway steps. It shouldn’t make a difference that this was New York, and I was a petite Asian woman who looked younger than her years. I didn’t need to be a bitch to survive, did I? Survive yet have no soul?

Two tests. One, the NJ Transit on my way back from my parents’. At Newark an older man got on and sat next to me. Not right next to me, one seat over, but it didn’t matter because I could smell him from here. Cigarette smoke. Clothes reeking of it.

Seething, I pressed myself against the window and breathed into my hand.

Then at that very moment, on my iPod: One of Us. You know: What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us? Cheesy, yes, but true. And I thought, What if this guy is God? What if every annoying person put in my path was God in some form or another, testing me? What if I’ve been failing that test again and again?

I took off my iPod. We were nearing the city. Outside were the murky swamps of Secaucus. Unexpectedly beautiful egrets perched and flew.

Then I heard it: staticky music. Not even a song, a snippet. Cher: Do you believe in life after love? Over and over. Do you believe in life after love do you believe in life after love do you believe in life after love. Where the hell was that coming from?

Oh no. Oh yes. It was “God” next to me playing it on his cell phone.

Maybe he was preaching. Maybe he was saying life indeed went on after your best friend broke your heart.

Or maybe it was just some annoying dude with his phone.

Test two: On the subway to my apartment. A seat opened so I sat. An older woman next to me said, “Do you want to switch?”

Switch? Switch what?

She pointed at the Chinese guy on her other side. “Do you want to sit together?” she asked.

The “positive” scenario played through my head. “That’s okay,” I could have said. I could have smiled and thought, She’s just trying to be nice. She doesn’t know any better. It makes perfect sense that two people standing nowhere near each other would be together based solely on race. Haha, racism’s funny!

“I don’t know who that is,” I said. I did not smile.

She laughed. (Why yes, racism is funny.) She said, “I thought you two were together.”

You’re an idiot.

Graham and I broke up not long after, fizzling out as quickly as we had fizzled up. I quickly gave up on trying to be positive. Being bitchy was way too fun. And just because I got fed up with strangers didn’t mean I was soulless because yes, like Cher, I still believed in love. I believed in happiness even if I didn’t find love again because there were so many small things that made me happy. A peaceful morning with a cup of coffee, wandering museums with my pals, running in the rain around the Reservoir.

So maybe the guy with the phone and the woman on the subway weren’t God. Maybe there were no tests. No negative or positive, no glass half-full or half-empty. Maybe there was just a glass (or maybe there was no glass – whoa). There was just this moment, now; there was releasing the pain of the past but remembering the lesson; there was restraining from predicting the future but embracing whatever it might bring.

But if you get in my way, I’ll still think you’re an idiot.