Tag Archives: optimism

Optimistic Nihilism


A student of mine just dropped an H-bomb of a term on me: Optimistic Nihilism.

This is not a term (and yeah, okay, it’s two terms, but … just … I mean … come on) I was familiar with before this, and I don’t know how, because it sums up my philosophy perfectly.

I’m an atheist, if you didn’t know, and along with that atheism comes the sense that there is no grand, divine purpose for existence — mine or anybody else’s, up to and including the entire human race. There’s no “reason” why we’re here outside of the fact that somehow life got started on this planet and after a few billion years in the martini shaker, we popped out the other side. Once you embrace that idea, it is a very short step indeed to come to the conclusion that nothing we do matters. One needs only consider this image, famously called the “pale blue dot”, from Voyager I as it flew past Saturn into the outer reaches of the solar system in 1990.

Voyager 1's Pale Blue Dot | NASA Solar System Exploration
For further inspiration/soul-crushing despair (depending on your predisposition), read Carl Sagan’s take on this picture.

When you consider that, from another vantage point, even a relatively close one in our galactic neighborhood, the Earth is nothing more than a speck, it is hard to see how human actions could make any difference at all in the scope of the universe.

This is hard to stomach, for some. So difficult is it, that Douglas Adams used it as a form of mental torture in a device called the “Total Perspective Vortex” in his Hitchhiker’s series. (Please to be reading it if you haven’t already.) The TPV, when entered by a victim, would immediately demonstrate to that victim their utter insignificance in the universe and reduce them to a babbling, psychologically disintegrated wreck.

So, there’s your nihilism. Nothing we do matters, our lives will come to nothing and those who knew us will themselves die and be forgotten, and none of it will make any difference.

I can’t make a difference on the scale of the universe, or the galaxy, or the solar system, or even on a scale as (relatively) small as our planet or our home country. But I *am* here, and I’m alive *now*, and I have other people in my life who I love and who love me, and maybe for the little time I have, I can bring some happiness to them and they can bring some to me. And we can make this life, which we all seem to be sharing (let’s steer away from the murky waters of solipsism today), a little less meaningless.

So there’s your optimism.

Optimistic Nihilism.

It’s got a bit of a ring to it.


The Weekly Re-Motivator: No Such Thing as Coincidence


I posted earlier this week about my missing flash drive.

It’s now been a solid week since I realized it was missing, and having now cleaned the house and looked in every reasonable place three times (and the unreasonable places, once or twice), it’s hard to argue with the simple, impassive truth. It’s gone.

And because I’m an idiot, the missing little chunk of plastic and silicone has taken with it about 40,000 words of work — the bulk of almost three months daily wordhammering — on the latest novel.

Just gone. Not like somebody broke into my house and my TV, dvd player, and all my wife’s jewelry are missing — that sort of thing, while senseless and random, would at least make sense in a causal sense. There would also be the lovely spectre of somebody to blame. No, it’s rather like I went to the grocery store and came back to find my dog gone. All of her toys still strewn around the house. Sprouts of fur on her blanket and bed. Leash on the wall hook. But no sign of the mutt herself; just the back gate swinging in the breeze. The gate I forgot to close before I left the house.

It’d be tempting to think that it’s an awfully big coincidence that my entire project literally vanishes when I’ve been struggling so mightily with it over these past few months. Some of the days have been good, but most of them have been a bit too much like work, and as much as I like the central idea of the book, there’s just something … off about it. Maybe it’s the tone, maybe it’s the point of view, maybe it’s the setting; hard to pin down, but the idea just hasn’t caught fire with me the way I wanted it to.

So it disappears when I haven’t backed it up in months, and wipes out all those months of work.

But I don’t believe in coincidences; at least not in that cosmic, maybe it was meant to be kind of way. I’m furious with myself for losing it. I’m ready to throttle myself over the idiocy of failing to back up my project. And no matter how the project might have pained me, I don’t believe that simply throwing all that work out the window — literally, it turns out — would have been the best choice. Even bad writing sometimes reveals hidden gems, turns of phrase worth keeping, little narrative nuggets buried among the scree and scrap.

But I also don’t believe that it just happened. I think that, if I were really proud of this work, if I really felt it was worthy of my time, I probably would have safeguarded it a little bit better. I think if it mattered to me that much, I would have found the time to click a few buttons and back it up.

I don’t think me losing the flash drive and the project is the universe’s way of telling me that the project is wrong. I think that me losing the project was my own way of telling myself that the project was wrong.

Because here’s something I noticed in edits for my first novel: as much as I changed things, there was a hesitation to really deconstruct the thing, to shred it to pieces and rebuild the stuff I had spent so much time building the first time around. I did that deep rebuilding in places here and there, but a not insignificant portion of the first draft survived, coming through with only cosmetic changes.

With this project, though, I won’t have that option. I know the outline of what I wrote — the plotlines and the character developments that need to take place to get me to the middle — but I won’t have the fleshy bits, the meat of the story. I’ll have to rebuild all that.

Which is frustrating, but also kind of liberating. Not only am I not tethered by the shortcomings of the draft, but I can’t even see them in the rearview mirror. I’ve got no choice but to take this in an entirely new direction.

And the fact that I’m not filled with dread at the prospect tells me that, even though it burns worse than a throatful of rotgut bourbon, it doesn’t have to be all bad.

So maybe it’s just a coincidence that my project vanished into the ether when I was filled with so much doubt about it.

But I kind of don’t think so.

Maybe it’s just more likely that I’m devoted enough to this thing to turn this lemon — and man, is it a hell of a lemon — into something like lemonade.

Or maybe I have an alter ego who knows what’s best for my writing and chucked the thing in the garbage disposal while I thought I was asleep.

Either way, it’s time for a fresh start.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


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