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The Recession Made Me An Optimist

The country is in dire shape and the problems seem insurmountable, but I don't feel like I have the luxury of pessimism any more.
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I am not the sunniest person I know. Not even close. But neither am I a font of Scandinavian gloom. If I had to describe how I try to go through the day, the word that comes to mind is bemused. My wife sometimes asks what is upsetting me and I have to explain my dour countenance. Nothing, I say, that is just my face in repose. Some people look blissful when they are relaxed. I look like I just finished reading The Brothers Karamazov. I wish I were smiler. My natural expression is a slightly foreboding one (at fifteen, my son is actively trying to cultivate this), and I wish it were not so. If I were smiling naturally, perhaps it would be easier to feel better about things.

Although I have been relatively lucky in life - if you don't count a series of bad relationships prior to marriage, and cancer (I'm fine now, thanks) - I have developed a somewhat pessimistic outlook. Perhaps this has something to do with having worked as a screenwriter for the past twenty years. An agent once told me, "The movie business is designed to make you cry." I can attest that this is true. So I developed a negative gene, one that protects me from damage. If you can anticipate the insult, it can be deflected. An open heart is one that will bleed to death.

But that, my three readers, is show business. Not life.

I don't feel like I have the luxury of pessimism any more. The country is in dire shape, the problems seem insurmountable, the leaders of the past eight years dangerous buffoons who will pay no price for their epic malfeasance. The auto industry is tanking, newspapers are going bankrupt, and Wall Street is fleecing us again with the bailout. Truly, things are awful.

And yet.

Here is Barack Obama. I am not one of the people who think he walks on water. He is human and will make his share of mistakes, of bad calls. He will do things I don't like. But he is a supremely intelligent grown-up, and someone I am willing to trust. Perhaps he won't be able to disarm Iran, or provide universal health care, or eliminate the drum machine from pop music, but his being in charge makes me hopeful.

Pessimism is too easy right now. The public education system is an abject failure, we are in an S&M relationship with China, and our economy is in free-fall. But to be pessimistic is to give in to the obvious. The hope thing, so in evidence throughout the Obama campaign, always struck me as a loser. I would see the famous poster of Obama and it reminded me of the classic one of Che Guevara that adorned dorm room walls back in the 70s, and was so-often observed through a haze of bong smoke and Joni Mitchell music. It was a killer in graphic terms, but it had the look of a loser. Che had ended up riddled with bullets in a South American jungle. What did he have to show for all of his revolutionary fire? The dictatorship of Fidel Castro's Cuba? And please, don't tell me about how everyone there has free medical care.

In my previously pessimistic state, I assumed Obama would follow Che's path to irrelevancy. The Obama posters, like those of Che would be an aching memory of a candle that burned just brightly enough to tickle everyone's expectations, before being blown out in a foul gust of McCain-Palin. How great it is to be wrong. Clearly, anything can happen.

People will continue to do bad things to each other. They will be greedy, slothful, consumed by lust, and insensitive in the extreme. Some might be pessimistic about their chances in such a difficult world. Borders is failing, major publishers are contracting, and the market for fiction by someone who isn't Stephanie Meyer is shrinking. So I am optimistic right now. Given all the awfulness, why should that be? It's no secret that the most resonant art comes from pain. I suspect we are in for an unusually creative period.

Seth Greenland co-founded the InnerKids Foundation.