When the sky is a bright canary yellow, I forget every cloud I’ve ever seen.
So they call me a cockeyed optimist, immature and incurably green!”
So sings the irrepressible Nellie Forbush, in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific. She bursts onto the stage with this personal anthem, just before her cheery world falls apart in the darkness of World War II tragedy and not-so-subtle racism. Enriched by the impossibly clever internal rhyming of “immature” and “Incurably”, Rodgers and Hammerstein made a modern classic out of one person’s struggle to hold onto light in the midst of universal and personal darkness.
Well, just call me Nellie.
When I was an actress in New York, for all of those four-plus decades, I lived the life of the eternal optimist. It’s what actors do: live in the hope that the next job is just around the corner, and that if you endure, somehow, that job — the perfect role, the right billing, the ideal salary — will appear. Fortunately, for the good of my sanity and now my comfortable retirement, that job usually did appear. And I am alive to tell the tale, in my new career as aspiring writer. I can never choose anything easy it seems.
Oh well, it’s that bowl of cherries I seem destined to enjoy, despite all the immature grapes that surround me. And what better place to be an optimist than this beautiful city by the most pacific of oceans?
That said, let me say this about that.
I’m having a tough time of it lately with life’s fruits. They ripen too quickly or not at all, they disappoint with their fragility, their imperfections and their worms. I fear too many of them are turning before I have a chance to enjoy them, and that’s a waste and a shame … and so is this metaphor, which is getting very tired so I shall desist.
I read in the Chronicle each morning so much to be optimistic about: how statewide insurance matters are in a mess, people losing their coverage, all their paperwork being fouled up; how the homeless are making a huge bathroom of the city; how politicians are more corrupt and venal than ever; how projects that have cost the taxpayers billions of dollars are rusting and falling apart; how the Big One may strike at any moment; how people simply cannot afford to live a reasonable life here in this most expensive of cities; how one boom is busting and how another bust is recovering into boom only in time to bust again; that if there’s one thing you can count on it’s mankind’s greed, and our insoluble drive to cover over our troubles with louder movies and more garish entertainments; the disappointments of family life, no matter how much love is present. The simple accident of being human.
You know, the entire mess.
As personified in the Republican front-runner for President.
But obviously, our troubles go deeper than one clown’s mesmerizing public charade. Sometimes I find my coping mechanisms are systemically and spiritually bankrupt. I don’t know where to go except to my next TV-binging night of noise and blood letting. I sit hypnotized.
I seem to live in 30- and 60-minute segments. And now, You Tube and podcasts take me away for even smaller segments of time. I escape into the electronic ether, an atmosphere filled with violence, extreme plastic surgery, death, and dancing.
But then, again, Jon Snow did come alive again didn’t he? (Pretty sure you Game of Thrones folks know this by now.)
So there’s that optimism thing coming alive again as well.
As a friend of mine used to say about all the TV commercials we used to audition for, they are like subways —another one will be along in 5 minutes! And so, in the boom of the TV commercial era in New York, commercials would indeed be produced at such a prodigious rate that if we didn’t book one of them, we’d book the next. And so it is with the moments of our lives, as dismal and storm-cloudy as our lives may seem. Hesitating to sound like Annie center stage, the sun usually does eventually come out, if not tomorrow, then the day or two after.
And all I can do, my friends and readers, is hang on, keep going to the gym if my knees will get me there, and choose — yes choose — the sweetness in whatever fruit drops.
Choosing sweetness seems impossible at times, yes, but only I can do it.
And it is mine to do. It is all of ours to do. It is possible.
So call me a cockeyed optimist. Me and Nelly.
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