‘Writing Is the Most Optimistic Act’

One way to view this is optimistically.

At the end of his audiobook I reviewed yesterday, Mo Rocca said, “Writing is the most optimistic act.” I naturally added that to my notes on the audiobook, but kept it out of yesterday’s review because I purposefully wanted to dedicate a separate blog post to it. Normally, when I hear something that strikes me as profound, I have a snap perspective on the profundity, one way or another (accepting or rejecting it). However, at first blush, and more than 24 hours later, I’m not quite sure what Mo meant by it, and I’m not sure how I would interpret such a statement, either. When this happens, I turn to writing, incidentally, to find out what I think, as the saying goes.

Perhaps there is a clue as to what Mo meant by that statement in the story he shared in Mobituaries about his father, who took up playing the trumpet at the age of 50. Which, at the time Mo wrote the book, was the same age he was at. Mo said the trumpet, unlike say, the saxophone, isn’t an instrument you can flub a note and continue playing and nobody would notice. People are going to notice. To fail in that way, and return to the trumpet again, makes someone bold, Mo reasoned. It is a difficult instrument to learn. Yet, Mo’s dad, for 30 minutes every morning, worked on even the basic technique of forming his lips around the mouthpiece of the trumpet. Eventually, him and his buddies created the band, the Metrotones, and played a jam session weekly and then that parlayed into performing at retirement homes and assisted living facilities.

I think Mo views his father’s late entry into playing the trumpet as an “act of such extraordinary optimism” not because the trumpet is a difficult instrument for anyone to learn even though it is, but because his father was willing to fail along the way to learning, and embracing his fallibility with humility, dignity and a certain amount of zeal.

Maybe Mo viewed approaching the white screen to write as the same “act of such extraordinary optimism.” Because writing is also difficult, writing well still more difficult, and most difficult of all is being willing to embrace repeated moments of failure with humility, dignity, and zeal to learn and better yourself. In that way, which perhaps might seem counterintuitive, you are betting on yourself to get there eventually, and isn’t that exuding optimism? Why endeavor on the journey to learn something new, like the trumpet, or do something difficult like writing — where failure is quite literally built-in to the craft; editors exist for a reason, after all, even for the best writers — if you weren’t betting on making it out to the other side? Not unscathed, of course, but you know, present, at least.

I also think of writing as being an optimistic act in a similar fashion. My content is not always optimistic, but the process itself I see as a form of excavating my dark places, my garbled, broken memories, and a willingness to descend into the uncomfortable and sit with it, and in that way, it is an optimistic process — an act of optimism. Because in excavating, and continuing to mine those sources within me, I’m telling myself: As long as I’m alive, there is more to excavate, more to mine, more to say, more to write.

Which goes back to what I’ve said about the power of this blog and writing for it in terms of writing being a form of catharsis. And perhaps that is because all this time, it was a form of optimism keeping me alive. Even if the horizon was as short as “to tomorrow to excavate,” it worked. It worked long enough until I could get into actual therapy and obtain medical intervention via antidepressants. But even after that, I think writing continues to work on such a level. It is word by word, sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph, page after page, announcing to myself humbly, optimistically, “I am alive. I am present.”

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