This past Thursday, my fiancée and I prepared Beef & Broccoli, an Americanized Chinese dish familiar to anyone fond of a so-bad-it’s-good Americanized Chinese takeout place. To be clear, we made a paleo version of Beef & Broccoli, because we are attending a wedding in 35 days (our wedding), and it seems necessary at this point to take drastic dietary steps. We then negated these drastic dietary steps by pouring this paleo Beef & Broccoli over rice, because we like rice. It’s our wedding after all, and we can do what we like.
As we prepared this dish together, Chelsea refused to allow me to look at the recipe. This was because she said I would over think it. She has, by now, caught on to the fact that I am a man who likes to follow directions. I am the type that assumes directions are there for a reason. Deviation from the directions seems, to me, to be a wantonly foolish move. Who knows where such radical measures may lead? My bride-to-be prefers to “wing it.” In her view - a perfectly plausible one, let me hasten to say - the directions are suggested parameters in which to freestyle. She enters into the business of cookery with a free spirit. For her, the world is open to play.
Our approaches to life, therefore, are intrinsically opposed. As you already surmised, Chelsea is an optimist. She assumes that if she ventures out into unexplored terrain her own wit, moxie, and charm will be there to keep her safe from harm. And, thus far in life, she has been proven (mostly) right. She has plenty of wit, lots of moxie, and a whole lot of charm. Usually her freestyling ends with a positive note. And, as you have already gleaned from the above, I am her opposite. I have a carefully calculated view of the world. I assume that my limitations are significant, and that the Law of Entropy applies to life. To my mind, chaos looms about us like a grim-faced specter, and we must venture forth plans firmly in hand in order to successfully combat this significant foe. Chelsea blithely expects the best, while I glumly assume the worst, being, as I truly am, a pessimist. And, thus far in life, I have (mostly) been proven wrong.
This pessimism has characterized me from a young age. My father once confessed to me that he considers himself responsible for this. It seems that in 4th grade there was a writing contest put on by my school. The writer of the best essay (or whatever the 4th grade equivalent of an “essay” is) would receive a $50 prize, a huge sum to someone in the 4th grade. My father says I wrote my essay in a great flurry of excitement and then walked around for days chattering enthusiastically about what I would do with the money. I seemed convinced of my own literary invincibility. My father grew concerned for me, fearing that defeat might crush my young spirit, and so he sat me down and gently introduced me to the notion that I might not actually win the money but that that was alright. My father said that after this revelation I was noticeably bummed. After I failed to win the money, I was shattered still further. My father feared for years that he had broken me in some way.
Naturally, when my father told me this story, I told him to forget about it. I doubt that that writing contest was the primary cause of my negative mental lens. Personally, I believe this slant in my mentality goes back to the year before, when we moved from Fort Wayne, Indiana, the city of my birth, to Brookston, a small town 2 ½ hours west (though still in Indiana). I remember being tremendously excited to move. It sounded exciting. I had never moved before.
It ended up being a difficult transition. I was slow to make friends at my new school. I can still remember walking around the playground in the third grade, praying to God, because I felt that He was my only friend. (This sounds heartbreaking, but just know, I was a dramatic child. I also remember talking to the school counselor for long sessions for no real reason; it just made me feel special. I felt important, speaking with a counselor. I also remember peddling my bike to the edge of that Hoosier hamlet, only to stop and gaze dramatically out over the cornfields, dreaming of adventure in far off places. It seemed like the sort of thing the young hero in a book would do, and so I did it.)
I was just starting to win friends and influence people – or the 5th grade equivalent of that, at least – when we moved again, this time to Southern Russia. Things were even harder with this second move. Personally, I think that it was this double uprooting that created in me the expectation that life tends to take dark turns for the worst.
But enough of this depressing reminiscence! The point is, I am a pessimist still, though, as I mentioned before, I have mostly been proven wrong. I am constantly shocked to discover that the world floats on despite my fears. I forever expect things to be three times worse than they end up being, even on days when things do go wrongly. I have always defended this pessimism with the following argument:
As you have probably already surmised, this argument is logically sound but self-evidently sad. And, for the record, let me announce that the Beef & Broccoli with which we began this ramble ended up tasting great. It was a little off at first, seeing as we did stray from the recipe, but with a few waves of her riff-tastic wand, Chelsea magicked the dish, allowing us to enjoy a delicious dinner. I am exceedingly fortunate to be life-partnering up with such an opposingly compatible soul. Her positivity and fearlessness draw me out of my shell and compel me towards new experiences. Providing balance, my own desire to plan and my awareness of possible complications have helped as well, allowing us to better weather times of turmoil.
Next week, join me for the tale of Chelsea & I’s ill-fated trip to Joshua Tree, the camping adventure we undertook the weekend after I proposed. (SPOILER ALERT! It did not go well.) Things went poorly, lessons were learned, and it could not have been more perfect. Until then, take care.