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Optimist Positions Available

In 2006 Stephen Colbert gave a commencement speech at Knox College that concluded like this:
So, say "yes." In fact, say "yes" as often as you can. When I was starting out in Chicago, doing improvisational theatre with Second City and other places, there was really only one rule I was taught about improv. That was, "yes-and." In this case, "yes-and" is a verb. To "yes-and." I yes-and, you yes-and, he, she or it yes-ands. And yes-anding means that when you go onstage to improvise a scene with no script, you have no idea what's going to happen, maybe with someone you've never met before. To build a scene, you have to accept. To build anything onstage, you have to accept what the other improviser initiates on stage. They say you're doctors—you're doctors. And then, you add to that: We're doctors and we're trapped in an ice cave. That's the "-and." And then hopefully they "yes-and" you back. You have to keep your eyes open when you do this. You have to be aware of what the other performer is offering you, so that you can agree and add to it. And through these agreements, you can improvise a scene or a one-act play. And because, by following each other's lead, neither of you are really in control. It's more of a mutual discovery than a solo adventure. What happens in a scene is often as much a surprise to you as it is to the audience.
Well, you are about to start the greatest improvisation of all. With no script. No idea what's going to happen, often with people and places you have never seen before. And you are not in control. So say "yes." And if you're lucky, you'll find people who will say "yes" back.
Now will saying "yes" get you in trouble at times? Will saying "yes" lead you to doing some foolish things? Yes it will. But don't be afraid to be a fool. Remember, you cannot be both young and wise. Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don't learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying "yes" begins things. Saying "yes" is how things grow. Saying "yes" leads to knowledge. "Yes" is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say "yes."
I've been reflecting on my current life, the state of our country and recognized that what had been a realistic analysis has become increasingly cynical. It's easy to experience a deficit of optimism right now. I won't even bother detailing all of the reasons why, but essentially we're falling apart. We lack even consistent basic infrastructure. As I bike to work I study the roadway carefully, cautious for a pothole that can take me out. It's happened before. There's a stretch of a busy roadway where the bus can't pass the tram, despite the clear lane in front of it, because they can't both fit without damaging each other or parked cars.

Colbert's speech is significant for me again for the same reason it became so in 2006: I am perhaps more cynical than I wish to be. In 2006, not quite a year after my mother's death, in a long and listless state of mourning, my job ended essentially because I admitted to my Executive Director that although I was passionate about our agency, I felt none for my actual job. On reflection I realized that was true of much of my life in New York City. For all the great that is NYC once you are able to access it with some degree of agency and independence, it was a hard life often. I decided that I should take a long trip before looking for my next job so I went to Barcelona. The guiding principle for the trip was that I would say yes as much as possible even, and especially when I had no real idea to what I was acceding. There was much ugh to go along with that guiding principle, but I think it changed the trajectory of my life. Without going through all of the many turns that led to me partying with a group of Canarians, it's the reason I met my wife. Although our relationship didn't work out as a marriage, we still share love and a relationship that's significant for each of us. I could do with a bit of random magic, so I would like to renew my commitment to saying "yes" again as often as possible. That's easier said than done.

Barcelona, with all of its Gaudi and medieval architecture, is evocative of a fairy tale land, my current home of Boston most certainly is not. I don't and have never really liked Boston. I landed here on a final big push of optimism or obstinance I sometimes struggle not to regret. My life is goodish enough, I have much to be grateful for, but I will always feel like a creature trying to thrive in a habitat not mine or particularly inviting to me. I said that this would be my last move, but that's feeling increasingly like a lie. Whether I stay or go I'm determined to live more of my life here on my terms, to give myself more reasons  to say "yes". In recognizing my growing frustration with my lack of commitment to this blog I've made a commitment to posting on the 2nd and 4th Monday of every month. Admittedly I've already failed by a day on releasing the first post under this new commitment. Apparently I can't resist arguing with dishonest centrists on Twitter and the piece I'd been writing had totally gone off the rails, perhaps irredeemably so. I have also started a musical podcast, The Supper Table, because I miss mixing records and feel a need to justify the fact that I keep buying vinyl.

So, I will say "yes" as much as I can, as often as I can, until I evoke magic.

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