Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Half Empty or Half Full?

I happen to be married to a devout pessimist. I'm not really an optimist myself, but next to him I look like one. In fact, just about anyone would.

The other day, our stove broke. The little catch that you depress to get the gas to release has been giving us trouble ever since we moved into this flat. Up until now, we've just gotten out the WD40 and applied it generously, but this time no amount of lubricating oil would make it work.

For three days, we made do with frozen pizzas and microwavable meals, but finally I couldn't bear it anymore, so I went to see if I could fix it. "You can't fix it" my husband said, depressing the catch. "See? It won't work." I had to give it a go, of course. He was right: you could get the little lever to go down, but it wouldn't stay down.

But when someone tells me that something cannot be fixed or is not worth pursuing, that only fires me up and makes me determined to prove them wrong. "I'll call the repairman," my husband sighed, "We'll just have to live on salads and microwaved stuff until he gets here." I agreed that we needed the repairman, but I still felt a short-term repair ought to be possible. My husband rolled his eyes. "Come on; you can see it doesn't work. Just give up!"

"What if we put something heavy on it," I said, "like a bottle? That'll do the trick." My husband shook his head. "Nothing will work," he muttered, "it's completely buggered." He sighed miserably. "We're going to need a new stove. And they're really expensive!" He couldn't bear watching me dicker about with it, so he marched out of the room to go and worry about our finances. Two minutes later I'd sorted it out: a full wine bottle propped up with a balled-up dish towel, and I was cooking with gas once again.

That isn't one isolated incident, either. Almost twenty years ago, when we were still unmarried, I saw an advertisement in the newspaper. Native English speakers literate in Japanese were wanted, preferably people with a good grasp of English grammar and semantics. A teaching background was a big plus. The salary, it was noted, was very good. This looked perfect for me and I showed my husband-to-be. He frowned. "They're probably one of those rip-off schools. And that business about the good salary is just to lure you in. Forget it."

I disagreed. Even if the payment wasn't great, the job sounded so ideal for me, I wanted to give it a shot. I applied for it and took a series of translation tests followed by an interview where I was told I had the job if I wanted it. When I showed my husband-to-be what my salary would be, he was astounded. "But that's more than I make!" I had that job for a dozen years and it really was perfect for me. To my husband's endless credit, he loves this story and is quick to tell it to friends. But he still hasn't learned his lesson.

"Hand me that bowl, would you?" I asked him just this afternoon. My husband stared at my colander full of sliced strawberries. "Those'll never fit in that bowl," he insisted. "You'll need one at least twice that big, and I don't think we have one that size!" I rolled my eyes at him and grabbed the bowl. In went the strawberries, filling the bowl exactly half-way.

Honestly, the look on his face.



Carole said...

A full bottle of wine and a balled up dish towel added to a gas stove seems to be a recipe for a bomb. Still I love the fact that you are ingenius. AS the saying goes, "Its not the size of the dog in the fight, its the size of the fight in the dog." You appear to have a lot of fight when presented with a problem.

My husband is a bit of a pessimist too. If he loses something or misplaces it, which he frequently does, he thinks someone stole it.

"Honey, nobody wants your library card. They want your money. See, its still in the wallet."

"Well I don't know..."

Gracious, it doesn't matter what the item is...it is always stolen until we find it and then he mysteriously has a memory lapse. GRRR.

Kanani said...

There are people who are always trying to figure out how to fix things.

The funniest thing...

We had a broken toilet. I'd fiddled around with it, adjust the lever and the innards and sometimes it would work. We'd forget about it, go on with our lives, pausing to fix it whenever it quit flushing correctly.

My father-in-law comes to visit. Toilet won't stop flushing. He goes back and forth to the bathroom, he's in there for awhile.

Later on, I lift up the lid on the tank. I look in and see a jerry-rigged fix of paperclips, rubberbands attaching the lever to the flapper valve.

It worked!

irreverentmama said...

I am an optimist. It's not a conscious thing, I am not a deliberate Pollyanna always seeking the bright side of things. That's just the way I see it. I see the cloud, but I also see the silver lining.

My husband? For every silver lining I spot, he focusses on the cloud. Which, granted, can be a whole lot bigger than that lining - but it's also not the whole picture.

Sometimes I bite my tongue,and I imagine sometimes he's biting his! But we get along with a mix of tolerance, a heap of respect for our differences, and an awareness that there's a time and place for each perspective - and, lucky us!, we have both.

(There's the silver lining!)

Mary Witzl said...

Carole -- The wine bottle is a good distance from any of the burners, as is the dish towel. No Molotov cocktail, I assure you! As for me having a lot of fight, I want to accept this compliment, but fear that it is more a case of wanting to show my husband that he is wrong, that he shouldn't be so sure that everything is going to hell in a handbasket.

As for your husband's tendency to think that lost items have been stolen, I have that too. I'll bet your husband is like me: he probably knows that no one is after his library card, but he cannot help himself. I do know of one other lady who did this, a friend's grandmother. She was apparently convinced that someone had made off with her dentures.

Kanani -- That is a great story. Paper clips and rubber bands: pure ingenuity, and an economical solution too; your father-in-law is a man after my own heart!

I too am the queen of jerry-rigged repair jobs. As long as I can fix something even temporarily (and in my case it almost always is) I am happy.

Mary Witzl said...

Hello, Irreverentmama, and thank you for your comment.

Personally, I think the tendency to be either optimistic or pessimistic is innate; as much a part of our individual make-up as eye color or height. My husband isn't trying to be the way he is; it is just his mindset. My best friend's husband is exactly the same, and like me, she is an optimist. We're not Pollyannas either, and our optimism isn't a conscious effort.

And you are right: there is a time and a place for each perspective. I think optimists actually seek out pessimists and vice versa. Ideally, this evens things out so that the kids don't end up too much one way or the other. But I would think that, wouldn't I? I am an optimist.

kathie said...

Mary, what a terrific post. You have such a rich, layered life I just know that everytime I come here that you will have at least three stories rolled into one post. Keep submitting those queries, you're a great writer.

Brian said...

After 57 years of marriage, I think I will bow out of comment on content here.

I am practical, but lacking skills, and can only do my best when asked to do the impossible, which then takes some time indeed; though I manage to get through the requested merely difficult tasks set by my master/mistress slightly sooner.

I am happy to remember that Dondingalong showed me that I had the capacity to master practical problems that had never occurred while I pursued the life academic .

As usual a pleasantly humorous piece of work, Mary .


Mary Witzl said...

Kathie -- Thank you for that vote of confidence! My life is really a dizzy whirlwind of rejections these days, interspersed with some hopeful moments, but praise from other writers is way up there on my list of positives and helps to balance all of the negatives.

Brian -- I still can't get over that you have been married 57 years! FIFTY SEVEN! I know you get bored with hearing this, but that really is an inspiration, especially in these days of whirlwind marriages and quickie divorces.

And I love the idea of living out in the wilds where you need practical skills to survive -- even if you don't really have them. I'll bet you were challenged by Dondingalong (what a great name), but I also know you had a lot of fun there and I envy you. Though admittedly, not all of the lantana...

Kim Ayres said...

Have you seen this "Far Side" cartoon? I always think of it when I hear the half full/empty debate :)

Mary Witzl said...

Hi Kim. Yes, I remember that cartoon, but I was glad to see it again. I don't know if you're a fan of Leonard Cohen, but his 'Bird on a Wire' has a stanza in it that reflects this issue:

I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch,
He said to me, you must not ask for so much.
And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door,
She cried to me, hey, why not ask for more?

We all want the cheeseburger, of course, but the trick is convincing ourselves that the half a glass of water is better than nothing.

Eryl Shields said...

My husband tells me I'm a pessimist but I think, really, I'm a realist. I like to be able to see all the obstacles as well as all the positives before I embark on anything. This does mean that a certain degree of spontaneity can be lost and I think this is what irritates him most.

'Let's just do it' I hear him wail, but I panic if I haven't conducted a full examination of all possibilities.

In general I think this makes us a good team.

Mary Witzl said...

Eryl -- I tell myself that this is why optimists and pessimists attract: they balance each other out and complement each other. Your husband's spontaneity is checked by your careful consideration; your tendency to caution is balanced by his ability to throw the same to the winds.

I really am a realist, too; it is just that next to my husband, I look like an optimist.