Sunday, April 3, 2011

Jobless Journal - Trying hard to look up in a down world

Life is funny that way - bad for the squirrel, good for the vulture. It's all in how you look at it. (Photo by Lon Horwedel)

I never considered myself to be a negative thinker. In my mind, at least, I always thought I was fairly positive. But the way you perceive yourself and the way you actually are don’t always jive – sort of like seeing yourself in a full length mirror at a hotel room right after you get out of the shower and you realize that no matter how svelte you thought you were, the truth is you’re packing on 10-extra pounds.

And that’s how it is with my outlook on life. In my mind things are just rosy, but when I stop and actually listen to the crap that comes out of my mouth, I can’t help but realize I’m really one cynical son-of-a-bitch.

This, I think, may be a problem as I try and plow forward on my own as a freelance photographer. Mainly because another huge personality flaw I possess is my uncanny ability to speak whatever is on my mind, no matter how proper the time or the place. Some folks find this trait refreshing, I guess because they always know where I stand. Others maybe not so much, especially when what I’m spewing forth is laced with a healthy dose of “that sucks” or “what a bunch of shits!”

Fortunately, these past three weeks of being unemployed have left me with plenty of time to not only do some job searching, but also some soul searching, which hopefully will give me the opportunity to improve not only myself, but my outlook on life as well.

I’m no shrink, but it seemed logical that the first step in trying to change my negativity and cynicism might be to find out why the hell I’m that way in the first place.

It was time to ask myself some hard questions. To peer into my past and find out why I’m like this. Could I simply be a creature of heredity? After all, my old man certainly isn’t the most positive guy on the planet. In fact, he can be such a downer I’m surprised he hasn’t put in a job application to take over for the Grim Reaper if or when the time comes.

Could it be that I’m simply turning into my old man?

As I thought about that harder, I remembered that my dad, the Grand Poobah of Doom himself, once told me that I was too “peptimistic.” (I wasn’t really sure where he came up with that one, but my old man’s vocabulary consists of hundreds of almost, but not quite actual words he tosses around with such clarity and assurance it makes him sort of a redneck version of Confucius.) It was a slap, to be sure. My own father, the most negative man on the planet, was telling me that I had a ruddy outlook on life - and that was when I was still in high school!

Since there’s nothing I can do about heredity, I tried to put those questions out of my head and focus on other factors contributing to my doomsday attitude. For example, does geography play a part? More specifically, does being a Cleveland sports fan have anything to do with my overall malaise?

It may sound stupid, but I’ve never known anything in my life but losing and being let down. I’m like one of Pavlov’s dogs in that way. As soon as a Cleveland Browns or Indians game starts, immediately I start to cower with fear waiting for the next way they'll figure out how to lose. It’s how I’ve been conditioned for 45-years. I don’t even know how to react if they win.

Maybe that’s why I felt such a sense of relief last March when my mother died, or this March when I was laid off. It was the worst-case scenario, but it’s also what I expected so it felt comfortable to me in a perverse way. Sadly, over the years, I’ve become used to gray skies and shitty weather ... of coming in second and expecting less.

And yet …

Well, that’s the funny part. I always thought of myself as being a positive thinker, of being able to do whatever I put my mind to, despite my cynicism. I have confidence in my abilities. I love to compete and I love to win - but I don’t mind getting beat either. I don’t take myself too seriously and I love to laugh. Plus, I think I have a pretty good perspective on what’s really important in life.

It’s a strange dichotomy being a cynic with a positive outlook. Like I told my dad back in high school, “Yeah, well, maybe you’re right – maybe I am peptimistic, but I like to think I’m optimistic too - let’s just say I’m an optimistic pessimist!”

This confused my father quite a bit until I explained it to him like this: “Life sucks Dad… but it could be worse!”

And that’s the mantra I’ve carried with me my whole life. Certainly, I’ve been dealt a great deal of heartache and hardship these past few years, and certainly I’ve done my fair share of complaining about life in general, but I’m proud to say that I don’t think I’ve complained all that much about the hand I’ve been dealt or the fairness of events that have taken place. I know there are no guarantees in life and I know things aren’t necessarily going to get any better, and, in fact, may even get worse. (If the Cleveland Browns have taught me anything, it is that.)

I always tell my kids that no matter how good you are at something, chances are there is someone else who is even better. But the good news, I tell them, is the same can be said in reverse – no matter how bad you are at something, there’s always someone who sucks even more!

For their sake, and my own, I’m going to try my damnedest to try and think more positively about the future. To that end I’ve vowed to stop watching the evening news and instead read a book. I also will no longer willingly root for the Cleveland Browns (or any other professional Cleveland sports team for that matter). In addition, I will only talk about the weather when it is sunny and warm with a gentle breeze and I will always drive safely with both hands on the wheel, without uttering so much as a whisper if someone cuts me off, tailgates me, or passes me on the right shoulder.

From this point forth, I also promise not to honk my horn or call someone a "selfish bastard" as I wait patiently behind them at a drive through ATM machine while they fuddle around in their purse and/or wallet for a good five minutes after they’ve finished their transaction before pulling up.

It won’t be easy. It’s hard not to be at least a little cynical from time to time, and to be honest, people who exude that smiley, positive, cheery “everything is so great” attitude tend to irritate the crap out of me and immediately make me think they’re completely full of shit. But from now on, I really, truly am going to try and be more positive, because let’s face it, things haven’t been going all that great lately. In fact, you might say things really suck right now.

The good news, I suppose, is that it could be worse!


  1. Great writing, as usual!

    Check out this website

    It encourages people not to complain, criticize or gossip, which has been really good for me personally. The point is not to agree with things you don't like, but to try to change them, rather than just complain about them. Could give one a sense of being in charge of one's life, rather than a passive observer. This, of course, does a great deal to improve one's mood and outlook on life...

  2. Lon: You have always said what is on your mind, but it has never seemed menacing or self serving. More the "Man, I wish I had said that first" kind of honesty. Never really considered you negative as much as completely lacking the ability to deceive or b.s. someone. - Geoff Larcom

  3. Your honesty and ability to speak the truth is a positive. Best philosophy: Stay true to yourself.

  4. I once read a CNN article that said the best thing you can do if you're unemployed is to stop reading news about the economy. It's irrelevant to what you need to be focusing on and will only depress you. It turned out to be really good advice for me.

  5. I always tell my kids that no matter how good you are at something, chances are there is someone else who is even better. But the good news, I tell them, is the same can be said in reverse – no matter how bad you are at something, there’s always someone who sucks even more!

    LOL! I think that I am 'feeling' you, especially since your Dad called you too 'peptimistic'. Recently I have had to deal with having it said that I am a little hard on myself, but not to the point of being pessimistic.

    I always tell my kids that no matter how good you are at something, chances are there is someone else who is even better. But the good news, I tell them, is the same can be said in reverse – no matter how bad you are at something, there’s always someone who sucks even more!

    I C&P that from your post because I think that is one of the reasons that I maintain that I am a positive cat, even being hard on myself. I don't look at things being a matter of just 'being faster than you and not the bear', but every race an opportunity to run as fast and hard as I can.

    A cat like you with a successful life... you have a lot of what I consider 'momentum' that will carry over this bump and you will get back on your path. Maybe you will put together a photo essay book that puts your work into orbit ... whatever the case, I am sure you will find a niche and continue the path you have begun to make for yourself and your family.

    Lastly, when it comes to being 'peptimistic', I would like to say 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'. That attitude that helped you build the life you are living is the key to maintain it. Take care!


  6. Bad for the squirrel? Good for the vulture? It is what it is, a snapshot in time. That moment has passed.

    Rick C

    Nice catch on the pic!

  7. I think I heard the Cavs beat the Heat?
    Couldn't believe your Snyder/AA.bomb anecdote in the Observer. You deserve better, and hopefully will start getting it soon! Hang in there.
    Mary Beth

  8. Too many things compel me to post a comment today. I've enjoyed your photographs and especially your 'Reflections' column over the years so was naturally very saddened to read the Observer article listed above. But I got here after running into Julie at the Clements yesterday - she told me that you still kept up your ‘Reflections’ online.

    While ‘peptimistic’ is what I’ll take from your column today, what I really want to respond to is your vow to only talk about the weather when it is sunny and warm. That would be a shame because here is one of the best quotes I’ve seen about a cloudy day (like today):

    “…and the weather was what I like to call ‘perfectly gloomy’ ….It was the kind of weather I really enjoy. A peaceful kind of gray where I feel closer to something, even if I don’t know what that something is.”
    –Lon Horwedel (from the Reflections column in the Ann Arbor News on Sunday November 23, 2008.)

    I hope that things look up for you very soon and that you will be able to put such positive spins on things like perfectly gloomy gray days.

    -Lakshmi Narayanan

  9. It's funny, Lon, in my interactions with me you've been very encouraging and inspiring. As I read your post a couple random thoughts came to mine. We are products of our past, not prisoners of it. I don't know what that says about heredity. I told my graduate students this: If you're under 50 years old and are cynical you know too much. If you are over 50 years old and aren't cynical, you don't know enough. Great picture, but it's not a metaphor for life.