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When unbridled optimism loses its luster

It’s the same thing every July, and you would think by now, after 55 years on this planet, I would have learned. But I haven’t.

July is when all that unbridled optimism of the spring, all that garden planning and vacation planning, those books to read and projects to start, seem to wither under a hot sun. The garden that was planned is overgrown with weeds. The apple trees need culling and spraying and are growing gangly shoots that need pruning. I have only read a fraction of the books I meant to, and I have not gotten beyond three chapters in the novel I am trying to write. I had hoped to be done by July.

I planned a July camp trip when the kids were little. Oh, I had romantic notions. We built a fire and set up the two tents. The kids loved the campfire and eating camp food, then settled after a busy day to sleep in their own tent. My wife and I slept in our own tent. Did I mention I had romantic notions? When you have three little kids in a tent less than five feet away, every rustle of the sleeping bag, every sigh and giggle and bodily noise seem amplified by the otherwise quiet forest all around. And when all the kids seemed to be sleeping and it was just me an my wife alone, at last, snuggling up together, there came from the other tent: “Daddy, I gotta poop.” Like most things in July, all the anticipated romantic notions of that camping trip bumped into some harsh realities.

When we bought our house 19 years ago, we bought a fixer-upper. And in the end of May, we started immediately tearing things down. I envisioned being done by the end of summer and living in a palatial sanctuary and that my wife and I were going to do it all ourselves. “We love projects!” we told our broker back then, who looked at us a bit unsure and tried to steer us to something a little more liveable. We were undeterred. We set out tearing down walls, horsehair plaster, lath. By the heat of July, our optimism baked into a sweaty cake of dusty despair. Staring out at the abyss, we were ultimately saved by my Uncle Ralph, who effectively lived with us, taught me plumbing, electricity, framing and slowly, steadily, room by room, we finished the house five years later.

Every day, people come to me and say, with unbridled optimism, that they are gonna change. New diet. New exercise program. They envision their washboard abs, muscular biceps and bikini figures not just competing in but winning triathalons. They start their diet and workout programs and pay for their gym memberships. But the workouts cause aches and take up free time. The hunger pangs are hard, and who can really resist chocolate cheese cake? And now they are in the horsehair plaster dust of pessimism. Most quit, because, unlike a torn apart house, you can live — for a time — in an out of shape body. But the people who, in my experience, seem more likely to push through and stick with their new healthy living plan are those who just had a heart attack. They all say that they wished they had been motivated to exercise and eat right 20 years earlier.

I’m writing this staring at my living room, the same room that we tore apart and put on a new roof 19 years ago. It was a hot July day when my Uncle Ralph and I raised the 2x10 rafters to the new roof. And it was exhausting. When it rained that night unexpectedly and water poured into our house from the still-unfinished roof, I never felt so defeated. But like the guy with the heart attack, I had no other choice but to get to work.

Maybe the enthusiasm of spring motivated some great workout schedules and healthy diet plans. Now, towards the end of July, is the the right time to settle in and just slowly work at eating right and exercising a little bit every day.



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