Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
Folks in the Upper Midwest are nothing short of extraordinary. Rarely will you find a group of people who have managed to master the paradox of tireless optimism and, at the very same time, an ever-present pessimism. The vast majority of persons who have chosen to live in this, arguably the coldest part of the lower 48 states, have a tendency to hope for the best while expecting the worst. So, when things go well, we're pleasantly surprised, but not too surprised, and when things go badly we sigh heavily and say, "Oh well, I kinda figured something like that might happen." I call it "Optopessimism," and we northerners are masters of this virtue. The first documented case of optopessimism was found in the Icelandic saga of Thorvald the White, lesser known son of Eric the Red and brother to famed explorer Leif Eriksson. While brother Leif bravely set sail for the west and discovered what he called Vinland in North America, Thorvald decided to sail south searching for a warmer climate and people with whom to trade the large surplus of herring he had amassed in a poker game with his cousin Ingmar the Unlucky. After many days at sea, Thorvald finally spied an island surrounded by teal-blue waters. Upon landing on the island Thorvald and his crew realized they had discovered a paradise peopled with friendly natives, beautiful beaches, delicious food, and an abundance of fruity umbrella drinks. Unfortunately, unlike the cloudy and dark nature of his native Iceland, Thorvald the White soon realized his pale skin was very easily burned by the scorching tropical sun. But was he disappointed? Not really on account of optopessimism. Thorvald merely sighed and said, "Oh, well. I kinda figured something like that might happen. Let's invade Ireland." And with a killer sunburn, Thorvald and his men sailed north to the lands of limited sunshine and, sadly, a land with no fruity umbrella drinks. Many of us in the Upper Midwest are descendants of these optopessimistic people and carry this trait with us today when, say, commenting on the weather. For example, someone says, "This has to be the warmest fall weather we've ever had." The response by an optopessimist will be, "It sure has been a nice fall ... but I'll bet we're in for a real cold winter." Optopessimists are happy, but not too happy. They are critical, but not too critical. And, being an optopessimist myself, I hope you found my column amusing, but in the event you didn't, I kinda figured that might happen one day.