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Hope has become a term that can be used like ketchup: With everything. Unless of course you are dining with a hoity-toity foodie friend. Or someone French.

But behind its increasingly common usage for everything from the personal to the political, hope has a lot more layers than most words being bandied about in the popular culture du jour. It speaks to deep personality differences as well as an approach to social problems. I have a natural proclivity to be hopeful about most everything in life, something that is probably a professional requirement for anyone who chooses to be—or is chosen to be—a process painter. (You have to be optimistic if you are going to let the “in the moment” process lead your creative ventures rather than relying on a carefully conceived cerebral concept.) But I live with someone who views life through a tight screen of scrutiny, and his tendency is to see what isn’t working and where problems may be lurking. The most accurate assessment of the landscape of “reality” is probably somewhere half way between our two views.

Great blogger and friend David Marshall wrote a terrific post about just that thing, which I have included here. There’s more where this came from, so stop in at Signals to Attend for David’s superlative serving of well written introspection.

If Emily Dickinson is right that “hope is a thing with feathers,” it’s a blast-beruffled bird, a puff-ball clamped to a twig, its eyes fixed on distance, some deep gene crying “Survive, survive.”

Hope doesn’t come so naturally to me, but I assure you it’s there, buried as deep.

I remember assuming success, my youthful confidence believing, thinking, speaking, or acting. Everything would be fine, and, if it weren’t, so what? Failure was truly another opportunity. Possibilities cascaded from any risk before me. I didn’t rule the world, but I made laws for my part of it. I anticipated obedience.

Now, not so much. Gather enough experience of mishaps—or just read the newspaper every damn day—and you’re sure to despair. The older I get, the harder optimism becomes. It requires will. My predilection is to collect doomsday scenarios like box tops, each closer to the grand send-away. Perversely, I find myself desiring the thought to end all thoughts, the other side where my mirror self says, “The worst has happened. From here, only hope.”

But Emily still isn’t wrong. Each flip is a new coin, an opening for flight. As long as chance dictates, I might roll yahtzee yet. Humans have to be constructed that way or we wouldn’t bother to eat, sleep, or breathe… and even I see far enough to do that.

Hope is more properly a flame, a trick birthday candle sure to re-ignite, fire impossible to extinguish.

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