Saturday, February 16, 2008
We had a big primary election here in California the other day. And even though I am registered as an Independent, I was able to cast my vote by requesting a Democratic ballot at the polling place. This fact was explained to me by none other than the luscious Scarlett Johansson, who took the time from her busy schedule to call me on the phone and explain exactly what I needed to do to make my vote count. I thought it was very sweet of her to think of me during such an important time in our nation's history. I wanted to show her how much I appreciated her thoughtfulness -- hoping that perhaps we might get together sometime to discuss politics. I didn't get a chance, however, as the line went dead as soon as she finished talking. I thought perhaps her cell phone had run out of juice.
Later I found out that a friend of mine had received a very similar call from Scarlett on the same day that I did. She must have been making a lot of calls that day. No wonder her battery ran out.
So, on election day, armed with Scarlett's helpful advice, I went to the polls to vote. It seemed a little silly to me that I should have to actually walk four blocks over to the apartment complex on King Street just to put my mark on a cardboard ballot. Wouldn't it be simpler and more efficient just to 'text' my vote in? It works on American Idol. And they could have the results instantly, instead of waiting for Fox news to make an "early" projection three hours after the polls have closed. Maybe they will have that worked out by November.
The polling place was crowded when I got there so I had to stand in line for a few minutes. This gave me the chance to think about who I might want to vote for. There was one candidate who I really liked, but didn't think could actually win a presidential election. And there was the other candidate who seemed to understand what it takes to win and is willing to do make the necessary moral sacrifices to do so.
At this point, maybe I should explain that I have a pretty poor track record when it comes to voting for President: I don't think I have ever voted for a candidate who actually won. (This includes a couple of elections where I didn't vote at all -- back when I was feeling particularly disenchanted with the American system as a whole.) So, I was faced with the choice of voting for the person I thought could actually win, just to see what that might feel like, or voting for the person I actually wanted to win, and thereby dooming him to certain defeat.
Earlier that day, I had lunch with my friend Glen who was very enthusiastic about one of the candidates, who like himself, happens to be a black man. I asked him how he can have so much faith in the American system to believe a black man could actually get elected President. Hell, I'm a white, male, right-handed, blue-eyed, heterosexual Christian and I have no faith in the system whatsoever. Glen said that black people have always relied on hope, because without hope they would have little else to live for. He said he believes that one person can still make a difference in this country and this particular candidate was just the man to do it.
It was inspiring to hear Glen talk about hope and it made me want to believe that he was right. One man can make a difference. My vote is important. I should vote for the person I believe in and not the one who seems more likely to win.
But as I stood in line at the polling place, it occurred to me that hope has never done me much good. In fact, hope has almost always led me astray. You could say that hope has been my worst enemy. Nothing that I have hoped for has ever come true. In fact my persistent belief in hope has propelled me down a path of continuing disappointment and failure. If I didn't have hope, I might have had a chance at leading a normal life. And even if a "normal life" might not bring me much joy, at least it wouldn't be filled with discouraging solitude.
Now, I know what many of you are thinking -- and I've heard it all before. It's my negative attitude toward life that has caused me all these disappointments. If I believe that things won't work out, then they won't. It's a self fulfilling prophecy. We create the world we live in. Etc., etc.
The reality is, I never expect things to go wrong. I always think my dreams are going to come true. That's the problem. Take dating for instance. Every time I meet a woman that I'm attracted to, I am filled with optimism and, yes, hope. I actually believe that despite all of the bad experiences in the past, this time it's going to work out. This time I've found someone who will accept me for who I am. Someone who will appreciate me. Someone who feels the same way about me as I do about her.
And what happens? I get my hopes up. And then I get them dashed on the rocks again.
'Oh,' you're thinking, 'but that's because you get your hopes up too high and you scare her off by being too enthusiastic and needy.' Not so fast, smarty-pants. I've thought of that, too. And in order to offset my natural tendency to get ahead of myself, I actually enlisted a brain trust of advisors to help me gauge my actions and responses when it comes to dating. Three close friends (two women and one man) with whom I could doublecheck my instincts before plunging headlong into unbridled optimism. The result, I spent six months wooing a woman with calm and measured actions only to find out that she had meanwhile fallen head over heels in love with a total jerk who dumped her three months later.
Because it doesn't matter what I say or do or how I feel or don't feel. She's already decided within the first fifteen minutes of meeting me whether I am in or out -- based on a set of complex variables that I have no control over whatsoever. And my misguided hopes have no effect on the outcome other than to set me up for another fall.
The same goes for screenwriting. Every time I write a script I believe it is a winner. Every time I meet a producer or an agent, I think this is the person who's going to help me. Every time I send out a script to someone, I think they're going to love it. Every time the phone rings I think it might be someone with an offer. Every time I check my email, I think there will be a message from one of the countless people I am trying to keep in touch with, finally writing me back to tell me that they read my script and would like to meet with me.
And pretty much every time I am wrong.
So why should I have hope? It's completely illogical. Worse that that, it's insane. Sane people realize that particular actions lead to particular results. If you perform a particular action over and over again, each time with the same result, then you would be completely crazy to expect a different result the next time you performed that action. Even if you hope for it to be different. Even if you believe it will be different. Even if you visualize it and concentrate on it and ask the universe to magically deliver you a different result. That's the clinical definition of insanity.
But hope persists. Why?
I myself once came up with a logical basis for hope. If I send out a script and I hope it's going to sell, then I feel good inside. Whereas if I send out a script and I assume no one will like it, I feel lousy. Therefore it is logical to hope for the best. That way you get to feel good up until the point when you find out that you are wrong. Also, most enterprises, including dating and screenwriting, have a certain amount of luck involved -- which is to say, the more opportunities you take advantage of, the better your odds of success. Therefore by hoping for the best, you remain encouraged and continue to keep trying, thereby improving your chances.
Unless you die before you succeed. Then you are just a misguided loser.
So what's the point of hope if it leads you to continue trying to achieve something that has so little chance of success that it is virtually impossible?
Seen in this light, hope is like a drug that people become addicted to until it destroys their lives. What do you think keeps the lights of Las Vegas burning through the night? Hope. Everybody in Vegas is hoping for something. But who's really succeeding? The guys with the computer programs that keep track of every nickel, dime, and quarter that changes hands, that's who. And at the end of the day, the house wins again. To expect any other result would be crazy.
So with this in mind, I walk up to the voting booth, ballot in hand, to cast my vote. I know it would be crazy to think that the guy I believe in could actually become President. So what would be the point? I would just be throwing my vote away. Wouldn't I?
That night I watched the election returns the way a gambler watches a game on which he has bet everything he's got. It was as if my entire life's philosophy were up for validation or rejection. To hope or not to hope? That is the question.
I kept switching between five different channels to see who would make the first projection in California. I believe it was MSNBC who won the race on that one. Around two hours after the polls closed, with fifteen percent of the vote, they called the winner. And it was no big surprise. My candidate lost. As usual. I blame myself. Maybe if I hadn't voted for him, he might have had a chance. That's what I get for voting with my heart instead of my head. That's what I get for hoping.
But I continued to watch the returns as the results from the other states came in. And it was kind of weird. My candidate was doing really well. In fact you could say he was winning. The contests were pretty close in a lot of cases, but he sure did get a lot more votes than people expected.
And a week later he did it again. He won more primaries, in places nobody expected him to win. In fact at last count, he is actually in the lead.
And the Giants won the Superbowl!
I guess you never really know what's going to happen. Which I suppose might be considered another logical reason to believe in hope. Not that I'm going to go all flaky and buy a copy of "The Secret" or anything.
I'm just saying.