released from optimism

I sort through the vestiges of a past life.  A fifth grade report card.  Figure skating trophies. A yellowed love letter.  Photographs.

I have literally carried this box of memories with me for miles.  I have moved at least 15 times since graduating from high school. How many creaky steps have a I slugged up with these relics in my arms? How many shelves have they sat on, gathering dust?

Some things I’m keeping, some things I’m throwing. But even what I keep doesn’t hold me anymore. These artifacts tell a story that today seems of little consequence, the story of a young person who no longer exists. My mother’s death is the red smudge on my timeline. It it is the plot twist, it is the sentinel event. What came before is the story of someone else. I don’t dislike this person, but she isn’t me anymore.


Chacala, Nayarit. Age 16.

Terry Tempest Williams wrote in Refuge that losing her mother released her from her optimism.  I used to be someone that furiously planned, incessantly dreamed, a person hypnotized by the promises of the future and happy endings. But then life happened. I have said I do, and later I won’t. I have watched my mother get sick and die. My missteps and a few macabre twists of fate have cost me dearly, in every way. I have tasted the bitter knowledge that all my dreams won’t come true, can never come true.

But here is the thing- joy isn’t sequestered in some future date, nor is it bound up in the past. Joy is neither encased in romantic love, nor unlocked only by achievement.  It simply is, and it is right here for the taking. So I find my salvation in the now.  I am not mesmerized by a past which is no more, and I refuse to be transfixed by whispered promises that lie beyond the horizon. I hold my memories loosely, so as to not get too attached to things which are no more. I am released from the bounds of optimism. I no longer subscribe to the blind faith that things will get better (even if sometimes they do). I no longer practice the religion of anything that pulls me away from the present moment. Which gives me the space to relish the earth beneath me, the sky above me.

The now is the only place where I find peace.


Sierra Ancha Wilderness. October 2013.


85 thoughts on “released from optimism

  1. Jon P

    Beautiful Katy! I have been finding hedonism in nature every way I can. Be that the wind blasting off my face, the aroma of redwood pines overwhelming me, or being blinded by the chilling Pacific fog. The joy I’m seeking is only found in today, not tomorrow, and definitely not the past. Live that joy. Spend it as soon as you get it because it won’t accrue interest, it won’t be there later. It spoils with time. And just be. ❤ ya!

  2. Lucia Maya

    Beautiful. I find my optimism is strengthened somehow after my daughter’s death… the only way I know how to live it seems. Thank you for your writing. blessings, Lucia

    1. bornbyariver Post author

      Yes, perhaps tragedy can transform optimism- from a belief system that causes us to live in the future to the confidence in knowing we can still survive and endure anything, and still somehow be happy.

  3. currankentucky

    What a fantastic post, i couldn’t agree more. The now is for living, the now is a tree or a bird, the now can be pure joy. Happiness is the key to life, appreciating and living in the now, is the key to happiness, or so I believe anyway!

  4. thespiritualrebel

    Great post, certainly something to think about I must admit to occasionally letting my present moment joy being stolen by memories of the past or worries about the future but it is much rarer than it used to be. Still I can’t help looking forward to the next moment, the next experience with enthusiasm, planning for a future that may not happen may seem futile but I love imagining what’s next on my path. good luck in all your endeavours.
    The Spiritual Rebel x

  5. coolron33

    You write very well. I like your blog. Why don’t you read my book and write a review that I will put on my blog and Amazon dot com? It’s not a creepy kind of thing like dead people and zombies, it’s about a poor black in South Philadelphia. Oh, yes, and animals. If you have a Kindle or Nook I’ll email you a copy, otherwise I’ll have to send one.

    Thanks. / Ron

  6. fireflyby

    Oh my goodness. I am so relieved to read this post. It’s as if you’ve spoken the words that I can’t quite find. I agree that the only place we can live fully is the now. It’s all I have at the moment.
    I fully subscribe to the teaching of all this, and yet, I am terrible at practising it. ;(
    Thank you so much for this post. I feel as though you have somehow released a whole torrent of words and thoughts that I have previously been so frustrated by.

  7. thestoryofrei

    “The now is the only place where I find peace.” And the only place that peace is actually possible.

    I think I needed to read this today. Normally I’m pretty good about living now instead of in the future or the past, but I realize the last few days I’ve been focusing on hurdles looming over me and how I’ll be happier (in the future) once they’re dealt with. I can be happy now. Right now.

  8. Anne

    Wow. You have really given me something to think about. Our media bombard us with pulls towards optimism, but your phrase “joy isn’t sequestered in some future date” struck a chord in me. Thank you.

  9. rightingitwrong

    Wow, this seriously meant a lot to me. I am currently working to let go of holding on to memories, sometimes that I hold a lot tighter than this current moment. Thanks another step towards embracing now.

  10. cartoline

    being in peace with yourself is the best thing, and being able to grasp the present moment. hard to achieve but worth all the time it takes to get to that point.
    enjoyed reading your story. 🙂

  11. gus

    Refreshing post, was good to wake up to. I try to be happy everyday also, but find nothing wrong in looking to future happiness. The journey is wonderful today and will be even better tomorrow.

  12. pmdello

    Well done. It is always awkward to write about opening up to the moment in life. A writer risks their insight sounding like a cliche. Being “released from optimism” captures the essence of the transformation.

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  14. Grasping for words

    Beautifully written. We can get so caught up chasing our dreams and running towards what we’ve deemed the ultimate happiness when really, many times we end up running the opposite way. We also create so much anger and regret in our lives…for nothing. Just because life didn’t turn out like it did in our brains.

    Words like yours remind me to pull back, slow down, and look at the beauty and joy around me.


  15. Lloyd Lofthouse

    Approaching seventy and avoiding mirrors, I learned—long ago on a battlefield—that life is a journey and each day is a step on that journey. Every step forward helps us learn from previous missteps leading to a better tomorrow.

  16. Christina's Words

    Yay, I just saw you were Freshly Pressed. Congrats, Kathryn, very well-deserved. Your writing always flows beautifully and honestly. I’m glad more people are being introduced to it. Love, Christy

  17. poeticsinglemama

    Thank you very much for writing this, it really hit home! I am 33 and have “The Box of Me” I’ve been lugging around fo. 15 years too! But, its no longer a box of me, its filled with pics of people whose named I don’t remember, an insane amount of poetry, tons of letters because people still wrote letters back then. I’ve used the excuse that I need it for when I write my life story – but who am I kidding, I’ll never read through all that stuff! I will hold onto some, it was neat when my dad died this summer to go through some stuff he’d kept, but they don’t need ALL that!

  18. harulawordsthatserve

    Wise, humbling and beautifully said. I read a book recently by a Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron, in which she shared the lojong slogans, one of which was’ Abandon any hope of fruition’. At first, when I read it I was gutted, wanting to remain attached to my belief in the power and importance of positive thinking…but I noticed how relaxing it was, how it took the strain and effort out of things. I don’t have to rely on my dreams coming true in order to be happy, I can be happy and at peace right now, and if the dreams do come to fruit well….that’s a bonus. Thanks for sharing this post – really enjoyed it:-) Blessings, Harula xxxxxx

  19. astriciliano de juan

    I’ve spent my entire life traveling and moving home. Save please, for the future, your future, today’s footsteps. I lost my school notebooks, my drawings … Always carry a trunk for those treasures.

  20. Balance Living

    I kind of envy you and other people who still have their box of memories. I only moved once but for some reason I lost that box. Hopefully, there are only a few people who are in the same boat as me, right?

  21. the optimistic pessimist

    “Joy is neither encased in romantic love, nor unlocked only by achievement. It simply is, and it is right here for the taking.” – wonderful 🙂
    Great post, thanks for sharing. I am sorry for your loss at the same time as envying you your loss. My mother left me when I was 9 and never looked back, whether that’s when I lost my optimism or not I’m unsure. But I lost a lot.

  22. The Wolf on the Web

    I don’t see the point in optimism. Optimism is a prelude to disappointment, depression and sometimes even rage! Sorry world. I’d rather be pessimistic to avoid being let down by people, places and things. “If we don’t expect any expectations, we can’t get hurt” That’s just my opinion… I could be wrong? 😉

  23. dayanhadassah

    Reblogged this on myrainbowmind and commented:
    I can totally relate: “What came before is the story of someone else. I don’t dislike this person, but she isn’t me anymore. I have tasted the bitter knowledge that all my dreams won’t come true, can never come true. I am not mesmerized by a past which is no more, and I refuse to be transfixed by whispered promises that lie beyond the horizon. I hold my memories loosely, so as to not get too attached to things which are no more. I am released from the bounds of optimism. I no longer subscribe to the blind faith that things will get better.”

  24. ellie3577

    Thanks for the post! I definitely relate to feeling that I live for the present and that we have to work with what we are given and try to mold it to the best of our abilities. My dad passed away when I was 16 (now 24) and I found it took me from a place of feeling like I wasn’t living for myself anymore to being able to actually have dreams and believe that I can pursue them. So funny enough, I feel his passing made me the relentless optimist that I am today! I just spin a bit of a realistic and practical flare to my views to balance things out. Best wishes in the future and thank you for sharing.

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  26. Judy H

    Thank you for the eloquent words. I have discovered the same thing recently, also after the deaths of several family members. I am currently seeking every day joy, no matter how small I have determined to notice and to share.

  27. benjuggler

    Thanks for this blog….I can relate strongly to it as I have had to get rid of about 3/4 of everything I own in the last year or two as a result of a long term relationship (marriage) breaking up. My solace over this time has been the sea & the steady progress to less ‘stuff’ holding me back. I have moved and started again & the present never tasted so good !!!!

  28. hattrick94

    Well written, I suppose the main reason why we have been blindly taught to be optimistic is to bring console to the here and now of today that we might be facing.

  29. heathersahagian

    I lost my dad three years ago. What you’ve written about the experiences you’ve had with the loss of your mom resonated so deeply with me. Thank you so much for sharing. It made me feel “normal” even though I know my life will never be the same. Sending hugs and thanksgiving.

  30. Pingback: Autumn note #3 | 自己

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