Optimist Case Study

One Good Thing: At Home

Texas Optimism Project is proud to introduce a new essay series from a familiar voice. Owen Egerton, host of the Good Newscast, will spotlight those who are doing good in the world, and in these unusual times, Owen’s journey begins at home.

Welcome to One Good Thing. Part do-gooder spotlight, part travelogue, part humor column, this series will capture the journey of one Texan—award-winning novelist and filmmaker Owen Egerton—who has taken it upon himself to do “One Good Thing” in cities across the state. You may recognize Egerton as one of the hosts of the Texas Optimism Project’s monthly podcast, The Good Newscast—an extension of what we hope to accomplish with One Good Thing.

The Texas Optimism Project team found ourselves kicking things off in a very different climate than we initially planned due to the spread of COVID-19. So, in lieu of sending Egerton out on the open road, he opted to #stayathome and reflect on ways he, his family, and Texas businesses are finding optimism in these uncertain times. He also offers some wise words on how you can do the same.

Throughout the year, Egerton will use the One Good Thing platform to spotlight some of the thoughts, people, and organizations that make us feel good. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Optimism In Dark Times

How are you holding up?

Are you hunkered down at home with your family, or a partner, or alone?

I’m reminding myself that stars are always burning, but it takes a dark sky to see them.

If you’re like me, you’ve spent the week in your pajamas attempting to balance parenting, working, and panicking, binging news updates like those potato chips you promised to put away after just one, and researching if H-E-B is still delivering wine.

Plenty of unknowns and quite a few dark possibilities lay before us. Borders are being closed, restaurants and bars are shutting their doors, hospitals are preparing for the worst, and people are wisely sheltering in place. It’s a strange time for an article on optimism. I’m reminding myself that stars are always burning, but it takes a dark sky to see them.

And there are stars—shining spots of light like the neighbor calling to check in, the spontaneous dance party with the family, free online concerts from Willie Nelson, the doctor who quarantines themself from their family so they can continue treating patients, Texas-based theater chain Alamo Drafthouse pouring two million dollars into a relief fund for their furloughed employees, or the Still Austin Whiskey Co. working to make free hand sanitizer from their distillery byproducts. Moments of light in dark times.

Some think of optimism as believing the best about a situation. This is misleading. Optimism is not pretending things are better than they actually are. Dismissing a threat as unreal or hysteria is, at best, delusional. At worst, deceptive. It leads to passivity—and true optimism demands action, pushes us to understand the true extent of a problem so one can foster hope.

We are in for hard times, we’re hunkered down—how do we keep our eyes open for the stars that shine?

Give Yourself A Break

Feeling overwhelmed? Well, damn straight. This is overwhelming. So give yourself a break.

I’ve got a family of four (six, if you count the dog and the gecko) living in a 900-square-foot house. Things are going to get weird fast. On day three of our lockdown, the kids found a bag of googly-eyes and pasted them throughout the house, on everything from framed photos, to milk cartons, to the toilet seat. All these inanimate objects are now staring at us with unblinking eyes —it’s like some terrifying, low-budget Beauty and the Beast. This morning I looked in the mirror and found my nipples staring right back at me with two well-placed googly-eyes.

Yeah, it’s getting freaky.

We’ve given ourselves permission to roll with the weird.

It’s going to take some time to feel out new schedules and structures. Our family fears calendars. We find alarms… well, alarming. Laundry gets cleaned, but not necessarily put away. Or put away, but not necessarily cleaned. At the best of times, our home looks like Hobbits are having a slumber party at the Weasley house.

We’re brainstorming new projects, experimenting with routines, and keeping an open mind. My fourteen-year-old is filming a thriller about a detective with a dark past. Our labrador plays the gumshoe—it’s Puppy Noir. Our eleven-year-old is learning mixology. Their quaran-tini is not to be missed.

Other households thrive with timetables and meal plans. Some are treating the time as a staycation. Whatever works for you and yours. And you don’t have to have it all figured out. Everything is evolving. Give yourself plenty of grace. Don’t worry if you or your children are not amazingly productive, don’t stress missing a deadline or two, don’t compare yourself to the Instagram wunderkids who mange to use this lockdown to learn Latin, complete a Ph.D. in horticulture, finally finish reading Infinite Jest, and build a solar-powered hot tub.

There’ll be days you hardly get any work done, you’ll grow testy, bicker about the smallest thing, you’ll lose your temper, or maybe worse, your humor. That’s alright. Take a breath, say you’re sorry, and move on.

You’re doing okay. It’s a strange and stressful time. Don’t be too hard on yourself or the ones you love.

Don’t Kill Me

      Pass the days, kill the time, wait this out.

I’m careful with my thinking here. I don’t want to spend these next weeks (or months) waiting for “real life” to resume.

This is real life.

This is your real life.

And you don’t get another.

Be present, be kind, be active, and take care of yourself and those around you.

Someone you know is afraid. Someone is lonely. Write an e-mail. Make a call. Wave across the yard. One simple deed—a smile, a word, a dozen eggs—can be the hope needed that day. So pour yourself a quaran-tini, put on some Willie Nelson, call a friend, hug your partner, your pet, yourself. Take care of you and yours. The surest way to lighten a dark sky is not only to seek the stars, but to become one yourself.

– Owen

Illustration by Mark Conlan.

Award-winning novelist and filmmaker Owen Egerton is the author of a number of books including The Book of Harold the Illegitimate Son of God, How Best to Avoid Dying, and the PEN Southwest Book Award winner Hollow, which was named one of NPR’s Best Books of 2017. He is also the writer/director of several films including the Mercy Black (Blumhouse, Universal, Netflix), and the horror comedy Blood Fest (Rooster Teeth, Warner Media). Egerton is one of the hosts of the Texas Optimism Project’s monthly podcast, The Good Newscast. He is also one of the talents behind the Alamo Drafthouse’s long-running comedy show Master PancakeTheater and has been named Austin’s Best Author six times by the Austin Chronicle.

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