I’m not supposed to say this — visualize me right now muttering “Knock on wood” as I rap smartly on the top of my head — but I am the lucky dame who always wins the raffle: I win things much more frequently than chance says I ought to. If there is a door prize or basket of cheer, I expect to soon be carrying the basket home, strapped with a seatbelt into the front passenger seat beside me, softly chuckling to myself like a thief.
Some of the items I have won over the years include a vacation at a fashionable hotel in Miami Beach (which I foolishly never took because, with characteristic optimism, I chose to fly to Vancouver Island for a sailing voyage with my future husband instead); a clock radio from a WLNG call-in competition; a FitBit (never used), 10 pounds of fresh lobster from the Gulf of Maine; an iPad, from a pharmacy drop-your-business-card draw in Nova Scotia, and a Kindle, from the East Hampton Village Ambulance Association’s annual dinner at the Maidstone Club.
As a prize-winner, I will now offer advice to those readers who consider themselves unlucky. One, you cannot win the door prize if you don’t enter the raffle. Always enter the raffle. Two, it’s likely — I.M.H.O. as they say — that lucky people like me are lucky primarily because we see ourselves as lucky people. I don’t mean this in a woo-woo, “create a dream board and send your visualization into the universe” kind of way, à la “The Secret.” I mean this in a stories-you-tell-yourself, mental-health kind of way: My winning numbers loom larger in memory — in the story of myself — than my fails do. I’ve had a fair amount of misfortune, too, in more important life lotteries than those involving bottles of Captain Morgan and small electronics, but I somehow ignore my misfortunes. I slough bad luck off like barnacles.
Believe me, life is easier this way.
Sorting through a drawer Sunday morning in the mothball-smelling storeroom off our upstairs hall, looking for the Christmas lights shaped like white doves, I came upon my “baby book” — a puffy-pink-fabric- morning in the mothball-smelling storeroom off our upstairs hall, looking for the Christmas lights shaped like white doves, I came upon my “baby book” — a puffy-pink-fabric-bound album filled with photographs of me as a baby dressed in tiny late-1960s shift dresses and then, as a toddler, head kerchiefs tied under the chin and stirrup pants. (Isn’t it always slightly puzzling to see images of yourself taken before your memory began? Who is this stranger?) One of the pictures at the back of the baby book featured me at the age of 2, carrying an Easter basket and wearing a pinafore, white tights, and an absolutely beaming expression of manically optimistic anticipation: There would be Easter eggs and I would find them! I showed the picture to my daughter, who sniggered. The joke is that the photo captures a strain in personality that stubbornly persists, despite life’s slings and arrows, and that my children find funny: unreasonable optimism.
Cheerful and bumptious optimism is childish. It is not the thing among my fellow bookworms and Gauloise-smoking bohemians. The innate optimist is a fool, setting themself up for a lifelong series of mowings-down. We are like daffodils that eagerly pop back up brightly each spring, blithely heedless of summer’s lawnmower, which is cranking up in the garage and heading inexorably in our direction. But I can’t help myself. And, too, I must assert — while I’m warming to my subject — that all-American, Opie-from-Mayberry optimism, as uncool as it may be, helps you get things done. “We cannot possibly move this bunk bed!” insists your college roommate. “We will never ice these ballerina cupcakes before the birthday party begins,” says my ex-husband. . . . “Yes we can!” says I, shouting like Annie Oakley. “Yes we can, yes we can!”
Whenever there is an unexpected knock in the middle of the afternoon, I trot toward the front door hoping that this may be the day I open it to find Oprah Winfrey standing there telling me I’ve won a Subaru, or the man from the MacArthur “genius grant” waving a check at me for my brilliant prose stylings. (You think I’m being facetious? I am not.) Every time I go to the post office and turn the key in the lock of my mailbox, I pull open the little door hoping earnestly for a nice surprise from the I.R.S. or Publishers Clearinghouse.
In truth, if I’m honest with myself, it’s been rawther a long time since I opened a mailbox and found a wonderful surprise. No one writes letter-letters anymore via the U.S. Postal Service, but those who do are the sort of people who send complaints to newspapers. I’ve started getting a trickle of mail in response to this column, actually. I got a thoughtful handwritten note a few months ago from a friend in Sagaponack who took exception to my embrace of the anti-Capitalist, pro-work-slowdown phenomenon in China of “lying down,” and just last week an interesting missive arrived at the Star office, addressed to me, typed on a manual typewriter, and stamped in blue ink on the back: “This letter has been mailed from the Wisconsin Prison System.”
Lucky me! Inside was a small color-Xeroxed photograph of the correspondent, glued to an exuberantly punctuated letter littered with sad-face and happy-face emojis, in which he invited me — “POSITIVE and AWESOME you!” — to become part of his life. It appeared that this inmate from Green Bay had, for reasons that remain obscure, somehow happened to read “The Shipwreck Rose” and taken away from it the impression that I am a bleeding-heart liberal in need of male companionship. No, thank you, Eugene. I have no interest in a convict pen pal; you can scratch my name from your (apparently vast) little black book. But you can’t blame an optimist for trying.