Its been 283 days, give or take, since our lives went into pandemic mode. At this point, you can’t blame family or friends for getting antsy, anxious, or even going batshit* crazy over never-ending social distancing. So what can you do to help their situation? Aside from radical acceptance and understanding, here are some gift ideas designed to lift their spirits and/or shake them out of their Covid disgruntlement.

1. Think a member of your household is slowly going mad from isolation? Why not get them the gift that helps probe their unconscious and get at their deep-seated feelings? You never know what might emerge from this couch time.

2.  Looking back, it sure would have been good to know what was coming in 2020. Why leave next year to chance? Turning to a trusty Ouija board to communicate with the spirit channel may help uncover what new challenges — and opportunities — await.

3.  As Todd Rundgren surmised, it’s hard to be anxious and depressed when playing the drums. No room in the studio apartment for a 16-piece kit?  Bongos are just the thing.  Need an instructor? How about world-class percussionist Sheila E. According to “E,” she’ll have a student grooving so fast, a job as a touring musician may be on the horizon once the pandemic’s over.


4. Nothing sends out good vibes like an authentic SuperOptimist t-shirt. Here’s one that offers a positive greeting to all those fortunate enough to come into contact with the wearer, even if it’s just family, zoom meeting colleagues, or pet iguana. Plus it’s accented with a pineapple, the most historically valid symbol of hospitality of any fruit or vegetable.

5. If the receiver of your gift has had it with the digital domain, what about a good book to while away their hours? “Sironia Texas” by Madison Cooper is one of the longest novels ever written at 1,731 pages. For a slow reader, this two-volume set about a small town during the early 1900s should provide enough distraction to make it clear through April.

6. And don’t forget yourself, as you settle in for another evening of Netflix, Prime, Hulu, Peacock, Youtube, Disney+, HBO Max, Sling, Twitch, Crackle, and Crunchyroll. A Danny DeVito pillow to hug to your chest when you realize it might be another 40 weeks until it’s your turn for the vaccine is just what you need to meet the moment.

Until next time, we wish you and yours glad tidings of great joy, no matter what the circumstance!

*BONUS SELFLESS GIFT: Bats have had a tough 2020, taking some of the heat for the virus that’s caused a world of hurt. But it’s not their fault that the Chinese handle them with such disdain. The fact is, it’s human interference with these helpful creatures that’s at the root of the problem. Hundreds of plant species rely on bats for pollination and insect-eating bats save farmers billions each year by reducing crop damage. Show these creatures vital to our ecosystem that there’s no hard feelings by giving a donation to batcon.org in your loved one’s name.

Most residents of planet earth dealing with the threat of Covid-19 are either sheltering in place, masking up, or living with risk.

When you’re ready to graduate from simple cloth.

In Sonoma County, a place that one SuperOptimist calls home, it’s a quintuple threat: Corona, wildfire, toxic smoke, unusual heat, and power outages.  The fallout from the largest fire in local history renders the air so toxic with smoke that one must close all windows and stay inside sweating profusely, and it’s especially bad when the rolling blackouts render the air purifiers useless.
This situation can be looked at as a being dealt an incredibly bad hand — or as a time of magnificent opportunity and challenge. The challenge being to avoid distraction from fear and media noise and put all your focus on the creative work you’ve been meaning to tackle.
Resistance to this challenge comes in a thousand forms. Aside from pandemics, wildfires and blackouts, a few favorites are self-doubt, financial worry, health fears, life mistake rumination, vast depression, physical exhaustion, booze or substance reliance, dull-witted family members, and general public stupidity. Oh, and politics. These are ideas espoused by Steven Pressfield in his book “The War Of Art.”  In short, you’ll face heavy resistance the minute you sit down to begin.
Joyce Carol Oates said that the greatest enemy for writers is interruption. So maybe being trapped under your mask in your room is not a problem but an opportunity. Lock yourself inside and write the novel you have put off for the last five years. Close up the studio door and do the ten epic paintings. Stop paying attention to all the hot noise, inflamed tweets, dull nonsense and jabber. Ask yourself: did worrying about the outside world ever do you any good? Nope.
Maybe it’s time to live in that small world between your ears and see what kind of excitement you can stir around up there in the cerebral cortex. Maybe it’s not that small after all.

Not long ago in human history, it was easy to find peace and quiet just by wandering outside in the middle of the night and gazing up at the stars.  It was quiet. It was peaceful. And because there was no such thing as light pollution, you could see them clearly.

Now, whether it’s mass media, social media, the hum of traffic, the illumination of a digital billboard, or a postcard from a realtor promising you riches if you list your home with her today, modern homo sapiens live in a constant state of sensory overload. You name it, and it probably has the ability to distract you from your true state of consciousness.

But most of us now live in urban areas, not in the Atacama Desert in Chile, where astronomers do their best work unencumbered by digital billboards, .  For us to experience what they do, we must seek alternative ways to power down from the constant stimulation engendered by the material world.

So how do we really unplug from the artificial? Why not try taking away one of your senses for a few hours, and see how the experience modifies your way of thinking.*

A blindfold is a good start. Without the use of your eyes, what do you conjure? Researchers from the University of Rochester have found that even in absolute darkness, we still think we see. The question is, what images are visible to you when you’re in the dark? What do you smell? Is your hearing more acute? How about your sense of touch? Pick something up from your desk and roll it around in your hand. Interesting the difference between a roll of scotch tape and a pair of scissors, no?

When it comes to choice of blindfold, a piece of fabric will do, although we prefer a comfortable sleep mask to really block out the light. This way, you can continue to benefit from its quality construction at bedtime, or on long flights (in the distant future).

If you wanted to try this experiment without a mask, there are still a few places on Earth that you can go.  Places like the Dark Sky Reserve on Ireland’s Iveragh Peninsula and the NamibRand IDSR in Africa are among the best locations. And if you want your community to go darker, why not join the International Dark Sky Association, which keeps track of light pollution and monitors how much darkness you really get in places across the globe.**

*Future related activity: Sensory Overload Day (coming soon).

**April 19-26 was International Dark Sky Week, in case you want to keep the celebration going.

Everybody knows that Batman was a crimefighter who relied on a gaggle of gadgets to battle the ne’er do wells of Gotham City. They were all contained in a belt around his waist, and gave him unique powers that upped his mortal capabilities to that of a superhuman.

Yet the caped crusader didn’t always have such an elaborate storage unit for his prized possessions. At first, Batman wore an ordinary belt that sported a single utility – a simple bat rope, complete with grappling hook.

It was with  Detective Comics #29 that the Batman busted out an expanded tool-set, starting with small glass pellets that released a large cloud of gas when tossed at the bad guys. As his adventures continued, he added a giant balloon figure of himself that can be inflated remotely, as well as Shark Repellent Bat Spray.

Which brings us to the question: what should the practicing SuperOptimist equip themselves with in order to best turn every negative issue into a positive outcome? Aside from a handy guide to overcoming every obstacle you may face, the first order of business right now is a procuring a trusty mask and gloves.*

After that, it really becomes a matter of comfort and style (on a budget of course). Rather than burden yourself with clothing, we’re comfortable recommending a sarong instead. Assuming you’ll continue to work from home for the next several weeks, there’s no need for pockets to carry keys, wallet or money.

*When it comes to full protection from bacteria, you’ll want to augment your attire with an N95 respirator once they’re available again to the general public.  But for now, stay 20 feet way from other humans, which shouldn’t be a problem when wearing your bat mask and sarong combo.

Who among us has a sunnier disposition than the indomitable Betty White? She turned 98 last week, which is no surprise, given that she’s still a force in the entertainment industry. *

So what’s the secret to an existence like Betty’s? Research shows that optimism contributes to 11 to 15 percent longer life span, and to greater odds of living to the age of 85 or beyond. But White has exceeded that by more than a decade. To what does she attribute that extra oomph?

“I know it sounds corny, but I try to see the funny side and the upside, not the downside” she said in a recent interview.  That’s right, Betty knows it’s best to look at every situation, even the crappy ones, and at least get a laugh or two out of it. (Like her first marriage to a rural chicken farmer that lasted six months.) As Betty is proving, it’s not just optimism, it’s SuperOptimism that can propel you to the century mark in style.**

And while you’re at it, it never hurts to light a votive candle just in case.

*Guinness has awarded Betty the world record for longest TV career for an entertainer — 75 years (and counting).

**You’ll also find vodka, hot dogs and red licorice on Betty’s training table. 

Henry Bergh? Who is that, you ask?

Here’s a hint: This man with the drooping mustache was a dog’s best friend. And a cat, horse, gerbil, parakeet…

Any animal you could possibly grow attached to owes a debt of gratitude to Henry for his dedication to their well-being. For on this day in 1866, The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) was founded in New York City by the indomitable Mr. Bergh.

After stepping in to prevent a carriage owner from beating his fallen horse (a not untypical scene in the mid-1800s), he realized there was much to be done to protect helpless animals. So he decided to resign his diplomatic post and devote the rest of his life to advocating for all creatures great and small.*

Among other achievements, “The Great Meddler” (as newspapers dubbed him for  upbraiding those who treated animals like slaves) developed the clay pigeon, to spare live birds from being blown to bits by thoughtless sport shooters.

To say he had a big heart would be like saying Lassie was just another collie. So in honor of this early animal rights activist — who, in true SuperOptimist fashion, turned unfortunate circumstance into positive action — we encourage you to partake in Wear-a-Mask Wednesday. (It only seems fitting that Henry looks a bit like a Bloodhound mixed with a Weimaraner, sporting a Yorkie Poo mustache.)

Want to go further? If you’ve got a few bucks to spare, a donation to his favorite organization would help matters.  Or if you’d like to assist animal shelters, that would be swell too.

*Fun fact: Henry got in a tussle with P.T. Barnum over the showman’s treatment of snakes and other “performers” — which Barnum stoked for its publicity value.  But over time, Barnum came to appreciate Bergh’s mission, so much so that he left sizable donations to humane organizations in his will and even erected a statue in Henry’s honor.

Who was the true author of American independence?

Many say Mr. Paine was the guy.  A radical writer who emigrated from England to America in 1774, his pamphlet Common Sense was read by every colonist questioning their fealty to Great Britain. No less a figure than John Adams was quoted as saying: “Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.”

Yet despite playing the greatest role in moving the American people from a spirit of rebellion to one of revolution, he was later ostracized due to his  ridicule of institutionalized religion in his seminal work The Age of Reason.  In fact, only 6 people attended his funeral in 1806.  It’s tough being a truly independent thinker.

And so, in honor of July 4th, here is Thomas Paine, SuperOptimist Extraordinaire, ready to adorn your visage.*

*But please remove before lighting any sparklers, crackling balls, killer bees, or wizard’s hats.

On June 7, 1893, a young Indian lawyer was asked to vacate the first class compartment of a train because he was not white-skinned. He refused and told the railway officers that he would not go voluntarily, they would have to throw him out.  This act of standing up against injustice was, in effect, this holy man’s first act of civil disobedience.*

Even thought it’s not the exact anniversary of Gandhi’s first time speaking truth to power, it’s always a good day to channel the spirit of this activist for people’s rights. And independent thinking besides!

*He got what he asked for.  Gandhi was thrown out of the compartment, and his luggage was flung out too.  The train sped away, leaving him freezing outside the station.  However, he didn’t lose his front teeth in this encounter, that came later.

 

Whether you are in the mood for letting loose some pent-up histrionics, or just want to give voice to your delusions (whether they involve grandeur or something more problematic), here’s the mask for you.

The Norma Desmond model honors Gloria Swanson’s greatest achievement: her role as the reclusive silent film star in Billy Wilder’s classic film “Sunset Boulevard.”   It tells the story of the tragic affair between struggling Hollywood screenwriter Joe Gillis (played by William Holden) and an aging, forgotten actress who still believes she’s the greatest star of them all.

While you will be wearing a mask, the parallels between the actual Gloria Swanson and Norma Desmond were only too apparent. After starring in more than 70 Hollywood films and becoming the first actress to command a $1 million annual salary, Swanson’s star had diminished and her age had sidelined her from the bright lights for years.

Nor was she the director’s first choice for the role. Mae West, Mary Pickford, and Pola Negri all rejected the offer. At that point, Wilder thought of Swanson, and asked her to take a screen test.  To which Swanson replied: “What the hell do you have to test me for? You want to see if I’m still alive, do you? Or do you doubt that I can act?”But test she did, and was thrilled to get the part despite its nihilistic tone and unflinching critique of the business that had put her name in lights. (Wilder’s too.)

Upon completion of the picture, the reaction from the show business industry was mixed. As legend has it, studio head Louis B. Mayer confronted Wilder at the premiere of his film and bellowed,”You befouled your own nest! You have disgraced the industry that made and fed you. You should be tarred and feathered and run out of Hollywood, you goddam foreigner son of a bitch.” To which Wilder replied, “Why don’t you go fuck yourself?”

Of course, Mayer’s critique was not shared by the public. Today Sunset Boulevard ranks 16th on the American Film Institute’s list of the Greatest American Movies.

So put on the mask and act out with abandon.  Become a reclusive silent film star, or simply channel your inner thespian and take on whatever scene-stealing role suits your fancy.  After all, Swanson played many more roles than Norma throughout her fabulous career.  So can you!

Thanks to Joan Walter for requesting Ms. Desmond.  If you have a visage you’d like us to feature on Wear-a-Mask Wednesday, write us in the comments section below.  We’d be happy to oblige.

Want to shake off the midweek routine and turn the day into something special?  We suggest altering your reality by donning a mask. While not everyone is cut out to be a shaman, spirit channel, or voyager to higher levels of reality, this ancient activity allows humans to “check in” with their identity, superego, and true self. Moreover, 1 person out of every 362 has the potential to enter a higher dimension of time and space. Maybe it’s you!*

*To find out, fashion a simple mask from paper or cardboard (or cut out the John Wayne “Duke” model shown above). Place mask over face, then go look at yourself
 in the mirror. Is it still you? If not, who? Ideally, you will be transported from your current state of reality and have a mystical experience. If not, be patient and try again. You are also invited to conceive a more personalized mask based on an animal motif or other natural spirit-guide. Enjoy!