January 24, 2012

This Semester’s Must-Add Course for Every Cornellian: Mandatory Optimism

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No schedule is perfect. Not four once-a-week seminars, your roommate’s four-day weekend, the Sun editor’s 12 credits now, four credits over the summer or the second-semester senior’s breezy three-class sampler. Schedules that seem perfect involve a unique combination of the following rituals: sifting through the dense sands of course descriptions on studentcenter, Schedulizer or Chequered; memorizing the make-or-break-but-rarely-relevant reviews on Ratemyprofessors; and promising not to get sucked in by an enticing reading list more than X books long, where X is an intimidating single-digit number and books is the longest of five letter words. Perhaps the ultimate course requires no bewildering books or perspicacious professors. As the Ithaca barometer drops digits daily and 2012 drifts farther away from 2011, consider diving into a study no one can teach better than you: Mandatory Optimism. The subject? Your life, physical and emotional, present, past and future.On Thursday, Jan. 19, I underwent an experimental surgery on my right ankle. The only alternative to reconstructive ankle surgery, this Harry-Potterian procedure — platelet-rich plasma therapy — aims to heal torn tendons and tissue with injections of one’s own manipulated blood. Yes, it feels like my foot is pregnant with another foot. No, I can’t take any painkillers besides baby Tylenol because my foot is supposed to feel like it’s on fire for a solid couple of weeks. There’s no data to address my chances of healing, and after a month of physical therapy I may have to do it all over again. If all else fails, I’ll be spending senior year learning how to walk again after doctors take apart my foot to play pick-up-sticks with almost 200 bones, joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments. But after almost a year of misdiagnoses, I have to be happy with a plan of action. Goodbye drunken sledding, hello mandatory optimism. Mandatory optimism could consist of drawing a Venn diagram, by mind or by hand, sketching “things that matter” and “things I can control” above each circle and focusing your energies and commitments on everything that overlaps. That might include sleeping seven hours a night, cooking at least five meals a week or keeping in better touch with friends and family, getting better grades or applying for future-paving internships or jobs or committing to a community service project or entrepreneurial pursuit. Examples abound, but the first rule of willing yourself to embrace positive energy is learning and implementing lessons from whatever confronts you, no matter how overwhelming. The first step of my post-surgery mandatory optimism was demanding to be around all of you as soon as possible, you know, just to feel like a real boy again. So my Dad drove me to school on Friday, Jan. 20, and even made detour for a pie of the finest New York City pizza that I planned to share with a girl I was looking forward to being with this semester. Step two involved staring at that lonely pizza in the refrigerator as the sun rose on Jan. 21 after she and I shared the most saddeningly sudden four-hour conversation I’ve had in quite some time. Three hinged on an alarming wake-up once I finally fell asleep that afternoon — a close friend had overdosed on his medication and needed immediate medical attention. Four arrived when my Mom called to report my Dad skidding on an icy ramp and totalling his car on the way home. Both of them came home from hospitals later that day and are physically alright, though obviously mentally shaken. When the volatility of the human body, relationships and lives flashes before you in one weekend, there can only be a better tomorrow — enter mandatory optimism. Though I would never wish a similar string of events upon you, I wish you all a successful adventure of re-evaluating what you really want out of yourself this semester; what does it really mean to succeed, at school, at home, in your body and in your mind, with others and with yourself?I’m trying my hardest to heal my foot by sleeping as much as I can, calming my pain and asking my best friends for help whenever I can. I’m trying something I haven’t done yet at Cornell — tutoring students in writing and English — and writing some original lyrics to channel my creative juices. And I’m staying optimistic because my body and I are going to get through this sooner or later, and I can still laugh in the meantime. I can’t ask you to try new things, ask for help and do whatever taking care of yourself means to you — we all have a challenging semester ahead in some regard. But I have to ask that you look as far into yourself as you need to stay positive every day, because if the least expected, most radical events quake your world or ours this semester, you’ll be grateful for the impulse to keep things in perspective.

Jacob Kose is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at jkose@cornellsun.com. Scrambled Eggs ap­pears alternate Wednesdays this semester.

Original Author: Jacob Kose