On a recent trip to Arizona, my brother, while hiking in the desert, came upon a sign along the trail that read, “When you’re halfway done with your water, you’re halfway done with your hike.” Looking at what was left in his bottle, he turned around and headed back, determining his hike half over.
The story reminded me of the glass half full/glass half empty analogy. Is the glass half empty, or half full? It’s a question of perspective, the glass being a metaphor for life. It’s generally thought pessimists will see the glass as being half empty, because they see only what’s missing in their lives. An optimist, on the other hand, will view it as half full, focusing on the good things in life.
Does this mean my brother is a pessimist for seeing his water bottle as half-empty? Would an optimist have seen it as half-full, and say, “Hey, I’ve got plenty of water left!” only to be found later, crawling through the desert, with vultures circling overhead?
Is it ever better to see the glass half empty?
I remember the first time Keith took me to meet his parents. A Northerner, I was unaccustomed to many things Southern – one of them being sweet tea. At dinner, his mother poured me a glass of it, and I took a big gulp. Sickly sweet with the consistency of syrup, it was all I could do to keep from spitting it across the table. I stared at that half-full glass of tea, and wished it was half-empty. Completely empty would have been better.
One of the first magazine articles I had published was a humorous essay about shopping for perfect-fitting bras. I wrote the piece for a writers’ group I had recently joined. Humor is subjective, and given the subject matter, I was nervous about reading it aloud in front of strangers. The piece went over well, very well actually, and my confidence was raised; I decided to try to get it published. I changed titles, revised, altered and tailored it to fit the needs of different magazines. A year and a half later, after two rejection letters, and six months after I submitted it to a third women’s publication, I got a call from the editor: they wanted to publish it, but it would have to undergo yet another revision to “get it by the censors,” (the topic lent itself to endless bad puns, which I happen to love, and I’d pulled out all the stops).
A short time after publication, our writers’ group was giving a reading at a local bookstore. It was unanimously decided the bra-shopping piece should be my contribution. This presented a dilemma for me: each time I had edited, I changed the existing file, never saving previous changes. The final, published article was far removed from what I’d originally written – and I liked the original the best. I tried to recreate it from memory, never quite getting it right … but ending up with my favorite of the many titles I gave it: “A-Cup Half Full.” For a brief period after the reading, I enjoyed mild recognition being known as “The Bra Lady.” My fifteen minutes of fame, and it just had to be about underwear!
What does this have to do with half full or half empty cups, (the proverbial kind, not those made of material and lace)?
Suppose, after reading the piece to the writers’ group, and being pleased with their reaction, I viewed my cup as half full? “Cool”, I might have thought, then would probably stick it in a drawer to be forgotten until I decided it was time clean out my desk, when inevitably it would have ended up in the trash.
Instead, I was motivated. Perhaps seeing my cup as half empty, led me to want more – to continue filling the cup, so to speak. Looking at it this way, maybe it’s better to see the glass as half empty; looking at it half-full leads to complacency, and after a while, the water becomes stagnant.
Silly articles about bras aside, focusing on the empty part of the glass has led many people to accomplish great things by working to improve their lives, and the lives of others. There’s a whole lot of potential when one aspires to fill that glass.
Although having more than a few magazine articles published since the bra story, I’ve never viewed myself as a “writer”. By definition, “writer” is “one who writes, especially as an occupation.” Writing as an occupation might be a fantasy of mine, but the reality is, writing magazine articles is not going to feed or clothe my family. I enjoy it, though, and so I continue to plug along.
In a slip of the tongue, my husband once told someone I was an “expiring” writer. Though he meant “aspiring”, lately it seems “expiring” is the more appropriate word. In the broadest definition, a “writer” writes. It’s been months since I hit that brick wall: writer’s block. Time is a contributing factor; I have one glass that’s filled to the brim with responsibilities, while my writer’s glass remains empty.
But is a cup ever really empty? Try this simple experiment:
Get 2 clear glasses, and fill one halfway with water. Is the glass half full or half empty? You decide. Now fill the sink with water, and hold the other glass upside down, carefully lowering it into the water until it reaches the bottom of the sink. Is it still empty?
HA! There’s no water in it, but it’s not empty. Air inside the glass prevents it from filling with water, meaning the glass was already full from the start.
A seemingly empty glass is always full of possibilities. It’s full of thoughts not yet written, partially formed ideas waiting to be fleshed out; it holds promise, growth, excitement and adventure.
So, as I sit here typing, rambling along long after I should have gone to bed, I wonder what conclusions I can draw from any of this:
For one, my mother-in-law’s sweet tea would probably gag even a person dying of thirst, crawling through the desert.
It’s not a bad thing to be recognized for your undergarments, (better if you’re a designer for Victoria’s Secret perhaps, but sometimes you take what you can get).
Save everything – something written long ago might one day come in handy. In a broader sense, don’t lose sight of your past. We draw on and learn from previous experiences.
Adaptability is a necessity. Original ideas don’t always pan out the way we envision; adjusting plans to enable us reach our goals is sometimes in order.
Based on these ramblings, late at night is definitely not the best time to contemplate too hard over the answers to rhetorical questions.
And it is a rhetorical question. Perhaps the only definitive answer concerning the fullness of cups, is that if your cup runneth over it’s time to get a bigger bra.
When things get tough, people like to say they “count their blessings”, meaning they focus on the good things instead of the negative. The idiom is similar to the question of glasses. It seems to me, counting blessings forces the glass to be viewed as half full. Wouldn’t it be a better view to be thankful for what you have, but continue striving to make each day better than the last? When our glass might seem empty, the void is actually filled with intangible, unseen things – both good and bad – which shape our lives, making us who we are, who we will become, and what we have yet to accomplish.
The glass it would seem, whether or not it is made of crystal, is multifaceted.
So for the New Year, here’s a glass – just a glass to see filled however you wish. Raise it high. Cheers!
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