Half full or half empty?

Wine glasses
A good measure – but not full

“Are you a half full or half empty kinda guy,” she asks.

I never know how to answer questions like this. I know the polite response is to choose the one or the other and let the questioner make pseudo-psychological assumptions about you, but I think slowly. She takes my hesitation for misunderstanding.

“I mean,” she says, “do you think the glass is half full or half empty?”

It must be exasperating for people to have to explain a clichéd metaphor. I don’t go out of my way to be a nuisance, but I’m a pedant as well as a slow thinker. And, okay, sometimes I take pleasure in being annoying.

At one of the schools where I used to teach, one of my science teacher colleagues had a couple of trick wine glasses. From a distance they looked exactly the same. He would put them out in front of his class and carefully fill one of them with coloured water. Then he would ask the students to tell him how much liquid was in the glass. After he’d collected in several different answers he would take the full glass and poor its contents into the other glass. The water only filled the second glass about half way.

The point, of course, was that the quantity of liquid was the same but the different glasses distorted how it looked.

Having had his little trick played on me once I’ve never since been able to take the half full/half empty question seriously.

The question isn’t about the actual quantity of what’s in the glass – in your life – it’s about your attitude, your perception. But my perception of my life, and my attitude towards what I perceive, both change depending on – what? On my mood. On where I focus. On how much sleep I had last night. On the time of year. On who’s asking.

Here’s another observation to do with quantity and perception. Have you noticed how, in a bar or a restaurant, the glass of wine you’re served is never full? It’s always more than half full – you can’t play half full/half empty with a bar-bought glass of wine (unless you have a trick glass) – but it’s never full.

Once though, when we lived in Bulgaria, my wife and I were in a restaurant where the waiter filled our glasses to the brim. We would drink, carefully, put the glasses back on the table and then the waiter would come by and top them up, right to the brim and above, so that only surface tension was holding the wine in the glass. Between us this is known as “Bulgarian measures” and has become a family expression.

My life recently has resembled a glass filled with a Bulgarian measure of wine. I’ve not written here for a couple of weeks partly because of this – so much has been going on. At the same time, not all of it has been positive. It seems that it is possible for me to be a “half empty kind of guy” even when my glass is full to the brim.

Well, I suppose I knew that all along.

It’s like this.

Empty glasses
Empty glasses – pretty shadows

First, I’ve been working for more than a year in a school that teaches by distance over the Internet. I started working there largely in order to be able to work with a particular colleague and partly in order to help create teaching material for distance education. Getting a regular pay cheque was also attractive. I have helped create teaching material, the money has been welcome and I’ve really enjoyed working with my colleagues (and when I remember all that the glass is definitely half full).

But for the last few months the job has boiled down to marking essays – and marking essays is soul destroying. When I think of that the glass looks pretty empty.

Second, as readers of At the Quill will know, I am in the middle of a crowd funding campaign to finance the publication of a photo book, My Gothenburg Days. That got off to a great start at the Gothenburg Book Fair (glass more than half full).

However, for the last three weeks instead of spending all my (limited) free time promoting the campaign I have been engaged in a dispute with the crowd funding website I’m using – FundedByMe – over a bug in their software that means people logging in to my campaign site see all money as fractions of Euros instead of round numbers in Swedish kronor (glass half empty). (I think this might be fixed now.)

Third, I try to find time to do something creative every day. Whether it is writing, or going out with the camera, or finding teaching solutions, or translating, or making illustrations, or cooking, or working on my websites doesn’t really matter – the important thing is to be creative. When I am creative I’m happy and my glass has a waiter’s measure of wine.

But recently I can only find the time for this with difficulty, fitting it around work and the campaign – around marking and disputing – and my glass only holds dregs.

One glass of red
Cheers!
Finally, we recently heard that our life is about to change dramatically – or at least geographically. My wife will be seconded from her current job to a new post in Brussels for at least two years and I’ll be moving with her. This has been in the air for a couple of months, but she had it finally confirmed some ten days ago. Since when we have been picking through all our worldly possessions deciding what to take, what to leave… and what to throw or give away.

On the one hand the coming move is like a sharp sword through the Gordian knot – a release from all the old entanglements (and my glass is half full again).

On the other hand, it means I have even less free time for the campaign, even less time for being creative, and I get stressed out whenever I have to throw things away. (And we’re back to half empty.)

So here we are, back in the crowded bar on Sunday evening and making conversation with the people around the table and in Swedish-accented American English my neighbour asks: “Are you a half full or half empty kinda guy?”

And I hesitate.


This article was written for the #Blogg52 challenge.

3 thoughts on “Half full or half empty?”

  1. Du verkar ha fullt upp John. Hoppas förändringarna gör att du får mer tid till din kreativ ådra. Pernilla svxrt

  2. Du skriver helt underbart John! Orden känns som de kommer från hjärtat, texten är medryckande, fängslande och jag vill bara fortsätta läsa. Ser fram emot alla dina blogginlägg från Brussel, för jag hoppas att du kommer att fortsätta blogga därifrån.

    Ibland är det alldeles för mycket i livet och man hinner inte riktigt med. Önskar så att jag hade hunnit träffa dig när jag var i Gbg, men tiden räckte helt enkelt inte till. Eller så gjorde jag helt enkelt fel prioriteringar 😉 (Prioriterade vila och förberedelser framför att umgås med mina författarkollegor…)

    Låt inte kreativiteten bli lidande. Ta en liten stund varje dag, då mår du som bäst.
    Kram Kim 😀

I welcome comments!