No News is Happy News

RainbowA couple of weeks ago, I posted about the “Rainy Brain/Sunny Brain” attitude shifting game, and I’m dutifully clicking away at it every other day or so. In a few weeks, I’ll report my results (I’m also doing the mindfulness meditations).

I got to thinking about the extent to which negativity is thrown at us, even without our intending to focus on it: When was the last time you watched network news, and had a sense that the world is becoming a better place?

TigerI know why negative news gets top billing: If you want to survive, you need to know where the wars, disasters, crime waves, new diseases and other threats are coming from. This information is what our old pal Malcolm Gladwell would call “sticky.” The brain is wired to notice it and hang on to it.

I’m not living in the jungles of darkest prehistory, though, and the only saber-toothed tigers in my neighborhood look about six weeks old. Divergent (out of the box) thinking, creativity, joy, and spontaneity all require a certain confidence in life and THAT’S where I want to focus my fire.

orange kittenDid you know that in most major U.S. cities, violent crime has been dropping for decades? We are much, MUCH safer now than we were in the early 1990s, though theories explaining this happy development vary. Did you know that in the U.S, teen birth, pregnancy and abortion rates are at an all time low?

highland cowDivorce rates have been dropping since 1990 as well (scroll down to the Divorce Rates by State chart). The gender wage gap, or amount women are underpaid for doing the same jobs as men, has been steadily shrinking since 1980, and for young women, is down to $.07 cents per male dollar. When I entered the work force as a law school graduate with two undergraduate degrees, the disparity was $.36.

needs_450We have many reasons to rejoice, to be proud of ourselves as a society, to be hopeful about our future, and yet, I’m guessing most of the foregoing wasn’t common knowledge among my readers. For shame on those who think fear and anger sells, and that profit justifies a negative bias at the expense of truth.

Maybe this is why romance novel sales didn’t suffer in the recent recession. Romance novels, if well written, are about people who find the courage to change, who learn how to love and be loved, who create a happily ever after happy despite the odds. That’s a story well worth telling, and one many of us are living every day.

End of rant. What have you rejoiced about lately? I’m tickled pink because captive_295w-274x450Scotland can choose to regain its status as an independent nation this September by simple action of a civil referendum–no armies, no battles, no fatalities. THAT is how a nation should be reborn!

To one commenter, I’ll send a signed beach reading package of the Fab 5 of Romance releases, which will include, of course, The Captive.

Just One Look…

My Facebook feed draws from a wide circle, which is endlessly useful for those times when I want to distract myself from the “To write” list. At present I’m working on next year’s Christmas story (waves to Dante and Lady Joan), a little Christmas tale for this year (waves to Westhaven and Anna), galleys for Douglas and Guinevere (I would douglas_4501-204x327wave, but they seem, um, busy), and some other deadline.

Oh, yeah! I’m getting The Duke and His Duchess ready for audio production, download to be available on Valentine’s Day. Suffice it to say, I’ve been clicking on links I might ignore if I felt less in need of diversion. One of them led to a blog post about a small moment between two soccer moms. First Mom was having the classic bad day–up all night with one sick kid, tagging bases all morning with the healthy kid. Skipped brekkie and lunch, hit some drive through, and was at soccer practice in time for the prodigy to make the bell.

While First Mom stood on the sidelines, wolfing down a burger, another mom came by, looking well put together. The moment ensued, with neither woman saying anything. Second Mom looked First Mom over, and apparently did so wearing an unpleasant expression, then went on her tidy, trim way.

snarky catWhat has taken me aback is not that the First Mom, who apparently carries some extra weight, felt undeservedly shamed by the appraisal of the second–at least temporarily–it’s that commenters on the blog have been rabidly defending the woman with the silent scowl (you’re judging her when she may not be judging you at ALL!), rabidly attacking the defenders of the same woman (she has no right to draw conclusions about a person’s worth based on what they’re eating!), and so on, with much scolding, criticizing and taking of sides.

What I take from that vignette is that when we judge, particularly when we judge emphatically and repeatedly, somebody probably made us feel judged (and wanting) first. We lose our grip on compassion when we need it most–when somebody’s in such a miserable place that negativity radiates from them and makes us feel criticized and belittled without a word being spoken.

At that moment when our self-respect threatens to collapse, we need compassion for ourselves–I too have scarfed up less than optimal nutrition on those bad days–but we also need it for the people who look mean and nasty when they’re simply walking around a kids’ soccer field.

smiling kittenAnd this too: At the moment when First Mom might have said, “Please don’t be too hard on me. I have one sick kid home with my exhausted husband, one whining that he doesn’t want to miss practice, no time for myself, and no friends I can call at the last minute to bail me out,” all it took was a look to keep her quiet.

Just one look, when just one smile might have turned the entire day in a different direction.

When did somebody smile at you, commiserate, lend a hand, and turn the whole day around? To one commenter, I’ll send a $25 Amazon gift card.

Only the Lonely Can Play?

There is research abounding lately telling us social media make some of us feel crummier, not better. The data suggests that the more time you spend on social media, and the more distant your associations on that media are (four thousand friends you’ve never met), and the more you resemble a Young Person, then the more likely you are to believe all the happy photos and OMG!!! blathering are the sum total of your “friends’” lives, and that, by comparison, your bleak, boring little asteroid is a sucky place to be.

A significant part of me wants to hoot, “How many tax dollars did some think tank spend to prove that staring at a screen isn’t a substitute for being with your mates?!”

Except I think what’s at work, in part, is nothing more sophisticated than guilt by association. In another blog, I point out that overweight people drink more diet soda than skinny people, and viewed in the wrong light, one can use this “data” to conclude that “Diet Soda Makes You Fat!!!”

Association is not the same thing as a casual relationship (after doesn’t mean because of, to bastardize the Latin). We need to reserve judgment about the power of social media to “make” us lonely. The young folks who are friending the known world and spending hours and hours with social media are likely lonely to begin with. When some of their peers are learning how to go on in relationships, the social square pegs are hanging out in Farmville by the week. When they might instead be playing a game of pick up rugby, they’re up till all hours lurking in the chat rooms until the girl from Dubai gets online.

Lonely people find things to do. We all know, we’ve been among their number at some point. In a former age, they could read Trollope or Hardy, write letters, take long walks around the city (Dickens’ habit was twelve miles a day), or sit at the bar and drink. Did hanging out at the bar make them lonely? Did reading make them lonely?

Maybe in a sense, but I suspect what it might have done was made them more aware that by comparison with those fictional characters, with the bustling city of London, with all the people who had friends to meet at the bar, their lives were lonely.

The question remains unanswered though: Are the lonely people on Facebook more lonely than they’d be without it? That’s another experiment, and not one anybody has figured out how to design yet.

What are your thoughts? What–if anything–has the power to make you lonely?

Those Who Don’t Give Up

He’s Given Up

I know a fellow, a friend, who will say upon seeing a fat person, “He’s given up.” My friend is not fat. I suspect his version of struggling with weight is to decide about two weeks out he ought to lose five pounds so he’ll fit into his black suit a little better at his niece’s wedding. He skips desserts and all five pounds fall off.

I carry extra weight and have for most of my adult life. I have excuses—thyroid disease, Lyme disease, stress (my fave)—but I could be doing more to achieve a healthier weight. I could be obsessing, which strikes me as about as unhealthy as toddling around in my well padded, mostly happy, form.

But I have by no means given up, damn it. Every meal, I struggle not to eat more, not to eat the things that will trowel on the lard, to stick to the stuff my naturopath insists will give me “good energy.” I struggle to make myself take walks, to get the heck out of bed every morning and do my barn chores. I struggle when I grocery shop to make good choices, or at least not very bad ones. (Love that little bitty single serve Dove ice cream. Love it.)

As I sit the live long day at my computer, I struggle moment by moment not to get up, hit the fridge, and grab not a carrot stick, but rather, a shortbread cookie. Or a bag of shortbread cookies. Every moment of every day. I have not given up, and I have yet to meet the overweight person who has. We still hope, we still try, we still pray, we struggle and struggle and struggle. But somebody has given up.

The person who looks at me and sees only my overweight has given up on my humanity. To them, I am my weight, and they can walk on by, dismissing me with a single word, or a number. They don’t know I have worlds of creativity and humor and heart inside me. They’ve given up—on me. This happens to blondes, to children, to people who talk funny, people who are short, people who wear pocket protectors, people with babies screaming at them in the produce section, and people with white hair or no hair. They are given up on regularly.

And this is why the company of writers is so cheering. Writers don’t give up. You see a geezer, the writer will see a World War II romance. You see a screaming baby and an overwrought mother, the writer sees a Meet about to happen. You see a tall guy get out of a vintage Volkswagon, and I see an alpha hero about to be mistaken for a beta because he tuned up his little sister’s bug.

I have every book on tape Malcolm Gladwell has made, not because I agree with all his conclusions and like all his methods, but because he has the knack of asking the elegant question, and seeing the answers that appear, not just the ones convenient for him or his readers. This is being a writer. It is also being a human being, not just a homo sapiens. You never get to give up if you’re a writer. Not on the people you see, not on your world, and most assuredly not on yourself.