Good afternoon, folks. Negativity. I mentioned that I wanted to touch upon this topic two Sundays ago, but I became derailed by all that terrible business down south. I’m sending whatever positive thoughts and energy that I can spare toward dissolving those tensions. Do I believe that sort of contribution can matter? Thoughts? Crystal-waving and hippie hocus-pocus? Not really, which is why I blog and write and otherwise express the vast, colorful rainbow of my feelings on a daily basis. Part of what I produce—my emotional exhaust—is going to be toxic; a bit of overflow, the “tailings”, if you’re familiar with mining. It’s inevitable. I don’t believe that someone can be happy all the time without being unaware of the world and their surroundings. Horrible events unfold around us every day and we are creatures of our environment. We react.
Now, I don’t think that my blog would be popular if I just came on here every Sunday unloaded my weekly grievances. For this audience, I try and share the hopeful sides of my soul. Even if I’m chatting about darker subject matter, I like to leave things with a glimmer of hope, a morsel on which to reflect. I am nonetheless affected by my environment, my social, emotional and political climates, just like the rest of you. I come from a family with a history of depression and various mental illnesses. I am not medicated, nor have I been diagnosed with any mental illnesses, although I have numerous “tendencies” that ye old therapists have pegged me with. I am a walking recipe for OCD, depressive and paranoid-disorders, though I keep those tendencies from becoming active issues through discipline and mental and physical exercise. In the past, I coped with negativity by retreating utterly from the world. Great for making fantasy, not so good for, you know, living. As a functional adult, I am aware that escapism on that scale is not the best way to deal with a bad situation. Although, without my ability to dissociate and compartmentalize, I never would have gotten through the years of cancer treatment with my mom. So those skills have a use, though perhaps not for everyday stresses. People tend to have strong, visceral survival instincts when faced with high grade trauma, whereas the small stresses, the day to day stuff is not so easily managed. Stuff like: reading horrible news on the internet, getting cut off in traffic, having some arsehole slam a buggy into you at Walmart, getting a bad grade/ review/ job assessment.
First thing that I believe one needs to do when confronting negativity, is to assess the situation. I’m pretty sure that EMTs and all the other danger/ crime responders utilize this practice of observation and assessment. I think it’s just as valid of a technique for those of us not resuscitating the dead, or pulling people out of burning wreckage. Stress and negativity are universal aggravators, they present themselves in different degrees, but can be treated in the same way. So first, when confronting negativity, let’s take a breath and separate ourselves from our anger and pain (grief is another emotional expression, which I think that needs to come out—but we’re not talking about that).
Once we’ve composed ourselves and assessed the situation a little, it’s time to resolve the matter, right? Actually, no. If I have the time, if it’s a situation that I can walk away from, I’ll take a longer mental pause, because I understand that I am probably still in the thrall of my emotions even if I feel that I have calmed. Our first response to conflict or negativity is almost always defensive. So is our second, and oftentimes our third. Some of us refuse to relent to reason. We are beings of emotion. I believe that the most logical amongst us, the most composed, really just have the strongest control, the sturdiest dam against the torrent of feelings roaring within each of us. Therefore, taking as many “pauses” as one can spare before acting or responding, while observing and separating fact from feeling, is generally a good idea.
In some cases—such as the imagined scenario above with the buggy slam in Walmart—the situation, the negativity may have resolved itself. Perhaps the person realized what they did and apologized. Look at that, we’ve avoided further conflict and anger. This usually doesn’t happen, since the world isn’t that perfect. Assuming that the negativity persists, and we’ve taken our deepest, most Buddhist breaths, we’re now ready to deal with the issue. Nope, not just yet. Since we are social creatures, perhaps we could seek the wisdom of someone else who is not emotionally invested in the situation? That sounds great! An outside opinion. Before reacting (again, situation permitting—the buggy offender could be long gone by now while you dreamily contemplate), contact a friend, a family member, anyone close to you who gives good advice. Explain the situation and let them have their say. For me, my best sounding board used to be my mother. The woman lived and breathed fairness and jurisprudence. If there’s a Heaven, she up there sorting out afterlife squabbles as we speak. Anyway, I was lucky in that my sister inherited most of mom’s sensibility, while adding a measure of her wisdom to the mix. Unless you catch Michelle on a bad day, she’s the most balanced and reasonable person that I know. Michelle will always tell me what I need to hear. Note: that isn’t always what I want to hear. Before reacting, I’d suggest that you consult one of these great oracles in your life. We all have one, two if we’re blessed: a person whose opinion we both value and fear.
Okay, we’ve taken our breaths, tapped our personal resources, and we are finally calm and ready to react. At this point, I feel that there are only a few remaining rules of engagement. Act with dignity. Act with respect. Act with kindness (if possible, and applicable). Politely make the Walmart offender aware that you were bumped: “Excuse me, you kinda slammed into me there.” Make sure to say it with a smile; smiles are mostly inoffensive. Quite often, the person in question will apologize. People can surprise you with their understanding. Kindness and civility tends to beget the same. And finally, when all else fails, walk away. Not every act of aggression in our life requires intervention.
I’ll share with you a personal anecdote on that front. While a lot of you are enjoying Feast of Fates, immensely, I’ve had a couple less than pleasant reviews. The first was a reviewer who couldn’t finish the novel and convinced themselves that I was a misogynist and devout hater of women, based upon some of the perilous situations in which my heroines find themselves. This, despite my attention to female characterization, my stance and outspokenness on gender equality, and my personal experiences with marginalization, sexism, and racism. The reviewer, of course, knew very little of this secondary information; none of which should it be expected of her to have known. Sometimes messaging gets misconstrued. That’s fine. I chalked it up to a grand miscommunication, to different readers having different levels of tolerance. I wondered if I could improve that perception in the future, and it’s something that I think about to this day. Then I moved on.
Then came another review. I won’t post it here, so as not to feed the monster. Where does one begin?
Well, the review was riddled with factual errors, the first about the colors of sandstone, which vary greatly, and would be white in Eod since the stonework comes from the explicitly, numerously declared WHITE sand desert surrounding the city. The review went on to mangle any number of character details, such as the Wolf’s size—making assumptions that he would be small wolf, when in fact, he’s enormous, since he’s an enormous man. Pretty sure the Wolf was compared to the giant polar bear from the Golden Compass too, because reasons. Furthermore, the reviewer admitted to skipping the prologue, which lays crucial groundwork for the whole Three Sisters aspect of the story-line, and literally skimming 40 pages or so before becoming confused and putting the book down—confusion usually accompanies an absence of attention, I find. There was also a thinly veiled and misplaced stab at traditional publishing and editorial reviewing in there, which I believe was the real issue this individual had with the novel. To those who may not know, Feast of Fates is NOT traditionally published. Again, paying attention is key. Perhaps this reviewer once suffered evisceration at the hands of the Kirkus editorial team for one of their works. I don’t know, but they certainly had strong opinions on editorial reviews, and on me being proud of displaying mine. I am damn proud of it. FoF received a Kirkus star, and those aren’t easily given.
As you can tell, my first instinct was anger and rebuttal. “My baby! How could they do this to my baby? Look at all the wrongs!” But I know better than to contest the uncontestable opinions of someone who had quite made up their mind—right or wrong—on my book. Cynthia raised a more level-headed son than that. I managed to get on with my day, because we should always push through negativity. Later in the afternoon, a call to my sister set me right. Nothing good would come of me challenging this person’s opinion, and as much as I might disagree or play counter fact-wars with them, they are still entitled to free-speech, and to express their own opinion. (Also, as a general rule of thumb, authors should NEVER respond to negative reviewers—it’s poor form, and only feeds the ones that are actually trolls.)
As you can see in each of these instances of dealing with negativity, the best decision was to deal with myself, my expectations and my reality. The other person is not always the enemy, situations are not always clouded. They are, in fact, quite clear when you can step out of your own head, get some perspective, and examine them without your insecurities. This needs to be said, as well: “Learn to separate genuine feedback and criticism, from personal attacks.” Feedback and criticism are part of the learning process. Still, no matter how much you work on yourself or your vocation, not everyone will appreciate what you do. Not everyone will be kind or courteous. Some people will downright hate you for your choices and dedication. The best we can do, is work on ourselves, our interactions with the world, and our responses to negativity.
I do hope that my insights were helpful. More than that, I hope that the next time you are confronted with negativity, you can resolve it in a manner that leaves you feeling fulfilled and in possession of your self-respect.
All my love,
P.S. I don’t recommend things often, unless they’re really good! A rather insightful and brilliant blog on writing, technology, life and more that is certainly worth a look: