Haters Just Lose

Acts of Hatred, Hate Crimes, and Degradation of Others

In light of a recent hate crime committed at the local high school wherein four youth were charged with painting racist graffiti on school property, I started giving a lot more thought to the nature of hate and what it does to us as humans. Outright acts of hate as well as hate’s lesser cousins–cruelty, cynicism, criticism, bullying–all work to separate us from each other. Haters may feel threatened, vulnerable, fearful, but sadly these feeling can get twisted into acts that will degrade and distance themselves from others.

Losers Just Hate, Haters Just Lose

During a recent visit to Pimlico Racetrack to enjoy a sunrise tour before the Preakness Stakes, I spotted a groom with his Thoroughbred charge strolling down the shedrow. His T-shirt said: Losers Just Hate. I imagine it was a reference to competition, wherein the losers in any field often find excuses to malign the winners, envy them, or generally degrade their accomplishments. It was funny, but sadly a bit too close to the truth.

I thought about turning that slogan around to read: Haters Just Lose. Because that’s exactly what happens. Haters lose out on everything. Peace of mind, joy in life, experiencing new things, loving other people… the list goes on and on. Chronic haters have more health problems including heart disease, impaired immune system, stroke (see Toxic Emotions Can Lead to Serious Health Problems/HuffPost).   

Vulnerability, Daring Greatly, and Discounting the Haters

Brene Brown, NYT Bestselling Author of The Gifts of Imperfection and other books, examines the concept of vulnerability and how to have the courage to be open, to live, love, parent, and lead in her book Daring Greatly. She writes, “The fear of being vulnerable can unleash cruelty, criticism, and cynicism in all of us. Making sure we take responsibility for what we say is one way that we can check our intentions. Dare greatly and put your name on your posted comments online.” Indeed. How often people hide behind anonymity in order to unleash their cruelty. Brown advises those victimized by online trolls to discount comments from anyone who is not also “in the arena” and owning up to their words, and ignore those who act too cool to be vulnerable. Her final words of advice are funny. She says nothing serves as a better reminder for her (to ignore detractors) than the words of her friend, Scott Stratten, author of UnMarketing: (she quotes) “Don’t try to win over the haters; you’re not the jackass whisperer.”

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Five Ways to Combat FoMO—the Fear of Missing Out

Is Social Media to Blame?

Social media has been vilified as causing negative behavior from increased violence, suicides, and social isolation. Of course in and of itself, social media is not evil, although sometimes we tend to portray it in that light. It is, however, able to ignite fear, insecurity, depression, and envy in a human faster than bytes moving at the speed of light. An often talked about phenomenon—the fear of missing out, or FoMO—occurs when the viewer becomes despondent over their own life or activities when compared with what they are viewing on social media. It is the cyber version of “the grass is always greener on the other side.” Individuals have gone so far as to cease enjoying the party they are attending when they see friends on social media enjoying a different activity that does not include them.

FoMO can also take the form of comparing oneself to everyone else—and not favorably. Does is seem like everyone else is going on fabulous vacations? Everyone else is buying a bigger house or fancier car? Is it true that everyone else has children accepted to Harvard or my personal trigger: everyone else’s horse is winning at all the shows at Grand Prix and I’m still wallowing in Training Level. Not true! Although we know it is not true that everyone else lives in Barbie’s Dreamhouse, it sure feels like it sometimes. Comparisons often create toxic emotions and the sense that our life is less than fulfilling. 

Here are five key ways to defuse the negative effects of FoMO:

  1. Reduce Time Spent on Social Media – This one is obvious, but it is also worth noting that FoMO is more likely to hit when we are already sad or feeling inadequate. Schedule time on social media when you have accomplished something or when you are feeling positive and uplifted.
  2. Count Your Blessings – If you feel your life is not living up to the standards of everyone else’s, you may need to increase your gratitude awareness. Make a list of the things you are thankful for. Take time to conduct a “mental tour” of your life: include your home, your family, your health, your friends, your talents. You may be surprised how you feel afterwards. You can never express too much gratitude over even the small things in life.
  3. Set Your Own Goals – Examine what you want to achieve or what you want out of life and go after it. Chances are your goals and desires are very different from everyone else’s, and that’s great! You’ll be headed out on your own journey in life, not tagging along on someone else’s trip.
  4. Live in the Moment – Take time to enjoy where you are and who you are with instead of rushing to the next event, the next item on your to-do list, or the next opportunity. Mindfulness, meditation, being present—all these things help slow us down and help us appreciate what we have.
  5. Reward Yourself – So, you didn’t win the race or get the big book deal but you did achieve a goal you set out for yourself. Don’t wait for something huge in order to reward yourself. Give a present to yourself and don’t wait for outside recognition.

Further Reading on FoMO and What to Do

The FoMO effects along with various means of dealing with it have been described in scholarly journals. Psychology Today had a post on FoMO and I was gratified to see that many of their recommendations mirrored mine. Shankar Vendantam on National Public Radio (NPR) did an excellent examination of the phenomenon of FoMO, pointing out that increased social media activity is actually causing greater isolation. Check out the podcast.

Remember, the social media world is not real. Live a REAL life!

 

 

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So Good, It Should Be Required Reading

LiarTemptressI just finished reading Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War, written by Karen Abbott, and feel as if it should be required reading for all history students. The book covers the life of four women–two Confederate and two Union Army spies–who risked their lives for what they believed. Although non-fiction and exhaustively researched, the book reads like a fictional story woven with period detail, human emotion, and suspense. And how is it that I have never heard of these women? Seventeen-ear-old Belle Boyd became a courier and spy for the Confederate army using her feminine appeal and outrageous bravado. Emma Edmonds decided to live as a man to escape persecution from her father, then joined the Union Army, where she served in the bloodiest battles of the civil war before becoming a spy. Can you imagine the irony of her sneaking into enemy territory posing as a man taking on the “disguise” of a woman?  The genteel Southern widow Rose O’Neal Greenhow, along with her young daughter, passed secret messages for the Confederacy and were eventually imprisoned for it, but continued to elude their guards. Elizabeth Van Lew, an abolitionist and Union sympathizer living in Richmond, put together an elaborate espionage ring and hid escaping Union soldiers in her home under the nose of Confederate family members and detectives. Author Karen Abbott breathes life into each of these women as they lived out their lives during some of the bloodiest and most divisive years in U.S. history, brushing elbows with larger-than-life historical figures such as Alan Pinkerton, Mary Todd Lincoln, Stonewall Jackson, and Emperor Napoleon III. If you like espionage thrillers, encrypted complex codes, secret signs, spy networks, hidden rooms, and daring disguises, don’t miss this book. Bestselling NYT author Karen Abbott also wrote Sin in the Second City and American Rose.

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Harriet Tubman: Honored at Last

The name Harriet Tubman brings to mind an American legend—a woman who risked death in pursuit of freedom and continued to do so in order to bring others to freedom. She has become a mythic, larger-than-life character on the stage of history, which makes me wonder all the more—who was this woman? Where did she find the courage to do make multiple trips into slave states to free others, knowing there was a price on her head? What prompted her to live in poverty in order to continue to give to others more in need? How did an illiterate and uneducated slave become the voice of civil rights, humanitarianism, suffrage, and champion of basic human values in a time when women, especially black women, were powerless and without voice? I had to find out.

Tubman bust at UGRR Museum

Tubman bust at UGRR Museum

The best autobiography I’ve found is one by Catherine Clinton entitled Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom. In it, Clinton not only provides what scraps of facts we know about the early life of Tubman (not an easy task, separating fact from legend), but also sets these events within the context of the times. Readers, be prepared to learn more about the true nature of slavery and the laws and economic conditions that perpetuated it, than you ever knew before. Tubman was born in my adopted state of Maryland, then a slave state, but also had the largest free black population by 1810. You would think that a good thing, however, it was not. Maryland became a source for slave labor when the import of slaves was halted because those involved in the trade did not care overly much whether you were free or not. Slave merchants raided Maryland’s black population and transported slaves to the south for a hefty profit. Tubman was born into this milieu and saw her sisters torn from the family and sold off into slavery in the far away deep south.

A daring rescue!

A daring rescue!

Clinton’s book should be required reading in all schools. As Annette Gordon-Reed put it, (Clinton) “rescues Harriet Tubman from empty symbolism, restoring her full humanity, while showcasing her incomparable efforts on behalf of enslaved African Americans.”

 

Tubman freed herself by walking from her home on the Choptank River on the Eastern Shore of Maryland to Philadelphia. I cannot imagine that trek. When she became a conductor on the Underground Railroad, she boasted that she never lost a “passenger.”

ChoptankMap

She was fearless and filled with a holy spirit, convinced that God would protect her. Dubbed “Moses of her people,” I understand how that moniker came about, not only for her guidance to freedom, but also because of her close relationship with God. Despite her spirituality, she was also a fierce and cunning soldier. Abolitionist John Brown called her General Tubman, and during the civil war she acted for years as a spy, a scout, and in any other number of other roles as needed. Despite her service, sadly, she had to fight for years with the U.S. government to receive any kind of compensation.

 

I am heartened to learn that a museum in her honor has opened close to her birthplace. The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Historical Park in Church Creek, Maryland, is a fine museum full of compelling images chronicling her life. Miss Tubman, you were an amazing woman and so ahead of your time.

Faith_Tubman

 

 

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How Weeding is Like Writing a Novel

weedsWhile kneeling in the sand and weeding by hand my riding arena (yes, I do this because I am obsessive compulsive about weeds) it occurred to me that the task was a lot like writing a novel. How so? I looked at the overgrowth of weeds invading my ring and resolved to do something about it. I had the will. But as soon as the heat and the magnitude of the task pressed down on me, I was compelled to quit. What does this have to do with writing? A lot of times I have a great idea and I sketch out the plan and dive into writing, only to feel that “deer in headlights” immobility when I look at the magnitude of the task ahead of me. Can I really flesh out these characters, spin a compelling plot, unravel the problems, give it a theme and make it marketable to a capricious and demanding readership? No! No, I can’t do it. I want to run away and give up. Like the weeding task, I want to abandon ship and leave it to the professionals. But. Taking a deep breath. I see that when I go out and do a little bit, even a small amount each night, I do make progress. The results are starting to show. If I keep working and don’t lift my eyes to take in the daunting task ahead, I can maintain hope. It is just that simple. Plodding. Don’t look at the bigger task, just the little patch ahead of you. And pull.

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Embracing the Dark

Night falls quicker. The days are shorter. I rush to get everything done before dark because I hate to go out in the evening. This is autumn and every year I know it will send me down a dark hole of lethargy, pessimism, and the blues. I hate the darkness (and I’m not crazy about cold, either). It comes every year and it passes every year. Still, I have not taught myself to embrace the dark.

It’s interesting to note that Carl Jung believed we all have a shadow self–a dark side–that holds all the darker, selfish, nasty aspects of our personalities. Of course, in polite society, we aim to keep that side hidden. But like the change of seasons, we can’t keep our nature down permanently. And when it erupts, it sometimes does so with impulsive behavior, destructive judgement, crippling illness, or other harmful expressions.

But some psychologists have pointed out that our shadows are only to be feared if we repress them. Indeed, writers such as Clarissa Pinkola Estes in her book Women Who Run with the Wolves maintains that “opening the door to the shadow world” a little bit at a time allows us to relate to the dark, perhaps even find a use for it. It seems she describe it almost like bleeding off the pressure before an eruption. The concept of embracing the dark side of life on a broader scale is fully explored in Barbara Brown Taylor’s NYT bestseller Learning to Walk in the Dark. It is a fascinating work that explores our need to accept the dark in the world at large as well as within ourselves. It recommends we dispel the vilification of darkness and instead walk into it and find out for a change what’s really out there. In her exploration of darkness, the author explores the experience of personal and physical darkness.

On the eve of the Blood Moon last year

On the eve of the Blood Moon 

As the days shorten, the darkness stretches and lengthens the night, and we descend into the mystical times of Halloween and Mid-Winter, I plan to re-read Taylor and other works on a hunt to discover what lives in my darkness. I plan to explore the darkness in the natural world (circadian rhythms, seasonal affective disorder, fears and myths), the symbolic darkness in the world around us (concept of evil, why bad things happen, how to live in the adversity), and the personal darkness within (concept of sin, depression, etc.)

Tomorrow promises a full moon. Come along and let’s see what’s out there.

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Solving the Puzzle’s Puzzle

puzzleI finished this puzzle, but for weeks I didn’t think I would. It sat on my dining room table with just its outline and a few areas filled in. Several times, I was ready to break it apart, stuff it back in its box, and forget about it. I guess I’m just no good at jigsaw puzzles, I thought. And it is only a 300 piece one! 

That’s a fixed mindset. I was faced with a hard task. I judged (myself in this case) as not being talented or smart enough to tackle the task, and immediately leapt to quitting. Don’t try and you won’t fail! Wrong. Not trying is failing. Even for little things like putting together a puzzle.

I was overwhelmed by my inability to see where the pieces would fit to make the picture since they were all such uniformly washed out shades of white, yellow, and soft green. The image had few “landmark” images to go by so my usually approach to solving the jigsaw was not working. Instead, I had to find a new approach. Quelling my frustration, I decided to sort the pieces by color, shade, and then by shape. I worked in one, limited area, inching my way along. Using reductionism, limiting the options, I found it easier to select the right pieces until the picture started to appear. When a piece that was the exact color still did not fit, I turned it in all possible directions and more often than not, it worked! The more I succeeded the more confident I became in picking out the right piece.

I learned a great deal about mindset from reading Carol S. Dweck’s bestseller, Mindset, the New Psychology of Success. I still have a lot to learn, but now know for sure that a fixed mindset can be debilitating. An open one that accepts challenges and refuses to judge them as failures opens up the world to new experiences. It is hard to change, and not just quit. It is uncomfortable to set aside fear, judgement, and insecurities. It takes practice. Maybe start with solving a jigsaw puzzle 🙂

 

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Judge the Book Cover

I have no idea why the old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover” has stuck around so long. Clearly, that’s exactly what we all do initially. Okay, as a metaphor, you should not similarly judge a person by their outward appearance…but as for books, that is the first thing a potential reader will see and that reader will make any number of snap decisions based on the cover: is it intriguing, attractive, makes you want to know more… But the most important clue the cover imparts is this one: genre.

Let’s agree that there are indeed certain types of covers that grace particular genres. Think for example of the romance novel. Whether historical romance, contemporary, or romantic suspense, they all share common elements. These may be a portrayal of hero/heroine in an embrace, in a pose of longing, or sometimes just in an outfit that suggests steaminess. Often there are lips or certain body parts featured. Enough on that. How about fantasy? I’m sure you are already conjuring up all sorts of starry images or hidden glens or fractured beams of light over a mysterious world. You get the point.

So what does an author do when she’s told her cover (and her title) are not representative of Young Adult literature, her target demographic? That happened to me. I’ve been told the cover does not attract YA readers, it looks more like historical fiction, it is not clear what the story may be about…on and on. So, I decided to give a new cover for the ebook version a try. Now I have a new problem.

The old cover

The old cover

What should that cover look like and can I find a graphic artist who gets horses? Gets the theme of the novel? Gets the mood, branding, look that will represent False Gods and future books in this series? Well, I think the artist struck the right balance between realistic and abstract concept. What do you think? I would LOVE to hear from readers.

The new cover

The new cover

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READY, MindSET, GO!

Don’t believe everything people tell you is an old adage. But we often do, don’t we? Especially during the young, impressionable years or when we feel particularly vulnerable. If people tell us something about ourselves then, it often sticks. For a lifetime. When I was a girl, my father laughed at me and said I wasn’t athletic. I believed it. My mind grasped that image of myself and formed a whole script about it so that later during sports events or other athletic challenges, I would quit, hide, or defer to others. When it was my turn at bat, I’d let the next kid in line take my place to avoid the pressure and risk of failure. Any and all things that even hinted at sports were to be avoided, even after I was no longer forced to participate in them in school. That is the fixed mindset. And it has plagued me in other aspects of life, besides sports. (You’re no good at math!)

A fixed mindset does not believe there is any possibility of change or growth. You are either good at something, meaning naturally talented, or not. There is no room for change with practice and fortitude. Moreover, if you are blessed to be good at something, you certainly don’t want to challenge that safe place, either. You remain in your comfort zone and never test the boundaries. And you become stagnant, ever watchful for failure, and miserable.

runningI learned a great deal about mindset by reading Carol S. Dweck’s recent best seller: Mindset, the New Psychology of Success. Everyone should read this book no matter their outlook on life. It describes the fixed and growth mindsets. Guess which one I recognized? The good news is even those of use who have cocooned ourselves in the fixed mindset can change and learn to expand, grow, learn new things without the associated fear. Since reading the book, I’m setting off down that new path. It is rocky and very much all uphill at this point. But if you want, follow me and see where it leads. I’ll give you one hint: I’ve signed up for a 5K race.

 

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