Writing From the Right Side of the Stall

Carefully curated musings about the writing life, horses, bitterness and crushing career disappointment. Fun, right?

A Pox on Positivity

Nothing more irritating than a horoscope that keeps cheerily insisting your ship is going to come in, while you’re busy watching it get smashed into kindling on the rocks.

It’s been one of those weeks, piled on one of those years, piled on one of those lives, and my self-esteem is … well, subterranean, at the moment.

Repeat mantra:  You’re a damn good writer, a good person, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, two wrongs don’t make a right, ceci n’est pas un pipe …


Between deals gone south, creditors leaving surly messages on my voice mail, no cheques in the mail, the continuing indifference of various potential employers to my resume and clips, the self-destructing transmission in my truck, and two days of persistent drizzle (which apparently is now leading up to a hurricane … in Ontario) … well, it’s a wonder it’s taken me this long to post another rant.

And frankly, one of the things that’s been irritating the snot right outta me recently is the suggestion, by a former high-school acquaintance on Facebook, that he didn’t want to be subjected to my “negativity”.

First of all, no-one’s subjected to anything on Facebook.  Don’t like your FB pal’s political views or the way she floods your feed with photos of zombie kittehs?  Click and buh-bye, friend.

Secondly, I’m increasingly vexed by the notion that negativity is somehow like second-hand smoke, that it’s going to ooze into your pores and blacken your lungs and make you smell all icky and eventually give you emphysema.

Frankly, it’s Jesus-wants-you-for-a-sunbeam positivity that I find annoying.  Skittles from heaven and unicorns that shoot rainbows out of their asses?  Saints preserve me, if you’ll pardon the phrase.  It’s especially grating when this form of positivity is practiced with relentless glee, flying in the face of reality, with the intent that to wish good things to rain down from the cosmos is to somehow force the cosmos to cough up same.

I’m sorry, but “thinking positive” does not alter squat.  It isn’t going to attract the blessings of the gods, keep the shit from hitting the proverbial fan, bestow upon you that well-deserved lottery win, or prevent you from catching a cold from one of the pathogen-ridden 30,000 people at the Royal Winter Fair.  It’s just not, and it’s completely pointless and delusional to believe that it will.

It’s the same sort of mindset that has turned “faith” — the irrational belief in something despite all reasonable evidence to the contrary (or the absence of any evidence whatsoever) — into a virtue.  How is that virtuous and not just, well, stupid?

Now I completely agree that no-one likes a whinger, and I do (with varying degrees of success) try not to whinge and moan.  One mantra to which I do subscribe is, “Any morning you wake up and you’re not in Darfur, is a good day.”  I get that things could be infinitely worse, really I do.

But that isn’t going to stop me from pointing out hypocrisies, battling — mostly through humour — the evil humanity wages on behalf of their various imaginary friends in the sky, or commenting on tragedies and misfortunes where I feel I have something to say.  I’m not a troll, but I will admit to being a shit-disturber. And I’m not gonna apologize for any of it, either.

(Required reading:  Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Bright-Sided:  How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America”.  She shoots holes in this whole plague of positivity much better than I can. And Norman Vincent Peale can bite me.)

In fact, a study from the local University of Waterloo, published in Psychological Science and cited in Discover magazine noted, “Repeating positive things about yourself only seems to work for people who already feel good about themselves, and only to a small and trivial extent.  For people who need it the most, positive thinking certainly has a lot of power, but it can be of a detrimental kind.”

So there.

It’s possible my complete abhorrence of “positive thinking” bullshit stems from having been dragged to a couple of multi-level-marketing booster meetings by a former boyfriend who got sucked in and utterly brainwashed.  I imagine I’m not alone in having become allergic to the toxic language the asshat speakers at these things use to manipulate their audience.  What made the ex so gullible, and me, not so much?  Sometimes I think it was purely because I was raised a cynic, by a couple of academics who taught me to question everything.

If that’s the case, I am infinitely grateful and I refuse to apologize for it even more.  I may be scraping by in both career and life, but at least it’s not because I’m funneling all my worldly wealth straight into the pockets of a Machiavellian upline, all the while clinging to the absurd belief that my efforts will pay off big time, someday.

(I may have mentioned my loathing of MLMs before.)

So back to the high-school acquaintance who accused me of ruining his day, or something.  I already knew that our perspectives were vastly different.  Once upon a time, though, we were on the Reach For The Top team together, and I don’t have to tell you what THAT means.

Uh, I do?  Okay, well … remember Trivial Pursuit?  Before it was a board game, it was on local television, and high schools sent teams of hopeless nerds to compete with each other to get points answering the questions.   There was a moderator, and buzzers, and stuff.  And orange pancake makeup.  (Trivia that is probably now a Reach For The Top question:  Alex Trebek was one of the early quizmasters for the show.)

Making the Reach For The Top team generally meant that you were an especially irretrievable hopeless nerd, which I was, so that was fine.  It wasn’t going to do any further damage to my adolescent image.  And it certainly made my father proud.  In fact, I suspect that was the last time he was ever proud of me.  He sat in the audience during our matches, just beaming his head off.  And I was, if I may say so, the most photogenic of the four nerds on our team, but only by virtue of my being the only female and the others being (shudder) teenage boys.

The afore-mentioned acquaintance, however, broke the mold by also being a football jock, who, presumably, got laid a fair bit.  Good on him.  The cheerleaders were clearly willing to overlook the whole Reach team thing.   After high school, off he went into the military, and became a career gun-toting officer, whose perspective on the world is just a smidge to the right of mine.  To each his own, yadda yadda.

It’s interesting that, after he accused me of being “negative” on Facebook, I went back and scanned through the postings on my personal page and discovered that what he’d written was the most negative thing on there.  Sure, I had shared some snippets that were critical of organized religion, or in support of science and rational thought, as I often do.  I’m less and less inclined to observe traditional taboos in that regard; after all these centuries, it’s a topic which needs to be discussed openly and honestly, in my humble opinion.  So I suppose that High School Buddy’s definition of “negative” must include “doesn’t agree with me”.

But really, on the whole, I had been having a fairly upbeat month.

In any event, he became my first official flounce from Facebook.

I’m kind of looking at it as a badge of honour.  And I’m probably not going to wake up in Darfur tomorrow morning, so there’s that, too.

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15 thoughts on “A Pox on Positivity

  1. AMEN (or the scientific equivalent thereto!)! There is far too much emphasis on elevating self esteem and believing that repeating positive mantras will, indeed, result in receiving the desired thing / money / opportunity.

    Still scraping by in the Merry Times!


  2. Are you battening down the hatches, Ceci? The predictions for the storm’s path are (predictably) changing hourly, so I’m on tenterhooks here wondering what the best course of action for the horses will be. I have a pasture boarder for whom I may have to bed down a stall tonight … we never really discussed, or anticipated, hurricanes in the boarding contract that says she lives outside!


    • Off topic: Hurricane preparedness. Our feeling was that if left outside, our two pasture-living horses had a low to moderate chance of cuts etc from flying whatnot. The barn would be safe right up until it was blown down on top of them. We voted for the more likely but less severe option & left the – then sensible – mare in charge. $0.02.


      • Yeah, that one is always a tough call. My hurricane mileage, such as it is, was gained in Bermuda, and my Bermuda barn was made of cement block, so it wasn’t gonna go anywhere. Dilemma was, we had 13 stalls and 16 schoolies, so three of them had to tough it out in the paddock — and as it turned out, one did get whacked with a flying tree limb, and was pretty much spun after that; we never could use her for lessons post- Hurricane Felix. The ones in the stalls fared better, but they could have been hit with debris too, conceivably (open windows with bars).

        In the end, I brought my guys in this evening. The shedrow is on the north side of the building, and the south side is bearing the brunt (so far). We’ll see how the night goes …


  3. … always look on the bright side of life, da-dum, da-da da-da da-dum …


  4. Sandy (not the hurricane!) on said:

    Well, as crappy as things may seem at times, perhaps you’ll take some comfort in knowing that your smart, funny prose is a treat to read whenever it arrives. Thank you.


  5. I take considerable comfort in that, Not The Hurricane. Huge thanks for voicing it, actually.


  6. Bob Goddard on said:

    I positively love this post. I like how Reality, when in the right hands, kicks ass.


  7. Sounds to me like you really needed to write a good rant. I do hope you feel better for having gotten it out. I do well understand how annoying positivity can be, particularly when you’re having a very trying day. And yet I know from long and difficult experience that that your attitude and the mental images you keep can have a huge effect on your real life.


  8. I’ve always liked the whole ‘karma’s a bitch’ concept, aka, what goes around comes around. The problem is that I’m fairly convinced I’m never going to live to see most of the karmic bitch-slappin’ that is surely due.

    Thanks for the Reality check, Bob. 😉


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  11. Reach for the Top?! Fellow nerd here…we made the quarter-finals and I was on our team (Leaside high school) two years in row. My greatest life goal now (sorry, being positive here!) is to get on Jeopardy and noddle Trebek about showing up three times…I did qualify for the show in 2006 but (sob) they never called.

    I agree about perky shit. Makes me want to throw a chair.


  12. My team was Sandwich Secondary (from the outskirts of Windsor). Don’t think we ever advanced far enough to play Toronto schools — though I DO believe my school had a band exchange trip one year with Leaside, and our combined gleekness played Moon River (or something equally awful) in the atrium at the Ontario Science Centre.

    I played trombone. Not especially well. Quite a thrill nonetheless.

    On the whole, our Reach for the Top team struggled because we kept getting hit with question packs full of inquiries about the Bible. About which we knew bugger-all. The Catholic schools generally kicked our collective asses — chapter and verse, as it were.


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