Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Yelp and the Power of Proactive Positivity

My Dear Reader,

I like saying nice things to people.

And I don't know If you've picked up on this, but I like books a lot. (I've tried to be subtle.)

You know what else I like? Independent book stores. So I'm going to say some nice things about those for a bit.

You have to understand that I'm a capitalist. I don't hate businesses based on their size. The computer I'm writing this post on is made by one of the bigger businesses out there, and I'm so glad that so many people were employed in order to get this computer to me. Truly.

But here's the thing: independent bookstores are better.

The reason is actually very simple. Big bookstores are typically staffed by people who are just there to get a paycheck while they're trying to find something better. Independent bookstores are staffed by people who love the living daylights out of books.

And if you buy books based on its ranking on the New York Times Best Sellers List (not a bad start), you're probably okay in a big store. You're also okay if you already know what you want.

But what if you go into a bookstore looking for an adventure? What if you step through that front door in the hopes of a grand discovery? Who will help you on your quest?

Probably not the kind of kid who just started last week. I mean, maybe, but probably not. And they do have algorithms out there, but I have yet to find one that can match the expertise of a bookstore owner.

Because you don't run your own bookstore unless you know a boatload or two about books. You don't make it your career unless it's your calling.

And that's why I love independent bookstores. Any literary experience so much better when a person of expert passion is involved. I know that I can go through those doors and emerge with something exciting and unexpected. Not to mention that used books tend to be a lot cheaper, and I could read myself out of house and home if I wasn't careful.

So, you can imagine how excited I was to find a new bookstore near my workplace. Like most bookstores, I entered and immediately felt that I belonged. And when I complimented the owner on her establishment, she said something interesting to me:

"You know," she said, "if you look up local bookstores online, we won't show up. Do you think you could give us a review on Yelp.com? Every time we get a review, we become more visible."

And since I occasionally work at a small cafe, I definitely can understand why a Yelp review is so important. When you don't have the cash to hire Sofía Vergara to promote your product, Yelp is pretty much your best option.

But here's the problem about Yelp: people usually only bother to review things when they have something bad to say.

But I'm not like that. As previously stated, I like saying nice things to people.

(By the way, you are doing an awesome job at reading this post.)

And, you know, if we can go online and say nice things about the businesses we love, maybe more people will find them. Maybe our proactive positivity can keep small bookstores around for the next generation of bookworms.

And if you're not into bookstores, we can no longer be friends that's okay. Proactive positivity can apply to diners, record stores, vintage clothing stores, and pretty much any place that you want to keep around.

Because if you have something nice to say, you should say it. Right? Because we all need a little niceness in our lives. We all need the support of others in order to succeed. This is a great, easy way to bring a little goodness into the world.

And especially my world, because if bookstores all vanish and I have to read all of my books on my phone, I might just cry.

Regards, best wishes, and you don't want to see me when I cry as it involves whale noises,

-Cecily Jane

P.S. I have two independent bookstores that I really love: Another Read Through in Portland and Escape Fiction in Salem. I know a lot of you aren't Oregon locals, so go ahead and leave some of your own recommendations in the comments!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Let Us Oft Speak Kind Words to Each Other

My Dear Reader,

When I was a girl, a particularly terrifying middle-aged woman from church told me that holding back compliments was a sin. Something about pride and whatnot. At the time, when I was already bombarded with warnings of all kinds of other sins to worry about, this was horrifying. No way the devil was going to take hold of me just because I forgot to tell Judy that her hair looked nice.

No. Way.

I don't know why that idea stuck in my brain, except that the deliverer is someone who used to stalk my nightmares.* But it did. And while I don't know if I ever truly believed that it was a sin, I maintain that withholding compliments is a bad idea.

That's why I have a policy that's like Thumper's rule, but in reverse. Thumper said, "If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all."

I say that if you can say something nice, you should say it.

The reason is simply that people need positive reinforcement. People need to know that the good they bring into the world does not go unnoticed. We need to know that even though life is discouraging, and even though we often fail, every once in a while we manage to do something right. Even if we do that something by accident.

And while we can often see the good that others do, we often can't see how other people struggle. Self-doubt is rampant, toxic, and mostly invisible. We have a grand opportunity to combat this great stumbling blockjust by being kind.

It's an opportunity similar to the one that presented itself years ago at Girl's Camp, when a fellow camper sought me out to say that I had done a great job on a routine a group of us had performed. A small gesture, to be sure, unless you consider the fact that I was a stranger entering a tight-knit group of friends, and that I'd spent the whole week feeling like an outcast. That girl has probably forgotten all about what she did, but I will never forget how it felt to realize that I mattered at a time when I felt worthless and forgotten. Never.

And the truth is that you never really know what people are going through. You never really know what pain or fear they are trying to hide. And you never really know how much a kind word can mean to somebody who needs kindness.

And, really we all need kindness.

So why would you want to miss an opportunity to make that kind of an impact?

And sure, it's not an easy habit to form. I can tell you from experience that it is often scary or awkward. Sometimes you'll even find that the compliment is rejected or dismissed. But the times you fall flat are worth the times when you make a difference. As long as you are honest and sincere, you will have those moments. You will even witness miracles.

So if you have something nice to say, why don't you say it?

I'm sure Thumper would approve.

Regards, best wishes, and you are truly the best,

-Cecily Jane

*I had to endure, with alarming frequency, harsh lectures from her that sometimes lasted up to fifteen minutes and often drew a crowd. I survived by employing strategic eye rolling or singing songs in my head. Though I was a little rambunctious at that age (Mormon church is three hours long, and I have never been good at sitting still), I doubt that any kid would deserve that kind of treatment. Luckily, I have the chance to not be like that.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Pay No Attention to That Man Behind the Curtain!



My Dear Reader,

(Yes, I'm still working on my resolution to read ten classics in 2013.)

One of the great things about reading a children's book as an adult is the way a tale that merely entertained you years ago can suddenly become incredibly meaningful. Once you have been taught to look at stories critically, you start to see things that you never would have found before. Such was the case when I re-read The Wizard of Oz.

As familiar as I am with this story, I realized that this book is all about perception. It seems so obvious that I don’t know how I could have missed it! We all know that the Wizard of Oz is a fraud, but here are some things that are either missing from the movie or were emphasized and expanded in the book:

  • The Scarecrow, who claims to be brainless, is the one who finds solutions for the majority of the problems faced on the Yellow Brick Road and beyond.

  • The Tin Woodman (AKA the Tin Man), who claims to be heartless, is the most considerate and sensitive of the group, even to the point where he weeps openly and rusts.

  • The Cowardly Lion, who does feel socially awkward and anxious, is brave and fearless when his friends need his help.*

  • Dorothy, who feels so homesick, is the most centered and at peace with herself. Though she feels powerless, she is actually one of the most powerful people in Oz.

And, most importantly:
  • Each one of these characters labeled themselves with these negative traits, usually with little prompting by others.
As a person with Clinical Depression™, this idea of self-labeling is a familiar one. My chemically-imbalanced brain produces negative thoughts, and sometimes these thoughts overflow into words that just kind of gush out. I often say that I can’t do this or I’m bad at that. I’m a terrible something-or-another-er. And really, when I say these things, I never think there is any harm. At the time, my words only seem like the unavoidable truth, and they’re so mild and harmless compared to the loud claxon in my brain that shrieks “You’re worthless, you’re a failure, and you ruin everything.” In the moment, I really feel like I’m being kind to myself in comparison. It’s not until later, when I am in a better state of mind, that I realize how unfairly I’ve painted myself. Really, I (like most people) am too complex to fit in one category or another. I try to put myself in a box, but I don’t really fit. There is a difference between having depression and being Depression Girl or Chronic Failure or whatever it is I feel like calling myself at the time. No label I could put on myself would be truly accurate.

But here’s the thing about The Wizard of Oz: nobody thinks twice about the labels that these characters give themselves, even after the labels are proved false. This is brought to a ridiculous and poignant extreme when the wizard admits point blank that he is a fraud (or a humbug, as he tells it), and yet the other characters still believe that he can magically solve their problems. It goes something like this:

Wizard: I’m a great wizard!

Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion: Awesome! You can solve ALL OF OUR PROBLEMS.

Wizard: Well, actually, I’m a big phony. All I’m really good at is special effects and showmanship. Besides, you guys all seem fine to me. Except Dorothy over there. Sorry, Dorothy.

Dorothy: I am greatly disappointed.

Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion: Hey, we still have all of these problems! Solve them, please.

Wizard: But I can’t.

Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion: But you’re the wizard.

Wizard: But I’m not a wizard.

Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion: Yes, you are. You told us so yourself.

Wizard: But then I explained to you that it was all a lie. In great detail.

Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion: But we still have these problems AND YOU’RE A WIZARD.

Wizard: No, I’m not!

Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion: Yes, you are!

Wizard: No I’m not!

Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion: Yes, you are!

Wizard: I never got my Hogwarts letter!

Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion: Solve our problems!

Wizard: But I . . .

Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion: Wiz-ard! Wiz-ard! Wiz-ard!

Wizard: Okay, fine. Using my skills of special effects and showmanship, I will pretend to solve your problems just so you will leave me alone:

Wizard: [Uses skills of special effects and showmanship. Pretends to solve everybody’s problems.]

Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion: It’s a miracle! We’re saved!

Wizard: You’re the same, except for the addition of mostly worthless props.

Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion: You’re the best wizard in all the land!

Wizard: Sigh.

The point here is something I have learned again and again in life: when you tell someone something about yourself, they generally believe it without question. Especially if you tell them something negative. And if you happen to misrepresent yourself, or if you change, you will have a heck of a time trying to get people to see and treat you differently. People’s perceptions have this annoying habit of sticking into people’s brains forever.

In my experience, some people won’t even change their mind after a decade and a mountain of proof. A decade.

I was teenager, people.

Ahem.

So when it comes to presenting yourself to others, it’s important to use good marketing. And when it comes to others, it’s important to remember to base your judgments on actual observations, not just what people tell you. Not even what people tell you about themselves.

Because we are all pretty hard on ourselves. And we all have this tendency to think that our problems and failures are worse than everybody else’s. But none of us fail all the time. None of us fit in a box.

And, like Dorothy, none of us know the extent of our true power and influence.

See? Look at that. All that truth from a children’s book. Who’da thunk?

Regards, best wishes, and self-compassion,

-Cecily Jane

*Unlike the movie, the “Cowardly” Lion does not run away when they fight the Wicked Witch. Instead, when she captures him and tries to turn him into a pack animal, he bravely refuses. He also jumps over large chasms and stuff. Really, of all the characters, the movie does him the greatest injustice.