It’s hot. It’s dry (here, at least). The economy is scary (everywhere but here, that is). There are days when it’s really difficult to find anything at all to be upbeat about. And what’s more, it seems like it’s contagious: you go to a show or opening or an art retreat, and it seems like everyone you run into is experiencing their very own streak of Serious Gloom. Your customers, your friends on Facebook, the students in your classes. What’s up with everyone, anyway?
How often do we stop to think, “Gee, I wonder if it’s me?” Yes, times are tough and people have problems–that’s always going to be true. But you know attitudes are contagious, and the way you feel really does affect people who come into contact with you. I was thinking about this because of two people I see here where I live. Both are in the middle of treatment for a recurrence of cancer. That’s big and horribly scary, so I wasn’t surprised at the woman who never smiles and always looks like the weight of the world is on her shoulders, because of course, it is. But then I was around other people who were dealing with the same treatment, and I noticed how these people are completely opposite. The one who made me really stop and think about this is in the middle of a long, grueling, expensive treatment (again) and has lost his hair (again) and has to wear a mask (to keep germs away from his weakened immune system) and doesn’t always feel well enough to come to work, but when he is there, he’s his usual self, laughing and joking with the regulars and kvetching in an entertaining way.
Now, neither of these ways of acting is right or wrong, but here’s what I realized: the person who’s always depressed and glum? She’s usually alone. People have realized that no matter what they say or do, it’s not going to make her feel any better or make her smile. The guy who jokes his way through the days when he can make it out of the house? People go out of their way to find him and ask him how he’s doing, how he feels that day. Sure, they both need the attention, and she probably needs it more than he does; but when people feel helpless to make someone feel better, they pull away. This is true almost everywhere, and it’s not confined to serious illness.
You’ve seen this at shows, I know: maybe things are slow and sales aren’t so good. Vendors are worried: they counted on this show to make the next mortgage payment. Some of them have just given up. They’re sitting in their booths, glum and irritable. If you stop to talk to them, you’ll get a litany of all that’s wrong, from the noise in their hotel room to the bad food in the restaurant to the unappreciative shoppers and lazy organizers. Others, though, will greet you and ask how you’re doing, talk to you about the show, show you their new work. They’re not making any sales, either, but they don’t let their (understandable) disappointment color every interaction they have.
Same situation, different attitude. Even online, attitude matters. How’s yours? Are the posts on your blog always about how the lousy economy has ruined your life? Do you constantly kvetch about the students in your classes? About your suppliers, your gallery rep, your customers? Do you sound angry, frantic, desperate? Or do you find things your readers will enjoy: stories about trips, short tutorials, amazing photos? It really matters, and here’s just one reason: when we (editors, podcasters, writers, agents, whatever) are out there looking for New Stuff, we notice whether or not you seem like someone we and our readers/customers/listeners will find fascinating and entertaining and inspiring. You may be the most talented painter on the planet, but if all you do is complain about how the economy has forced you to go back to work at the bank, we’re not going to be so quick to invite you to work with us. It’s tough to overcome a bad attitude, no matter how justified it is. If all you do is complain, it’s tough to find ways to make you interesting to anyone else.
I’m not suggesting you apply sugary frosting to all the horrible things in your life. Serious illness and financial peril aren’t anything you can ignore. But if you’re dealing with other people and wonder why maybe they seem to be avoiding you, maybe it’s time to do a little self-check. While it’s OK to express your worries, if that’s all you ever post about, people are going to drift away. Maybe they won’t even realize they’re doing it, but they’ll feel uncomfortable, and they’ll find other places to go and other posts to read. It’s not that they don’t care; it’s that they feel they can’t do anything to make it better, and nobody likes to feel that way.
Ricë also blogs at The Voodoo Lounge.
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