X and Extraordinary: #A-Z Challenge

“Nothing that had happened in the past could be taken away. This was an amazing gift. The past was over and done and settled; you couldn’t get it back, but still, whatever good you had gotten from it, spiritually, emotionally, would be yours for your lifetime.”

Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin

I had already read multiple books for every other letter of the alphabet. Choosing the concept I most wanted to talk about was my challenge. But X was different.

I started with X, the book in Sue’s Grafton alphabetical mystery series. I struggled through the book (didn’t like it much) to find a quote I could use. The quote I found is about memory being a filter. The idea is that we remember what we can tolerate, and block what we cannot. That doesn’t sit well with me. Maybe it’s just because I’ve been fortunate enough to never experience real trauma. Or maybe it’s because I’ve seen the repressed memory movement from the 80’s do enormous damage to families, and then turn out to be false memories urged on by therapists who are overly keen to ‘recover’ trauma. Researchers have learned that the real challenge with traumatic events is trying to forget them, not recover them.

Are We Really All So Broken?

Leo Tolstoy’s the one who first said, “All happy families are alike: each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Then, far more recently, there was “Every family is dysfunctional” (Andy Garcia), and now I’m seeing versions of “Every family is dysfunctional in its own way.”

Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.

Colin Powell

I think I can simplify this. We’ve each of us got baggage we’d just as soon leave behind, beliefs and habits acquired in childhood that don’t serve us well. I’m all in favour of processing  – to use a therapy term – whatever needs to be processed to allow you to move on. Writing to heal exercises have helped me. Other people have other methods from meditation to art to therapy. And certainly if you have experienced real trauma, it’s vital to get professional help.

Let’s Speak Up for Positivity

But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Let’s make sure that along with the negative memory processing we, like Werlin in the quote above, also remember and celebrate the good times from our past. Positivity is defined as “the practice of being or tendency to be positive or optimistic in attitude.”

Having a positive attitude makes us physically and psychologically healthier than having a negative attitude. So says Martin Seligman, guru of positive psychology. Researchers from the Mayo Clinic agree.

And if we’re searching for a way to be generative, to mentor others, positivity makes it easy to do as you’ll see in this 3:12 video from National Geographic.

Other people will draw power from our positivity. Now that’s a legacy worth leaving.

My impression is that Profound Journey tribe members exude positivity. Is that true? Is your default setting more on the positive or the negative end of the dial?



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  1. Yes, Profound Journey readers do exude positivity thanks to your leading, Karen. I can never understand why people go digging for problems when so many are readily available without going on a scavenger hunt, can you? I am a card-carrying optimist! The video is enlightening.

    1. I am so grateful that you are, as you put it, “a card-carrying optimist,” Molly. You would have to be. There would be no way to write the wonderful humour that you do if you weren’t an optimistic person. When I read your posts, I always feel like you’ve spring cleaned some little pocket of my mind and the sunshine and fresh air are pouring in. (I know you’ll be kind and not pick up on the opening I’ve just left you in this metaphor 🙂 )
      Someday we’re going to have to meet. I’d love to meet you in person, Molly.

      1. Haha! I love to clean out pockets. I usually find a used tissue, some unidentified crumbs, and if I’m lucky a couple of quarters. I would love to meet you in person, Karen. Do you go to writing conferences?

  2. I think positivity is at least in part something you’re born with. Some people are more naturally positive while others gravitate towards the negative. I see it in my own family. OTOH, it can be nurtured as well through deliberately focusing on the positive and using the techniques you mention – meditation, journalling (especially gratitude journalling), therapy. There’s a whole shelf of books at any bookstore on how to be happy or increase happiness in your life.
    I am one of the lucky ones that is naturally positive, sometimes to a fault. I put up with stuff longer than I should because of this. My motto seems to be “Yeah, life can be tough but I know I can get through it.” And I have. But I wonder if I wasn’t so positive, would I be taking this shit on or dealing with it as long as I have. Maybe not. Because I see a lot of negative people in the same boat as I was – in terms of having a tough go. So who knows? Anyways, I am a positive member of your tribe, and glad to be so!


    1. I suspect you’re right that positivity is an inborn trait, as is negativity. But I also know for sure that you’re right that positivity can be nurtured. And I’m so glad it can be. I detest spending time around the Eeyores of the world. They bring me down and make me feel heavy and lethargic. One of the many things I like about you, Deb, is that you are positive despite some pretty heavy duty negative events in your life. That’s impressive.

      1. Thank you, Karen. I wish I could say that it’s because I work so damn hard at it but I already said I’m naturally positive. I’m like a fishing bobber that gets pulled under for a bit but will pop back up when given any chance. So far, anyways 😆

  3. I spent a career managing people through major technology changes and I learned that people would rise or fall based on my level of expectation …. people who – based on past experience – did not have the right stuff, and yet performed incredibly well when provided with support, encouragement, and confidence that they could get the job done.

    Success breeds success. It feels good, and people want to continue doing things that feel good. To me, it makes much more sense to shower people with positivity rather than the wet blanket of negativity.

    1. Your personal example is a great one, Joanne. I can’t think of anything that would bring out the negativity in some people more than a major technology change. That you could help those individuals experience success as a result of your positivity and support speaks volumes, both of you and of the value of positivity over negativity.

  4. I’m a big fan of positivity – I think most of us have stuff from our past that we could dwell on, but it changes nothing. Midlife for me has been a time of leaving a lot of stuff behind me and starting out fresh – reinventing myself and enjoying the freedom and optimism that comes with it. (BTW I think a lot of us are cheating on our “X” letter 🙂 )

    1. I love the image of reinventing ourselves, Leanne. Doing so is a big driving force in my life too.
      I think we can all be forgiven for ways we work with X. Unless xylophones, xeriscaping, or x-rays fit your theme, or if the book X by Sue Grafton had properly fit mine, there aren’t a lot of options. I take heart in the fact that when you say ‘extraordinary’ what you hear is the ‘x’. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it 🙂

  5. After reading many of the blogs of people in the Profound Journey tribe, I would agree that positivity is a definite trait. Positivity is like playing and having fun while negativity brings you down. That’s my take anyway.

    1. I was thinking of you when writing this post, Fran, because I think that positivity and negativity can be influenced by circumstance. For example, you are generally a positive person. Is that holding in the midst of the work you’re having done in your home?

  6. HI, Karen – It is way easier for me to remember positive events than negative ones. I don’t think it’s denial, it’s always been the way my brain has worked.
    BTW – I wanted to SMACK the final crowd in the video.

  7. Yeah, you’re right. My kids get annoyed at me when I give them the ‘Suck it up buttercup’ line. Really, it’s in their power to be happy or sad!

    I used to love Sue Grafton’s A to Z mysteries but she lost her way long before X. I don’t think I even read that one.

    1. X was just dismal. I finished it only because I was planning to use it for the challenge, but there were three or four equally boring plot lines that meandered everywhere and got nowhere. A to Z is a great marketing tool for a writer, but dismal when you can’t see it through at a consistent level of excellence.

  8. Karen,
    I think I was born a dreamer — but with the realities of life, at this point, I have a clear case of optimism with a side of angst. As one version of my business card says, I am a ‘practical visionary’. I am definitely no ‘Eeyore’ – nor am I a ‘Pollyanna’. 🙂

    1. Hi Janet,
      I’m a huge fan of Kris Kristofferson. He describes his setpoint as similar to yours, leading one journalist to quip, “There is no one more hopeful than a cynic waiting to be proved wrong.” 🙂

  9. Hi Karen! I think you know which side of the fence I land on! As a teacher of mine once said, “If you are going through hell, why would you stop and rent a condo?” And as my current blog post says from a young double-amputee named Amy Purdy, ““You can spend your whole life questioning. You can scrutinize every little thing you said or did, every little decision you did or didn’t make. It’s normal to look back…But ultimately it doesn’t help to keep looking. Or regretting. Or berating yourself for what you can’t go back and change.” Thanks for the reminder! ~Kathy

    1. I absolutely do know where your natural inclination rests, Kathy, and I’m glad of it. Your positivity makes your posts both refreshing and inspiring.
      I love your teacher’s saying and Amy’s insight. Thanks, Kathy.

    1. Unless you’re saying ‘fine’ with a snarl, I can’t imagine how anyone would think that response passive-aggressive. And from what I’ve read on your bog, I don’t imagine you’re that way at all. I see you as a positive person, keen to learn and experience.

  10. I’d have to watch that video when we’re back home from our little weekend break.

    I’d like to think I’m a positivist. I certainly am in my relationship! But, very recently, we both hit rock bottom and it totally made me understand and respect depression and why people kill themselves. Not to be the party pooper of your tribe here, though. I’m just saying that in certain situations, it is very difficult to be positive. That being said, because I am strong, I get to the other side, and never give up on trying to convince my husband of the positive things (as small as they might be) in our lives.

    1. Oh no, Liesbet. I knew that you were having a rough time, but I didn’t realize it was anywhere near that bad. I hope that things are much, much better. And if they aren’t, I hope you’ve got someone you are comfortable talking with. I know we don’t know each other all that well, but I do care and am absolutely here by email or by phone if you ever want to chat.

      1. Thank you, Karen, you are very sweet and supportive. We are doing a bit better, but are looking forward to the summer, for many reasons that will become clear over time. 🙂 I do have a wonderful friend, for sure, and it’s why I partly made my previous blog a tribute to her. Some periods, you just have to get through by yourself, or together with your loved one… The long weekend we just finished was a step in the right direction. 🙂

  11. I am definitely a positive person… almost to the extent of being rather naive. I just find that approaching situations with a positive attitude usually results in a positive outcome… and if it doesn’t, a positive attitude can help us deal with the negative outcomes better. I realize that I am very lucky in many ways, especially in that I had a good childhood and a trauma- and drama-free upbringing, so I have no illusions that being positive is easy for everyone. That being said, I think it is possible to retrain oneself to have a more positive attitude (“fake it until you make it” even).

    1. It’s a delight to read your posts, Janis, because you are so positive. And while I understand that some of it may come from a good childhood, I think you also maintain and share your positivity by being grateful. And I, for one, am very grateful for that 🙂

  12. Powerful, Karen. Thank you. I’m more on the positive dial. Negative thoughts, when they show up, are extremely overwhelming, and I have to let the passage of time help. The past has built certain corners in the heart and mind, some darker than others. Most times, those corners are ignored, forgotten. But there are emotional triggers. Growth, maturity, wisdom make things better or maybe just bring a certain understanding. Life sure is a journey with both smooth and bumpy roads.

    1. I certainly have those emotional triggers too, Silvia. When I experience them, I know that the shadow parts of my personality, formed through some negative experiences, are clamouring for attention. Thank goodness that time, and hopefully wisdom, makes it easier to avoid activating some of those triggers.

  13. I love this post, Karen. I remember when I was young and it was recommended to express your anger whenever you felt it so that it wouldn’t build up and you would “explode,” so to speak. Later psychologists studied the effects of this and learned that people who did this were actually much angrier than people who contained their angry impulses. The truth is those initial feelings of irritation usually go away after a few minutes if we brush them off. Certainly, there are big issues that can’t be swept under the rug, but giving voice to every frustration often does more harm than good. Plus, it spreads these feelings around. Conversely, we can spread positivity and joy. It’s all a matter of choosing. Thank you for this post.
    Facing Cancer with Grace-The Daily Examen

    1. One of the many things I admire about you, Heather, is your positivity. I am grateful for the fact that every day on your blog, that’s what you spread – positivity, encouragement, and understanding.

      I do remember that old theory about the value of venting your anger. The world is a much better place for it having been disproven.

  14. Great post, Karen. My default setting in on the positive end of the dial. I’m optimistic. Many times my optimism blocks out all potential negatives or dangers until someone points them out.

    1. While it isn’t ideal to be unaware of potential dangers, I’m glad you are more optimistic than pessimistic, Natalie. While dangers do exist, they are far less of an issue than a life spent in fear and anxiety would be. If you were a woman who was focused on potential problems, you wouldn’t travel outside your front door never mind all over the world!

  15. Hi Karen, I think you can guess that I’m a big believer in the power of positivity. My husband is a Vietnam Veteran who has suffered from PTSD. He kept things inside for most of his life and when he actually had to relive the memories in order to get a pension, it was just as traumatic experience as being in the war. We all have bad things happen in our life, but we can’t keep hanging on to them. We have to let go and enjoy life now. Thanks for another inspiring post and have a great weekend. x

  16. Hi Sue, I’m so very sorry to hear about the very difficult time your husband and you have had to go through, and continue to endure. Your positivity is all the more significant and remarkable because of it. You show the rest of us that we can thrive regardless of circumstances. That’s a real gift, Sue. Thank you for giving it every single week.
    I hope you have a great weekend as well. Enjoy your grandson’s birthday – or is that already over? The time difference between Ontario, Canada and Australia is so huge I never can tell!

    1. Thank you for your kind and encouraging words, Karen. My grandson had a wonderful party and loved his birthday cake that I made. Children just fill you with such joy. Hope you are enjoying your weekend. xx I think you might be around 12 hours behind Australia but don’t quote me!

  17. Karen, I am an optimist-in-training. I am working on being positive and most of my blogging friends have only known this aspect of me. Long-time friends have commented how much I’ve changed. It’s not yet my natural state of being, but I am getting better at it. I wrote “let it go” in my journal about 5 times this morning – the negative thoughts, the anger, were overpowering me yesterday. That and a good yoga session helped.

    I believe in the power of positivity… that’s why I keep working at it. I loved the video and it will be one I remember.

  18. definitely more on the positive then the negative. does the story you tell serve you.? this to me is the inquiry. we can discuss our issues our wounds our traumas until the cows come home – after a while it is called whingeing and the story can keep us trapped in the same place. so while there is a place to air your ‘issue’ and yes this can bring about healing it is not healthy to keep labouring on about it. it is good to move on thanking the experience for it becomes part of our wisdom.
    my cynic says that we are making too much fuss these days- naming eccentricities as mental disorders , our behaviours so scrutinised and labeled that we are a walking dysfunctional unit.
    well we are also unique divine creative expressions having a grand ole time on the most beautiful planet in the universe. room for it all I guess,

  19. Words of wisdom, Sandra. I love your phrase “naming eccentricities as mental disorders.” That’s so true – rarely do I hear of people being referred to as eccentric anymore.

  20. I tend to be positive in the present, no matter what the problem. I think of myself as a pessimist, however, because in looking to the future, I am always preparing for ( not hoping for, looking for or necessarily expecting) the worst case scenario. That way, anything less than the “worst” is a happy surprise, and I’m ready for whatever happens. Thanks, Karen!

    1. That’s an interesting combination of approaches, Cindy. It makes good sense. And maybe that preparation for a worst-case future isn’t really pessimism but realism. Let’s look at it that way. 🙂

  21. Hi Karen, It was great to read the post and all the positive comments! Although I am a bit of a worrier, I try to be positive, if only because I find that negativity requires so much more energy! So there you have it–I’m a lazy optimist 🙂

    1. Hey Jenny, being an optimist is a good thing for whatever reason. And if it conserves your energy that, to me, is one of the best reasons of all. It’s the one thing I miss about no longer being twenty or thirty. I did used to have absolutely boundless energy.

  22. I look for the good in people, and believe that people live up to positive expectations (as Joanne said). However, I do have trouble with polarizing concepts like optimist/pessimist. I think it’s not that simple. In particular, exhorting people with clinical depression, a common mental health issue, to “be more optimistic” lacks sensitivity (not that you were suggesting this, Karen, but it is a remark that people with depression often hear). Recent developments in positive psychology show promise for helping people manage depression and anxiety disorders, which is good.


  23. I paused for a minute when reading your comment, Jude. Thanks for confirming that I wasn’t encouraging either polarization or “buck up” comments for people with mental health issues.
    I do believe that it is important in any environment, including a therapeutic one, to see the positives that come out of even negative experiences. James Pennebaker, quoted in my article about Writing to Heal, found that a balanced viewpoint had significant positive impact on people writing to heal after a trauma.

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