Friday, July 1, 2022

Optimistic or pessimistic, and can that be a self-fulfilling prophecy?

 HALLIE EPHRON: Last week the Boston Globe ran a piece about a Harvard study that came to the conclusion: "Women who are optimistic tend to live longer" (though as further reading indicates, researchers are "not exactly sure why.")

Here's the conclusion: "The 25 percent of women who were most optimistic were likely to have a 5.4 percent longer lifespan — or an average of a3bout 4.4 years more — and a 10 percent greater likelihood of living beyond 90 than the 25 percent who were the least optimistic, the study said.

The difference between the lifespan of optimists and pessimists persists, the researchers say, across different ethnic and racial groups.

That got me thinking: am I an optimist or a pessimist?

When I was pregnant I imagined all kinds of terrible scenarios because, I told myself, "that way I can't be disappointed." When I've applied for something or been up for an award, I tell myself that I won't get it so I can say "Told you so" when I don't.

I’m sure traffic will be terrible so I get to the airport hours early. I’m always sure that if I have a medical procedure something will go wrong... I think a psychologist would call me “well defended.”

On the other hand, if something is hard to do and I want to do it, I assume I can if I keep at it.

Questions on a test like the Harvard questionnaire ask you to rate (agree to disagree) with statements like:

So, do you consider yourself an optimist or a pessimist, and do you think it's possible that lifespan is nothing more than a self-fulfilling prophecy?

JENN McKINLAY: I’m annoyingly optimistic.

It’s not that I don’t worry or have stress or get angry. I do all of those things. It’s just that I can usually talk myself out of expecting negative outcomes fairly quickly. When the Hooligans were hitting the stressful teen years, we made a habit of giving our worries and anxieties over to the universe because worrying really doesn’t do anything to help the situation.

Now that they’re older, when I start to spin out, the Hooligans remind me to let go of the worry, stress, or anger - because why suffer twice? Always nice to have your own words thrown back at you :) LOL.

I love this quote:

RHYS BOWEN: I think I was an optimist before the last dreadful years. During Covid the underlying fear influenced my life. Let’s say I’m cautiously optimistic. That doesn’t mean I’m not a worrier— the mom who sat by the window until her kids got home, imagining cars going into ditches.

When it comes to awards I’m thrilled if I win but genuinely thrilled for others if I lose. And I have amazing parking karma. A spot always opens up for me. I think I believe the best of people, that love should conquer hate… at least most of the time. Don’t ask me this right after the Jan 6 hearings

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Hmm. This is very complicated. I think I am an “eventual optimist.” In uncertain times I usually expect the best.

>>Ah, I’d say, I expect the best will happen eventually. Covid, the stock market, ketchup on the walls. But in the instant moment I do expect the WORST possible thing, but followed soon after by okayness.

If something can go wrong for me, it will.
>>Well, I deal with that by worrying. Er, I mean, planning. For every possible eventuality. Then when none of that happens but something else does, I have band width. But in my heart of hearts, I think things will be fine. Eventually.

I don’t get upset too easily.
>>It totally depends. I can INSTANTLY be upset when it’s called for, but it’s not usually my go-to reaction. And if it is, I can get pretty un-upset very quickly.. Sometimes even say to myself–next week, I will have forgotten this. So why not forget it NOW? Sometimes I say–next week, I will laugh about this–so why not laugh sooner?

Overall, I expect more good things to happen to me than bad.

>>Yes. I will admit that, and then knock on wood and throw salt and deny it.

LUCY BURDETTE: I do love that poem Jenn!

I would agree with cautious optimism. I do get discouraged, especially over the past few years with Covid and politics running wild. Even during the pandemic though, I was able to convince myself that there were big brains working on the problem and somehow we’d get out of it. (Which turned out to be partially true–all those amazing vaccines in such a short time!)

With the crazy politics, I can’t help thinking that most people will see the reasonable path, the reasonable compromise. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, I’m *fairly* good at compartmentalizing the bad stuff so I don’t get frozen. 

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I fall into the ridiculously optimistic camp. I always tend to think the absolute best of people, and even when I've been disappointed, it hasn't carried on to other relationships. 

Which isn't to say I don't realistically see bad things coming. At the very beginning of February 2020, I had a family sit-down and said, "This is like the first scenes of every disaster movie I've every seen, right up to the 'ominous news from distant lands' playing on the TV in the background. We need to prepare now." But I didn't panic, and I didn't assume the world was going to end and we'd all be eaten by zombies. 

One of the benefits of optimism is when dire events happen - you lose your job, the car dies, there are unexpected medical issues - you're more likely to focus on what you can actively do to ameliorate the problem, and eventually overcome it. Pessimists are the folks who sit down and wait for the zombies to get them.

DEBORAH CROMBIE:  What a timely post, Hallie, when it seems like there's a new bombardment of bad news every day. I've always considered myself an optimist, but I have to admit that the last few years have tarnished that side of the coin a bit. In challenging times, being an optimist takes more conscious effort and I'm determined to make it. Get out that gratitude journal, seek out the good news! And when things feel really overwhelming, read a book!

HALLIE: So what about you? Optimist? Pessimist? Hedging your bets and compartmentalizing to get through the day? 

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Barbara Ross's MUDDLED THROUGH: Miss Rumphius and Lupines


HALLIE EPHRON: It's a very happy day indeed when we get to welcome the lovely and talented (and funny an super-nice...) Barbara Ross to Jungle Red with a new book - the tenth in her delicious Maine Clambake Mystery Series, MUDDLED THROUGH. The series is great fun and you can't find a more authentic Maine experience, short of being there.

Welcome Barbara!

BARBARA ROSS: Hi Reds and Reds-readers! I am so happy to be here. Many of you will already know that several Reds have been friends and mentors to me over the years, especially the New England crew. Lucy and I share a birthday (same year, one week apart) so we celebrate together in Key West. This year we celebrated our January birthdays in March due to babies who arrived later than expected, covid, and the general messiness.

My latest book, released Tuesday, is Muddled Through, the tenth Maine Clambake Mystery series. One topic while researching for this book, I particularly enjoyed was discovering more about Barbara Cooney and her classic children’s story, Miss Rumphius. In the book, published in 1982, Alice Rumphius tells her grandfather that when she grows up, she will go to faraway places, and when she gets old, she will live in a house by the sea. Her grandfather tells her she must do one additional thing: She must do something to make the world more beautiful.

Alice does go to faraway places. An intrepid, self-directed single woman, she travels around the world. Then she goes back to Maine to live in a house by the sea. Once there, she makes the world more beautiful by dropping lupine seeds wherever she goes.

I based my contemporary character, Alice Rumsford, on Miss Rumphius. My character also travels the world, returns to her family’s cottage on the Maine coast, and endeavors to make her community more beautiful.

Barbara Cooney was born in 1917 in Brooklyn. She went to Smith College, married, had two children, discovered her husband was a “cad” and a “womanizer” and divorced. Her father and brother had disowned her when she married, so she supported her family as a children’s book illustrator. She later remarried, happily, had two more children, and traveled widely to gain inspiration for her art. She won two Caldecott Medals and a National Book Award (for Miss Rumphius). She eventually lived in Damariscotta, Maine, which is, happily, the next town north of my fictional town of Busman’s Harbor.

Cooney almost certainly based the character of Miss Rumphius on Hilda Edwards Hamlin, born in 1889. Hamlin arrived in Christmas Cove, Maine, very near Damariscotta, to visit an uncle in 1904. Like Barbara Cooney, she graduated from Smith College, thought a generation earlier, married, had children, and divorced.

(In perhaps a coincidence, or perhaps an illustration that the world of educated New England WASPs was very small, Barbara Cooney’s second husband was Charles Talbot Porter. Hilda’s ex-husband was Talbot Faulkner Hamlin. In another coincidence, in typing this, I just realized Hamlin must have been at Smith with my grandmother. I will look for her in the yearbook)

Like Miss Rumphius, Hamlin traveled widely and then settled in the little cottage in Christmas Cove. In Maine, she made the world more beautiful by scattering lupine seeds wherever she went. She didn’t drive and neighbors who gave her rides would discover her surreptitiously tossing seeds out their car windows. Yankee magazine ran an article on her in 1971 that included the quote, “If friends of Hilda Hamlin would tote a few sticks of wood to her cottage they would be doubly welcome.” In a later issue, they had to print a plea for people to stop visiting her.

The lupines that Hilda Hamlin seeded are not native to Maine. They come from the west coast. Even though their beauty on roadsides and meadows between Father’s Day and the Fourth of July has come to symbolize Maine, they didn’t start appearing until the 1950s, when Hilda Hamlin was in her sixties. These new lupines have crowded out the more modest local variety and in so doing extirpated the Kargan Blue Butterfly.

The lupines are an excellent metaphor for incomers to Maine. The investment, enterprinse and support for local businesses they bring is welcome, but the non-natives are difficult to cultivate and impossible to contain. The natives worry about being crowded out, swallowed up by the wolves for which the lupines are named.

Dear Reds and Readers: What do you think? Native plants only, or can you beautify the world with non-natives? Feel free to treat the question literally, as a metaphor, or both.

Barbara Ross is the author of the Maine Clambake Mysteries and the Jane Darrowfield Mysteries. Her books have been nominated for multiple Agatha Awards for Best Contemporary Novel and have won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. Barbara’s Maine Clambake novellas are included along with stories by Leslie Meier and Lee Hollis in holiday anthologies from Kensington Publishing. Barbara and her husband live in Portland, Maine. Readers can visit her website at

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Is it something I clicked on?

 THE WINNER of Debra H. Goldstein's FIVE BELLES TOO MANY is Margie Bunting! Margie, email (hephron "at" gmail dot com) me so I can connect you with Debra.

HALLIE EPHRON: Recently my daughter was here helping me manage some laundry. She tut-tutted me as she carried a pile of my clothes down to the basement. “You know you’re in trouble, Mommo,” she said, “when you can’t tell your jammies from your clothes.”

True, virtually every item she had in her arms was grey or black and soft and comfy. Aka winter pajamas, or call it Covid-chic, or wardrobe for aging in place. At any rate my daughter shook me up and got me hunting online for more colorful (at the least) and chic-er (at best) items to add to my closet, and making piles of redundant gray comfy items to consider giving away.

That’s when my computer started serving up this ad.

Over and over.

It’s Halston. $695. (Marked down to $479 at Bloomies.) The model wearing it is 5’ 10” tall and wearing a Size 4. Helpful information for determining it's suitability.

It is not washable. And I’d have to silly putty it to my chest.

What did I do to merit lime green sequins? What does the Internet know about me that I don’t know about myself?

Because the truth is I LOVE this dress. That is definitely me… in my dreams. Sparkly and slinky me, definitely not “mother of the bride” me or Grandma Me. Perhaps me accepting my award for best suspense novel ever written. I can dream…

What’s your dream outfit, something you've always imagined yourself wearing and stopping traffic? Maybe you were lucky enough to actually have it and wear it?

And do you find the Internet has started serving up your dreams? "They" are watching, you know.