Shiny Things On A Dull Day

27 Mar Shiny Things On A Dull Day

First published inthe NZ Woman’s Weekly – cover date 27.3.23


When my brother and I were sorting through our late-mother’s things a few years ago, we found boxes of written treasures – letters and cards she’d kept over the years because they meant something to her, and showed how much she was loved.

Sometimes – oh my heart – she’d left little notes on the back of things for us to find that explained their importance. Like the birthday card my brother had sent, not to her, but to our grandmother nearly 30 years before. Our mother’s post-it on the back said Grandma had kept this card on her bedside table all through the last weeks of her life. It was one of the last things she’d looked at.

We treasured these, but so had our mother – the letters and cards hadn’t just arrived in the post and been tossed in a box till we found them. They’d been taken out now and then, re-read, pages smoothed then refolded and tucked lovingly back into envelopes like children into bed.

It occurred to me then that I’d have fewer letters to hold onto, and my daughter and grandchildren would have even less. We email now, send texts and photos, and these are things you can’t tie with a ribbon and squirrel away.

But for years I’ve been keeping a file of emails on my laptop labelled “Nice Letters” which I dip into now and again on a dull day in the same way my mother might have sifted through hers. Some are from friends and family, others are from strangers who have read or seen a thing I’ve done and liked it. Many come with their own stories that echo mine. Some are just a simple bit of kindness.

It always surprises me that, when I read them, it feels like the first time. It seems it is harder to remember the lovely words people say, absorb them and hold them in your mind than, you know, the other kind.

We all do this – remember the hurts and criticisms easily, the praise less so. It’s called “negativity bias”, this bigger impact unpleasant experiences have on our psyche as opposed to positive things.

Studies show that insults, for example, fire up our brain much more than compliments do. Likely it’s because we are busy assessing how much of a threat this is, and whether we should be ready for flight or fight.

Like all mouthy, lippy women I get my fair (is it fair?) share of insults. Enough for me to have created an Insult Bingo Card for social media interactions, quietly (just using my inside voice) awarding points to detractors depending on how many squares they can cover.

You get points for: Never heard of you. Heard of you but never liked you. No longer funny. Never been funny ever. Old and/or ugly and/or fat. Smarty-pants and/or dummy. Raving communist and/or government shill.

It is worth noting that I can be accused of pairs of mutually exclusive things by just one person. There are several blokes and one or two sheilas who have never heard of me but also have disliked me for years.

If it all gets a bit much, I might have a fossick through the Nice Letters. Though the very best thing – the real antidote – is not to read a Nice Letter, but to write one to someone else. And you hope they are – we are all – keeping a file of shiny things to read on a dull day.