Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Easing the Uphill Struggle

Sharon Wildwind

At times, I run out of energy before I run out of day. When those days happen, it’s terrific to be able to ask my husband to do things for me that I normally do for myself, even simple tasks such as untie my shoes, or hang up my dress, or bring me a glass of water.

A group of researchers, led by Simone Schnalla of the University of Plymouth in England, has demonstrated that approaching a daunting task with a good friend has a measurable positive effect on judging how hard that task will be. Their study, called “Social Support and the Perception of Geographical Slant” was published last month in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. (If you’re interested in reading the article, details are at the end of the blog.)

Schnalla and his co-investigators did two studies.

In the first, a person was asked to estimate how steep a hill was. Test subjects who had a good friend with them during the test estimated the hill to be less steep than people who were unaccompanied.

In the second study, subjects were asked to estimate the steepness of an imaginary hill, this time while thinking of a supportive friend. In this study as well, people who thought about a good friend, saw the hill as less steep than did the people thinking about a neutral or disliked person. The longer and more positive the friendships, the flatter the hill seemed to be.

Supportive friendships existed among writers long before the Internet made keeping in touch easier. In the nineteenth century, the novelist Sarah Orne Jewett and the biographer and social reformer Annie Fields not only shared a house, but kept up friendships—and correspondences that didn’t depend on e-mail, cellphones, or Facebook—with a list of people that reads like a high school required reading list. Among their long-time friends were Alfred Lord Tennyson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry James, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, Lydia Maria Child, Mark Twain, Mary Ellen Chase, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Rudyard Kipling, Sarah Wyman Whitman, Willa Cather, and William Dean Howells.

I talked recently to a friend who is a writer, though not of mysteries. Her particular literary neighborhood is going through a dicy patch right now, one of those, “He said,” “She said,” “I never said” fracases, with side orders of name-calling and back-stabbing. She said to me, “Every time we talk, you have another story about writers doing something nice for each other. How do you guys do it?”

The flippant answer is that we have the ability to kill—on paper, of course—whoever gets in our way.

However we do it, I’m darn glad we do. So my advice this week is to raise our collective glasses to one another and give a little cheer for making all the hills seem smaller. Let’s keep hiking on together.

Link to the article:

If that address doesn’t work, go to http://www.sciencedirect.com/ and look for
Social support and the perception of geographical slant
Simone Schnalla, Kent D. Harberb, Jeanine K. Stefanuccic and Dennis R. Proffitt
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume 44, Issue 5, September 2008, Pages 1246-1255

Writing quote for the week:

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.
~Anais Nin, diarist and writer (1903 - 1977)


Sheila Connolly said...

Hear, hear! The on-line writers community is one of the most supportive and positive I've ever encountered. Maybe it's because in this business we see a lot of rejection (heck, we go out begging for rejection), and we need all the help we can get. It does help to know that we are not alone.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

IMHO, it's the MYSTERY community that's amazingly supportive and generous to its members, both online and f2f. Apart from the question of writers, I loved the concept of friendship and the relativity of uphill slopes. However, I must add that other factors--notably the age and fitness of the pedestrian or climber--also affect the steepness of the slope.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Sharon. Friendship and giving and happiness in general is something I've been thinking about a lot lately. It can be so easy to make a friend -- a smile to a harried grocery store clerk, holding open a door for a woman pushing a stroller. Even if the friendship only lasts five seconds, it's still real.

And the cyber-friendships I've developed inside the mystery community are no less real to me than any other kind.

Janet K.

Sandra Parshall said...

Mystery writers are lucky to be part of a truly cohesive and supportive community. I feel sorry for mainstream and literary writers, who seem to be in it all alone.