Why mean comments are easier to remember


I’ve gotten thousands of nice comments on my blog entries over the years, but it’s the mean comments that I remember best. Fortunately I don’t get many nasty comments, but when I do they get stuck to my memory with super glue, whereas the nice comments are attached like Post-It notes, easy to peel off and forget. I tend to be a positive person who focuses on the good things in life, so I’ve often wondered why the negative thoughts are the ones that get imprinted so deeply. I’d prefer to erase them like an Etch-a-Sketch, but shaking my head back and forth like that only gives me whiplash.

I’ve got a hunch about why this happens. It has less to do with my attitude and more to do with biochemistry. Research has shown that you make more vivid memories when you are emotionally aroused, and reading an unexpectedly mean comment definitely arouses my emotions. The only time a good comment has created that same passionate response in me is when it’s from someone I respect and admire who I didn’t realize read my blog, or if it’s a particularly poignant comment about how my writing has affected someone’s life. The bad stuff happens more often.

Some of the research is summarized on this site (which includes references if you are a fan of science-y reading with large, unpronounceable words). Various things come into play: your amygdala, stress hormones, your prefrontal cortex. Women are more likely to remember emotional memories, and older people are able to let bad memories fade faster than younger people. But overall the message is clear: you remember a message more clearly if you’re emotional when it happens.

Like I said, my hunch is just a hunch. I doubt anyone has done an experiment to see what types of comments bloggers remember better, and what their emotional state was at the time they read them. I don’t think it’s that much of a stretch though. At blogging conferences I’ve had discussions with other bloggers about bad experiences they’ve had online, and man, does that get people talking like nothing else. If we didn’t remember these semi-traumatic events so vividly, I doubt we’d have so many conversations about them, and I wouldn’t see as many tweets and posts as I do complaining about mean readers.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much you can do to force memories to fade quicker. There has been some successful therapy with soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder who were able to tone down their memories by thinking about them after taking a beta-blocker called propranolol, which lowers blood pressure and heart rate. When a memory gets accessed, it is later rewritten back on your brain when you’re done, so you can actually change a memory while thinking about it and rewrite it in that altered way. If you remember it when you’re less stressed, you can rewrite it with less emotional intensity attached. This also means that the memories you access the least often are probably the most accurate because they’ve been rewritten the least amount of times.

It’s sort of sad that good comments don’t trigger a huge emotional response in me, though that might ultimately be a good thing. It means that my readers are typically polite and friendly, and it’s only the absence of those qualities that shocks me. I guess I believe in a good world, and that’s not something I can regret, though it’s something I will try harder to remember.

Dental doubt

Teeth x-ray

I wish we were like sharks and constantly shed our teeth for new ones. This would probably make orthodontics more difficult, but I sooooooooo wish I could get rid of my current teeth and declare a do-over. I did not take good care of my teeth in my youth and I am forever paying for it. Or paying for it every six months when an old filling needs to be replaced or a new one appears. I’ve had two crowns, one root canal and so many fillings that I have literally lost count.

I have my biannual cleaning this week and I’m more anxious about it than usual because my dentist seems a little overzealous. They have one of those new cameras that lets you take close-up pictures of teeth, and I’ve read that it can lead to unnecessary work. I wonder how many of the fillings they recommend definitely need to be done and which ones we could wait on and watch.

Well, Jennette, why don’t you get a new dentist? Well, disembodied voice in my head, this is my new dentist. I saw another dentist the first year after I moved here, but I wasn’t happy with their services. They treated a lot of kids, so there was always someone crying and screaming during my visit (who wasn’t me). The receptionist wasn’t very friendly, and the office decor wasn’t that welcoming either. They also made me wait 30-40 minutes for each appointment. I can understand that the schedule might fall behind and you’d be forced to wait 10,15, or hell, even 20 minutes. But when you’ve made me wait 30 minutes you really should have scheduled me for the next appointment. And if you do it more than once, it’s a systematic problem, not an anomaly.

So, I ditched that dentist and started seeing the new one. The office is much nicer, they never make we wait long, and the staff if friendly. However, the old dentist only recommended 2-3 fillings in my year there, whereas the new dentist has recommended a total of 7-8 in the past year. So, yeah, something’s going on here. Either the old dentist was crap, the new dentist is too eager, or I’ve been brushing my teeth with acid. I really don’t feel like seeking out a third opinion at this stage. There are only so many dentists in this town.

Instead, I ask the dentist which ones need to be done right away and which ones can wait awhile. It still makes me uneasy because I don’t want to neglect a problem that’s just going to get worse down the line, but I’d like to keep what’s left of me teeth if I can. I think the reason I’m unusually anxious about my dental appointment is that I’m 100% certain he’s going to recommend fillings, whereas in the past I could always keep my fingers crossed that I’d get the all clear for another six months.

I long for the day when science allows us to grow replacement teeth for transplant instead of messing with fillings and drills. That, or maybe they’ll create a stem cell paste that you can use to grow new enamel. I think something like this will happen eventually, probably in my lifetime, though I’m not sure if I’ll be able to afford it. If they can’t do that, I’d at least like them to genetically engineer plaque that doesn’t destroy your teeth, but helps strengthen them. Until then it’s just me, my dentist and my dental discount card doing our best to save what’s left of my teeth.

Not your typical computer bug

While we’re on the topic of things going horribly wrong, my younger brother sent me this photo of a special bonus gift that was packaged with his new computer monitor.

Yellow jacket

That’s right! A yellow jacket! He opened up the box to be greeted by an intense, horrible pain in his finger. At first he thought he’d stuck some sort of splinter, but quickly discovered the wasp in the packaging and killed it dead. (The bug started it.) I’m not sure how a wasp ended up in the box. It probably flew into the packaging at the factory and got mailed across the country along with the monitor.

I once found a little piece of red plastic in a TV dinner I was eating, but this story definitely tops that. Lil’ Bro is going to write the company and see if they’ll offer him any kind of apology. I mean, we’ve heard of computer bugs, but this is ridiculous.

Crimes against tupperware

I’ve discovered something that smells worse than burnt popcorn in your microwave: melted plastic in your dishwasher. The first whiff I got smelled like someone had just put out a candle, only I wasn’t burning any candles. Obviously my immediate response to this was, Fire! Fire! The apartment complex is burning down! Aaaaahhh!! But before I started tossing cats out the window as part of a frantic escape plan, I decided to sniff down the source of the smell. My nose led me to the dishwasher, which was in heat dry mode a.k.a. death-to-Tupperware mode.

Melted tupperware

This used to be a Tupperware lid, but now looks like a Dali painting. I checked the number on the lid and saw that is was a number 6 plastic, so not only did it smell awful but it was undoubtedly filling my apartment with toxic, cancer-causing fumes. I did some Googling to see if I was now going to have two-headed babies, and if so which circuses would provide them with the best opportunities. I came across this article that said, “Evidence is increasingly suggesting that [number 6] plastic leaches potentially toxic chemicals, especially when heated.” Thanks, Interwebs! Freaking people out since 1992.

I immediately carried the deformed lid outside to the dumpster, after snapping some pics. Thankfully there wasn’t any plastic stuck to the heating element in the dishwasher, so I didn’t have to scrape anything off. I took all the dishes out of the dishwasher and ran it with nothing inside to wash away any lingering plastic. After that I rewashed all the dishes just in case toxic chemicals were stuck on them. I opened all the windows, turned on the kitchen ventilation fan, turned on central air system’s fan, and even turned on the overhead fan in the bedroom that always seems 10 seconds away from lifting off and crashing into my bed. All the windows in my apartment are on one side of the building, so it’s hard to establish a cross breeze. The place still reeked, so I grabbed my phone and sat in my car for the next hour listening to music in the dark parking lot, which was kind of relaxing even if I looked like a woman waiting to rendezvous with her drug dealer.

When I came back in, the place still smelled like an iPhone factory, but not as strongly as before. I kept the windows open all night, which goes against my paranoid instincts that someone will use that opportunity to scale the wall to my second-floor apartment, cut through the screen, and steal my tiny 19″ flatscreen TV which they surely covet. At least there is a window right near my bed, so I was able to breathe fresh air through the night. It got a bit chilly in the night, but nothing a blanket couldn’t ward off. This morning the apartment smelled basically normal, so hopefully continuing to live here won’t give me a tumor.

The lesson here is that when they recommend that you only wash lids in the top rack of the dishwasher, LISTEN TO THAT ADVICE. I thought this lid was big enough that it wouldn’t fall through, but it did, and I’ve never made a mistake that smelled worse. I take comfort that my Googling revealed I’m not the only person to ever make this mistake. And I couldn’t help but think of Shauna who recently washed her FitBit, but at least she didn’t melt the thing. I was excited to finally have a dishwasher in my apartment, but I was obviously not ready for the great responsibility that comes with such an appliance.

A hairy topic

Hair styles

My second-grade teacher Mrs. Kelly had long, straight hair down to her butt which I thought was the coolest thing ever. I told my mom I wanted to grow my hair out too, but I never made it all the way to my butt. I have moderately curly hair, which is kind of high maintenance, so when you grow it long you’re taking on a lot of responsibility. It’s almost like adopting a pet. A pet that lives on your head. That you have to groom constantly.

My hair got halfway down my back in middle school, but that’s about as long as I’ve ever worn it before I got sick of managing it. It takes hours to dry when it’s that long, and it can generate quite the frizz halo if you don’t figure out what products to use. Actually, it can frizz even when you do use products. In addition to that, I shed a lot. Both of my college roommates commented on how much hair accumulated on our rarely-vacuumed carpet. There is always hair to be found in my bathroom sink and on the tile floor no matter how often I clean. So, I’ve generally kept my hair shoulder length which is long enough to keep my neck warm in the winter and simple enough to manage.

In the past year I’ve decided to grow my hair out again. I don’t really have a reason. I know my hair is one of my best features, so I’d like to mix things up see what I can do with it. I’m curious to see how long it can get before I decide it’s not worth the trouble, or until the drain gets so clogged that I can’t shower without filling up the tub. I’d also like to learn lots of different and fun ways to wear it, but I think I may be too incompetent to do this. I’ve braided it a few times and it always looks like I got a two-year-old to do it. I’m not attempting a complex Game of Thrones style either. I just need to braid it! I suppose this is the kind of thing other girls were learning when they read those silly girly magazines. Is there a book or a web page or a video tutorial anyone can recommend so I can figure this out? Also, do your arms get tired mid-braid or do I need to lift weights more often?

Ever since I’ve started growing out my hair I find myself hyper-observant of other women’s hairdos. I saw the movie Sleepwalk with Me recently and felt guilty that Lauren Ambrose’s hair distracted me throughout the film. I wanted to take the character aside and ask her how she learned to braid her hair in all those interesting ways. I complimented my barista on a braid she’d done that started at the top of her forehead and wrapped around the side; she told me she got ideas on Pinterest, but one search for the word “braid” reveals styles with Escher-like complexity and impossibility. I don’t think a lot of those styles can be accomplished by one person working on their own hair. I always feel self-conscious when I wear my hair differently anyway, concerned that bits have slipped out of place or that it looks like a squirrel is nesting in it.

Oh well, I’ll probably get sick of it soon enough and get half of it chopped off. Until then I’ll try to make my braids look like they were done at the very least by a six-year-old.

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Chocolate & Vicodin: My Quest for Relief from the Headache that Wouldn't Go Away Half-Assed: A Weight-Loss Memoir

Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, chronic headache sufferer, (former?) weight-loss inspiration, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She was formerly known as PastaQueen. You can contact her if you promise to be nice.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for keyboards ruined by coffee spit-takes or forehead wrinkles caused by deep thought.

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