Choosing where to place our focus

My mother Lillian McCloy passed away on January 26, 2023. The San Francisco Chronicle ran an in-depth feature about her on Sunday, February 12.  To pick up the print edition that day and see her life story in full-featured glory above the fold . . .  was something to behold.

“McCloy’s memoir of life married to the CIA was praised by novelists” runs the headline online.

Note: The online feature about Lillian McCloy was initially limited to Chronicle subscribers. (If you cannot access the full article online and would like to read it, please contact Dare to be Fabulous.)

Since the feature appeared in the Chronicle, Lillian’s memoir Six Car Lengths Behind an Elephant: Undercover & Overwhelmed as a CIA Wife and Mother, has experienced a rise in sales. This prompted me to visit the book page on Goodreads and Amazon to peruse customer ratings and reviews.

As of today, Six Car Lengths Behind an Elephant has 111 customer ratings on Goodreads, averaging 4.13 of 5 stars, and 119 ratings on Amazon, averaging 4.4 stars. This 1-star review factors into that Amazon average:

Okaaaay . . . what can anyone say about that? It made me laugh.

Another reviewer who gave the book a low-rating wrote, “. . .  it just stopped feeling authentic. It couldn’t possibility have been this bad. It felt like a lot of complaining done by a very funny story teller.” I just want to take a minute to emphasize that every single story in that book is authentic and that yes, it really was that bad. Thank God for her (and my father’s) amazing sense of humor.

People are entitled to their opinions. Ultimately, the worth of a book, or any item really, is in the eye or experience of its beholder, whoever that might be, and no matter what that person might’ve expected. I’m happy that my mother’s memoir about her life as a CIA wife and mother is being enjoyed by the vast majority of readers. (As the book’s editor, this matters to me even more.)

This makes me recall an interview I once heard with actor and comedian Paul Reiser. I believe it was on Larry King Live. King opened the program to call-in questions and comments from listeners. At the end, Paul Reiser commented that even with 99%  of the callers being positive and complimentary, it was that one caller with a less-than-wonderful comment that would sit with him afterward. Not the vast majority of happy and complimentary comments, they didn’t count; it was the sole, slightly “negative” one that he would think about. Reiser shook his head, marveling at how ridiculous that was. Yet it was true.

I just let myself go there too, by reacting to two customer reviews (and I’ll admit there’s one more I wanted to respond to with a personal caveat, but I’ve thought the better of it.) The fact is that 220 customers have rated the book so far, and their average rating is above 4-stars. That’s fabulous.

It takes presence of mind and personal discipline to not focus on, and react to, negative (or fear-inducing) triggers, but the good news is that we have a choice. We can make it a true mental and emotional exercise to stop ourselves whenever we are triggered to immediately respond when something prompts us to feel defensive. We can take a deep breath before we speak (or type), step back for a minute, and take note of the bigger picture. A better and healthier perspective can come in that moment of awareness.

Life is good. For every little thing that might grab your attention for negative reasons, redirect your focus and relish in all those positives. When you do, you realize that the things that make you smile and warm your heart are bountiful.


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Leslie Absher
Leslie Absher
6 months ago

I enjoyed this essay! Ive also ordered Six Car Lengths Behind an Elephant. Can’t wait to read it. It’s true as humans we have a “negativity bias” probably based on survival impulses. But we don’t need it anymore do we? 🙂 Thanks for sharing!