I got my first reader excoriation last week. It caught me off-guard, but more surprising is that it took this long. After years of reading online reviews for my restaurant
, I was surprisingly equanimous. Don’t get me wrong, I thought about it. I asked my boyfriend if I came across as spoiled, I reread it. What I didn’t allow it to do was wound me.
The upshot was that I wasn’t asking for enough reader input, I complained too much about my recent move (women have done many hard things in silence! Yeah, well, not me), it was galling that I asked for subscriptions when I had money for vacations and a nice camera, and how selfish we all are in the US. That last one might be true.
I’ve learned a lot from reading a nearly unlimited supply of feedback on my professional efforts: criticism often says more about the person giving it than actual usefulness to the recipient, it can be helpful but mostly from people trained to give feedback or if it’s communicated in a clear, even manner. Be suspicious when it’s filled with misplaced vehemence (our dishes came out at different times and it ruined my entire birthday!).
None of us is a blank slate. We process wrongs, slights, quality, and pleasure through our internal lens. We fill in the blanks to other people’s stories based on our own experiences or state of mind, often leading us to erroneous conclusions.
The supposition about my personal wealth being one. Even if that were true, I feel absolutely fine in asking for memberships. It’s the work that is of value. The fact that we link artistic merit and poverty is a falsehood. Writers deserve payment and health care. Do we want a world where only the idle rich make art? 🤢
I’m not rejecting the idea there is some merit in a critique, even a high-pitched one. In this case my takeaway is that the persona I use in writing might be a bit off-course. Authenticity in writing happens over time, with practice. I’m not trying to present a false version, it’s not always intuitive how to present oneself. Besides, I don’t want to make a list of my on-going woes in order to appear wretched enough to be taken seriously. That strikes me as boring.
It’s not a stretch for me to believe bad press. There’s an element of, gotcha! We see the real you. I’m still surprised when someone takes a shine to me. As in, are you sure? Give it a little time, see if it doesn’t lose its luster. Mostly it doesn’t, which I attribute to peoples’ generosity.
The consolation prize for middle age is no longer needing to be liked. I don’t want to be an asshole exactly, although I can’t promise that won’t happen. Yesterday, I got on the highway while eating a hot cheese and tomato sandwich. I’m sure that wasn’t great for everyone involved.
There is a personal development trajectory that begins with little to no self-awareness, to then being forced to develop some (if only to get along with others and get promoted at work), to relinquishing the idea that it’s always one’s responsibility to be liked and understood. It’s often just fine to leave things where they stand.
It could be that I come across as tiresome and whiny to some, helpful to others. I want to create a connection, but I’m not sure you need to like me to make that happen. In fact, that’s a straightjacket of sorts. I want the liberty to be entirely myself, which might be unlikeable at times.
Women’s internal lives are complicated. Some weeks I think hard about whether I should start wearing mascara again, others I wonder how I might carry on without my breasts. I write because I think my story has merit, and it’s the only one I can speak to with surety.
If my writing has moved you, provided solace or made you think, I hope you’ll consider becoming a member. That’s a tangible value. If your budget doesn’t allow for that, you’re still welcome here. You can hit reply anytime and contact me. In fact, I enjoy it. Please remember there is an actual person on the other end.
I’ll keep writing, I hope you’ll keep reading. That is all.