I must interrupt part two of the harrowing and riveting tale of my encounter with the Goddess Pele to tell you about A Tale of Two Comments.
The first was what I’ll call the Worst of Comments. A few weeks ago, a negative (and anonymous) remark came from a student in one of the creative writing classes that I teach. Of the hundreds of students I’ve taught over the years — in person and online — I’ve never before received such a hurtful statement in a course evaluation. I’ll spare you the details. I’m all for constructive criticism. In fact, I seek out helpful, focused remarks because I know there’s always room for improvement, and I want students to feel that they’re benefitting from the lessons. Suffice it to say that this was a personal (rather than a curriculum based) assault. I heard the faint call from the pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey in the freezer.
But then I saw a Peanuts episode this holiday season. Schroeder plays the piano while Lucy asks if he’s going to take her to the party.
Schroeder: Musicians don’t dance. And anyway, I’ll be playing the piano at the party.
Lucy: I don’t mind the rejection; it’s the smile that bugs me.
Indeed. It’s the smug satisfaction that so many people get from self-righteous criticism which really sticks in my craw. This isn’t only in the classroom. It’s online at places like Yelp and Amazon and practically de rigueur on pundit “news” programs. But, hey, that’s another post. In this case, I’d done my best. If the person was that unhappy, he/she should have come to me (in a mature, non accusatory way) sooner. Or, as Dickens put it: “I am no more annoyed when I think of the expression, than I should be annoyed by a man’s opinion of a picture of mine, who had no eye for pictures; or of a piece of music of mine, who had no ear for music.” So thanks to Lucy (and Charles) I left the pint of ice cream untouched.
Then, as if to prove my mother’s old saw that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar: the Best of Comments. Just a few days later, two lovely notes arrived via email. One was from a fellow student in the same class who wanted to let me know much he’d learned and that, through the exercises, he’d gained confidence in his writing. The other was from someone who had come across some of my stories and essays and enjoyed them enough to send me a few words of encouragement. How amazing that two people took time out of their days to reach out to me, which made it all the more special.
I don’t think this feeling is limited to writers or artists. Anyone who puts themselves out there whether through a creative endeavor or raising children or submitting a proposal at work, whatever it is, opens themselves up and hopes to be well received. That’s not to say we should be praised indiscriminately, but isn’t it nice to know that someone recognizes and appreciates the effort we’re making?
Back to Peanuts.
Peppermint Patty: Have you made any New Year’s resolutions, Chuck?
Charlie Brown: Yes. You know how I always dread the whole year? Well, this time I’m only going to dread one day at a time.
I believe that the energy you send out comes back to you. Goodwill begets goodwill. So here on the first day of 2014, I’m making a plan (goodness, please don’t use the “R” word!) to spread that happy, shiny feeling. I started a few years ago with my Shine series and I’d like to pick up where that left off. Once a week, I’m planning to drop a note to a fellow writer or anyone who brought a little inspiration into my life to let them know that I appreciated their efforts. I hope to keep my gratitude list going so that by the end of the year, I’ll have sent notes to 52 people.
Are you making any of those things that rhyme with “evolutions”? How do you spread goodwill?
Happy New Year, everyone!