Choosing Disappointment

cooking with friends
cooking with friends

It is Valentine’s Day, and I do something I’ve never done for a guy before. I cook dinner.

That morning I’d gone to a wedding in a friend’s living room, but I’d picked out my silky blouse and skirt less for that important occasion and more with the tactophobe in mind. Maybe if I looked nice enough and cooked well enough on Valentine’s Day, he’d kiss me.

I fixed lasagna. I’d made it once before with friends, but this was the first time for me to make anything like that on my own. It came out of the oven looking perfect.

The tactophobe arrives with red roses and chocolate. Perhaps he means them or they are obligatory. I am happy to see them nonetheless. We drink wine and I say little about A’s wedding. I don’t want him to think I’ve got wedding ideas of my own.

He says he’s impressed with my cooking and eats two large helpings. I am happy even though I’ve never cared about impressing a man with my cooking.

We watch television. Only romances are on. We sit on the sofa. He leans against the armrest and I sit leaning back against him, my back to his chest, his arms around my waist, and sometimes he rests his chin on my head. I have one hand on his knee. We sit this way through the entire movie and whatever else it is that comes on after. After midnight he says he should be going.

I walk him to the door and he says he will call me later in the afternoon. I nod. I can’t focus on what he is saying because I’m too busy wondering if I’m standing too close or too far, if I look approachable or desperate, if I look the least bit attractive and why he brought me roses.

“Goodnight,” he says, and walks away.

When you write a story or make art, how much should you depend on the opinion of someone else? If you believe the acceptance, must you believe the rejection. I’m often puzzled by authors who will accept an award as if it were about time the world recognized their greatness, but if anyone criticizes them, they dismiss that person as ignorant or clueless.

I prefer compliments and criticism that is specific. Vague responses leave me wondering and questioning every move I make.

Is there any specific criticism that has stuck with you over the years? Any particular words that zip about in your head as you try to create? Anything you have to smother to keep working?

5 thoughts on “Choosing Disappointment

  1. Boy oh boy! My sense is I’m getting way past my ability here. But I found your comments on criticism and compliment irresistible. your notion about taking the good with the bad is about as mature and balanced as I’ve seen in a long while. Most (many) writers are so invested in their work that it is them, and if anyone rejects their work it’s the same as rejecting them. It made me think of a parallel between your Valentine’s meal and your insights as a writer and creative person.
    I believe there are three mandatory things a person should do when responding to someone’s writing. First is “sayback” which means say to the writer in your own words what you heard or read. One of the really powerful connections we can make with writing (communicating) is to recognize our ideas, thoughts, and intentions expressed meaningfully by someone else’s words. That’s good evidence they understand. The second thing is to compliment the writer. I mean something genuine and sincere. Everyone recognizes bullshit and deep down they don’t like it thrown at them. And third, is ask questions. They need to be genuine questions. If there is something awkward, unclear, disjointed, misplaced, or left out of a piece of writing, what question can you ask that will clear up the confusion. Asking that question is more positive and powerful than, “this doesn’t make sense!” No matter how bad or good a piece of writing is in total, there is something valuable that can be honestly praised or questioned. Good writer’s know that and hear that.
    I hope this says something of value to you.

  2. I listen to the negative criticism more closely than I do the compliments. Well, I used to. I’m not sure where I am now. It seems as if life divided into before kids and after kids. I think I have more confidence since having kids, but I have showed much less work, so I don’t know how I take the criticism.

    Also, it really depends on the giver of the critique. How much do they know about stuff? Do they have ulterior motives? Are they biased? Like your tactophobe… it’s clear the problem was with him, not with you

    I try to remember how the world is wide and allows for many tastes. I don’t have to be like anyone else, I just have to follow my vision.

    Question is do I trust my vision? Do I trust my trust in my vision?

  3. Great comment from Don Hudson. (Especially liked that it was itself sorta kinda like the feedback he was describing.)

    There’s term that used to be tossed around about working as one of a team of computer programmers. You’d take your latest (often problematic) work to the team to get their reactions to and help with it. The term was ego-less programming, and it was easier to say and describe than it was to practice. We called those sessions “walkthroughs,” and when I first participated in a writing workshop I recognized a lot of the same forces at work: egos on both the giving (critic) and receiving (creator) ends.

    The hardest criticism to achieve (and also the kind I appreciate the most) is the kind which starts from at least an attempt to understand what the author is trying to do with the work. That is, not to project my own values and objectives. If I get it wrong, it really comes out more like, If *I* had written this, here’s what I would have done instead of what YOU did, you hapless loser.

    Particular words I will never expunge from my memory: “patches of arty prose.” The very same sentence also included the clause, “the action scenes are winners, some of them quite funny” — but the kick I got out of that didn’t even come close to matching the kick in the head (the ego) that the former delivered.

  4. wryttenwyrdd, no too much. A mere 10 months.

    Doc Hudson, thanks for stopping by. Your comments are helpful–and true.

    rowena, I hope you trust your vision because it looks amazing from here.

    JES, oh those blasted egos. A blessing and a curse when it comes to creating (well, lots of things.).

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