letters / memory / mom / writing

you can judge

On my 19th birthday, my mom wrote me this.

I really appreciate your sending me the copies of your poems; I know that took some courage. I enjoyed them, as poems. As a mother, of course, I have to wonder about contentm but I work at not doing that. Parents are never the ones to ask if your work is any good, especially if they don’t know much about the art form you’re working in. What’s good in writing to me is the unique turn of phrase that also gives one that Aha! sense–the feeling of, “Of course, it’s just like that.” You do both. You have the knack of eliciting the visual response and feeling without belaboring the point with an unnecessary description.

Not that you’ll ever be satisfied with what you write, but you have to be your own best, and worstm critic. You’ll look back on what you wrote in college an be embarrassed by some things and pleased with others, if you’re honest with yourself.

What really discourages me in the creative fields, esp. art, is the judgment of the fashionable. “They” say it’s great, it’s art, or it stinks, but the real judgment going on is “it’s different”. Being different is not a criterion of quality.

I like your work altho it sometimes makes me feel uncomfortable. You have such a bald way of saying things–it’s not always pretty, but it does seem truthful. You can judge the integrity of your work.

How do you judge the integrity of your own work?

6 thoughts on “you can judge

  1. When I used to garden, I was only satisfied if the end result matched the picture in my head. That could take some time, since the picture was of mature plants. Gardening will teach patience, if nothing else. 🙂

    • Gardening is great for many reasons! Mine languishes right now, but I have no image in my head, so I guess I can be satisfied with it. 🙂 But really, nothing ever matches what I’ve got in my head. Shame that. Drives me crazy.

  2. I think your mom was spot on. She says she couldn’t judge your work, but she’s right, isn’t she?

    Me? My judgment of my own work? I want to be enthralled. If I’m not swept away by the words, I know something is in the way.

    Lately I’ve been better at being able to step back and see what’s wrong. Like, when no one was able to get past the first chapter of my second draft, I said, “what’s the matter here? what needs to be fixed?” And I got rid of that first chapter. Snip snip. Cut it right out. And right now, I’m going over the writing, not the over all story. Just the writing, to tighten it up. I find it’s better to go in waves. First the overall idea. Then fixing the problems and upping the drama. Then the details. Getting in closer each time.

    Of course, this isn’t really the question, is it?

    I want my work to be good, but I think I’ve started to want it to be good enough, instead. Perfection will never be reached. So basically, it just needs to be ready.

    And I’m trying to separate the worth of my soul with the quality of the writing. Me and the book= not the same thing.

    • My mom so often was spot on, I could never tell if she wasn’t.

      I don’t trust my judgment, but like you, I want to be enthralled. Otherwise, something is wrong.

      Good for you being able to look at your own work and making some progress. It is a lovely thing to work on one’s story. No. Your book and your soul are not the same thing. Such a hard lesson to learn.

  3. My brother and I were talking sort of about this last night. He has this terrible need for me to tell him whether or not his stories have enough merit to finish. I tell him that I can’t pronounce a final sentence on even a finished work, much less an unfinished one. The best I can do is tell him which ones I like better, and help him polish those he chooses to finish. After all, “worth it” is so subjective…and ultimately, a personal decision. Is the story worth it to you? Does it fill your heart and your mind? Then it’s worth it. That’s what I tell him, although it leaves him intensely unsatisfied. And I totally understand it, because I too want someone to say, “Okay, now THIS one is good.” But of course if I get one person to say it, there are a thousand more opinions I will crave.

    Sometimes I think getting opinions from our closest people is a bad idea. For example, I wrote a song when I was 14, and sang it to my mom. She laughed out loud at my use of “one night stand” as a rhyme, and looking back, it *was* funny. I had only a vague idea what a one night stand was, but I’d heard it in songs and thought it sounded like a grown-up thing to say. But she laughed, and I never showed her another song. She couldn’t see how serious I was about it, and how unintentionally, her laughter had embarrassed me.

    How did your mom’s opinion shape how you write, Marta? When she said, “I like your work altho it sometimes makes me feel uncomfortable. You have such a bald way of saying things…” were you proud of your unashamed honesty, or did it make you start holding back?

    • Oh, that terrible need to have someone say the story is good. It is a need that is never satisfied.

      When I was 8 an aunt made a comment about a poem I showed her. She took issue with me for referring to the sun as a male. Said it was sexist. I never showed her any of my work again.

      As for your question, I don’t know. I didn’t really understand what I had written that struck her that way. And I didn’t ask her because I was worried about the answer. But I couldn’t decide if I wanted to share things or not. I did and I didn’t. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings and I wanted her honest opinion.

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