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Refrigerator Art

In the midst of the "Diligent Editing" seminar, the lecturer began talking about the several phases of a manuscript. The first is the draft phase where you are only concentrating on getting it down on paper. You typically give this first, very rough draft to your nearest and dearest for what she called "refrigerator art appraisal," which means that you want them to read it and tell you that you're a genius and that they're proud of you.

I wanted to cry hearing that because it's certainly one of the many things I've always wanted, but I've never gotten it. I have shown my parents my writing only to have them be offended at my portrayal of the parents in the piece, be offended of my lack of parents in the piece, ask me why I never write anything funny or to tell me that some random person I may or may not know who is younger than me and didn't spend their youth as badly is now the Professor Emeritus of Anything Using the Alphabet at University of First Choice.

My first husband mocked my writing, laughing every time I even talked about doing it. My second husband didn't read. Ever. Anything. My third husband made such a mess of my life that I never had time to write. My fourth husband reads my writing sort of behind my back and says nothing. I ask him sometimes if he read this or that and he says "Oh, yeah, I read it. It was good" and goes back to what he's doing.

This lack of reaction is immediately crushing to me. It makes me want to willfully withhold anything I do from them. I've already done that with my family, such that last year when my novel won the first place prize at East of Eden, my stepmother said "So now maybe you'll let us read it." Like an idiot, I gave them a CD of my reading for Ann Arbor's show, and I've heard nothing from them.

On the other hand, I realize that their lack of reaction has been part of what's shaped me. I strive to make my writing better. In fact, not just better, but miraculous and remarkable and shining just so that one day, if I create something that is so undeniably luminous that the entire world is talking about it and calling me a genius, my family might say "You did a really good thing," and not follow it with a "but" or a "and so-and-so's son..." or with anything else that negates the value of their praise.

That will never happen, but as long as that little seed of irritation rubs at me, I will continue to cover it with my mother of pearl until it is large and luminous and valuable, and I will keep it secret and hidden from them. And they'll never know. And that's okay too.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 4th, 2005 06:43 pm (UTC)
Jesus Christ! If I had a daughter like you, I would be praising her to the skies.

Are they insane?
Apr. 4th, 2005 06:50 pm (UTC)
They're not insane. They're very cool people, according to all my friends who love my family. It's why I have a hard time just blowing it off. My family are all readers and fairly intellectual, so to have them knock my work tells me that I don't measure up to Jorge Luis Borges or V.V. Naipaul. And I probably don't. But I will.
Apr. 4th, 2005 08:35 pm (UTC)
my father is a writer and until this year has never given me anything but negative feedback. so i stopped giving him things to read, though i suspect occasionally my mother slips him things i send to her, but has the good sense not to let me know.

when gargoyle accepted my story, his response was impressive. i'm still not sure if he was talking about getting it published or the piece itself. i'm guessing the former.

long story short, i feel your pain.
Apr. 4th, 2005 06:54 pm (UTC)
This is how I feel about showing things to my older sister. I just want her to say, "Wow, this is good. how do you do this?" But instead, she usually says, "Well, it's fine, but don't you think it would be better if..." And she wonders why I haven't given her my (first) book yet??

It's gotten to the point where I only share with writers or other creative people until I'm sure something is really polished. They understand the process and the sorts of praise/critisism needed at the different stages. And it's one of the things I really appreciate about Steinway - he actually told his friends this weekend, in front of me, "She's really talented." That feels so good, to hear that from someone I admire. It's like getting praise from you guys ;-)

Speaking of the conference, Joy wrote me that she saw you there. I'm glad you two were able to connect again.
Apr. 4th, 2005 07:28 pm (UTC)
Could you send me her email addy? I've given it to her twice now, and she hasn't gotten in touch because she's as big an introvert as I am.

We talked about getting a group together in Santa Cruz, and I know it's sort of up to me to light a fire under the woman.
Apr. 4th, 2005 09:21 pm (UTC)
For just a second, I thought you wanted my sister's email addy, and I couldn't figure out why!

Anyway, I just emailed you Joy's address. Pester at will :-)
Apr. 5th, 2005 01:42 am (UTC)
Wow, good timing on the post. I experience the same f-ing thing all the time and it just makes me sad/bitter/angry. That little silly cat poem was all shiny happy achievement and I told my Dad and he was like, "oh okay," then started talking about the weather. I gave the finished draft of my novel to my uncle and aunt (not married to each other) as they're my unofficial patrons -- and my uncle, after prodding said "it was good" and my aunt said "I think you have something here but..." All of this was well-intentioned (i guess) but still incredibly irksome. I have similar exp. with MJB -- but he tells me I'm a great writer yet won't read the book b/c it's not his "genre." Sigh. Keep on keeping on.
Apr. 5th, 2005 02:22 pm (UTC)
You know, when I sold my story to Cemetery Dance Magazine last year, well, I didn't even tell the family about it. None of them have read the story. But my reasoning is different -- all my life, I've gotten nothing but unconditional praise from them. Hell, I could take a dump on a sheet of paper and they would praise the shades and unique texture while stifling their gag reflex ...

Be careful what you wish for...
Apr. 5th, 2005 09:07 pm (UTC)
But isn't it nice to know that your parents believe in you? Haven't given up on you? Think that when you make an effort, you can produce something worthwhile? They're looking at the surface, and at the fact that you sat down and put forth effort and your effort was effective. All those things *are* good and noteworthy.

The rest of us are here to love you and look at each and every word of your writing and tell you which ones perhaps were ill-advised or when your effect isn't really what you intended. And that's really good too.

I'd just like both of those, although if I had to choose one, I'd choose the one I have.
Apr. 5th, 2005 06:22 pm (UTC)
I hear you. I tend not to get negative criticism because I don't let people read my fiction unless they really wheedle me... and most of them don't.

My only major audience are my two favorite cousins, who apparently think I walk on water and are constantly hassling me for my latest opus. I don't really let others read my stuff because they don't say anything about it. I tend not to offer to let people read my fiction unless they ask, and even then I'm a little reticent unless the darn thing is finished.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )