Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Bloody Google




When I was a little kid and the world was full of haints and taints and supernatural wonders, there was this game called “Bloody Mary”. The way it works, you have a darkened room and a mirror, then you and your friends are supposed to look in the mirror and chant “Bloody Mary” three times and a blood soaked girl ghost with an embittered attitude will appear. Never worked for me. Later on I tried “Pamela Anderson” and “Sybil Danning” and that didn’t work either.

Ah!

But that was before the age of “Google Alerts”! Now let’s play the Bloody Mary game again and see how this goes.

To wit:

As some of us know, a couple of weeks back I really stepped barefoot into a big, fragrant, steaming pile when I made some uncalled for snarky remarks about a book called “Alison’s Wonderland” -

Alison’s Wonderland
Alison’s Wonderland
Alison’s Wonderland

which was edited by Alison Tyler

Alison Tyler
Alison Tyler
Alison Tyler

and has a nice story called “David” by Kristina Lloyd

“David” by Kristina Lloyd
“David” by Kristina Lloyd
“David” by Kristina Lloyd

and a pretty hot story called “Managers and Mermen” by Donna George Storey

“Managers and Mermen” by Donna George Storey
“Managers and Mermen” by Donna George Storey
“Managers and Mermen” by Donna George Storey

and a good retelling of the Billy goats gruff story called “The Three Billys” by Sommer Marsden

“The Three Billys” by Sommer Marsden
“The Three Billys” by Sommer Marsden
“The Three Billys” by Sommer Marsden

and

“Sleeping With Beauty” by Allison Wonderland
“Sleeping With Beauty” by Allison Wonderland
“Sleeping With Beauty” by Allison Wonderland

which reminded me a little of the Anne Roquelaire trilogy and a really good story “Unveiling His Muse” by the great Portia Da Costa,

“Unveiling His Muse” by Portia Da Costa
“Unveiling His Muse” by Portia Da Costa
“Unveiling His Muse” by Portia Da Costa

the first one of her stories I’d ever read though not the last, and some other authors whose stories I also enjoyed, whose wounded feelings and sharp reproaches appeared on the eXcessica

eXcessica
eXcessica
eXcessica

books blog which you can read here:

http://excessica.com/blog/index.php/2010/08/12/never-judge-a-book-by-its-cover-or-its-scene/

I won’t recap my snarky remarks since I would like to leave this post with my ass and my face in their original places, and they don’t bear repeating anyway. I said dumb stuff.

Wait.

Paranoia.

Holy moly.

I may be saying dumb stuff at this very effing moment without realizing it or be about to say dumb stuff without realizing it.

Hey – let’s do this:

I will make a preemptive apology in case it’s needed for anything insensitive I may say at any time in the immediate future:

I’m sorry.

I’m really really sorry. (fill in the blank)

And my point is, if any of you eXcessica folks show up here in my mirror please say hi. Write something on the wall so I know you’re around. I like you. I like your stuff. I was also much chastened when Lisabet pointed out that many or most of the writers I miffed are in fact regular contributors at my scene ERWA, some of them with a much greater contribution there than me. So I really stepped on my dick every way you look at it.

Having said that, I am unrepentant of my comment that Alison’s Wonderland has a very cool cover. It just does. Okay? You sure? It has a really nice looking cover art and I don’t give a shit who knows it. There I’ve said it. Get over it.

What haunted me about my remarks afterward as I explained to Lisabet when I was weeping on her maternal cyber-shoulder, was that I was entirely tone deaf to the way I was coming across. This will seem astounding to any writers reading this, since the accumulated effect of words is the magic we aspire to perfect, but it had never occurred to me in a zillion years that what I was saying was offensive to anybody or that Bloody Google would suddenly show up in the mirror and punch four more holes in my nose. I was actually trying to express something like what Sommer Marsden

Sommer Marsden
Sommer Marsden
Sommer Marsden

Said in the eXcessica blog –

eXcessica blog
eXcessica blog
eXcessica blog

- which is what I should have said which was something like “we are all different but great, look at how many groovy flavors of writing there are”. Which was what I thought it was coming out like but it wasn’t . . . like that is what I meant it wasn’t . . . but that it’s not . . . . Do you know what I mean?

It didn’t come out that way. Looking back on it, well, yeah. I get that. But not at the time.

What can I say.

I’m a guy.

My remarks were not constructive criticism, since there was nothing to construct. Constructive criticism is what we offer when we are attempting to guide the inquisitive seeker into better paths, so we hope. Constructive criticism is what we wish we’d had more of when we were younger if we’d been listening. Which most of us weren’t. Real world, constructive criticism is what we offer when someone offers us a manuscript for a critique. Giving critiques to the work of peers, at least when it is asked for, is how we improve our own work. It’s how we learn to read as a writer, which is an essential skill. It’s how we express and repay our gratitude for the generosity of those writers who took on our early incoherent junk as we were learning our chops and helped us improve. Constructive criticism is what Lisabet has given me, and still does, on those many occasions when I’ve sent her something half baked and she’s told me plainly what works and what doesn’t, and 90% of the time I go with what she says. She’s honest. I listen. Also I like her. I wouldn't have gotten anywhere past my first year without her and each and every year since. She has more faith than I do.

What she said of me, of digging deeper, this is what she does for me too. Neither of us go for the nits. That's why God made spell checkers. She deals with story. She deals with character. She tells me when that is working or failing, because she knows by now I'll tear down a story and rebuild it several times before I'm happy with it. I've torn out whole middle sections of stories when she said something wasn't working. That's what you need to hear. That's love. Thank you Lisabet. Ever and ever.

Here’s the real problem. When is criticism useful or even wanted?

I come from a unique background. I have had an unusually extravagant exposure to bullshit compared to the average person. As a consequence my relationship with truth is . . . . well . . . antagonistic. If I have to choose between speaking the truth and making someone happy – truth will get heaved overboard to lighten the load, pretty much every time. The exception is the person who really loves truth. The one who really wants to know. In that case to speak is a great honor and a kind of sacred thing. A spiritual act. And even then you’d still better be careful you’re being helpful and not being a jerk. This begs the question “What is humility?”

After a life time of passionate, lunatic spiritual searching I’ve got very little wisdom to show for it. But I’ve got one or two tattered gems.

“Listen friends,” he whispered, with a wave of his hand. “It’s okay. Come, come see.” He hunched down and waited. Reluctantly, they leaned in. He silently scanned the little crowd and saw only skepticism. In a low voice he said -

“I’m going to tell you something spiritual I know for sure is true.”

Here we go.

Humility as it relates to truth has nothing to do with pride. It is unrelated to true pride. Even the pride of an artist or a writer. Humility in its most useful and plain form is simply this:

The acquired discipline and skill of seeing yourself as you really are.

That’s it.

Humility is the ability to see yourself very plainly, no better or worse, without playing any games with yourself. It sounds ridiculous. But this is a very difficult, almost impossible thing to actually do in real life. You can spend your whole life trying to master this one point, to see yourself as you really are with no tricks. The ego plays tricks on you all the way. Writing can be a tool for exploring this, but what we find, what I find, is that my ego gets very involved in my writing. Ego is what kills rock stars. Ego is what kills creativity. But ego has a lot to do with what gets your ass in front of the keyboard day after day when nobody reads your stuff. It keeps you going. It’s your devil and your cheer leader.

Anyway, as Sommer Marsden would say, this is turning into “a long ass blog”.

“a long ass blog”
“a long ass blog”
“a long ass blog”

My point is this. Constructive criticism is criticism with kindness and purpose. Friend to friend. BUT – it should be asked for. Boundaries and specifics agreed on. And you had better be really sure you want it.

Otherwise, tell me what you want to hear and we'll just go with that and that way everybody wins.

I think.



C. Sanchez-Garcia

14 comments:

  1. Hmm.

    It surprises me to hear you say that you have an antagonistic relationship with truth. Because nearly every story of yours that I read seems like a determined search for it.

    I'm also not sure I agree with your definition of humility, mostly due to the phrase "as you really are". I'm not sure such a thing exists. We are mercurial beings, angels and devils rolled into one, sometimes snarky smart ass newbies and sometimes wise elders.

    That's why when I crit, I try to remind myself that there's no single "reality". The strengths and its flaws, may seem clear as day to me, yet may have little to do with the author's intent or desire. In fact there are very few areas in which a crit can be objective or unconditionally correct.

    So maybe I'd redefine "humility", at least when it comes to critiquing, as "the discipline of knowing that your view of the truth is just one of many - equally valid but not more so."

    Warmly,
    Lisabet

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  2. Oh Garce - if everyone could recall words we later regret, there would hardly be any words left at all.

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  3. Garce,

    As Kathleen points out, if we could recall words we later regret, there would hardly be any left.

    In the past I've misjudged my writer's voice and offended fat lasses. It was never done deliberately. I'd thought my material would have come across as post-modern irony. I'd also thought that fat lasses would have laughed at it because they're usually a jolly bunch - always laughing between trips to the fridge...

    And I'm going to quit now before I cause my own personal shit storm.

    Best,

    Ash

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  4. Hi Garce,

    Gladstone was once described as a man intoxicated with the exhuberance of his own verbosity.

    Those of us who love words will occaisionally let them flow where they shouldn't.

    Preventing that from ever happening would be to impose such constraints on oneself that much spontaneous joy would be lost, stricken from the record by an internal editor more afraid of offending than excited about shsring. It's not worth going there.

    Apologise when you stick you foot in your mouth and try not to offend the same people twice. That's about as high a standard as I can try to live by and even then I fail

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  5. I've stepped in it too, Garce. Take it easy on yourself. Learn from the experience and move forward...

    I'll just leave it at this:

    What Mike said.

    Oh, and Ash? You cracked me up with your comment. Thanks. But should any less than jolly lasses call you to task, please note that I'll disavow any knowledge of your actions.

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  6. Hi Lisabet!

    Its true, we are many different people in one lifetime, which makes it even harder to see ourselves. But it has always seemed to me that evil people are never are of themseleves as evil. The stronger the ego, the more inclined a person is to see what they want to see. This is also true of fictional villians. This is why I think its generally true of fiction and life that a villian or evil person tends to resist change, while it is always the "hero" who seems to change.

    On the other hand, being flexible is also a very delicate aspect of giving crits. That's certainly true. When we're dealing in story and not just spell checking, we have to look at it from many sides and try to understand what the author wants. That's aways difficult. That's the art.

    Garce

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  7. Hi Kathleen.

    That's true. Sometimes its better I think to just go ahead and shove our ignorance out there, take a beating and learn something new.

    Garce

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  8. Well Ash, tommorrow's your day so watch out for th fecal mtter hurricane. Anyway, I think chunky ladies can be very sexy depending on how its arranged.

    Garce

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  9. Hi Mike

    ". . Gladstone was once described as a man intoxicated with the exhuberance of his own verbosity.
    . . "

    Ooo. I like that. I want that on my tombstone someday. I love language like that, reminds me of Edward Gibbons.

    Anyway, that's why I'm such a quiet soul in real life.

    Garce

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  10. Hi Mike

    ". . Gladstone was once described as a man intoxicated with the exhuberance of his own verbosity.
    . . "

    Ooo. I like that. I want that on my tombstone someday. I love language like that, reminds me of Edward Gibbons.

    Anyway, that's why I'm such a quiet soul in real life.

    Garce

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  11. Hi Mike

    ". . Gladstone was once described as a man intoxicated with the exhuberance of his own verbosity.
    . . "

    Ooo. I like that. I want that on my tombstone someday. I love language like that, reminds me of Edward Gibbons.

    Anyway, that's why I'm such a quiet soul in real life.

    Garce

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  12. Craig!

    Wha happened to the eXcessica crowd? No ghosts showed up in my mirror from over there. I'm actually dissappointed with that. Anyway. That's over and done with now.

    Garce

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  13. You never know, Garce. The bewitching hour may be yet to come.

    However it turns out, I enjoyed your post (a fact I failed to mention that in my first comment.)

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  14. Listen, as 'a chunky lass', I am absolutely mortified. I am crying into my half-eaten butter pat, I so really very am.

    Garce, this post was sweet and funny and raised some interesting points. I think humility is a fascinating and underrated trait.

    (For what it's worth, I have a story in Alison's Wonderland, and I really wasn't offended by your other post.)

    Anyway, I've also managed to piss people off unintentionally in the past. I think, I hope, I've learned from the experience.

    The internet, especially, is full of traps and pitfalls like that. I like to think we are all gradually learning how to rub up against each other, no matter how different we all may be.

    Cheers!

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