Sunday, February 7, 2010


I react strongly.

It doesn't matter if you're my friend, my 'enemy,' my boss, my colleague, my husband, my mother, my daughter or no one of importance at all. I react strongly. People, in general, don't agree all the time and that means from a statistical standpoint, every person will not see eye to eye with someone at some point. It does not matter how much you love them, respect them, or how often you normally agree with them.

It will happen. The same process applies to writing. But let me finish explaining the above paragraph.

This week, I've experienced two incidents where I reacted strongly, three if you count the writing related one.

The first I blogged about earlier, where I asked who's rules we us in our writing. In defending proper grammar in a brochure for the office, my strong reaction and staunch defense of how to use the English language could have gotten me fired for insubordination. I was trying to maintain (or improve) our public image by using correct sentences, but the sentence structure didn't read write according to some others in the office, which to me meant it needed another round of editing, but the brochure was on deadline. End of story.

The second incident involved a friend. She did what she felt was necessary to alert a friend of mine that she felt harmed by an incident that happened months ago and involved me. I defended my friend who did the hurting. My friend, 'the victim,' now hates me for making this about me. I asked her if we could please talk about what had happened, because my other friend and I hurt her and her son, and I didn't want it to happen again.

She sent me angry, extremely long emails for 24 hours. And I told her I was willing to talk but I wouldn't email because in email I couldn't hear her voice, see her face, or read her body language. She reminded me that she had a problem with face-to-face confrontation and wouldn't be subjected to that. I didn't plan on confronting anyone. I wanted to listen. Even I can listen, if I know you're upset and have something to say.

She didn't like my strong reaction (in defending my friend). And we both used the incident to air some feelings that hurt each other. As friends, we were opposites in most mundane ways, in food, in tastes, in education. And the differences that once made our points-of-view interesting to each other, have now created hurtful difference. If she's not willing to talk to me, we can't fix it.

Both incidents revolve around reactions to words. If you want a calm, rational reaction, don't come near me. If you can handle passionate emotion, tell me whatever you want.

The same words will always cause different reactions in different people.

I told the following story to two of my friends. I told Tracy, my fashionista/photographer girlfriend, and Tiffani, my writer/mom of four kids girlfriend.

The tale:
After school today, all the kindergartners came out of the school, boys and girls, their faces stained with lipstick. Each family had been asked to send it the brightest lipstick they could find. For the 100th day of school, they applied their own lipstick and kissed a big paper heart 100 times. I told my daughter that when we got home she could wash her face with Mommy's special soap. This thrilled her.

A summary of Tiffani's reaction:
I can just see all those cute five-year-olds with their lipstick faces. How did your daughter's lipstick color work out?
(Tiffani is an Avon lady who helped me find a lipstick.)

A summary of Tracy's reaction:
I'm proud that she has taken an interest in proper skin care. It's never too early.
(Tracy recently took me to the store and helped me buy the 'special soap' and some moisturizers.)

I will never get the same reaction from any two people with the same words. We need to remember this in our writing. I got the judging sheets back from one of the writing contests I entered. Numerically, I scored well. My entry came back with lots of "nice" next to sentences and lots of comments about the uniqueness and the general good quality. And the potential in hot markets.

And I got several comments that completely contradicted each other. Instances where the three judges disagreed. One said 'this sucks.' The other said, 'I love this.' And the other didn't mention it at all. This, to me, qualifies as success. Because if two people were driven to a strong reaction, but a third didn't even notice, then I have done something that will make people think, potentially 66% of the time. As writers, we want to be noticed. We don't want to be ignored or forgotten.

I must admit, even with my critique group, I take writing so seriously that my feelings are attached to every word. I have to constantly remind myself that the comments don't bear nearly as much weight as I think they do, and as I tell my interns at the office, "if the words sound harsh it's because there's potential there for so much more."

One judge upset me because she took issue with three words in my 27-page entry that she felt were out-of-place. She accused me of picking these words randomly from a thesaurus. I don't use a thesaurus. I don't always use perfect words, and yes, I do sometimes misuse them. This hurts, because I always heard similar comments from newspaper editors. In that case, I used the words correctly but my editors thought the general public would need a dictionary to understand them.

The other reminders that people will always find mistakes in your work, no matter how you try to get it perfect... One judge spent some time arguing which car is faster, the Dodge Viper or the Mercedes CLK430. Another judge wrote me a paragraph about how you never iron napkins. (Étienne irons the napkins because he's nervous and he wants everything to be perfect.)

To say I have a lot on mind is an understatement.

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