Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Thick Skin (And a Row80 check-in)

As a child, I was never what anyone might call thick-skinned.  An unkind word or raised voice was, invariably, enough to evoke tears, snot, a whining keen unique to the under-five crowd.  And, much as I wish otherwise, the habit stayed with me well past those pre-school years, whining keen aside.  This, of course, was a source of much frustration for my father who was prone to a reflexive bark.  He told me once, many years later during one of many long talks, that my lack of fight during those growing up years was disappointing.  With any given rebuke or rejection of inquiry, I would accept it as due (or pretend to) and retreat in tears to lick my wounds in private.

But everyone grows up.  Tears are corralled, defenses fortified, the facade made new.  Somehow, and against all odds, the functional adult emerges.  

Nonetheless, against such a backdrop, it is odd to find myself the owner of an exceptionally thick writer-skin.  Over the years, my work has been deemed selfish, boring, grammatically incorrect, unpolished, archaic and confusing to name a few.  With the exception of selfish, I have swallowed them all without comment and been glad for a full belly.  I would take any one of those words over the canned "good" that marked a number of my submissions both in school and after.  The goal is, after all, to improve.  And I have a thick writer-skin.    

It didn't start out that way.  I remember the absolute terror of my first critique group as a student at BC.  I spent days agonizing over which poems I would submit, which masterpieces.  Despite the vanity of such a thought, I was afraid.  My stomach was pitted with nerves, a vague sense of horrified expectation settling onto my skin.  The act of handing in the stacked copies was significant, the week-long wait for review excruciating.  And this despite the fact that I had, against the teacher's well publicized advice, submitted that which I thought to be perfect.  

This is a no-no for any writer, any poet, any person who asks for critical review.  Do not submit that which you believe to be perfect.  Because it is not perfect.  

That's the part I didn't get.  

17 years old, I figured I would bring my best work, bask in the glory of non-stop praise (or rather cower in full blush), be affirmed in my self-appointed role as poet and writer-extraordinaire.


I sat in that classroom, utterly still, utterly silent as every strip of baby writer-skin was taken from me.  In hindsight, there was a gentility to the process, a plucking away of feathers rather than a flaying of the flesh.  In that moment, I couldn't have articulated or recognized the difference.


There were kind words.  There was even praise.

I heard none of it.

I was fixated on the word:  selfish.

At home, sitting in the backyard after dark with my father, my baby writer-skin still burning, I expressed my theretofore unspoken outrage.  I spoke at some length, waving my hands about in the dark as though a mime suddenly and for the first time required to speak.  It is a habit I maintain to this day in phone call conversations, and prayers.  

"Selfish!" I said, my hands pushing at the dark.  "Selfish!  That was my best poem!  It's a power poem!  And they called it selfish!" 

There was silence for a moment and then my father looked me.  "Well, was it?  Were they right?"

And, perhaps this too was habit, I thought about it...for the first time.

I won't sit here (or blog here) and claim that my uber-thick call-it-crap-if-you-want-to writer-skin developed overnight.  I worked for it.  I contemplated every harsh criticism, found most all to be accurate at least in some part, worthy of consideration and far more helpful than praise.  Nor will I claim I don't get just a little bit nervous reading my poetry at the poetry group or hearing my work read at the Sci Fi Group.  I don't post my blog links on Facebook.  I'll be honest; I don't want writer-me, family-me and work-me to mingle.  It gets weird when they're all in the same room, and Facebook keeps trying to arrange play-dates.

But I've realized something through the years.  I want to be better.  So...bring it on.

And, yes, to answer the was a selfish poem.

WOK Blog Challenge:  Up to date with this entry
Row 80:  250+ words a day, check.  Writing every day...YES!
Magic Spreadsheet:  7,741 words since June 2, an 18 day chain, 196 points.

Row 80 Wrap-Up:  June was good to me.  Everything prior to June I'm ignoring.  Lol!


  1. First poems often are selfish. Not even so much self-centered... for those often can reach out to others from a deeper place within ourselves. We can come at them with more of a sense of universal connection than individual reflections when we get that intimate with ourselves.

    It takes a lot of practice to get to that point. Glad you are finding that place.

    1. Thank you for the kind words and for reading! :-)

  2. I would love to read that "selfish" poem, Anna. I am curious about what those critiquers saw, and I wonder what they really meant because I don't see selfishness as necessarily a bad thing.

    You're right about having to develop that writer-skin, thick and bouncy. Good for you. xoA

    1. I actually don't think it was a terrible retrospect. At the time, I was very brittle and a little too attuned to the generally accepted negative connotations of the word. That said, I'm a little curious to reread myself. I hadn't thought of that poem (or incident in years). It may be time to sort through some old boxes. Thanks for commenting, Annis! :-)

  3. can't get anywhere in writing without a few callous forming - I was a tearful child, sure the world had it in for me - growing up is painful but the rewards are great - all the best:)

    1. Definitely...have grown to appreciate the calluses very much! I see your name pop up for Row80 a lot. I think the new round is starting of luck to you in that. I hope to have a much better showing this go-round! Thanks for reading! :-)