My mother was right on one level. Putting a smile on your face can change your mood. But I was just a kid and in our house, there was a different intention. Sullen children made people nervous and it was just the start of the business of learning how to behave. I grew up in a “seen and not heard” home; a “keep the secret” home. Not that unusual at all.
It’s isn’t like teaching kids to lie, exactly. It’s more like the introduction to a world of false walls. We learn passive aggressive behaviors: if we’re honest, people won’t like us, so in order to get our way, it’s smarter to manipulate the facts a bit. It’s a woman’s super-power. It’s even acceptable to avoid an awkward situation by telling a white lie, if you can convince yourself it’s for someone’s well-being. It seems kind, maybe even smart in the beginning. But pretty soon the white lies take on all sorts of colors and the layers of passive deception become a stiff overlay of uncomfortable anxiety. Then one day you wake up and you’re a politician.
Some of us have an exaggerated sense of the truth–a phrase that a future ex-husband of mine once used to describe me to our therapist. A kinder word for that is honesty. It’s rare enough to seem like a personality disorder.
True to form, one if the first things THEY tell you, THEY, meaning the authorities in the publishing world, is never listen to anything your friends or family say about your writing. People who love you have no taste, don’t understand the writing world, and are the last people who will be honest. Never ever listen to a word. No. Period.
Fourteen months into this book process, I had lost perspective. I asked an incredibly difficult task of a tiny-few of my friends. I chose them carefully: they should be serious readers, balanced thinkers, and straight talkers, while being a range of ages, politics and backgrounds. I am fortunate to say, I have friends who fall easily into all these categories. Early, fragile drafts of my book were mailed out for their comments. It wasn’t from a desire for flattery. I needed the truth and I preferred it come from people I could trust.
I knew I was asking a lot time-wise, but in hindsight, I didn’t appreciate the full challenge. Neither did my friends, but it might have dawned on all of us about the same time. It was pretty awkward–like waking up naked in a strange apartment. We all chose our words carefully. Vulnerability is a huge strength–just like honesty. Their feedback was precious to me; the praise and the criticism.
It was about then that I remembered what THEY said about not listening to friends. Am I so crazy that I would just discount experts in this fast-changing field, dispensing what was obviously common sense advice? Who should I trust?
You’re right. Some things aren’t meant for one-size-fits-all approach.
This week I’m writing the last page of my book–the acknowledgment page. It’s a landmark; a privilege to get to this place. I’m feeling mushy about it, in a crush note written in pink ink with hand-drawn hearts and flowers sort of way. I’ll try not to embarrass all of us.
Then maybe I’ll begin a new habit of randomly writing acknowledgement pages just so I can remember how good it feels to let my friends hold me up for an hour. How would yours start?