Friday, July 30, 2010

Don't help

 It's my experience that when someone prefaces a statement with the phrase, "I know you . . . " they will nearly always go on to demonstrate that they don't.

I heard this in a recent conversation with a well-meaning individual who then proceeded to tell me why I shouldn't be a teacher (I should study literature? Apparently?) and why I'm not up to the story I'm writing. How I should stick to writing short stories about talking dogs because I'm such a nice person who could not possibly understand the darker parts of people's nature because I hadn't been there. She said this about my current project without having read it. She even mentioned that she wished she lived closer because she could "help me".

Bless her heart (What a polite southerner says when they're annoyed at someone or they secretly think they're non too bright. In my case it is the former), but I found myself more taken by surprise than bothered.

Not that long ago I would have been deeply rattled by this person's opinion of me; I would have gone off and stewed about it, asked Gary lots of insecure questions, and even let it keep me from writing--for at least a few days. But  I found myself surprisingly centered and completely unflustered. At some point in the last couple of years I've discovered that just because another person makes a statement like this does not mean it's true. This may sound small to you, but in my universe, this is on par with continents merging, planets changing orbits, or husbands putting their own socks in the laundry. It's huge.

I don't mean that I'm so hard headed that I won't listen to good advice, just that I'm more likely to weigh it against what I already know about myself and my life.

So instead of getting defensive or changing the subject, I teased her. "Do you know how many people I've killed in the last ten years?"

Pause. "What?"

" Ten? Eleven? Fifteen, I think. No, wait. There was that woman in the burned out house. That makes sixteen. Anyway, I've gotten a lot better at it. Handling guns and wallowing in blood takes some getting used to, but once you the hang of it, killing really isn't all that hard."

She was quiet for a second. I knew she got that I was joking, but she didn't quite understand why.

"Of course, that's nothing compared to Stephen King's statistics, but it's a good start. I'd probably have to go into therapy after killing that many people."

She caught on and started laughing.

When she'd finished, I said, "I hear he's a nice guy too.In fact, I have it from a friend who used live in the same town that he's considered a pillar of his community." The subject shifted to Stephen King after that, which was part of what I was hoping for, though I still got to listen to a lot of how I should be doing this or that with my life.

I didn't bother to touch on why I'm studying education. If all these years of my gravitating toward jobs that meant working with kids (a preschool teacher, a daycare director, a substitute teacher, a Youth Associate for 4-H, a money skills educator, and homeschooling in tandem with all of it), didn't register on her radar, then I don't think joking about it now is going to help.

Later on, I mentioned her thoughts to Gary and Sam and Jeremiah (the other two are out of town). Gary and Jeremiah laughed it off. Sam (who is very familiar with my work, though he's not been allowed to read it) stared at me stricken. "You mean she thinks you should write children's stories?"

I shrugged.

"I can just see it now." He spoke in a falsetto voice. "Today children we're going to read a story about how to kill people using chop sticks and how to get blood out of carpet afterwards." He reverted to his normal voice. "You're good at writing grown up books, Mom. Stick to that."

 He also thinks I'm a pretty good teacher. I'm not so sure if that combined with his advice indicates how wise he is or how much I've warped him, but that's the only vote of confidence I needed.

*Anyone out there who's been kind enough to read early drafts of my work can tell you, violence really isn't biggest part of my stories, but it is the part that the boys are most fascinated by, especially as they know me to be something of a pacifist.


Ro said...

Always remember - those kind of 'helpful' souls, who offer up observations that are wider of the mark than the proverbial barn, are unconsciously talking about themselves.
You've got a proven track record, it speaks louder than someone's opinion ;)

Pencil Writer said...

I know how you feel. Some people have a compulsion to do those things w/o a "proper" perspective. I have a sister like that, who's been trying to tell me how to run my life--no kidding--down to how to use the water faucet at her place of employment when I visited her last month. Like I was still 3. I still love her--and ignore her often--but I usually take her in small doses.

I think she means well, but she irritates a lot of people, esp. family.

Wish I knew the key to help.

Glad you're sharp enough and well-centered enough to know who you are and what you need/want to do with your life, including your education/vocation/writing.

Wonder how many books she's written/published?

I like this post. Bless the child who backs him Mom, too!

Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...


You were a fair sight nicer than I would have been. Imagine that. :)

Mary O. Paddock said...

Ro--Thank you. I'll have to remember that next time I'm faced with this kind of advice.

PW! Good to see you. I find that the boys and Gary are a very good place to go for reality checks/and feed back.

Mrs C--It's the southerner in me. Being nice seems to over ride nearly every other instinct, including self preservation. :)