I'm learning that part of being a writer is accepting and acting on constructive criticism while releasing destructive critiques before they can burrow under my skin and produce an irritating, life-blood sucking mental itch. Difficult as it is for me to believe, not everyone is going to love every single word I write. Shocking, but true. The only way to avoid some negative feedback is to hide my words in the back of the closet, safe and secure from any bad vibes, where not another soul on the face of the earth will see them.
This week I've been particularly susceptible to scratching those inevitible negative opinions with my own insecurities until they become raging sores just out of reach, under my skin. So, lying in bed, the words of others a loop in my head, I came up with a solution. I'm going to share it with you because I suspect I'm not the only writer who allows one negative comment to bury a dozen words of praise.
I have a goat. A Nubian. Her short, wiry coat is deep brown and she has a small swirl of hair in the center of her flat forehead that she loves to have scratched. Her ears hang down to below her whiskered chin and are the soft, worn consistency of the blankie my oldest son kept for years.
Her name is Gracie.
Oh, and did I mention? She has wide speckled wings.
Here's what I love most about Gracie - in the coldest part of the night, she comes when I call her. Her nubby horns, short and rounded, but horns nonetheless, butt against my chest like a very large, hooved cat. Her eyes are liquid amber flecked with ebony chips. Her amusing ba-a-a is easily translated.
"Yo-o-o're no-o-ot perfe-e-ect!"
Hard to bemoan the fact when she puts it that succinctly and so damn cutely.
Once my smile, or sometimes even a low laugh of self-derision, has broken a chain in the endless loop of my self-flagellation, Gracie Ba-a-as a time or two more, mostly for pure joy, I think. I sometimes join her. No particular reason except that it's hard to take myself seriously when I make that noise. Try it. Ba-a-a ba-a-a. See. It's fun. Joyful even.
Then I go to work.
With blood red ink on heavy Emily Post quality stationary, I write the wounding words that I previously welcomed into my pysche. I study them one last time. To be sure there's really nothing in them I need to keep. Sometimes there is. Most times, no. Then I choose an emotion for the way I feel about those barbs. This is the hard part and Gracie often resorts to more head butting to push the correct description up from my center. Frightened? Worried? Grieved? Angry? Whatever the word, Gracie and I find it. That word I write with black ink in huge, block letters in the center of the page.
By now, the goat's tail is twitching and she's making small anticipatory ba-a-as.
I cannot over-empathize how freeing I find that sound.
The heavy paper unfolded, open and exposed, I feed it with its burden of words into Gracie's eager, whiskered mouth. Her eyes roll back in her head in ectasy. She chomps contentedly. Gives me an occasional head butt if I eye her meal too covetously. She's carefull to eat every bit, never misses a word.
I give her one last scratch between her horns. She opens those fantastic wings, rises into the air, circles the bed once or twice, and disappears into the cold night sky. I usually watch until she's disappeared among the bling of stars.
Then I roll over and go to sleep. Tomorrow's another day and I have so-o-o much to write.