A week or so back (I honestly can’t remember; time’s fun when you’re having flies) everyone, and I mean everyone in the writing community was talking about Jacqueline Howett and her angry tirade on the Books and Pals Blog review of her book The Greek Seaman (no I’m not doing any puns. All the good ones have been used up anyway.)
It was like the rotting corpse of some animal bringing the buzzards far and wide to feast upon its stinking goodness. And before you go off mad, I’m one of those buzzards too. It’s not an insult. They’re an important necessary part of our ecological system. Fascinating creatures. For instance, did you know that the buzzard’s head lacks feathers because-
[Tangent Alert! Tangent Alert! Tangent Alert!]
Okay, okay! Keep your britches on! Anyway. The Great Jacqueline Howett Meltdown got me to thinking: Jacqueline Howett is a person.
Which hopefully everyone knows. I mean no one thinks she’s some kind of alien robot sent to sow discord on the internet or anything like that. But sometimes even though we know we don’t really know.
There’s something about distance that keeps us from seeing other people as real people. I still remember the moment when as a child we were driving down the road and I looked out at all the other cars and realized that each and every one of those people had a life every bit as real and full and complex as mine. But I also realized it was easy for us to ignore that fact because each of us was encapsulated in our own little climate controlled pod on wheels with the radio on, drowning out the our thoughts, letting us think we were the only real people in the world.
The internet is a lot like that too. Each of us sitting here at our own glowing screen interacting with others, but not really grasping the fullness of the truth that all those other words represent living, breathing, hoping individuals just like us.
I’m not here to defend Ms. Howett. I’m just here to remind you that she’s a person. She is more than the sum of her words.
Writing a book, even a bad one full of mistakes and errors is a lot of work. If you don’t believe me you should try it some time. And especially that first book…that sucker is like pulling teeth and giving birth at the same time.
Worst. Dentist appointment. Ever.
And when you’re finally done you print it all out and look at it in all of its grandeur and you think, “This is possibly the greatest thing I have ever done.” And you know what? For most of it, it probably is the greatest thing we’ve ever done.
And then someone comes along and shoots it full of holes.
It’s easy to make that person into the enemy. Because that criticism can hurt, especially at first. It doesn’t matter if it’s right or not. It doesn’t matter if the person giving the criticism is trying to help. It still takes a knife and shoves it right through our ego.
Like I said already, I’m not here to defend Ms. Howett. What she did was wrong on any number of levels.
But the next time something like this happens, think before you flame. Remember that the one on the other end of your criticism is a person too. It doesn’t mean you have to censor yourself. But maybe stop and think: “Would I be willing to say this to their face?”
Always remember to “speak the truth in love.”