(formerly titled "Demagnetize The Compass, North Is Always North.")
So, okay, I'll be honest. I want to be liked. I like to be close with all kinds of people. I am always exposed and reaching. Cruelty is a no-go characteristic, but faults draw me in as much as anything else. It's the mystery and honesty of a flaw that I like. Stories draw me in more than anything. I have a very diverse family with more crazies, heroes, stories, and skeletons than I could fit in a memoir. Does this sound like your family too? Background stories, yours and mine, instill in me a wider world view and empathy. I am unendingly interested in passions - any! If it lights you aflame, I want to feel the burn too. You can guess - I may be considered overly-sensitive in some circles. Perhaps I would hurt less if I were different. Some days I wish I was. That's the truth. The whole turtle without a shell phenomenon. But feeling as much as I do is why I am as good a writer as I am. Facing the world with an open heart means that pain, but also love, happiness, and wonder affect me deeply. Leonardo DiCaprio once said that if an actor says he doesn't care about approval, he's lying. I won't lie to you here. I yearn for validation and approval.
Does this make me a willow in the wind? No, thank God, no. No one's approval defines me. I know who I am with or without outside validation. Whoever I owe my internal North too, I don't know. But, boy, do I. In my industry, you'd blow away without it. Maybe in life in general, you would too.
Am I perfect at it? No, God, no.
I got a review point recently. No one else - of all my reviewers - had ever made the same point, but I knew. It was completely, totally, exactly right. I felt like I was tapped by a magic wand or something. I was so grateful.
Then I lost my North.
The best of us do. This is a letter from Emily Dickinson to a man she had never met. He was a literary critic she'd followed in the newspaper.
Dear V. Higginson,
Are you too deeply occupied to say if my verse is alive? The mind is near itself it cannot see distinctly, and I have none to ask. Should you think it breathed, and you had the leisure to tell me, I should feel quick gratitude. If I make the mistake, that you dared to tell me, would give me sincerer honor toward you. I enclose my name, asking you, if you please, sir, to tell me what is true? That you will not betray me it is needless to ask, since honor is its own pawn.
Two editors of journals came to my father's house this winter, and asked me for my mind, and when I asked them "why" they said I was penurious, and they would use it for the world. I could not weigh myself, myself. My size felt small to me. I read your chapters in the Atlantic, and experienced honor for you. I was sure you would not reject a confiding question.
Doesn't she sound insecure, yearning for approval, overly eager? I am not that woman on the outside. Not even most of me on the inside. But aren't we all a bit of that? Somedays a bigger bit? Who can't relate to not being sure of themselves?
I was so aggressive in addressing my review point - for the record, it was a review point couched in heavy, specific praise - that my husband closed my laptop on me mid-keystroke. I had lost my perspective. I couldn't see what was good anymore. I was Van Gogh. I was like a lot of artists. Without realizing what I was doing, I was ripping my canvas into shreds. Overwhelmed by what needed fixing, I thought that my entire concept was crap. No one could convince me otherwise. That is the downside of the internal true North. In a panic, the only person I can hear is me. If I'm deluded, I'm an island. Relate? :)
I got some sleep. I recalled the praise. I confirmed I had a back-up file from before I mercilessly hacked away. :) I read other people's books. I took a break. I got back to it. It is a slippery slope back to merciless, but we have to wear cleats.
Yes, we want criticism. Can't get better without it. But, we can not give ourselves away. I was on the precipice of a big problem, and I will always be indebted to the woman who told me about it. But I am a writer. If writing is the solution, I'm the perfect person for the fix. When I regained my perspective I saw exactly what to do. All it took was a few perfectly placed things here and there to be inserted, reworded, or deleted. It was always in me.
Be yourself. No one else can. Find someone you trust who knows who you are, who believes in you, who will remind you when you need it. Even Emily needed it. Generally, keep the study doors closed (a Stephen King reference) - I absolutely believe this - but sometimes you need someone like John Mayer's producer who says, "Calm down, man. It's not all sh**. There is a lot here to be salvaged."
There is no replacement for an internal true North. But don't forget your back-up file manager, sleep, and the praise you skipped over. Do not tear your canvas. Compartmentalize as minutely and numerously as you need to to address what needs fixing. Take a break. But do not destroy the good. You can't give yourself away. Nobody wants us too. We wouldn't be worth the energy of the criticism if there wasn't more to save.
Thank you for reading my blog, my lovely friends and followers! Things are going so well, I really can't believe it. Keep your fingers crossed and hands folded - I adore you! I will keep you as updated as I can.