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Monday, July 30, 2012

Back to School

On Thursday, I wrote a post about my mother-in-law's visit to our house.  The post focused on how she treats my husband.  I described that treatment as something approximating hero-worship, with a dash of coddling and a heavy side of devotion.  I gave examples of the lengths she will go to for him, and how I measure up football-fields short in comparison.

On Friday, I wrote a post about how the population of jerks in the world seems to be on the rise.  I wondered why people have done away with basic manners.  I championed the values of being a nice person.

On Saturday morning, I received the following comment to Friday's post: 

To be fair, yesterday's post (a withering public critique of you husband's mother) was one of the more impolite things you could do. Manners extend beyond the kiosk and they don't apply only to interactions with strangers. I was surprised and discouraged by what I read yesterday. If you want to write everyday, then write everyday, just think hard before hitting publish. You write and think with great clarity. Those skills, combined with a frustrating day, a bad mood, and a "publish" button, can get you into trouble.

I have no idea who left the comment -- it was titled "Anonymous."  It could have been a family member, a friend, or a stranger.  But it doesn't really matter.  It stung to the core.

In writing a blog and foisting my thoughts and opinions onto the public Internet, I accept that not everyone who reads a given post will like that post.  They may think I've taken on a boring topic or a stupid one, they may think my writing stinks, and they may disagree with my views.  I'm pretty fine with that.  Of course, I would be disappointed, but it wouldn't paralyze me.

Saturday morning, though, I was sent into a tailspin.

My reactions were jumbled.

On the one hand, I thought the commenter missed the point of my mother-in-law post.  The comment indicates that the person reads my blog with some regularity.  Yet he/she seemed to have missed the standard snark and attempts at humor that pepper the vast majority of my previous posts.  The commenter called it a "withering public critique of my husband's mother," when I thought the post was simply a humorous glimpse at the nature of their mother-son relationship and how I pale in comparison as his wife.  The other reactions to the post I'd received jived with this part of my reaction: people thought the post was hilarious or "the most insightful thing I'd written so far" or worthy of an "Amen."  Including my husband and his two sisters (who I'd asked for permission to write about their mother before I did).

Therein lies the rub, though.  Before I even wrote the post, I was somewhat uneasy about the topic.  I knew my mother-in-law would never read it, but I did know her children would.  I knew (and know) that I was approaching the entire subject from a position of "poking fun."  I knew (and know) I love and respect my mother-in-law, and of course my husband.  But I also knew (and know) that humor can sting.  And I wanted to be sure that those who might take the post the wrong way would (1) not be caught off guard by the submission; (2) understood that the only message I was trying to convey was a funny one.

I did not, however, tell my mother-in-law I'd be writing about her.  Because I know that she prides herself on the mother she is, and might not appreciate that I was, in a sense, making fun of her.

But I got the thumbs-up from all of her children to proceed, and I did.

I wrote the post under time constraints and did very little editing.  I used some of my standard tools: in some places I exaggerated, in some places I self-mocked, and in other places I played with comparisons.  Contrary to what the commenter insinuated, as I wrote I was not mad, I was not frustrated, I was not out for blood.

I also was not thinking enough.  Even as I wrote the post, my uneasy feeling remained.  And on Friday, when I wrote the post about being nice, I myself heard the nagging voice in the back of my head wondering if I was being hypocritical given the nature of my post just the day before.

Then came Saturday morning's comment.

I struggled with how to respond, and if I even should.  I tried to summon self-righteous indignation.  I tried to pretend that "I'm a writer" and if you don't like my writing, screw you.  I tried to convince myself I did nothing wrong.

It didn't work.  I ultimately embraced the fact that I never felt completely comfortable with the post. 

So I took it down.  It's taken up residence in the Internet's landfill.  I hope its techno-degradable.

It is true that I am trying to be a writer.  It is true that not everyone is going to like what I write.  It is true that I will receive comments that point out the flaws in my writing.

It is also true that I will receive comments that point out the flaws in me.  All of those comments will hurt.  How I respond to those comments will vary.

Comments that mirror twinges of doubt that I am already feeling will resonate the most.  Especially if those comments accuse me of being a hypocrite, insensitive, or exploitative.  Like Saturday's comment did.

This blog will remain a forum for me to post my opinions and to make fun of life.  Sometimes, I will not come across as "nice" when I do so.  But as Garrison Keillor once said, "You taught me to be nice, so nice that now I am so full of niceness, I have no sense of right and wrong, no outrage, no passion."  I suppose that I want to be "nice" except to the extent I can't see right and wrong, I can't feel outrage, I can't experience passion.  And then write about it.

The struggle for me will be to write in a way that remains respectful.  Part of that will be to pick appropriate subjects.  I still think my mother-in-law's relationship with my husband could be one such subject.  But on Thursday, I didn't write well enough to do it justice.  Which is my bad, and my bad alone.

I am not a perfect writer.  I am not a perfect person.  I am trying to get better.  At both.

Saturday, I got schooled.  At both.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Maine Meanie (how long I’ve waited to use this one!),
    Whoever said that your post was a "withering criticism" has insanely thin skin and clearly does not know my mom. I read nothing but authenticity in your post. She does travel with obscene amounts of food, she does everything but curtsy to my brother, and that is the way of the Puerto Rican mom and her child king. She's aware of this--we've told her to knock it off. Is it impolite to bring this to light publicly? Let’s say for the fun of it that it is, followed by a so what? I thought you were respectful. Plus, my mom dishes out plenty. She can take it. I cannot, however, stand the hypocrisy and sense of superiority of the person who criticized you anonymously. Is it not impolite to drop a bomb and not allow for a proper response? I hate cowards. So, on behalf of my mom who specifically requested that I do this, I officially present to Ms./Mr. Manners the unofficial NY State Bird, otherwise known as “the finger.” How rude of me.