Today in my incarcerated poetry class the topic of my dog Cassie came up. I told them a little bit about her, how she was a rescue dog, and some of the troubles she had had before she came to live with us. When I told them them that one family had thrown her away for talking too much, some of the students got very animated. They all had solutions on how to fix the problem.
Kick her when she does that. Hit her, that’ll make her stop. You gotta start hitting her right away, when’s she a puppy. And keep hitting her every time she does bad.
I was, of course, horrified. I asked if I kicked them every time they didn’t do what I wanted them to do, if it would make them want to write for me? The room quieted down as they shook their heads. One boy spoke up and said he guessed it didn’t really work because he got beat on all the time and he still did bad things.
How much abuse do we heap on ourselves and our writing? I don’t know about you but for me, a lot. I write a line and then beat myself up for not writing a paragraph or an entire page. I finally write a page, reread it and then tell myself how much it stinks. I pull apart my plot and compare it to other plots and then yell at myself for not being unique enough or clever enough or smart enough or, well, you get the idea.
Of course I’m going about it all wrong. Being mean to my writer self doesn’t make me want to sit down and write any more than kicking Cassie would have have made her stop barking all the time. Cassie’s change in behavior was a result of time and kindness. I put in a lot of time with her, a lot of time that we thought we would never see any progress at at. And instead of abuse she receive nothing but love. She still makes some noise but the nervous barking that seemed to have been her biggest problem is virtually gone.
I wonder how much my writing would improve if I tried the same thing?
Oh Susan, you are amazing. So, I think the name of your muse may be Cassie.
ps. I bet if I was kinder to my artist-writer self, she wouldn’t walk with a limp!
Oh Laura, you are sooooo good for my ego. Thank you.
I love these posts. I can definitely sympathize with this. I just finished a chapter I quite like but am comparing my wordcount to others and wondering why I don’t write faster, better, etc.
I’m glad Cassie (and those kids) have you.
Susan, thanks! Love your reflections. Not only for me and my writing but also for the teens. How wonderful that you helped them discover this basic life principle. Writing is powerful in many ways and one of them is the way it brought you to them.
I think your art class is one very definitive way you’ve been kind to yourself. As always you are an inspiration.
Thanks, Joyce. I hope it reached at least one of them.
I am trying to reconcile my self image with this new artistic side. Right now it is like wearing someone else’s shoes.
If these boys remember nothing else from this class, I hope they remember this.
Me too, Peni. Me too.
the Critic/Miss Perfection
I have that same critic, and when I told her to shut up (a word I was not allowed to say as a child) she became louder and more critical. When I started doing Adult Children of Alcoholics work, I came to see that she was an “adapted child” the one who tries and tries to be good and perfect to get love and approval. Then when she started in, I would visualize her and hug her and say, “I know you are trying to help, but it is ineffective. I am allowed to make mistakes and be imperfect. Thanks for sharing.” This has gradually reduced her criticism to the point where she sometimes reminds me I’m human…
This took a couple of years of visualization and conversation, but it makes my life a lot easier.
This may be entirely irrelevant to you, but I thought I would mention it.
What ever I try to erase gets stronger, what I accept gets more helpful. I realized she (who was very like my parents) was trying to help under the delusion that if you are perfect you will be happy. Erroneous infrmation…
How often our impulse in dealing with frustrating situations is to try to control them by force. And just as often, force makes things worse–it is kindness and tolerance that open the gates.
So very true.
Those poor kids growing up among such violence. When will people learn that that DOESN’T ever work?
I’m so glad you go help them see another perspective.
I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.
So important to remember
Above all, be kind — this is perhaps the single most important thing I am trying to teach my children (after not putting ketchup on the dog) and yet I forget to apply it to myself. Above all, be kind — for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle. Me included, and I should be gentler with my warring, worrying self.
I needed this reminder today. Thank you.