Guest Post: An Unexpected Reaction, by Kim Smith

Friday, August 14, 2009
An Unexpected Reaction

by Kim Smith

I recently had an article published on Friday's Speak Out. Naturally, I was thrilled, and promptly fired off the link to sundry friends and family. All of the reactions were positive (oh, I love those strokes!) with one notable exception.

My father.

When I didn't hear from him, I phoned and asked him what he thought of the article. After a brief pause he said in an unenthusiastic tone, "It was great."

That wasn't enough for me. "Did you like it?"

"Well, I learned something about you that I didn't know before."

Expecting some sort of positive remark, I asked, "What's that?"

"I didn't know you were unhappy all your life." He sounded angry, and I immediately felt terribly small. I know he said more, but I blanked out and can't remember his exact words. I tried to laugh it off and change the topic, but when I hung up the phone, a flood of anxiety washed over me.

You see, I worked for my dad all my life. He hired me first as an office assistant, and eventually I became the bookkeeper for our small retail business. In my article, I wrote that I was unfulfilled all those years, and that I felt trapped. Not because of work or any external factors; it was an internal battle I was fighting.

Does my dad think that I'm not grateful? Does he feel resentful or annoyed? Or is he merely surprised to learn that I wasn't happy? I don't know what my dad actually feels; I am afraid to ask. The worst part about this conversation was that it made me doubt myself. I reread the article, berating myself for writing it in the first place, and for not anticipating every possible scenario.

His reaction, then, was unexpected and rather upsetting. In an ideal world, everyone would love every word I wrote, but alas, there is no such world. I never stopped to wonder how he, or anyone else, would interpret this particular story - I thought it was obvious what I meant - and I thought wrong. As with all experiences, good and bad, I walked away the wiser for it. I know that other writers must have similar experiences, and I wonder how they react.

Several people have commented that my stories are too dark/sad/depressing and have advised me to write 'happy' stuff. I never know how to react, so I just bite my tongue, though I feel that their advice akin to telling Tim McGraw he should sing pop. My husband, to my chagrin, is from this camp. While he enjoys my (very few) humorous writings, he dislikes many of my stories because of their serious content. Tactful man that he is, and keenly aware of my sensitive nature, his reviews usually sound like this: "You're a fantastic writer, honey, but I didn't really like it. Why don't you write a funny piece, for a change?"

Regardless of others' opinions, I do encourage them to point out awkward or confusing sentences; I've often taken their advice and made corrections. I especially am grateful when some alert soul points out grammatical errors, especially if it's a story I'm about to submit to a contest or for publication.

Then there are the writers who bare it all in their memoirs. How do they do it? I wonder. Do they prepare their family and friends ahead of time, or do they just fling it out there, daring to face the wrath of one or many? How many rifts are formed, permanently or otherwise? It is one thing to reveal one's less than stellar thoughts and actions, quite another to reveal another's. I doubt that I shall cross that particular bridge in this lifetime, so my family may rest easy.

My family and friends have been hugely supportive of my writing endeavors, and I value their support. Else why would I offer up my few published stories and wait eagerly for their responses? I realize that I have to accept certain comments at face value, and know that they are usually well intended, and to realize that I can't please everyone. Sometimes, I just need to remind myself: this is who I am, this is what I'm writing, this is what makes me happy.

Kim lives in the country with one needy dog, three perfect cats, one long-suffering husband, and far too many chickens. She tries to write on a regular basis after a suffering a writer's block of thirty years.


Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!



Anonymous said...

I had a small story published in a women's anthology a year or so ago. I thought it was funny. My aunts thought it was funny. My mother was supportive but later commented that she must have been a horrible mother. I know it hurt her, and I was surprised.

I've written other stuff about our family growing up, but I know that it will never be published because it seems that laying out the truth justs adds hurt to already painful events.

For me I need to stick to fiction.

Team Toppen said...

I too have been told that what I write is dark or even disturbing. If I don't write and get it out I feel like I'm going to explode. The flipside is that if I do write the dark story people start to question my sanity. I have gotten to the point where I let only a very small group of people see what I write.

Kim said...

Thanks for your comments, and for taking the time to read my article!

Laura-Jane said...

Excellent post. This may be why most memoirs don't seem to be published (or written) until the writer is quite old and the majority of people in their life have passed away. It's too bad that your father did not read your article the same way you intended it to be read. We can never anticipate all the scenarios... It's a very tough decision, especially when writing about personal stuff that isn't always easy to read. I myself am not exactly outspoken about all aspects of my life for the same reasons. I think it's a battle that writers all are faced with. The solution? I honestly don't know.

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