Over a decade ago I started writing a weekly column for my local newspaper. The space my column occupied had previously been occupied for decades by a woman from the town where I grew up. Her name was Pepper, and as you can imagine, living together in a small town, I knew her and she knew me. She would come see all the theatrical productions at our local high school and would often times send me notes after my performances on stage.
Pepper’s writing style was very different from mine. She would usually have six or eight short segments in her column. Very rarely was an entire article devoted to just one topic. It might be something funny she read, or later in life, as she learned to traverse the Internet, something she’d read online.
For better or worse, if you are reading my writing, you are reading an original. I’m quite certain my writing would be improved if I wrote like Pepper and often quoted other writers, but alas, that is not my style.
A couple months after I began my column a man gruffly approached me. No introduction. No pleasantries. No ice breaker. He was big, old, and a bit intimidating, and he bellowed, “I liked Pepper’s column better!” I smiled, laughed and responded, “So did I.” (Seriously, Pepper was a gracious and classy lady and it was hard not to love Pepper.) Having made his point and continuing with his “exceptional” interpersonal skills, he simply turned and walked away. His wife, sensing perhaps her husband’s behavior might have seemed a bit hurtful, looked at me and said, “I liked your column this week better than some of them.”
She too, turned and walked away. With compliments like those, who needs criticism?
But in a strange sort of way, I have always held onto that conversation. No, not in anger or even in humor, but as a way to remind myself, every time I write it will not be my best writing.
I think through my life. As a child I performed in musicals where we often did six or twelve performances. Inevitably a few performances of mine would be really good and I might have one or two real clunkers. Shows where I just wasn’t as sharp with my lines or choreography or songs. It was the not-so-good that helped me know and appreciate what was truly good.
In college I had to work very hard. Good grades didn’t come particularly easy to me. Inevitably I was on the Dean’s List a few times and those were really good semesters, but I had my share of two or three classes where I barely hung on for dear life. It was the not-so-good that helped me know and appreciate what was truly good.
I taught third graders for several years. I loved teaching and for the most part always enjoyed my job. Inevitably there were some days where I still remember totally reaching a youngster with a new concept or outcome. And yes, I still remember some terribly frustrating times where no matter how creative and energetic my presentation, some students didn’t grasp what I was trying to teach. It was the not-so-good that helped me know and appreciate what was truly good.
As a mother, yep, you know where this is going, Dear Reader. Some days of parenting I’ve knocked it out of the park at crucial, often life-altering moments where I was at my best. And some days I’ve completely blown it, asking for forgiveness from my children, and screwing up yet again. It is the not-so-good that helps me know and appreciate what is truly good.
And so it is with my writing. I’m always amazed that an author can write fifty-two original pieces a year and someone says, “I didn’t like that one as well as I did this one.”
Of course! Of course some writings are better than others! Please for one moment don’t think authors don’t know that about their own work.
I’ll paraphrase this so not to embarrass the writer, but a woman in my community said she basically likes my writing 50% of the time. You may think that hurt my feelings, but actually I laughed long and hard. Yes. Point taken! I agree. But I’m not going to be worried about that. You see, once in a while there are some clunker blogs. Once in a while there are some average blogs. And once in a while there are some writings which really succeed. And Dear Reader, it’s the not-so-good that helps me know and appreciate what is truly good.
I am giving myself permission to live life like that. Not every moment is going to be my best moment. And I hope that encourages you too. Not every moment is going to be your best moment. And that’s okay, because when a truly good moment comes along, well, you and I will truly value and appreciate it! And when the clunkers come along, well, we’ll buckle down and make it through those moments too.
Until next Wednesday, Lord willing.