And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

I hesitated at first before writing this blog, because the moments that stand out for me this week feel a little bit like back-patting. But then I thought, well, what the hell. The last thing I want to do is start editing out my moments of happiness, no matter what they are.

Twice this week, I found myself in a situation where I was told I was doing a good job in a role I took on this year: the Program Coordinator of the Southeast Wisconsin Festival Of Books. I was reluctant to take on the position, mostly because my schedule is already crazy, but also because I just wasn’t sure if I was up to the challenge. In the end, because of my love for the book festival, I said yes. The festival is coming up in a few weeks, and it’s been one heck of a journey.

So first this week, I found myself in front of a group of lifelong learners, to do a presentation on book culture and to let them know all about the book festival. It had been such a long while since I presented in front of a live group; the pandemic pretty much had me appearing in front of Brady Bunch block-style audiences on Zoom. But these were living, breathing people! As I spoke, I watched a man sitting in the front row. His face was skeptical, his arms were crossed. I think many of us are afflicted with pandemic angst right now, feeling like we’re never going to enjoy anything again without an undercurrent of fear, and this man embodied that. But as my presentation went on, I saw his arms drop, he began to look through the festival’s schedule, and my god, he smiled. He lit up! At the Q & A portion, he asked more questions than anybody.

He wasn’t the only one who lit up. So did I.

After the presentation, I was talking with a participant when I saw someone go up to the founder of the festival. I probably wasn’t supposed to hear, but I heard her say to the founder, “You did the best thing possible for the festival when you put Kathie into this position.” And then I heard the founder say, “I know.”

I fumbled for a bit in my own conversation, but then I picked it back up. I’m sure I grinned like a hyena for the rest of the day though.

Then yesterday, I was telling my Wednesday Afternoon Women Writers’ Workshop students about the festival, when a student who is on the planning committee of the festival spoke up. She told the class that, while other Coordinators have been fine, I did an amazing job. We were organized in record time, to the point where I couldn’t even write an agenda for our latest meeting because there’s nothing to do. My student said there were no arguments this year, no difficulties. And then my class applauded.

And I was a hyena again for the rest of the day.

I was asked a while ago to talk with a graduate student working on a project about how the pandemic has affected writers. She said that the general public probably thought we weren’t affected much, since we write in isolation anyway. Which is true. However, the pandemic affected us a lot, particularly in the arena of publishing and promotion.

But something that has affected writers before the pandemic, through the pandemic, and likely after the pandemic is that while we work in isolation, we also don’t receive the pats on the back that are so important in a job. My job, both as a writer and as a teacher of writing and a business owner, is solely dependent on my exterior world for a measurement of how I’m doing. When one of my pieces is accepted, I know I’ve done a good job. When a student succeeds (and that success isn’t just publishing – that success is being able to put down words on the page and feel like they’re worth something!), I know I’ve done a good job. When a nice review is left for one of my books, when a reader emails me to tell me how my story or poem or essay or book affected him or her, I know I’ve done a good job. I don’t have a “boss” – but essentially, my readers and my students are my bosses. My performance is reflected in them.

These things happen, but there are often long gaps in between. I rarely hear the words, “Good job!”,  myself, not because I’m not doing a good job, but because of the type of work I do. It is likely the reason why I finish most of my written critiques for students with, “Good job!”

Everyone needs to hear it.

I thanked my student for saying what she did in class. She said, “I came to the conclusion long ago that if I’m sincerely thinking something nice, it’s usually best to say it.” And she’s absolutely right.

When you see someone doing a good job, no matter what that job is, please tell them. It certainly made my week.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.


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