And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
Living a very public life, as I do, can be a pretty surreal experience. I get a lot of reflective impressions from the people I interact with – readers, students, clients, participants in presentations and appearances. It can be pretty amazing, how people identify me.
For example, years ago, I wrote a story about a woman in her sixties who was having to put her adult cognitively challenged daughter into a group home because the woman could no longer handle the physical requirements necessary (this story, “What Counts”, appeared individually in Thema magazine, and then was also a chapter in my first novel, The Home For Wayward Clocks). After it appeared, both as a story and a chapter, I was deluged with compassionate and supportive letters and emails from readers who assumed that I must either be like that woman, or actually was that woman, because of how I presented her. It was wonderful to know that I hit the nail on the head so exactly…but at the time, I was in my late thirties and I didn’t have an adult cognitively challenged daughter. Other than writing it, I was nowhere in the story.
I seem to come with a reputation of sorts, both as a writer and a teacher. New students and clients will come to me, telling me they’ve heard I’m intense, passionate…and then some will say “intimidating”. I try to tell myself that the different reactions to me are more a product of the other person than from me. It’s kind of weird, really, the way I end up seeing myself through others’ eyes, but also seeing myself in the mirror every day.
Last night, I had an appearance at a nearby library. I was talking about the writing life, the realities as opposed to the myths that so many people seem to believe. As the room filled, I noticed the way people configured themselves. The people I was familiar with sat to the front. In the way back were people I’d never met before. In the middle, empty seats.
“Please move up,” I called to those in the back. “Are you afraid I’ll bite?”
“Yes!” one honest person answered.
I assured them I wouldn’t, and to their credit, two people decided to take my word for it and move to the front. The others remained huddled in the back. But by the end, I had them all talking and we had a really good time. No bites occurred.
Then this morning, I was talking via Zoom to a potential new client who wanted to go into coaching with me. Several times throughout our discussion, she said, “I’m so nervous! Oh, I’m so nervous!”
I finally asked her why.
“Because you’re YOU!” she said.
Well, yeah. That’s who I try to be anyway. But by the end of the conversation, while she was still nervous, she said that I was definitely the next step in her process, and so we have officially entered into coaching for her memoir.
And then, thank goodness, there was the experience in my Wednesday Afternoon Women Writers’ Workshop, a “live” group that meets every week. I was talking about the upcoming AllWriters’ Annual Retreat. It’s a four-day fully immersive experience into the writing life, where I lecture, meet with students one on one, run workshops…and have a hell of a good time. One of my students asked, “Okay, but are you as nice there as you are here?”
That one took my words away for a bit. But then I said, “Of course!” I was so glad to hear the “nice”. I’m a little perturbed to think that people might think I’m different in different situations.
I was pondering all of this as I drove home from my library appearance last night. I’d run the gamut from having people being scared I’d bite, to someone being nervous around me, to being nice, but maybe not nice in all situations. Huh. I finished my work for the day, went downstairs, got my daily dose of The Waltons (of course I’m nice! I watch The Waltons and I’ve memorized all of the episodes!), and then checked my email and such one more time before bed. On Facebook, I had a notification that I’d received a response to my comment on a student’s Facebook page. The response came from someone called “Bravo Bob”.
Ohboy, I thought.
But I went to the page. The comment I’d left came from TWO YEARS ago. My student had a status that showed everyone how to type certain symbols that would then turn magically into a penguin. In response, two years ago, I tried it, got my penguin, and said, “I did it!”
Under that two-year old penguin, Bravo Bob wrote a long post about how he read my post and how inspiring I am, how beautiful, and what an amazing person! He said God threw everything into the making of me! He went on and on and on…all from a two-year old penguin. And of course, he ended with how he couldn’t friend me, but if I could friend him, he’d be really happy. Man, his life would be fulfilled.
I sat back and roared.
Now, I know this guy was a creeper. In fact, I went back today to try to find his exact comment, so I could use it here, and I can no longer see it, so it must have been removed. But we all get these things and, hopefully, most of us recognize them for what they are. This one, though, was from a post showing a little emoji penguin. Two. Years. Ago.
And I was just such a wonderful human being.
I read the comment to my husband, who thought for a minute, and then said, “Well, Kathie, some people are just into penguins.”
Laughed until I cried.
But ultimately, it was just such a good reminder. Just accept people’s impressions graciously. Some of them will be right; some will be wrong. And to keep on doing what I do, as me, because really, that’s all I can do. I love what I do, there’s no one else I’d rather be, and it shows.
Dolly Parton said, “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.”
Done and done. I bet she’s a nice person too.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.