mad in pursuit journal
2.17.04 Fight or Flight?
So I finish my little radio production "Kitty Curran's War." It chokes me up, but I can't be sure if it is the power of my composition or the power of those familiar old voices.
The briefest of thumbs-up from Maria is all I need to post the production "for licensing" on the Public Radio Exchange. I love getting the product out. It is posted by 5 PM yesterday. When I return to my computer at 9 PM, my heart leaps. The piece has been reviewed already!
My heart freezes. The review is not good. My face stings. Sure, this distant critic starts by saying the last minute and a half "almost rises to the level of poetry" but then he goes on to say "the remainder is fairly disposable." He goes on. He winds up by saying that it's worth a revision to "tap into the magic that enabled her to achieve what she did at the piece's end." But of course all I feel is humiliation and the impulse to remove it instantly from the PRX site before another person can hear it.
I tell myself to chill out. Take a breath...
There are two powerful moments in my life that I think of now and then. Both took place in ninth grade and both show me at a certain psychological crossroads.
#1: I had been writing a girl-detective novel since fifth grade, which had slowly become a great compendium of meandering styles. When my ninth-grade English teacher started lecturing us on the components of a good story (theme, plot, etc.), I went home and buried the 308-page proof of my ignorance in the alley trash can.
#2: Same English class. We were assigned to write a paper on the theme of Joseph Conrad's short story "The Lagoon." I made a mess of it. (And really, what can a 14-year-old girl know about Joseph Conrad?) We were required to do revisions. Even now, 40 years later, I can still see myself, sitting on the cold floor of my bedroom, back against my sister's bed, reading and pondering, reading and pondering, till something half-way intelligent emerged. I wasn't told till later that my excellent revision saved me from being booted out of the Honors program.
Incident #1 -- humiliation leads to destruction and defeat. No more fiction writing till I was 40.
Incident #2 -- I get back in the ring, score a knock-out.
The difference? Who knows. On the surface of it, the Conrad revision was homework that I couldn't run away from. I could take care of the private humiliation of my novel in secret. Fight. Flight. I guess it helps to have people around you who tell you that you have to fight, that flight is not an option.
My father told me the story of how he got pneumonia after joining the Air Force. He was completely miserable in the Wisconsin deep freeze. He couldn't take it. He decided to run away. He left the hospital and went to the train station. But as he stood on the platform, all he could think of was that his mother would kill him. So he turned around and went back to the base. Someone -- even if it's only a mental projection of your mother -- has to tell us that flight is not an option.
I print out my "Kitty Curran" review and take it to Jim. "I got a terrible review," I whine. He reads. "Well..." he says, "I think this just says you should revise it -- that it can be improved."
Yep, I guess that's all it says.