The Usual Fessing

You have to forgive me today if my nerves are a little shot to pieces. It all began this morning when I absent-mindedly locked the back door behind my husband after he took my son to school. Some of you may recall the incident a long while back when a ‘delivery man’ walked straight into my kitchen claiming to have lost his way. I was confused but pointed him in the right direction, only to have my blogging friends alert me later to the fact that he was probably an opportunist burglar. Well, ever since then I’ve taken to locking the door if I am upstairs alone in the house. Today I had an early meeting and so I waved the boys goodbye and headed off to do early morning emails and run myself a bath. So imagine the skin-crawling horror I felt, half an hour later, as I was just about to get into said bath, when I heard a series of inexplicable thumps and clatterings and realised that someone was climbing up the outside of the house. With no coherent thought beyond the need to see what was happening and face my nemesis, I rushed into the back bedroom, those ominous scrapes and shufflings coming ever closer, and then my husband’s blonde head popped up over the frame of the window.

He beamed at me, as if this were an entirely natural place to hold a reunion, or indeed a conversation. ‘You locked the back door!’ he accused with good humour.
I leaned weakly against the wall, clutching my pounding heart. ‘And you’ve just taken five years off my life,’ I replied. ‘Why didn’t you come round the front and knock?’
‘I thought you’d be in the bath,’ said my husband, thrilled with his deductive skills and compassionate foresight. ‘I didn’t want to get you out of it. I thought we could talk through the window.’
‘But… but,’ I said, ‘I’d have had to get out the bath anyway to let you in. You do want to be let in, don’t you?’
I seem to have a lot of conversations like this with my family, where we debate the logical possibilities that surround an act of complete irrationality.

So anyhow, I let him in, unable to convince him that on another occasion, standing in the back garden and calling my name might work better. I can still hear the thought processes in his mind as they say: ‘well, who else would she expect to be climbing up the back wall of the house? I mean, duh!’ I duly got ready for the day and set off to my early meeting which was a very intimidating gathering of the powers that be at my college to discuss what next year will look like. I’m having a complete change of role, and will no longer be lecturing on French literature as I have done for the past decade. Instead I hope to be starting up a student learning support scheme, working with students who are failing standards or worried about their basic academic skills – essay writing, note taking, revision and so on. No one has ever done this here before, and so it’s a big thing for college and for me. But the point of making the changes is so that I can work just a little and concentrate on writing for most of my time. Naturally, ironically, I got nothing done today while I went through the usual rollercoaster involved in making big changes to your job.

I spent the week working reasonably steadily at the academic writing. I would have liked to have got more done – when wouldn’t I? But one thing I thought I would share with you is my unsatisfactory relationship to authonomy, (the writers’ website I mentioned last week), which I realised was doing bad things to my head. I was beginning to find that waiting for other people to comment on my chapters was getting to me. People’s comments have generally been very nice, with the one more critical comment from an author who clearly has a big problem with any kind of psychological approach. But even that was couched in perfectly acceptable terms; and I’m quite open to thinking that it’s a good idea to use such concepts but in a way that isn’t technical or alienating. It’s a good point. But still I found myself having a strangely emotional response to all this and I had to pause and wonder what exactly I was waiting for. Did I think some definitive comment would arrive that either declared the book a triumph or damned it irrevocably? What would such a comment look like? Was I really hoping someone would tell me I was marvellous in such a way that I would never question myself again? I could discern the lines of a familiar pit lying partly concealed. Writing is a funny business. You do it in order to please, but the only way it works is if the actual process of putting words down on paper pleases you. It all goes wrong if you start to invest in that writing as a way of getting some sort of abstract recognition for yourself, some sort of definitive pat on the back or validation. I know this because I’ve published books before and the thrill of being accepted for publication lasts all of about fifteen minutes, whilst writing and editing the book takes literally years. Any success that comes from it has always left me feeling a bit divorced from the book itself, mostly because the writing of it happened so long ago by that point. And so it was a salutary lesson to focus just on the act of writing, to remember what it’s really about. Alas, my vanity is determined some days to get in the way of my common sense, but I usually wrestle it into submission in the end. To help it out, I might print out my comments and remove the chapters now from the authonomy site; I think it’s served its purpose.

I must take a moment here just to thank with all my heart my blogging friends who have read the chapters on this site. Reading your comments has been wholly positive and useful for me. As usual, displaying the work here has been nothing but a delight as I’ve received such helpful, informative and thoughtful responses. I think there must be a huge difference between having your friends read for you, and opening your writing up to strangers. Either that or else I just happen to know a particularly fine, smart, perceptive and generous bunch of people. Yes, I think that must be it.


22 thoughts on “The Usual Fessing

  1. I was also checking obsessively, hoping for comments. I feel liberated now that I’ve removed my chapters, and I’m also sure it’s the reason why I didn’t write much this week – I was too busy hanging out on Authonomy. And I’m sure that your comments from your blogging friends would have been far more perceptive and helpful than the comments on the site.

  2. I think I broke a rib laughing. Your husband is hysterical! Imagine climbing up the side of the house so you dont have to get out of the tub! Men are strange creatures!

  3. I don’t know the site you mention, but I’m glad you’ve given it up. Your writing is wonderful and you don’t deserve the sort of angst-ridden experience that sort of set-up encourages. I agree with charlotteotter that your blogging friends are perhaps more perceptive and definitely more helpful, both evidenced by the great feedback you got on your two chapters. Yes, I did read every word of them, without leaving a comment…sorry. But I thought they were tremendous. No surprise there. Thanks for the hilarious story that began this post. I needed a good chuckle! And congratulations on your new role at the university!

  4. I find it fascinating that we are not supposed to look for positive feedback. Like there is something ugly and untoward about needing encouragement. I need it EVERY day.

    And, your husband REALLY ought to know better.

  5. Charlotte – I’m so glad it wasn’t just me! I find it so frustrating to get into one of those obsessive kicks – they’re not creativity enhancing at all, are they? Bluestocking – oh I am so glad you found it funny! I do not know what he was thinking, but his intentions were intended to be good! I sometimes feel I have to try out my anecdotes on my blogging friends just to check for myself that I’m not losing my grip and his actions are more eccentric than he claims! Fiona – I had just come back from adding your site to my blogroll to find you’d left a comment here – how about that! And what a wonderful comment, too – thank you so very, very much. That means a great deal to me. Emily – I do agree that encouragement is a marvellous thing and that everyone needs it, no matter what their walk of life. I just wish I didn’t have such a twisted relationship to it sometimes – I am my own worst enemy! If checking repeatedly for comments, feeling frustrated, doubting myself, dismissing previous kind comments all contributed to my wellbeing and made me happy with myself and my work, I would certainly keep up a link to the site 🙂 And you must be right about my husband – I’ll pass the message on.

  6. What a great story. Was this achieved without a ladder? None is mentioned . Wish I could emulate such an endeavour(the climbing not the terror). Alas it’s only when the kids lock us out that I’ve had this sort of experience and that is always with a ladder. In defence of your husband it’s got to be said that the age of chivalry is still with us. Here is the germ of all those superhero stories, talking of which it would be a great scene for a novel, say a campus novel of the Lodge sort.

  7. I loved your story – and from an engineering point of view I think your husband’s solution makes perfect sense. From an anxiety-inducing point of view, not so much! And I think I agree about not looking too much for positive feedback on an author’s site. I’m sure your blogging friends here will give you excellent feedback. And I think you should put your chapters up here if there’s something about them that you want a comment on. (I will get round to reading the Lost one soon hopefully).

    On a different topic (and because I’m too lazy to go back to your Compare and Contrast post) I wanted to say that I really liked the idea of motherhood as a daily performance. Made me wonder about all the mothers who blog regularly about being mothers (and how that influences their daily performance).

  8. Your husband is very lucky you didn’t give him little push to help him back down to the ground! My husband thought it would be very funny once while he was working an evening shift at the bookstore to call me after dark and disguise his voice and say stupid things like “I’ve been watching you.” For some reason he thought I would know it was him. It’s a good thing he didn’t come home for a couple of hours because it allowed my murderous thoughts to drain away.

    As to the authonomy site, if it was doing bad things to your head, it’s good you took your chapters down. Writing is hard enough as it is without adding additional stresses to it.

  9. There was a time when I subjected myself to Absolute Write (a very nice, on-line writing community), and it took me some time to figure out it probably wasn’t in my best interest to continue torturing myself. You really have no idea of the credientials of the readers who happily offer their positive or negative comments. I realized the feedback from the people I had “hand picked” amoung my associates/friends was much more likely to give me valuable insight into what was working or not working.
    As far as the interloper climbing your wall… he would have found me dead on the floor from a heart attack. What a goof-ball! (Spidee or Batman – secret aspirations?)
    Good luck with the new position. Nothing like change to make you know you are alive.

  10. The door locking story is familiar. The sinking feeling of being the only one home and hearing the door click behind me just as I realize I don’t have my key has been my most persistent lock-related affliction. I think with critique, you really want to be sure your critiquers are a)intelligent and b)kind, couching the critique in kindness rather than venom. I therefore do question the usefulness of sites like authonomy.

  11. I used to belong to a very nice writer’s group, where we brought our work for feedback. Even when the people were in front of my face, and people I already knew, it was a difficult thing for me. I wonder if the relative anonymity of an online community would make it even harder for me? I’ve been in a world where I have given notes on other people’s scripts for a living, and I’ve lived with a writer for 14 years, and have given him feedback on his work and he’s given it to me on mine, and we’ve developed a very delicate balance where that works. But not until we’d had years–and I do mean years–of misunderstandings and even tears. So I guess that’s why I doubt I would be able to function within an online writing community like authonomy. However, I do feel that there are some wonderful bloggers I would trust my work with–in a one-on-one situation.

    I’m loving the story about your husband climbing the side of the house! But I get why it could bring on heart palpitations! We were burglarized a few months back, and it was definitely a crime of opportunity, where the burglars took advantage of some weaknesses in our (very casual) security. But it’s left me a door-locking, alarm-setting, slightly nervous kind of person when I’m alone in the house. So I’m with you in the palpitations 🙂

  12. Bookboxed – there WAS a ladder involved for the first part, and then we have a sloping roof. It did indeed have a sort of Romeo and Juliet dimension, except of course that Juliet was expecting it! And if anyone needs such a scene in their ongoing novel, they are more than welcome! Pete – of course, it’s the engineer’s point of view – I should have seen that! Now it makes perfect sense. And yes, here is my preferred point of contact with the book community, for all sorts of reasons. As for the maternal performance, I think a lot about questions of being seen and witnessing, and wonder whether mothers have to be their own audience as children are too small for that. I don’t know what you would think about the credibility of such a thought? Stefanie – LOL! And of course, not funny, either, about the creepy threats. Sigh. They mean well, and yet sometimes the ends do not justify the means. And I hear you, when you say writing is hard enough. Too true! 🙂 Qugrainne – hello! So glad not to be alone in the slightly allergic reaction to writer’s sites. I think other contributors might want to look too much for their own concerns reproduced in work by other writers. But they were all very nice people, so it was my own fault really! Made me laugh about the heart attack and I do like your take on change. I shall think more on that. Writer reading – isn’t that just one of the worst feelings, standing resourceless in front of one’s own door? And yes, knowing you are handing your flawed drafts over into kind hands is quite necessary, isn’t it? Gentle Reader – I thought I would handle it better than I did. There’s just something about writing, about the way it is not just your words out there, but some intrinsic part of you, that made me feel really vulnerable. I find it reassuring to know others feel the same. But I am so, so sorry to hear you had a burglary – that’s such an uncomfortable thing to get over. I’m sure in time your apprehensions will fade right away, but for the moment you have my complete sympathy!

  13. If my husband had done that I would have had a heart attack, died, and needed to be taken to the very hospital I work for. Sheesh – what a start to your morning!
    You know, I must say, I think the students who will be receiving your guidance are extraordinarily lucky – to have someone as talented, kind and compassionate as you overseeing their growth. I’m interested in hearing more about this new role next year.

  14. I would certainly have been frightened half to death my self, had I been aware of someone clambering up the side of my house, especially when I was in the bath! Your husband sounds a bit like mine, in that he seems to always find a quite complicated way round a relatively simple situation.

    And what an unnerving start to your workday – particularly in light of the discussion about such weighty matters as a new job position. I think those students you will be working with are quite lucky to have you, and I’m sure your sound advice and assistance can make quite a difference in their ability to complete their education.

    I’m sorry your experience with Authonomy didn’t work out as you’d hoped. I think our community of bloggers is so supportive and insightful because we’ve all come to know each other through our writing on other subjects, and so the constructive suggestions come from a sense of awareness about the writer, and concern for helping them achieve their goal.

  15. Climbing up the side of a house sounds fun. I wonder if this is why your husband did it?
    I commend you for taking on your new role at your college. I somehow think you’ll be great at aiding struggling students with your patience and grace. I get obsessive about comments and emails just in ordinary life, so I’m not sure how well I’d do with constructive-criticism about my writing from established writers. Sometimes it’s really helpful(especially when it’s praise), but at other times it may draw one away from staying true to their vision.

  16. Courtney – what a lovely, lovely comment! Thank you so very much! I’m looking forward to it, and I’m sure I’ll be blogging about it. Seachanges – hello and thank you so much! Glad you enjoyed it. Ravenous – I never know what he will dream up next! And thank you too, for such kind support – I appreciate it immensely. As I do all the help of my blogging friends. Knowing each other’s voices so well is a really good introduction to our creative projects, I agree. Ian – I love the gender divide on this question, with the men tending towards rather appreciating the house-climbing gesture! I’m sure it looked fun to him. Bless you for being so sweet and supportive about the new job. I do like to help, because I remember so vividly what it was like to be 18 and struggling! And yes, the writing thing is odd. I need to know where the problems lie, but I also have to accept that I can’t please all the people all the time, much as I would so very much like to.

  17. If my husband ever did that I am sure it would give me a small heart attack, though I did get a small chuckle out of it! Imagine if you were in the tub and he had poked his head in the window!! I admire people who write–I couldn’t do it–I already sometimes agonize over a three paragraph blog post–I’d never make it as a writer. I like your idea of a student support scheme–that would be very helpful for them, I’m sure. Won’t you miss lecturing on French Lit, though?

  18. I’m glad to hear you’ll be blogging about your new role at your college — I used to do the sort of work you are describing when I worked as an administrator — helping students learn how to be students, basically. I really liked the interaction I had with the students in that job — I got to know them in a different way than I did as a teacher and I understood more fully what their college experience was like. As a professor it’s so easy to assume that students know what’s what, but very often they don’t. It’s hugely satisfying to be able to help out a bit.

  19. Danielle – it was funny after I’d got my heart rate back to normal! I think I’d like to put in a vote for you ALREADY being a writer – I’ve read you. I know you’re talented. It’s hard to be as readable and entertaining as you are unless you’ve got some natural gift, and the agonising is definitely part of the genetic writerly makeup 🙂 As for the lecturing, I’m sure that the department will be overstretched at times and I will find myself doing some French literature again! In the meantime, a change will be quite fun (I hope!). Dorothy – oh how interesting to think this is something you’ve done! I’ll bear that in mind when I get tricky cases and will have to come and pick your brains. My experience is that students keep very quiet about all kinds of learning issues that they would do much better to speak up about!

  20. Well, you had ME terrified until you revealed the wall-climbing man was your husband. It sounded just like something out of a movie I’d be stupid enough to watch at 10:00 p.m. Hope the new job settles down quickly, and I, as others do, find it a pleasure to review your chapters for you.

  21. Emily – you are such a sweetheart! And I do feel reassured by all my (female) blogging friends suggesting that they too would feel alarmed by even well-intentioned house climbers! My husband seemed to think I was overreacting…

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