Who is your inner critic? You know, the person that sits in your head and rolls his/her eyes when you write something, who’s always quick to tell you that your story sucks, the characters are stupid, the premise is absurd, that you’ll never be able to sell it, you’re writing a run-on sentence… All right, I think you get the idea.
Mine is my mother. I loved my mother dearly, wept bitterly when she died, would give anything to have just one more hour with her. That said, she was a pain in the ass when it came to reading the papers that I wrote for school. She was a teacher in the Chicago Public Schools, teaching grades 4 through 7, and would always find something wrong and make me rewrite the paper.
My personal favorite was the day that she told me, “This is spoken English. It’s not appropriate for writing.” After a brief introduction to “written English,” I was sent to my room to translate my paper written in “spoken English.” After ten or eleven tries, I finally was able to demonstrate to my mother’s satisfaction that I knew how to write a paper in “written English.” I turned it in the next day.
A couple of days later, the paper was returned by my teacher, and I had gotten a C-.
I asked him what was wrong, and he told me that it was hard to read and difficult to understand. I asked him if it would be all right to rewrite the paper, and he said that he was open to it.
You know what’s coming: I turned in the original paper the following day. When I got it back, he gave me an A-. I took this as a sign and stopped showing my papers to my mother. Still, every time I sat down to write something, I would hear my mother’s voice telling me, “that’s not right,” and many times would go back and rewrite the parts that I knew she would find objectionable.
Fast forward twenty years or so. By now, I’ve been writing on the Ghostletters mailing list, where the object is to create one or more fictional characters and interact with the other fictional characters. Two of my creations were a bartender named Jack O’Brian and his daughter, Mary Cecelia. I was having a great time doing this, and, on one of my trips into Chicago, shared what I had written with my mother, because I was pretty proud of it.
The first thing out of Mom’s mouth was, “You misspelled her name. It’s C-E-C-I-L-I-A, not C-E-C-E-L-I-A.” And that was as far as she read. (Turns out, either spelling is correct, though Mom’s spelling is the preferred one. When I pointed that out to her, she said, “It’s still wrong.”)
I was crestfallen, closed up my computer and put it away, and we never again spoke of my writing.
Which is not to say that I don’t still hear her voice when I’m in the middle of writing a story.
- “Oh, for God’s sake, Johnny, you know better than to say that.”
- “That’s still not the way to spell her name, I don’t care what you found on the Internet.”
- “You’re not going to write about THAT, are you?”
It has taken a while, but I’ve finally figured out that all I have to say is, “I love you, Mom, now shut up and let me write.” And, somehow, it’s made all the difference.
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Last week was one of those weeks, I’m sad to say. One of my cats, Cece, was walking around drooling. We figured that she had a bad tooth, and were ready to take her to the vet. Unfortunately, she evidently thinks that humans have cooties and simply would not let us catch her. Finally, Mary left the carrier in the kitchen with the door open, and, mirabile dictu, Cece managed to go in there all by herself. Mary found her there this morning, shut the door and took her in. Turns out that she had dislocated her jaw somehow, and had a few bad teeth and a hole in her mouth that needed to be sutured, but she’s going to be fine.
The same can’t be said for Toby, our one-eyed tuxedo, who saw me coming ten years ago and wouldn’t let me leave without him, and who has been my cat all this time. He seemed fine until Friday afternoon, when he began howling and hissing and wouldn’t let me pet him. The vet said that, while it appeared to be a urinary problem, they didn’t know the extent of it, and it would require hospitalization and surgery to find out what was wrong and probably a special diet and isolation afterward. We considered the options, decided that he had lived a long and happy life, and chose to put him down. Sad, yes, but he would have been miserable, and I couldn’t do that to my little buddy.