Handle with Care

I take criticism poorly. I value criticism, but at first, it makes me want to throw my laptop across the room. Eventually I come around, but it’s a process. A lengthy process. Anyway, I thought about that as Josh, Virginia, and I ate dinner last night. It was a new recipe—and on paper, it looked like a hit. Instead, it was meh. After the first couple of bites, I knew the seasoning was off, and the meat, tough. Yet, I had to ask, “What do you guys think?” “It’s OK. The meat is chewy, like gum,” said Virginia, picking up a glob of chewed pork off the lip of the bowl to show me. And Josh? I could see smoke start to come out of his nose as he attempted to formulate a way to tell me that the dinner wasn’t good in the nicest possible way. Kid gloves.

When Josh and I were first married and I was back in school after a long absence, I’d have Josh read through my essays and offer some feedback before I’d hand them in. He didn’t hold back. “This is awful,” he’d say, pointing to a horrific sentence. Or, “Cut this entire paragraph—you’re just repeating.” Usually he was right and my papers improved after revising thanks to his comments, but on the way, I’d get defensive and mad. Sometimes I couldn’t even look at him for hours before swallowing my pride and revisiting my work. I know, you’re not criticizing me, I’d think. You’re criticizing my work. But you’re criticizing me.

Criticizing essays, though, is nothing compared to criticizing creative writing. A coworker today told me she was thinking of dropping a creative writing course she is scheduled to teach and asked if I’d be interested in taking it off her hands. I’ve always resisted teaching creative writing because of the feedback factor. Look, there’s a big difference between criticizing an essay by a student who’s writing about T.S. Eliot versus giving criticism on a poem written by someone who thinks they’re T.S. Eliot. I know how thin skinned I am, so how could I possibly be equipped to handle a whole class of fragile student egos? I want to help these students, but I’m so afraid I’m going to hurt their feelings. I can relate to them. Because of the way I take criticism, my husband must live in constant fear of pissing me off. I can relate to him.

In the interest of getting out of my comfort zone, I think I may just take the class if it’s offered. Yeah, I may be reading some awful, repeat-y, heart-on-the-sleeve, poorly-written creative writing, but I’ll at least come from a place of empathy. And hopefully compassion. I just hope they understand I’m only trying to help.

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