My husband laughed at my writing yesterday. Yes, laughed. No, that’s not nearly as mean as it sounds. Frankly, I deserved it. This week’s flash fiction had me trying out a haiku (you can read it here if you dare), that Japanese poetry form that involves nature, and seventeen syllables. The picture has a squirrel in a tree.
Haiku has been sort of waiving itself in front of me lately. Poetry scares me in general, because every word counts. In Haiku, every syllable counts. I’ve been reading about it on other blogs, and hearing about it in podcasts. How hard could it be?
Matsuo Basho I am not. Rather,
I am not of your fine skill
Poetry is hard
See what I mean? Totally worth laughing at. And my squirrel in a tree was no better. Frankly, it deserved the one star review and the laugh. Did I mention it was wrong? Instead of the 5-7-5 structure, I inverted that and went with 7-5-7. And yes, I’m leaving it up for you to judge and laugh at. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Why am I leaving an erroneous and horrible piece of work up for all to see?
It’s no secret that fear of being judged is a real fear for artists. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but hurtful words will scar us forever. Yes, we can try to develop a thicker skin, or whatever you want to call it. The best advice on this I’ve ever received was from author Dan Wells who told me if I doubt myself to go out to the internet and look up all the one star reviews of my favorite author. I’ve done that. But this thicker skin is not as easy as it sounds.
Why? Our job is to hack into the emotions of our audience and manipulate them. To do this, we must be willing to experience them ourselves. We have to create a scenario where those emotions can flourish, and then we share our joys and our pain with our readers. I remember a phone call with a friend several years ago and he was in tears. Why? He’d just killed off a character. This wasn’t a main character by any stretch. But the character lived inside of him just as much as any real person, and his emotions were just as real. We took moment to mourn that character and talk about what it meant moving forward. The emotions we tinker with a real, and this work is not for those who are unwilling to risk baring our very soul with our audience. What does the meme say? “I’m an emotional wreck at the hands of a paperback?” That is the goal. To think through all your ideas about love and hate, happiness and sadness, victory and loss, and then to put those ideas out in the world for consumption by whoever wanders by, whether it be devoted fan or Internet troll. Risky? Very much so.
Of course, now we also have the Cancel Culture to fear, and it truly is something to fear. Upset the wrong person or don’t change your morality fast enough to keep up with Twitter, and you can find your career shredded in moments. That’s one thing if you’re JK Rowling, but it’s entirely different if you’re just starting out. The presumption of guilt, the online shaming, the deplatforming, the ever-changing standards of morality, it’s all a tsunami that make no allowance for personal growth. Said something that was ok fifteen years ago when you were a stupid kid? Too bad. The cancel culture simply judges, hates, and ostracizes. And it doesn’t matter what side of the political aisle you’re on; I see just as much hatred coming out of one side as the other. It cancels freedom of thought, freedom of speech and entire careers.
Now, granted, I’m not risking cancellation over a bad haiku. But I am going to set the standard of not being afraid to admit that I have things to learn. I think there’s a freedom in staring down your fears. That’s a freedom I want to develop in my life. In a year, ten years, I want to look at this horrid thing and be proud of how far I’ve come.
So with this whoppingly bad and definitely one star reviewed (by someone who still loves me anyway), I shake my tiny fist at the Internet trolls. Come at me ‘bro. At least I was willing to swim with the sharks.
I hope you are navigating these most difficult of times with faith, love, and good literature.