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on helium balloons and agent critiques and other things we don’t know what to do with

A few Sundays back we attended a graduation open house. It was the best kind of open house, more like a reunion, really, filled with people that we love and don’t see often. And we had cake. And the kids left with helium balloons.

On the way home, the oldest offered his balloon so that Garrett could inhale the helium and do funny voices. It was a good thing I had pulled the van to the side of the road because I laughed so hard as the chipmunk voice came out of him. A few more times (everyone needed to try it) and we headed home, down one balloon.

The next balloon popped before bedtime, no shocker as the second oldest felt his balloon was more like a weapon to be whacked on things and people. It popped loudly, he laughed, and we were down to one balloon.

But the third born, the oldest girl, she had walked immediately upstairs with her balloon and tied it to the post of her little toddler bed. She admired it there, asked us all to come join her in admiring it, and then slept the night with it floating above her. 

The next day she carried it around, tugging it to various rooms, talking about it and to it and on behalf of it. And then at bedtime, she brought it into my room, let it float above her, and it promptly popped when it met the ceiling fan. A very long and emotional time of grieving followed. Oh, the agony! Oh, the injustice! Oh, that hateful fan and that hateful mom and this hateful world that conspires to drown out even the simplest of joys! (She didn’t actually say that but that’s how I translate it in my head, then it seems eloquent instead of whiny and tired and, well, way overdone.)

A similar happened in the same week. 

There was a girl in our house (I use the term ‘girl’ in a poetic way, mind you) who was looking forward to an agent critique. And then it came, at night, on a night where she was tired and hot and feeling like she had taken a huge bite of something that she could not swallow. She read the critique, eyes wide at words like “pointless” and “backtracking” and “confused” and “you’re losing a lot of momentum”.

And she felt a bit like her daughter, balloon popped, painful loss of something valued, not sure what to make of it but liable to make a much bigger deal than is really necessary. So that’s what she did, though she tried not to.

It is that way with criticism, for me. I want it, at least I think I do, or I want to want it. But even though I know that everybody doesn’t have to like what I write and they won’t all like it and it’s not perfect and truly needs input- I still feel a sting when it comes. But there it is, honest feedback, completely impersonal, from someone who reads these things and sorts out the decent ones for a living. I know I’d be foolish to ignore it, but I’m not exactly sure what to do with it either. 

So I haven’t done anything. I’ve read it through a few times; after the third or fourth reading, the critique began to sound less mean and more simply direct. This is, after all, her job. And I did, after all, invite her to criticize my writing. She did say that “it shows some good description and promising writing”, though that compliment felt lost in the other three paragraphs, shadowed by the overall suggestion to cut it all and start over. 

So there you have it. 

I’m not thinking about it, at the moment. Can’t you tell? I’m technically taking a break for June as I prepare for some homeschool things coming up next week. But the story is there, hanging out in the back of my head like it has been for almost two years. And now the critique is sitting there with it, like rivals on opposite ends of a bench, urging me to reconcile the two. 

In July, I say. I’ll solve that in July. But whether I do or not, I think the critique has shown me as much about myself as it has about my story. How I have so far to go in developing the “thick skin” you need as a writer, how I tend to underestimate my feelings, how it’s hard to accept that there’s more work to do. And those lessons are good and timely and painful. 

But such is life, and relationships with balloons, and a host of other things. 

0 thoughts on “on helium balloons and agent critiques and other things we don’t know what to do with”

  1. Thanks for the sharing honestly how the critique went. Stings hurt so bad. I would say I'm in a similar spot when it comes to feedback…I want to want it….but it still hurts and I'm trying to lay that down. I did a workshop at camp this spring, and I have yet to read the evals because I'm afraid to….ridiculous, huh? And it's not because I think I did it perfectly…no…it's more because I threw my heart into it, and I'm afraid I'm still too tender to read the direct comments that some people might have to share. I think I'll to read them this fall;)

  2. Thanks for adding your voice to this, Tawnya. I have yet to wrap my mind around the idea of having thick skin and a soft heart. But here's to trying! I hope you can read the evals- because they have things to teach you, because they don't lessen the fact that you put your whole heart into it, because they probably aren't as bad as you might imagine. But all in your timing, when you are ready. The fall sounds like a lovely time for that =)

  3. I can see Ella walking around your house with the bouncing balloon and feel her pain when it popped. I love how you connected her heart and experience to your own. These things are so tough. Since you shared with me at BK I have been thinking so much about the book critique, wanting to help you, make it all better, but I know I can't and mostly I'm hoping whatever you do in July, you will know you've learned, accomplished, and learned a lot.

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