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i’m tired of everyone having to play nice

June 30, 2009

I found a link to a NYT article about Alice Hoffman apologizing for using Twitter to blast a Boston Globe critic (thank you, Poetry Hut Blog!). Why isn’t it OK for us to throw tantrums every now and then? Why do we always have to say we’re sorry for having in-the-dirt reactions?

And while manners and courtesies are nice wherever we can find them — even in the publishing world which has a reputation for being nasty — they shouldn’t require us to bottle up our feelings. So what if someone explodes and rants and raves a bit? Bless her for being human. It shouldn’t require a retraction or withdrawal.

Yes, we agree as cultures and communities and industries to certain rules. Yes, those certain rules have very good logic to them (most of the time). But often, the cost to the self of playing along can be very high. It’s not healthy to say, “Thank you very much” when someone’s sticking it to you. It’s better to stomp around a bit. People should expect it to blow over. They shouldn’t assume the tantrum defines your participation in society or the literary world. Sheesh.

As someone with three kids who’ve attended pre-school and elementary school and are involved in all sorts of sports and activities, I find this kind of thing happening all the time. Kids are forced to be so accommodating to other children that there’s often not room for them to express themselves and make mistakes. Parents hover over their kids and their kids’ playmates, monitoring every word and interaction to make sure that no one’s feelings are ever hurt and that no one is ever disappointed. It’s total insanity.

Of course we want people to be kind to other people. Of course. Of course. Of course. But really good stuff happens when we tell it like it is, when we let it all out. We need to make room for that.

  1. Barb Harris permalink
    June 30, 2009 8:13 pm

    I do find – having three boys – i can see the benefit of ‘spouting off’. They GET OVER IT! They express, and move on. I can ‘express myself’ and they accept it and GET OVER IT! When i pout – they don’t get it. so maybe it’s about letting the emotion out – and giving it up.

  2. June 30, 2009 8:40 pm

    WORD. And true kindness should not be confused with forced manners. There are occasions when we have to muster up insincere politeness (say, going through customs in a foreign airport and an intimidating man with a big gun seems to say something rude in half-English, but we’re not sure… probably best to bite the tongue and smile and nod), but it’s not usually necessary. Restraint is a fine quality to learn, but expression is at least as important, and insincerity should be saved for emergencies.

    In my humble opinion.

    Seriously… I’d rather have kids (my own hypothetical/the next generation regardless of if we’re related) who have voices, learn to use the words they mean, have some actual conflict resolution skills, and know it’s OK (and necessary) to sometimes leave things unresolved.

    I was raised to be polite, and only in the last year or so have I found the freedom to say what I mean and cut things off when necessary, and I think it has made me a much freer, happier, kinder person.

    Glad you spoke up. 🙂

  3. June 30, 2009 10:16 pm

    I read Hoffman’s offending tweets before she deleted her account, and I didn’t see anything wrong with them. The critic’s contact info was public information, and as my parents always said to us when we were kids, “Don’t dish it out if you can’t take it!” Why *shouldn’t* authors lash back at critics?

  4. June 30, 2009 10:33 pm

    i didn’t see the tweets but i agree with what you say, dave, about dishing out and taking it.

    and i endorse it on both sides. i don’t like it when reviews are always positive (they are in some publications); i like critics to speak their truth, as well. and then they should anticipate dissent among the members of their audience (just like those readers may not “like” the works the critic reviews positively).

    i don’t like it when writers are falsely gracious about negative reviews (to beth’s points). so yes, writers should be able to say, “so-and-so’s full of crap.”

    IMHO it only serves to advance the dialogue about literature and poetry. let’s really debate things and talk about things!

    honesty and candor is always the best policy, unless the question is “does this make me look fat?” or “is this dress too short for a woman my age?”

  5. June 30, 2009 10:53 pm

    Besides writing poetry I make a living telling it like it is daily. I am a building inspector for the City of Maumelle. Everyday that goes by someone throws a tantrum or worse lets loose with a stream of explicative in my direction. I know that is not the point of the article nor of the comments however telling it like it is happens to be my job. Builders and developers really, really do not like to hear the negative about their work. Generally because they are not going to be issued a Certificate of Occupancy. I rather enjoy the exchange.

    I find quite often people are disingenuous when they are continually nice. I want some spice, some feed back, a pinnacle of emotion. I would love to have read Hoffman’s responses. Carolee, thanks for the candor of your opinion, it was refreshing.


  6. July 1, 2009 12:17 am

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with showing that you’re human, and I do think it’s human for an author to get mad at a bad review, and in this case, one that reveals the plot.

    Although, I have to admit that I don’t care to see bloggers (or tweaters, although I don’t follow tweets as much) constantly think outloud, that of airing of the sometimes erratic stuff that happens inside our head. I’ve seen some bloggers, none that I visit regularly, have what appears to be a mental breakdown. So while I don’t care for the over-politeness that permeates our lives, I do appreciate forethought, or contemplation.

    BTW, Alice Hoffman doesn’t strike me as someone who always vents, so it is too bad that she deleted her Twitter account. But I do think any professional who is prone to *always* spout off before thinking twice (not that Hoffman is, but those who are) is probably going to get in trouble with Twitter.

  7. heidi permalink
    July 1, 2009 9:04 am

    recently i was in the car alone. i re-hashed my day, my words. i started thinking about a comment i made to a friend and suddenly thought….gee…. i wonder if she thought that when i was saying I felt “such-n-such” about purchasing pets rather than rescuing pets that just maybe she thought i also meant to this was my feeling about her pet-non-adoption situation. i fretted over this and called her. to over-explain myself. to over-clarify. to apologize.

    being a fellow-spouter-of-the-mouth, she said:
    “i didn’t take any way at all. you are not duplicitious”

    and i think that word captures what we are collectively feeling. in order to to read carolee’s remarks here on wordpress, i had to stumble upon a post on her FB acct that included the self-defacing-comment “this isn’t going to help my reputation for spouting off”

    what appalls me is that, from what i can see, and certainly from what i read in terms of her writing, she is a sincere, kind, and obviously very reflective individual. but she had a moment like i did. obviously so did alice hoffman. driving in the car alone thinking “oh boy- now how many ways can i be misunderstood and poorly immortalized”

    we must constantly censor. especially if we are parents. especially if we write.

    why? and where would be if we all had the same reactions, all the time?

  8. July 1, 2009 9:45 am

    DH – i do see a direct connection (or at least a metaphor) between building inspectors and critics. 🙂

    ybonesy — if people are always yelling, it’s just noise and isn’t expressive of much other than, perhaps, evidence of a need for anger management. in hoffman’s case, as you said, it’s probably going too far to delete the twitter account. i guess that’s one reason this struck me. it’s the equivalent of removing one’s self from society.

    now, i know that twitter isn’t the same as society. it’s a social networking tool. it’s just a metaphor i’m using. it seems that in order to prove/show proper/adequate contrition, she had to say, “see how sorry i am? i’m so sorry that i will silence my voice, that i will hang my head and go home” or “see what a mad woman i am? i can’t be trusted with twitter like everyone else.” now, i also know that hoffman is a novelist and that twitter isn’t even almost her only voice. i’m just making a point. a rather wordy point, apparently. 🙂

  9. July 1, 2009 9:54 am

    heidi —

    confession: my status update on facebook about my reputation for spouting off was more about being sensational than it was providing a lament. i quite enjoy the freedom that comes from being someone who allows herself to spout. i was using my skills as a writer to craft a headline that would get attention and play on my subject matter. 🙂

    confession: i’m not against apologizing. as long as it’s sincere. as long as it’s something we do b/c we really, really want to. in the case of hoffman vs. critic, i’m assuming (which means i could be wrong) that hoffman only apologized for the sake of public perception, knowing “the public” (and the industry) may frown upon a tantrum, thinking her difficult or volatile.

    it’s quite surreal, actually, that the public/publishers would expect anything BUT total emotional meltdown from an author whenever a book (a baby!) is going off into the world.

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