Whenever readers express their admiration for what I’ve created, I feel abashed. For many years I interpreted this as feeling fraudulent, as though surely I hadn’t written whatever they’d read or perhaps they were projecting their own unintegrated esteem onto me or buttering me up. Then I went through a spell of deliberately trying to take in others’ praise. I’ve earned it! I told myself. But that didn’t sit right. Later I tried practicing gratitude; the opportunity to have a reader read my words is a real gift, and doubly so when the reading experience matters to the reader.
Somehow, though, none of these reactions to others’ praise felt right. Was I conditioned to deflect compliments? Why, despite positive responses, did I never feel worthy?
While every interaction is probably a stew of projection, insecurity, pride, and gratitude, I now see another factor at play. Milan Kundera once wrote that “great novels are always a little more intelligent than their authors,” and I know this keenly: My successful pieces are wiser than I am. Essays I wrote a decade ago reach conclusions I’m only living into today. Literary forms have the capacity to hold more meaning, unity, and power than the people who create them. This is why hypocritical jerks can write great literature. And why I hesitate to accept full credit for my successes.
Recently I read a lesson from Mark Silver, a Sufi and business teacher, which he had prefaced with these words:
In the Name of the One, the Infinitely Merciful, the Most Tenderly Compassionate, this book is dedicated to the Face of the Real.
Anything of the Truth that is written here has come from the One, and any mistakes or omissions are from myself.
That’s it! I thought. That spark of inspiration in my writing that then is reflected in my reader’s eyes? I didn’t generate it; I just created a form to hold it. My abashed bafflement isn’t false humility; it’s genuine amazement. I can return to a piece I’ve written and experience the same awe as my reader, which is a beautiful experience. If I don’t lay claim to that magic but continue to respect its gifts, those gifts keep moving.
Here’s my latest newsletter in case you missed it, where I share publication news from clients and students. Be sure to check out their books.
I’ll be reading from my essay, “Wearing Bi-Focals” at the launch of Queer Voices, an anthology of GLBTQIA+ writing from Minnesota, at Open Book on May 14 from 7-9. Hope to see you there!
There are two more opportunities for you to write spiritual memoir with me this spring. Please drop in! Wisdom Ways Spiritual Memoir drop-in sessions.
May 10, 1:30-3:30 p.m.: Childhood, Revisited
June 14, 1:30-3:30 p.m.: Community and Revision