Ignorance Works On Mysterious Ways

There are stories that make more sense when the storyteller begins at the end.

This particular tale ended with Fellow Writer attempting to insult me by comparing some of my work to Jamaica Kincaid’s. If you’ve read Kincaid’s fiction, you are probably scratching your head between chuckles, for we both know the mentioned author has written pretty impressive work. And for those who haven’t had the pleasure, I’ll quote Isobel Armstrong’s description of the Kincaid’s style:
“Kincaid writes in a rather curt style. It’s somewhat clipped and has an edge of sarcasm to it all the time: that watchful, observant precision… She is critical of everything. Although very corroding, the criticism is also very funny and witty.”

Okay… now that we are on the same page—you wondering how “watchful, observant precision” and “funny and witty” can sound discourteous to anyone’s ear, and me grinning like a lunatic because being insulted has never felt this good—I’ll share the bit that started it all.

A character, sitting in an office waiting room, is wearing six-inch heels and is trying to find the best way to fix her skirt and thigh-highs so that her garter belt will show just right. She describes herself as able to use her attributes to get whatever she wants from men. Some of the story’s details were hilarious—the way the girl walks, speaks, her mannerism… unquestionably sidesplitting. The character is struggling because her orthodox religious beliefs get on the way of her wanting to trade sex for money.

Someone compared the story to other types of writing, which many people consider trash. Fellow Writer was outraged. I wasn’t happy with the comment, either, but I knew where the commenter was coming from. I tried to use my turn to illustrate what I believed the first person meant.

I said that the character’s description made her look like a hooker. Fellow Writer got upset again because she did not intend for the girl to be a sex worker. I suggested that Fellow Writer should develop the character in a way that showed the reader exactly who the character was, under her clothes.

Things got out of control. People got loud. I walked over to the instructor because I believe on nipping that kind of trash in the bud. Fellow Writer screamed and shook fingers at people. I shook my head, glared and wondered how things had reached such ridiculous levels of insanity. Finally, we left, but the blood was still hot.

Two days later, I felt bad about Fellow Writer. I send an email saying writers need tough skins and that when someone attacks our style, we should use that rage to fuel our muse. I even attached “Sexy, Dark and Bloody” so Fellow Writer could see that I had been there, too. I also offered to help, if my assistance was wanted.

My assistance was not wanted. I was called “arrogant”, and asked how would I like it, if I was told that my “story was kind of cliché like Jamaica Kincaid?” I would like it very much, thanks. I thought. No, I didn’t reply with those words. I responded, “No one can learn with someone else’s head or see through another’s eyes. You are right, [Insert Fellow Writer’s real name here]; you already have the tools that will take you exactly where you want to go.”

Perhaps a little clipped, curt, and sarcastic, but that doesn’t make it untrue.

I wish Fellow Writer can find a way to separate the character from the author, enough to see what others are trying to say about the tale. And while Fellow Writer figures that out, I’ll continue grinning at the flattering insult. Yep, my Wicked Luvs, there are times when ignorance works in mysterious ways.
“Girl” is my favorite of Jamaica Kincaid’s short works. You can find the full text at
About Jamaica, the site where I borrowed this picture from.
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30 comments:

  1. Maybe it's because I'm closer to 60, but six inch hurt-me-hooker stilettos and arranging a skirt to expose a garter belt does give the impression of persuing the second oldest profession (the oldest being bend-me-over-drop-my-drawers-and-grease-me-good politics).  Pity that FW seems unable to relinquish that possessive strangle-hold on her intellectual property long enough to accept and analyze constructive criticism.

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  2. salemwitchchild2/19/2012

    I've always thought it was pretty much writing 101 to be able to accept criticism and step away from your ego long enough to see someone else's view. But hey, I'm not a professional writer or anything. What do I know? lol 

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  3. Lol, poor FW, she won't be a fellow writer for long if she can't accept helpful critique. Isn't that why you join writing groups??? So that other respectful students can help and advise? And poor Magaly you must feel like you've been beaten up with a ball of cotton candy lol :D XXX

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  4. Diandra Linnemann2/19/2012

    Putting your work out there to be criticized is always scary, but if you cannot do it, then you are not a writer. Simple as that. Not everyone will love your work, but whether they do so or not, they will take something away with them, and your work will ahve changed them, if even a tiny bit.

    (I am waiting for responses from beta readers right now, and a little scared... but I know they will help me make what was a great story inside my head into a great story for others to read.)

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  5. Oh boy! I so would like to be insulted with a: You write like Tamora
    Pierce! Or a: That's as horrible as Pratchett's writing. *lol* ;)


    Rock on, you wicked writer witch!

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  6. Slommler2/19/2012

    I understand that it is hard to accept criticism on a creative piece but if you want to grow..you have to develop thicker skin.  I feel sorry for her!! 
    You understand the need to allow others to exam and critique your work.  So important.
    Hugs
    SueAnn

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  7. I don't think you are too old, or if you are, then I am, too. I actually googled 'six-inch heels' because I wanted to know how common they were. I mean, they do sound painful, don't they? 

    And I agree with the rest, too,  if we writers don't understand that it takes more than one person to polish a story, our lives might be a difficult one.

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  8. It is writing 101, but what do we know, right?

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  9. I do feel cotton candy beaten, I even took a few bites and it was delicious lol

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  10. Someone one asked me why I shared stuff I could probably sell, free at Pagan Culture, I said because I wanted to practice the art of staying objective when people told me might babies were ugly. 

    Showing others the product of love and sweat, it's always scary. It should be, for it has pieces of you, even if just tiny ones.

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  11. Tana, if someone would say my writing was as "horrible as Pratchett's," I would probably die of an instant attack of bliss!

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  12. I'm hoping she is just a young writer, and that in some years she will look back at this and say to herself "My goodness, did I really act that way? I must've of been half-crazy!"

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  13. I'm definately not old, and I thought "hooker" too.  And it's all very well if she decides she doesn't want to accept the advice of others and therefore decides not to change anything, but she should at least be willing to let others have their say.  And should have at least given a polite, "thanks, but no thanks," rather than attempting to attack you for having a difference of opinion to her own.

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  14. People are weird and the uncanny increases when the strange fellow is a writer, doesn't it?

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  15. I must go and read some Jamaica Kincaid now -- she sounds like my kind of writer!

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  16. How hard would it have been for her to say, "Hmm, is that what you're getting from it?" - "That wasn't my intention at all, thanks for your input Magaly!"

    Your writing and reading group stories (true accounts) make me want to stay hidden at home behind my computer - LOL - interesting and perplexing friction to be sure :) And to think I was considering going to school to help me learn to write well...heheh.

    Enjoy that cotton candy criticism! You deserved it ;)

     

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  17. I love both the way you handled the situations and how you drew us into the incident with you. You are so right- ignorance DOES actually create bliss sometimes too :)

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  18. Magaly, I love the way you handle things!  Why not accept advice from others? That's how we grow and learn ;o) I thought "hooker" too ;o)

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  19. aishao11222/20/2012

    Le Sigh How is Jamaica Kincaid considered an insult?? this person must not be well read, or perhaps they believe that because they don't like her works then it must be bad.. whatever, take the compliment and keep on rolling. also why go to a writing group to get help if your writing is so good?? Yeah  take the help & stop complaining.

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  20. Let me know how you like it!

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  21. You know what? They give me great ideas for unique--if mildly unstable--characters. So not hiding at home behind your computer! 

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  22. Is all about how one looks at things, isn't it?

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  23. I guess some people will remain forever tiny; sad, but you can't make choices for them. 

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  24. "
    perhaps they believe that because they don't like her works then it must be bad.." that sounds like a well known problem. We don't like or understand something, so it must be terrible. Sad, but true. 

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  25. Great post Magaly! I've always considered constructive criticism a good thing; it's a great learning tool, you know? It helps you see through other's eyes, and from there you can take that information and grow... or not, whatever. There will always be critics, some good and some bad, but hey... you can't please all the people all of the time, right? It comes with the territory, you just can't let the bad criticism drag you down.

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  26. I would love that insult as well! I feel kind of bad that "fellow writer" is so sensitive over constructive opinions. She has a love to learn. You said it perfectly that writers need to develop thick skins. Personally, I agree that the character does sound like a hooker. It is what it is. ;-)     

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  27. LOL...I can't spell today. I meant to say, "she has a lot to learn, not love to learn. 

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  28. A writer who expects to capture every audience has to be insane. Just as crazy as one who thinks that s/he needs no help.

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  29. Yep, I think writers like Witches, need to magic themselves a skin that can take anything.

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  30. I think you are right on both count, for most times needing to learn and loving learning is not the same thing. It was a Freudian Slip of your lovely mind; she probably needs them both.

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