DON’T SHOOT!

April 6, 2011 at 11:40 pm (Uncategorized)

I have a cynic’s aversion to the tidy little aphorisms found at the bottom of desktop calendars, but there is one – in truth, I’m sure there are several – that does resonate with me, and it’s this: we must be the change we wish to see in the world. And I am thinking of it now because of Lilian’s comment about the… what shall we call it… let’s say the ‘friendly fire’ that hit me from the published author last week. Lilian is so right about models of behaviour; it goes all the way back to starting high school and seeing how the seniors behaved, how they treated the juniors and already seeing how those juniors would in turn one day treat students of the lower forms. And you have to decide which it’s going to be, every step of the way. That choice about whose example you prefer to follow crops up again and again – sometimes I can’t believe how little things have changed.

I remember very consciously deciding before arriving at Varuna for the first time what kind of writer I wanted to be. I have discussed it before on this blog, so I won’t labour the point, just to say these are, finally, individual choices we make, and I decided I wanted to embrace and promote and support other writers, instead of feeling (as one so easily may) paranoid and fearful about them and their potential to somehow harm my chances (which, by the way, they can’t; I take care of that all by myself). I am a very open person by nature – the content of this blog attests to that, I think – and so it seemed to me the right, intuitive approach, rather than closing myself off or even just viewing other writers with suspicion, which in my view can be negative and harmful enough. It wasn’t a difficult choice to make, but even so I have wavered on occasion.

I haven’t always wanted to share my ideas.

I haven’t always wanted to disclose my activities.

I haven’t always succeeded in my genuine desire to celebrate the successes of others without any thought for my own failures.

No doubt there are many other things I haven’t done. But I can say with certainty that one thing I am obsessively scrupulous about is giving credit where credit is due, not just because it goes with the territory of embracing other writers but also because in my own heart (and I know writers have wildly differing views on this), I believe it is always the right and only thing to do.

It’s not hard to cite a source; I do it all the time in conversation as well as in writing. “As Llew says…”; “I was reading so-and-so’s blog…”; “There’s this great line in X…” – it is not hard. So it just happens to be the unfortunate case that this friendly fire consisted of one of the things I personally find wounding. I’d much rather fall on my sword than omit a citation when I know – and we do know – that a citation is due.

Anyway, I have been fortunate to meet, work with and chat to a different published author whose compass on such things is set to coordinates I fundamentally recognise and respond to. She gets embarrassed when I mention her by name here, so much so that I think she’d honestly prefer I stop doing it, which leaves me in a slight pickle. I find withholding her name hard precisely because she does set a good example for aspirants like me, and my instinct is to direct other people her way so that they too might be exposed to decent conduct and learn from it. Well, I suppose you don’t need to know her name because it doesn’t have to be her, you just might benefit from finding your own guide as you crawl along that rank sewer of writerly ambition. It helps.

The other thing is, let’s not overstate things. It’s highly unlikely the friendly fire did anything other than skim the surface – a slight flesh wound at most. As much as it’s tempting to writhe in dramatic despair, imagining in technicolour detail and surround-sound The Day My Entire Feature Was Repeated Verbatim Before A Rapturous Audience That Hung On My Every Unattributed Word, let’s be real. That is not what happened. These ‘insights’ that were ‘pinched’? I very much doubt I was the first to set them down, and I know I wasn’t the first to identify them. I know this for a fact because they’re only the most basic, everyday facts of the writing life. In that important respect, they belong to us all.

 

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3 Comments

  1. litlove said,

    Lilian is one wise woman. As for how you feel, well, you’re human and you can’t change that. Writhe away if you need to. I know you’ll keep your integrity in the moment of action.

  2. Woo said,

    I, too, am scrupulous about attributing credit where it is due. Largely because I have suffered at the hands of previous authority figures who didn’t do me even that much justice.

  3. Lilian Nattel said,

    Awww thanks (and Litlove, too). I’ve been saying to myself lately “it’s not a tsunami” to remind myself to get perspective. But that has to be balanced with it being ok to be human and feel human feelings, at least for me, so that I don’t push away reality. We’re all in that together, too.

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