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Mission Critical

August 19, 2022

I was always terrible at accepting criticism. ANY criticism. If anyone dared question my absolute rightness, I would come at them with the fury of a wasp whose nest has been poked with a stick.

I don’t know how I got away with this for so long, but I did. I limped along being smart, but not working smart. I had to figure things out on my own because no one dared approach me. What a jerk I was.

Then, when I was 40, I went back to college and got a freelance gig as a newspaper reporter. I found myself surrounded by people my own age who had been journalists for 15 years or more. They obviously knew what they were doing. For the first time, I found myself with my nose pressed against the glass, wanting to be really good at something. I had to ask for criticism and take it.

My editor, Mike Hoffman, was kind and patient with me. He would sit with me and go over articles line by line, pointing out where my writing could have been stronger or clearer. He wasn’t much older than me, but he treated me with a steady, calm, fatherly concern.

I remember one article about a Parks and Recreation Commission meeting where the annual budget was to be approved. No one showed up except me. I pointed out that fact in the first paragraph.

He told me that opening the article that way telegraphed my feelings, and doing that wasn’t my job. My reporting needed to state what happened, not shout how I felt about it. Get the facts right and let the readers make up their own minds.

My copy editor, Doug Feldman, was a lot less kind and patient, but equally effective. “Davis!” he would yell across the newsroom, “Do you want to come see how you messed this up?” God love him. He was crusty as hell but had a great sense of humor right under the surface. There were a couple of occasions where he threatened to wing erasers at my head if I didn’t straighten up. He reminded me of my dad, so we got along great.

I eventually learned to love criticism – if it is from a competent source. I didn’t start becoming a semi-decent person until I could accept feedback and incorporate it into my work.

I still don’t have much patience for internet randos picking at my life, but if someone with demonstrated expertise wants to weigh in, I will listen carefully. My angry wasp days are over.

(I know, too many adverbs. Gotcha).

Image by Ralph from Pixabay

  1. Kyle Riggs permalink
    August 19, 2022 15:13

    You’re a terrific writer and you are perfect exactly as you are and I don’t know how many times I have to tell you this…

    • Suebob permalink
      August 19, 2022 18:39

      Keep trying! I like it

  2. August 19, 2022 18:09

    “I didn’t start becoming a semi-decent person until I could accept feedback and incorporate it into my work.”

    This. It is so true, and something that I’m continually working on.

  3. Anonymous permalink
    August 20, 2022 09:44

    at 52, i still tend to curl up in a ball when someone even hints at having a criticism. unfortunately, it means i don’t put myself out there maybe as much as i should.

    • Anonymous permalink
      August 20, 2022 09:46

      i’m not sure why i’m showing up as anonymous?

      • Suebob permalink
        August 23, 2022 13:05

        WordPress is a little bitch.

  4. Julie Cohen permalink
    September 7, 2022 23:36

    Sue, I have so enjoyed reading your blog entries on the several occasions I’ve come across them! Well, I feel like a dummy. Having just returned from a 3 1/2 week stint in Sultan, Washington, I came to realize that you live in the area. I had you in Oregon in my mind, though I believe I should have heard about your move North at some point along the way! Anyway, I’m sorry that I missed the opportunity to look you up and possibly meet for a lovely meal at The Athenian at Pike’s Place or elsewhere. I was house and cat sitting for my ex and his wife while they traveled to Europe for several weeks. They live right on the banks of the Skykomish, with a breathtaking view of the river, trees, and majestic mountains in the distance. Well, perhaps we can connect there in the future. My daughter, Ariana, and her partner are moving to Bellingham in the next couple of weeks. She’d visited me during one of my weeks in Sultan (a bit over an hour’s drive from Seattle) and fell in love with your lush state! So, if this thing lasts for her, I’ll be needing to come up and see her down the road apiece. In the meantime, I’m sending you best wishes for excellent health and happiness! Julie (Cohen)

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