As everyone who’s read the previous post knows, we didn’t have the greatest start to the week over here. So I wrote about that in all it’s “ugly day-ness”, and I wrote about myself and my “not the finest display of coping with frustration that I’ve ever put forth”.
I received more than a few comments on that post – many of which warmed my heart and made me smile, and one that didn’t. It’s all caused me to think a lot about my reactions to compliments and criticism this last day and a half, and I’ve decided that something I am giving this much time on my mental airwaves deserves to be written about.
Let’s start with criticism, and sometime in the next couple of weeks I’ll wind my way around to talking about compliments.
So, one of the comments I received on that post was the following:
“I’m addicted to your blog. I guess I keep reading, waiting for when things will turn around (or for your perspective to change). I feel sorry for Mike. Not only does he have to contend with the low water pressure, lack of air conditioning, and all the inconveniences, but it’s compounded by a stressful job in which he can’t help everyone who needs it and by knowing that his wife is thoroughly unhappy because he wanted to move to Laos to fulfill what he feels is his purpose in life. It’s always harder to deal with negative situations when surrounded by negativity.
Reading your blog, I can’t help but wonder what it must be like to be poor and living in Laos–having no air conditioning ever, running water, or people to call to fix things.
I hope you find something beautiful and meaningful in being there. Try to stay positive, Lisa.”
I’ve had a wide range of reactions to this in the last 24 hours.
Initially I was just stunned, and bewildered. (Also a little admiring that this person had managed to imply that I was an unending fountain of negativity who is making Mike’s life harder than it needs to be, subtly remind me to think of the poor, and begin and end with a clear message that I could perhaps benefit from a perspective shift… all in 151 words. I can clearly learn something about brevity here, if nothing else.)
Then I wanted to be a bitch – to hit “reply” and deliver a pithy, self-righteous, set-down in return. I won’t list the one-liners that rushed to mind, but there were several.
Then I wanted to defend myself. I wanted to point out that in the last couple of weeks I’d written about bad days and tiring border runs, yes. But I’d also written about interesting visits to museums and incandescent days spent out at beautiful waterfalls and meaningful Sunday afternoons spent pondering how to help sick kids.
Then I started to wonder why this was bothering me quite so much. There were other comments on that post that were very positive indeed. In fact, most of the comments left on my blog are positive. This was the day after I had written, in a draft chapter for my next book, “I am less imprisoned than I once was by what people think of me.” The irony of my ruffled feathers over this – a single comment written by someone who does not know me well – was not lost on me. Neither was the fact that I was doing the very thing she insinuated I do far too often – focusing on the negative. So why did this bug me so?
Then I realized she had (probably unwittingly) trespassed on something that, deep down, I sometimes greatly fear – that I’m not supporting Mike in his important work here as well as I could/should be. I also sometimes fear that I am the weak link in the chain of our marriage. I sometimes fear that I am a petty and small-minded person who chronically runs short of joy and gratitude. I sometimes fear that I am really not all that lovable, and that one day Mike will figure that out.
Once I’d dragged this tangled mess of “sometimes fears” out into the light, I sat down and tried to really think about where she was right and wrong, and what helpful take-homes I could glean from her comments.
She is absolutely right about the fact that it is always harder to deal with negative situations when surrounded by negativity, that a positive attitude is one of the most powerful forces in life, and that trying to stay positive is rarely wasted energy.
She is very wrong in her guess that I am thoroughly unhappy here in Laos. I think/I hope that she is also wrong in her supposition that I am, on balance, making life overall more challenging for Mike. Yet she came to these conclusions from reading my posts – not just the one I wrote yesterday, it seems, but all of them. Should I change something about the way I write, or what I’m writing about?
So after pondering this today, here’s what I think… I’ll continue to monitor the balance of generally “positive” and generally “negative” material that finds its way up here, but I’m not going to let fear of what you all may think of me drive me to sanitize the blog of accounts of bad days, or my own potentially less-than-admirable moments.
Because, right now, this blog is meant to chronicle life in the moment. Sometimes those moments here are waterfalls or museums or funny encounters with the police, and sometimes they are hard days where lots of little things go wrong (and they are relatively little things – but sometimes in those moments they don’t feel quite so little). Sometimes in those moments I do desperately need a shift in perspective. And, often, it’s writing about those moments that helps me find one.
It is writing more than almost anything else that helps me transform an event, a thought, or a mood into something acknowledged, clarified, and manageable. Writing is cathartic. I usually don’t show Mike my posts before I put them up, but I did the other day. I read the bad day post out loud to him that night while he was washing the dishes. We laughed a little. Writing the post played a large part in nudging me back into territory where I could laugh. And the comments that you all leave on the posts make me smile. Well, usually… But even when they don’t make me smile they often (as in this case) push me to think, and that is very valuable too.
So thank you all for tracking with me on this journey.
P.S. Hey all, feel free to comment on anything I’ve written in this post, but please do not discuss the comment that I reproduced in this post. I did not write this to set her up for any third-party criticism (or praise).
P.P.S. When Mike read the first draft of this post he laughed when he got to the line about me fearing that one day he’d figure out I was unlovable. “One day,” he teased me, “one day dumb old Mike will figure this out.” Then he grinned. “You’re safe for a good while yet, though – I’m far too busy organizing medical care for orphans to figure it out anytime soon.”
P.P.P.S. I’m going with Mike up to the villages today and will be there for the rest of the week. No internet = no blog. So I’ll see you all next week.