Wounds of a Friend
I once had a coworker who grew up in the kitchen of his parent's Cajun
restaurant. After sampling some of his etoufee, I asked for the recipe. I followed it exactly as written, but my
etoufee was...flat. All the ingredients were there, but something I couldn't quite grasp was missing.
My journey to become a writer is similar, somewhat like a restaurant patron deciding to become a chef because he loves food. The enjoyment, enrichment, and education I experience from reading inspired me to try my hand at what seems to be a fairly simple task; have interesting thoughts, and write them down in interesting ways. Which is somewhat like saying songwriting is a process of assigning musical notes to a poem. While technically correct, it's more complex than that.
When I started experimenting with smoking meat, I had a similar experience. I volunteered to smoke a turkey for our family Thanksgiving dinner one year. Though I followed the instructions of my more accomplished friends to a "T", had the creosoted look and the taste of a railroad tie. Even the dogs wouldn't touch it.
So I lowered my expectations of earning a James Beard award, and instead dove in to learn how to make something palatable. Gradually, the products from my smoker began to earn a place at our table, although there were many more overdone, underdone, and poorly seasoned offerings before I could produce consistent results. Local Austin BBQ legend Aaron Franklin has a philosophy I love. If it your smoked brisket doesn't turn out perfectly, you can always make chopped beef sandwiches, which covers a multitude of sins. The underlying message was, your mistakes are not fatal, and if you choose to, you can learn from them. Aaron humbly recounts several mistakes he made in his cooking career which included things like a grease fire in one of his smokers with thousands of dollars of brisket at stake. But he learned how to overcome a bad situation and make food that people would eat. It might not be 5 stars, but no one ended up in the E.R.
One of the scariest things we do is present a part of ourselves to the public for their consumption, whether food, music, painting, or prose. In our core we want our work to be appreciated, even loved. But those early smoked turkeys sometimes need to come home to roost.
I recently asked some friends whose writing I enjoy and respect, to look over some of my writing to give me constructive feedback on how I can approve. My stated ask was for them to not hold back, give me the criticism I need to get better. Secretly however, I wanted them to laud me with praise.
I did receive feedback from one gracious friend, who holds himself in much lower esteem than I do. He humbly told me that his critiques were his personal opinions, and I was welcome to pitch them in the trash should I wish to. It took me a couple days before I could read and process his critique, and then it took several re-readings to comprehend the entirety of his email. I am still in fact processing his suggestions. His recommendations tended to be stylistic in nature.
My other friend, who has an advanced degree in fine arts, also provided detailed suggestions. His advice was mainly technical in nature. The combination of style an formality were perfect bookends to help me look at my writing from new perspectives,
There is a passage in the Bible, Proverb 27:6, that states "Faithful are the wounds of a friend,
But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful."
I keep coming back to the graciousness of these friends who cared enough to take time from their schedules, and give me what I asked for, instead of what I wanted. Now if you will excuse me, I need to make some chopped beef.