Posted by: jeannineatkins | February 3, 2010

Things People Say

The comment suggesting that the genre I spent the past two years working in was a less than stellar choice may have left the speaker’s mind as quickly as it left her mouth. But it prickled through my evening, made it hard to sleep, and was there the next morning. I tried to push it back, but it bounded back the next afternoon when a graduate student came into my office, talked about her work and dreams for almost an hour, then told me about a “friend” who’d said she would never become a writer. This message was a few years old and clearly still stung.

I hearby declare today as Misguided Voices in our Heads Begone Day. If anyone has ever whispered a discouraging voice in your ear, please join me in whatever rites you choose. Dancing, small fires, chants, ordinary distraction? I shake my head which I can’t say is terribly effective. Luckily I found my unwelcome voice quieting down with the help of a moment in the Amherst library waiting in line to check out books, and feeling better already. I saw a Dad look up Mole and Toad books on the computer, then told his little boy, who wrapped in a puffy snow suit looked like a toy that might bob away, “There’s only one book in and it’s about Christmas. Do you still want it?”


“But Christmas is over.”

The boy, who was not much taller than our knees, opened his mouth but couldn’t seem to find words. His hood was zippered tight around his face.

“It doesn’t matter,” I spoke up, thinking the little boy might remember only one Christmas, and didn’t have much clue or concern whether another would come again.

He looked up at me, then sang with all his breath, a new note with each syllable, so he almost tipped over, “Doesn’t matter!”

The dad turned back to the computer for the call number and I wasn’t the only one smiling.



  1. I love this, Jeannine. It doesn’t matter, does it? Book love is book love. I’m smiling now, too!

  2. Begone, Misguided Voices!
    Oh, Jeannine, I am so sorry that your sleep was interrupted by those pesky voices! Just last week I, too, was knocked off-center–not by a single comment, by a widely distributed essay someone published about *my* chosen genre. It wasn’t flattering, and I took it personally. Big mistake. But my LJ friends lifted me up again, lucky me.
    Here’s Mama Cass, whose message seems perfect for today:

  3. I get tired of being asked when I am going to write a real novel–you know, for adults. I can laugh it off, but some comments place little seeds in my brain that sprout. You’ve reminded me to tackle them with a hoe!

  4. The negative comments can drag you down. I’ve also found they’ve sometimes done the opposite – spurred me on to disprove the naysayer. 🙂
    I’m so glad we have each other. In the old days, I didn’t know many writers, many people who I could commiserate with on things like this. It is so wonderful to have people who understand.
    Hugs. I love this post. Thanks for the positive energy. 🙂

  5. Thanks, Loree!

  6. Re: Begone, Misguided Voices!
    Gosh, I’ve never gotten a song in a reply, and I love Mama Cass! Thanks, Melodye. We do get these knocks, and it’s great to help each other up. Generalizations do hurt. I always say I love memoir, thinking of how the honesty, courage, generosity and deep thought in some have changed my life, but I know some can make another generalization based on those that don’t live up to the standard and may in fact twist it.
    Good luck with your Feb. challenge!

  7. Good idea re the hoes — I think we need those on our t-shirts!

  8. Absolutely on both counts. I reminded the student of the beauty of the revenge fantasy. I, too, have murmured more than once: I’ll show them. And yes commiseration helps a lot, too. Sending back hugs — and great wishes for Shadow!

  9. I love this.
    Sweeps aside voices saying that a real writer plans and plots and outlines and figures out what the wide world wants before ever putting fingers to keyboard, brushing them out the same door the voices that said I was smart enough I could have pursued a career in some other, supposedly realer and more lucrative, area were swept out long ago.

  10. Toddled over from Janni’s lj; I very much support this. I’d like to set small fires, but instead I will imagine the voices saying I don’t write fast enough, all real writers managed to get agents, and I am doomed, doomed to a disappointing career, blowing away in a fierce wind, shredded to nothing and that nothing dying in the light of a thousand suns. So there.
    Thank you for the space to do that in!

  11. I might have to use that as my mantra! “It Doesn’t matter.”

  12. YAY for you!!! I’m so glad you said it. There are times I go back & forth and don’t know whether to go for it. I can just see the light on both their faces. 🙂
    I have one of those “ages” coming in the next few years that is doing a pretty good job of pushing at me to feel pressured and deadlined. Doing my best to push back, hard, but boy–we can mess ourselves up as well as anyone else, can’t we? 🙂

  13. Janni, I’m happy you like this and honored me with a link! Yes, think we can add very big brooms to the hoes for hacking up sprouting weirdness and Mama Cass dancing and lighting small ritual fires. I do not want any icky voices in your head.

  14. Thank you for coming over from Janni’s. Nothing wrong with small fires, but fierce shredding winds under the light of a thousand suns sounds like an excellent way to go, too. I’d say your head must be very very clear.

  15. Oh, Laura, I tried to capture that little angel’s voice but I wish you could have heard him bubble up these words. Excellent mantra.

  16. Yes, good point that we can do this to ourselves as well as anybody. And I’m glad you think like me re ages — I round up so much to those birthdays with 0s on the end that by the time I get there it’s sort of anti-climatic.

  17. “It doesn’t matter” are truly wise words, Jeannine. And sometimes little kids (with hoods zippered tight around their faces!) are closer to the truth than many adults.
    Wow, that was a really ignorant comment from that woman, and I’m so sorry it was so prickly for you. Sometimes people are unaware of what’s really important, and in a way, they miss out on the very pulse of life. I can’t think of working on anything more important than what arises from the heart. Hugs to you.

  18. 🙂

  19. Thank you for everything and especially this: “I can’t think of working on anything more important than what arises from the heart.” That’s a good message to call up in the places were “does nt mat ter,” doesn’t work.

  20. I think we should declare a daily Misguided Voices in our Heads Begone Day! You’re simply genius, Jeannine.

  21. Daily sounds good. Or it should come around at least as often as every Friday, and maybe Monday, and Wednesday….
    Hope you have a good weekend, Vivian! With only good voices in your head.

  22. I’m sorry that woman spoke such discouraging words to you, Jeannine. As far as I’m concerned, your work speaks for itself, and very eloquently, too.
    “Doesn’t matter” is very eloquent, too! Thank you for helping to put a song on that boy’s lips, and a bit of bounce in my own writer’s spirit.

  23. Love this story, Jeannine.

  24. Thank you, Amy! You’re the best!

  25. Thanks, Laura!

  26. Love it! Thanks.

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