I have all of my Great Aunt Louise’s diaries, which she began back in 1926 when she was just 27 years old, and I have found myself so touched by her writing that it’s difficult to speak of it or even to read the passages aloud to myself without my eyes filling with tears.
My Great Aunt Louise was a remarkable woman with a profound faith in God, and I have yet to read a passage that isn’t saturated by a positive, joyous outlook on life. She writes about what a lucky woman she is, how every day is a beautiful day to be shared with God. She tells how she lives in a triangle of love and she draws a triangle with the words My Parents, Home, and Dale (her fiance) along the three sides. In the middle of the triangle is the word GOD.
She mentions an evening spent with friends, and then writes of how she wishes never to judge another human being and never to take away from someone through criticism or disinterest that which is uniquely his — his individuality — and how, though someone may be difficult to deal with, each of us brings something wonderful and special to this life. I inferred from her words that she had met someone that night who had sorely tried her patience, but I’ll never know who it was; she would never have written his name.
I found myself thinking wistfully about my writing eliciting the same feelings in a hundred years from a great niece who had never known me, and I mentioned it to my sister, who was as touched as I was by some of the passages and who agreed that I couldn’t leave behind a better legacy than my writing. And I believed her — until I spoke with my mother a couple of days later and brought up the subject of Great Aunt Louise (my mother’s aunt) to her.
My mother started to giggle and I asked what was so funny, thinking that perhaps I had gotten Great Aunt Louise all wrong. Maybe my secret romantic nature that always wants everything to turn out happily ever after had caused me to misinterpret the entries. But no. Mom wasn’t laughing about that.
“Yes, your sister told me about your conversation. We laughed so hard we had to hang up the phone. You’re so negative, after all. What could you hope to pass on?”
This gave me pause because I have never thought of myself as negative. True, I have a self-deprecating, cynical sense of humor, but that doesn’t mean that I see the world that way or expect everyone to behave in the worst possible manner. In fact, every morning as I drive to work I look at the gorgeous sky and thank God that I’m alive to enjoy such a sight. And it wasn’t just that my mother said that, it was also that my sister had been so supportive to me and then had called my mother so they could enjoy a laugh at my expense.
So, remembering that old saying that if one or two editors say something negative about your writing you can kill them (oops, I meant blow it off), but if three or more say it, you’d better take a hard look at it, I decided to poll a couple of friends. Not about my writing, since they haven’t read any of it, but about my being negative. I ended up asking just one.
“Yeah, you are pretty negative,” he said. When I asked him to explain, he said that I live in my own little world, unwilling to open up to new experiences. I won’t go out partying with him and his friends at night and I don’t want to play volleyball on the beach on the weekends or spend the day on the “party” boat (a paddleboat that moves so slowly that even the drunkest of drunks can maneuver it) because I want to stay in my own little house and write, or putter in my own little butterfly garden. He even brought up the fact that I don’t like seafood as further proof of my negativity.
I was depressed all night about the things he said, and even when I went to bed I felt like a failure as a human being. But when I awoke the next morning, I realized the first mistake I made was in assuming that he knew what he was talking about. So I asked myself, am I really a negative person or is he just a jerk?
I decided he’s just a jerk.
I quit partying every night when I got to the age of 30. I quit spending my weekends at beach parties and keg parties even earlier than that. I don’t see anything wrong with enjoying my home and my yard and my family and my friends and my home repair projects and yes, my writing. Why should I have to spend every night getting high with deadbeats, drinking in bars and eating seafood that I don’t like just because he thinks I should? Why didn’t I turn the tables and say that I find him negative because he goes out every night to party instead of staying home to write? As far as I’m concerned, I’m not the one with the problem. He is. He needs to grow up and get a real life and until he does, he needs to stop criticizing others for having one.
And then I thought about Great Aunt Louise again, and I vowed to change my attitude or at least the way I present myself so that people don’t misunderstand and think I’m negative. I don’t have to like seafood, but why did I even have to tell him that I don’t like seafood? And why do I have to criticize him for criticizing me? Just because I don’t consider partying every night to be a “real” life doesn’t mean it isn’t. It is for some people, just not for me.
I’m obviously not going to be the same kind of writer as my Great Aunt Louise. She probably met someone just like my friend that night when she wrote that she never wanted to judge others because we all bring something important to this world. Not me. I write that he’s just a jerk. And I hope that a hundred years from now someone can appreciate my writing anyway.