Jan. 20th, 2011

I have a funny story to share with y'all.

I run a writing group at my library for a small number of people from the community, and I have to say that so far it's been a really positive thing. I've tried to draw upon my own experiences with writing groups from when I was doing my degree in Creative Writing - although it was a bit different and we were obviously graded and guided by a professional writer, I still got a sense of what worked well as part of the group dynamic, and what to try and avoid in the future. Everyone in my group seems to get along and have really warmed up to one another; what started off as a group of fairly apprehensive people has turned into a positive, fun environment.

That is, except for Betty.

Betty is a woman in her late sixties who is known, by name, to all of the library staff here, as she can be extremely demanding and difficult to please as a customer. My stomach definitely sank when I saw her name on the sign-up sheet for the group, but I figured, Whatevs, maybe it won't be so bad, or she'll turn out to be an amazing writer. Yeah, right.

Not only does she snap and get defensive about every line of concrit provided to her at our meetings, she simply refuses to give feedback to the other group members, and makes it pretty obvious that she hates discussing anyone else's work but her own. We all know the type from fandom. Last month she said, "I have no interest in reading anyone else's work because I find it boring. Can I just skip reading it, or should i write, 'BORING' in my comments?" I politely told her that if she was unable to address herself more politely to the other group members, or fulfill group expectations, that I would have to replace her with someone else from the waiting list.

At this stage, I should also add that I regularly hand out samples of poetry and short stories from various well-known authors such as W. H. Auden, Hemingway, Shakespeare or T. S. Eliot so that the group members can think about different styles of writing, especially since some of them are still getting used to different poetic forms, etc.

Today I get a package in my mailbox from her, containing not only this month's writing sample, but all of Betty's comments on the other members' work, and the handouts I prepared. At first I couldn't figure out why she would have returned the handouts to me, but then I had a closer look and realized that she had not just discarded them, but gone and written her critiques on everything - even the Auden and the Eliot and the Hemingway. I guess Shakespeare passed muster for her.

All over the Auden poems were notes like, "This is unclear - explain what you mean," or, "Why would we stumble when the musicians are playing? This makes no sense," or, my favourite, "What are the clowns supposed to signify?" Regarding the lines from The More Loving One, "Admirer as I think I am/ Of stars that do not give a damn," she responded, "This is an undesirable emotion - your whole poem is unclear. Please clarify."

Her notes to Hemingway were definitely my favourite, though. She wrote a bunch of stuff in the margins about the title of Hemingway's A Very Short Story demanding to know what it was about, or if it indicated sexual abuse, or who the hell he was talking about (not even paraphrasing there). She accused him of using 'unnecessarily long sentences', and, regarding the deaf old man in the story A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, "What does it matter what time of day it is, or if the night is more quiet? It would be quiet any time of the day since he's deaf."

I just... in between wanting to piss myself laughing, I have no idea how I'm supposed to look this woman in the eye tonight. This is either the most blatant show of passive aggressiveness I've ever seen, or the most blatant display of utter stupidity. All I can think to say is that her notes were well-taken, but that Hemingway and Auden might have a few problems addressing her concerns due to a severe case of being dead.

Day: Consider yourself officially made.

ETA: Tonight she asked, "Who's Ernest? I don't remember meeting him at one of our sessions."



April 2011


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