Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Word Burner Club

I was six when I wrote my first song and I’ve written over a hundred more since then. Although I like most of what I’ve written, a couple of the songs are extra special to me because they were carved from deep places of vulnerability and pain. Like A Blanket is one of those songs. Not only does it speak from my own struggle, it has also connected with thousands of people walking their own paths of pain.

A few years after I wrote the song it was recorded by a group who has appeared with Bill Gaither and is well known in Southern Gospel circles. I was honored when they said they wanted to record it and especially excited to know that the instrumentation for the song would be provided by a live orchestra in Prague!

So. The song was recorded, got some radio play, and was even turned into an accompaniment track that people can buy and sing themselves which is pretty cool.

That all happened about eight years ago. Let’s fast forward now to a couple Sundays ago when Steve was away in Pennsylvania picking up his newly repaired car. Sarah and I were hanging out at home together where I was reading the blog of a columnist/music reviewer who just happened to mention the group that had recorded my song. In the course of his remarks, he referred back to one of their earlier CD’s that he had reviewed which immediately made me curious as to whether he had ever reviewed the CD that Like A Blanket was on.

I did a little search and it turned out that he had, indeed, reviewed that project. I eagerly scrolled down to see what he had to say about “my baby” and was pretty much knocked senseless as soon as I saw his first sentence. He basically ripped the song to shreds, leaving no verbal stone unturned as he communicated its utter awfulness and its utter unworthiness to be included on any high caliber CD.

A few of his prime quotes were: 1) Instead of being a masterpiece, the song was a disaster-piece 2) The song exemplified “loopy tautology” 3) My writing trivialized the voices of the group who had recorded the song 4) The song exhibited marshy spiritual logic of genuine but undisciplined imaginations.

I’ll spare you the rest.

Now let me just say that I am all about constructive criticism. In fact, when we were doing music full time, I went to great effort and expense to hire professional songwriting coaches to listen to the songs I was working on and tell me what wasn’t working. And while those sessions weren’t always the most pleasant (in fact, they were often downright painful) I gladly took my medicine because I knew it made me a better writer.

But in this particular case, what really hurt my heart was the over-the-top snide and sarcastic tone of the review. There was never an attempt to point out any positives, it was just a slash and burn romp through words that are precious to me—words that I had rewritten countless times, words that I had agonized over, words that I had cried over and prayed over.

It was like I was saying, “This is the best I have to offer” and his response was saying, “Well, guess what? Your best stinks.”

After I finished the review I pushed aside my feelings of discouragement and said sternly to myself, “Becky, you’re a big girl. When you choose to allow your words to be ‘out there,’ you open yourself up to all sorts of opinions from all sorts of people. You’ve had your songs critiqued before so this is nothing new. Pull yourself together and get over it, girlfriend!”

And so I did.

Sort of.

For a while.

I went downstairs and ate dinner with Sarah and we spent a peaceful, pleasant evening together. I kept quiet about the review and I was so proud of myself for not shedding even one tear over that guy’s ugly words.

But the next day?

There were tears.

All of my attempts to stuff the hurt down and tell myself not to care were for naught. Because I really did care and it really did bother me that a song that was so valuable to my heart had been so thoroughly shredded by the scissors of sarcasm. In addition to the song issue, I was also dealing with an unrelated challenge and as a result of those two tough things, I ended up fighting back tears for most of the day. When Steve got home from Pennsylvania that evening, he could tell something was wrong; however, he didn’t push me when I said, “I’m fine.”

Tuesday came and I was still struggling, still trying to decide whether or not I should even tell Steve and Sarah about the whole scenario because, really, it just wasn’t that big of a deal. I just needed to grow up and move on.

Didn’t I?

But then I thought, “Well, for crying out loud. What is a family for if not to share my burdens with? Why am I insisting on carrying this alone?

And so while we were sitting around the table after dinner Tuesday night, I pulled out two copies I had made of the review. Explaining briefly where it had come from, I asked Steve and Sarah to read it.

Well, Sarah bless her tender heart, was almost immediately in tears. The more she read, the more her eyes filled up. She would read a few words, glance worriedly at me, cry a little, read some more, glance at me again, and cry some more. Steve didn’t cry but he snorted in disbelief a few times at the overall tone of the writer and cast many loving glances at me as he read.

As the three of us started discussing the review, I started crying all over again; however, it felt wonderfully therapeutic to share tears with my family instead of shedding the tears alone. After a few minutes had gone by, Sarah suddenly sat up straight in her chair and made a startling declaration. “Mom! We need to go outside right now and we need to burn these words!”

I stared at her for a moment and then I said, “You know what? That sounds like a good idea to me!”

And so the three of us grabbed a lighter and went out to the back deck. Sarah held on to her copy of the review while Steve handed his copy over to me. As we gathered around the grill, I took that lighter in my hand and with a wonderful sense of release, lit the page on fire. Then Sarah (my beloved fellow writer) took her copy and set it ablaze, too.

For a few quiet moments, the three of us watched as the hurtfulness disintegrated into ashes. Then Steve made a little quip into the ensuing silence and all three of us burst into giggles—tears to laughter in a matter of moments.

And do you know what?

That was a week ago and over these past seven days, I have barely given that review another thought. It was so wonderful to be able to share my struggle with people who loved me, people who were indignant on my behalf, people who affirmed to me that I am still a good songwriter. The act of burning the words brought a wonderful closure and provided me with a way of saying,“I am not affected by what this one guy thinks. His words don’t have power over me and his words do not define my gift.”

The bottom line? You and I will never be perpetually admired and affirmed by all the people in our lives. However, when hurtful words enter your life, just remember—you are not defined by those words.

And remember this, too. If you ever feel like writing those words down and taking ‘em out back and burning them, well, join the club. The Word Burner Club.

You’ll feel better.

I promise.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Daughters, Pooches and Porches

Yesterday when I came downstairs, I looked through our front window and saw this sweet sight.

A porch swing.  A laptop.  A daughter.  A dog.

Sarah was hard at work on her novel (which she started when she was ten) while Snowy was doing his diligent utmost to be of assistance.  Sarah didn’t have the heart to inform him that typing around six pounds of fluffy fur is not really the most efficient way to write a book; she didn’t want to damage his little doggy self esteem.



Finally, after a few minutes had passed, Snowy made the executive decision that he’d lent enough invaluable help to his sister for one day and went off to secure the porch perimeter.  After he left, I appeared on the scene to photograph my lovely daughter/writer;  she continued to stay hard at work, even as I meandered all around her in fine picture-taking form.   She is a very focused young lady.





Finally though, the fact that she was being stalked by a rabidly enthusiastic member of the mamarazzi burst through her writerly consciousness and she favored me with a few glances.   

Sideways . . .


. . . and upward.


. . . and forward.


I may be just a wee bit biased, but I think she’s one of the loveliest writers I know.


I’m working on a longer, more serious post in which I share the story of how I recently burned some words that had been hurtful to me.   And you know what?  I highly recommend that particular practice.   More on that to come . . .


And finally, a few things from the Comments Corner:

Jodi said, Where are the "soon to be" bride and groom registered (about a month left, right)?

Yes, the wedding is just a little over a month away!  Hurray!

In addition to Jodi’s question, I’ve gotten several e-mails on this subject as well so I’ll go ahead and let you all know that Nathan and Meagan are registered at Bed, Bath, and Beyond and Target.  I believe they are listed under “Meagan Hawley.”  

They’ve already gotten a couple gifts from members of the Smithellaneous Family which just completely blows me away.  You guys are just the most thoughtful and amazing blog readers.

Catharine said, “How is the wedding news developing? Such excitement this summer for your family.
So the new Mr and Mrs Smith will live in FL with in laws? Have they a honeymoon planned?

Catherine, the wedding plans are coming along great.  Since we’re getting so close, I imagine I’d better get out soon and do some dress shopping!   It’s been so long since I’ve bought something that wasn’t at a thrift store—I hope I still remember how to shop at a “real store.”

For their honeymoon, Nathan and Meagan are taking a 4-day cruise from Miami to, well, somewhere.  I really can’t remember their destination at the moment but as we all know, the location will not be as important to them as their special time together.

For a few months after the wedding, Nathan and Meagan will live with Meagan’s sister and brother-in-law; they have a large house with plenty of space and thankfully, the four of them get along famously. (Plus, John and Joy have the world’s cutest little baby boy, so that will be an added bonus.)

Here is little Spencer with Frank, Meagan’s Dad.