Monday, December 15, 2008

You Suck VanZile

I used to write this newspaper column in college. It wasn't very good, and I wasn't a very good newspaper columnist. But it had its moments ... and this was one of them. The administration at my college was considering banning kegs for students at tailgates. Naturally, I was outraged. So I wrote a column about how students should protest by, um, overindulging and leaving a gastrointestinal deposit on the administration building's steps. Yes, I know it was juvenile and stupid, but here's the good part. I was walking down a street after it got published and I passed a house full of guys. You know, like ten guys hanging out on the front porch with a keg. One of them saw me on the street and yelled, "DUDE! It's ... that GUY! That guy from the paper! Are you really that guy!" 

Indeed, I was. 

"C'mon, man," he said. "You've gotta do a keg stand with us!"

So I did. 

Keep in mind, it was early afternoon and I was on my way to work or something. But this was a unique moment ... the first time I'd ever been recognized for my writing alone, just from a picture. And I admit it: it RULED. I happily did my keg stand, I signed copy of the newspaper, and I went on my way. 

Not one to let lessons escape me, I did learn something from those drunken frat boys: judgment can be nice, and at least in the beginning, we should cling to those moments. 

Here's my thinking: any piker worth a bucket of spit in this business can withstand gales of rejection, but can you withstand judgment? And I mean the ugly kind ... the public, brutal, snarky and personal kind? As in, "You suck VanZile."

Back to another memory ... I was in eighth grade. It was a big dance, and breakdancing was big at the time. So I practiced my worm and my spinning at home on the wood floor for weeks and weeks. The night of the dance, I decided to bust out my very own rockin' moves. A circle was formed. Jason B., the school's acknowledged best dancer, did his robot and popping thing. And then I went into the circle of light. Truthfully, I thought I was killing. My worm was sharp. I spun like a top. And then, out of the blackness, a flat voice reached me: "You suck VanZile."


So I got up and slunk from the circle, never to worm again.

And this is what publishing is like. If you can take that -- and come back for more -- then I think you've got a chance in this business. 


Jude Hardin said...

I was the only guy in my fraternity with a pickup truck, so I was pretty popular when something needed to be hauled. I remember loading nine kegs for a party one time...

Our football team sucked back then, so the tailgate parties usually went on till halftime or later. We used to joke that they shouldn't schedule a game and a tailgate party on the same day.

As for publishing, yeah, I think a thick skin is essential.

Erica Orloff said...

You. The Worm.

What a visual.

And yeah. I mean, suppose you get published. Suppose people actually start reading what you write. Suppose, heck, you get famous doing it. Suppose . . .

Well, then you realize that being published means the adage about opinions and a**holes is SO true. And that there will be this core--a small number but vocal--group of people who get off on telling you that you suck. Who get off on snark.

It's not just that they stop reading you. They have to tell everyone they know that ... You suck, VanZile.

And finally . . . I don't get many like that, to be honest. If a proposal gets rejected now, it's either (Eden's Poison), "I don't get the mother character" or "I don't get it." (What's to get?) or . . . "I like her stuff, but . . . I don't know. It's the writing maybe. Just not bowled over" (as in, it's a meh). However . . . I WILL once a month at least hear from a reader . . . someone who has decided I not only suck, but that I have to HEAR about it. Lately, I seem to hear from old ladies who have decided I have a filthy mouth.


LurkerMonkey said...

I can't tell you how many football games I never made it into ... Most of them, actually.

LurkerMonkey said...

I don't get reader feedback often ... and I'm still a little startled by it. Last Sunday in church, some woman I didn't recognize at all came up and said, "I love your articles! I'm always looking for them!" Later, Erika said I knew her from years ago, but that I looked like I had no idea who she was. Ha ha. Very suave.

I do, however, remember the times I've been flamed much more distinctly, especially if I'm being flamed by someone I respect. I once wrote an article on cardiac health that got a personal and very critical response from the pioneer of the multiple bypass operation. "What would you recommend for a patient with 95% occlusion of the LAD coronary artery?" Um, nothing, Dr. Genius? Because I'm just a writer and I don't actually know anything? That one stung.

But to me, this is a different ball game than rejection. Until recently, I figured there was no rejection left that could hurt me. Ha ha. Let's see how long that lasts. But no published writer is safe from criticism. People say DeLillo is too literary and impossible to enjoy, and they say Rowling isn't literary enough. Pick your poison, I suppose.

Zoe Winters said...

hahahaha. Everybody's a critic. The snottier side of me wants to say: "OH yeah, let's see you do it, bitch." but that attitude won't win me friends, so I'll just ignore the "You suck Zoe" comments.