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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Feeling Invisible and Worthless; Feeling Visible and Worthy

Months ago, in conjunction with a librarian, I made plans to read from my book "Save Send Delete" at her library. She picked the date – September 11. She also bought ten copies of the book to distribute to her book club.

Usually, when I read from "Save Send Delete" at a library or other venue, the people in the audience have never heard of me or the book. It is my job to introduce me and the book to them. I read from it and take questions.

Today is the first time I was in a room of about twenty people who had read the book. It was the first time in my life I'd ever been in a room with twenty people who had read my writing.

I normally have no fear of public speaking. This time I was nervous. What would these twenty readers, dedicated, serious people who care about books, think of my work? I was sure that they'd see nothing but flaws.

I entered the room and saw that the book club consisted mostly of folks in their fifties, sixties, and seventies. They looked at me in a no-nonsense way.

The librarian introduced me, and I kept my eyes down, while I blushed. Then I read an excerpt from the book that was pertinent to 9-11. It's the passage where I describe a self-identified "Muslim terrorist" who proposed marriage to me. Then I spoke about how I think it's important for us to critique jihad and gender apartheid, while not hating – indeed while continuing to love – our Muslim brothers and sisters.

I really had no idea how to assess the group's response to anything I was saying. They looked at me with no-nonsense time-weathered faces. By the way, to me "time-weathered" is a compliment. These were folks who had been around the block. No one was going to pull the wool over their eyes, or prevent them from speaking their mind fully and unashamedly.

A tall, very grim faced man brought up the Albigensians. I was prepared for that, and I said exactly what you might expect to say about the Albigensians.

A beautifully put together woman looked at me with SUCH penetrating "no bullshit zone" look and said, "I read your book. I think I understood it."

I wasn't sure what that meant. I still had no idea, really, what was going on.

We chatted more and then the librarian broke us up because she had to drive me to campus. She said that people who want my autograph on their book could come up and get it.

These folks who had lived full, long lives lined up.

They spoke to me one-on-one. They told me their personal stories. They showed me their copies of "Save Send Delete." One woman said, "I read the book really fast. Then I went back and reread it to savor it."

One woman's copy was full of multi-colored post-it page markers.

One woman had crumpled pages of paper with tiny handwriting in pencil. She had copied out by hand passages of the book that she liked to keep with her.

It was mind boggling. To see how these folks had been moved by my work.

Readers kept saying over and over, You are such a good writer … your command of language … I learned so much … so much to think about …

Here's the thing. I am alone. No family. Live alone. I spend the average day writing something that I send out for publication and getting back rejections. "Save Send Delete" was rejected six hundred times. I love my job but higher-ups insist I am unworthy of full time work because I don't hate Western Civilization enough.

I feel, and I am, invisible and worthless. Please don't be "nice" and contradict this. I am invisible and worthless. Visibility is a function of human eyes and nobody sees me. Worth is a product of human assessments and I am worthless.

As these readers unburdened their hearts to me and made evident how much my work meant to them, I felt *visible* and *worth something.*

It was unlike any other experience I've ever had. Ever. Ever. This is a first, for me.

There's a quote that goes around a lot, paraphrase, "Always be kind because everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about." It's sometimes attributed to Plato but there's no way it came from him; it doesn't reflect the worldview of Ancient Greece. One website attributes it to Rev. John Watson, who went under the pseudonym Ian MacClaren.

I don't think anyone knows how invisible and worthless I feel, and how much evidence – the hundreds of rejection letters on my writing, the hundreds of full time tenure-track jobs I've applied for that I've not gotten, the lifetime spent in burdensome solitude.

I know this about myself, though, and so I assume that others, just like me, are also fighting hard battles I know nothing about, so I strive to be kind, but of course I blow it frequently.

I know people who feel worthless, just as I do.

I want for those people the moment I had today. Where I received face-to-face recognition for my writing, something I always do alone, writing that usually goes unread, and, indeed, rejected.

It is very good to feel visible, and worthy.

So that is what I wish for you, gentle reader. To feel visible. To feel worthy.

And know that even if you haven't had that moment yet in your life, you will have that moment when you met with your creator. You will encounter a God who will say to you, I know how hard you tried. I know how much you accomplished. I appreciate it. Well done!

Until that day, do this for me, gentle reader. Tell someone how much you appreciate something he or she has done. Be like God: make another person's day. 

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6 comments:

  1. Danusha, as I said on facebook ~ you shine on your own..luck had nothing to do with it..bravo! Chris

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  2. Thank you for sharing about your at the library, talking about your book . You are so very deserving to be in a room of people who read your writing and who want to talk with you about it. And then to talk about your vulnerabilities and gently reflect on the unspoken pains and vulnerabilities of others... This is one of the reasons I admire you and your writing. You write about tough topics with strong opinions and a clear voice and at the same time you are sensitive to others and their spoken and unspoken pain. I just want to say that I SEE you and value you as a person, a friend, a hard working, brave woman and a talented, hard working writer. I wish for you to be in many more rooms with people who have read and appreciate your work!

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    Replies
    1. Kim, thank you so much. I love what you wrote and will keep it.

      You are a writer too, and you feel the trepidation that we all do. Jump in, the water's fine. Choppy, but fine. You can make a contribution to your field, a contribution no one else would make.

      And, by the way, I just finished off the eggs you brought me. Thank you for them.

      Delete
  3. I enjoyed reading this blog. It did not surprise me to hear that random strangers liked "Send Save Delete." It did not surprise me that people were touched by your work and wanted to meet you in person. Perhaps what you experienced in that room of twenty people was validation.

    Validation is a very, very powerful act, for both the person doing the validation and the person receiving it. (I was an affect coder for over seven years at a world renown research institute in Eugene, Oregon; I observed and recorded validation and other emotions for over 7000 hours.) Validation was one of the markers our coding team was trained to record as a more general code we called "affection." Unfortunately, our human subjects did not spend much time displaying "affection" for the other person they had agreed to "plan a fun activity" or "problem solve" with on videotape in a laboratory setting. The research done on the effect emotions have on human physiological and mental health in the 1980s and 1990s indicated that human beings are healthier and their relationships are stronger when they are nice to each other.

    Validation is one of the easiest ways to show affection for another person. Validation can be as simple as a barely audible grunt, s slight head nod, a vigorous head nod, leaning in towards the person you want to validate, saying "yes," "I hear you," or "I know what you mean." Validation is stronger when the person displaying it leans in, makes eye contact, or even reaches out to make physical contact while nodding their head. Mirroring the emotions of the other person is a very subtle way of displaying validation because it invokes empathy. When our coding team saw validation displayed we coded "affection." Many interpersonal communication studies and now medical studies as well show that the presence of positive affect like "affection," "happiness," and "enthusiasm," even in small amounts of the total affect displayed during a defined period of time, have a positive impact on human health, both physical and mental.

    Validation is not not necessarily agreement; it can be, but it does not have to be. I've discovered over time that people I have respected and loved all my life withhold validation because they mistakenly believe that if you validate someone you are agreeing with and potentially enabling them. Human beings don't need to be agreed with but they do need to be recognized, often.

    I describe validation like this: Validation is a way of saying to another person, "I see you" or "I hear you" or "I understand that you feel that way." Validation does not require that you agree or disagree with the other person. Validation gives the other person space to share what they feel or believe without being judged, corrected, or contradicted.

    Its hard to know that others see you, hear you and read you when they do so from afar. Danusha, you may have fans all over the globe without knowing it! I read your blog because I can't get in my car, or on a bus, or on my bike to come by and pay you a visit; I want to know what you are doing and I'm very interested in your scholarly work as well. I rarely comment though because I'm just too busy. Nonetheless, I do see you, read you and hear your messages, often. I suspect many other people do too. You met twenty of those folks the other day in a local library during a book club discussion of "Send Save Delete.' Thank you for sharing with us, the moment you became aware that you are seen and heard and sometimes loved and appreciated as well. Who knew that a small book club discussion could be good for one's health and well being. I imagine everyone left that reading feeling uplifted in some way!

    Lastly, I do want to say: Well deserved recognition and acceptance!!!

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  4. Danusha,

    I'm about halfway into "Send Save Delete" right now. I got the Kindle edition, but if I ever meet you I will get the print one so that you can sign it. I do have a hard copy of Bieganski, and I hope to have you sign it someday . . . someplace!

    I think, though, that you should rethink your job situation now with this book out. A Catholic college would be likely to find this publication very worthwhile. One of my colleagues recently was hired at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio after a decade of non-tenure-track teaching. He was really discouraged, even though he had published a book on Cormac McCarthy and one on war in American fiction, but finally, last May, he landed just the kind of job he had always been looking for. Don't give up now!

    Your friend in Texas,
    Linda Kornasky

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