This was back in the days of dial-up modems with their squealy screechy sounds. The first line of the first review of my first novel came shimmering up on that clunky old computer screen: “First time novelist tries but fails to move or matter.”
I sat staring at the screen, my little kids looking at me silent and troubled, knowing something was wrong. I turned to them and smiled. I laughed about the review, pretended I didn’t care. But the photo above is what I typed into my journal that night.
This is not a story about a writer who got a bad review – all writers get bad reviews. Nor is it a story about a plucky young woman whose novel went on to win a bunch of awards so haha. It’s a tiny story that stands in for a much larger story of casual, ongoing cruelty in a world in which those two words –or matter–should never be written by a human being about another human being.
Those two words broke something in me a long time ago that can’t be fixed. That’s what cruelty does. When judgment rears its ugly head inside me, as it does way too often, I recite the last two lines of this poem to myself.
He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, by William Butler Yeats
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
enwrought with golden and silver light,
the blue and the dim and the dark cloths
of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
tread softly because you tread on my dreams.