I don’t know how writers keep on with the mighty task of public honesty. Our responsibility to the collective human conversation is not only daunting, it’s painful in the most vulnerable and shaming way.
Since I’ve been working on it for 10 years, it’s enough to give me hope that my voice belongs “out there.”
But there are always a few reactions that turn my stomach and make me grateful for my day job.
One professional editor in New York read the post as a courtesy to a friend who called in a “big favor.” He texted back: “She’s a solid writer. If she’d had an editor who cleaned up her errors and inconsistencies it would’ve been more powerful. But the errors were distracting. She especially needs someone who doesn’t know her to read her stuff. They can let her know what parts she’s missing.”
Sensing an opportunity, my dear friend suggested that he, Mr. New York, could be that person? His “no thanks” came back so fast, I almost felt the burn in my fingers as my friend hung up suddenly, after mumbling, “Well maybe I’m biased in your favor.”
I decided to make myself feel better in the weird egotistical and self-deprecating custom of a true writer, and seek validation with a friend who “liked” my piece and got her ex-boyfriend to “like” it too. This friend is a nice suburban white lady who confessed that she befriended me because she thought I was Latinx. I don’t look Latinx, I just have a (weird for an Irish Canadian) olive complexion most of the year. She kept me on as a friend after she learned I was White, but she works the subject of race and Detroit politics into almost every conversation, so much that I feel I need to study up before I head to her house.
I step into her house after a brisk walk and she greets me with a detail from the story I just published.
Friend: Hi Elisa. So you have only one boob?
Me: Uh, I have Poland’s Syndrome?
Friend: Yeah, but you only have one boob? How come I didn’t know this?
Me: Um, not exactly. You could Google Poland’s Syndrome?
Friend: But WHY didn’t I know?
Me: (running away thinking Because it’s not my job to tell you?)
I assume that most people are walking around with a boatload of hurt and it’s not my business to poke at them.
So, in case you’ve been worrying about it, the proper response to a writer baring her soul is
“Wow, you’ve really made me:
c) Fall asleep
d) Want to kill you.”
What not to say: “Are you sure you’re not making this all up?” Or “Or I feel so sad you feel this way.” Or “Tell me about your body parts.”
If I wanted to feel ashamed about my life choices, questioned about my truthfulness and morals, or have my body poked at and put on display like an exhibit in a freak show, I wouldn’t write stories. I’d build a time machine and go back to my childhood—and if you were there, too, I’d punch you in the face.
Lisa Sinnett, in spite of being deeply flawed, vulnerable and truthful, manages to hold down a full time job teaching high school Spanish in Hamtramck, Michigan, while maintaining close relationships with her family and working on her upcoming memoir-novel, Dispatches from Detroit.