An Open Letter to Ursula.

Dreaded Ursula,

I, a mousey, terrified child yearning for appreciation — for some kind of confirmation that she’ll pass the test she knows she’s meant to, but isn’t quite sure she will — write to you in distress. This letter is a weird way I’ve conjured to find the security I lost about a year back when you read some of my written work and found it judicious to speak your mind on a post I co-authored with our friend Charles, an established writer —  “Truth be told and it is a most unpalatable one: There will always be one of the two who is by far the better writer (even if he does dumb it down). However, I think it most commendable to encourage talent. And that you most certainly have done, Charles.” I don’t know just how it’ll come back, but I’ve vowed to try.

I write to you, not to seek anything from you, but to write about how I feel, and make it known. And hope that I will stop feeling debilitated by my own fears. It’s not that I haven’t been insecure as a writer before (you must know that, for you read the About page of my last blog). The problem is that my insecurity now has a name — Ursula.

My mind jets annoyingly frequent reminders to me about how my writing will find some unappreciative readers, who criticise it, tearing it to bits. It keeps analysing responses from people. The list is a lot longer than I’d care for, but I get by. Until I reach your name. Ursula. That’s when I wet my pants, not literally, thankfully.

You, Ursula, represent the monster I’ve known I’d have to live with. But now that the introductions are over, I am not so sure I am equipped to cohabit this world with you. I do not have the personal weaponry to evolve, regardless of what you will say (if you read my words). This frightening prospect stymies every effort I make to write and finish anything. I will, during my journey as a writer (or anybody, in fact), find many more of you — my critics. I want to be able to function efficiently in spite of the knowledge that you will be around to ignore or, if forced to respond, scathe.

It is said that in order to spar, you must first understand your opponent (you aren’t quite my opponent, but I had to use the word because better words fail me). I did visit your blog a few times last year and also read some of your comments on Charles’ blog to understand you. Unfortunately, I struggled to. And became even more terrified in the process. She’s on a totally different wavelength, I thought. My wavelength is shorter, less intellectual, I thought. So, I gave up.

Today, while I struggle with much more besides the time to write, your name springs up often. After trying in vain to shoo the thoughts away, I decided to write to you publicly just to air the cobwebs in my head.

A Struggling Writer.

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18 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Ursula.”

  1. Priya, you are not sure you are “equipped to cohabit this world” with me. What do you want me to do? Commit suicide? Not my thing. I will stay until I get bored. Which means I’ll probably live forever.

    You say we are on different wavelengths. Most likely. So what? Different wavelengths broaden the horizon.

    Getting to know each other takes time, Priya. And never ever “give up”. You will find pearls where once there was only sand.

    I wrote an answer to your comment on my blog – haven’t pressed publish yet. In the meantime read my “With you in the squeezing of a lemon”, 13 September, and “Writing with my brakes on” (yes, really), 9 September. It might relieve your writer’s angst or stoke the fire.

    U

  2. So that there is continuity within your blog, and to save those of your readers interested the bother to go over to mine in order to find my answer to you, I will replicate it here. How delicious to quote oneself, don’t you think? Actually: No. Still, needs must.

    So here goes. YOUR comment in “My fate in your hands” first.

    “Ursula,

    Well, I am not going to suggest you read what I wrote this week, but I’ve come here to inform you that you are a huge part of what I wrote. I had to, because you should know. If you do decide to spend your time reading it, I hope it opens up happy doors for you, somehow.

    Best,

    Priya”

    http://weathermewell.wordpress.com/2012/09/17/an-open-letter-to-ursula/

    Comment by Priya — September 17, 2012 @ 01:03 BST

    MY REPLY:

    “Priya, hi, thought your name sounded familiar. What do you want me to do? Pass you a handkerchief or tell you how it is? Let’s do both. Here is the handkerchief. to wipe your tears. And here is how it is:

    You call me scathing. Indeed. That’s what I am: Scathing. With nothing but any person’s best interest at heart. I have no idea how old you are but if, say, you were my daughter: I’d tell you to stop sniffling. But then no son or daughter of mine would sniffle. Just get on with what you believe in. Since I can’t read your whole back catalogue this minute I know little about your life. Do you write to keep bread on the table, are you of independent means, do you indulge a whim, has anyone (other than the mighty of pen Charles) ever told you …?

    In the wake of your open letter to me I read some of your previous posts to get the measure of the person you are. You mention ‘insecure’. That you appear to be most certainly. Hot tip of the day, Priya, stop thinking of yourself as some hot house delicate orchid in Alaska. Think of yourself as a dandelion. Strong, Not easily, if ever, eradicated. And before any gardeners jump in: Dandelion is not a “weed”. It’s beautiful. A weed defined as ‘a plant in the wrong place’. Think about it.

    Priya, “writers” are thirteen to the dozen. Write because you want to write. Not with an eye on recognition. I smiled when I read that dialogue between you and your father. That’s nothing, Priya. Nothing. At sweet seventeen I’d come home with A* essays and my father (who knows what he is talking about) tore them apart. Tough titty. I tell you. But, by golly, did I learn. Priya, the ‘critic’ is there for a reason: Not to make you feel bad, as you seem to suggest. Erode your confidence. Quite the opposite: Feedback, good or bad, whether in our personal or professional life, we should be grateful for. And listen. As we do to the Echo when we find ourselves in the woods or the mountains.

    Interlude: Let’s look at the comment you wrote above and let me rewrite it for you, to much better effect:

    “Ursula, I wrote an “Open Letter” to you over at my blog. I hope you will do me the courtesy to read it. The door is open. Hugs and Kisses, Priya.” So much more concise. Forget the hugs and kisses if you are not touchy feely. But, for heaven’s sake, don’t keep apologizing for your existence.

    Priya, I am not out to get anyone for the sake of it. You fret too much. As most people do. Think about it, Priya: You say you pour over every tiny critique. Why? Why? Why? Take a critique on board and work with it. Sure, I could tell you everything you write is marvellous. Would you believe it? Truly believe it? I hope not. Constant affirmation is vacuous, empty, worthless. We all need balance in life. And that means that occasionally a pile of shit will be thrown on one side of our scales. It’s up to you whether you make that shit into useful manure or flush it down the toilet. Or watch it dry.

    I have reread all those comments of mine I left over at Charles’ fateful post. Did you actually read the dialogue between me and Charles? At one point I said “I salute both of you that you are willing to experiment. The ‘dumbing down’ was uncalled for, and I do apologize.” … “And I have nothing but admiration for Priya that she put herself at risk.” …

    I apologized, Priya. Unnoticed by you? Possibly? I admired you. Unnoticed? Possibly?

    You mention ‘sparing’. I am more than happy to be your sparing partner. Not least because I think you need one. But, just like in fencing, once the masks are on, you spar. And it’s not a one way street.

    I am glad you made yourself heard. And I am hearing you. And I will lend you crutches to prop up your self esteem. If you let me.

    Greetings from the “Monster” you have conjured up in your mind,
    I truly hope we will continue the dialogue,
    Ursula”

    Comment by Ursula — September 17, 2012 @ 06:10 BST

    As to the doors I mention in my post “My fate in your hands” you have run into an open one.

    U

  3. Sweet of you to post the response here as well, U. Here’s mine, copied from your blog.

    I like the word monster, you see. It helps me masquerade as a hero fighting for my selfish, sometimes deeply important, causes. You are monstrous, much like Goliath. I’ll become David yet.

    The fact that I dry my dirty laundry (read my insecurities, not the other monsters in the closet) in the open for people to either help me or laugh at me or scorn me does not make me a sniffling-no-child-of-yours. It just makes me me. To presume that I see myself as a dainty flower I’ve never heard of is, well, presumptuous. Like you, I like to think I am strong. Unlike you, I do not flower (or bristle) my weaknesses or angst or fears. To say that if I openly state that a statement erodes my confidence is whining, is like saying you like to jibe and spar and scathe because, say, you cannot settle with your own angst. Both would be equally presumptuous.

    Every daughter thinks her father knows what he’s talking about. It is good that you remember his unspoken critique because it is always good to remember what people you respect have to tell you. You respect them because you know they know you. No?

    I fret too much, yes. I recently realised that I do, and am working on it. If it shows, the fretting, I must work on that, too! What I do not do is take criticism ungracefully. I like a good critic — not the one who tells me that I am great in a round-about way, but the one who tells me that I am or can be good in spite of all the bad I might incorporate. To say that I like a critic who trashes my work and effort would be being a good, well-behaved girl, and I am not that.

    I did not miss anything you said in your conversation with Charles. What I hoped to find was some sort of a sign, I guess, that I have more than just guts. I dunno. Funnily, when I first read it, I laughed at it simply because it seemed like an impulsive, irresponsible statement. I had enough confidence in my ability. With time, though, when I struggled to finish stories, I realised I was stuck with the phrase ‘dumbing it down’. Would the reader have to dumb herself down to read my stories? I spun around in circles until I reached this stage where a dialogue with you seemed like a good idea. (God help me (your repartee winds me)).

    You mention Kafka in one of the posts you recommended I read (http://bitchontheblog.wordpress.com/2012/09/13/with-you-in-the-squeezing-of-a-lemon/). And also that anyone who writes does not automatically become a writer. Of course not. However, Kafka is not my writer, not someone I read. Just like James Joyce isn’t (you remind me of him). If I am not yours, it does not make me a wannabe, does it? We are both writers, Ursula — you are yours, I am mine.

    P.S. Posting this without re-reading it! My 3-month old daughter has just begun demanding attention. If some portions are left unedited, understand.

    1. Here’s the conversation, continued:

      Your response:

      My my my. You have a three month old daughter. Concentrate on her. ‘Unedited’? I understand. All my emails, blog entries and comments go unedited. They are me. Of the moment. And I will live with the fall-out.

      First things first: You say ‘We are both writers”..You may be a writer. I am not. I just write. Not with an eye on publication or winning approval. Writing to me is like talking. Like breathing. More by reflex than by design.

      Thanks for likening me to James Joyce. Makes me laugh. I too never understood a word the man said. Maybe I should pick up Ulysses and try again. As to Kafka: Let’s just say he is bred in my bone – and I do know that he is an acquired taste. A bit like asparagus when you are age seven, gagging on it.

      I know too little about Goliath and David to be able to answer your assertion. All I know is that Goliath was big, David was little. And in the end – if memory serves me right – David won over Goliath. Except, Priya, between you and me there is no competition. There is nothing you have to prove to me. Neither have I ever felt the need to prove anything to anyone. I don’t do muscle. All I do is ‘word’. And all I hope for is that we sharpen our minds at each other as the knife does when, well, being sharpened. Only the blunt hurt.

      As to my father, a difficult man, yet a man dear to my heart: You totally misunderstand. It wasn’t easy and, yes, at times it would have been good if he had acknowledged my success (not least my essay on Kafka which my teachers deemed worthy of post graduate University merit when I was still only 17) but I learned a valuable lesson from him (when It comes to writing): You know what? The headline should never read: Dog bites man. Oh no: Man bites dog. So much more catching.

      Where were we? Angst. I cannot urge you enough to relax. Enjoy your baby. There will be plenty of time to indulge your other interests.

      You talk about ‘guts’. You wanted to hear that you have some. You do have guts, Priya. Any of us putting ourselves out on here, on the market place of the web, do [have guts]. But having guts means to be able to take the punches too, read between the lines – and just READ. Paying attention. If writing is a navel gazing experience count me out of it. Though I will gaze at your navel if you want me to. I give my time freely. Which is why I waste so much (not in my eyes, but in those of others). Be yourself, Priya. Life is not a competition. And trust others. Even the dreaded Monster that I am in your eyes,

      U

      Comment by Ursula — September 17, 2012 @ 13:47 | Reply

      And then mine:

      Yes, Ursula, there is no competition between you and me. There never was, there never will be! Largely because I do not like to compete (and seems to me you do not like competition either.)

      Let’s carry on with the introductions. My little girl, Bela, is a delight to be with (as must be all children for their parents). I’ve restarted my work recently (I translate from German into English) and find that the few hours I spend without her are onerous, even though they somehow revitalise me. In turn, begin with her is an instant pick-me-up from the ennui of translating boring texts and mundane this-and-that. It is extremely tiring. But very exciting nevertheless.

      That’s it for now.

      P.S. Like yesterday, I am going to post your and my responses on my blog for my readers, too.

      1. And here’s the latest for those who’re reading. I know you’re out there!

        Priya (i looked up the meaning of your name – how very lovely), good to hear from you again, continuing the conversation.

        As to your little Bela: Enjoy her. One moment you hold your babe in arms – in wonderment, the next your son will pick you up like a feather, will have to bend down to kiss you on your forehead. Next week he’ll be 21. 21 wonderful years of my life. My friends – some of whom were not quite as enchanted with motherhood – used to groan: “Yes, yes, yes, Ursula, we know: You love THIS phase too.” And I did. I loved every phase. Still do. Mind you, he made/makes it so very easy for me to be his mother. Most laid back person I have ever known.

        Worst thing, and it takes some getting used to, that the older your children get the less you can – physically – do for them. Other than being there should they or their friends need you. Listening to them. Even at three in the morning. Particularly at three in the morning. Yes, I am still on tap. At all times.

        You translate. Commiserations. It’s tedious. Not least because idioms often don’t translate well. A cultural thing. What one nation understands, imbibed with their mother’s milk as it were, makes little sense in another language. Even if it is just across the channel.

        I will read your ‘back catalogue’. And I am here. Remember: Even at three in the morning. Hell and damnation: Who needs sleep?

        All the best, blowing a little kiss to Bela,

        Ursula

        And then mine:

        Bela’s got your little kiss, Ursula. She is a little like your son. Laid back, patient and giving. I am blessed. I’ve loved every phase in these three months. Let’s see how the rest of the months and years fare. I have a suspicion I’m going to like them, too!

        Translations are tedious, yes. Especially of literature. I didn’t venture into that, although I wanted to.

        I’d be delighted if you read my what you call ‘back catalogue’. Haven’t been to write much except report what’s happening in my life. But that just might make for an interesting reading for all you know!

        Good to know you’re here. Really.

        Priya

  4. There’s only one way I know how to respond, my friend. I’ve been visualizing you wrapped in a blanket of golden light. Breathe deep, look in your baby’s eyes and remember you love and are loved no matter what. Count me amongst those who love who you are.

  5. Whoee! I’m exhausted. While U may have made a few fine points, she makes them with such self-righteous sarcasm that she comes off like a fire-breathing Komodo. Yeah, Now I’ve probably unleashed her and she’ll be hovering over my blog. But that’s okay. I’ve got the skin of a Rhinoceros. If I can deal with the hovering of my estranged half-sister, I can deal with anything. I hope dragging this confrontation into the open will have the affect of purging your fears and discomforts, Priya. You can at least rest assured that you have handled yourself with grace and dignity. Write on.

    1. It certainly has helped purge my fears for now, Linda. Such is freedom — temporary. 🙂

      Ursula, as I had suspected, is a willing tool for blunt honesty. Thankfully, her fire-branding doesn’t do more than singe a few hairs. What it does more is open eyes. And what this post has also done is opened a channel for us to become friends — she and I. What fun!

      Linda, you have always supported me, deservedly (sometimes undeservedly, too). Thank you.

  6. Rangewriter, have no fear: I won’t “hover over your blog”. So, I am afraid you will miss out on my “self-righteous sarcasm”. Thanks for the compliment. I have been called many things :”Fire-breathing Komodo” is a first. Rather fancy that, actually.

    Priya and I are on good terms. And I believe ours is a true friendship in the making. If there is one thing I regret that Priya sat so long on her grievance. I had no idea. None. To think how much influence we have, inadvertently, over someone’s life, at the time a complete stranger. It shook me.

    I might take up this subject on my own blog (do feel free to hover and breathe some fire) but I’ll have to ponder on it for a while first.

    And yes, Priya did handle herself with grace and dignity, and most eloquently. She also had the presence of mind to recognize that I wasn’t after her skin. I am currently working my way through her past posts. Not only does she have a heart, she writes from the heart.

    U

    1. Yes, ours is a true friendship in making, Ursula. You won me over with your sensibility and honesty. And then re-won me over with this — “Not only does she have a heart, she writes from the heart.” I am a goner, lady.

      I look forward to reading what you’re going to write about our influence on complete strangers. Do let me know when, won’t you?

  7. Ursula, it really is amazing to realize that we have influenced someone, either in a good way or a bad way. I know that I tend to babble away, assuming no one is really paying attention, so when someone does claim to have been effected by something I have said, written, or done, I am quite perplexed. Each time this happens, it reminds me to be a bit more diligent in how I say things so that perhaps my effects will be for the good and will avoid hurting feelings. But, I was born with both feet in my mouth, so this will be an ongoing battle till both my feet are in the grave…so to speak.

    Congratulations to both of you for bridging a gorge that threatened to swallow one of you…maybe both, who knows? Yea, for constructive and kind criticism. I think that is what most bloggers are looking for and what most of us try to provide to each other.

  8. I leave the sparring to others these days. I was brought up by a father who had a mentality like Ursula – with the need to play devil’s advocate much of the time – and over fifty years of it left me exhausted. I’m glad you have both – Priya and Ursula – reached some sort of level ground.

    Ultimately, Priya, you can only be yourself, however much you feel hurt or injured by anyone else. And for me, there’s only one way to ease off that sort of hurt and that’s to offer you my friendship and a cyberhug. If you were here in person, there would be no ‘cyber’ about it.

    1. The funny thing is, hurt or injury is not what I experienced. I just felt a little too off my track, that’s it. Ursula’s sage responses and friends’ support and your cyber hug have put me back on track for now. I am wondering how much a real hug would put in place! 🙂

  9. Like Rosie, I am just writing to say I was here and I am not going anywhere. 🙂

    Your letter reminds me of one of my own, but yours is so much kinder. Also, I like the progression of comments between you & U.

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