IF YOU CAN’T SAY SOMETHING NICE…

I just returned from speaking at my hometown library. For the most part, it went well. The communication prior to the event was excellent. They had a special parking place for me, which I thought was very professional. The director of the library introduced me, which I truly appreciated. The library did an excellent job of promoting the event, and they had a nice crowd gathered. I felt welcomed, and many audience members came up afterward to tell me how much they enjoyed my presentation and what a good job I did. I sold quite a few books, too, so that was lovely! All in all, it really was a great experience.

But…

Doesn’t there always seem to be a “but” somewhere? Why is that? I suppose because I put it there. I could focus on the 99% that went right. But I hit a snag with one thing that blemished the experience. One cranky woman, a tactless person, who felt it was her job to correct me. Between the people purchasing my books, and those telling me how much they enjoyed my speech, one persnickety woman, with the mindset her job is to make sure people don’t feel too good about themselves, told me, loudly, that I used incorrect tenses in a sentence on one of the slides in my presentation. She also made it clear she didn’t like the cover of my next book.

Several people around commented about how rude she was (after she left because quite frankly, I think most of us were frightened by her!). Honestly, I thought it was kind of humorous. She clearly had to make others feel wrong, to make sure people knew she was right. Insecurity is an ugly thing.

And yet, here I am having a little rant about how rude some people can be. Truth be told, she was right about the grammar. One of my power point slides had these words: “An author’s book is their baby.” You probably see the error. “Author” is singular and “their” is plural. I should have written, “An author’s book is her baby.” Grammar isn’t my wheelhouse. I’m a creative type, focused on the bigger picture. It’s why I pay a professional editor before I ever publish a book. As far as her opinion about the cover of my book not being attractive, it’s her opinion. Everybody has one. Did she need to share it? No. Do I care? Well, regarding the grammar issue, yes. It’s good for me to remember I’m always being judged whether I like it or not. Was it polite? Kind? Good manners? Uh… no.

What did Mamma use to say? “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” I think sometimes when we criticize, the dirt we sling at others lands on our own face. But hey, I smiled and said, “thanks for the comment.” My face is clean! Food for thought for those who feel that need to correct others. Manners make the world a nicer place.

And now that I got that off my chest, I can focus on what a nice opportunity the library gave me to promote my books!

14 thoughts on “IF YOU CAN’T SAY SOMETHING NICE…

  1. I’m far from being a grammar expert, but I am an editor. First, I think the woman was out of line to do what she did in that context regardless of how serious, or not, the error was. But I also should tell you that using “they,” “them,” or “their” to avoid the awkward “he or she,” “his/her,” etc., is becoming fairly common. It’s a deficiency of English that we don’t have a gender-neutral singular pronoun other than “it”, which is not appropriately applied to people. Arbitrarily picking “he” or “she” is another approach, but also not entirely satisfactory. People routinely use “they” in this way when they speak and so we all understand it just fine, and it’s possible that these plural pronouns will ultimately be redefined as being provisionally singular when one is speaking in general terms or about a person of unspecified gender. Now, if the author in this instance was actually female, then the correct thing would have been “her”, but hey, dinging you for that in such a situation? Really rude and uncalled for.

    • ginabarlean@gmail.com says:

      Oh, I’m glad an editor weighed in!! This really helps me. Great to know. Makes me feel better all the way around!

  2. Here’s my take.
    Point one: I don’t even really think of the “their” being an error. It is clear to me you meant it as a way of communicating “author” as being genderless. It is fairly common usage and grammar rules tend to follow usage.
    Second point: people often try to shove their problems off on others. One of the many games people play. Ignore the 1%. They (she) is not your audience. They (she) will never be a fan. Don’t waste the energy trying to convert them (her).
    Final point: best response is what you did. “Thank you for your opinion and when I have the time I will take it under consideration.” (And we all know how much free time those of the writing craft have.)

    • ginabarlean@gmail.com says:

      So true. Thanks, Brian. It’s the old, if I make you look dumb, I look smarter. I don’t think it really worked for her!

  3. This is so serendipitous, Gina! (Maybe that’s the wrong word. Maybe coincidental is better.) I was at a Lenten retreat today and the speaker asked, “Why are we so hard on ourselves? Even Jesus, the son of God, couldn’t please everyone.” He went on to say that one person can cause us to doubt ourselves and make ourselves miserable. He talked about Jesus’ “failures” in human terms such as being rejected by his own hometown, the moneychangers at the temple, the apostles not understanding, even after the resurrection, that his kingdom wasn’t on earth. Of course, the Pharisees and Scribes didn’t like him, but even in his own group, one sent him to his death and the others (except for John) abandoned him. The speaker said “One out of 12 really screwed it up for him.” So, I guess you had your one out of many mess up your day today. Look at it as her problem, not yours. Sounds like everyone else did! Good going on taking the high ground.

    • ginabarlean@gmail.com says:

      That’s what the Bible is about, isn’t it? Showing us, through its stories, how we are all experiencing the same thing. For the most part, it really was a great day. Just one bad apple. Thanks, Sue. Looking forward to seeing you next week. I’ve really surrounded myself with good people. That’s my blessing.

  4. Becky says:

    Gina, there’s not a better way to respond than you did. You were gracious and kind. I’m glad you had an opportunity to share at your library. That’s very special.

    • ginabarlean@gmail.com says:

      I agree! Becky, I sure hope you can come to the Omaha writers group at some point. You’d really enjoy it.

  5. lucy adkins says:

    You handled this with class, Gina. So sorry that it happened, but alas, rudeness still does exist. And yes, what our mothers told us was exactly right. Being nice matters. Thanks for another good post.

  6. You’re right about grammar lovers, Gina. I pretty much keep it to myself, but I do a lot of grumbling at books. It would have been nicer if your critic at the library had waited to talk to you privately about the caption error. The cover — that’s so subjective!

    • ginabarlean@gmail.com says:

      Right. The actual notice of the mistake, I don’t mind. I even appreciate it. But her intent was pretty obvious. She was trying to embarrass me. I really, truly don’t mind corrections. Just not when the objective is to make me look dumb. That’s not helpful. That’s mean. Plain and simple.

  7. Oh my! I thought such rudeness only happened behind the anonymity of the internet. Sad it happened to you in person, but you handled it beautifully (as only you can do in such a classy way). Glad 99% of your time there was positive. It’s sad how much that 1% hurts though, isn’t it?

    • ginabarlean@gmail.com says:

      It’s a good reminder. What we say is so important. I need to remember that every time I speak, too! I know my foot gets stuck in my mouth on occasion. I’m guessing she just couldn’t help herself. I think people who love grammar have a hard time not “sharing.” 🙂

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