Thursday, March 12, 2009

being "proud of" someone

Yesterday, I got an email from a friend from my MFA program. In the email (which insulted me under the guise of compliments--I'd go into it but there's really no need), this email writer told me s/he was proud of me for my publishing accomplishments. As Elizabeth Bennet says in Pride & Prejudice, "I could easily forgive his pride, had he not mortified mine."

I dislike this very much.

This may be in part because I have always sought approval from my parents & other authoritative figures and am just now seeing how utterly detrimental this need is to me, BUT it's also because it's condescending and reeks of a hierarchical structure where this email writer deems that what I have done is "good" or worthy of being "proud of."

But let's back up a little. So yes, first off, I should clarify that like so many writers, I write for approval on many different levels. My parents think I'm a failure because I'm not a doctor. To make up for it, I went to a top notch Catholic university for my MFA and now teach at a Catholic college. (My parents are very Catholic. I'm not. This is my compromise, at least for the moment.) To make up for it, I am not just a writer. I write obsessively. I publish obsessively. And to show for it, I have books in print, books on the way, books written, stashed away on my laptop. (I've been asked how I write so much. I give some excuse, but really, when it's all said and done, it's for approval.) But aside from familial approval, which I think we can all appreciate, there's also something in the publication itself: Someone somewhere thinks what I've written is good enough that they want to put their time, energy, and money into bringing it out into this world. (Here, I'm talking specifically about book publication, but this also applies to journals, zines, etc.) There's a high you get when you have a ms accepted. Those of you who are writers, you know what I mean. Then, finally, there's the greater societal approval one gets for being a published author. The key word is PUBLISHED. Anyone who writes is given a certain degree of respect (by which I mean little to no respect) for being a writer, but let's face it, there's something about being a published writer that authenticates it to both YOU and society at large, and then, any grief you've gotten for wanting to be a writer (a most underappreciated occupation to be sure) is somehow forgotten because you ARE now a writer.

What is most frustrating though is that this notion of "being proud of someone" only makes us continue running in our little mouse-wheel because we thrive off of approval. We desire approval, no matter where it comes from (well, I guess I've shown here that where it comes from does matter a little), but ultimately, we--as writers and as people--want other people to like us, to like what we do, to tell us we're "good." But fuck that! We ought to write (but you can insert any other word here) for ourselves. But do we? So most of the people who read this are innovative/conceptual writers. The market doesn't dictate what we write, how we write, etc., but in place of the market, what other shadowy monster looms, waiting to give us a gold star of approval, dying to tell us how proud they are?


  1. i really liked this post. seeking approval from your parents on writing is a bad bad idea. for the most part, i just stopped talking to my parents about writing. if i made money on it, then it would be a different story i think. i have a cousin who writes for TIME (she has a cover story coming up) and other big magazines and they talk about that. i'm not sure what i'm trying to say. i think, for the most part, as a writer publishing in indie mags and presses you have to realize you will always be dead to most of the public.

  2. I was in Houston giving a reading a few weeks ago, and my mom came up from San Antonio. She was totally dazzled that a university brought me in, paid for my plane ticket, hotel, food, etc. Over lunch, one of the faculty members said something like, "Oh you must be so proud of your daughter." Straight up, she replied, "No, not really." Then, she continued eating her lunch, as if nothing strange or out of place had even been said.

    Now that is super sweet.

  3. I hate the term "proud of you." The dictionary definition of "proud" is "feeling pleasure or satisfaction over something regarded as highly honorable or creditable to oneself." It seems like people who not only did not contribute to my success or accomplishments, but usually presented roadblocks to my efforts, are the first to step up and say they are "proud of me." I always want to say, "who are you to take pride in my hard work? You didn't help me, support me, encourage me. What do yo have to be proud of? Nothing." Do I sound bitter?