I nearly lost my temper the other day. Someone got under my skin with a thoughtless question arising from false assumptions, and within seconds I was ready to fire back a terse, cutting response. A few well-placed keystrokes would teach my questioner to choose her words a little more carefully in the future—or possibly even avoid asking me anything again, at all, ever.
Some small restraining influence whispered that maybe a full artillery barrage wasn’t called for here, that maybe I ought to be less of a hard-nose and exercise a little patience. But I did need to make some sort of response, and soon.
So I went to my husband and asked for his help.
Greg immediately stopped what he was doing, listened to the facts of the case, and guided me away from the biting retort that was fomenting just behind my fingertips and toward a thoughtful, well-reasoned reply. He even came up with a couple of sample sentences to get me going. He was completely right, and I told him so.
He brushed off my thanks. “You’d have seen it yourself by morning,” he said.
That, of course, was the whole point. Once past the heat of the moment, I’d have understood what sort of response was really needed. But I didn’t have time to wait to calm down. Asking Greg’s help was like taking a shortcut through the future.
When I submit a manuscript to my writers’ group for critique, I don’t give equal weight to every comment from every person. I sift and consider, keep and discard, taking into account what I know about the individual making the suggestion. Some writers have irrational hang-ups about commas; some eschew past perfect tense with maniacal zeal; some just don’t “get” certain genres. My estimation of a given critiquer’s sense, taste, and judgment is a function of my history with him. Is he a good, seasoned, experienced writer? Does he understand the demands of the marketplace? Have I agreed in the past with his critiques of other people’s work? If so, I’m likely to take his advice.
A lot of the edits I end up keeping are things I would have caught myself if I’d let the story rest a couple of weeks and returned to it with fresh eyes. But the rushed nature of magazine work often makes the cool-down period a luxury I can’t afford. And sometimes a good critiquing partner will make a brilliant suggestion for something I never would have come up with no matter how much time I took.
When you think about it, trust is an amazing thing. It involves placing yourself in the hands of another, giving up control, often acting contrary to your own instincts, all on the strength of a personal association. It’s risky. The decision you make based on a friend’s advice could go south, leaving you embarrassed, frustrated, and wishing you’d kept your own counsel. But risk is the gateway to adventure, opening up possibilities which would otherwise remain forever closed.
Surrender is frightening but exhilarating, and, if your trust is well-founded, sweet indeed. A lifelong companion, close as your own skin, a worthy guardian of your sacred trust, one who shares your vision and your experience, is the finest blessing this side of heaven. Such a one might rightly be called your “better half.” In your weaker moments, he steers you toward that which your own better self—your calm, objective, rational self—would choose. But he is no mere doppelganger or shadow-twin, existing only to complete or validate you. He is himself, distinct and matchless.
The most precious gift that marriage gave me was this constant impact of something very close and intimate yet all the time unmistakably other, resistant—in a word, real.
~C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed