Yesterday evening, as is my regular Tuesday custom, I participated in an advanced improv workshop at the Staircase Theatre, lead by the incomparable Hugh MacLoed. At the start of such workshops we set goals about what we want to work on to better our improv performance. Last night we did something different. We let the group decide. Facing a tribunal of supportive friends, I got the notes I was expecting. I should try high status characters. I tend to play children, immature adults, and I rarely take charge. (This is true in life as well as improv, but I’ll try not to psychoanalyse myself too much). Then my friend Laurie said something unexpected, something that touched me enough to inspire this post. “I want you to realize that you are actually really good at this.”
As someone attracted to various artistic endeavours, I’ve been critiqued in various situations. In my university painting class we would take turns having our paintings displayed before the class, each person saying both a positive thing and
something that could be improved. “I love the use of colour. I would add more detail.” “The composition draws the eye around the piece. I don’t think you got the proportions quite right.”
One writing professor had the perverse habit of waiting until I was sitting in his office before reading my assignment. Then he would judge, sometimes fairly, sometimes mercilessly, the personal narratives about my life. “I don’t get it. You’ll have to either revise, or decide that this is the piece that won’t go toward your final grade.”
I’ve learned to take even the harshest of criticism about what I produce. I use it as a tool to improve my work, separating the personal from the professional as needed. In all these years, however, I never learned how to take a compliment. I distrust positive feedback, never certain of its honesty. Even if I do believe the praise, I tend to respond by putting
myself down. By worrying about coming across as boastful, I’ve developed a habit of selling myself short.
Tonight I meet with my novel writing group. I’ve read their latest chapters in preparation, trying to find something to improve in well-written, well-structured, and publishable pieces. These are women I admire for the way they weave with the words on the page. I’m in awe at times of their unique voices, their ability to construct a story, the poetry of their descriptions. And yet, I get the distinct impression that they are equally impressed with me. Along with they very valuable notes for improvement (which I appreciate greatly, Wardroids wouldn’t exist without them), I’m often met with compliments about my
writing. Tonight, instead of defaulting to sheepish denial, I shall try a more high-status role. I shall take the praise at face value, without self-doubt or self-depreciation. “Thank you, I worked hard on this.”