The Crowd Goes Wild

I was put in mind this week of a scene from one of the Beethoven bio-pics. Immortal Beloved, perhaps. (Some music history major, you are, Grace Ann.)

Ludwig is going deaf, and yet, he continues to compose. He’s picking fights with friends and family, scared of approaching deafness, charm-free, and hitting middle-age hard. And yet, he composes, and even–against the advice of friends–conducts the premier of the Fifth Symphony (or maybe the Ninth?). In the film, as the final movement is reaching its ultimate crescendo, the sound fades, and we’re left with the image of this un-handsome guy, flailing around with his baton, while the violins saw away, and the tympani thump along… in silence.

The piece concludes, and Beethoven stands there, staring at the last page of the score, apparently unable to make himself leave the stage or close the score or anything. One of the musicians takes him by the shoulders, and turns him around, and all unbeknownst to Ludwig, the entire gargantuan Theater an der Wien has erupted in wild applause. The crowd is going wild, but first we get several silent seconds of Ludwig, watching this response and trying to process it, before the sound cuts back in.

And you cannot watch that scene without your heart breaking for old Ludwig. He was a difficult uncle to his nephew, ungracious to some of his patrons, a demanding friend, tight-fisted, and cranky, but by god, he earned that applause. Precisely because he was difficult, lonely, and insecure, he deserved to take to heart every bravo and “Bis!”

But he couldn’t. I was put in mind of that scene when a family member reported winning the top prize in her industry this week, one decided by her peers, and her response was, essentially, “I’m honored. This is very nice. Now something bad has to happen, right?” She, who has toiled for decades in a difficult and often cut-throat vineyard, reported a version of imposter syndrome that sent me shooting around the room backward with flames coming out my nose.

I understand that we should remember hurts and harms, the better to guard against them happening to us again. That’s sensible, within limits, but where is it decreed that we should brush aside accolades, minimize them, and even mistrust them? Invariably, when I am having a bad writing day, and my book hates me, and the whole manuscript is the worst draft of anything ever to ooze out of the fictional swamp, a reader will email me out of the blue: I have read everything you’ve written and please don’t stop writing. I re-read your oldies until they fall apart in my hands and then I buy a new copy.

Heaven help me if the day ever comes when those emails can’t grab my heart. May the day never arrive when I shrug and hit delete when somebody has taken time to appreciate my work and encourage me to keep going. And yet, if you tell me I look good? Shrug. I look like me, right? If you tell me my yard flowers are pretty? Erm, thanks. We sure could use some rain, couldn’t we?

I still have work to do, catching the compliments, to use the title of one of Donna Ashworth’s recent poems. I’m better at keeping the kind and encouraging words close than I was earlier in life, but it’s still tempting sometimes to heed the societal tapes that say, “You are not one of the cool/smart/attractive/interesting/charming kids and you never will be.” It’s tempting to be like Ludwig, staring at that magnificent score in silence, heedless of the applause.

How do you do with compliments and encouragement? Easier to give than get? Easier from some people than others? I’ve sent out the first batch of Gentleman in Search of a Wife ARCs, but you can email me at [email protected] if you’d like one. (Also, print version available here.)


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14 comments on “The Crowd Goes Wild

  1. I, too, have lived with imposter syndrome for a long time. Part of that was my mother’s influence. She was well meaning but she grew up without a mother and since I was the eldest, I think she learned on me (my 4 younger siblings had a gentler mother). She was so afraid I would become conceited due to my academic achievements that she frequently told me “don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back” and while she would give my sibs money if they got a good report card, it was expected of me and she never did give me a reward. It took until I was in my 40s for me to believe that I was actually intelligent and not just incredibly lucky in my scholastic endeavors. I know she loved me and was proud of me but her difficulty in expressing it made it difficult for me to believe in myself. Fortunately, I’m nothing if not stubborn and I was able to motivate myself. I have learned to say “thank you” if I get a compliment even if I don’t really believe it inside.

    And, though, I try not to inundate you with emails, I also count you as one of my favorite authors, even when the subjects you tackle are a bit uncomfortable (the first book I picked up was “The Traitor” and you handled the subject so well I had to search out the rest of the series and eventually all of your books). So, as long as you can write, I will look forward to reading your works. Thank you.

    • Thank you for those kind words, and yes, you jumped into the deep end with The Traitor. After that trilogy, my editor insisted I lighten up… so I did. Mostly.

      And what is it with moms? My mom excelled at the mixed message. “Don’t worry about having such big feet, Grace Ann. Every solid structure needs a firm foundation.” Or my favorite, “No matter how much weight you gain, you will always have a feminine figure.” What is that even supposed to…?

      But they loved us and they meant well, and I’m SURE my daughter will be telling the same sorts of stories on me.

  2. Ugh! Mothers!!! We hope to do a better job of this business than our mothers did (at least I hope we do). Mine was overly critical of virtually everything I did, even unto my adulthood. The (to me) beautiful dress I wore to my son’s wedding was too short in the back due to my big butt; my hair didn’t look like I’d spent an hour in the chair at the salon. Wasn’t I planning to wear some makeup for the wedding? Try being the first people to walk down the aisle with confidence after hearing those words! One of my favorite complaints was that in the condo I’d painstakingly found for my parents to move into near me the windows got wet when it rained! Huh? So, no, I’ve never been good at accepting compliments. I only began to believe that I wasn’t a complete waste of skin when I met my amazing husband, who saw me and my talents with fresh eyes. I was offered a job teaching graphic design in continuing education. Why would anyone take my class??? It took me forever to realize that I was actually very good at teaching! To this day when co-workers compliment me or thank me for going above and beyond, I always deflect with a self-deprecating remark. So I guess, even at 73, I still haven’t completely healed. BTW, I am very excited to hear about the Captive Hearts series which I’d not known about. It’s definitely on my TBR list! Stay safe. Stay well everyone!

    • My mother hoped I’d never write anything, but I do, and press send, as well. Doesn’t usually make me any friends. My specialties seem to be the rant, the complaint and the awkward question.

      Yes, I had to be taught to say “thank you,” and leave it at that. Sometimes it’s just so much polite conversation. I have learned to value polite conversation and can also make a few observations about the weather.

      If you get a compliment from me, it will be awkward because I’m bad at noticing and a perfectionist. The woman I complimented on her newly svelte figure was suffering from stomach cancer. How do you keep those eyelashes on? They’re fabulous!

      • I walked into the lunch room and said, “Somebody’s enjoying a taco salad!”
        No, Grace. Somebody had a problem with body odor, and that was not cumin, and ye gods I wanted to climb into the refrigerator and come out the other side in Narnia.

  3. I think we were raised mostly to be modest, not to be braggarts, which is all very well. But sometimes things went too far in the raising.You know, “nice girls don’t ….” Personally I take all the compliments I can get and say thank you. Life is hard enough without us putting ourselves down unnecessarily! I also wonder, looking back at my own loving but overly critical mother, if mothers and daughters usually have some sort of unacknowledged competition going and if mothers who are past the first bloom look at their daughters with bit of jealousy and therefor want to put them in their place. Just a thought. Grace, please store up all those compliments. You are a wonderful kind genius and we are all very grateful to know you.

    • Thanks, Jeanette. I’m very lucky to have the readers I do!
      I give my mom credit for realizing that her own father set his wife and daughters competing against one another. He’d compliment every other woman in the church parking lot, but not his own. Or he’d compliment one of them… I doubt his behavior was conscious, but it had the nasty effect of putting the sisters in competition with each other, and the oldest two never quite got over it.

  4. I needed to see this, after a day where my fingers stuck to the guitar fretboard, where I felt like the weak link in the band, and clouds fogged the stars. Sometimes we just need someone to show us the compliments or even a great poem. I’m still learning to say thank you with a period. Thank you.

    • You are welcome.
      I came across the lives of the composers the summer after eighth grade, and pretty much haunted the public library until I’d read every one that they had (hence, music history major). Beethoven’s life was hard. Schumann wrecked his own hand and went nuts. Rachmaninoff was dogged by horrible depression. Chopin took ten years to expire of tuberculosis… And yet, these guys loved, laughed, and toiled away at their art. They were beloved by many, and their legacies enrich us all.
      I take from that, “Just do your work as well as you can. You have no idea what legacy you’ll leave, and that doesn’t matter. Just do your work, and try to find some joy in that privilege.” Then too, I don’t have do child welfare lawyering any more, and that helps me stay grateful for the writing.

  5. Hello Grace,
    Please continue writing! I have all of your books, and I’ve reread them all (except The Dreadful Duke, which I’ve just finished reading!) I have a Kobo and I get most of my books from Bookbub, so I get to discover new writers (which is how I discovered you in fact!) However, I don’t always come across books that captivate me, so when I need a good story to immerse myself in, I reach for one of your books! So, please keep writing!
    As for compliments, yes, it took me years to accept them gracefully, to say “Thank you” and not add a comment dismissing the compliment. Now, I say thank you and if the compliment comes from someone I esteem, then because I trust their judgement, I tell myself that the compliment is true, and I should believe it.
    In the business world, they tell managers that it takes 10 positive comments to counteract one negative comment. That really applies everywhere, so if you grow up in a family which gives out negative comments regularly, it will take a lifetime to get over it, because it takes a long time to accumulate enough positive feedback to balance out all the negative ones you’ve received.
    So, keep writing please! I wish everybody would read your books, because they are lessons on relationships, on the power of honesty, on honesty towards others and towards yourself, on what responsibility looks like, on what love looks and acts like, on how family and friends can be there to help out when things are hard, and more, about the important things in life. So, please keep writing, even when the book hates you and your inspiration is nowhere to be found, don’t give up!

    Note: I’m a francophone and an French teacher, and if you’d like a nth opinion of the French you want to include in a story, then feel free to ask me to review. You usually get it right, but every now and then there’s one that is not quite right, so it would be my pleasure to be able to help you in this small way (and for free, of course!)

    • Thanks for all those kind words, Lynne, and for the offer of help with my French. I might take you up on that. Lord Julian in particular is supposed to be bi-lingual, and I know French has changed much less in the past 200 years than a lot of other languages.
      I have no plan to stop writing. I would not know what to do with myself, and I would doubtless become Very Difficult to be around.

  6. I feel I have been remiss in not letting you know how much I enjoy your books, all of which I have read multiple times. As far as I’m concerned, you set the standard for excellence in this genre and only a small handful of your fellow writers occasionally achieve those lofty heights . Please continue to be prolific. Thank you.

    • Thank you, Susan.
      I honestly thought when I quit lawyering, that I would be prolific-er. Turns out day jobs can be good for creativity. They give us a rest from our work in progress, and lots of little nudges and suggestions for plot lines, dialogue, symbolism and so forth.
      It’s lovely though, not to finish a writing session and think, “Now,it’s back to the legal-beagle salt mines.” Thank heavens for that!

  7. That rings so true. I think professional women are much more likely to hear the inner critical voice, the whisper of “impostor, you will be found out.” At a contested hearing before a rural judge, more than 40 years ago and early in my career, the judge asked “are you tall enough to be a lawyer?” At the end of the hearing he grudgingly granted my petition and said “well done.” I responded “your Honor, it isn’t the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog.”
    Two or three months later my anssignment included a rural court at the opposite end of the state. The judge there shook hands when he met me in chambers during the pretrial discussion and said he heard from a colleague I was a scrapper. I didn’t know what to say – I felt like I’d been caught being an impostor and worried that it would make it harder to be treated as a competent lawyer in the rural courts (where women lawyers still were uncommon). That self doubt never entirely left me.