Today, on a friend’s facebook thread, a stranger said to me ‘I’m surprised at you’, disappointed that my and their views on the GRA consultation did not align. I thought it odd of the stranger to believe their view of me should align with who I know myself to be, and odd that they thought they had the right to tell me they were displeased that I didn’t live up to the idea they had of me. Reading their comment I felt a deep and physical shock, in my upper stomach, beneath my breastbone. This happens to me occasionally on social media, especially when someone thinks they know who ‘stelladuffy’ is or what I should think and somehow I displease them. Weirdly, they almost never seem to assume they know what I’d think because they’ve read my books – ie my actual work. Given the tone of twitter especially and some facebook discussions, this happens every now and then, and every time it gets to me.
It would be much easier if I didn’t care what strangers think of me. If I didn’t want to please, didn’t like being liked. It would all be so much easier if that wasn’t who I am. But it is who I am. I like it when people like what I do. I like it when they think I’m creating value and want to join in too. I want to be useful. I want to contribute. I want what I do to be of use and value to other people. To do those things I kind of do have to care what people think of me and of what I do.
So, there I was, leaving the tube to go and teach a full-day workshop and I read this comment and it felt like a kick or a sharp stab to the (upper) guts. I’m trying to listen to my body more often, to let my body tell me what is going on rather than my head, and my body had a physical reaction to the comment. I let it. I let myself feel it. The upset of feeling misunderstood, the shame at being judged and found wanting by someone who doesn’t even know me. I felt those things.
And then I went and taught what is possibly the best workshop I have ever taught*. Not because I didn’t care what the people in the workshop thought of me, but because I REALLY care, and I chose to give what I have regardless. To give the whole bloody lot. To pour out my actual me (not someone else’s idea of me) and give everything I have in the hope that some of what I have to give would be useful to at least some of the people in the room.
This wasn’t a conscious choice, but rather a choice in reaction to how I felt at that time. The kick in the guts could have (so often has) made me feel small and like I had nothing to give. But listening to that physical feeling, allowing it, gave me a chance to sort of … ride the feeling into the next thing, which was ‘now what can I give?’
It was great. I had a great day. I may have had a great day without any difficult social media stuff, today I had one in spite of it. Cool.
*I’m quite good at teaching these impro-for-writers/writing-for-improvisers workshops, I know this after many years of the people I’ve taught saying so. I care about them hugely and love teaching them, so for this to be my possibly-best-ever is a Thing. AND the room of people were willing to play and try new stuff and brave and caring and generous. That REALLY helps too, a workshop is never just about the person leading, it’s so much about the people in the room. Thank you to all of them.