Allowing yourself to feel empathy will help you get published
Helpfulness and hope
I wrote an article this week about my strong support for Black Lives Matter. It was rejected with a few notes, most of them addressing simple mistakes.
It turns out that my enthusiasm for all I had seen and done outstripped by competency in punctuation and grammar. But worst of all, I wasn’t careful to be empathic enough to editorial views.
I had marched arm in arm with a phalanx of moms in Portland, Oregon. Little did I know that many people in Portland are defensive about emerging groups doing what they perceive as distracting the focus from racism to the concern about Federal troops assaulting protestors, unions, farmers, veterans, and more. Among these groups, I just learned, is “white” moms.
Immediately defensive, I did not feel any empathy towards those in the protests, and towards some editors, who felt perhaps the article was not focused enough on the Black Lives (which really do matter!)
For the record, my article did not say the wall of moms was white. So, at first, I was very perplexed as to a comment from an editor who said it “…shed a great deal of light upon white moms at the protest rather than the reason for the protest itself.” I had to do a great deal of thinking after my initial defensiveness wore away. Why was the editorial board saying I emphasized whiteness, when I so passionately emphasized helpfulness — from all colors, but mostly from women, more-so than men.
I also wrote about how women and girls are socially programmed to nurture and attend. Maybe that was my prejudice?
One sentence I originally wrote read:
One beaming young Black man handed me a rose, thanked me for being there, and even said “Bless you,” to a hardened heathen like me. Also, there were just as many women of color also present. I don’t think the focus was lost.
The editor(s) must have interpreted this sentence to refer to the “distraction from BLM” brought by “white” moms, although I was thinking entirely about the whole, many-hued, wall of moms who were there to support Black Lives Matter being a distraction from the phrase itself.
In other words, the message was Black Lives Matter, and the distraction was three other words: Wall of Moms.
What I realized after my initial crest-fallen rejection was that I felt defensive. Then, I realized that because in one passage I did mention some people “complained about white moms stealing the narrative and focus.” I realize now that I should have clarified that a few people do not seem to realize the wall of moms is of every hue, united in yellow, for Black Lives Matter.
Still, this was an easy enough fix.
But the more I pondered it, the more I realize why some people view tons of stuff as distraction from the BLM message.
That’s because things like Fed intervention, fears about erosion of democracy, first amendment rights, even mask culture wars, are a distraction.
Yet, they are related.
Why wouldn’t a publication that is a voice for women allow me to emphasize inclusion? I think now, that it is about one person’s defensiveness about feeling excluded because I carelessly wrote white moms, instead of “white” moms — someone else’s description — and not what I had actually seen. Of course, to me it was very obvious that all these women were not white, but not everyone could see in print what I saw with my own two eyes. Therefore, I tried to correct it with a second draft.
I wrote to the editorial board, with no response. I offered to fix the careless errors I made which were just two typos, and to again emphasize my support for BLM. However, I never heard back from the editors again.
I understand that I am privileged. I understand that I don’t face the same peril as some people of certain race and gender, but I also am human.
It hurts, doesn’t it, to be misunderstood?
Thinking about the editorial board, I believe now that someone there was hurt, offended, or felt defensive about some sort of white savior-hood issue. For her, (the editors are all women) she had no way to know I marched with every kind of woman. Nor did she realize how very much I wanted to support every being who has ever suffered unfairly from inequality.
Or, that I mistakenly believed I had left behind any notion of being a white savior long ago, and cannot emphasize enough that I believe in alliance — ally ship — instead.
I have long believed that we need to talk with humility and openness.
I think, without it, we won’t triumph over racism or sexism.
More to the point, when we edit and re-edit, we need to do so with open minds and hearts. We need to use our empathy to reach more readers.
Writers must slow down and write humbly
When I returned from Portland, it was not because I wanted to, but because I was with someone who had to return. I would have loved to ally for days, even weeks longer. He would too, actually.
But we are trying mightily to find a way to return from to the Pacific Northwest from Hawaii at a time when our farm in Hawaii is greatly impacted from tourism loss due to COVID-19.
I admit I was high on the excitement after Portland, and revved up too much to write an article with perfect punctuation, on the fly, without a proper office. But I still think they should have given me a second chance.
Instead, I am going to give myself a second chance.
When you are so enthusiastic about a righteous cause that you mess up, it’s worth it to slow down and try again, in a more modest voice to get your point across.
I tried to do this.
I think the editors should too.
I think every writer should too.
It’s going to happen to you. You will feel misunderstood someday, to the point where you want to cry, or scream, or rip up pages of paper. As writers, we have to work extra judiciously to try to express enthusiasm tampered with facts, but bulging with passion.
It’s a tall order.
Write, always, with as much clarity as possible. Write with an honest voice, that sometimes screws it up. Write from a place of humility and real compassion smooshed together with passion and you will get there.