On criticism

Hello, Asheville — it’s me again. This time, I am doing my best to heal. In January, I sustained a rather serious injury to my left thigh that became badly infected. Hence, I was in the VA Hospital for three weeks. There is probably a column in that.

So, this explains why I have been out of circulation (both printed and social) all this time. A friend brought the Xpress by regularly and read it to me.

Several employees at the VA commented that they missed my column and didn’t agree with the guy who took crayon in hand to blast me and it [Letters, Jan. 26]. After hearing the letter, I was astonished. It only took two issues in this new century to piss somebody off!

In all of my earlier writings, I have had only one letter of complaint — from a wonderful lady who took issue with my columns advocating declaring war on Asheville and having my friend Mark Combs get a daily ritual flogging until all the sidewalk curb cuts were up to standard. All she did was to pray for me, and God knows we all need prayer. Furthermore, this lady does more to clean up our community than any other volunteer I know.

“Skippy,” who wrote in response to my Y2K column, was exercised (that means upset, Skippy) that my column was too pedantic (that’s using big words) and too long (which means it exceeded his attention span).

He had the audacity to demand that I be allowed but one column a year. Now that is serious criticism, which got me to thinking about critics. When one has three weeks to ponder the subject, naturally a column is born.

Note the definitions of critic: 1. One who forms and expresses judgments of the merits and faults of anything. 2. A specialist in the explication and judgment of literary or artistic works. 3. A person who finds fault, a severe judge. (These definitions are from the American Heritage Dictionary, 1969 — which, coincidentally, made the best-seller list that same year). I leave it to you, gentle reader, to decide which definition best fits Skippy.

You don’t have to take criticism, you know. Task performance falls into simple categories: awful, poor, average, good and excellent. Guess what? Most of us live in the world of average. At least it’s not lonely, since most of us are there. A person higher in the food chain where you work may demand good or excellent task performance (another way of saying “work harder for the same bucks”). And job-scared folk often fall in line.

We expect excellence from physicians and airline pilots. Guess what, folks? That is why they make the big bucks. Most of us have average jobs, earning average pay to do average work.

Let’s look at criticism from another angle. Seldom is there such a thing as “constructive criticism.” I have found that, more often than not, it comes from somebody stuck with being as average as us, but wanting to appear “good.” When I am told that there is more than one way to skin a cat, I respond, “But do you personally know anybody who has tried them all? And who wants skinned cats anyhow?

Perhaps, gentle reader, when confronted by a critic, you would serve yourself by examining the critic’s credentials and motives. After all, in the bigger picture, we do have a need for qualified critics.

All of this pondering led me to make a New Year/Century resolution (something I had resolved not to do). Whenever I encounter an unqualified critic who happens to be drowning, I resolve to work twice as hard to save them: I shall throw them both ends of the rope.

I bear Skippy no malice. He made me think; and anyone with the gumption to take the time to write a letter probably can write a good column. It isn’t easy to balance being interesting, entertaining and informative — but it is my firm belief that everybody has at least one good column in them. Go for it, Skippy! You’ve taken the first step.

In closing, I would ask the editor to print fan mail — if we ever get any. To paraphrase Churchill: “Any fool can see what I did wrong. Can’t you see what I did right?”

[Alan Wilcox lives in downtown Asheville. His commentaries occasionally grace the pages of Mountain Xpress.]

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