I did something crazy this last weekend.
I love shoes.
I love dancing.
I LOVE dancing shoes.
So I thought it might be awesome to go to Boogie By the Bay. If you ever have the opportunity, go. Just getting to watch the other dancers is well worth the price of admission, and the pros who compete there make it easily some of the best dancing I've ever seen. EVER. And I've been to a number of impressive ballets live, so that's actually saying something.
I watched competitions, and they were incredible. The dancing, the costumes, the music (though there really was a propensity to dance to Bastille's Pompeii), it was unbelievably good. But when I ran into one of the dancer's after her competition and said "That was great! You danced beautifully!" she blinked at me, tears in her eyes and hugged me.
She said "Thank you so much. I didn't dance as well as I could have."
It shocked me. She'd done things I couldn't even dream of doing. She was magnificent. She was better than I will ever be. Her 'didn't dance as well as I could have' was so many leagues above where I'll ever dance, that it sort of hurt.
Literally, there are not enough years left for me to dedicate to family, job, writing, and dancing to ever get to where she was on a bad day. EVER.
It caught me up a little short. Not because I saw a moment of my mortality in her incredible dance that was "not as well as I could have," but because it was possibly the worst thing to say. Her dance touched me. It gave new meaning to the song she danced it to, and I'll never forget the place she took the dance and the song and me in that moment.
But to hear that it wasn't her best sort of--okay, I'll fess up, it Hurt.
She gave me her art. It had an impact on me. And then--after I screwed up my courage to approach this beautiful, vivacious dancer, a woman put on this Earth to Dance--she told me it wasn't her best.
I understood something else in that moment: just because you are the artist does not mean you have a clue how your art will touch people.
Without a doubt, I could have lived my whole life without knowing that her routine that brought me to tears (yeah, I'm a crier, maybe people shouldn't be proud of the waterworks I give them) wasn't her absolute top performance.
But that was just one more gift she gave me. She showed me how I should always treat people who see something beautiful in the art I create.
Her response should have been: Thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I love to dance.
At the end of that exchange, there could be a brief exchange about an upcoming piece. In writing, it would be to direct the reader to the sequel, or other work by the writer (or other work that was similar by another writer).
That wasn't the moment to confess that the performance of something was shaky. She'd already touched my heart. There was no greater place she could have taken me by confessing that it could have been better. In fact, the admission that it wasn't her best cheapened the moment, as if by being touched by the lesser performance, it was some sort of degradation of my ability to discern good dancing from bad.
Yes, this is all in my head. Yes, it is quite possible that she could have danced better. Yes, my dance experience is small enough to be suspicious as a judge. But I know what I like, and I know when something speaks to my soul and not the bean counter that can tell if the steps were all in perfect alignment.
Her performance was more than enough to take me to somewhere else. I didn't need to hear about her insecurities. I understand that she had them. I understand that it was amazingly hard work to put the routine together. Trust me, I get that part.
But what I didn't need to know was that she was dissapointed in the performance that I found so much meaning in.
It's okay to have insecurities. It's okay to talk about how hard you worked on something. It's okay to be disappointed, but it's not okay to greet someone who is praising your words with regret and insecurity.
I get that writing and dancing are different. I understand that on a visceral level. But the thing to do is to swallow your pride and realize that the performance that is given, be it novel or dance or painting or anything where the goal is to touch someone else's heart, is the best that you could make at that moment. Maybe the floor was slippery--we get that. Maybe your editor wasn't what you'd hoped--we get that. What your fans are trying to say was that your work was amazing to them and they don't care how amazing it could have been. The people who come to you after they've experienced your art are saying they loved the art Just The Way It Is.
And after they've taken their deep breaths and screwed up their courage to even make eye contact with you (Yes, I mean you, because everyone who reads this blog, whether you mean to or not, intimidates the crap out of someone else), they deserve the respect that you can give to the moment they have had. Once they tell you about how you touched their heart, it's no longer about you the creator: it's about those who have interacted with your art.
Be gracious. Your art has just done the thing you've always hoped it would: you have touched someone's life. Be thankful, not everyone manages to achieve the One Thing they have always tried to do with your art. Be sure to say thank you.