by Neva Bodin
Going through old emails, I discovered a blog by Erin Falwell from April, 2015 about her trip to a volcanic crater in Africa, the Ngorongoro Crater. She spoke of the Rhino she saw.
Shortly before that I read a post by a writer who had learned to develop a “rhino skin.” A rhinoceros’s skin can be 1.5 to 5 cm thick.
According to http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Rhinoceroses.aspx, “they have poor vision but good hearing and a good sense of smell. Mostly solitary animals, they feed by night and in the early morning and evening; they rest in shade during the heat of the day. They are often accompanied by small tickbirds (oxpeckers) that feed on parasites in their skin and, by their cries, alert them to danger. Although most rhinoceroses are placid animals, mothers fiercely protect their offspring.”
By djpmapleferryman – 081104_rhino40, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5180087
I found a lot of analogies to a writer in that. Listening, or hearing, should be well developed as I gather material for writing. To include all the senses, particularly smell which is a great memory inducer, is important in writing. I do my best writing in the middle of the night, and nap well in the heat of the day. However, I do not have a thick skin. I have found rationalizing helps me appear that I do.
For instance, as my mental guard hairs bristle when someone offers a critique of my paintings or writing, I begin an internal conversation: “Well, that’s in her opinion.” “They didn’t understand the meaning behind the way that was written.” “Different readers like things different ways!” “Okay, I’ll take a look at it again, but it may not need changing!” (And on my little brain goes.)
Eventually, I am ready to admit the person’s comments have merit, and I am glad they offered me the observation, which of course, I am still free to take or “leave on the table.” So, should I develop a rhino skin?
Does developing a rhino skin mean I will never feel the “oxpeckers” that may be picking clean the presence of “weasel words” (those little words that weasel their way into sentences, but really don’t need to be there)? Or that I won’t feel the sting of rejection that might cause us to take a second look and hone my craft? Will it cause me to shrug off the criticisms as if they were annoying birds on my back and not noteworthy, or beneath my dignity, to acknowledge?
A fine line I think. I certainly can’t let the critiques and rejections stifle my creativity and stop my writing. But that is sure to happen to some, or perhaps to all of us some of the time.
Like living with an oxpecker, I might feel the sting of a beak, but the end result is for the health of my writing. And if I turn off my feelings, how will my characters have feelings?
As with most things in life, be it desserts or yogurt, praise or criticism, heat or cold, (I could go on, but won’t for your sake), I believe moderation is the best policy.
Society obviously craves extremes, if you keep track of its mood swings. But I need a little of both criticism, (as long as it’s constructive) and praise, (as long as I keep it in context). And, yes, I need to consider the source, but like a jury, I need to examine both sides, consider the evidence, and then make an informed decision, (sometimes it’s an educated guess on my part) about my writings, my need to consider another opinion, and whether to have fudge for breakfast or not. (I have some sitting on the counter calling to me and it’s barely after 6 AM.)
So maybe I need rhinoplasty, or a rhino lining for my truck, but I’m not sure I need rhino skin to be a writer. I’ll just keep using rationalization, and hope it works faster each time so I can hasten to do those revisions needed that someone else suggested!