Bake the Trout, Burn the Letter, Hold the Line

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Okay, so maybe you had to be there. But yesterday, I was musing, among friends, about the inadequacy I often feel when opening my email box. 80.901% of the pings are work-related emails, of course, and 15.271% (do you like my math?) are notes from students, real friends, good souls.

But then there's that other percentage (you do the math). The percentage that renders me inadequate. The notes I simply do not know how to answer.

Those who know me know that I don't Google my own name, don't look for Beth news. For starters, the world is far too interesting for me to focus too intently on myself.

Nor do I look to my in-box for, well, anger or insistence or shame or work that I could never possibly do (should do). But there it is, waiting for me. Declarations about books I've written, or articles. (I would have preferred, you stopped halfway, why didn't you, are you really a writer? you're not a real writer.) Requests that I stop, right now, in the midst of whatever I'm doing, and read the hundreds of pages in the attached PDF (I'll need your blurb/your blog response/your action by tomorrow.) Insistence that I get involved in a particular dispute with publishers I don't know over a book I have not read in a genre (dystopian fantasy) that I'm definitely not known for. Four-page questionnaires (multiple multiple choices, with room for lengthy discursives) on topics I'm only vaguely proficient in. More manuscripts to read. Notes, that say, in so many words, It's time you blogged about me.

I have tried, in the past, to bring diplomacy and helpfulness to the letter writers. I have tried to see the world through their eyes, to do what can be done, to empathize, to acknowledge. I have remembered, always, that if we can do good in the world, we should do good in the world—appease, reach out, listen.

But it's the response to my responses that is forcing me to draw a new line. No need to detail those here. It's just: No more.

And also, as I said among friends last night, I have a trout to put into the oven (a house to care for, a son and husband I love, walks I need to take, books that I have chosen to read, my work, my students).

Bake the trout, burn the letters, Sister Kim said.

The trout, as it turned out, was delicious.


Katrina said...

Beth, no need to tell you how glad I am to see this post. There has got to be a way to offer our generous spirits and best work to the world without losing ourselves in the process. Perhaps the challenge is to learn to say "yes" from the heart, and "no" with love. And then to let it go! Love "bake the trout, burn the letter."

Beth Kephart said...

This, Bake the Trout, will be our new mantra, thanks to Sister Kim. I love how you put this, Katrina. And I love your YESSSSS, Libby.

taltebrando said...

I will be baking some trout over here, myself!

Becca said...

Oh yes, too much of the world gets in these days. We all need to draw the line...and draw the curtains. Applause to you!

Serena said...

I think there is a line that you need to draw. And I think that those requests in areas you are not comfortable with or feel inadequate to tackle should be left to others, and a mere, sorry or no thanks is sufficient.

I hear you about these emails that want more...but there just is no more. You have to prioritize those that speak to you.

Joanne R. Fritz said...

Beth, I saw that thread on fb, but didn't comment. There were already so many wise comments. :) Love the phrase "bake the trout, burn the letter."

Knowing you a little, I suspect you've been far too nice to these people in the past. I'm horrified that anyone would say anything negative directly to an author about their writing. And I'm even more appalled that anyone would send you hundreds of pages, unsolicited, and expect you to read them, like, NOW. There are some people in the world who care only about themselves.

You, of course, are not one of them, which is why you try to answer every email. Just stop. Just say no.

Melissa Sarno said...

This declaration makes me so very happy : ) You are such a generous, beautiful person, Beth. I hope you will always dedicate your time to what makes you happiest.

Melissa Walker said...

Ah, wisdom. You always bring it, Beth. x

Kimberley Griffiths Little said...

OHMYGOSH!!! There are no coherent words for the gall of some people. "Bake the Trout" - love it! Take care of yourself, dear Beth!

kate hopper said...

Yes indeed! I love this so much, and I will take your advice to heart. It's hamburgers here tonight and white bean chili the next, and there will be no time to answer odd words.


Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

Nobody is obligated to respond to unsolicited messages. Life is short and our tasks are many.

Anonymous said...

Bake the trout. This is what form letters are for. Or the delete key.

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