Sunday, 2 November 2008

Maggie's lessons in kindness

Mainly sunny, cool, temps 3

We're home! Phew. Did a wonderful signing this afternoon at the Sutton bookstore, Livres D'or. Place was packed. I wasn't expecting that since, frankly, everyone knows they'll eventually see me in the produce section of the grocery store anyway. But still, they came out and it was a wonderful party.

It feels so great to be home. But I'm tired. Have felt like curling up and crying most of the weekend. Had the IFOA panel yesterday. Met an old CBC colleague, Marc Cote before hand and we got caught up. That was fun.

Then did the panel. It was the worst panel I've ever been on. Now, granted, I'm a little tired and stressed - but i still know the difference between a panel that was acceptable and one that wasn't. In fact, I just came off 2 of the best panels I think I've ever had - one at Magna Cum Murder and the other at Bouchercon. And I've done about 50 panels now - and moderated quite a few in my writing career, never mind as a journalist.

I suspect from the audience POV it might not have been a disaster. But I know what the potential was. 4 mystery authors...most of whom are thoughtful and have a great deal to say, and a desire to say it. And yet it was flat at best, and insulting at worst.

My problem was much more personal. At one stage I almost got up and left. I was so angry I could feel the tears. I was asked about the main character and how I chose his particular qualities. This is something I've thought a lot about. This is pivotal to the series, to the tone, the approach - to why the books are bestsellers and have won awards worldwide. It doesn't just happen. I was 2 sentences into it when one of the panelists made a snide comment. The audience laughed. I stopped - addressed it briefly - then continued. At which point someone else on stage made a sarcastic comment. The audience laughed. At that point I stared at her and stopped talking.

The panel was a series of half interesting comments from 3 of the panelists (I include myself) interrupted and punctuated by unhelpful, unkind, sarcastic, cynical comments from the other two on stage.

Honestly. It was incredible. As a former CBC Radio host, where interviewing people and moderating panels was my job...under often adversarial and difficult conditions, I know the difference between questions and comments designed to elicite information - to make people comfortable, to get them to open up and really think and contribute. And questions and comments designed to make the speaker look clever at the expense of another person.

I know the snide, easy sarcastic comments weren't meant to hurt me personally. They popped out, probably unthinking. But as I said at one stage, in an attempt to stop them, I'm weary of cynicism. In my bones. Deep down. Not because I'm undefended against it, but because I've been cynical in my life - mostly at the CBC. And I know how facile it is. How easy, how cheap. How tiring. And how unhelpful. If you really want people to talk, don't insult them. Don't go for the cheap laugh. Listen. Be kind.

Anyway, all this to say, you win some, you lose some. This one I lost. And almost lost it. And perhaps I should have. The times I've felt the worst in my life is when I've failed to stand up for myself.

Well, at the very least, I won't be in the company of either of them again. Life's too short. I really do choose to be with people who are kind and supportive. It might seem Polyanna-ish. I'm sure to some it does. Even naive and childish. So be it. It would have seemed that way to me years ago too. Before I turned my back on all that and chose to be kind. But I didn't choose to be weak.

I had a similar experience in terms of insulting behavior when we were last in London. I stood up for myself, was told I was wrong and ungrateful and should not only be sorry, but thank them. I did. And have regretted it since. That was a mistake. I'd hoped that if one of us could rise about it and show good sense and forgiveness, it would stop things from deteriorating, and the others would see sense too. It didn't work that way. So, again, forget it. I will now do what I want - not what they want. Unless it suits my needs too. And I will not quickly choose to be in their company. I'm professional enough that if I have to I will, but it won't be out of choice. And it won't be for long. One of the perks of being 50 and not needing to be insulted and diminished.

Was a time when I felt I had no choice. I needed the job and the bullies won. Now I have a choice. And I choose not to be in the company of people who behave that way. Never again.

Back home we had some good news and some bad. The good news is that The Murder Stone has moved further up the Bestsellers list!

The bad news way overshadows that. Maggie - our 10 year old Golden with the bad leg - is worse. Her whole leg is swollen now and she's not getting around. We've decided that one of us needs to stay home with her now. We upped her pain killers and put her back on steroids, and lay down with her and gave her love and 'high fives' and rubbed her tummy and she licked us. But her tail barely thumped. Though she managed dinner and Michael helped her outside.

We'll do what we can. We just don't want her in pain. And it's so hard to tell with these dogs. They're so stoic. I'm afraid we're heading toward a terrible decision, but one all dog owners and lovers eventually have to make.

Anotehr reason to be kind to each other. And supportive. Isn't life hard enough?

Be well.


frouch said...

Dear Louise,

Sorry to bother you again. Since I read you everyday, I feel close to you.

It`s really sad that you had to deal with those people, but it`s gonna be their loss, not yours. Like you said, life is way too short.

You, Michael and Maggie will be in my special toughts. I am a huge animal lovers, grew up with dogs, who were 100% part of the family, and I know how some I love you are hard to say... Hope she`ll get better, and if not, I have no doubts that she will be surrounded by tons and tons of love, and respect.

Take care,

With tenderness,


Rebecca said...

Lots of us would murder for an opportunity to hear "about the main character and how I chose his particular qualities. This is something I've thought a lot about. This is pivotal to the series, to the tone, the approach - to why the books are bestsellers and have won awards worldwide."

Being asked to go on a panel must go to some people's heads (reminds me of a joke about the difference between violin and viola players).

"One of the perks of being 50 and not needing to be insulted and diminished"
Spot on.

Wish you and Maggie well and hope her suffering eases

Louise Penny Author said...

Dear Frouch,

Never a bother - always a delight and a source of comfort. Thank you, my friend.

Louise Penny Author said...

Dear Rebecca,

Thank you! It's wonderful to have strong women in my life and in my blog. Thanks for your support. I feel better having written it down and gotten it out.

And Maggie seems more comfortable this morning, thank God. We're watching her closely. And giving her plenty of love and attention.

Marjorie said...

I am sorry that you had such a rotten experiece on that panel and I am glad that you could vent about it with us. (I am also 50 and I find that tolerance for human stupidity and cruelty does lessen with the years.)

I was at the Goddess panel at Bouchercon with you and Rhys Bowen and Deborah Crombie. It was absolutely wonderful. The conversation just flowed so beautifully between the three of you and the audience felt very included as if we were all at a very good party. I thank you for that.

Marjorie from Connecticut

Louise Penny Author said...

Dear Marjorie,

How lovely of you - thank you for saying that about the panel. Now there was an example of a wonderful pnael - really more a conversation. I could feel the affection we have for each other, the genuine desire to hear what the other would say. It was, at times, riotously funny - and at times heartbreaking...but no one was judged, no one was critical or bossy or snide or smug.

I'm so glad you enjoyed it. In fact, we might re-convene the Goddess panel at the next Bouchercon, in Indianapolis.