Critique Note | The Gift of Being Met
No. 98 | By Christine Carron
Turn on some Pugliese, sit back and relax while you sip mate through a bombilla, and let me tell you about the first time I fell in love dancing tango. I was on a tango tour in Buenos Aires, my first time in Argentina. I'd heard about the tour only a few weeks earlier and, though I was a beginner, had jumped at the chance to go, hoping my years of ballet training would do me a solid. At least enough that I wouldn't be a total embarrassment.
The first few days were a whirl of classes, practicas, and evening milongas. My ballet training turned out to be both a help and a hindrance. It definitely helped with basics like balance and turning, but the way ballet and tango feel in the body is completely different. Ballet is air. Tango is earth. I was having difficulty shaking the air.
Still, it was a dream. Especially the milongas, which started late in the evening and ended in the wee hours of the morning. The professional dancers hired to partner with us were lovely, and even simply watching couples swirl around the floor was a delight. I kept my expectations in check about being asked to dance, figuring the locals would recognize us for the beginners that we were.
Hence my total shock the evening that Marcelo Varela asked me to dance.
Marcelo is a professional tango dancer. He and his wife, Analia Vega, had taught one of our daily lessons, so he knew my skill level. Astounded at the invitation, I asked, “Are you sure?”
He raised an eyebrow and said, “Yes.”
Next thing I knew, we were on the dance floor. I was a bundle of excitement, nerves, and panic. The music began, Marcelo lifted his arms, I stepped into his embrace, he breathed with me, I breathed with him, he led me into the first step and . . . magic.
Too soon the dance ended. He escorted me back to my seat, thanked me, and left to find Analia. I sat in my chair gobsmacked, totally, completely, and utterly in love with Marcelo Varela.
Critiquing as a relational art
Marcelo could have danced me into knots of stress and shame. He certainly had the skill and power, as the leader, to do so. With each step, he could have conveyed frustration, impatience, or a sense of why did this woman even bother?
Instead, he met me where I was. After dancing with him, I felt inspired. And in love (temporarily) with him, but more importantly with Argentine tango. My insta-crush on Marcelo subsided after three days but the impact of that dance never has.
Marcelo left me, with one dance, a better dancer than he found me. He left me a dancer who was inspired to continue.
Critiquing, like tango, is a relational art. I’ve received critiques where the person totally met me where I was. Where I came away inspired to keep at it.
I've also received critiques where each feedback point conveyed frustration, impatience, and a sense of why did this woman even bother?
One critique giver did not like my main character’s sense of humor. The critique giver pointed that fact out in multiple places in the line notes, flowered up with commentary like, “Oh come on!” and “Seriously? You think this is funny?” To be sure I didn’t miss their point, they went on about it again in their summary notes, finishing up with, “You think you’re funny, but you’re not.”
Wow. (I mean, it's years later, but still . . . Wow.)
The power of being met
There is so much that isn't in our control on the writing adventure. How we choose to show up for our fellow writers when we critique their work is not one of those things.
We can choose to meet our fellow writers where they are. Choose to give feedback designed to help and inspire them. Feedback delivered in a way that leaves them with greater confidence and inspiration to carry on and make their work better.
The content of a critique is important, I'm not suggesting it is not. I am asserting that the effect of the critique on a writer is equally, if not more important, for helping a writer move forward. That level of critiquing requires presence. Requires stepping into the dance of a critique with a Marcelo mindset.
When you do, you give the other writer a wonderful gift: the gift of being met where they are.
And who knows, you may help that person fall in love with writing, with their writing, all over again.