Are You Good Nuff?

My nickname is Katya Goodnuff.

I thought of it myself. I was binge-watching a series on Netflix that had a lot of Russian-born characters and I loved all the names; Smirnov, Michailov, Chernov.

It’s only natural that while vacuuming one day I put my finger on the off button and shouted,

“Good nuff, Katya! Goodnuff!”

And just that easy, Katya Goodnuff was born.

I love her. She’s the first to step up when my fear of not being good enough keeps me from trying. Not nice enough. Sexy enough. Young enough. Old enough. Talented enough. Not enough.

“Good enough for who?” she says. “In what situation? And for how long? Who gets to decide?”

The fear of not being good enough can stop me from launching a project. I’m not alone. In every writing workshop I’ve attended there’s a fellow writer who is scared to death to read their work aloud.

To a bunch of amateurs, mind you.

One woman in a local writer’s class introduced her poem like this:
“This isn’t very good. Um. In fact, it’s awful, and I just want to say…” until the teacher interrupted, asking her to just read the damn poem. So she read this five line poem about her mom. It took our breath away. It was a perfect, perfect poem. We loved it!

Even so. Who were we to say?

What if, instead of praise and support, we were in a collective bad mood that day? What if we’d attacked her syntax? Poked holes in her rhythm? Insinuated that the time for writing about mom was over—I mean moms were sooo 80’s.

A couple of years ago, I had my face figuratively smacked in a workshop. It was one of those workshops that had gathered an unfortunate mix of writers who honestly didn’t like each other. This happens in some groups and it’s always either dreadfully boring or alarmingly mean. This one was both.

The teacher was bored stiff, and rightfully so—the writing was truly awful and I was probably the worst of the lot. But I do feel a teacher can rescue a wayward writing group, provide a little inspiration. This guy didn’t. He was large as a barge this guy and he sat in his chair looking for all the world like Jabba the Hut. He spent most of the class in some sort of somnambulant state just above snoring. (This sounds mean, but this class brought the meanness out in all of us.)

Week four. I read a heartfelt piece about my dad who had recently died of cancer.
It was a terrible idea in hindsight. Too soon. Too raw. Risky environment.

The critiques went something like this:

Well, maybe if you change the main character to a boy. That would work so much better for me.” This was from Will, who was writing a fictional account of his boyhood growing up in Tennessee. I pointed out that I’m a girl. This was a personal essay!

“Still,” he said.

We moved on to a guy named Jeff who was writing a police story. Jeff was one of those guys who signed up because his wife wanted him out of the house.

Before he spoke, Jeff shook his head, sighed, smirked a little. (I’m not making that up. He smirked.)

“In every writing class I’ve ever taken there’s some woman who has this thing with her dead father.” The words leaked out of his mouth and down his chin like tobacco juice. “I can’t even comment. It’s so boring and overdone.”

I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I waited for a collective gasp from the group who surely were as shocked as I was. But, no. Nothing.

I felt like I’d been clubbed in the sternum with a turkey leg.

My cheeks blazed. I slid my eyes to the teacher. He gave me a bored, but sympathetic look, sighed, belched (okay, I could be making that part up) and said, “Okay. Great work everyone. Let’s reconvene next week.”

I kid you not.

I felt for my Leatherman knife in my pocketbook. I could slash Jeff’s tires before he gets to his car, I thought. But, Jeff made a fast getaway.

What a chicken.

When I got home, I made up my mind to quit the class, but first, I’d shoot off a caustic email to the instructor while the rage was fresh in my mind.

Dear John,

In every workshop I’ve ever attended, participants bring open minds and hearts. Your participants left them at home. Most instructors would have stopped someone like Jeff and reminded him what constructive criticism means. You didn’t. Perhaps you were napping.

Furthermore, your critique of my essay fell short as well. Comments on the placement of asterisks? A repeated phrase? It was a first draft! What kind of a writing teacher are you? And how much time did we need to spend on Gail’s story? You critiqued her story ad nauseum while barely spending any time on my essay. I imagine it would be easy to dismiss me as an angry wannabe, upset over how my work was received, but that’s not it at all. The work was not received. And that’s the problem. I wish your group a happy remainder of the session. I won’t be back.

Karen Elizabeth Baril

I did say I was mad, right?

Karen, hi–

I’m very sorry you felt this way about the workshop and I take your comments very seriously. I did get a twinge when Jeff made his rather sexist comment & should have responded at the time about his attitude. (If he had been at the first class he would have been reminded about the ground rules of constructive criticism only) I meant to address it at the time but the subject changed quickly, as Keith chimed in about his own interest in non-fiction, whereupon I discussed the common elements of high-quality writing in both fiction and non-fiction. Jeff was out of line and I should have gone back to his attitude.

I don’t believe my critique of your piece was as limited as you suggest. I complimented the touching impact of the father’s caretaking, your shift to the adventurous daughter (I may have digressed too much to my own experience), and the excellent carryover into the courage it takes to be a writer– the metaphor of being in the wilderness with only a tent as protection. I suggested you might expand and develop this short piece to make it even stronger and more substantial. As I mentioned, the piece is full of excellent writing.

I ask you to reconsider dropping out of the class. I can’t guarantee that all the participants will respond with open minds and hearts, but I certainly will.

Thank you, 

Well. Fair enough. I returned to class the following week. I met Jeff in the parking lot on the way in.

“Hey, I hear I offended you.”
“You did.”
“I meant no harm. I’d had an argument that day with my wife. She’s always comparing me to her dead father. Evidently, I don’t measure up.”

Shocking. The part about him not measuring up.

He shook his head a little. “But, you know, even without that, I don’t like your style of writing so I probably shouldn’t offer any advice. But, I’m sorry. I really am.”
I accepted his lame apology and finished the class…

As Katya Goodnuff.

Remember, you are young enough, old enough, sexy enough. You are good enough. But honestly, and I don’t mean this to be funny, who the heck am I to say?

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