I recently mentioned a presentation I was asked to give about one of my favorite poets, Emily Dickinson. I was really nervous about doing it because I had to present to my peers, people I work with regularly, and of course, they are a smart group to say the least. The group is also very mixed with some tied to “old school” literary ideas and other who are interested in experimental works, so I knew that it was going to be sort of like testing spaghetti when you throw it against a wall. Some of my ideas would stick and some of them wouldn’t. However, I planned to keep it pretty short and open it up to the audience afterwards so they could all put their twenty-five cents in about the poet and what they wanted to discuss concerning her work.
In fact, I had a few members pegged in our group as the nay sayers who would have to argue about some of my comments, and I was fine with that. I certainly don’t expect everyone to agree with me, and I actually like to hear the other side of issues when it comes to topics I’m interested in. However, there’s a way to argue a point without actually arguing or putting the other person down, if you know what I mean, which is what I expected from some of these known-nay-sayers. What I didn’t expect was to be dismissed by some of these close-minded individuals, to be told that because I wasn’t subscribing to their beliefs about the author that my ideas where not worth discussing.
What I thought was so ironic about this situation was that we were talking about Dickinson, one of the first modern poets whose work was not understood by many people of her time and still makes many of us scratch our heads. She thought differently than the rest of us, and her different way of thinking helped form a new poetic movement. She was the total opposite of some of these nay-sayers who wanted to suggest that my ideas were not worthwhile because I didn’t subscribe to their personal canon.
Somehow, even though I felt the sting of their words pretty sharply, I managed to dish it right back at them in a polite but firm tone. I was amazed, really, that the words coming out of my mouth were coherent as I explained that what I was discussing has a huge body of academic work behind it and just because they were not personally interested in it didn’t mean it wasn’t worthwhile scholarship. It was one of those moments when you hear yourself talking and think, “Did I actually just say that?” But, in a good way because it made sense, which is not normally my reaction when I get upset. I usually either clam up or become Mary Tyler Moore, “Mr. Grannnttt!” [sob, sob, blubber, blubber] Maybe I didn’t lose it because there were only a few people in the group who tried to give me grief and everyone else was, at least, nice enough to pretend they were interested. Who knows why I actually had a decent comeback for the first time in my life?
This my very lengthy (sorry about that) way of saying that even if you have a few folks who are not on the same track that you are when it comes to anything you are interested in, be it your artwork or whatever, if you truly believe in your ideas, then dismiss them just as they dismiss you. These are the small-minded people who feel safe and secure in their little cocoons as they shield themselves from [gasp!] new ideas. If people like Dickinson took them seriously, just think about what we all would be missing now without her work. I’m not saying any of us, especially me, are an Emily Dickinson, but I am saying that new ideas are worth thinking about, especially if you live in a cocoon!