Happy Friday! I’ve completed another “main character voice” exercise for Jo Lee Reilly, the sleuth for Port Liberty Mysteries.
This one was interesting to play with. I wanted to bring out the fact that Jo Lee spent her early years working as an analyst. Being one myself, I know I have problems with vague instructions. Usually, the instructions are straightforward to everybody else, but my brain picks them apart as I’m reading them.
What do you mean by that word? I can think of at least three connotations for that question. Do you want me to address all of them? What are you really asking? Is there subtext here? Those are the kind of microtransactions my brain goes through before I answer any serious question (won’t vouch for the un-serious ones).
When I made up the question for Jo Lee’s exercise, I made it vague, just to see what she would do. Honestly, she kind of went off the rails to be specific with her answer since Praise can have a lot of different feelings associated with it.
This exercise will really help me with writing Jo Lee’s character. Analysis and observation are great tools for solving a murder, but Analysis Paralysis can be a big problem when the murderer is coming after you! Hope you enjoy it!
Creative Writing Assignment 3 – Due End of Class Friday, October 5: Describe how you feel when you receive praise from someone other than friends or family for something you did.
In my experience, there are three kinds of praise, and each one makes me feel differently.
The first kind of praise is for things you’re naturally good at. When I got straight A’s, I got the “Well done, You” from teachers. On report card day, I always got the “Next year will be harder, so start studying now” speech from mom and the “A’s are all well and good but you should learn how to cook and sew this summer” from Dad. All of that confirmed I made top grades, but it really didn’t feel like work. The praise felt hollow, because learning came easy to me on everything but high school math. I didn’t feel like I’d done anything extraordinary to deserve it.
The second kind is praise for things you really didn’t earn but get thrown at you in the hopes of avoiding conflict or drama. For example, the third-grade science fair. I did my project all by myself: How a Super Burger Goes Through the Digestive System. I researched, built the board, drew and colored, broke down the burger picture into tiny shapes of different colors for proteins and carbohydrates, cellulose, and waste. It was messy. The lines were wobbly, and my penmanship wasn’t stellar. I stopped at good enough. I didn’t place in the competition.
The girls that won first place? The team leader’s mom was an influential geneticist. Everything was professionally printed and created at mom’s office at the university and with mom’s oversight. Same with the second-place winner; lots of adult help. Some kids groused, but that really didn’t bother me. If they were proud of those ribbons when they didn’t really do the work, that said more about them than me. Lesson #1 – Life isn’t fair. Move on.
What did hit me hard was Sandra Eaton. Like me, she did her project all by herself and it was just awesome. She should have gotten the first-place ribbon hands down. That project was brilliant. Beautiful. Elegant. Concise. She really worked on the little details and her display showed me that what I had assumed was good enough really wasn’t. Mine was just good enough to turn in, nowhere near good enough to be recognized.
Seeing Sandra’s project next to mine burned inside. They were night and day. How could I have not done my best work? I failed myself, not anyone else. I knew in my heart I could have created something equally as good if I’d put more effort in. Mrs. Mattlock caught me hiding behind the building. She asked if I was crying. I wiped up, came out, and told her I had dinged my elbow on the door handle, and it had hurt.
The next day, I found a third-place ribbon hanging on my project. I heard the other kids talking behind my back in fake whispers. How Mrs. Mattlock convinced the principal to give me a ribbon because I was a cry-baby. I hated that ribbon. I didn’t show it to my parents. I cut it to bits and threw it in the trash along with my project when I got home. I knew I didn’t deserve it. That kind of praise makes me angry because it feels like the giver doesn’t see me as mature enough to take a knock and keep going.
The third kind of praise sticks with me in a good way and makes me feel warm inside whenever I think about it. It’s the knowledge that I put my heart and soul into creating something and it touched someone or made their day better or made their life easier to deal with. And when someone else recognizes it…well, there’s nothing like it. It’s rare, but I remember every single time it’s happened, especially the first time.
A few months after I started as an intern analyst for the Administration and Budget Section at Triumvirate Council Hall, I noticed that one of the workflows was cumbersome for the group downstream from us because of how we did our work…lots of back and forth and manual tasks when there really didn’t need to be.
In my head I could see the changes that would make it more efficient. It was the first time I screwed up my courage and knocked on my supervisor’s door. He told me to “write it up and I’ll send it up the chain, but don’t get your hopes up.”
I didn’t want another science fair. I really dug in during breaks and after work. I looked at every angle, checked and rechecked the numbers for time and money and wrote and revised and wrote and revised again. I turned in my proposal. And I heard nothing. Well, I hadn’t got my hopes up, so that was ok by me. I knew I had done my best this time and it would ultimately be a business decision above my pay grade.
Maybe four months later, I was walking toward the elevator, and I heard my name being called. I looked up and saw the director of our section, Ashe Stevens holding the elevator for me. I knew who he was. I respected him more than anything and knew that if I could work hard enough to be half as good an analyst as he was, I could die happy. But I’d never met him before, or even seen him at more than a good distance. As far as I know, he had no reason to know me at all. I was a wet-behind-the-ears intern. The fact that he knew my name on sight was a little nerve-wracking. Was I in trouble?
The doors closed and I tried not to fidget. He turned to me and said, “I was impressed with your proposal.” I was speechless (for probably the first time ever.) He told me it was well written and supported, that it would streamline the manual work the other team was doing. And that it was going thorough approval for implementation.
I think he saw on my face how I felt. He smiled and shook my hand when he got off the elevator. He said he looked forward to my insights as I settled into what he thought would be a successful career.
I would love to say that I was professional and thanked him with gravitas. Nope. I blurted “Thank you, Sir” with almost a squeak at the end when my voice broke as he turned toward his office, and I left the elevator with a goofy grin on my face.
Praise from someone I respect, who sees something in me, and recognizes that I’ve done something to make even one small piece of the multiverse a better place…that kind of praise means the world to me.