Maybe I never should have called. Maybe I could have picked a better time. Though when that would be I never could have guessed. Because from the moment I heard my friend’s voice on the phone I knew I was in for bad news and there’s never a good time for that.
Still, I had asked for her opinion and that was what I was determined to get come hell or high water. If I couldn’t handle honest criticism how would I ever improve, I told myself. The big question was could I handle the truth? I had to honour my end of the bargain. I promised myself that I would quietly listen to every word and say nothing. There would be no interruptions, excuses or explosive retorts from me. Even more importantly, I knew that I shouldn’t let her opinion, no matter how unwelcome, interfere with our friendship. So I closed my eyes and braced myself.
She began by politely praising all the work that obviously had gone into the poem. She praised the narration (something I myself was never fully happy with) and she praised the recording quality. And then she faltered. Suddenly it seemed like she was sliding out of the phone call, sending polite signals that meant she was preparing to say goodbye and hang up without ever dealing with the mysterious crux of the matter.
I was left with no choice. “You hated it!” I blurted out, my voice filled with accusation that reverberated down the phone line.
There followed a moment of dead silence on her end. I wondered if she had hung up on me.
She hadn’t. “I didn’t hate it,” she said carefully. “I just didn’t like it.”
A distinction without a difference as far as I was concerned. However my outburst (just the thing I had promised myself I wouldn’t do and my second mistake!) had abruptly wrenched open the door for what she really wanted to say - and it all came flooding out. She said that as a feminist she could not accept this poem. She had a big problem with women like Eleanor, women who used their looks to get ahead, women who climbed the social ladder instead of doing real work, women who slept with married men. And she had a big problem with sex and the selling of cars. The figure of a beautiful woman perched like a trophy on a car was utterly abhorrent to her. She said that she was very disappointed in me, dismayed that I had wasted so much of my precious time and effort on such an unworthy subject. Eleanor was a terrible role model. Hers was not a life to be proud of. My poem, by lavishing attention on her, served only to glamorize all the wrong things and that made me part of the problem in this woeful world we live in, not part of the solution.
When she finally stopped I thanked her with every ounce of sincerity and appreciation I could muster from the bottom of my heart (and believe me, I had to dig that deep just to scrape some up). I put down the phone feeling crushed. I hadn’t viewed the story that way at all. But was that because I was a complete blockhead? Was Eleanor Velasco Thornton a disgrace to the ideals of feminism? Was she a woman whose story wasn’t worth telling?
(To be continued …)