Sunday, April 3, 2011

when everyone applauds...

This evening, after we had tucked in both kids and turned out the lights, Jabber popped up from his little blanket cave and said, "When everyone applauds for you, do you clap, too?  Because whenever people clap for me, this is something that puzzles me."

It's kind of a typical Jabber-question, pretty obviously something he's been turning about in his serious little brain for several weeks or possibly for the duration of his last three lifetimes.  "Well," said D, "I guess that depends on the situation.  When was the last time people were applauding you?"

And Jabber told us about the integrity assembly, and how "I didn't know what to do with my hands when everyone else was clapping."  I had to go over there and squeeze him tight because really.  What do you do with your hands when everyone applauds?

I am trying very hard to be more graceful at receiving compliments and congratulations (and improving, I think!), but it has always been a struggle. I know that the correct answer is always a smile and a "Thank you!", but that's always hard for me to pull off in real life, though it's getting better.  I remember at my confirmation in ninth grade, I stood on the staircase of my church in a receiving line, and the congregation filed past us, shaking our hands and congratulating us.  I realized afterward, in a state of dire embarrassment of course, that as I was shaking all those people's hands, I had also been nodding, smiling, and repeating, "Congratulations!" to them like a complete idiot. 

So there's my first possible response in the face of a compliment:  complete and total idiocy.  I'll usually get the smiling part down (probably with a blush to accompany it), and then something that makes absolutely no sense at all will come out of my mouth.  These moments are probably not that big of a deal--the other person probably forgets about it after a brief moment of thinking, "Oh, I embarrassed the poor dimwit.  Perhaps I'll saunter over here to the cake table."  But in my head, they replay over and over again.  Me, stammering nonsense.

Another common response is an attempt to deflect the compliment or make it sound like I don't really deserve it.  Oh, you like my hair?  "Gah! It's so unruly today, and it's a little too long."  My shoes?  "Oh, yeah, they were on clearance at Target.  Super cheap.  And look more closely--this buckle part is pretty ugly, no?"  It's worse if it's something I did or created that I'm being complimented on.  I did a wonderful job acting in that performance?  "Oh, I totally flubbed my lines in Act II, and did you see the way I tripped when I was supposed to be chasing Lysander?"  Well, no, Elissa.  They didn't notice.  Not until you pointed it out.

So what's the problem, responding to praise?  Do I really feel like I don't deserve it?  I...don't think that's it.  A lot of the time, I'm actually proud of the accomplishment, or I actually do like the shoes or the hair (after all, I bought them the haircut, haha.)  And really, when someone puts forth the effort of pointing out something they like or appreciate, they really don't deserve to have it thrown back in their face like that. Is it because I don't want to seem like I'm proud?  Like I have a big head?  Does it come back to that thing all the girls used to start their sentences with back when I was in middle school:  "Not to brag, but..."  Or is it just that it feels awkward to have the attention--like Jabber standing at the front of the gym, seeing all the rest of the kids applauding and wondering what he should be doing with his hands? 

So I started thinking about this in terms of my writing.  I haven't been published before, except for one poem in a very small journal that nobody ever read.  The truth is, not that many people have seen my writing.  So I really haven't had to deal with the response people might have to my writing.  Writers whose books are out there in the world talk a lot about how to respond to negative reviews or comments (i.e. not at all!), but now I'm imagining myself at some public event related to my book (eep, hives!), and instead of managing a winning smile and a confident, "Thanks!" I'll be grinning, drooling, and muttering, "Congratulations! Yes, I love this weather!" OR I'll point out all of my misplaced modifiers and continuity errors if they dare to say nice things about my writing.  (I hope there won't be misplaced modifiers or continuity errors, but if there are, I don't need to call attention to them!)

Maybe instead, I could burst into applause?


cathellisen said...

Omg Elissa, I am like that too - with denigrating myself when I receive a compliment.

And I know that it makes it sound like I'm fishing for more, even though the reality is I am just so overwhelmed that I don't know how to react.

I'm trying harder to just say thanks and leave it at that, but there's this part of me that is compelled to tell them they're wrong about me.

Heh. Anyway, it's nice to know I'm not alone.

Kristan said...

"Another common response is an attempt to deflect the compliment or make it sound like I don't really deserve it."

Yep, that's what I do too. I've noticed it and been working on it, but it's hard to change a habit like that.

I don't know about bursting into applause… But I think a smile and thank you would be perfectly appropriate.

Jenny Torres Sanchez said...


And you've just described me! I wish I were better at this, but I think most of us might do this because we feel uncomfortable being the center of attention (what? most writers are hermits?). Compliments always seem to be kind of like a spotlight and it's like we'll do anything to say oh, stop, shoo get this spotlight off of me.

Elissa J. Hoole said...

cat, I think you're exactly right--it's overwhelming, and hard to figure out what's right.

kristan, think applauding would be weird, huh? damn. *stops practicing* ;)

jenny, good to know I'm not alone, and in good company! :)