In high school there was an English teacher a bunch of us called Mom. We also called her Goldie, an affectionate name that was always said with a certain Yiddish intonation. It would have sounded weird to call any other teacher Mom, but Goldie had a son who was our age, and for all the helpful nagging and advise she gave us the name fit.
Goldie was always imploring us to “make nice.” The context shifted from situation to situation, but generally it meant there’s no cause for meanness or quit being a ridiculous sullen teen and be a mensch. If we were truly not owning up to our potential and responsibilities she’d tell us flat-out to mensch up, bit for the most part make nice was her little reminder that there were other ways to express ourselves that didn’t require our being gratuitously sour.
This distinction is important because lately I’ve been seeing the word nice pop up in ways that worries me. The context is in chats and online forums where the notion is floated out there that the kidlit community is small, that we should be bolstering one another, supporting each other, and therefore its imperative that we all be nice. While a part of me hears echoes of Goldie in the admonition, there’s something darker beneath this nice surface.
- We’re not supposed to write negative reviews of books, because that doesn’t support the community.
- We shouldn’t be negative on our blogs, because it could lead to agents and editors not wanting to work with us.
- Our opinions should only be constructive, otherwise we will be shunned and not allowed into the secret clubhouse where the cookies are kept.
Okay, I made that last one up.
But what’s sort of scary is how seriously nice everyone is expected to be. Publicly. This idea that the internet and social networking exists to bring communities together only works if everyone is in lockstep? That engaged conversations cannot be had unless everyone agrees with everyone else? That somehow having a contrary opinion, no matter how well-reasoned, is akin to badmouthing others and that it’s worthy of blackball?
I’m sorry, I just don’t buy it.
Right now I hear Goldie’s voice in the back of my head cautioning me that I might want to consider making nice. I understand what she means, but I also know full well that as my former journalism teacher she wouldn’t have agreed that public forums should conform to groupthink.
But where does this notion of nice come from in the first place?
Is this the same thinking that says one should never criticize books aimed at a juvenile market out of some form of protection of the innocent? It’s as if discussing the merits of a particular title is like kicking puppies, where in the “adult world” of literature it’s a knock-down, drag-out brawl, and we wouldn’t want to bring THAT sort of element into the community. As if speaking negatively about a title will be seen by a child and will scar them for life.
After all, all children’s books will be a treasure for someone, right? And who are we to have an opinion about someone else’s treasured childhood book?
But the bottom line with all this nicething boils down to this: unless and until you are published, keep your mouth shut. That’s the message I’m sensing here. Once you’re in the world, once you’ve got a book published, then you can talk, but you’ll still need be gracious about it because, after all, this is a close community.
Basically, stop talking, make nice, shuddup and write.
I’m working on it.