How to Handle the Critics in Your Life

vop

“And, of course, with the birth of the first artist came the inevitable afterbirth- the critic.” – Mel Brook’s “Birth of the Art Critic.”

Getting a publisher interested in my first novel, Voice on the Prairie, was a fulfillment of years of hard work, rejection letters, and dreams-come-true. I felt like little kid the night before Christmas waiting on my box of books to hit the streets.

Naturally, the first 3 responses to my new book were all negative.

Artists don’t like to be confined to rules, but

From the time we let the crayons slip outside the line, someone pointed out where they think we went wrong.

However, I’ve learned that if I can identify what kind of critic has launched a grenade  to blow up my creation, then I can react to the criticism in a positive manner. The adolescent retort of, Oh, yeah, well so are you!” just doesn’t work anymore.

Different kinds of critics:

The Ignorant Critic is like the sports fan on his third six pack yelling at the wide receiver to run faster.  They don’t know what they’re talking about but assume that if they’re loud enough, someone will think they are an expert.

The Destructive Critic will usually lie first by saying things like, I want to give you some constructive criticism. The destructive critic points out your faults without any suggestions or solutions for improvement.

The Constructive Critic seldom, if ever, uses the word constructive criticism while talking to you about becoming better. They’ll use words like challenge, or suggestion, or encourage.  A good critic can walk you around yourself to see a blind spot in such a way that you choose to become better without any sense of shame for not being perfect.

The Vindictive Critic is someone who wants to deliberately hurt you with criticism. Yet, they often say they are being constructive.

The Comparative Critic likes to compare you in a negative way to someone else or to them. They can do it better than you because, well, they think they’re better than you. Or they compare you to some superstar.

The Jealous Critic is hard to spot because they’re sneaky; no one will ever admit they are jealous of you. But they point out your faults, not so much because you’re wrong, but because they want to be superior to you. Their criticism is more about their inadequacy than it is about your faults.

The Unhappy Critic is never happy with anything – especially themselves – so they criticize anything their unhappiness runs over each day.  Avoid these people like the plague.

 How to react to criticism

Regardless of the motive of the criticism, it is always good to examine the truth of the criticism.

  1. Is it true?
  2. If it’s true, what steps do I take to improve?
  3. Do I really care what that person thinks?
  4. How can I turn negative criticism into a positive force in my life?

Some folks say I just need thicker skin. I’m not sure I want thicker skin, but I do want deeper roots.

and the brush in the hand of the artist.

If you happen to read my book, would  you please be so kind as to go to Amazon and post a review? Amazon has an algorithms that measure comments and, the more reviews I get, the more Amazon advertises my book.


 

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Voices on the Prairie: A Novel

Voices on the Prairie eimage-2

Sunny Morgan retreats to the Lonesome Star Ranch in the Flint Hills of Kansas, nursing wounds left by family tragedies and an unfaithful fiancé. The sounds of the tallgrass prairie and the words of an anonymous poet heal her soul.

Her solitude is shattered one morning while checking fence astride her horse, Starbuck, when a single-engine airplane crashes on her pristine prairie. In the midst of a raging thunderstorm, they rescue Governor Dane Richards and his brother-in-law, Ron Moore.

In the aftermath of the crash, Sunny is vaulted into the unwanted national spotlight as the cowgirl angel. While charlatans like Moore exploit both the story and the prairie, Sunny believes the Governor does the same.

The ensuing struggle unveils her hidden strength and she slowly begins to trust once more. When Sunny discovers the anonymous poet is the Governor, will the voices of the prairie convince her to love again?

My first novel, Voices on the Prairie, is set to be released this Thursday, July 23. You can preorder and save 10% if you use this code: PREORDER2015 at: Black Rose Writing. 

If you read it, I’d love to hear some feedback from you. Who was your favorite character? What part was your favorite? What part should have been tossed? If you’re interested in the process of writing this novel, I wrote: What I Learned While Writing My First Novel.

A special thanks to Wes and Richell Bailey of Cottonwood, Kansas. I had the privilege of photographing Richell for the cover of this book near Teter Rock by Cassoday, Kansas. It’s the heart of the Flint Hills and my favorite place on earth.


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Leaning in to Love: A Feral Cat Becomes Our Pet

Patches

A feral calico cat who has lurked around our barn for months has transformed into a love-hungry creature that follows our family around lookin’ for love. If you would ask Patches, I believe she would agree with me that love is the most transformational force in the world.

My wife, Christine, nicknamed her Patches several months ago as she hid in the tall grass at the edge of our property. My wife is a sucker for animals and soon had a sack of cat food in my shop. Even when we’re on vacation, we make sure someone feeds Patches and her friend, Brutus, a long-haired black cat that wears a trench coat loaded with stolen watches and black market cigarettes. If Patches is the dainty Princess of the feline world, then Brutus is Rocky Balboa.

Patches has never let either of us get within twenty feet of her. However, she recently decided to let my wife pet her. Once the lovin’ began, Patches can’t get enough. Desperate for love, Patches will raise upright with her front legs hanging by her side like a Meer Cat just to get you to pet her.

Naturally, our inside animals are going bonkers. They see public displays of affection towards the outside cat and they run in circles barking like a bunch of drunken spring breakers on a beach. Even the inside cat started barking. They called the cops, went online to start a petition, and hastily drafted a letter to Congress.

I’ve spent a great deal of my life listening to and reading people who write about religion. I’ve studied the primary sources of every major religion in the world. I’m curious about who God is and, obviously, there are a lot of opinions about the nature of God; some are quite contradictory. In fact, if I were God, I’d hire a new marketing firm and get new spokespeople.

I raised my sons in a faith tradition, but I knew one day their faith had to be their own. I knew they’d hear a plethora of religious pundits who offered themselves as the voice of God; my sons needed some guidance. So I taught them to filter new and different ideas about God through this litmus test that I use:

  1. Does is help you love God more?
  2. Does it help you love your self more?
  3. Does it help you love your neighbor?
  4. Does it help you love your enemy?

Jesus said to love one another, and  by this, all people will know you follow me. The Apostle Paul said that we can speak with the tongue of men and angels, but if we don’t have love then it sounds like an out-of-tune musical instrument. Paul also said that the greatest virtue is love. Jesus even told us to love our enemies. Ouch, that last one really hurts.

So, apparently, love is a big thing to God. Like, maybe, the most important thing to God?

Patches taught us a lot this week about leaning in to love. Maya Angelous said, “Hate. It has caused a lot of problems in this world but has not solved one.” But I’ve seen love solve a lot of problems.

Brutus is in our sights next to win over with love. He’ll be a bit tougher; I’m sure I’ll have to buy some contraband off of him to establish trust.

I wonder if he has any Cuban cigars?


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A Photo Journey: Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

Sprinkles of Sunshine

Put away your red slippers and Toto jokes; there really is no place like the Flint Hills of Kansas. My heart feels at rest when I’m there; this is my heart’s home.

A Flint Hills Prairie Morning

A Flint Hills Prairie Morning

Here’s an excerpt from my soon-to-be-published novel, Voices on the Prairie:

The wind lays soft against the prairie

And gives its breath to the new day

This winding road I’m traveling on’s a memory

Of a place I’ve been and a place I’d like to stay

I recently conned a fellow photographer, Darryl Hill, into getting out of bed at 4:30 on a Saturday morning to accompany to a little known jewel of America, the Tallgrass National Preserve that wears the Kansas  Scenic By-Way of K-177 like a beauty queen wears a sash. His wife thinks he’s as crazy as my wife thinks I am.

In 1878, Stephen Jones bought the land and started building the mansion.  It had just been 76 years since Lewis and Clark discovered the land east of the Mississippi and 14 years after Lincoln was assassinated.

Spring Hill Creek Mansion

Spring Hill Creek Mansion

Kissed by the Morning Sun

Kissed by the Morning Sun

Iron Flowers

Iron Flowers

After photographing around the mansion, Darryl and I followed one of the trails to the pasture where the bison roam.

The Wind Lays Soft Against the Prairie

The Wind Lays Soft Against the Prairie

The Kansas State song is Home on the Range. It’s literally impossible to look out over a herd of bison and not hum, oh give me a home where the buffalo roam. I bet you’re doing it right now.

Bison on the Prairie

Bison on the Prairie

Apparently, the writer of that song didn’t know the difference between bison and buffalo either so I don’t feel so bad. Bison live in North America and buffalo live in Africa and Asia. This information will come in handy with Trivial Pursuit, but I doubt you’ll care which is which if they’re chasing you. They have a six foot vertical jump and run up to 40 mph. In 1840, 50 years before this ranch was built, there were an estimated 40 million bison. By 1900, the numbers were down to 300!  

Tallgrass Bison

Tallgrass Bison

I wanted to photograph The Lower Fox School which is on the Tallgrass Preserve, but there was a wedding going on at 6 o’clock in the morning!  I learned, once again, that I might not capture the image I want, but if I keep working a scene, I’ll surprise myself with an image I like. This is the back side of the school and an image that I like much better than the one I hoped to get.

The Lower Fox School

The Lower Fox School

Along the hike, we found this pleasant surprise snuggled down in the grass: a butterfly opening her wings to let the rays of the sun charge her batteries.

 

Charging the Batteries

Charging the Batteries

I know how she feels; a trip through the Flint Hills always recharges mine.


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People Who Amaze Me: Jerry Toews and His Antique Engines

Hart-Parr Tractor

If it’s built after 1915, I’m not interested. – Jerry Toews

Jerry Toews (Taves) wandered down the alleys as a kid in Nickerson, Kansas, digging through 55-gallon burn barrels looking for things like old clocks to fix.  Now, as a retired band instructor, he wanders all over the U.S. and Canada looking for things to fix. And, man, does he come up with some doozies. One tractor is twelve feet tall and weighs twenty-five-thousand-pounds!

I finally made it to a photography outing arranged by Susan Bartel for a local group, the Fourth Tuesday Photography Club.  A couple of dozen photographers visited the farm of Jerry and Leann where we traveled in time machines to capture images of yesteryear hidden in the barns on their property.

Flour City Tractor

Flour City Tractor

“I love to find things that don’t work, then figure out how I can make them work.” Jerry said with a chuckle.  “I moved up to bicycles, then, when in high school, started working on old cars. I like things before 1915. Nowadays, I lift up the hood on a car and say, What is that? You can’t even see the ground.” Jerry says most things with a chuckle.Jerry Toews

When I asked him how he ended up being a band teacher he said, “I love music and I really don’t find it so different. I figure music out just like I do mechanical stuff; I’ll listen to the band and see what’s wrong, then I fix it.”

One Rear Wheel Tractor

One Rear Wheel Tractor

Jerry taught band for 30  years; 23 of which were in Goessel, Kansas. He says he’ll probably stay there since he has too much junk to move. But it’s not junk; not now anyway. Most of the things he restores came to him in pieces and parts and he’s put it back together again. One photographer asked another, “How does he ship these things back to here once he finds them?” The other responded, “In boxes, just like he found them.” Jerry turns one man’s junk into incredible treasures.

Antique Shed

Antique Shed

The Antique Shed 2

The Antique Shed 2

1915 Tractor - weighs 25,000 pounds!

1915 Tractor – weighs 25,000 pounds!

In addition, Jerry figured out a way to turn his passion into helping others. He repairs old cars and tractors for auctioning off at the annual Mennonite Relief Sale in Hutchinson, Kansas, each year. I especially admire people who turn their hobbies into a way to feed the hungry.

If you’d like to see some more great photos from the evening, here are some  taken by Alan Smith and others by  Jeff Heidel.

I wonder how many of Jerry’s students understand what a gem they had on their hands in this unassuming man whose photograph should in the dictionary beside the words curious and genius. 

Jerry’s fixed a lot of broken things through the years and I bet if you asked a few of his students, he fixed a few broken people along the way, too.


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