We’re in week one of my Get Your Scary S**t Done course with a group of wonderful brave souls, and someone emailed me a question about how to ask for feedback without being crushed by it. Which is astonishingly synchronistic because I just spent the weekend with my dear friend Michael Bungay Stanier. We do that every year because we’re in the same peer mastermind group and we all go on retreat together. Michael founded Box of Crayons, a highly successful corporate training company, and one of their courses is the Last Feedback Workshop You’ll Ever Need.
We were chatting by the pool about how I might ask for feedback on my memoir when it’s ready for readers later this summer and not get wrapped around the axle when people say “I don’t get this” or “I need more here.” Feedback is such a vital step in developing our work in the world but I’ve seen it crush too many people and stop them for good.
Michael and I decided to “roll camera” on our convo to help you – as you do your scary stuff in the world – learn and grow with less ouch. I think you’ll find it super useful + we’re good and goofy together.
And here’s a chance to practice what Michael taught about giving feedback because giving good feedback teaches you how to ask for what YOU need as well!
Below is a scene from my memoir-in-progress. It’s from chapter 8. It’s part of the action leading up when we leave Santa Barbara, where the scene is set, and move to the Pacific NorthWest where I plan to write fiction.
HERE’S MY REQUEST:
Read the following scene and then give me a smidge of this kind of feedback:
The first kind of feedback Michael mentioned – appreciation. Specifically, what did you enjoy about the piece?
And then, from the second kind, coaching: What is one thing you would like to know more about?
Please do this on Facebook under the post at the top of this page that says IT’S FEEDBACK TIME.
This is scary stuff for me so I hope you take the time to watch the video, read my piece, and comment here. But most of all? I hope it helps you ask for the feedback you need to thrive!
I’m riding in a vintage red Ford truck, circa late 1940’s. It’s been beautifully restored. The shiny paint and rounded fenders sparkle. I sit on the bench seat between two women. The mood is celebratory, bubbly. Our three bodies bounce in unison as the road dips and crests. We’re buoyancy itself. I don’t recognize the woman driving, but I immediately love her long gray braid and capable hands gripping the big steering wheel. She’s weathered and present like the grassland opening around me. Short grass prairie. I somehow know that’s what it’s called. On the other side of me sits Anna. She was one of my midwives and in the years since has become a close friend. An older sister. She grins at me, and I know something very good has happened. She nods in time with the bouncing of the truck. “You’re in liminal space. We’re so excited for you.” I grin back.
I woke up with a grin, like I’ve been set free or will be, very soon. Set free to find the next new thing. Set free from feeling oppressed by trying to be someone I’m not, by money worries, by being mad at C. I laid very still, savored the green promise of the dream. Liminal. It was one of my favorite words, picked up in my Jungian phase. A promising word: change is afoot! Midwife, wide open fields, liminal space. How clear could the dream be? I’m preparing to give birth. The Jungians I read, Marion Woodman, Helen Luke, Robert Johnson, they insisted you miss out on half your life if you don’t pay attention to your dreams. I’d tried to, many times. I’d buy a fancy journal or be given one by a friend. I’d place it by my bed. Once I even bought a flashlight pen. I’d dutifully do it for a week, even once for a few months, but it’d never stuck. I’d decided a few years ago that most dreams were my brain working stuff out, purging the gunk. The few dreams that felt important, those I would pay attention to. This one felt more than important. It felt like a clarion call.
I wriggled away from Lilly’s foot, poking the soft flesh of my hip. Upstairs in the kitchen, I put the kettle on. I still grinned. Why, I wondered, as I put the dishes in the drainer away, trying to be quiet so Lilly wouldn’t wake up, am I so excited about being in liminal space? I stopped, a measuring cup in one hand, a handful of clean silverware in the other. I could see my backyard through the kitchen window. It was a gloomy June morning and the three California oaks that lived at the back of the yard peered through the gray at me. I turned my head and took in the drift of Lilly’s books and toys across the living room rug, the sofa where my women’s group gathered every week, the oak table where we’ve had so many meals with my parents, our neighbors, our friends. It’s very comfortable, this life we’ve made. I was lucky. I jumped when the tea kettle whistled, set it aside without making tea.
I crept downstairs, threw on some clothes, scribbled a note. Gone for a walk. I shivered as the foggy air crept down my sweatshirt. I waved to Mrs. Smith next door, already out watering, her every gesture purposeful. Would I ever be that sure of anything? Maybe it was because she was Scottish. I cut through the silent school playground at the end our street, turned up Cold Springs Road, the fog dense with the smell of eucalyptus. Liminal meant new which also meant leaving. What did I want to leave? The first part was easy because it was too often top of my mind: to leave feeling like a poser and to not be a self-help expert anymore. I had no idea how both can exist in me at the same time, the pressure of having to know the answers and the gnawing feeling I’m about to be busted for being a fake. I didn’t feel like an imposter. Instead, it felt like I kept pushing myself to the left or right of where I wanted to be. Not drifting, pushing. That I would set out straight and true and end up somewhere a little different. With no idea where exactly I’d decided to veer.
That’s what I wanted to leave behind. That’s why the dream made me happy. It promised something different.
I panted as I climbed, turned left onto Mountain Drive, which was flat and crumbly. A mom I knew from Lilly’s preschool drove by, waved. I was grateful she didn’t stop. I didn’t want to chat, I wanted to figure this out. I was crabby now, the celebratory feeling faded to an irritation. I wished I had no interest in psychology or spirituality, that I was an engineer or a baker, someone who made tangible things. Maybe I should take up welding? Cupcakes? Why couldn’t the dream have been more specific? Liminal space is dangerous. Babies die in the birth canal.
I stopped where I always stopped, at a small turnout that looked out over three bowls of small valleys. On a clear day, I could see past them, all the way to the mesa and the ocean beyond but today, it looked like the whole world consisted of one cozy valley, bunches of olive and blue green foliage, a few half-hidden red tile roofs. I got that feeling I often did when up here or hiking anywhere along this line of mountains: was it really okay I got to live here? It was just so lovely. I kept waiting for someone to say “You don’t get to stay.”
The air was warmer above the fog line. I took off my sweatshirt, tied it around my waist. Maybe the dream was like the ones I had about C. every few months, the ones where he left me. Maybe the dream was pointing me not toward what I needed to leave, but how I needed to stay. I got that squirmy feeling in my gut that I wasn’t telling myself the whole truth but I ignored it.
I reached the Cold Springs trail head and scrambled up the rocky start of the trail. I remembered the last time I took Atticus here, how I had to lift his back legs and butt up and over this very set of rocks, how I wept as he struggled, understood he would never hike this trail ever again. I touched the rock on my way up the trail.