You are allowed to be proud of your work
I can't make a generalization but pride is an issue in Romania, especially considering the orthodox religion. There is this paradox. On the one hand people (some of them) are told and believe themselves to be humble when they go to church, sometimes even this is for appearances sake . But, pride makes itself felt, most of the time in a bad way (in my opinion), regarding material possessions. I know people that made quite a few financial sacrifices (less use of electricity, food restrictions etc) in order to have some elements of celebrities houses that are displayed on TV.
Also, there is this saying "După râs vine plâns/După râs vine și plânsul" (after laughter comes crying) that was repeated at least in the Moldavian side from earlier years. So, you can't laugh with your whole being, so to speak, because someone is there to remind you that the good mood won't last. I put it on the Balkan legacy - smiling on the street isn't seen as a good think :)
I always enjoy your TLS column, Irina, so it’s great to discover your writing here too. Love your ‘writing as baby’ analogy. My own Substack is still at the newborn stage - but like a baby it’s constantly getting more fun to engage with!
This reminds me of a couplet in an Avett Brothers song called "The Perfect Space": "I wanna have pride like my mother has, but not like the kind in the Bible that turns you bad." Something about that bifurcation of the word "pride" doesn't quite sit right with me, but can never put my finger on precisely why.
First, it’s always wonderful to see your writing. Not only does it make me think, but I also just enjoy your prose.
Personally I understand the wariness about pride, but as with most words it depends on what someone means by it. I wouldn’t call what I’m seeking “pride”; I’m after satisfaction. I seek the sense that I’ve created something meaningful to me. And I feel satisfied with what I’ve accomplished. It’s the sensation of completing a good run (no matter how fast or slow), or the way I feel when I do tai chi (which I’ve done on and off more than 35 years now). What gives me the most pleasure is joy in the thing itself, is the quality--to me--of the doing.
I think a big thing that makes this, for me, different from pride is that I can still feel good in the present about this I did in the past but could do with more polish now. That is, I don’t hate my previous writing; I’m still satisfied that I did it.
So I’m satisfied when I run though I’m certain I’ll never be as fast as I was. And my tai chi makes me wonderful even though I’m pretty sure I’ll never master it.
That said, I don’t begrudge others a sense of pride for what they’ve accomplished. I only don’t see it as the thing I’m after. It used to be, but I’m more content with myself when I let it go.
“ I’m not sure the attitude of mandatory self-abasement is that helpful.”
When we are confronting really brilliant literature, and we know that our own work will not be as good, we should not respond with self abasement. Because a person cannot be one of the all-time great‘s in a field that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t do their best and participate in the field anyway. If you have the capability to do it at all, and do you want to, and you can, why not do it? I have my literary heroes, and I know that the work I am currently moving forward, however slowly, will never match the best of what my literary heroes produced. But I’d rather be a minor member of that group, even a member of the group known only to myself, than not be in it at all. And I don’t think I do them or myself any service by not doing the best that I am capable of doing, however far it falls short of greatness. We should be inspired by our heroes, not intimidated by them and certainly not scared off entirely.
Irina, when your latest came into my inbox, I realized I've missed hearing from your keyboard/pen/voice. I love how you began in that one visual moment of a tai-chi pose and the allusion to a proud rooster and moved across German, Romanian, Canadian and of course 'American' conceptions of pride. My own first thought was about collectivistic vs individualistic cultures and wondering that I'd have never considered Germany as a collectivistic culture (from the India/Asia lens) but certainly the German settlers of the Ohio river valley even today are far more collectivistic when compared to the 'American' individualistic mean!
Interestingly in Sanskrit or my own native Tamil, pride has a range of words that imply everything from arrogant (undesirable) to that of a parent (natural) and everything in between. Depending on our own individual journeys, and the people who've inhabited I find layers of meaning or insinuations have been laid on that single English word pride - so when any two people use it, it may not even be the same word they are using! Thank you as ever for brightening my morning!
I'm one who is wary of pride...so I can't agree with everything you suggest here. But this was well written and I think you make some great points. Loved reading this :)
I do have moments in my own writing where I feel that something is finished. I might not feel that it is perfect, but I feel that it captured the moment I was trying to capture. I love going back and re-reading my work. It helps me learn and grow, plus I'm able to let go in a way. Free space within myself. Thanks again for sharing your take. Can't wait to read more <3
Such a clear and welcome message here. Thanks for sharing it. I think the meaning of pride often shifts relative to power structures. At least in the U.S., I more often see unabashed pride among groups that have been historically marginalized (such as the Pride March). It is more difficult to celebrate anything conventionally white or masculine in that way. But I am proud of who I am as a father, and I typically don't put writing out into the world that I'll later regret. I appreciate your ownership of that pride at the end (it's quite the opposite of the school that encourages messy first drafts).
The puzzlement that propels your essay at the beginning is something I've always felt about Buddhism. There are aspects of that tradition that appeal to me, but the core tenet that desire is the source of all suffering has always baffled me. Perhaps I have a faulty grasp of nirvana, but it often seems more like ceasing to be than it does like being or becoming. It's possible to have high standards for oneself and to take satisfaction in accomplishment without veering into arrogance. Thanks again for these reminders!
Thank you for this piece. I remember a professor in grad school telling us that we would look back on our early work in the program and cringe. Of course, he was projecting. He was also right. And yet those early writings were the foundation of later work. Even though I look at work from decades ago and roll my eyes, I also hear my voice, though it was much sharper and less skilled in expression. I’m proud of what I did, even if I see all the many flaws. I couldn’t have produced anything different at the time; it was what I knew as the person I was.
As I tell friends and colleagues, I’m proud of the work I’ve done, as a whole. Parts of it I wish not to look at again, but overall I look at it with satisfaction.
I still tell students a version of that professor’s advice, but add that they should understand it to mean that they will produce work that they should enjoy and share. And they will also become more skilled with practice, and as they learn more. They should embrace their voices.
Loved reading this. Won't bother you with my really bad haikus though. 🤲🏾🤲🏾