What It Takes

What It Takes

Did You Like It Or So Many Other Things’d It?

By Callie Oettinger | Published: April 4, 2014

I didn’t like Uwem Akpan’s Say You’re One of Them when I first read it, yet some five years later, his short stories still drift into my head.

They arrive with Sadness and Inspiration and, in their wake, leave me struggling with the reality of the fiction.

I didn’t like Uwem Akpan’s Say You’re One of Them when I first read it. Instead, I so many other things’d Uwem Akpan’s Say You’re One of Them when I first read it—and learned from it.

In 2006 I helped share the documentary The War Tapes.

After watching a screener I sent him, a long-retired veteran relayed his plans to share the film with others.

My reply?

I’m glad you like it.

Without pause, he said:

I didn’t say I liked it. We need to learn from it.

In the years that followed, like grew with Facebook, as a popular way to nod our heads toward a book, an article, a movie, a quote, a picture, and so on – thus making like a stand-in for hate, love, amazing, tragic, astonishing, silly, wonderful, moronic, intolerable, and numerous other descriptives.

With Facebook’s watering down of like and the comments of the veteran in mind, my response to “Did you like it?” today often arrives in two parts.

The first part addresses the craft.

I admire Uwem Aspan’s writing in Say You’re One of Them. Relentless. Honest. Well-crafted. Brave.

The second part addresses the story itself.

I fought an urge to throw up while reading the short stories within Uwem Aspan’s Say You’re One of Them. I didn’t like the stories, but I kept reading. I didn’t like what happened to the children. I didn’t like the Hell in which they lived, nor the people around them.

So did I like Uwem Akpan’s Say You’re One of Them? No.

I admired his writing. I was saddened by his stories. I was inspired and terrified by his characters. I learned about myself through my reaction to his stories, as well as the realities of others through his fiction. But . . . I didn’t like Uwem Akpan’s Say You’re One of Them. I everything else’d Uwem Akpan’s Say You’re One of Them.

Just as my answer to “Did you like it?” evolved, so did my approach to sharing. Gone are the days of wanting others to like a project I’m sharing. Whatever the project, fiction or nonfiction, the focus isn’t on getting others to like, but on getting them to learn.

I go back to the comment “I didn’t say I liked it. We need to learn from it.” It came with an open mind, a willingness to go beyond like. That open mind is what I try to maintain when I read and what I strive to reach when I share. It doesn’t have to like. I just do everything possible to keep it open to learn.

Posted in What It Takes

11 Responses to “Did You Like It Or So Many Other Things’d It?”

  1. April 4, 2014 at 6:51 am

    THIS. This is it for me lately. I’ve been through a lot and I’m coming out the other end. I resisted writing a post, any post, on my fledgling little blog for a month, because I felt it wasn’t going to be authentic if I wrote about what I was planning before my mom died. How can I just deliver the “useful” info. that my (few but growing number of) readers would come for, when something so important has changed, for me? Don’t they need to know? But who are they, how do I tell them? It’s so sad and hard.

    But Callie, by surrendering to my own best interests, I wrote my post: and I put aside that people might not “like” it. Because I knew we had something to learn from my mom. It’s the most read, the most commented on, ever for me, and more important, I feel so much better about getting back to work on what’s important to me. And sharing.

    • April 4, 2014 at 7:02 am

      Faith, your name says it all. You had faith in yourself. Writing about what matters most to you, whether people like it or not, is the only way to write. Bloggers are taught to be “useful”, but often forget that in an ocean of “useful” posts, raw emotion and authenticity always stand out. Callie’s right — not everyone will like it. But not everyone has to.

      • April 4, 2014 at 2:11 pm

        Thanks, Katie. Affirmation and validation at this point is such a welcome and wonderful thing. When I was younger I used to tell a lot of people, “Us working moms have to stick together.” Now I say, “Us writers have to stick together,” and “Us ’solopreneurs’ have to stick together,” a lot. We do.

  2. Mary Doyle
    April 4, 2014 at 6:58 am

    Thoughtful post Callie! I think a lot about being brave as a writer, but we need to be brave readers too and open ourselves up to “learning from” writing that take us on difficult journeys.

    • Mary Doyle
      April 4, 2014 at 7:00 am

      Oops for the typo – “writing that takes us on difficult journeys.”

  3. April 4, 2014 at 8:14 am

    Ah, adjective! They’d be the bane of our existence, were it not for adverbs.

    Narrative should make us uncomfortable. Or clueless. Or both. Even narrative (literature, art) we like. Or “like.”

    One of my favorite novels, one of the best in English, is Pride and Prejudice. Yet before we get to the end, I’m made very uncomfortable by and for the people/characters I care about most and, except for one, those who suffer or cause suffering.

    I think there’s a difference, though, between painful and uncomfortable. It may be a difference some writers (artists, moviemakers) don’t know or forget. The repulsive is not cathartic, though empathy for the traumatic may be. (I should quote myself on that.:)

    We go into an experience from which we will learn clueless. If not, we don’t learn.

    Thanks for provoking thought – in a way I uncomfortably like. Or like uncomfortably.

  4. April 4, 2014 at 9:41 am

    Hey Callie,

    I like this!

    It also reminds me of something I don’t like. Those little “click to tweet” suggestions some bloggers use.

    They’re distracting. They’re the online equivalent of interrupting a romantic dinner to say, “How am I doing? Are you having a good time? Do you want to tell anyone about that? Now, where were we?”

    But they’re apparently effective — given how widespread the practice is — so what do I know?

    Maureen

  5. Pamela Seley
    April 4, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    Haven’t read “Say You’re One of Them,” but one book in particular I’ve read (there’s been a few that have had the same impact) is similar to your experience, “Naked Lunch,” by William Burroughs. Wanting to hurl through most of it, I could barely get through it. Did I like it? I can’t say I “liked” it but something kept me reading. Was it the writing, or the fact I knew that Burroughs had been passionate about finding a cure for heroin addiction? I won’t go on with other book examples, but I agree with your assertion facebook’s “like” is watered down. It may be a symptom of political correctness gone over the top. Because someone reads and finishes a particular book doesn’t mean they agree with it, or even like it, but worthy of appreciation nonetheless. A standard social media response might be like “don’t judge me, bro” for recommending a work of art, a book that you find the subject matter objectionable. Unfortunately people do this, and continue to, so I’m reluctant to recommend most anything to anyone, unless I don’t care what the response is, or I know they are a thoughtful, mature person, able to appreciate a book and put in to context content that is repulsive or disturbing and don’t have to “like” it in the facebook sense of like and then “unfriend” me on facebook. Maybe facebook could add an “other things’d” button? Although I’m thinking that might confuse most people.

  6. Carol. C. Bonneville
    April 4, 2014 at 4:04 pm

    Absolutely spot on for me as a fledgling writer when you say;
    “Gone are the days of wanting others to like a project I’m sharing. Whatever the project, fiction or nonfiction, the focus isn’t on getting others to like, but on getting them to learn.”

    The dichotomy for me as a writer is my passion for bringing awareness to the damaging effects of family violence and yes, trying to stop it, and writing a (children’s ) story where the main character is a child living in such a family. How does one write a book that people will read the whole way through, when it deals with the traumatic effects of living in such a family? People want to turn away, so how can they like it?. Will it stop me trying? no it won’t, it just means somehow, someway I need to find a voice in the storytelling that people will want to hear, it means that I need to be inventive, it means that I might fail, but it means that I will try and give a voice to the children who sit in silence. Only we as the adults in society have the ability to turn away, we can put the book down, the children who live in these families can’t. It doesn’t matter whether we “like’ something or not, it’s actually irrelevant, what really matters is what we do once we have ‘learned.’

  7. April 5, 2014 at 12:49 am

    Just like it is increasingly becoming difficult to experience something without having a blog post ib mind, it has become difficult to read an fb post without the like/dislike context hovering over the head :-)

  8. April 5, 2014 at 7:07 am

    That’s ridiculous. It’s just splitting hairs. If it made you feel and you think it’s important and you’d recommend it you liked it. Period.