The Writing Life: What Foraging Has Taught Me About Handling Reviews

Baby Morchella esculenta can only be found every spring, in the wild

Baby Morchella esculenta can only be found every spring, in the wild

Ah, reviews. I’m no expert on this by any means, but because I’ve worn so many hats through the years as a working writer and performing artist (slam poetry anyone?), where I’ve gotten rave as well as negative reviews, been both buoyed as well as taken to task by online readers, as well as toiled in relative obscurity, I think I know a tiny bit about the rush, pain, and elation of criticism.

Firstly, every writer and artist I know wants the world to acknowledge, understand, and admire their work. I think of Sally Fields clutching that Oscar, saying, “You like me. You really, really like me.”

But reviews and criticism are a little like dating. Not everyone is going to like you, just as you’re not going to like everyone you meet. Hoping that everyone will, while normal from a personal standpoint, is unrealistic. It also allows your locus of control to be given up to complete strangers, when it could be resting comfortably within your own skin.

When I was foraging in earnest and searching for love, I was in my mid-late 30s and trying hard not to feel desperate and what my amazing writer friend Sara Eckel likens to feeling like a house that’s been on the market for too long. Being immersed in nature taught me to keep my eyes open to what’s there vs. what I desperately hoped would be, as well as taught me that everything has its own optimal environment and timing. Even myself.

Practicing non-attachment in love helped me, as I navigated my path as a woman who wanted a partner and a family. Along the way, there were edible weeds and mushrooms to sustain me, like motherwort, which calmed my nerves, nutritious dandelion and lamb’s quarters, and wild morels which I whipped up into tasty dishes to the delight of my friends and family. These days, my husband and I forage together as a family, and often it’s our kid who’s the first to discover the very thing we’re looking for.

I won’t lie—I rushed to read the first reviews of myself as a young professor on that rating site that I won’t reference by name here, and as a performer, I was often crushed if I didn’t get a mention (any kind of mention) in a dance review. When my book first appeared on GoodReads, I obsessively checked the readers’ reviews, tallying up how many stars, alternately feeling elated by a positive review, crushed by a bad one. The feelings come and go.

I try not to read the reviews these days, although I hope they’ll be positive—especially the initial ones which set the tone for the rest.

Of course, today the NY Times Book Review comes out, and I can’t help but hope there’s something in there about Eating Wildly. But, even that desire is ultimately ephemeral.

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