In case you missed it while trapped in bed with a dozen exotic dancers and a gallon of coconut oil, here's the recap: Hagerty has been writing for her local paper in Grand Forks, North Dakota for 30 years, and recently crafted an earnest review of the town's new Olive Garden.
That sort of thing would ordinarily go unnoticed outside the small city of 55,000, but food snobs pounced and the review went viral. Some mocked, some defended, and Hagerty became an overnight celebrity with talk shows clamoring to interview her and people forwarding links with the feverish energy of rabbits mixing Viagra and crack.
The story charmed me for many reasons, not the least of which is this quote I saw in an article from ABC News:
"Yesterday morning the phone started ringing and messages started going up, and I had no clue what it was all about. These people were making fun of me…and then I thought, so what?" said Hagerty.
And with those final words, Marilyn Hagerty became my new hero.
Anyone who's written for public consumption – whether you're a novelist, a food critic, or the guy crafting descriptions for sex toy catalogs – knows what it's like to be hit with criticism. Though I try to avoid reading negative reviews of my books, they do pop up from time to time.
They always sting a lot more than I wish they did.
There's a fine balance every writer must strike, and it's the toughest thing in the world to do. On one hand, you desperately want people to love what you create. If you didn't care what others thought, you'd be scrawling your thoughts on pieces of kindling and lighting them on fire.
On the other hand, you can't let the feedback rule your life. Whether positive or negative, reader opinions are a subjective thing. If you allow them to dictate how you feel about yourself as a person or a writer, you lose your power. You lose part of yourself. You lose the thing that made you unique in the first place.
I'm considering having Marilyn Hagerty's words tattooed on my forearm. For that matter, they should be tattooed on the forehead of anyone who's ever been bullied, mocked, or beaten down by harsh criticism from others:
"...These people were making fun of me…and then I thought, so what?"
Say it with me all together.
And then let's lift a glass of cheap Chianti in honor of Marilyn Hagerty.