This piece was a meditation and play on feedback, particularly when we send creative writing out into the world. For many of us, myself included, having your work workshopped feels like being locked in the stocks while everyone bombards you with rotten tomatoes. I’m exaggerating a bit, but we are sensitive when it comes to our work. And sometimes we are insensitive when talking about someone else’s work. We may think: Well, I’ve had to take it, so should everyone else. Some proudly wear their workshop scars as badges of endurance or see the process as part of “paying one’s dues.”
The idea of “paying one’s dues” prioritizes a type of ruthless criticism. Indeed, one of the driving questions of the piece explores whether kindness is always beneficial to a writer. Are we kind because it’s easier than speaking difficult truths? Or are we trying to earn enough goodwill for when it’s our turn to get workshopped?
In “Instructor Feedback,” I wanted to imitate and explore criticism as an art piece itself—to judge the judgment. The voice in this piece is familiar—we’ve all been given work to review that we don’t like or isn’t fulfilling its potential. We’ve also received feedback that feels harsher than necessary. When the notes are so biting, can we work past our sensitivities?
I wanted to borrow the ethos of the “end note.” In my MFA creative writing program the end note was a one-page letter of feedback. In the letter, the instructor would let the author know whether the work was successful or not, and what areas needed improvement. Through the conceit of the end note, I wanted to explore an instructor-artist relationship where only one voice was present. However, the artist’s existence is still apparent via the particular choices and mistakes that are being discussed, like the incorrect proportions on the hands and lack of texture. The end note itself also became a fun exercise in using a borrowed form to explore criticism.
Is criticism always in service of the truth? I wanted to explore whether truth could exist independent of delivery and tone. The narrator in this piece pushes the bounds of honest, useful feedback. Will the artist be able to grow from the feedback? Or will it be far too demoralizing to be helpful? I used to think if someone in a workshop said something negative or disparaging about my work that it meant I could immediately write them off. But then I met a mentor who told me, “Take whatever will service the work. Prioritize the work over your own ego.” Good art asks more questions than it answers, so at the end of the piece I’m left asking: can you have an ego and grow as an artist?
MADARI PENDÁS is a Latin-American writer, translator, and painter. She is the author of Crossing the Hyphen (Tolsun Books, 2022). Her work has appeared in PANK Magazine, Sinister Wisdom, and more. Pendás has received awards from the Academy of American Poets and Florida International University, as well as two Pushcart nominations.