Develop a tough skin, but don’t forget to moisturize

 In Ned's Column

Writing moisturizer Earlier this year, I wrote a column titled, Tips to combat FDAD (Fruitcake Disposal Anxiety Disorder).

Admittedly, I picked on fruitcake a little.

OK, maybe a lot.

Here’s a sample…

…Recent studies show that mild depression after the holidays is not only common but, in many cases,  the result of FDAD — Fruitcake Disposal Anxiety Disorder. On one hand, your fruitcake was a gift and therefore deserving of some measure of appreciation.

On the other hand, it has already become a chew toy for the neighbor’s pit bull. This often leads to feelings of anxiety long after the holidays have ended, particularly when you see “Buster,” still intoxicated with rum, struggling to dislodge the sugar loaf from his tightly-clenched jaws.
So, as a service to our readers, we are offering the following self-help guide:
I’m OK—You’re OK. But Give Me a Fruitcake and I’ll Kill You…

Too strong?

Some people thought so.

Fine, a lot of people. In fact, in my 14 years as a columnist, I received more emails and letters (Yes, actual handwritten words on parchment and mailed) about this column than any other. In addition, I even had people send me fruitcake in an effort to change my mind.

Granted, some of it arrived through my office window, but there was no denying I had struck a nerve with a part of my readership that was potentially still intoxicated with rum.

Here’s an excerpt from one letter:

“Ned Hickson:
MILLIONS of people LOVE fruitcake to eat each year! We get sick of of the idiotic remarks made by [email protected]#HOLES like you! I wish you would just SHUT UP!”

The letter goes on, but you get the idea.

How did I respond?

I hung it on my wall, where it serves a daily reminder of how, as a humor columnist, I have an obligation to avoid Boca Raton, Fla.

Actually, Gaylesville, Ala., isn’t on my short list of vacation destinations either, thanks to an email I received regarding a column that ran last week, Called for jury duty? Don’t forget your tinfoil hat.
In it, I talked about how frivolous lawsuits are souring people on the judicial process and undermining the importance of jury duty.

The following excerpt apparently angered one Alabama woman to the point she hopes to be a jurist when I’m on trial. I’m currently checking to make sure I don’t have any warrents pending in Alabama…

…Admittedly, I once found myself driving down the road with an 800-degree onion ring searing my flesh. I had just left a Carl’s Jr. drive-through and, after maintaining my composure long enough to exit the parking lot, pounced on my combo meal like a hyena at a gazelle feed — laughing and eating, laughing and eating.
So, when I ripped into an enormous onion ring and felt the breading fall away into my lap, I had no one but myself to blame when my appetizer became a sizzling, onion-flavored chin strap that turned my frenzied laughing to screaming on I-5.
But I never once thought of calling a lawyer in an effort to seek damages against Carl’s Jr. and the onion growers of America for supplying me the means with which to be an idiot…

Here’s the response from Alabama:

“Regarding Ned Hickson’s column about jury duty, I wonder if he would think a lawsuit against him for seriously injuring or killing someone because he was eating and driving would be frivolous? The least of his problems would be a burned chin from a hot onion ring. I, for one, would LOVE to sit on that jury. He should be ashamed of his blatant disregard for others who have to share the road with him as he has his lunch.”

So why am I bringing this up? I mean, aside from gathering witnesses who can be called upon in the event of my disappearance?

One of the most rewarding things about being a writer is connecting with people. Even when it seems they’ve reached you from beyond a dead zone. Elated or enraged, it means a reader felt it was important enough to take time from their busy life (not counting inmates) to let you know how they feel about what you wrote.

Isn’t that what it’s all about?

The same goes for rejection letters from agents or publishing houses that include any type of hand-written comment or remark.

Even if it’s NOT positive.

Unless it says, “Your writing positively stinks!”

Then yeah, I’ve got nothing for you.

Sorry.

But assuming that’s not the case, while it’s important to build a thick skin as a writer, don’t let that defensive skin become hardened to the point you stop listening.

Or worse, stop appreciating.

Listening to and appreciating feedback — good or bad — can mean the difference between building a readership and losing one; building credibility among publishers or tearing it down; growing as a writer or becoming stagnant; playing dress-up when your wife is gone or finishing the next chapter.

You get the point.

I’d like to close with a comment sent on a postcard from Chattanooga, Tenn.

“Hey Mister: Yer humor has me laughfing [sic] way down in Cedar Bluff, Alabama. Drive truck for paycheck and drop off The Post all over S.E. states. Thanks for keepin’ me smiling.”
— ‘Stretch’

See? Alabama isn’t all bad.

Next week: Review of the upcoming Twilight series release of “Eclipsed Sunset.”

Ned Hickson
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