Vow Of Silence

There are days, even weeks where I wish I would not be called upon to comment on the goings on of life.

Take this week. A girl at work asked me if I would read some chapters of a novel she’s been working on. She is an editor for a living and I have seen her write some fantastic copy, press releases and so on, so I thought: Why not? Her fiction is sure to be good.

Except that it wasn’t. It was less than good. It was I-am-going-to- pluck- my- eyeballs-out-with-my-bare-hands less than good. There was no understanding of point of view. The tenses kept switching. There was a lot of use of cliche. It was very hard to read. It was even harder to find something good to say about it.

It is my dream to be a writer, she said before I gave my critique. I’ve been dreaming of it all my life.

Suddenly, I felt like a judge on one of those ubiquitous talent shows like American Idol or Britain’s Got Talent. I was going to be the nasty judge about to shatter someone’s lifelong dream. I couldn’t be Simon Cowell, I couldn’t just tell her straight, so I had to be Paula Abdul and hedge around. Then hedge around some more.

You have a really unique approach to writing fiction, I said. You certainly have a style all of your own.

I could see her getting excited. Her hands actually flew up to her mouth as if she was waiting for an important announcement. I realised I had to be a little more direct or I was going to dig a big hole for myself.

So I used the euphemism everyone who’s ever worked in publishing or media uses that gets the point across. Everyone from the tea lady to the CEO of the company knows what this euphemism means.

It’s very interesting, I said.

Interesting, the publishing industry’s euphemism for shit.

Her face fell.

What do you mean by that? she asked.

I just mean that it needs a little bit of work, I said. Another draft could iron out a lot of things.

It’s the 15th bloody draft, she said. Why don’t you just say it, you hate it?

She stormed off. Later she cancelled our lunch date via email.

I spent the afternoon sighing, angry with myself for breaking one of my cardinal rules – don’t read other people’s fiction unless you know they can write. Or at the very least handle criticism.

I’ve also had a problem lately with commenting on blogs. Sometimes I am sure my comments are misconstrued. I often agonise over comments for this reason, writing and re-writing them before pressing the little blue button.

About half of the blogs I read I comment on regularly. Sometimes I don’t comment if I’m running out of time or if I don’t agree with what the person has written. Sometimes I don’t comment because the person writes so well I just like to enjoy what they’ve written and leave it at that. When I do comment, I like to put a proper comment not just a That’s really nice and a link to my post.

What do you do when you leave a comment that you don’t necessarily regret but would like to modify? What if you go back and read it later and it sounds like you are having a go (albeit a subtle one) at the blog writer? What do you do if you really didn’t mean it to be interpreted like that? What do you do if other commenters seem to take exception to what you’ve written?

Sometimes I think I should just keep my mouse shut.

My final moment of miscommunication came yesterday. I was supposed to go walking in the morning with two friends but had to go to work early. I rang one friend but couldn’t get hold of the other so asked the first friend if she could make sure the second knew what was going on.

And boy, did she.

You know when you get an email thread going where you’re using the reply function on the same email over and over? Well, friend number one used this method to let friend number two know the walk was off. Except she used an email thread only she and I were privy to. An email that contained a comment from me about two other friends of friend number two.

Look, I’ll be honest. I don’t like these two other women. I have very little to do with them. I only mentioned them in the email because they had expressed interest in coming walking with us and I said I would rather cut off my own feet than go walking with them. I have my reasons for saying that. And they’re bloody good ones.

Anyhoo, as you might have expected, friend number two took offense to what I said about her other two homies and now the walks are off for good.

If you can’t be friends with them, you can’t be friends with me, she said.

Alrighty, then.

I think I’m going to take a vow of silence.

At least for a day or so.

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36 thoughts on “Vow Of Silence

  1. My Grandma always used to say: ‘If you can’t say owt good, say nowt’

    Doesn’t always work when you have a restaurant review to do, or a book to review; I sometimes have to revert to a weasel-out: ‘Some people may like it, but it’s not to my taste’ when I really mean ‘This is a pretentious, overpriced gin palace’

    One of my rules is, if you want a critique, don’t ask a friend; he’ll usually tell you what you want to hear … like my ‘painting period’. My mother and my aunt used to praise my work to the skies, otherwise I might have forsaken it for photography long before I did.

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  2. Yes, I do this too. I always think that if someone asks for my point of view (and I think if you post a blog then you are inviting people to leave a comment with their point of view) then I should be honest. And I am. Occasionally I will just say nothing (with a blog post maybe) but if I am asked directly eg do you think I look good in this dress? then I say. And it does not always win me friends.

    On blogs it is the one thing that makes me a little irritated sometimes – how people only want comments that agree with them. HOw dull is that? I actually want people to say if they disagree with me (in a polite constructive way because I hope I write in such a way) so if you disagree with me Selma, please do say, because I will NEVER take offence and will be pleased to hear your point of view.

    People who only pop up to be awkward or horrid are another (Trolls or whatever) are different but I would like to think in blogging that we have our regulars and that we should trust them to be honest and allow them to be so.

    I have deleted comments several times and I think, twice, I have asked people to remove them, just because I have phrased them badly or gone into a rant!!!

    Just be yourself. If others don’t like you then that is their loss. I think you are great.

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  3. TRAVELRAT:
    It’s true, isn’t it? Don’t lend your friends money or critique their novels.
    I haven’t been to a good restaurant for a while. Where was that overpriced gin palace? πŸ˜†

    RELUCS:
    I am with you 100%. We are actually very alike. I don’t mind if someone disagrees with me at all. But some people seem to mind if I disagree with them. Having an opposing opinion doesn’t mean you dislike that person or think less of them or whatever, it’s merely an opposing opinion. Take my mother, for example. If you disagree with her she may not talk to you for months. It needn’t even be a particularly heated disagreement.

    My major problem is that I often comment on blogs late at night, so I’m tired and then I read the comment later and think ‘Crap, I didn’t mean that.’

    You’re right about just being myself. That’s what we all should do. You also are a great person. XXXX

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  4. I have had a similar experience with emails at work when a confidential email fell into the wrong hands. It was very embarrassing.

    I also find it is easy for people to misunderstand one another when commenting on blogs. Sometimes things that are said tongue-in-cheek are taken seriously. And vice versa.

    I think it’s best to try and not worry about it. I am sure if the blogger in question had a problem with what you said then he or she would have said something. If they didn’t then it shouldn’t be a problem.

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  5. Sometimes just spending some time alone with our own thoughts is a good option! We can get so tied up in trying to keep others happy…the knots just go on and on. Deep breaths all round…
    x

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  6. One of my good friends asks me to edit his short stories. And I always give him the … “what do you want me to tell you if I think it’s total crap?” And even though I’ve been honest, (and I am not known for tact) I still find myself at a loss for words. It’s just tricky if you hate it, you know?

    Email is tricky… very tricky…

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  7. I do this a lot on FB. I’m a sarcastic person (although not mean, I don’t think) and this rarely translates well for me. I sometimes end up looking like an ass when I’m just trying to be funny. And then there are the people who seem to want to go on a public forum and say a bunch of crazy stuff and expect nobody to say anything to them about it.

    On the other hand, there have been a few times when folks comment on my blog (never you, my love) and my feelings have been hurt but only because the person commenting didn’t try to consider the entire situation OR my feelings. I try to be big about it and think, “Well, I DID put it out there.” But it still gets to me.

    Well, that was enlightening, wasn’t it?

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  8. >>Where was that overpriced gin palace? <<

    Closed down, I'm afraid! A local magazine sent their motoring correspondent to review it once, because their normal 'food lady' wasn't available. He wasn't impressed:

    'We got five starters, and no bloody main course!'

    Me, I got the impression that the chef was trying to impress the custmers, rather than feed them.

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  9. criticism is very hard to take sometimes but if you don’t want to hear the truth, then you shouldn’t ask for it

    but sometimes it’s nicer not to say anything, for me if I don’t like what I read, I don’t comment or I pick a bit that I do like

    as for the email, that friend should not have use the email thread, it’s not polite anyhow, no one wants to read a long thread of emails that they haven’t sent or recieved

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  10. funny about the word, interesting, I didn’t even know that’s what it means in the publishing/media industry, so what does it mean when people use it in comments on blogs? ’cause I get a lot of comments with that word and they don’t sound offensive to me…

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  11. Critiquing is so hard sometimes. “This isn’t my style of story” is one line I’ve used. “It is hard for me to give a good critique here because I’m not familiar with the genre.” Then, of course, everybody runs for cover because it’s messy when I get struck by lightning for lying through my teeth. I like my critiques honest, but not brutal. You did a good job with the one you mentioned here, I think I would have just cried and handed it back.

    Oh, I do understand the desire to edit comments made on other people’s blogs. I’ll read them, tweak them, scrap them and work on it in word, post it, and I’ll STILL read it over and think, “wow, that sounds rude/stupid/harsh/clueless.”

    I don’t always comment, although I will, on occasion, leave one of the “very nice piece” bits lying around because sometimes, that’s all the brain can muster at the moment. Not because the post is bad, but I’ve reached the end of my creative rope and those are the spare phrases I keep at the door of my brain and can grab on a moment’s notice. Sort of a “hi, I was here and read your blog” thing. Mom always said, “Never go to someone else’s house empty-handed.”

    Mom has never read a blog. ::sigh::

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  12. all i can say is it must be nice to have such a trouble free existence that you can get your panties in a wad over someone not liking one or two of your friends… let it go sel,, chances are she is more like the ones you don’t like than she is like you anyway….

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  13. Well, you know what they say. The world is full of ex-husbands who gave a truthful answer to the question ‘Does my bum look big in this?’

    Even if your partner’s bum would look big in anything but an Arab abaya … ALWAYS answer ‘No, of course not!’

    (If you value your marriage/life, that is :D)

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  14. “Sometimes I don’t comment because the person writes so well I just like to enjoy what they’ve written and leave it at that.”

    Yes.

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  15. I try to avoid doing face-to face critiques but when I can’t do so, I tell the person that I’ll take their work home, read it and get back to them. When I get back them I use the ‘sandwich’ method -‘i.e ‘negative comments sandwiched between positive comments.If there is nothing positive to say about the writing, I am as kind as gentle as I can be becuase I don’t want to crush anyone’s dreams, and I don’t like being nasty.
    But the thing of it is, you CAN’T crush someone’s dream to write if that’s what they truly want to do- if you can then he/she never truly wanted to write. Everybody and anybody who can write has suffered harsh, cruel, nasty criticism (sometimes YEARS of it) a lot of it being self-criticism. And this may even lead to the writer ‘giving up; writing for a time for weeks, months, perhaps, years-but someone who wants to write always returns to it. Notice how I say ‘wants to write’ rather than wants to be a writer.

    In the case of your colleague, I would have said, ‘You’re a professional editor, put away what you’ve written for a month or so and by that time you shoud be able to read as though it were written by somebody else.

    Lissa, the word ‘interesting’ isn’t always an insult because sometimes writing can truly be interesting. But, more often than not, ‘interesting’ is a lot like ‘nice’ – a non-commital, ‘fence-sitter’ of word that tells us nothing or hides what one truly wants to say- i.e ‘I don’t like thisor ‘I don’t understand this.

    Cheers, DavidM

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  16. if that girl couldn’t handle the truth about your opinion with respects to her writing, that is HER problem. You did her a favor by being honest.

    I would really HATE for someone to tell me a LIE about something I wrote. if I don’t know I am not doing a good job, and no one tells me, how can I get any better?

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  17. ANNA:
    Thanks for that. I am sorry to hear about the work email. That would have been awful. I agree with you about the commenting – if the blogger in question isn’t bothered why should anyone else be? Good point.

    RACHEL:
    I take the ‘I must be where people are not’ approach when feeling overloaded. It is good for clearing the head because really, it is almost impossible to keep everyone happy. Cheers, hon.

    NAT:
    It is so tricky and what most people don’t realise is that any stories we see in print have been edited painstakingly. Very rarely is a story perfect in its original format. I always try and overlook any technical issues when reading something and if the story is there I think ;’Yes.’ You can build and develop a good story no probs. But if the story isn’t there it is very hard.

    HEATHER:
    Sarcasm is hard to get in written form, isn’t it? You could never be mean, though.

    I guess we all take the risk in inviting criticism with whatever we happen to write about on our blogs. However, it is nice if criticism is well-considered rather than just a personal attack. Most people really are just trying to help, I think. You are always enlightening, m’dear!

    MAMA ZEN:
    It’s as hard as dealing with things like hearing about someone else’s sex life. I just don’t want to know! πŸ˜€

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  18. LISSA:
    Completely agree with you. I think on the blogs ‘interesting’ has a totally different meaning. It is actually a positive that means what it should mean.

    In publishing however, it can be a word many editors use to indicate a work that is really missing the point because it is too badly written to do anything with. The first editor I ever worked with used it quite meanly, even using it to refer to people. It’s a shame because interesting in its true sense suggests a depth and richness that is out of the ordinary. It captures our attention. I think that is what people mean when they use ‘interesting’ on your blog.

    KAREN:
    I think it’s important to be both positive and negative when presenting a critique. It is also important for the writer to remember that it is the rare writer who needs no editing and not too take it to heart too much. It’s all about making the work better. That said though, some editors can be downright nasty for no reason. There is no reason to be overly harsh when dealing with someone’s dream. Yet it is also important to be realistic. Years ago I couldn’t tell a friend of mine the truth about her ms and when it ended up not being published she blamed me. It is important to be honest without being cruel. Whew. I’m exhausted just thinking about it!

    PAISLEY:
    My sentiments exactly. It would be the rare person who liked absolutely everyone and vice versa. I have a close friend who not many other people like. He can be a bit abrasive but he is also very smart and very funny. A lot of people don’t understand why I like him. I guess we all see different things in different people. I love your point about ‘getting her panties in a wad.’ Good one! πŸ˜†

    TRAVELRAT:
    Thank God for you and your humour. That is priceless. Friends of mine had an argument recently over that very thing when he answered yes to the ‘Does my bum look in this?’ question. Ouch!

    JONAS:
    Absolutely. Happens all the time. Why mess with perfection?

    DAVID:
    Your comments are always spot on. Yes, Yes! That’s it. You have said it better than I ever could. ‘Interesting’ is definitely used in a non-commital sense.

    And you can’t crush someone’s dreams. If they really want to do it, it’s entirely up to them. They have to be like the Iron Chef if they lose or get bad feedback – shrug it off and get ready for the next battle. Thanks, David, you are the best!

    MELEAH:
    That’s what I think. It’s just a way of improving the work, isn’t it? It doesn’t mean you can’t write. Look at JK Rowling, she was rejected by every publisher in town and now she’s the richest woman in Britain. Good constructive criticism is a way of moving forward.

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  19. Please continue to be yourself. Those words of Shakespeare, “To thine own self be true” are vital to our core. Don’t suppress (your polite feelings) nor mold yourself out of who, you are: a unique, thoughtful, real woman whom I’ve respected and admired from the first time I landed here and read your blog cover to cover. I don’t butter up people in comments unless I mean what I say.

    Those walking friends were ultimately meant to “Walk on By.” (I think that’s a song from long ago.) Still, I think it’s extremely difficult for some of us to “let that/it go.” It also hurts to be alone, at least for me, especially when the circumstances feel so darn unfair. I like being alone, don’t get me wrong. It’s when a situation occurs that suddenly shoots a dart from seemingly out of nowhere into my caboose, so to speak, that grinds my grits, especially when I figure out what the other party’s reasoning was…and I disagree or am mortified.

    I know it is harder for me to do so when feelings are involved toward another person, like what you mention about comments on others’ blogs. I, too, am a nightowl and I also make many typos. I have found that the blogging friends who truly are internet friends understand or pop me an email, instead of instigating a flame war, as I think it’s called. I used to agonize over those comments or emails from people who didn’t “get it” (to me), but I’ve come to realize we are all different and I cannot lose sleep over that. I can’t be “Ms. Fix it” and make it all better. That is a quality that is inherent in my personality and it is draining. I have to retain being me, while still adhering to my inner moral drummer.

    The situation you describe at work hits home with me. In addition to friends, students, and colleagues, even bloggers have emailed me for advice for letters to sweethearts, their kids, publishing, school assignments(!!!) and that has resulted in some hard choices. Selma, my oh my, what am I going to do now that you gave away the “interesting” secret? (I am kidding you, because I agree that in blogland, the word “interesting” for a short comment is a positive conscious statement, noting my interest in the post, as opposed to the veiled non-committal kiss-off for material crossing our desks (or our inboxes.).

    (There were times in early blogging years when some people were far from what I thought he /she was and I decided not to respond and not to perpetuate the drama. That was before comments could be blocked.) Well, I should edit this long winded comment and disorganized comment, but I have to much living to do, so read it when you can’t fall asleep and maybe it will act as a soporific! *-*

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  20. Oh, and I used to beg for constructive criticism on my blog for my work. There was a time when I was involved with a group of writers in blogland who did just that. I learned so much! It’s a rarity, even moreso now. People do not want to risk sounding negative. It’s drilled into them and we all realize what isn’t said on our blogs could be either that the commenter is bored, despises it, is at a loss for word, loves it, or is too tired to type.

    As for me, sometimes I’ve emailed someone so as not to embarrass them on their blog and that’s with comments that were full of praise,too. Man, I would love it, if people were more honest on my blog. Then I’d truly learn more from them and have more insight into my writing, artwork, and photography.

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  21. Hi LYNNE,
    WOW. What a marvelous, heartfelt comment. I just wanted to say that nothing specific has happened to me on the blogs, it’s just that every now and then one of my comments will be slightly misunderstood. I think more than anything it’s the Aussie sense of humour. Often, we like to stir people up which some people take literally. And of course, it is often hard to get your meaning across in a brief comment.

    I haven’t had anyone be rude to me or tell me off or anything like that, it’s just that lately, I have become more aware of having to watch what I say. I guess I was just wondering if other people felt like that too. I’d like to think that usually my comments are fairly sensitive to the subject being discussed and I always take into account the personality of the writer and so on; but sometimes a slip up occurs. It is so great to hear what everyone else thinks and has experienced.

    And yes, constructive criticism is a wonderful thing; but there is definitely an art to being a sensitive critic. Thanks so much for your comment, Lynne. I really appreciate the feedback. XX

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  22. Gee Sel, if INTERESTING means “shit” I better find a way to delete my previous comment here, that I just wrote today. LOL….I didn’t mean it, NO SHIT!!!!!

    Anyhoo….what an interesting life you lead. It’s true, giving an opinion on anything is always a gamble. Sounds like she didn’t really want an opinion, only praise. And we all know, it doesn’t work that way. It’s your opinion and you are entitled to it. It certainly doesn’t sound like you were unkind in any way, that’s what really counts.

    The “walk” upset, well this brought high school to mind. I hope the week improves….

    Hugs, G

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  23. I’ve been misunderstood many times on blogs and in emails and mostly it’s been because people just don’t get my sense of humour. I found this to be especially true on non Aussie blogs so I’m going to blame it on my nationality….:)

    It’s ridiculous, but I have always felt guilty if I visit a blog and don’t say anything. I feel as though the blogger will think what they wrote was awful, that I took the “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” approach. I’m getting over that now and only comment when I really have something to say. Not that you’d know it by this comment πŸ™‚

    I hope your vow of silence keeps you out of trouble for a while Sel. Being silent has done wonders for my life.

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  24. I think you are in a funk and thinking way too much. You know why i love people’s comments? Because they make me think. They make me feel engaged. It is a barometer of my level of engagement with any one reading my blog.
    I could give a rat’s ass if you disagree…in fact, I welcome it because you are brilliant and talented and I WANT to be challenged….so fire away dearie.
    Looking forward to it.

    XXXOOO

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  25. Have had very many similar experiences. Am thinking of giving up commenting altogether. In the middle of a vow of silence at the moment, broken only to say I know how you feel.

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  26. GERALDINE:
    Life has shades of high school for me at the moment. I feel like I’m caught in a time warp. Maybe it’s a planetary alignment thing. I’m sure it’ll pass soon!

    ROMANY:
    Life is much simpler when I keep my mouth shut, especially when dealing with my family. And the Aussie sense of humour or perhaps sense of directness definitely comes into play here. Strewth. πŸ˜€

    THE HURRICANE:
    You know, I really have no cause to disagree with you because you and I think very alike. It’s no one in particular I just sometimes think to myself: ‘Should I say what I really think or take the safe route?’ i think it all stems from not wanting to upset people I genuinely like. But I will fire away if necessary!

    PAUL:
    It would be a sad day if you stopped commenting because you offer invaluable insights. However, I do understand. I appreciate you breaking your vow to comment here; but you know that’ll mean ten Hail Marys for you later, don’t you?

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  27. I know the feeling Sel. I’ve had many compliments and appreciative comments about my insights and advice from my clients when I ran a critique service – and I didn’t fudge the truth when someone was paying for an honest critique. But when I once emailed someone to point out an embarrassing factual error on her blog and offered her some advice on a piece she went so far as to block my IP from her blog for “insulting” her work! (No one known to anyone here). (And I’d emailed, tactfully, rather than commented, so that she could fix the error discretely.) It’s quite startling how some people can’t take even constructive advice meant to help them improve let alone any true honest criticism. This person actually said she “doesn’t make mistakes” and I was wrong for coming to her blog looking for errors.

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  28. DAOINE:
    That is truly alarming but I know exactly what you’re saying because I’ve experienced it myself. One of the writers I worked with years ago accused me of being stupid rather than listen to suggestions for improving her work. She ended up being dropped by the publisher because she took everything as a personal attack rather than as a way to improve. I think that making mistakes and learning from them and then improving is all part of life. How do people who cannot accept even positive criticism move forward? Some people. I mean, really! 😯

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  29. Hi TRAVELRAT, one of your earlier comments was banished to the spam file. I have no idea why.

    5 starters and no main course. Sounds like the ultimate in nouvelle cuisine – that is, you don’t actually get to eat. I blame Gordon Ramsay and the cooking shows. My butcher told me the other day someone actually asked him if he sold camel meat. He’d seen a recipe for it on one of those cooking shows. Apparently, tripe is also making a comeback. Can you believe it?

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  30. TRIPE?

    That’s one of the best excuses for vegetarianism I’ve ever come across!.

    Here’s an excerpt from a thread called ‘Letters we wanted to send, but didn’t’ in a forum I hang about in. It’s a reply to a (real!!) letter from a restaurant proprietor complaining about a review I did.

    ‘I am sorry my review did not meet with your approval, but my understanding was that I should write a review, not a paraphrase of your over-effusive brochure which, if you will permit me to say so, borders on a breach of the Trades Descriptions Act’

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  31. It’s always amazed how can some people completely lack self-awareness. Being an editor herself, your coworker must know deep down that she is not good.

    For what it’s worth, I like it when you comment on my blog. I always appreciate what you have to say.

    Sorry about the issue with your friend. I would be mad at the other friend for violating your trust.

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  32. TRAVELRAT:
    I know. Usually I don’t dry retch over anything but I tried tripe a few years back and it was beyond disgusting. Blech. The letters we wanted to send but didn’t is fantastic. Oh, I could contribute so many. Probably hundreds!

    INGRID:
    Likewise for me. I love it when you comment.

    I’m still a bit mad about that email thread, to be honest. It was a bit reckless of her. I mean, I could have said anything. It just shows you that you can’t ever be too careful!

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