Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
My god-granddaughter is a very gifted writer. She’s won awards in
contests, and, at age 11 is the youngest person ever accepted into a
summer program for aspiring writers. The tuition is steep so we came
up with a fund-raising idea. We bound a chapbook with twenty of her
poems, sent it to thirty of my friends and family, and hoped. We
included self-addressed reply envelopes for people to contribute, and
included a cover letter explaining her goals, the opportunity, etc.
Today in the mail she got a very, very nasty anonymous reply from
someone using one of my envelopes. It chastised her for being selfish
and self-indulgent, said she was a bad writer, and that it was rude to
ask others to fund her training. I cannot believe someone I know
would write this to an 11-year old. I think I know who did it (the
drunken wife of a colleague), but how can I be sure?
Unless the person confesses you may never know. Start by telling the
story to people you are virtually certain are not the anonymous critic.
Ask if they had time to read the poetry and what they thought. Preface
with, I don’t care if you gave money, I’m just curious what you think
of her writing. Once you feel they’re innocent, tell the story. Then
widen the circle. Implicitly you’re crossing folks off your list until
there’s a small group of maybes.
Ultimately I think your gut is going to tell you the answer, as imprecise
a solution as that is, and as bad a model of jurisprudence as it may
sound. But the truth is the minute someone sounds a false note, your
tone with them will change. You may even break calm demeanor and
ask outright, Did you send her a note? Try to stop there. If necessary,
you can ask the colleague outright, Did you reply? His/her answer may
tell you a lot. Once you do feel certain, I suspect you’ll not be as
enthused about spending time with them. Comfort your grand-daughter
that there will always be critics in her chosen profession, as
well as jerks. Be true to her self and her art; all else passes.