The Blogger Is Not the Blog

A few weeks ago, I got a hard-to-take evaluation. It was an art journaling course, and the evaluation said, “Quinn is fake. She is not authentic,  and I will never take a class from her again.” Hard to read. But every evaluation is important to me.

Mirror ball from

Mirror ball from

I separate evals (as I do opinions of me) into ones I recognize and ones that are not about me. Often, in classes, a lot of insecurity, competition and fear comes up for participants. Feelings of not understanding fast enough or perfectly enough.  The easiest thing to say to ourselves is, “the instructor is not giving me what I need.”  And sometimes that’s true. And sometimes the instructor is just the mirror for what the participants doesn’t like about herself and recognizes in the instructor.

How much of this evaluation is mine to own? How much to I need to adjust to make the class better for everyone?

A contributing factor:  the person who wrote the evaluation reads my blog. And that is always a danger. Blog readers create visions of what the writer is like. It is a vision they love (occasionally one they love to hate, but then they don’t take the course) and one they think is the “real” blogger.

Chicago Park reflection by Maria Chanourdie

Chicago Park reflection by Maria Chanourdie

Just like the movie is never as good as the book, a class is not as good as the blog.  Your imagination reading a book is much bigger than the reality the director can conjure from actors and special effects. So I am less than what people imagine. I can’t possibly be the calm, loving, generous person I try to embody when I write. At least not for more than 15 minutes at a time.

Here is what is true: I do not write about disagreements I have with friends or family, unless I talk about my own behavior and what I learned. When I do write about others (as I am writing about a class participant) no identifying details are included. But that does not mean I do not squabble with my spouse or disagree with my friends or disappoint my clients. Indeed, I do. But you won’t find drama details on my blog.

When I show a piece of art in progress, or a mess I made while in the studio, you can assume the rest of my life follows suit. I learn from making mistakes and fixing them.

There is a huge difference between being authentic and sharing every problem in my life. The difference is one of discretion and discernment–what I call emotional editing. The lessons show up, told in a way that makes the point approachable. There are blogs that build readership on drama, but this isn’t one of them.

When you see me in class, you get who I am–and that’s not going to be the blogger you imagined. You will see imperfection and mis-speaking. But you will get the absolute best I can be that day, speaking to you wherever you happen to be on that day. And if we can honor the creative force in each of us, we will both have a rich experience.

Come join me in Minneapolis on May 18 and 19 for Monsoon Papers and some explorations of your creative path in deep writing and mixed media. And then, come join me at the Madeline Island School of the Arts in July  (22-26) for a week of deep writing and creative awakening.

—Quinn McDonald thinks the difference between authentic and pleasing everyone is that “authentic” is being me, and pleasing everyone is impossible.




55 thoughts on “The Blogger Is Not the Blog

  1. It seems to me that the evaluation in question was not an evaluation; it was a snarky statement. Here is just one of many answers returned when I googled : “Judging teacher performance based on established criteria.” Quinn is fake? According to what established criteria is Quinn judged to be fake? Jeez. The stuff you have to put up with to earn a living, Quinn. Reminds me of the very last hour of my very last day at work…I led a book discussion, literally on my way out the door to my retirement. The evaluation forms remained in a pile; I had chosen to not give them out. Because I. Didn’t. Care. So as folks are leaving – and remember, once I walk out the door I’m no longer employed there – one of the regulars says, “Hey, you didn’t give out the evaluation forms.” Me: “I know, I don’t care.” Him: “You don’t care what we think?” Me: I am RETIRING RIGHT NOW. I DON’T CARE!!!” Hee hee. I never could stand that guy, anyway.

    • Woah–you must have shocked him into his next life! I do care, because often I don’t experience myself as others do, but sometimes there is nothing I can do and sometimes I do not choose to change something. (Lots of people think I ought to offer personal help after class to those who need it–for free.)

  2. The whole conversation is a bit ridiculous, frankly. Unless you expressed beliefs in class that contradict any beliefs you’ve expressed on your blog then how can you “be a fake”? Style and comportment are different matters from “authenticity” altogether. Not remotely related to the same categories as truthfulness and honesty about who you are. I am sometimes shy, sometimes outgoing. Sometimes eloquent, sometimes all but incomprehensible. It depends on whether I’m tired or frustrated or any number of simple things. I behave in many ways and all of those ways are who I am, truthfully. I do not recall you ever stating on your blog “I am not this way” nor ever “I do not ever do ‘that'” and so I think it unlikely she caught you straight out in ‘fakery’. Pish. Toss the evaluation.

    • I take all evaluations seriously. The ones I take most seriously have concrete examples and suggestions. But I remember, a long time ago, recognizing a characteristic I didn’t care for in myself in my teacher, and suddenly realized that it’s *why* we recognize those traits in others, and I wanted to run. And you know, people make up stuff to create ideals, and I fell short. I’m not going to quit the blog, though!

  3. Someone a long time ago told me that if everyone loves you are not being true to yourself. I am new to our blog, but I love your honesty and I applaud anyone who puts herself out there week after week. Don’t sweat the negative commentary, your wonderful energy led me to you.

    • Welcome to the blog where smart people show up to comment. And I love ’em for it. I wouldn’t know how to be anyone else except me, but I also keep working on becoming a better version of me.

  4. That’s so interesting. When I met you (after enjoying your blog) I found you initially a bit reserved, much more so than I’d imagined. As time went on, I thought you really opened up (as you felt comfortable in that setting). I wonder if you were in a setting where you didn’t really feel comfortable. What an odd, non-specific comment…regardless. Love you, Quinn.

    • I’m hugely shy, but I know I have to entertain people to get them to feel comfortable. A lot of my classes are really creativity coaching classes, and it’s hard to drop into that space fast. But you knew how and I loved you so much for it!

  5. Honestly, isn´t it a drag to know that about the “mirror for what the participants doesn’t like about herself and recognizes in the instructor.” thing? I want to be like most people and just blame it on the other but nooooooo … I have to start looking what is it in the other that I don´t like that is really what I don´t like in myself. *annoyed sigh*
    An American friend found me on a Brit message board and commented how much funnier I was there. Lately I noticed that I was quieter on FB as I had been accepting more friends. Now that I think of it, that´s why the unfriend option is there. 😉

  6. I develop my most witty comments after they are no longer needed. I’m also more eloquent when I have a handy backspace key! But seriously, you are the only Quinn that you can be, and a wonderful Quinn that is.

  7. I have so many reactions to this. The first, of course, is that I wasn’t there sharing the experience, so I’m projecting my own experiences onto the story and reacting to them.

    Most of us are different than the carefully edited essays which we display on a page. I find interacting with strangers in an unscripted social situation very difficult, for example, so I affect a personality to get through it. I suppose one could call that “fake”. My authentic self picks her nose and repairs to the kitchen after meals to lick her plate, so I try to keep her hidden away from decent people.

    I’ve had classes which didn’t hit the mark. Many, in fact. It’s generally more about my expectations than whether the class is good or poor.

    • oh! Tanya Brown! You made me laugh until tears came to my eyes! Maybe it’s because behind closed doors we are all more “authentic” than most people would want to know. But your candid comments just touched my funny bone!

    • Talking about projecting and reacting. I only read the first two lines in FB and came here with my shining armour. 😀 I´m happy to see Quinn standing solidly on her own two feet. Happy to find another plate licker too. 😉

    • Shall we form a plate-lickers anonymous chapter? We might have more company than I realized! Great blog entry and comments.

    • I’m married to a chef, so I know a few things about plate licking! I can’t be anyone else except me, but if I suddenly began to sing in a grammar class, for example, well, that would not be a good idea. I do my best to be friendly and entertain and be interesting. And that’s exactly me. And congratulations for re-triangulating your relationship with food. You are a great example to me.

  8. Wow, I am in utter shock reading this post today! The first time I met you, Quinn, was in a wonderful class you were teaching. First, I remember it being one of the most enjoyable classes I have ever taken. Second (and most important), I remember what a wonderful instructor you were…fun, engaging, and real. Thus the reason I wanted to know you better and I feel fortunate now to call you my friend.

    I understand that we all form perceptions of what we envision someone to look like, act like, or teach like but we have to look at the reality of the situation, NOT our expectation of it. We all have expectations but just because those expectations aren’t met doesn’t mean we don’t learn something valuable. I walk into every class with an open mind and heart. Even if I didn’t get out of it what I had anticipated, I never feel like it was a waste of time. I have been in classes where the instructors gave willy-nilly directions and didn’t explain things enough. I would have rather had a different approach and understanding but I still learned valuable lessons along the way. The very last thing I would do is give an evaluation that was a personal attack against the instructor.

    I’m sorry this happened to you, Quinn. I know you didn’t deserve this review and I’m sorry the participant couldn’t open his or her mind and truly experience how authentic and real you are.

    • Every review in my class gets considered. To those people who don’t leave concrete notes (You forgot the break, we should have voted about what time to have lunch) it’s hard to know how to change it. Sometimes there is no changing it. But I do think she had a pretty clear idea of who she thought I was going to be, and I was not. And Jenny is right, I am really shy and sometimes I take a running start to get going for the day.

  9. Your readers all make very good points. The evaluation you received calls you a fake and not authentic but like everybody here I believe you are the most authentic Quinn I’ve ever encountered. We can’t always be what we wish ourselves to be. We are who we are….;well…there it is….our authentic self! I have no illusions of who you are or are not when reading your blog. You sound like a reasonable person trying to share important events, life happenings and art.
    I once met Fred MacMurray, an old and famous movie star of the time. He actually walked through my register line at a tiny little grocery store. I recognized him immediately. He shared polite chit-chat with me while I rung up his purchases. That night when I told my husband, he was impressed and then I said “he wasn’t as tall as I thought he would be”.
    Maybe you just weren’t as tall as that evaluator thought you would be.

    • What a great story! Because of my name some business clients who have only spoken to the scheduler think I’m a man. When I introduce myself, they often say, “Uhhh, I thought you be, uhh, *taller*” I always know what they mean, and as I’m tall already, it’s a really funny story.

  10. You’re wise to understand that evaluations are as much about the person writing them, sometimes more. Students sometimes come to class predisappinted. My favorite eval was of all time: “This class was better than I thought it was.” Yeah, it was, you goober–and so was your class, I have no doubt : )

  11. Thank Goddess! I thought I was the only one who wrote differently than I am in everyday life. I’ve often thought, “If I could only be who I am when I’m writing then I would be who I want to be!” So thank you for sharing your lesson with us, and especially with me. Peace AND Prosperity, Kate

  12. I don’t know how old you are but your thoughts have been quite insightful so I assume you are not a “child” . . . which means you have a pretty good idea of who you are. That should provide you with some sort of basis for how much weight to give someone’s opinion.

    Since the time I was little (I’m 60), all different kinds of people would sometimes comment that I was moody. I didn’t think I was but by the time I was in my mid-20s, I realized too many different people were saying the same thing so it probably was true. It was much later I learned that what I considered “quiet” time came across as what most people consider “moody.”

    So know yourself, but also listen to others when you start hearing a chorus. There will be dissenters along the line, but if they are so far out of whack, then maybe they ARE out of whack.

    • Well said. I look at each evaluation as a block to use in building my teaching skills. Sometimes the blocks are out of whack, and I put them aside. Sometimes they fit just right, and I use them to hold up the walls. And yes, I have reached full maturity, as you would know if you could only see my neck!

  13. Interesting. I never thought of myself as being two different people but I now see that there is my “blogger” self and my “actual” self. Of course one is much messier than the other! LOL. I too never put much personal stuff on my blog. Some people do put it all out there but I am not one of them. So I too am fake I guess!
    Social media is a crap shoot. I once met someone who was “chatting” with me on Facebook and Twitter. We got along great online but when we met, well, let’s just say it didn’t turn out so well.

    • Social media is very much a crap shoot. And I think we are many people. A few posts ago, I said I was an anthology, not a short story, and it makes a difference on the whole. Maybe it is my age, maybe my personality, but I edit my writing before I publish, and I think it’s necessary–and important to my readers. My blog posts are long enough as they are!

  14. It’s not about you, but it might be real. There’s a way to be, in the world of blogs and tweets and texts and the rest, that doesn’t involve emotional editing. From that point of view, I think, there really isn’t a difference between being authentic and sharing all your problems.

    Some people are uncomfortable with the idea of being monitored, listened in on, surveilled, and “kept track of” by various organizations (Facebook, Google, DHS, etc) but some people are not bothered at all, and seem to feel fine about sharing much more. They even expect it, in some ways, and if it’s not forthcoming they interpret that as “inauthentic”.

    I’ve run into this effect in a very powerful way: designing mobile software. Designers from the “not bothered about privacy” school of thought are able to design social sharing in at the most fundamental levels of apps. I find it very difficult to do, possibly because the basic idea makes me uncomfortable. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence, but those software designers are much younger than I am, too! 🙂

    Researcher danah boyd knows a lot about this. And hoo boy, just wait for people currently in their teens to come of age…

    • There was an interesting story about crowd sourcing your personality on p. 12 of yesterday’s New York Times Style section (May 5, 2013) you might find interesting. On the same subject. My DNA, which is Germanic and French, tends to privacy, although that is not what I grew up in as a culture. I will forever be a stranger in my own country, and I’ve come to grips with that. But I still believe that we cannot be our “real selves” on a blog that is written. Even in a video blog, we are performing at some level.

  15. Yes Quinn. I know what you mean. My blogs are written, edited, reread, edited some more then finally posted. When I’m leading a class I often stumble over my words, stutter at times, speak too fast, laugh too loud and so on. I guess you could say my blog is a calmer version of me.

    • It’s the Photoshopped version! And we have all come to expect that–the skin smoothed version, the perfect loving teacher who has reached enlightenment. Not yet, at least not for me!

  16. Its always far too easy to imagine that we know you because we only see the one side that you choose to present to us, the polite personable side that we all put on when being agreeable in public. What a pity your student did not understand that, and had her preconceptions smashed. It was such a marvelous opportunity for her to learn that the real you is you, warts and all, and rise to the challenge of confronting that!
    It was such a waste of an opportunity!

  17. Thank you for sharing this. An evaluation is just an opinion and this one seems to me to be about the person not the course or content. It has no use what so ever, no suggestions of what would make the course better. It’s worthless.
    I have your book, love it. As i live in the UK i cant get to your courses. I wish you had some on-line courses as I’d be signing up.

    • Ahhh, the online courses. Yes, I am planning them, and I think I will have to jump in and learn as I go along. There are many choices on how to run them, and I must admit to some perfectionist tendencies–I don’t want to screw up online!

  18. I love you…
    and yes the blog is not the blogger… and you never can “pleased” everyone.. follow you own track that’s the only thing that is important… the “evaluation” authentic by herself….????… an evaluation is just an opinion from somebody… maybe jealousy ;-))
    greetings from the netherlands on a sunny monday morning..

    • Each evaluation can teach me something. Sometimes the lesson is, “it’s hard to teach and please everyone fully,” and sometimes the lesson is, “Oh, I’m slipping into *that* habit again–time to pay attention.” The authentic stab was off the mark, but when I figured out why, it made sense.

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