Monday Morning Insight: Those Who Mind and Those Who Matter

One of my newsletter readers suggested today’s quote to start the week,* an entry that is often attributed — wrongly, it would seem — to Theodor Geisel, a/k/a Dr. Seuss:

Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.

I like the sentiment, especially where unfair or unkind criticism is concerned, but I was unable to find out where this quote originated. Several sources credited U.S. financier Bernard Baruch with a version of the quote — which interested me, because my hometown is very near Baruch’s retreat at Hobcaw Barony on the South Carolina coast — but its earliest use in print appears to have been in a British engineering journal in 1938, and it seems to have been in use well before that.**

art critics realizing it's probably time to go

(Image: “art critics realizing it’s probably time to go,” by paolobarzman, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)


Nevertheless, the quote is a good reminder that the opinions of others are not created equal (so to speak). We are bound to encounter criticism, some of which will be valuable and some we can disregard, but this quote speaks to something beyond criticism of work we’ve done or art we’ve created.

At a deeper level, it speaks to the criticism we may receive not because of what we do but because of who we are: choices we make, things we believe, emotions we display. In those cases especially, when the critic seeks to injure rather than edify, to heap scorn on us rather than inform us or others, to point out imperfections they perceive rather than help us chip away at them, it is good to remember that those who mind what we do or who we are don’t really matter — and those who matter will accept us and our work and build us up rather than belittle us.

(I’m reminded of Teddy Roosevelt’s “man in the arena” quote — the one that begins, “It is not the critic who counts” — but we’ll save that for another day.)

Meanwhile, “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind” is a good quote to carry with us this week, to guard against any unwarranted criticism we will face. And I’m trying out a corollary: Don’t pay it any mind, unless you think the critic matters.

*If you like, sign up for my newsletter — it’s free! and it only shows up once or twice a month.
**The “Quote Investigator” site offers a run-down on its history, so far as they could discern it.

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Reviews, Good and … Less Good

My friends with more stories in print than I have many different perspectives on reviews. Some avoid anything that smacks of a review, others read every review and pay them greater or lesser amounts of heed, and some study the reviews — good or bad — to see what lessons they can learn from them to improve their craft.

I would like to take that final approach, but only time (and hopefully some future publications) will tell. But with that as an aim, at least, I’ve read a few reviews of “Therapeutic Mathematics and the Physics of Curve Balls,” my story in the September issue of Analog.

Most recently, Tangent Online‘s Sherry Decker posted a quite positive review:

Does Joey run after the scientist or return to the freak show and protect his only friends? It’s an agonizing choice.

This SF/F story takes place in the early 1940s, right about the time J. Robert Oppenheimer’s involvement in the Manhattan Project succeeded in changing the world forever. Who, other than Gray Rinehart ever imagined solving the final equation was due to the genius and youngest member of Fineas Ferguson’s Fabulous Freakshow on his one, lonely, stolen day?

Sensitive character creation, believable atmosphere, clever conclusion. Well done. I enjoyed it.

To balance the scale, the eminent Lois Tilton at Locus posted a neutral review a few weeks ago:

An interesting enough situation, but weak on resolution, offering one of those ambiguous endings that don’t quite tell us what the character has chosen and definitely not what will come of his choice. There are some rather tantalizing hints of WWII secrets, but nothing comes of them.

To some people that might come across as negative, but the fact that she thought the story situation was interesting and that I served up “tantalizing hints” of more is, to my way of thinking, pretty good.

Elsewhere on the web, SFRevu’s Sam Tomaino called the story “a nicely told tale with a good sense of the time in which it was taking place,” and British reviewer John Fairhurst said it was “a rather nice tale with the bleakness of Joey’s life in the show being counterpointed by flashbacks to his life with his father” and “eventually, an uplifting tale.”

All the reviews aren’t in, of course, and doubtless some readers will not have enjoyed the story at all. I’m pleased that anyone enjoyed it, but most especially that Dr. Schmidt enjoyed it enough to publish it!

This goes to show, I think, that every story is not for every reader. Still, I appreciate the work the reviewers do month in and month out — living deep in the slush pile as I do, I do NOT envy them their task — and I hope to use the comments, good or bad, to make my next stories even better.

And in the end I can always reflect on the fact that this issue had a FANTASTIC cover:

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