A Look At Positive Reinforcement

Commentator Andrei Codrescu describes getting praise for something he wrote from a bum on a street corner holding a sign saying "Will listen to poetry for free." Codrescu muses on the phrase "That's amazing!"

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MELISSA BLOCK, host: Now, a brief note of positivity from our commentator Andrei Codrescu. He's been toiling away at his craft and he has these thoughts on the need for reinforcement.

ANDREI CODRESCU: I like positive reinforcement. I like enthusiasm. I like to hear people say that's amazing. And if I didn't already know that what I did was amazing, I would certainly think that it's amazing when they say that. But many times people lie, not in order to be kind, but simply because they have no idea what you did is amazing or not. And they either have no time to think about it or don't want to.

Take writing for instance. You spend three feverish weeks perfecting a sonnet that breaks all the rules of the sonnet by being exactly 164 times longer than a sonnet. That's amazing all by itself without anyone reading it. It's amazing because you were the first one to make something like that - a 2,296-line poem that is really a sonnet times 164.

So, you can't wait to take your masterpiece to your best audience, which is this panhandler who stands at the intersection with a sign that says: will listen to poetry for money. And when you've done three hours of reading to him in a bar where you're buying him drinks and French fries, he says that's amazing. And you know that he's being sincere because his eyes glisten with satisfaction. He was Samuel Johnson in another life.

Positive reinforcement, get it wherever and whenever you can, especially if it's poetry you've been committing. But it works as well with woods, glass, metal, silk, drier lint and other art materials - whatever you do that isn't practical and can therefore be only amazing.

BLOCK: That's the amazing Andrei Codrescu. He is the author of the book "Whatever Gets You through the Night: A Story of Sheherezade and the Arabian Entertainments."

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