Everyone’s A Critic

You know how some people say they want criticism because it will make them better writers or artists or people? I think I have said it about writing.  I also think I don’t mean it, even though I suspect I need it.

One of my favorite things that Ann Patchett said in her how-to-write novella The Getaway Car is that one of her teachers told her early on that she was talented but shallow.  It seemed to make quite an impression on her, and she took that criticism and let it inform her writing.  The result?  She’s a stunning novelist, and she ain’t shallow.

I face, then, a dilemma.  I hate to be criticized because it feels like it will KILL me (thanks, alcoholism, for that fun legacy), which is ironic, because I tend to assume all the time that I am being criticized.  Or I am about to be criticized.  Or I should be criticized.   And if the good people in my life are too slow or unobservant to criticize me, then believe me, I will do it myself.  Why outsource when I am such a good self-critic?

The problem is that self-criticism is like masturbating alone in hopes of making a baby.  It doesn’t produce a baby and it usually inhibits me from sharing with Jeff, which is the only way to make a baby. (I just realized that this sounds like I masturbate a lot to avoid Jeff and making babies.  I don’t.  I mean, it’s none of your business if I do, and it’s not that kind of blog, so forget I mentioned masturbation all.  I refuse to strike this paragraph, though, because the analogy is perfect.) (Hi, Grandma, this is just an analogy.)

Ask Jeff how fun it is to offer me any feedback at all, about absolutely anything.  He will roll his eyes and tell you how futile it is because I can’t hear human language without thinking it’s somehow criticism of me.  Now that I think about it, Jeff doesn’t have to talk at all.  If he empties the dishwasher, he’s trying to let me know he thinks I am lazy for not doing it.  If he takes the kids to the park while I sleep in, of course he’s communicating that he thinks I am a horrible mother.  If he doesn’t agree with me, then naturally he’s really trying to say that he thinks I am stupid and regrets procreating with me.  Right?

Can’t you hear the criticism here:

Me: Did you know Barney Frank’s husband is 30 years his junior?

Jeff: No.

Me: Why do you hate me?

Jeff: Wait. I thought we were talking about Senator Frank’s new husband?

Me: Fine.  If you want to change the subject.  Why can’t you admit you hate me and everything I stand for?  Is it my father issues?  You hate me because I have father issues like Senator Frank’s husband?

Jeff: Um.

* * *

And that’s the magic of my brain.  I need feedback, but when I get it, I have a huge Girl Interrupted drama about it and cycle through about 10 waves of shame that are best handled by professional 911 operators. I know I can’t have a career in writing if I can’t take criticism.  It also might be nice for my marriage to be able to have a conversation without flipping the fuck out just because Jeff asks me what the plan for the day is.

Do you take criticism well? Do you hear it everywhere even if no one is criticizing you? What’s the most helpful criticism you ever received?

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28 thoughts on “Everyone’s A Critic

  1. Boy do I hate criticism. I went to therapy because i was immobilized by all the imagined criticism I got. My husband was tired of my rantings of the “looks, those people were giving me.” I did have helpful criticism once, my endocrinologist told me I was fat. So I lost weight. I hated it at the time, but it was a turning point. But he could have said it nicer :)

    • Omg. That’s one of the criticisms I fear. Along with my breath stinks, I slouch, I am a bad friend/mom/writer/person. Good for you for making that lemonade!!!

  2. OMG! Are you me? Am I you? I spent most of last weekend pissed off becaus I thought my husband was overly critical of all my work, was bossing me around and generally thinking I was a failure as a person/wife/mother. Then he had the nerve to tell me I was thin-skinned and not everything he said was a direct criticism of me. And I threw out a pair of shoes and a top because I thought his comments were also critical of my wardrobe. Can I get your therapist’s number? I think you mentioned that you fund his vacation…I am thinking he may need an addition to his house, too.

  3. I say I want it, but I pisses me off,,,,
    But I do head and learn from it… I sometimes even make big changes- I just don’t admit it,
    Love,Love your blog,

  4. Ok, but seriously – how do we allow criticism in our lives (I suspect I need it too)? We are talking about our writing here – our babies. I don’t know how to handle that. I wrote my screenplay and gave it to one person – an amazing writer. After I hated him for saying horrible untrue things about my work, I slowly realized he was right. And then I was finished. I’ve never touched it again.

    • Right. That’s my fear. Someone will give me a key but I will be too busy being hurt and thin skinned to see how I could use it for our good. I was hoping to get some from yeah write but I like how supportive (read nice) everyone is. Wouldn’t mind some constructive feedback– even if I kill the messenger. I can write in prison.

      • Not only can we write in prison, but we wouldn’t have to make cupcakes for parties either. And I might get more than an hour of sleep at a time. Oh, sometimes the idea of prison really appeals to me. Except that I know I would end up as Big Bertha’s (she’s my imagined cellmate) bitch. But besides that it sounds cool. What were we talking about again?

  5. My God, I felt like I was reading my story. I’m not even sure what is worse… real criticism or all the imagined criticism in my head! “That woman I asked for a letter of recommendation pretty much just pasted what I sent her.. she doesn’t really think i’m that good and is afraid to tell me.” You know.

  6. That dishwasher comment was straight out of my head. How do you do that? You must be pretty damned good at something, even if it is sort of freaking me out!
    I keep notes or other symbols of approval from people I respect, and then when I’m feeling unduly persecuted, I pull them out to remind me I’m not a total waste of skin and DNA. Whether I consider the criticism or not depends on: time lapse since it occurred, how meanly/nicely it was offered, my feelings about the person who so freely offered it, and occasionally niggles of conscience. I can’t tell you objectively whether that has been working for me or not.

    • I would have a perfect marriage if we didn’t have a kitchen. That’s where all the BS happens. It’s so painful. All our biggest fights happened about dishes and I was usually wrong about perceived criticism.

      I want to be more open and secure in the face of criticism. Therapist says its really always love but I can’t always get there.

  7. It only took me 16 years of marriage to figure out Frank doesn’t hate me every time he runs the vacuum cleaner – or if he does, it’s none of my business. Still, a little bit of “you are thinking I’m lazy and don’t do my share of housework” usually creeps into my brain. I try my best to ignore it or embrace it: Damn straight you’re neater than I am, and you’re lucky to have all the joyful mess I bring around you.

    • Oh, I love it! “Damn straight I have better things to do than load this dishwasher….like Tweet out what I ate for dinner or check blogs about BlogHer. I am biz-eee.” Hilarious. I still am convinced that he does the dishes to display his hatred for me, but we’ve only been married 3 years so I have time to recover from all of this.

  8. Are you criticizing me? Because this feels like it’s directed right at me. I’ve embraced my talent of being insecure and self-absorbed at the same time. It’s one of my quirks that keeps my husband on his toes. I almost peer my pants laughing while reading this!

  9. Nope. Not me. I somehow missed out on this trait you mortals struggle with. I hear every comment and see every action as love and support. Except for this post, which I’m convinced is directed at me. I’m amazed at how very wrong I can be when I try to interpret what people say to me. I even read between the lines on the supportive comments I get. Sad. And quite an untapped talent. I think we could develop a fun app (or 900 number) for this: input what the other person said/didn’t say/did and the app changes it into here’s what I heard/what my head told me. Now I need sleep (and yes, that is a direct criticism of you). :-)

  10. As far as writing’s concerned, it’s not that you try to become immune to criticism. It’s more about training yourself to get back up after criticism has knocked you down. (I’d use the phrase “bitch slapped” but I got criticized for that in a recent blog post.) It’s also about getting to a place where you believe in yourself and your writing … then it doesn’t hurt quite that bad. Yet, it will always hurt, in one way, shape or form.

  11. I have a love-hate relationship with criticism. But, you can’t really have a love-love relationship with criticism. If you loved all criticism, you would never filter any of it. If you never filtered any of it, you would be frozen with the fear of a wrong move. No one can live that way. Being female, in this regard, is a Texas-sized thorn in the backside. Critics are everywhere judging your looks, style, personality, intelligence, parenting, etc. If you work out of the home, there’s someone to judge you. If you stay at home, there’s someone to judge you for that, too. And God forbid little Johnny doesn’t turn out right, because, Mama, it’s your fault if he doesn’t.

    As the survivor of abuse, and a mother, and someone who likes to write, I’ve got inner critics capable of escoriating the Devil’s own thick hide. In other words, I completely understand where you’re coming from and I’m trying to adopt a stance of, “Well, that’s your opinion, and I will take it into consideration after a review of the matter. Thankssoverymuchhaveanicedaydon’tforgettocallagain, bai.”

    • Hilarious and so true. Who has love-love with criticism? Not me! It makes me, as a mom, less critical of others because Outlaw Mama is far from perfect. Oh. So. Far.

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