This week we had the surreal experience of seeing our family— on tv! for the first time! for two whole minutes! It was very thrilling.
Let’s be honest, though, the first few seconds I forgot to watch the actual thing, because I was too busy speed-critiqueing my teeth, my posture, my hair, my choice of shirt, and my chin/neck situation because obviously I am Very Deep And Spiritual And Not Self-Absorbed At All. After I got over myself, though, I noticed that the journalist had done a really lovely job of telling a nuanced story in a very short amount of time.
We shared the clip on social media, and our friends said warm and excited things, and we enjoyed basking in our golden bubble of Lovely Humans.
But then the texts started coming in. Ohmygod, I’m so sorry about the comments. Did you see them? Are you ok?
Listen up, dearheart. Little word of advice for you. Never read the comments.
Never (NO NEVER) read the comments.
(This is how my youngest feels about dinner and bedtime; never no NEVER will I go to bed! Never no NEVER will I eat dinner!)
Over a decade ago, when I was living in Tokyo, I wrote a little tongue-in-cheek piece for a newspaper. It was about how when I was pregnant and working downtown as a consultant, I would get nasty stares and even be verbally harassed by strangers because I was wearing a suit and heels. The same people who wouldn’t give up their seats on the train (seats specifically reserved for nursing and expectant mothers) felt compelled to tell me loudly and publicly that I might as well feed my baby vodka and gravel or just give it away as soon as it was born because I clearly was going to be a TERRIBLE mother. You’d think my elegant walking heels had heroin in them.
It was downright ludicrous, so I wrote about it.
And then in the comments, I received scathing, vitriolic criticism for— no! yes!— having the audacity to wear heels while pregnant! Insert all the laughing-crying-WTF-emojis!
It was pretty easy to dismiss those comments, because they were so stunningly stupid.
But it’s not always so easy to handle your haters.
For instance, there was that time I got some “feedback” from someone I’d actually paid to help me become a better writer. It went along the lines of, “This isn’t very good. I can’t even really put my finger on WHY, and I don’t have any concrete suggestions as to how you could make it better, but I’m sorry to tell you that my professional opinion is that this whole writing thing is just not a good use of your time.”
Now this is important, so listen up. Here’s how you can tell the difference between HELPFUL feedback and BULLSHIT feedback. Helpful criticism, even when it stings, shows you a specific way to do better that creates a sense of forward momentum. It makes you think, “Damn it, they’re right! That WOULD make this project even stronger!” Or, “Ouch, that stings, but deep down I can see that if I improved that area I’d be an unstoppable force— ok let’s DO this!”
Bullshit criticism is the opposite. It doesn’t give you anywhere to go. It’s usually vague and damning. You’ll know you’ve encountered bullshit criticism when you think things like, “Why did I think I should even try this? I’m so stupid,” or “I’m so bad that there’s no use even trying to get better,” or “I should obviously just give up at this, I’m just embarrassing myself.”
Can you feel the difference???? NEVER listen to bullshit criticism, even if the person is an “authority,” because it’s never about you, it’s always about the other person.
Today, this old hurt is easy for me to roll my eyes at. In fact, it has become fodder for many blog posts and some great class material. But at the time, I believed this “expert’s” assessment of my abilities. I was devastated.
OH HI. Why doesn’t anyone teach us this very important and basic thing?????? Don’t believe anyone’s assessment of you if it makes you feel small, ashamed, or less than. Just don’t. NEVER NO NEVER. (Tell your friends. Tell your kids. Tell your politicians!)
Your critics can submit their evidence; that doesn’t mean you have to admit it into the court of your own heart and mind.
This gets easier with practice.
Over the years, I’ve received quite a few scathing emails, and many more loving and thoughtful ones. Some of them have been loving and thoughtful even as someone told me that they were going to stop reading my missives because they disagreed with my politics or my lifestyle or my sailor’s mouth. I always wave goodbye at them affectionately and wish them well. I respect that I am not everyone’s cup of tea. And over time, it’s gotten easier and easier to only perseverate over them for mere DAYS instead of WEEKS.
And then a few weeks ago I got this juicy plum—
Your cutesy, stream of consciousness, topicless writing utterly xhausts me. I am sorry but no one is as enchanted with your every little thought – as you .
Please please take me-off your mailing list and try to stop being so impressed and distracted with every little moment of sensuality in your life and do something to make it really count .
Really , snap out of it !
XXXXX, the real wake up writer .. [sic]
It was so pointless and yet so mean that it made me actually laugh out loud. Wake up and smell the nonsense! I unsubscribed her, which she could have done herself at any point with that friendly little link at the bottom of every email I ever send you.
Don’t read the haters’ comments, dearheart— and if they’re in your inbox, delete ‘em.
Over the years, I’ve had to learn to develop voices inside myself that are louder than the mean commenters. I’ve had to grow advocates inside myself that can LAUGH at trolls. This is a truly crucial skill, and the key to accomplishing basically anything!
So this week, after our TV segment was posted online, I didn’t read the comments.
…But I heard about them.
Even with my years of practice, I’ll tell you what. There’s nothing quite like hearing someone state publicly that your kids not only WILL be bullied but SHOULD be. And that in fact he— a grown man— would be happy to help with said bullying. OF CHILDREN.
I’ll admit, it took my breath away.
And because I am Very Deep And Spiritual (remember?) I meditated and communed with All That Is and I came to the most loving and enlightened response I could find inside myself. Here it is. It’s really good.
This is it:
Fuck off. I’m busy.
Ahhhhhhh, can you feel the zennonattachmentlovingkindnessenlightenedpositivity of it? Isn’t it beautiful?
And that’s what I urge you to say to your commenters, too. You can say it nicely, if you want.
Fuck off. I’m busy doing important things.
Fuck off. I’m busy making new things while you criticize other people’s creations.
Fuck off. I’m busy loving my people as best as I can while you preach hate in the name of love.
Fuck off. I’m busy making interesting mistakes because I’m actually TRYING things instead of letting my soul curdle with regret and resentment.
Fuck off. I’m busy actually LIVING and I will not give you one drop of my energy, my joy, my fire, or my juice.
FUCK. RIGHT. OFF.
(You don’t have to swear, if that’s not your thing, but I find that there are very good reasons why it’s helpful.)
It’s an all-purpose sort of mantra. It’s multi-use. It even works perfectly well when said silently.
You can use it with those colleagues who suggest you turn the project over to a “more qualified” aka male team, or the mentor whose barbed criticism is designed to keep you small. It might be helpful with bystanders who talk about ‘civility’ while ignoring brutality, or the tone police, or the drunken guy who doesn’t believe you don’t want a drink. It’s the heartbeat of the resistance to authoritarian governments and bigoted laws everywhere.
It’s MOST effective, though, when used on one another’s behalf. Use it generously. Use it courageously. Use it for those who can’t use it for themselves because they’re busy catching their breath from yet another outrageous or even dangerous comment.
(Thank you, all you dear people, for all of you who defended us in the comments that I haven’t read. I heard about you too.)
There is no shortage of people who will contribute evidence to helpfully point out that we’re silly, embarrassing, and too big for our britches. Also possibly freaks, disgusting, broken, and going to hell.
THEY ARE WRONG.
How do I know? I just do. The ocean said so, oh and God, she absolutely agrees, and the trees. And my own heart. And I believe those things more than I believe people who have time to make hateful comments. I bet you anything it’s because their own lives are such barren wastelands of disappointment and starved dreams and fetid resentment that they have let their souls curdle.
And why would you take advice from someone like that?
Remember that anyone who has ever done anything worth doing has been laughed at. Sneered at. Criticized. Think about the unreal level of bullshit that someone like Michelle Obama has had to deal with.
So consult with yourself. Become YOUR OWN EVIDENCE about who you’re becoming. And chant your holy mantra: Fuck off. I’m busy.
Don’t wait for the commenters to appove of you; just keep proving to yourself, with your actions, who you truly are.
Isn’t that radical? You don’t have to wait for the likes, the award, the promotion, the title bump, the glowing comments to reflect back who you want to be— nah, you go ahead and OWN that shit all by your own self.
You just decide.
You decide who you’re going to be.
You create your own evidence.
You BECOME your own evidence.
And so you show yourself who you really are. You show yourself until you believe it down to your TOES. Because once you believe it that deeply, it doesn’t really matter what the world thinks anyway. Especially not what they say in the comments.
Which you would never read anyway.
Because you are a fucking cathedral and you’ve got more important things to do.
So go do them, dearheart.