Life Among the Never-Winged

Once upon a time I was writing a book called, "Just Another Love Letter", about angels behaving badly. Now I just quietly ask myself each day, "What the hell am I doing?"

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Location: The Rocky Mountain Empire, United States

My friends always knew I was going to hell. My only hope is that God likes good jokes and bad redheads.

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  • Wednesday, April 11, 2007

    Those Critical Voices

    This one's for Maggie.

    Anne Lamott wrote a GREAT book on writing, called Bird By Bird. If you haven't read it, I strongly suggest dropping everything and picking up a copy, whether you consider yourself a writer or not (and gee, if you're Blogging, there's a strong chance that you do indeed write. Funny how that works, innit?)

    Anyway, Lamott managed to squeeze a few extra goodies in, that have a lot to do with general living, and living happier. One of the things she talks about is Radio Station KFKD.

    We all tune into this station now and then. Sometimes the knob gets stuck there. KFKD is the station that blares out how awful we are. How much we suck. How fucked we are, and why, and how we can't do a damn thing about it, and it's all our fault. And the voice is soooo familiar. It's your mom, or your dad, or that treacherous teacher who told you wouldn't amount to anything. It's the voice you've been running from all your life. And there it is, louder than life, coming from that radio in your head.

    These shit-critics aren't to be confused with the ones who push you to do what you're meant to be doing. There's a big difference between the voices who light a fire under you, and the ones that throw you on the pyre.

    Well. I figured out one way to shut those voices up. And that's by NOT shutting them up.

    Here's what I did.

    My first week as a freelance graphic designer. My first real gig as such. I was working in a print shop, (the same one that's jut gone over, actually) and I was having a hard time acclimating. The laser printer wasn't working, jobs were backed up from a month of going without a designer, and I was having a hard time just trying to find some of the electronic files. So the critics were well into their chorus. And that's how they sounded, like a Greek chorus always behind me, commenting on everything I did. The Chorus of Grandmothers, I called it. Each voice was a waspy, dried up old woman's voice. Pinched. Judgmental.

    “You did that wrong.”

    “You're going way too slow.”

    “You'll never catch up. But they'll fire you before you have a chance anyway.”

    “If you ask for help with the printer one more time, the pressman will think you're stupid, and he'll yell at you and tell you you're getting in his way.”

    “They are going to find out that you don't know what you're doing. You are a fake. And they will fire you, and you'll never work again.”

    And I was messing up. And I was slow.

    But it wasn't my fault. It wasn't because I was a fake. It was because the Chorus of Grandmothers was getting in my way.

    There was a photo on the wall. I looked at it every morning when I came in. My eyes wandered to it throughout the day, whenever I was having a problem.

    It was not a tranquil beach or forest, or anything like that. It wasn't an inspirational poster, giving me some insipid platitude on confidence or perseverance.

    It looked like this:

    A dilapidated mill. It made me slightly queasy looking at it. I was waiting for it to fall into the river.

    The Chorus reached a crescendo while I looked at all those rotting boards, all those gaps in the wall.

    And I thought, Wait a minute...

    “Ok!” I told the Chorus. “You want something to criticize? Why don't you go criticize that old mill? It's falling apart. Look at it. Look at those warped boards. Look at all the holes. I bet it's FULL of dust and dirt. Go criticize it.”

    And for a while, everything got quiet. I got something done.

    And then they came back, one by one. But I didn't let them stay, and I didn't let the speak all together. I sent them back on their way.

    “What are you doing back here? You're not done criticizing that old thing. You forgot about that broken bottle in the corner. You missed all those cobwebs. Pah, and you call yourself a critic!? You suck as a critic. You're the worst critic I've ever seen. You missed a bunch of flaws in that mill. Now go back there and don't come back until you're finished.”

    It took a couple of days. But they stayed there. Sometimes (and sometimes I still have to do this) I had to take them back there myself. I had to stand in the middle of the mill and point to the cobwebs and the gaps in the floor and the mouse skeletons and say, “There! Look at that! You missed it. How could you?” I pictured all those voices as skulking grey shadows circling the room, muttering to themselves as they tallied and tallied again every speck of dust.

    It works for me. I still have days when they come back. But they don't cripple me like they used to. And I recognize them right away, before they can assemble. I picture the old mill and send them back on their way.

    I hope this helps, Maggie.

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    9 people left me a love letter:

    Blogger Maggie wrote in a love letter...

    KFKD indeed. I know that station well. I love this 'send them on their way' idea. Its similar to another experience I once had. I will share tomorrow I think. Anyways, this is brilliant! And you mentioned this book before. I heard an interview of the very same author just a week or two ago and remembered that you had mentioned her book. I think the fates are trying to tell me something...

    1:25 PM, April 11, 2007  
    Blogger meno wrote in a love letter...

    I remember you talking about this on a comment on amusing's blog once. (See i am paying attention.) The voice i hear is mine, dammit. I'll have to think about this.

    3:22 PM, April 11, 2007  
    Anonymous Rudi wrote in a love letter...

    Also by Anne Lamott is: Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year

    A great book. She talks (in part) about how stark raving mad being a new Mom made her at times. How mad she could be at her son, this little screaming thing that came into her life. She loves that kid (now 18 and then as a newborn) with her whole heart and soul. No doubt about that but the honest admission of how she could get mad at a baby helped me.

    I know I liked the whole book. Great funny stories of childhood, faith, California weirdness, all sorts of stuff. But the part that was unique was admitting the thoughts of wanting to hurt your child. Not really hurting them, not planning to but yeah ... ya think about it.

    I read it when my oldest was 2-3 years old and we were happy we were expecting another. I loved it, saw my self in it, and was happy I hadn't read it until after surviving the first year of parenthood.

    I thought at the time that you could give it to someone as an odd form of birth control and scare them off from having kids.

    She also talks about writing in it (I think).

    I also read "Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith", also great. My religion/faith/beliefs are not the same as hers but that didn't matter.

    3:44 PM, April 11, 2007  
    Blogger patches wrote in a love letter...

    Roses are red,
    Violets are blue.
    I'm schizophrenic,
    And so am I.

    I think meno and I might be sharing the same dinghy...I wonder if she has the paddle? I am my worst critic, the Mister, on the other hand, is my biggest fan. Gee I'm pretty lucky. I just wish I could believe in me half as much as he does.

    4:29 PM, April 11, 2007  
    Blogger Stucco wrote in a love letter...

    You could also rid yourself of these voices by creeping them out- "Yeah baby... What are you wearing?"

    I find the "answer" usually involves vulgarity. To paraphrase HST, I'd hate to recommend it, but it's worked for me.

    5:59 PM, April 11, 2007  
    Blogger Scott from Oregon wrote in a love letter...

    "I'm way too thick to have those voices".

    I always figured I am better than somebody at everything I do. I always figured, "if I am better than somebody, I'm not so bad off".

    Success is still simply pulling everything you got in your pocket out and throwing it on the table, picking out the lint and old washed three times receipts, and then being satisfied with what you see.

    I say, don't worry about Everest. Be happy with Semi Valley. They make better wine, anyway...

    8:43 PM, April 11, 2007  
    Blogger Nancy Dancehall wrote in a love letter...

    Maggie, that is quite an experience you had. I love the way your mind works, especially the butcher paper.

    Gold star for Meno! ;-) My voices are variations on my mom, my grandmonster and my grandma-in-law, if you can believe that.

    That is a GREAT book, Rudi. It made e feel so much better about my 'down' days. All I was hearing was how thankful I should be ALL the time. I'm human. I get tired. Traveling Mercies is great too. She acually makes me feel more comfortable about Jesus, which is a feat.

    lol Patches! Of course, being a cat, you have nine personalities to go with your lives, right? ;-) Hang on to that Mister.

    Or I could just let YOU creep them out, Stucco. ;-) Naw, I'd be laughing too hard.

    You don't have those voices, Scott? Ever? Never ever? Wow.

    10:40 AM, April 13, 2007  
    Blogger Scott from Oregon wrote in a love letter...

    No ma'am. No voices...

    4:36 PM, April 13, 2007  
    Blogger Mother of Invention wrote in a love letter...

    Hope it helps Maggie! Sounds good for everyone, though.

    3:17 PM, April 14, 2007  

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