Reader, I’d like you to meet Spiteful Gillian.
Spiteful Gillian, I’d like you to meet… . Spiteful Gillian? Spitefull Gillian! Hey, I’m trying to introduce you to someone. Geez, you NEVER listen to me.
Well anyway, Reader, this is Spiteful Gillian. She’s my inner critic. She’s big. She’s loud. She speaks in red, in ALL CAPS. She’s always asking me, “WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE TO SEND YOUR WORK TO THAT JOURNAL? WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE TO APPLY FOR THAT CONFERENCE? WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE TO THINK ABOUT APPLYING FOR AN MFA? WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE TO THINK YOU’LL WRITE A BOOK SOMEDAY?”
Sometimes she also says: “YOU’LL NEVER AMOUNT TO ANYTHING.” Or, “YOU’RE JUST NOT THAT GOOD.” Or, “IT’S TOO LATE FOR YOU. YOU’RE MIDDLE-AGED. HAHAHA! HEAR ME? MIDDLE-AGED!” To which I sometimes muster a whispered response, “barely middle-aged.”
She’s big, she’s loud, she stands there with here hands on her hips, tapping her foot. She leans forward slightly so as to get in my face. I despise her. For the record, she’s named after a particularly loathsome character in a children’s book that I read to my children one million times but have somehow forgotten the name of.
On my good days, I remind her that she’s only a stick figure. I tell her, “Talk all you want. I’m not listening,” or, “I know you’re right, but I’m doing this anyway,” or, “Well, so what, you don’t even have a nose!”
She’s so annoying.
Over time, I’ve learned a few things about Spiteful Gillian. One is that she likes to crop up just when I’m doing something new — writing in a new form, submitting to a journal I’ve not submitted to before. Another is that when I’m fairly successful tuning her out in my waking hours, she shows up in my dreams as Louise Glück, who friends me on Facebook and then writes on my wall about what a rotten poet I am.
I’ve also learned that naming her helps to tame her. And so does this little process (which I learned from the excellent Molly Fisk, and which I’m sure I’ve written about before):
First, I tell her what’s true:” You’re right, Spiteful Gillian, I’m no Louise Glück.” The Inner Critic loves to be appeased.
Then I tell her what’s not true: “However, Spiteful Gillian, I’m not even trying to be Louise Glück! I have my own voice and my own poems to write.”
Then I tell her what’s also true: “And anyway, even Louise Glück had to start somewhere. And she wrote that essay about her teacher, Stanley Kunitz, saying, ‘These poems are terrible, but you know that.’ And she did. And that’s when she knew she was a Real Poet!”
I’ve also learned that drawing her has helped tame her: Look at her, she’s completely ridix! I mean, she only has three fingers! And she has really bad hair! Yes, drawing Spiteful Gillian helped me to see how unrealistic and ridiculous she really is.
I realize I’m probably going to be living with Spiteful Gillian for the rest of my life. But by naming her, by letting her in and talking with her, by drawing her and hanging her up by my writing desk, I have learned to tame her over the years.
I’ve learned she might never stop trying to stop me from living my life, but that she can’t stop me. I’ve learned to keep on keeping on despite her ridiculous, noseless self. I’ve learned to say what’s true, what’s not true, and what’s also true.
How have you learned to tame your inner critic? What’s his/her name? What does he/she tell you? I hope you’ll share in comments. I think if we all got our inner critics together in the same room, they’d be so busy being annoying to one another that we could sneak out, close the door and lock it, then throw away the key.
Bye, bye, Spiteful Gillian.