I had my own words quoted back at me today. I had posted on Facebook about my overactive inner critic, and my friend Eurie returned the words of encouragement I’d given her just days earlier. (The words in question? “Fuck ’em.”)* I read them, smiled with gratitude to Eurie for remembering I’d said that, and said it to myself. I instantly felt a lot better.
Why is it so hard to support ourselves with the fierce love and same faith we give to others? This past weekend I had the lovely experience of speaking to several friends whose work I deeply respect and admire, an experience that was enriched by also getting to see/hear some of their work in person.** They’re all people I haven’t seen in awhile — years, I think, in each case — so it was good just to see their faces, but they also all asked after my art and even expressed, in quite sincerely passionate terms, their support for it. In each case I was very moved but also didn’t really know what to say. Mostly I just wanted to say, “But I don’t know what I’m doing!” But they were having none of that.
The way I feel about my favorite creators — which is I suspect the way my greatest supporters feel about me — is that I don’t care what they make, I trust them, and therefore whatever they make is something I want to see. If any of them came to me and moaned, “I just don’t know what I’m doing,” I would tell them not to worry. I would say, “Every time I’ve seen anything you’ve made, it’s been beautiful and interesting and meaningful. I like the directions you choose, I like the places you explore. I like the way you do it and I like to watch you figure it out, and I know you will figure it out, because you always do. So relax, and trust your instincts. The work will follow.”
The problem is, it’s easy to say that to someone else, because mostly what I see of their process is the finished work (this is true even when I’ve seen drafts; those, too, are a kind of finished work even if they are not the finished work). I don’t see the hours and hours lost down Facebook and Wikipedia and YouTube rabbit holes, the self-loathing and the not getting out of bed, the terrifyingly acute self-consciousness, the disruptive fear. I may know that it happens, but I am not there for it, day in, day out. But I am there for all of mine. I know just how many hours I’ve wasted and how I wasted them. I know the vast distance between the self-confidence of a finished product and the morbidly unsure person who made that product. None of that really matters when the art is good; indeed, all of this is probably how all art gets made. But seeing none of that in anyone else, and only in myself, I have a hard time believing what others tell me about how awesome I must be.
I am finding it very helpful to think, this week, about what my friends tell me, and to imagine that it is as true and as real as the love I feel for their work — to let my faith in them stand for faith in myself.
Critics? Fuck ’em.
Having people around who believe in me, though? That’s everything.
*Context: I was telling Eurie how much I like a particular creative choice in a wonderful film she recently produced, and she said that there are critics (real or imagined) who think that choice is a cop-out. That’s when I said, “Fuck ’em.” I said it twice.
**Incidentally, all of these friends are Asian American, which adds another layer of depth to the experience. Recently, while speaking to a Black owner of a yoga studio about yoga instructors of color, she said, “People want mirrors. They need to see others who look like them.” I can never get enough mirrors. They touch something in me that remains unmoved by those in whom I can’t see myself.