Jake confronts a long-time critic.

Why You Should Love Having Haters

Jake confronts a long-time critic.

Jake confronts a long-time critic.

So here’s a funny thing. I’ve never had my writing out and out, straight up solidly dissed the way it has been in the last week (on Reddit). That’s the good news!

Now for the icing: Publicly. And by total strangers (or people I know and love who are using pseudonyms…another likely possibility). Strangers who are reading my stuff on the internet. This is a promotion. I’ve got to admit, I’m feeling pretty honored right now.

Okay, maybe not that honored. But a little honored. If not honored by the haters, honored by the chance I’ve been given to learn from what it feels like to have something you worked on totally torn to shreds by a few nameless, faceless internet commentators.

Now, you may be asking yourself: is this like the time your acting teacher told you pointedly, not everything is about you, and you decided to take it as a compliment– meaning that there was potentially existent confusion about whether or not everything was, in fact about you? The answer is no, this is hopefully a lot different.

I double emphasize hopefully.

But actually, in a backward way, I’m enjoying this process of feeling so much e-hate directed toward me, and perhaps even more personally, something I’ve worked at producing. It’s an entirely new feeling. Even people who think/know I’m less than perfect don’t usually get up the nerve to say it to my face– so I’m finding this bad-review situation uncomfortable and exhilarating at the same time. It’s like coming out of the closet– as a person with ideas that some people apparently really disdain (and that’s putting it nicely).

Not that there was ever any doubt I am the conduit of ideas and beliefs that aren’t popular.

Based solely on how my thoughts tend to differ from the way the world works in general, I should have known this would happen. In fact, a psychic told me years ago that it would. ;) I think mostly, I was taken aback by people laughing at certain things I’d said which weren’t meant to be funny– they’re the kinds of things (like ego and intuition and even astrology– though I haven’t fed that one to the wolves yet) that I consider to be just part of daily jargon and my conceptual view of the universe.

But to the certain readers on a certain site who found fault, it was apparently like I was arguing why Harry Potter probably was based on a real wizard boy (It was: Daniel Radcliffe! Duh.). Let’s just put it this way: if you think the Salem Witch Trials are bogus and couldn’t happen today, the writers of those comments give a good indication that the same vein of sentiment is alive and well.

So when I first got wind of all the harshness, I was a little ruffled. Especially when it seemed to me that I was going out of my way to be self-deprecating, light, and friendly while perhaps interjecting with a bit of tough love). My reaction was basically the equivalent of screaming “Wait– but I’m NICE!” back to a school yard bully who’d just stomped my iPod. I guess you could call it the “Why poor me?” thing.

But after having a few days away from it (not even to mull, because I actually forgot all about it until I signed on a few days later– and the negativity had expanded in quantity– literally, not one shred of positivity or constructive criticism! Though there’s a possibility someone came to my defense, but I can’t tell whether it was that, or they were actually adding to the negative comments… I’m still learning my way around this stuff) to relax into my new role of shitty blogger, I’ve realized that well, I’m not exactly some cute little girl streaming rainbows from her pigtails. I do have some ideas that are kooky to mainstream society. And I’m not apologetic about it– I think it’s apparent the world would do better to change from the way it is, in many aspects, so whatever seems crazy now, actually has the potential to save it in the future.

And there’s no reason for the “Poor me” mentality. It really is okay if people don’t like what I do. In fact, I knew from the beginning that was going to happen. There was just a disconnect between logic and feeling, when it actually did occur.

And this is something I already knew about myself: I probably put too much emphasis on people liking me. I’ve always been a people-pleaser (I think Oprah calls it “the disease to please”– dis-ease being the operative word, in my opinion). But in a really awkward twist of genetics, I’ve got got some strong ideals which run counter-pop-culture and the mainstream. That’s not for the sake of being iconoclastic; it’s just the way my mind works.

I know logically that the point of what I write is to make people think, and to challenge some of their automatic ideas about the world and their place in it. It’s not that I’m always right or my ideas are the best and brightest, but I think there’s value in allowing oneself to be open to new ideas and ways of viewing our context within this mysterious universe.

Even if you decide the ideas aren’t for you, there’s still value in assessing them for yourself. It’s like how I look at taking calculus in college as totally unnecessary and ultimately I’ll probably never do another thing with it in my life, but it still expanded my mind and the way in which I’m able to view other completely unrelated concepts.

So while I’ve been blessed with a love of writing and talking and a penchant for adopting strange ideas and views that make people laugh (at me, not with me), scowl, walk away, and other not-as-pleasant things, I’m also equipped with a relatively thin epidermis. A skin which is apparently my new lot in life to work on callousing.

And the truth is, it’s a lot easier for me to maintain my ideals when there aren’t real-life examples of the opposition standing in front of me. Because I do really love people, and my ultimate tendency is to like whoever’s in front of me, no matter how many shitty things they’ve done in the past (like say Astrology isn’t real, or diss Adventure Time). It’s not for me to judge anyone– and that’s never more apparent than when a living thing is standing before me. I cave! I’m okay with that. It’s good for the soul to live in that kind of cave ;)

And as for the criticism itself, if you take a step back and think– they’re just words in a forum! How can they even have a physiological effect on me? It’s pretty amazing. We’re talking one or two sentences, max. So I’m also realizing that it’s amazing just how sensitive we are to fellow man, and how in tune we all are with each other– whether we want to make fun of chi and energy and all that hippie stuff, well, I’d argue that your negative chi* is what compelled you to write those things in the first place! :)

*I don’t believe that the concept that the universe is ultimately energy is all that strange, anymore, but I suppose there were people who believed the earth was flat in the face of such evidence, as well.

Apart from flexing my thick-skin muscles, and growing my awe for human inter-connectedness, this is yet another lesson in compassion and humility.

This was already something I was consciously working on (a week or so before my negative press in the forums): not criticizing creative endeavors without first establishing a respect for the artist’s courage in making the creation in the first place.

I hope this serves to make me think twice before the next time I’m quick to criticize work someone else put time and effort and thought into. And that’s not because those commentator-people are wrong to think I stink at life, or that they aren’t entitled to their own opinion. Hey, sometimes I read my things and want to cringe at how dogmatic I was being, or errors within the writing itself.

And please make no mistake: I never claim to be perfect, and all I’m doing here is opening myself up to learning and growing, but just doing it on paper. I’m doing it that way so that hopefully others can gain some insight to their own journeys though it. I live my life as a guinea pig, and so I don’t expect anything more than honesty and openness and awareness of myself. I’m not right and you’re not wrong. There’s really not a whole lot of right and wrong in my life anymore. And of course there are mistakes along the way, which will be chronicled. It’s messy. Just like life.

It takes five seconds to sound off on a comment board with something cutting down what someone has, in all likelihood, worked hard and long and not only that– put a piece of their soul into. It’s not that I’m arguing against constructive criticism– in fact, I very much welcome it. Constructive criticism comes from a place of understanding and mutual respect, and anything based on those two things, I’m gonna be all about.

But while it’s easy to have an opinion as a purveyor of other people’s efforts, I’ve been trying to step back a moment and look at the creation I feel the need to criticize and wonder what, in myself, elicits such a reaction? What’s inside me that’s fighting it or getting defensive? Perhaps, is it hitting on my own weakness, and is in fact pointing to a truth I’m not ready to hear. Or maybe… it just sucks.

But what’s to be gained by telling someone something like that, in those uncertain terms? At least, if you are set on telling them how much it sucks– have the presence of mind to enumerate as to why, in fact it does really blow. And if you’re going to criticize someone, I think the only way to do it so that you both feel good, is that you’re doing it with good intent.

Tearing them down is not good intent. Telling them why you think it needs work so they aren’t wasting their time with something that’s horrid, is more like what I mean.

And even then, it is just your opinion. We’ve all heard stories of movie studios passing up films that went on to become blockbusters, and the same with books and publishers, artists and galleries, the list goes on. The more I hear these stories, the less likely I am to listen to anyone but myself. (Still, it’s nice to be able to gracefully accept criticism and listen to it, whether you act on their suggestions or not.)

It’s like when you wrote an essay in high school and your teacher made you back up your opinions with “why”. It’s not good enough to throw a rock at a glass house and run away (in your Cinderella glass shoes). That’s what makes constructive criticism constructive– it constructs an argument. It builds something up instead of just tearing it down. Any old idiot can tell you you’re nothing. But good constructive criticism is like good collaboration. It’s well-thought out and is backed by good intentions. Regular criticism is just putting someone down to make yourself feel better. (Which it doesn’t actually do, on any more than a superficial level.)

How many times have we criticized movies or novels, yet how many movies or novels have we personally filmed or written? It’s not to say you can’t have an opinion, but regardless of your opinion of the product itself, you can still allow yourself to be moved by the very humanity it took to bring that single seed of thought to life.

You cannot argue your life is not richer for the experience of something new– whether you hated it, or loved it– if it roused emotion within you, it presented you with an opportunity to better know yourself and experience the rich diversity of the human experience. I used to always say if a movie made me cry or want to throw up, or anything that seemed terrible, it was probably a fantastic film. Maybe not fun to watch and maybe I wouldn’t want to see it again, but whoever was behind the camera knew what they were doing. And even during nausea or sobs, it was still a hell of a lot better than something that didn’t make me care at all.

And I don’t mean to imply that my stuff is better because people dislike it, either. I’m not playing Jesus, here. But it’s really nice to be able to work on humility in the privacy of my own home. It’s like getting yourself in halfway decent shape before you start jogging outside in just a sports bra. I feel like I’m pumping iron with my growing-a-thick-skin-muscles. I knew I needed to work on it, and how lucky am I? The personal trainer comes straight to my home!

My mom always told me growing up that I was never going to be liked by everyone– because no one is. She meant it in a freeing, optimistic sort of way– and I’m finally realizing just how liberating it is to embrace that concept in real-life, head-on, facing my fears of being inadequate at the one thing I love doing and [gasp] not being loved by every single person who crosses my path while doing it.

And, I think it’s worth noting how different it is to realize the concept in theory (of course it makes sense… not everyone loves even Angelina Jolie, or Jesus) versus employing that theory in order to deal with the feelings that arise when someone does in fact, not like you.

To illustrate my point: when I was helping my very talented ex with his art career I’d always point out, “Hey, all of the best actors, musicians, and artists I know, have a million rejection stories to their name. (Trust me, I wikipedia’d them all throughout college instead of reading the assigned literature.) In fact, I literally look at rejection as bringing you closer to your eventual success.”

And I really meant that. But even relatively good advice we have no problem doling out to those we love takes on new (rather more difficult) meaning when it’s applied to one of the most intimate of subjects– ourselves.

I do live in la-la land for the most part. I’ve got my own inner world and usually I prefer it to the so-called real one (and I’m also a believer that to a great extent, we create our own outer world through our inner thoughts and feelings). But even so, I don’t believe in sheltering myself from constructive criticism.

And that’s coming from someone who generally believes in the purity of work from one person following their intuition in spite of what anyone else says, and that criticism, especially made too early in one’s project or career, can harm more than help. But I still believe in accepting criticism, even if it’s just to listen. If for no other reason than that it exists and I refuse to live my life in fear, or harboring blind spots.

Exploring my mind publicly has actually helped me realize one of my biggest fears.

What I always feared most was being changed in the eyes of the people I loved, by what I’d written… And well, that’s always a possibility. But I didn’t realize how much a stranger’s words could sting– someone I didn’t even know or personally care about! Then I allowed myself to feel the awkwardness of people not liking me…And then I was able to accept it, and then I was able to be okay with it.

I knew when I first started out, that the day would come where I would have to face it head on. And the only way to do that was to make sure that I stood behind everything I wrote.

At the very beginning of my journey with this blog (which is still pretty new) I realized if I was putting myself out there, it couldn’t be with the ego– or it just wouldn’t work. You are only really sensitive to criticism when you are living through your ego. When I checked my ego (it’s an ongoing process), I was able to take some space and step back. I think it made my writing more valuable to the type of reader for whom I wanted to write, and I think it also allowed me to make sure that what I was writing was something I could stand behind. Something that if criticized, I would be able to have my own back on and feel centered in the face of that criticism and still remember why I wrote it. Not because I wanted to engage in a debate, but just so that I could know in my heart I’d done the best I could.

I don’t expect to change the world on a grand scale, but I do have standards of quality. I write what I write consciously, and I take a lot of time with it. It’s something I enjoy fully.

I think whether we mean to or not, we are all changing the world, every second and every breath. Whether we mean to be role models or spokespeople, by our very being, that is what we are. We are always teaching and always learning, and the best we can do is to become aware of that fact, and act and think accordingly.

That is what I attempt to do here, by exposing my struggles, weaknesses, and what I’m learning and working through with them for the benefit of those readers who find solace in knowing that they are not alone, even on silly mundane things like living with your ex or feeling bummed about working on your birthday. That’s what life is about– little things that we share as humans. And that’s the reason I write.

You’ve always got to better yourself and not rest on your past success. Life keeps going and we’ve got to keep growing, or our spirits perish before our bodies. But if you’re sitting there feeling sorry for yourself because someone wasn’t a thrilled-to-death fan of something you did, you’re not helping anyone– least of all, yourself.

I always come back to this quote I heard from Gwyneth Paltrow, “What other people think of me is not my business.” Do your best, listen to your heart, and just keep moving on. Some people will love you and some people will hate you. Some people will buy your products and some will not. Some people will give you good reviews and others will laugh in your face. That’s nature and the inconstancy of the universe, not an identifying factor of you or your work.

It certainly never hurt anyone– least of all me– to be a little humbled by the humble pie they just consumed. So that’s cool… I’m digesting. But with that said, I think it behooves us all to soften our opinions against others a little bit here and there, simply because if you want to find the positive, you can. You can find it in yourself to at least respect the person for putting themselves out there and proffering it up to fellow man to aid him in his quest to better know himself.

Like I said, that’s how I’ve been trying to live my life before this whole comment thing started, so it’s especially serendipitous I should be on the receiving end of my own lesson.

Ultimately, I do what I do because I love it and as a bonus, it’s nice when I feel as if I’m helping someone here and there– even if that help is just enjoyable reading for a few minutes out of their busy day. I’m becoming more of a live and let live person myself, but I don’t know if I’ll ever fully be rid of the type of opinions and brain waves/neuro-connections that make people adore and deplore me.

But no matter what, I’m not doing it for that reason, for either result. I’m doing it for myself, because writing is a way I find purely enjoyable for expressing myself and exploring the parameters of this strange breathing apparatus known as life. I think the real reason I started writing this post, in fact, was actually to point out the ridiculous humor of the simultaneous people who love you more for of your writing with people who declare it’s nearly ruined the last ten minutes of their existence.

It just goes to show the ludicrousness of life, and to each their own. There’s something out there for everyone.

So, I hope you loved this article. Or I hope you hated it. Or I hope you cared so little about all this shit that you want your time back. Or I hope you didn’t read it at all. I really just hope I can stop because this joke isn’t even funny but the point was, I wish you the best whether you’re reading this or not. And other than that, I’m going to keep doing my thing.

I really just hope for world peace, actually…