As Often As I Can Stand
It’s nice to be liked, but, especially as you get older, it’s really, really nice to be yourself. All the time. As often as you can stand. — Merlin Mann
Hate mail is really not interesting to anybody except the people receiving it. I know this. Hate tweets and DMs — even less interesting. But this is a personal blog, and if this is where I am, this is what I’m going to write, and we shall endeavor to deal with it.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes somebody a good person. I would imagine the definition values from person to person, but for many it probably involves something like: cares for people, is honest, takes responsibility and has integrity. After that, each person adds in characteristics to suit their own tastes, values, religions, et cetera. God-fearing. Fun to be around. A good parent. Somebody you can count on. Somebody who always offers you gum, if they have any.
Can you be a good person — objectively — without everyone agreeing that you are? I’m not sure. Is a good person somebody who cares so much that they don’t ever ask questions that make people uncomfortable? Maybe. Somebody whose moral structure values the happiness of others so much that they cannot bear to reveal any thoughts or questions that might make somebody else feel pain? Could be.
If that’s what it takes to be a good person, then allow me to declare, right now and for the record I’m not a good person. And I won’t ever be. And by the way — it absolutely kills me to make a platitude like that here — like I’m a peacenik do-gooder who is taking time off from Wesleyan in order to help underprivileged kids learn to read. Because one thing is for sure, I’m not that person.
I write about the business of mommy blogging. I’m good at it.
But I’m not important. It’s just that nobody else is really doing it at this point. Someday, people will be writing about it all the time, and nobody will really care what I said about whatever site or whatever program, because everyone will already have said it all, and all of us will be so used to it that we will all look back and laugh about how it was such a big stir. We will be like, “Why was everyone so scandalized? What were we thinking?”
Here’s why I cannot be a good person, provided that a good person values the unfettered harmony of the community over everything else: I cannot stop criticizing things. I cannot stop looking closer at things. It is what I know how to do, and I will continue to do it my whole life, regardless of what anyone — myself included — thinks about it. It is involuntary. It would be like saying, “Anna, stop breathing, please,” or “Anna, please put down that can of Diet Coke. You’re hurting people.”
The one thing that I can do really well — like maybe even better than anybody in the world — is deconstructing. Criticizing. To prove it to myself, I went and got a PhD in tearing stuff apart. In that case, it was figuring out every last nuance in the use of the coquette figure in 18th-century British literature, and great, now I’m supremely qualified to dig deeper into things.
But as it turns out, I didn’t need the fucking degree to be that good at this. I’m good at it because inside of me, somewhere in my bowels of my frontal lobe, lives the nastiest, harshest critic you ever met in your life. This guy is like Simon Cowell crossed with the food critic from Ratatouille, and his favorite thing in the world, to rip apart, is me. Me and all my shit. Me and my thighs. Me and my nose. Me and what I look like in jeans. Me and my word choice. Me and what I chose to eat for lunch. Me and what I sound like when my voice is recorded. Me and how long has it been since you got a pedicure? Me and did you really just misuse ‘their’ for ‘there’? Me and what are you doing with your life?
I don’t like this critic any more than you do. Probably far less, in fact. Nevertheless, he seems to be here to stay. And here’s what I’ve learned about dealing with him: the best thing to do, is to point him in a direction where he might be of use. I’ve learned that if you dangle things like business models and product placements and revenue reports in front of him, he can subject those things to the scrutiny of his awful lens, and then what he does looks less and less like meanness and becomes something close to constructive. Sure, he’s tough to stomach on occasion, but at least what he’s doing has, at the back of things, the goal of making things better.
Because what people don’t understand about critics, of course, is that what they want is the best. They are grumpy because they’ve grown tired of always seeing less-than-the-best all the time. They know people can do better. They want to believe that, even when what they say gets people up in arms with their accusations and combatitiveness and whatever the hell.
They grumpily say, “Go ahead and throw all you want at me — I’m not going anywhere.”
And it’s not because they’re trying to be difficult, or because they’re heartless, or because they want attention. It’s because that’s who they are.