As Often As I Can Stand

by anna on March 4, 2010

Me with Edie

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 View definition in a new window. 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.

{ 23 comments }

Sarah March 4, 2010 at 3:18 pm

you’re fucking awesome. Don’t change.

Perpetua March 4, 2010 at 4:09 pm

What Sarah said. Also, you’re an 18th C. person? Really? I never would have guessed it. They always have such bad hair (not even kidding). Now that I know this, I’m thinking about how your coquette knowledge and your mommyblog business knowledge might converge….

And I think it’s absolutely fascinating that the critic in your head is male. Hmm. HMM.

kitchenMage March 4, 2010 at 4:20 pm

I can so identify with this, having that kind of brain myself. I have been reading here, mostly lurking, for years and both adore and admire your ability to rake the muck with the best of them. Food-blogging (my niche) has the same absurdities as mommyblogging but without the willingness to admit that the Queens may be anything other than perfect and with the Queen-types telling everyone that the only acceptable thing is to be happy all the time. (To the extent that the rare non-happy food post you can find is all usually apologetic about having a bad day…) HATE the cheery fakeness the entire segment has seemingly adopted… At least moms are willing to be full-blown humans with multi-faceted personalities. I envy you that.

So you rock on. I’ll be here wishing that someone would do this for my segment of blogging because *holy crap* is there stuff ripe for the critique.

~beth

Ginger March 4, 2010 at 4:28 pm

That whole critical thinking thing, and inner critic? Yeah, people don’t get it. And they get their panties in a bunch because no one wants to get called out for anything–particularly, it seems, in the bloggy world. But frankly, what you’re doing is more interesting than 99% of mommybloggers out there (myself included). Thoughtful, insightful, and yes, with some snark when needed.

Keep on keepin’ on is what I’m trying to say.

Genevieve March 4, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Keep on doing what you’re doing. You obviously like it and you’re venturing into uncharted territory. If people aren’t complaining, you aren’t doing your job!

LC March 4, 2010 at 5:15 pm

I think you provide insight and introspection that is desperately lacking in the mommy blogosphere. It takes courage to ask the questions you’re asking. And you’re funny to boot.

jonniker March 4, 2010 at 6:09 pm

Of course you’re good at it. And here’s why I comment here, and here’s why I read you: You’ve got balls. Big ones. And the thing that I find SO AMUSING, that no one admits out loud is that all the people who hate on you and get SO INDIGNANT when you write something about our freaky little world is that they say worse in private to their friends. I know this. They THINK worse. They just choose to say it in private, so that they can feel better about themselves, that THEY aren’t bad people, for they don’t tear anyone down, or say anything snarky or do any of the things they purport to abhor. They don’t have the balls to comment here, but they read it — some of it, at least — and know EXACTLY what you’re talking about.

For me, I’d rather say it out loud. I’d rather SAY I agree with it, or think it, or acknowledge that it exists, and be true to myself — true to the stuff I think, so that the real me isn’t a surprise to anyone — than pretend I’m horrified. I’m not saying that everyone who doesn’t come forward is two-faced and awful, but for ME, for who I am, that’s how I would feel, so I act accordingly.

So yeah. I admire you a whole lot. You say it, you say it well, and you ALSO say it with your name and picture attached, unlike most other people. And you have the balls to go in person and talk about this shit with the people at conferences, whereas other people do the same, but titter behind everyone else’s back.

I’d rather be the person who owns what she says, personally. I respect that person a whole lot more than the person who sends angry e-mails to their group of friends about other people about how THIS person sucks and THIS person HURT THEM and she’s a BITCH and HE’S A DOUCHE and then turn around and pretend they’re so innocent in public. And while we’re all guilty of snark, not all of us play up the role of the victim while privately playing the role of a bully. That’s a special breed, indeed.

beth aka confusedhomemaker March 4, 2010 at 6:28 pm

Fist pump in the air to this.

beth aka confusedhomemaker March 4, 2010 at 6:19 pm

Good people are willing to ask questions even when it makes people uncomfortable or challenges the status quo. One of my favorite Saints, St. Catherine of Sienna, stood before the Pope & told him to get his ass back to Rome (in nicer but no less firm terms than that) she took no crap & held firm. Being Good has nothing to do with making everyone happy, that’s a fantasy.

Also, stop being so hard on yourself. Leave the inner critic behind that tells you aren’t good enough, the one that wonders if maybe those people out there are right, & realize that you are good, not just good enough but damn good. Plain & simple YOU ARE.

beth aka confusedhomemaker March 4, 2010 at 6:29 pm

And I gotta say nothing you’ve written in my experience even comes close to what I’ve experienced as criticism in academia. In comparison you’ve been hearts & cotton candy softness to what that world is like.

Jenni March 4, 2010 at 6:26 pm

Great comment, Jonniker.

I firmly believe that in life it’s better to be an honest than to be a nice person. Keep up the good work, Anna dear.

Alexis March 4, 2010 at 6:39 pm

Insert the cliched line about well behaved women never making history here. I just find it hilarious that the same mommy bloggers that no one dares cross made names for themselves by doing exactly this: being a bit radical, questioning what we knew about who uses the internet and the methods for/by which they used it and so on. You are just taking the next logical step by analyzing where we are now, and where it all is going. That is overly simplistic and not worthy of your much better dissections, but there you have it. Keep it coming.

monkey March 4, 2010 at 6:42 pm

So much drama over (again, I say) questions any journalist researching these topics for a traditional organization would be asking!!

jonniker March 4, 2010 at 6:48 pm

Yep. That, too. For damn sure.

Kerry March 5, 2010 at 5:34 am

Exactly. EXACTLY.

Also, if people find you overly critical…well, I have some relatives they should meet.

Heather March 4, 2010 at 8:10 pm

Anna, the people who do not like you are afraid of you.

Not only are you a great writer (and have one of the best blog aesthetics I’ve seen) but when you call people out on their BS, you do it in an intelligent, rational way – which makes you a pretty unique figure in this genre. Your arguments are difficult to refute.

Furthermore – and here is the real problem – you are unafraid to clearly state what you want. If you were a little less ambitious, or a little less competent, I doubt anyone would have a problem. But as it is, you are the scariest kind of competition.

A lot of us appreciate what you bring to the table. Good work!

Compulsive lurker March 4, 2010 at 8:44 pm

I, for one, absolutely cannot believe these silly MamaPop and Momversation faux controversies.Honestly, these people are looking for fights to pick.

With MamaPop, you made a mistake — a small one — and corrected it. End of story.

Asking how much the Momversation participants make is perfectly legitimate and acting like that’s icky/tacky/striving/whatever is just being a snob. Salary surveys sell for a fortune precisely because people value this kind of information.

And I, for one, would also love to know how much Jessica Gottlieb’s husband makes. And if she doesn’t think her readers also want to know, then she doesn’t know much about her readers.

You are a great blogger providing valuable information that’s not always all about you. I love the pro-blogging stuff.

Don’t let the Mommy blogging mafia get you down.

You’re going to make it. And I usually don’t preach this kind of new age drivel.

home and uncool March 5, 2010 at 8:23 am

One must be able to separate the critic from the human being voicing the critic’s opinion, just as on sometimes needs to separate the blog from the blogger to make an accurate judgment. Remember, the food critic from Ratatouille turned out to have a marshmallow heart. Simon Cowell, well, the jury’s still out on him.

Susan Tiner March 5, 2010 at 10:35 am

I find it interesting that Anna sees her internal critic as a male. Why does a fearless woman have to be cast as a male?

eliz March 5, 2010 at 11:48 am

I was struck by that, too, Susan. I was shocked to see the male pronoun pop up. Is Anna trying to distance herself from this critical self? Don’t even bother trying. Give him a pair of cute shoes and embrace him. It’s why we’re here, why we read you.

I find something so antifeminist about this scenario, especially where “criticism,” “negativity” and “insults” are so broadly misunderstood. Asking questions isn’t inherently negative. And making a not-positive criticism isn’t always an insult. Yet despite the fact that people in this field are making actual salaries and supporting families by what they write on the Internet, most are still oversensitive types who circle the wagons whenever they wrongly perceive an insult has been lobbed.

patois March 5, 2010 at 11:41 am

The investigative reporters I’ve known all have that same doubting gene that they turn on themselves as easily (or even more easily) than they turn on others. I see you as another one in a long line I have admired for honesty and thoroughness and sticking with it.

J. March 6, 2010 at 4:02 am

It’s weird, I have kind of the opposite thing going on. Not that I can’t be critical, but my inner voice is a totally sympathetic rationalizer. Some big, pillowy, sweetheart of a chick, saying, “It’s okay, darlin’, you deserve that chocolate cake ’cause your jeans aren’t too tight, and your birthday was last month, so go ahead.” Which probably explains how I ended up living in a cabin in Alaska, and not L.A., any more. *sigh*

Poppy Buxom March 8, 2010 at 8:39 am

Sheesh, you admit to a penchant for desconstruction and the next thing you know, people are deconstructing your post in the comments. (And for the record, my inner critic sounds like my mother.)

I’ve got the same urge to make things better. In fact, I changed from personal blogging to beauty/style for baby boomers because last February, while I was at Blissdom at the Opryland Hotel, I kept having to walk past the Tea Party people. And honey, they looked bad. Really bad. And even though I find their politics repellent, I was struck by how much silent, excellent, style advice I was generating every time I walked by–spontaneously and for free.

Just don’t blame me if they read my blog, clean up their acts, and take over the world.

And you? Keep on doing what you do. You’re one of my favorite reads.

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