Adventures in karaoke

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I sang karaoke last week.

Okay, maybe sing isn’t quite the right word. I could look for a better verb but I think just knowing that the correct verb is not sing should give you a pretty good idea of how it all went down. This is not an activity I often do. In fact, it was only the second time in my life that I did it. The first time I was drunk, didn’t know the song and couldn’t even come close to keeping up with the words on the screen.

Over ten years has passed since that performance. In that space of time I have slowly changed from the sort of person that gets up on a stage in front of a group of people to the sort of person who is constantly analyzing everything I do and say to make perfectly sure I’m not being ridiculous or foolish.

See, I have this person inside of me. I call her my Gollum and she is a vicious, angry little thing who watches everything I do and passes judgment on each action. Sometimes, her judgment is instantaneous, a running commentary in the back of my head. She’s like those old men in the muppets, just a lot meaner and not very funny at all. Sometimes, she wakes me up in the middle of the night to go over a list of everything I said and did during the day. Maybe, you have a version of her. I hope she’s nicer to you.

Anyway, this time, when I got up to sing, I told her to take a few minutes off. That yes, I knew exactly how I was going to look and sound up there and I didn’t need her to remind me. She sulked, but she was blessedly quiet and for the space of a song I didn’t worry about how I was going to look or what I was doing.

It was scary and exciting and fun.

Here’s the important thing I learned: Most people don’t want to see you fail. They want to see you get up on stage and give it all you got. They want to see the triumphant smile. They want to clap at the end. If there happens to be a person or two rooting for your failure, you can immediately disregard their opinion because obviously they are monsters and you should never care what monsters think. If you’re like me, that also goes for the biggest monster of all, the one inside of you.

I’m not saying that you should do karaoke and if you don’t, you’re missing out on something. What I am saying is do the things you want to do without worrying about looking ridiculous or failing. Put yourself out there. Instead of being so sure what it is you can’t do, maybe see what you can do without that inner critic stopping you.

It’s going to be scary and exciting, but hopefully it’s going to be fun.

Later, when Gollum wanted to tell me just how bad I was, I just laughed at her, which seemed to shut her up for a little bit. I also asked my husband not to ever show me any photos or video he might have taken. Gollum doesn’t need that sort of ammunition.

Surviving criticism

criticismMy first experience with critiques was when I was going to school for graphic design. They happened regularly and varied in terms of how painful they were. But, they were helpful. There wasn’t a single project that I created that wasn’t made better with the eyes of my classmates. Now that I’ve started working with critique partners on my writing, I’m feeling that familiar pain that comes from criticism. Here are a few things that I try to remember when getting feedback.

  1. Criticism is a gift
    Remember that the person who is looking at your art, or listening to your music or reading your words and giving you feedback is spending their time and energy to do so. I’m sure there might be some people who like to criticize as a way of tearing people down, but I have found that for the most part people want to help you get better. Maybe they believe in what you are doing and they want to be part of making it the best that it can be. Even if they are doing it to be mean, if you are getting something useful out of what they’re saying it’s still helpful.
  2. Look past your own blind spots
    It’s easy to get defensive. When someone doesn’t see something the way we see it, it’s easy to look at them as the problem. What do you mean you don’t understand the symbolism? What do you mean that this paragraph is redundant? What do you mean that the whole thing is too wordy? It’s a book, it’s supposed to be wordy. If your first response to feedback is to explain and argue, you might be letting your own blindness get in the way of improving your craft. That doesn’t mean that you have to take every little piece of advice that you are given, but don’t discount it either. Get another set of eyes. Get another opinion.
  3. It’s okay to feel bad/hurt after receiving criticism
    It can be difficult to hear that something we have worked hard on and have poured our soul into is flawed. The more we love something, the more difficult it is to accept the imperfections. The most painful criticism I have received was when I thought what I was presenting was really good. Nearly perfect even. Every word that said otherwise was like a physical blow. I remember locking myself in a bathroom stall and trying to choke back tears. I hated feeling so emotional, but it was a natural response to a big disappointment. Give yourself permission to feel sad, or hurt, or even angry. But don’t lash out at the person who gave you the criticism. Giving out criticism can be difficult as well. Don’t take it personally.
  4. Find a way to deal with the criticism
    giphyCriticism can sting. What is the balm that you can put on it? I always joke about drinking whiskey after particularly painful feedback is given. Time and space work for me as well. Not too much of either. I may put it away for a few hours. Do something else. Give myself time to process it. I also like to research. I like to find other writers and artists who have been where I’m at and I like to read how they got past it. Find your own way but get to the place where you can most constructively use the feedback.
  5. Don’t give up
    Don’t get discouraged. It wasn’t going to be easy. No one is going to be able to create perfection at the beginning. There are growing pains. But if you stop now, you will never get better than you are right now. What they said about you will always be true. You will never rise above it. You owe it to yourself and your craft to keep moving forward.