He Really Thought He Knew Me. Not.

Below are some other “words of wisdom” bestowed upon me by the person who assumed that, based on a brief viewing of a couple of my works, my motives could be judged and that I was in need of his guidance. I’m amazed by the pomposity of his viewpoint and this assumption that I do not know myself. I also added emphasis to the occasions where the word “self” is used, just to note how frequently he applied it.

Who you are shapes what you do–NOT the other way around. Logically, then, if you yearn to be what you’re not at the expense of what you are, even though every step is taken with positivity and hope, there is a certain intrinsic negation in that.

I disagree. Action does influence being. To act “as if” one is confident, for example, can lead to increased self-assurance. The reason is that a person has the opportunity to practice and reinforce a healthier thought and behavior which is then internalized, becoming part of the self. And who is to say that yearning to be what one is not is a denial (comes at the expense) of what one is? Yearning can be formulated into a goal and acted upon. What we yearn to be is worthy of consideration. This dichotomy is a false one. We do not have to choose between being one way or another.

To make this more concrete, let’s say a woman is shy. This way of being does shape her and affect her interaction with the world; she takes fewer risks, has fewer friends, finds work that is beneath her true capabilities. She could continue in this way, or she could decide to practice new behaviors, such as taking a public speaking class, going to social events, so that she can engage the world more fully. Is her desire to do this, to be more social, a negation of herself?

Or take healthy habits. Eating right, exercising, and getting needed rest help a person operate at optimal levels. If one started eating fast food every day, stopped working out, and kept odd sleep habits, his body would be negatively impacted, and a dysfunctional body can affect mental health. Likewise, a person with depression can manage the illness more effectively with good physical self-care. Who you are — a depressed person — may shape what you do, that is, it might predispose you to self-neglect. But being a depressed person does not have to dictate what you do, and to yearn for wellness is not a negation of one’s being.

You know the line you perceive between what’s you and what’s everything else? You’re searching on the wrong side of it (based on a line from an old self-realization poem I wrote). YOU never will be found on the outside of you.

First of all, I was amused that the critiquer felt compelled to add that he had written this, as if this lends it greater import, or as if this idea is original. Secondly, that line to which he refers is moveable and only determined within oneself, so how is the critiquer to know that I’m searching on the wrong side of the line? Thirdly, again with the dichotomy! People interact with and are influenced by their surroundings and vice versa. We can find ourselves in many places, in many ways.

Once you hear a thing, it becomes yours to accept or reject: if it isn’t ringing false, then it’s to some degree now ringing true.

Maybe it’s just not being perceived. Or maybe the recipient has low self-esteem, an undefined sense of self. She may be a person who seeks validation from others; this is unfortunate, but it’s sometimes the case. So if you say to her, “You’re a loser who will never achieve anything in life,” it may “ring true” for her, but it doesn’t mean it is true. If “it isn’t ringing false” to her, if she accepts the statement from you, then it has the power to manifest as her reality. Until she comes to trust and value her own perceptions, it’s pretty difficult to truly accept or reject what people tell her about herself. When people believe they know The Truth and apply this by pronouncing on the character of others, that is abusive and unhelpful behavior. Sadly, vulnerable people are easy targets for this kind of treatment.

The whole thing about art from the standpoint of the artist is that it rings true when it’s an actual act of self expression, and rings false when it’s simply an attempt at making “art.”

Okay, and the point here? Who decides what is an “actual act of self expression?”

Many people find the idea of being “artistic” (i.e., being an artist or a poet) attractive: they think such labels will elevate them in some way. So, the web and the world are filled with people essentially wasting their time producing works that–whatever their merit or lack of it–are nothing more than bids for approval or reassurance or validity or status; and all of these gestures are simply irrelevant.

Right, so the “true” artist does not care if anyone ever sees his work. He doesn’t want to hear that his efforts have an impact, nor does he want to make his living by selling his pieces. Because to sell one’s artwork is, in essence, a bid for “approval or reassurance or validity or status.” Oh, and apparently if these are among his motives for creating, then it sullies the work. According to this statement, the child who draws a picture for her mother to give as a gift, and who beams when mother praises it and thanks the daughter, this child has actually wasted her time, and what she has done is irrelevant.

In this case, I believe the critiquer was implying that my use of the word “artist” as applied to myself was motivated by the desire to be elevated. You see, he could “see” me and know this. I call myself an artist because I am and I can. I don’t need anyone’s permission to use this self-descriptor, nor do I need validation. And you don’t need permission either. If I didn’t call myself an artist, I’d still create art.

You are trying to invest meaning into your life, when in fact that only adds another obscuring layer over the meaning that’s already there–and which you’re distracting yourself from finding.

The meaning that’s already there?! Perhaps there is no meaning to life except for what a person decides; that is, what a person invests by his actions.

I don’t care if one writes good poetry or bad, pastes up assemblages, collages, or whatever. I care that such efforts be powered by something fundamental in their creator’s self. When they’re not, the streets of life become littered with false fronts, masks, and wasted paper.

Again, how can the critiquer know when a person’s efforts are not motivated by her self? He’s not inside her mind. He can claim she’s making art for approval, but someone else might disagree. Who’s right? Furthermore, she is the final authority on what powers her. And again, it’s possible to make art because one needs to express oneself and also make art because one desires recognition.

Any moment you are not fully alive, you must be partially dead. … One does not build a tree from the leaf tips down, but from the roots up.

Gosh, that’s profound.

The first creative act is the discovery of the self. All that’s not an expression of that self is a diversion. There are no “opportunities to be creative”: one IS creative, or one is a great deal less so–but, again, this is all in service of the self, and NOT in distraction from it.

This was written in response to my stating that I’d had many challenges in the past year that provided opportunities to be creative. Perhaps I should have said they provided me with opportunities to respond creatively, but the distinction seems minor; because he is so sure of his view, so busy lecturing me, he missed the point. Regardless, I believe life itself is an opportunity to be creative, and we engage this to the extent that we recognize we are creators.

I look into people and read them. I’ve done this all my life, and when asked how it is that I can do that, my response has been how can others not. Perhaps everyone can do this, but doesn’t; perhaps I see a color that few others see. I really don’t care. This is the world I live in: the walls many believe in aren’t necessarily opaque or impassible to me.

This reminds me of the kid in the movie, The Sixth Sense: “I see dead people.” How special. So, this guy has never laid eyes on me, never met me in person, never taken the time to read my blog, and yet he can “see” me. But here’s the rub: his responses to me absolutely lacked empathy. The closing statement of his last email was:

I don’t find solidarity in commiseration, and don’t really have a place for confessionals whose fulcrum is exterior to one’s heart (i.e., your pointing to circumstance, rather than to what you are and feel)–be that in art or relationships or life. For the time being–your time being, that’s probably the best critique, and all, I have to offer you. If you want to discuss ideas or processes, great. If you want to defend yourself or offer proof, then that’s that exterior fulcrum thing again: prove what you have to prove to yourself–not with “evidence,” but by weighing it in the scales of your own heart.

Uh-huh. Thanks for your input. In reading this statement, you might get the impression that I had sought him out and he had decided I wasn’t up to his level for it to be worth this time. What really happened is that, for some reason, he went beyond my general request (by placing a poem in a forum for critique) to engaging outside of the forum to impart his “wisdom.”

The overall tone of his messages gave me the heebie-jeebies. If I had been a man, or if I had been his contemporary (age sixty-something), I wonder whether he would have been so condescending. I have the impression he sees himself as a sort of “guru” whose mission is to enlighten others. I have encountered men like this before, though over the years my immunity has increased. His motives may be benign, but as a trusted confidant said to me, “I suspect that he is at least the top half of a strange authority issue looking for a bottom half to work out some weird codependency issue of his own.” He would probably insist that in this post I am defending myself and offering proof. What I’m doing is processing “aloud” my reflections on his words, because it’s what I do to understand my experiences, and because I believe someone reading this may benefit. I also wanted to have a bit of fun with this; I’m usually magnanimous, but his attitude begs ridicule (just a bit).

Explore posts in the same categories: Arts, Humanities, Journal, Quotes

13 Comments on “He Really Thought He Knew Me. Not.”

  1. marta Says:

    You–rule.
    You–artist.
    Gurus–suck.

  2. kate Says:

    . . . oh yeah- you do rule ๐Ÿ™‚ And in that awful-fabulous way that misery hates to stand there all alone, I was glad to see you rip this judger a new one as I am so so so tired of the unsolicited advice i get at my own little blog . . . argh . . . I use to tell them just how far they could shove up their god hole ๐Ÿ™‚ . . . but now I just ignore them and say nary a word . . . and you did this with such style . . . yay for you ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. tarakuanyin Says:

    I’ve been a lurker for a while and I enjoy your blog. The conversation of the last couple of days has been fascinating. I would say your critiquer has major issues. His writing is rife with pomposity and grandiosity. I teach and as part of my job I critique my students’ work. Someone shot me if I ever begin to sound like this guy. I’m glad you saw through him.

  4. tarakuanyin Says:

    oops, I meant “shoot”!

  5. cicada Says:

    I have mixed feelings about critiques in general, having been through many of them in music and art school. In principle, critiques are a fine idea, intended to help an audience explore a creator’s work more fully while providing that creator with objective feedback and a means of becoming more familiar with his own creative motivations at the same time. Rarely does that happen, probably because it is so difficult to remove one’s “self” from the process. Personal feelings often interfere, on both sides. That said, when the process works, it can be of tremendous value to a creative person. I hope that you will not let this negative experience drive you away from what could be a rich exchange for you and the community you share your work with.

  6. Laura Says:

    *stares* *snickers* What a piece of work he is. Honestly.

    I especially like this:

    Who you are shapes what you doรขโ‚ฌโ€œNOT the other way around.

    So, I take it this guy doesn’t believe in free will. Because he’s just denied it….

  7. Laurel Says:

    When you get a chance, could you email me? I thought I’d posted a response to your comment about posting on poetry forums but apparently that comment didn’t stick. I can’t recall exactly what I said nor where I posted it (although I swear, I posted it under one of your poems) but the gist of my response was something to the effect of thicken your skin before you begin posting on any poetry forum because for every fellow writer who is interested in reading your work and offering good solid constructive criticism, there are five killjoys just waiting to jump on you and your poem and stomp it down to the ground. I once had a poet tell me I should stop writing poetry because I obviously had no talent or ability. Yeah, I was crushed. Until I realized that I wasn’t especially impressed with his poetry. And he tended, and still tends to shoot just about everyone out of the sky with blunt, unkind remarks.

    So, if you find the time, email me. I’ll give you a pep talk. What board are you posting on?

  8. Jennifer Says:

    Wow. Wow. Wow. I am absolutely almost without words except “wow.”

    Unbelievable. What an ass! (Him – not you!) I’m so glad that you posted this and that you didn’t take Mr. Ass’ comments as anything more than absolute self-indulgent (his) baloney. What a total ass! (again, him – not you…)

    You are an artist and a poet and don’t ever let anyone else tell you otherwise.

    Wow!

  9. Jennifer Says:

    I just thought of something else to add…When I was in school and had to participate in critiques (I was an art major), one of the things that always impressed me about the majority of my professors (there were unfortunately a few who critiqued like your Mr. Ass) was their wonderful ability to really help me SEE my work and do it in a gentle way.

    I presented a painting that was pretty horrible to an instructor and he was really wonderful – pointing to one corner of the painting he said something like, “This little area here has some nice brushwork and good use of color. And I am finding an area of interest over here.” We talked about the painting further and both agreed that overall the piece just didn’t really come together – it had some seroius problems with composition, color, structure. We also agreed that it was not of the quality that I had produced for previous critiques. Even though it was hard to hear that the piece wasn’t great, the instructor was so kind about it and really helped me to see where I needed to go. I re-worked the piece for a second critique. It still wasn’t the best work I’ve ever produced, but I was proud that I could see something in the piece worth saving – turned it around and made it into something better. Had the instructor given me a blunt “This stinks” or gone on and on about all of the problems in the piece, I think I would not have had the courage to go back and re-work it to see if I could take it somewhere where I was satisfied with it. To me that’s the purpose of critque – to provide gentle guidance so that the artist can look at the work in a different light and see something new in it. Your Mr. Ass obviously doesn’t get that…

  10. Chad Says:

    The “running the errands of greatness” quote was the first that caught my eye. So what? Some great errands need to be run. And it’s damned tiring being great all the time.

    The next one that caught my eye was something else that one of your commenters mentioned, about who you are vice what you do. That is an absolutely false statement. And that doesn’t mean the reverse is true, either. Seems to be that it would have to be a combination were it anything. Part of who I am and what I do today has everything to do with being an army brat, a drama student, a Marine, a laid-off high-tech worker and someone that has had to do some very awful (legal) things to make ends meet.

    As far as ringing true or false, he says that if something doesn’t immediately register to someone as being false, it to some degree rings true. Why is the condition of being false the only absolute? Why is truth not absolute, with the accompanying degrees of falseness? An odd omission.

    I think your recritique of him was, well, artfull.

  11. marta Says:

    I wanted to add to what Jennifer said about gentle guidance. She’s right, but I think that MrCritic believes that he is giving gentle criticism. Plenty of people knowingly and gleefully bash and slash other artists, but he probably doesn’t see himself as mean. I much prefer dealing with people who know they’re being hurtful, rather than people blind to what they really do.

    Never let anyone decide for you. You’re an artist necause you know yourself to be one. Now, go create!

  12. Fran aka Redondowriter Says:

    I visited for the first time in a while and I’m thinking to myself, who in the hell does this man think he is? Did you ask for critique? If there is one thing I am totally intolerant of it is of people speaking as authorities “offering” unsolicited advice. (I’m also intolerant of religious fundamentalism.)

    I’ve got to dig deeper into your blog now and see who and where this guy is coming from. You mention e-mails so I gather he is not commenting at one of your blogs?

    I’m having severe mother lion reactions; I want to pounce on this self-serving anteater and chomp his balls off. How dare he say these self-serving things about you!

  13. Kathryn Says:

    Thank you, thank you all. I did in fact request a critique — of a POEM — not my motives for creating or my future as an artist. I do think Marta also has a point, one that I hadn’t picked up on before encountering him: just because someone doesn’t use blatantly ugly words in a critique doesn’t mean they are being kind. He used a kind of arrogant, patronizing tone wrapped up in a semi-detached, scholarly delivery, and he added photos of himself in his emails and used a little self-deprecatory humor. I suppose this was to humanize the message a bit. If I had been looking for a guru, that combination probably would have worked.

    This guy’s forum profile also provides the following description in the “Interests” section: “Just about anything not sordid, sadistic or masochistic (when romance permits).” Um, the fact that THIS is what he chose to list as an interest, and that he makes a point of mentioning dominance, immediately raises an alert that he is to be ignored.