Inside the Crippling Chaos of Self-Criticism


Photo by Hanson Lu on Unsplash

The wind chill is below zero and my bird feeder is frozen, yet there’s a cardinal flitting around beneath it.

“I was told this is the spot where a kind person puts out Wagner’s Cardinal Blend Premium Wild Bird Food every day,” he says, wandering under the tree in a state of confusion. “There’s nothing here. Why is there nothing here?”

This cardinal isn’t like most birds. He doesn’t just fly off to another backyard offering better access to fresh seeds. He doesn’t change the menu and dig around for insects. He just shuffles around the place where there’s always been food, at a loss for what to do next now that it’s gone.

This is what it feels like to be a highly creative, Type A, get shit done, compulsive self-critic in a chaotic world where nothing makes sense anymore. Maybe the world doesn’t make sense because your father died and you’ve lost your ability to find true north. Maybe the world doesn’t make sense because you didn’t get that job where you thought you aced the interview. Maybe the world doesn’t make sense because a toddler holds the unofficial title of Leader of the Free World.

People tell you to get over it, so you begin with a goal.

The cardinal visits a known source of food.

I choose a subject for my next article.

Today, it’s Donald Trump — and those who defend him, doubling down their support with each more absurd thing he Tweets. So, I’ll write about that. I’ll study the country’s longest government shutdown, filling my story with pertinent facts. That will show them!

But, wait. They don’t listen. They didn’t listen in 2016, and they’re not listening now.

Better to address progressives who underestimate the masses of people eager to follow a man who condoned violence during his campaign. There’s a reason chair-throwing cage matches are so popular. Fearful people want action — brutal force — not words.

Right. They don’t want words, so why am I even writing an article? Come to think of it, I’m tired of words, too.

I should turn off Facebook. Stop reading the comments section. Learn to ride a horse. Hide from all that infuriates me.

But.

I know I am capable.

I have diplomas to prove it.

So, sometimes I write what could probably pass for a Nick Kristof or Leonard Pitts or Connie Schultz op-ed, and I think, “People need to read this. People need to hear my thoughts. The world will be better if people who think like me write powerfully and heart-wrenchingly and share.”

Within a few seconds of posting such essays, one of three things happens: readers agree en masse or John Cusack follows me on Twitter and I get an inflated sense of self, or people ignore the piece and I feel unheard, or even one person criticizes a single minute point and I begin to question my entire life purpose.

And so I stop writing.

Instead, I glue magazine clippings into my junk journal. Or bake mini-loaves of chocolate orange bread. Or spend half an hour watching a cardinal wandering aimlessly under my frozen bird feeder.

And the world continues, undeterred.

And I’ve lost a day.

Again.

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