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  pandemic is raging.

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 a poltical topic. But, wait. I can't post anything political! I'm prepearing to publish a book and don't want to alienate any potential readers by calling out someone or something they support. It won't matter whether I fill my story with pertinent facts and empathy. Very few people want to hear from the "other side"  — regardless of which side that is — these days.

And, even if readers do agree with me, they'll just move along to the next meme. An essay won't really change anything, will it? There’s a reason chair-throwing cage matches and horror films and Marvel are so popular. People want action — brutal force — not words.

Right. They don’t want words, so why am I even writing an article, let alone a novel? 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.


I know I am capable.

I have diplomas and glowing words from professors to prove it.

So, sometimes I go ahead and 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 a better place 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, John Cusack follows me on Twitter, I get an inflated sense of self, and I go watch Say Anything again

  • People ignore the piece and I feel invisible

  • One person criticizes a single minute point and I begin to question my entire life's 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.



Ann Kinsale


Ann Kinsale is an Ohio-based writer fueled by dark chocolate, moonlight, and getting lost on back country roads. Her debut novel Vultures is on sale now. 

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