When I was in middle school, I rode the bus with a girl named Shelly who always sat near the front of the bus so that she could pass judgement on everyone who walked by. Her observations were always correct, and always cruel: anyone capable of getting by her with their egos intact would’ve had no problem trying to pledge an elite sorority with spinach in their teeth or trying out for American Idol with laryngitis. In other words, no one passed her unscathed, least of all me. And yet, curiously enough, her early role as a tormentor seemed to leave no lasting impact on her whatsoever; a few years back she ran into my mother and asked her–with complete sincerity–how I was. “Did you tell her that I was still ‘hating her every day?’” I replied when my mother relayed the conversation to me. “No,” she said, in the tone of one who is now having second thoughts. “I told her you were ‘fine.’”
Still, despite my snarling reply, in the many, many, many years that have passed since I was in middle school I’d like to think that I have moved past that particular incident. Which is good, because if my poor little ego had still been bruised from that long ago encounter, it would be positively shredded today.
The reason? I live with a preteen girl. Or, as we like to call her, The Critic.
Here’s a sample of a typical dialogue (or rather, monologue, since I rarely bother to respond) with The Critic. “Why are you wearing a dork sweater today? Did you know you have a zit on your chin? Your teeth look especially yellow this morning. Wow, you really look tired. Those pants don’t fit you anymore. You’re not going to get up and dance, are you? Here, where people can see you?” And so on. You’ve heard of Chinese Water Torture? This is the same idea, but with criticism: drip, drip, drip on your ego.
Surprisingly though, there are actually some advantages to living with constant criticism. For instance, say you’re one of those people who hears voices inside your head. I’m not talking about the type of voices John Hinckley heard urging him to “kill the President, kill the President,” (boy, talk about a man who was born before his time), but about those other voices, the ones that like to remind you how pathetic and unattractive you are. Perhaps, like me, you would like to get rid of these voices, or at least turn them so that they are on your side. With a preteen daughter, it can be done; once she is in your head there won’t be room for anyone else’s negativity. As an added bonus, the old voices in your head may even get to feeling so sorry for you, and so resentful of outside critics, that they’ll switch over to your side.
Think about it: surely every now and then all the critics in your life (real and imaginary) must get together–perhaps at a convention–to discuss new developments. (“Ok folks, listen up: she’s finally come to terms with her hair–we’re no longer recommending you do the hair–but, with age, a new item has come up: varicose veins. These babies are a goldmine–you can hit her with both health and appearance at the same time.”)
And maybe, at the most recent one of these that was held for my critics, there was an emergency meeting where it was determined–regretfully–that due to the extraordinary volume of work being produced by the Flagstaff field operative, all other operations would be suspended for the foreseeable future.
“The market has been completely saturated,” stated chief-voice-inside-the-head U.R. Phat, in a press release discussing the radical decision. “We need to back off and consider our options.”
Hey, it’s possible. At least it would explain Shelly.