criticism

Criticism is a fact of life. Sometimes it's fair and valid, and you can learn and grow from it. Sometimes it should be taken with a grain of salt.

Sometimes criticism is expressed with kindness, and sometimes not. When you're the subject of criticism, it's very easy to get tripped up by the harsh words of your critics. By their anger and sarcasm. Stuck-up bitch. Disgusting. Shove it. Asshole. Get the fuck off my internet.

But the tone of and emotion in these words is ultimately irrelevant, distracting and painful as it can be to hear. What matters is the argument behind them. Whether the charges levied against her are couched in aggressive or ameliorating language, the criticized still has to ask herself: Is my critic right? And if so, what am I going to do about it?

I've been a critic. I've been sharp-tongued and anonymous at times, friendly and direct at others. At times, I feel like the criticism I gave was measured and fair - even when it was harshly worded. At other times, I know I was bringing my own baggage to the table. I've criticized people about whom I know a lot, and about whom I know next to nothing. Some of what I've said I still stand behind. Some of it, I wish I could take back, or rephrase. Some of it I hoped would help, and some it I hoped would hurt. Some of it said less about the person I was criticizing and more about me.

I'm trying to keep all of this in mind these days, because I've received a lot of criticism lately. I'm trying my best to be humble, to be open-minded about it, and to just listen and reflect - even when my impulse is to defend and explain myself.

I always want to be the first person to admit to my flaws and shortcomings, because the older I get, the more I realize how little I know. And I want to learn and grow from my mistakes. I'm terrified of being that person - the one who is clueless to how awful they are. I don't want to be awful. I know I'm self-indulgent and obnoxious and juvenile and judgmental and irresponsible and hypocritical and vain and lazy. If anyone were to launch those criticisms at me, I would turn my palms up and nod helplessly. Don't I know it. 

Two of the most painful criticisms I've ever received are that I can be manipulative and passive aggressive. I know I can. I'm ashamed of those traits, and I work hard to be aware of them.

And recently, I learned I'm also more than a little bit ignorant, too. This was a huge holy shit moment for me. Like, holy shit I didn't realize. And, holy shit how embarrassing. And holy shit am I glad I know now. To quote one of my favorite Richard Dawkins moments, "I gratefully accept the rebuke".

It's the criticism where I feel like I'm being misunderstood that really hurts. Because that shows me that I'm failing as a communicator, and being a good communicator is extremely important to me. As a writer, I have thousands upon thousands of words at my disposal, and no restrictions on how - and how often - I can use them, to express who I am and what I believe. It has always been my weakness to let Style club Content over the head, stuff it in a sack, and take it for a ride wherever the hell it pleases. I forget to take a step back and think about what it is I'm saying, not just how it sounds being said.

I've made the decision not to allow comments on Elliequent, for many reasons, some of which might seem valid and understandable to other people, and some of which might not. The only two that really matter are my emotional well-being and physical safety (for those who don't know me personally, or haven't read my blog long enough to know, there are a couple of dangerous and angry people in my past, both with a history of trying to goad me into real-life conflict, who know of my blog).

I have other reasons for not allowing comments, some of which are closely related to my motives for blogging. I blog to hear myself think, to hone my writing skills, and to have a small record of my life. I blog to combat depression, work through painful feelings, and process my experiences. I blog to express myself creatively, and to try my hand at styles of or approaches to writing that interest and challenge me. Aside from the real-life issue I mentioned above, my fear regarding comments has always been that they would adversely affect how and what I write. That I'd become self-conscious and start writing with some audience in mind, trapping me into some style or tone or subject that causes me to forego more exploratory and creative writing. Or that a lack of comments altogether would discourage me from writing, period. And since writing is so integral to my well-being, that's a risk I've not wanted to run.

There's a fair argument that a blog which doesn't allow comments should just be private, or offline. I could have a private offline journal, but for one thing, I'm pretty tech illiterate. I wouldn't even know what format to use for that. Plus, I just like the public blog format. I'm comfortable with it. It's quick and easy, and I like that my life is chronologically laid out and easy to reference in a few clicks. I like that if I'm out somewhere, I can share something quickly and easily - a post, or a video I've made, a poem or a photo - on someone else's computer, or phone, or whatever. I couldn't do that if it was private.

Having it public also challenges me to be a better blogger, and a better person. Knowing that anyone can anonymously judge my skills as a writer, not to mention me as a person, pushes me to write thoughtfully, and to live the sort of life I wouldn't be embarrassed to share. Like Instagram, my blog is a way to see my existence reflected back at me. It's a way to send out a small beacon in this big, big world, and to say, Hey universe!  I'm Ellie. I'm just one of billions of people, nothing more or less special than any of the others. I am human, and I think, and I feel. I exist, and here's the proof.

I never set out to grow Elliequent big enough to where it would be recognized, commended, or criticized elsewhere on the internet. I never set out to grow Elliequent at all. I've never listed it in a blog directory. I don't solicit sponsors. I've never asked other bloggers to share my link, or to let me guest post on their own blogs. I don't promote my blog elsewhere online. I've commented a few times on other blogs, with either my commenter name hyperlinked to my blog or with a direct link to some post I'd written, if a) that post was brought up by others in discussion on that blog, or b) I sincerely thought the post I'd written was relevant to that blog's discussion.

I don't announce my posts on Twitter or Instagram. The only time I reference my blog on Twitter is in response to someone else's tweets about it. In fact, the only reason I even have my blog address listed in my Twitter profile is because occasionally, people do tweet to me about my posts, and it seems dumb/annoying to not have the address listed in case some follower of mine is wondering WTF we're talking about.

I occasionally make small, usually oblique references to posts on my Instagram, but that's rare. A few of my Instagram followers have found my blog and become readers, but that was because they Googled my IG user name, I guess either because they were curious about me as a person, or because they were curious about something another IGer said, in reference to my blog.

All of this being said, when Elliequent did grow big enough to warrant recognition, commendation, and criticism elsewhere on the internet, I didn't want to be the sort of person who would stick her head in the sand and pretend it didn't exist. I mean, that's the sort of person I railed against just ten days ago. So I made a botched attempt towards transparency, toward being available and responsive to criticism, that understandably pissed some people off. I never set out to solicit that feedback, but when I unexpectedly got it, my attempt to respond to it in good faith came across as an attempt to control and direct it. Mea culpa.

This post is not me trying to sell anyone on liking me or my blog. I'm not trying to sell myself or my blog, period. I never have. The fact that over the years, people have decided I'm cool or funny or smart or talented or interesting enough to keep clicking over to check on me - and in some cases, befriend me in some way - is a flattering side effect of the fact that I'm a self-indulgent, self-absorbed shit who just likes to hear herself talk.

This post is just me trying to clarify some of my actions and words over the past week, so that I'm a little bit less hated, that's all. Growing my blog isn't my priority - the writing itself, and the therapeutic self-expression that comes with it, are. That being said, being hated sucks, and picking up internet friends and readers here and there is undeniably really, really cool.

I wrote ten days ago that people who dismiss their critics without hearing them out are foolish. And I don't want to be a fool. But I'm scared that, just like comments, reading criticism is going to color my writing in an unnatural way. I don't expect it to stop, now that it has a place to pool. And I'm scared that I'll have a hard time wading through these charges against me and knowing which are valid, and which, for whatever reasons, are not. Which it's reasonable of me to try and address, and which I should just let go of. Which come from people who've made an effort to understand me, and which come from those who just plain don't like me, and for whom I could never do right, anyway. I don't know which I'll be able to use as an effective means with which to improve myself and my writing, and which I'll just brutally flagellate myself with. Which will inspire me to be better, and which will just scare me off from blogging, period.

I don't want to stick my head in the sand, but I don't want my pen to get stuck in it, either.