We're in the brilliant new green of spring in Austin, Texas as I commence with spring cleaning. Yes, there are drawers to clean out, inboxes to purge, and files to go through, but I have something different in mind.
Long periods of solo creative work and isolation during the pandemic bring into focus my much-needed deep-down cleanse of my thoughts. It's downright cluttered and noisy in my brain with the chorus of critics I carry around with me. Yes, it's a large choir complete with red (red ink red) flowing robes.
If I'm honest with myself, I'm the lead choir director. Let's call this part of me Angela. She's a diligent leader, always at the ready. As soon as Angie has a creative idea to put out into the world, Angela gets the choir all revved up, and before you can say, "Let's get 'er done!" the chorus drowns out my muse, who was ready to reveal her creative, yet shy self. She scampers back to the coat closet and pretends to be interested in the old hymnals stuffed in the corner.
This chorus of mine has readily accepted new members since I was at least nine. My sister, my piano teacher, and my friend's misguided brothers were charter members. Then there was Brother Brown, the Southern Baptist preacher, who led the church where I spent so much of my formative years. He didn't much like all my questions. Women had their place in the Fellowship Hall and NOT in the Sanctuary. A lady's role was raising children, supporting husbands, and not asking why this arrangement was the way it was.
The choir kept growing over the years with each conflict, argument, and rejection.
There's the creaky, faceless academic group (archetypes really) lead by a generic male journal reviewer ready to critique every word I write. Always critical. Usually, petty. It took me years to shake the dull academic writing style. My muse has little regard for making fascinating topics lifelessly boring. Back off, Gentlemen.
To the academics' right, stand the buttoned-up white men in my choir that wheeled power over my career.
- There's Sly Perfect, the head of HR caught by the CEO fooling around with a female employee in his office. Why should I care about what HE thinks?
- There's Bill Bulge, the narrow-shouldered chauvinistic manager who loved to hold court with people he had power over. He was one more sexual harassment complaint away from a pink slip. How could I give this slimy guy power over me?
- Then there's Voldemort, the guy who delighted in derailing women's careers and incapacitating them with severe bouts of self-doubt. I wonder if he put a notch in his desk for every fallen female? He was mean and downright awful. It took me years to shake his tight grip from around the throat of my self-esteem.
The women stand in front of the men's row, ready to weld their judgments in three-part harmony. Who does she think she is anyway? She's not really all that smart and talented. She doesn't have what it takes.
- There's Cathy Critic, the progressive feminist who pegged me as a conservative bureaucrat (does she even know me?) ready to correct my every word and question every action.
- There is Move Over Mary, the angry executive with sharp elbows and quick tongue who would never quite see me as an equal. Maybe I wasn't. So it was confusing when she constantly tried to one-up me.
- Then there is My Way or the High Way Wanda - the perfectionistic boss who insisted on keeping everyone down. If she couldn't move up, neither would anyone else.
I wonder now why we women didn't stick up for one another more? Why weren't we standing in solidarity with one another? It's high time we start building alliances and stop competing in the old power structure built to favor those in power. We've come a long way, baby. But alas, we have a long way to go!
It's time to confront this gnarly bunch of critics. As I stare down each one of my choir members and look carefully into each of their cold, beady eyes, I ask, "Is it true?" Were they really a critic that intended to shut me down or topple my career? I realize that perhaps they just didn't like the idea I pitched or how I handled myself in the cold light of day. Maybe I misinterpreted their responses? I most likely overreacted. Through my daydream, it's clear I no longer need them to "guide" or temper me.
The truth is very few people ever intended harm. For those who did, karma has no doubt worked her magic. Maybe it's time to cancel choir practice once and for all and in one big emotional crescendo, bless and release them. Or maybe it's time to sit them down, hush them up, and demand they listen. Sister Angie has something to say. Can I get a hardy, Amen?!
Better yet, maybe it's time to expand my chorus to include all the generous people who supported me through all the phases of my career. I'm going to need a bigger choir space because there are hundreds—so many more supporters, mentors, and close colleagues than the nit-picky critics I've held on to. As they float into the choir loft, I'm overwhelmed by their gracious love and guidance. How could I have ever felt like a failure with this community present every step of the way? I can see my muse come prancing down the aisle with an empty writing pad and paint canvas in one hand and her pencil bag and paints in the other ready to work her magic as my much-expanded chorus lifts their encouraging voices to drown out all the critics. Let's get 'er done!
1. Do you suffer from your chorus of critics? 2. Can you picture them? How would you describe this group? 3. Take a more careful look. Can you name them one at a time? Maybe some members show up as archetypes. 4. For every individual, group, or archetype, ask yourself: Why are you here? Is it true? Were they really a critic that intended to shut you down? Can you bless and release them? 5. Now, can you imagine a chorus of supporters who are cheering you on? Name them all.