From the time I was a mere child until the present day, people have felt that they could say anything at all to me. Sometimes they merely entrusted me with confidences that never should have been mine to hear. The unburdening might go on for hours. My ear was less a confessional and more the City Dump.
What has been more typical is that they have dispensed unsolicited constructive criticism or, as I call it, “undermining.” Of course, many times I’ve faced criticism that has been frankly destructive, though I can see that coming. I’ll raise the drawbridge and lower the portcullis to prevent blatantly sadistic critics from entering the castle.
Doing anything at all in public takes bravery. There are those who lurk in the shadows with the psychic equivalent of ripe produce (or worse), ready to hurl it on the slightest pretext. They live to crush your joy, and to silence your voice.
Avoiding the overtly vicious is easy, at least once you get past the age of compulsory schooling. After that, there’s nothing forcing you to interact with them. At worst, you can just stay home.
I consider myself incredibly lucky to have found a line of work that does not require me to leave the house. It’s a great comfort not to have to rub elbows with the vindictively candid. I conduct my business by mail, email, and telephone—and Caller ID makes the phone much less harrowing. Additionally, staying away from social media adds yet another buffer of coziness. Why express an opinion (however heartfelt and valid) and stir up jerks?
Having secured my domicile and person against the malevolent, there is nothing to protect me from the damage inflicted by those whom I have let in, and who ostensibly mean well. Those are the ones who undermine, and a good undermining can put me out of commission for days.
These days, I don’t often experience much intramural strife. All is harmonious within the confines of the Syncopated Compound. Feeling on the whole pretty good about my life and my work, my defenses tend to be down. I admit I was wide open for a (well meant) attack.
The perpetrator was someone I’d admitted to the fortress. I should have known something was up when I saw the back issues. The pen is mightier than the sword, and the red pen is deadlier still. My unwitting detractor had gone through the first two issues of The Syncopated Times and corrected them. Since my grammar and spelling are substantially good, these were all style corrections. My poor paper looked like it had the measles.
Bear in mind also that my first issue of The Syncopated Times was my first issue of anything. I hadn’t even done a mock-up or a practice issue before going to press with Volume 1, Number 1. I taught myself layout as I was putting it together.
I forced a smile at and thanked the self-appointed constructive critic, but I admit the experience threw me. I had been well and truly undermined, and the assault temporarily diminished the joy I feel in my work. And I was inclined to circle the (singular) wagon even tighter.
That was almost three months ago. In the intervening time, my relationship with the “helpful” critic has deteriorated further. More strange broadsides have been launched against the bulwark of my competence. Our alliance may not last until the next issue. In fact, I am almost certain that it will not.
In a world suffused with murderous hatred, I don’t know if I should be comforted that all I have to deal with are gaslighting, undermining, and a general and constant passive-aggressive weirdness. They’re gentle abrasives, but they wear me down.
So let me conclude this rather somber exercise on a somewhat upbeat note, and say that there are some bridges that need burning immediately, even while I’m still crossing them. In lieu of fireworks it will seem a mild display, but the glow will be salubrious.