Skip to main content

Into every life, a little Michiko Kakutani must fall.

By September 30, 2009How To

judgmentDoes anyone know who Michiko Kakutani is? If you do, you get a gold star for the day. Wear it loud and proud on your forehead.

In my world (because she is bigger than this), she was the New York Times book editor that reviewed Carrie Bradshaw’s book on Sex and the City. It was a glowing review by all accounts, save one. At the very end, Michiko Kakutani said something the tiniest bit negative. It was a blade of grass in a very large field. That appeared as big as a Redwood to Carrie.

{Before I go any further, I should mention that a certain someone, who will remain anonymous for his own safety, recently told me that Carrie Bradshaw was a fictional character. Au contraire, mon frère, she’s actually hyper-real since she’s the collective reality of several brilliant, brilliant writers. So there. The above scenario really happened. Or it could have, and it does…all. the. time.}

As writers (and parents and mechanics and chefs and humans…), we’re fantastic editors and critics – of other people and of course, of ourselves. Our ears have somehow been tuned to catch the particular cacophony of criticism.


I gave a presentation a couple of weeks ago, and the organization kindly sent me the feedback they’d collected from their surveys. Virtually all of the comments were positive, there was just one negative comment. And it was all I could see. Poor me and Carrie Bradshaw – and possibly all of you.

When I realized what I was doing, I got the brilliant idea to swing the other way. Ignore it! I thought. Throw that negative comment far, far away. But that wasn’t really the solution either. So, I shored up my fragile ego, opened my ears and eyes wide, and read the negative comment again. And I found something helpful there. Something that might make me better at what I do.


It wasn’t an attack. It was someone’s actual experience…and it was as real as Carrie Bradshaw. It was still my choice as to whether or not I would change my presentation to match this person’s experience, I’d have to explore whether it would be beneficial for the me and the rest of my audience, but it was certainly interesting to explore the possibility without my defenses standing at attention.

And what about the praise? What about the gobs of love and goo that were also beating down the doors? While they so spinelessly let the crap in, my internal gates seem to be unwavering, stalwart even, when it comes to denying entrance to the good. Apparently, I had managed to turn the volume on the praise waaaaaay down.

Huh. Again.

I wonder if I could open my eyes and ears to the praise, too? Can I believe that the good stuff is also (gasp) real? And how would it transform my future work to really take it in? Not just in an ‘Oh, thanks!’ kind of way, but in a really soak it up and digest it kind of way. I can’t help but think that it would fortify that ego of mine, enabling it to weather the negative criticism to come and absorb it (and use it) with a fair and equanimous ear, eye…and heart.

Image credit: afsart

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Alisa Bowman says:

    So true–after the initial sting wears off, most criticism can be constructive in some way (assuming it’s coming from a real person and not a troll… who I suppose are real people, but, well, you know). I try to learn from all feedback. Sometimes I don’t want to hear it, but when I do allow myself to open my ears? I do grow stronger and better. Thanks for the great reminder.

  • Edgy Mama says:

    Well expressed and oh so true, Julie.

    Funnily enough, after a series of blistering comments on a recent column of mine, I was inspired to write a little love note to all my commenters thanking them for reading and debating, even when they are less than kind, because I always learn something, even from the criticisms–once I’ve put aside that first reaction of hurt.

    Incidentally, I think that’s the longest sentence I’ve written in months.

  • Ari Herzog says:

    Ignore your critics and ignore your humanity. Refuse to listen and read what your critics say and write and refuse to succeed.

    From the enlightening gavel (leading me to click over to its Flickr source and see where it was, and confirming suspicions it couldn’t be a Photoshopped work of art) to your last sentence, you hooked me. I half-wondered if you were writing about me, when I commented on your last blog post in a contrarian fashion. ;)

    With every fall comes a Keep it up!

  • Julie Roads says:

    Ha! No, Ari, I wasn’t writing about you (though I did respond back to that comment as well) – believe it or not, other people disagree with me as well. Though, no one would deny that you’re really good at it.

Leave a Reply