Maybe it’s a bit self indulgent, but sometimes you need to take your own advice.
Often you know the answer to something, but only by taking a journey, collecting snippets and sorting through different lenses and filters can you arrive at joy, and indeed, an answer.
By gathering pieces of wisdom and feedback, we can often synthesise some of our stronger feelings, and reassemble them in such a way that there’s a sense of resolution or calm.
The other day, I had an out-of-the-blue piece of feedback on something I had been involved in last year. I say out-of-the-blue because the feedback came more than six months after the fact. It was unexpected and not overwhelmingly positive.
It wasn’t unwelcome of course. It came from someone of good heart, someone whose counsel is trusted. I know that the feedback wasn’t given lightly, and in fact, that there had been some debate about who would give said feedback by a committee.
Notwithstanding, in the moment, for a variety of reasons it was hurtful, and brought up all kinds of frustration.
So, I used one of my lifelines. I phoned a friend.
The friend knew of the feedback, and nuanced it a bit in what was a longer, more detailed conversation. She too gave the same feedback, but was able to cushion it with more information and context.
But it continued to sting.
I mentioned it to another friend who I can always trust to make me feel a bit better about myself. She sighed, and said, well, I always ask myself: “Is it true? is it helpful? is it kind?”
For some, constructive criticism can help us to grow, change, improve, enhance our humble offerings. For others, it can be an experience of being crushed underfoot.
For me, it is both, depending on the context.
If someone criticises my accounting, how lax I am at changing the oil in my car (not even once, let’s be clear) or how badly I dance, I’m inclined to laugh and join in the verbal bashing.
It is different of course when someone criticises the things I really care about, that is, things that I have created. My art, my music, my writing. And yet it is necessary, in order to become better at these things to have at least some constructive feedback.
And this is just the point.
The criticism I received the other day maybe wasn’t necessary. It was a bit helpful, although perhaps not timely. It certainly had truth to it. And it was given, from, I think, a place of patronage, from the heart of a teacher.
As I looked at it from this lens, I was able to resolve my feelings about it somewhat.
Joy came with the morning, so to speak.
One of the songs from my album “I Joyfully Sing” is based on this idea, and its chorus lines say just that: “they (whoever they might be) can’t take away my song, my joy comes with the morning, I will be here waiting for the dawn.” Listen Here
I had just finished reading Shauna Niequist’s books Cold Tangerines and Savor. And in case you want to put me into a box, at the same time, I completed reading for the second time Victor Jara: An Unfinished Song by Joan Jara.
Between finishing these books, in real time as I was processing this feedback, I realised that despite criticism, I have to keep going.
Six months ago I served myself up on a plate with trepidation, and with, what seems a less-than-perfect result.
It was for a group of people whose opinions are interesting, but not necessarily the most important ones.
Shauna wrote that she and her husband Aaron take this on board when they have an opinion over the art someone has created, and it makes up a chapter in her book Savor. It’s a long quote so I’ve included it here as a screenshot because it deserves to be here in its entirety:
And then of course there is the story of Jara. The Chilean singer spent his early years in abject poverty, and from his teens onward using his art in the struggle for justice.
This eventually led to his death at the beginning of the 11 September, 1973 coup that deposed Socialist president Salvador Allende, and heralded the beginning of a long dictatorship. Many people didn’t like Jara’s art, so much so that he eventually gave his life for it.
I’m sure he received plenty of feedback in his time too, some of it in the form of death threats. It’s an extreme example. Jara’s hands that so lovingly played his guitar were crushed as a symbol as he was tortured and shot in the Estadio Chile.
In the song Manifesto, Jara wrote (and it sounds much prettier in Spanish):
I don’t sing just to sing
Or because I have a good voice.
I sing because the guitar
makes sense and has a reason,
It has a heart made of earth
and wings of a little dove,
It’s like holy water
it blesses glories and sadness
Here my singing is stuck.
just like Violeta used to say,
a working guitar
with a spring smell.
So, my point? well, there has to be something of martyrdom in what we create. There will be some suffering. We will fail often. There will be some blood, sweat and tears.
These uphill battles in the end may not amount to much more than a fragile sense of having done what we ought to have done with our lives.