If you want to be creative don't listen to the kill-joys in the back.
“What an idiot SHE IS."
“OH MY GOD, DRAMATIC MUCH? STUPID BITCH.”
“Okay, wow, like that’s realistic? GET A GRIP.”
“These girls are SO STUPID.”
“Their outfits are TRASH.”
What is this vitriolic dialogue you ask?
Allow me to kindly illuminate you: the above back-and-forth was derived from the bitter lips of a two-party peanut gallery yammering away at the screening of a hit episodic that I (and the majority of the three hundred guests in residence) happen to love.
So I guess it's not hard to imagine how enraged I was to be at this highly-anticipated party, surrounded by hundreds of creative enthusiastic fans, only to be bombarded by two negative Nancy’s lurking behind me, sucking back cocktails, bitching about e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g from the writing, the acting, the characters, the fashion and the actors themselves. It was blazingly clear to me from the lack of nuance in their critiques that these women were not regular watchers of the show. It’s one thing to have well-thought-out criticism of a show you’re rooting for—it’s another to engage in vapid, mean-spirited dribble over a show you're unfamiliar with.
My irritation was so palpable, my plus one, let's call her Beatrix*—could smell the hot rage permeating from my pores.
“I know, they’re so annoying, Z.” Beatrix purred gently into my ear, attempting to calm the beast within.
“Why don’t they try writing a hit show with stellar ratings?” I hissed into the ether.
And truthfully: I meant every word of my hiss. Not only were they tarnishing the joyful experience of watching my favorite TV show among my equally besotted contemporaries—what pissed me off the *most* viscerally—is that these sniveling women had *no* idea what they were talking about! Their negative assessments were baseless. Their commentary wasn’t smart or informed.
I whipped my head around to catch a glimpse of the professional sh*t talkers. Big mistake. On accident, I made eye contact with them both. Their lips stretched into a sneer, in perfect unison. As an embarrassingly earnest creative—sneers send me spinning.
“Who is that girl? She looks familiar.” One whispered to the other.
“She’s some kind of journalist or something. I’ll give you the gossip later.”
“ELL OH ELL. I know who she is. Zara Barrie. Her writing is such a waste of time.”
I'm a hot-headed New Yorker, so naturally my first instinct was to throw my vodka soda into their faces. But then I remembered that I had paid a whopping fourteen dollars for my beloved vodka soda and I don’t want my liquor to die in vain. The liquor doesn’t deserve that. The liquor (in this case) did nothing wrong.
And then I felt the warm blanket of calm wrap itself over my scrunched-up shoulder. I relaxed. I remembered that there is no need to ever let the words of mean women land on me. Because I know this breed—they're the bitches in the back. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my haphazard life it’s this: Never Listen To The Bitches In The Back. For they're in the back for a reason, honey.
Here's my long-standing definition of the bitches in the back. They're the kinds of people who stand on the sidelines of life. They’ve never braved the stage. They’ve never published a vulnerable essay or had the wherewithal to submit their script to a network or book to an agent or even put one of their poems on social media. Nor have they ever spoken about something painful on a panel or taken a stab at standup or made any of their art public. Yet, they garner deep-rooted satisfaction in making fun of, bullying or heavily criticizing those of us who *do* have the guts to share our work with the masses.
Despite never having written anything—the bitches in the back often consider themselves to be esteemed experts of literature. They've never taken a stab at acting class—yet deem themselves worthy critics of the craft. They spew hate at bloggers but they have ~no~ idea of the hard work and grit it takes to maintain a blog. They’re the first to tweet something bitchy about someone’s outfit when they haven’t cracked open a fashion magazine in the last decade. They’re the kind of people who pay hard-earned money to attend a screening of a show—only to stand in the very back with sour expressions pasted onto their faces, as they loudly complain about how much they detest everything about the show.
I’ve been dealing with the bitches in the back for as long as I can remember. I tumbled out of my mother's womb with an irrepressible need to express and create, so trust me. I’ve always been bitch-bait. And the wrath of the bitches used to really hurt my sensitive little feelings. I’ll never forget the onslaught of nasty comments I received after I finally mustered up the courage to write about my depression on a major media outlet. It wasn’t the hate speech from the faceless men who live in their parents’ apartments that got to me. The death threats and death wishes didn’t even upset me that much either because it's pretty safe to say the humans behind those kinds of comments were straight-up evil. And I don’t care if evil humans think I’m a good writer.
But the bitches in the back really knew how to dig their proverbial nails into my spine with their biting sarcasm and arbitrary grammar corrections and cutting, critical comments. (If you read a powerful essay where the writer reveals their deepest traumas to the internet at large because they want to shed light on a taboo subject that affects many—and you're fueled with an insatiable desire to comment about a fucking Oxford comma—maybe it's time to find a *real* hobby, honey?). And the reason these bitches triggered me so is that their comments always seemed to poke at my deepest insecurities. I’m not smart. I shouldn’t be writing. I’m sophomoric. Vapid. I shouldn’t have wasted their time with my words. No one cares. I’m a narcissist for sharing my story. I SUCK AT LIFE AND ART.
Real Talk: I have yet to meet a creative that doesn’t suffer from some sort of imposter syndrome. It’s in the nature of artists to constantly question their talent, to feel embarrassed and raw by their naked vulnerability, to fear that they’re frauds. Hell, I’d argue that it’s in the nature of most people to incessantly worry that they aren’t good enough. Unless you're a sociopath, it's pretty safe to assume you've experienced a pang of self-doubt.
The only difference is, the working artist, puts their work into the world despite their nagging phobia that they have nothing of substance to offer. And you know what? I think that's brave. I think having the courage to publically fail is something to be celebrated!
Except—sometimes we get tempted to let the judgment of others get in our way. Sometimes we artists release our work into the world and the bitches in the back pipe up and make us feel so seeped in shame we silence ourselves! We vow to never put ourselves out there again. I mean we did the scary thing only to be publicly torn down and now there's nothing left to do but hide forever. And the best way to hide is to camouflouge into a crowd. By which I mean sometimes we quit our passions and join the bitches in the back. Because guess what? It’s safe in the back. It’s dark. No one can really see you back there, babe. No one will be able to tell that you secretly wish it was *you* on that stage when you’re lost in a herd of hate.
But here’s why you, little sister, should never let these snakes dim your fucking sparkle: The bitches in the back, I believe are frustrated creators too paralyzed in fear to go after their dreams! Why would you comment on the “quality of the writing” on a total stranger’s article—unless you secretly believed that you had a great essay ~stewing~ inside of you? Why would you get so pissed about the writing of some internet essay—unless you were seething with jealousy so guttural you couldn't help but publically comment on the grammar? It’s the sole reason that homophobes are usually closeted gays and thus bitter that they don’t get to fly a rainbow flag at Pride in sexy ass-less chaps.
But here's the thing: what kind of sad existence is it to never have the courage to create but to constantly criticize those who do? To get off on projecting your frustration with yourself onto others?
That being said, I don’t actually feel bad for the bitches in the back. I feel bad for the creators they stifle. But at this stage in the game, I don't have the time to empathize with an adult bully. And that’s what the bitches in the back are: adult bullies.
So here's the mantra I recite to myself daily now, that I want *all* of my sacred readers to live by, too: unless you’ve actually done the thing that I’m doing, I don’t care what you think of my thing.
‘Cause as a working creative who over the course of a decade has published 2k+ essays, written & released a book, created two seasons of a fictional, serialized audio drama, launched three podcasts and a weekly subscription memoir series, acted in and wrote a video series, directed six plays and monthly literary salons—not to mention the surplus of projects that were rejected by everyone in the industry failed miserably and will never see the light of day—here’s what I KNOW for sure: making anything and putting it out into the world is hard.
It takes a surplus of focus and imagination and courage and hard work and resilience to rejection. So until you’ve *done* this extremely hard thing—your criticism bears no meaning to me. I mean try it. Try writing a book. Try selling a book. You won’t. Because you’re investing your limited energy in resenting art created by others. And resentment isn’t just “swallowing poison and expecting the other person to die.” It’s taking a gun to the head of your productivity and firing shots! Nothing will kill your dreams like drowning in a pool of jealousy.
So. Dear reader. If you have some bitches in the back in your life, screw them. Live your life. Do you. Put your head down and make your art. Put your words, your music, your opinions, your face, your body, and your story out there. Listen to people who are creating—they might have some valuable feedback for you. Listen to your audience, the people who consume your content, and want to see you win—they might also bestow you with some words of wisdom. Mainly: listen to yourself. Your own knowing is almost always the most spot-on.
But the bitches in the back? Their opinions are fruitless! Why would you let anyone who has never dared to step into the spotlight dull your shine, my sparkly sweet sister? Close your ears to them and keep creating.
And one day while they were busy being bitchy, you’ll have made something you’re proud of.
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