Thursday, January 26, 2012

everyone’s a critic (in which i pat myself on the back a little bit)

The other day I fell into the wonderful black hole that is Regretsy—a blog that makes fun of Etsy’s wackiest shit. There are crazy ideas, executed beautifully (and, in the case of the Star Trek Enterprise coffee table, photographed against unflattering backgrounds). There are regular ideas, executed terribly. And then there are those magical items that are the holy grail of poor/insane concept and execution, such as the Eva Peron butt plug, featuring a portrait of Santa Evita that is only recognizable as such only because EVA PERON is written in big gold letters at the plug’s base.

Regretsy’s approach is mostly celebratory, and if you make Eva Peron butt plugs and sell them on the internet, you’re pretty much asking for it. But…(pun intended?), I found myself thinking, Helen Killer [as Ms. Regretsy calls herself] is totally hilarious, but it’s really hard to make an Enterprise coffee table! The product description even mentioned how the maker had gone through a couple of sheets of glass before making the perfect tabletop. (She did file this particular item under “Things I Love,” so I don’t think she and the artist were necessarily in disagreement.)

The relationship between artist and critic or, more broadly, doer and critic, is a complicated one. Back in my Zap2it days, I wrote a semi-scathing review of If These Walls Could Talk 2, a TV movie about lesbians living in the same house over the course of multiple generations.* Scathing was my specialty. I’d learned in Free Speech 101 that it was my constitution-given right to write about how crappy TV movies were. I titled my review of Jennifer Love Hewitt’s Aubrey Hepburn biopic “Jennifer Love Blew It.” Ha!

The filmmaker who’d made These Walls sent me an equally scathing email accusing me of homophobia and saying, “Do you know how hard it is to make a movie? Have you ever made one?”

Hate mail! The ultimate way to flatter a journalist (or, in my case, a “journalist”)! I laughed about it—if only she knew I was a baby dyke currently taking my first queer lit class!—and wrote back, “I’ve never made a movie. I’ve also never been president, but I still vote.”

I stand by that, and by the much-maligned role of the critic. I believe that progress requires introspection, and that an unexamined culture is not worth inhabiting. But I’m older now, and although I still haven’t made a movie, I’ve written two books and I do a lot of blogging (some in critic mode, some in creator mode). I think I have a better idea of how hard it is to make an Enterprise coffee table.

As an artist, my skin is pretty thick. Okay, medium thick. But as a doer—specifically, as a wannabe parent who sometimes writes and responds to articles about adoption—my skin is the thickness of a newborn hamster’s.

I know that no one lies awake at night making lists of reasons I shouldn’t become a parent. But I am discovering that lots of people have Thoughts About Adoption. Not all of them are warm and fuzzy. In fact, I wrote a three page post in response to some lady’s response to my response to a Huffington Post article by a woman who’d been adopted. The solipsism of that little knot of communication is almost unfathomable, and so that post will never see the light of your computer screen. Even though it was all sociological and stuff, and kind of smart!

What I will say is more or less what that filmmaker wrote to me: At least I’m putting myself out there—not just online, but in life. Over the past year and a half, I’ve taken a lot of risks: gotten myself knocked up, gotten through the grief when it didn’t work out, filled out a thousand reams of adoption paperwork. AK and I have put in serious hours trying to figure out ourselves and our relationship.

It’s so easy to be self-critical and to find confirmations of my own worst insecurities out there in the world. So what if I seem a little desperate and crazy to myself? So what if I’m the equivalent of an Osama bin Laden commemorative oyster shell? (Okay, maybe that’s a bad example.)

And now we’ve offered ourselves up to the world: This is us. Do you want us to be the mothers of your kid? It’s harder to do this than it is to have Strong Opinions about what parents should and should not do. It takes serious balls, or, as Dan Savage would say, ovaries. I’m glad mine are good for something after all.

*I realize that this bears some striking—though not copyright infringing!—similarities to the plot of Lilac Mines. Irony noted.


Claire said...

I think my takeaway here is that table is awesome! :)

raardvarks said...

It is weird to think that all your critical thoughts can be shot back at you with equal or greater vehemence. When I think about it, the thought makes me never want to do anything public, or creative, ever. But I also don't want to live in a hole. I wish I could combine the hole metaphor with a thin skin metaphor, but I think you see where I am going so I will stop.

Cheryl said...

C: For just $3,100 it can be yours.

R: Well, I hope you do manage to develop whatever boundaries or defenses you need, because you're a really good writer and you should definitely keep doing creative things!