It doesn't matter if the criticism is deserved, fair, constructive or otherwise. Historically, I've found that criticism reveals my tendency to hide in the ladies room, or to get my back up like a cornered badger.
(Badgers can be dangerous when cornered. I know this from first hand, slightly inebriated experience.)
I've always been a juvenile about wanting everyone to like me, and being yelled at activates my fight or flight response. My body fills with adrenaline and I struggle to suppress the urge to vomit. And in trying to hold back tears (because public crying would make the situation SO MUCH WORSE) my nostrils flare wildly, giving me the appearance of an insane monkey (or badger)... or something. It's not pretty.
My emotional development stalled at 14. I don't know why.
Only, it seem the tide may finally be turning. Yesterday, I arrived at work to find a note from my boss that went something like this:
"Jen, this needs a complete rewrite! Not your best work by far! I really don't like it."
Now, considering the sort of editorial direction I've received in the past, this is really tame. Nonetheless, in the past, it's the sort of thing I would have been quite upset about. Why? Because I'm a baby.
People yell a lot at newspapers. Editors scream and pound their desks. They throw your writing back in your face. At my first newsroom job, a sputtering Brit in suspenders screamed at me so loudly, flecks of spit flew from his mouth. My mistake was small and fairly unimportant, but I guess he was having a bad day. I was hysterical in the ladies room for a good 30 minutes. That was 10 years ago.
About five years ago, I worked at a commuter daily that required me to produce approximately five pieces every day. I lived in a constant state of panic. I barely slept. And I had to deal with an overweight, unwashed copy editor who liked to point out what he called my "obscenely egregious" errors, and send my pieces back to me for correction. Correction of typos. A "they" when I should have written "the" -- that sort of thing. I was writing five stories a day, people. Mr. Unwashed apparently didn't understand his job description. It was unreasonable, but still, it upset me.
The worst was my last job, at a very downmarket "magazine." My boss liked to write things on my copy like "bleeech!!!!" and "ick!!" in nearly illegible scrawl. Of course, he was widely known to be a psychopath. He favoured headlines with exclamation points (seriously), and liked to say thing like, "Are you tired today? Is that why you're so incompetent?" He also couldn't spell, knew nothing about journalism, and dressed like Ellen Degeneres, so whatever.
Still, it upset me. The unfairness of it all upset me.
These days, I work at a place I like. it's not a newspaper or a magazine, but I'm still writing. Occasionally, things get tense, but I find while I still want to please, I'm not as sensitive as I used to be. I churn out so much material in a day. It can't all be good. And sometimes, you've just gotta get something out. Anything. You can't wait for inspiration. In those cases, you leave it awhile and then you rewrite. That's just the way it is.
Yesterday, I found that for the first time in my writing career, when faced with criticism, I wasn't upset. Maybe it's because the note was understated. Maybe it's because my boss is a nice person (if occasionally blunt). Maybe it's because the piece in question WAS terrible, rushed, and needed a rewrite. I don't know.
I like to think I'm growing up. Mind you, if I was indeed growing up, I wouldn't be writing about this, would I? I wouldn't need to crow about it.