One of my favorite blog posts is C. B. Wentworth’s My Inner Critic Is Trying To Kill Me. She so aptly describes the nastiness that comes our way when the Inner Critic awakens.
My Inner Critic isn’t exactly trying to kill me – if I were dead he could no longer torment me. He much prefers to paralyze me with anxiety and then try to drive me insane with his comments about my ineptitude and worthlessness.
I started making SoulCollage cards about three years ago. It’s an artful way to externalize one’s positive and negative energies, as well as the guides and helpers that can be called upon when assistance is needed. Inner Critic emerged onto a card last summer, and
he is nasty business. There he is, injecting poisonous thoughts and judgements into my brain, creating paranoia and fear, destroying any possibility of confidence, joy or peace.
He evidently slipped in through a crack in the door on Sunday evening as I was distracted by the challenges of learning The Cherry Tree Carol, one of the tunes we’ll be playing at our harp ensemble concert. This arrangement has unusual harmonies, lots of 16th notes, a repeated lever flip, and odd fingerings, and that’s just the vocal melody line that I’m trying to play. (The actual harp part is full of those little black dots tumbling all over themselves at a pace far beyond what I have the ability to master in only four all-too-short weeks.)
I’ve had lots of practice in the ensemble at taking a vocal line, dividing it into two hands, and playing it up to tempo in a way that it looks and sounds “harpy.” But on Sunday afternoon and evening The Cherry Tree Carol refused to be made into something I could play. The best I could manage at tempo was playing the two strong beats in each measure with alternating index fingers. Which was exactly the only way I could play in the harp ensemble five years ago, and which, as a harp method, I hoped was well behind me.
That was all the invitation Inner Critic needed. Disguised as frustration and disappointment, hopelessness and self-pity, he began: “All you can manage is playing with two fingers? That’s pathetic! You can’t play any better than you did five years ago. You’ve wasted the last eight years taking harp lessons. You obviously don’t know how to play the harp. If you were any good, you’d be able to play this.” Yikes!
And of course, Inner Critic came along for my lesson yesterday, still hiding behind his facade of frustration and hopelessness, still creating overarching feelings of impending doom. I am blessed that my teacher doesn’t get swept up in my rushing torrents of anxiety and mindlessness, but instead focuses on the problem at hand while discerning exactly what I need to revert my temporary insanity back to some grounding in reality. Which in this case was devising a way to play The Cherry Tree Carol with musical phrases, using all my fingers and both of my hands, in a way that would feel like I was playing music and not plinking away with two fingers on the harp. She quickly eliminated the 16th notes that aren’t needed for the flow of the tune, and changed stem directions and revised fingerings to divide notes between right and left hands. What had been clunky two note measures became musical phrases that are, as she described them, “more satisfying to play.”
I left my lesson thinking that I’ll be able to play this tune after all, and that, perhaps, I’m not a complete harp failure. I made it through Monday night’s ensemble class without a meltdown at having to sight-read a Ray Pool chord progression exercise. We worked on a completely different tune, challenging but one I could play. Still, general unease lingered, and Doubt skulked about in the corners of the rehearsal room.
Once home I got out my journal and invited Doubt to tell me what was on his/her mind. It was Inner Critic who answered, and that’s when he blew his disguise. All it took was the phrase “What are people going to think?” coming out of my pen onto the paper for me to know that none of this distress was about me, or the harp, or the tune, or the tempo. It was all IC trying to mess with me, and doing a pretty good job of it for close to 24 hours. But he ruined his disguise with his question. That question isn’t mine. I know that no one in the audience is going to be saying to their seat mate, “Look at her – she still can’t play the harp with two hands.” Even if people in the audience have come to previous ensemble concerts, no one is going to remember what or how I played last year, or the year before that. Instead, the audience will be enjoying the music we play. Some of them might even wish that they were a part of creating such beautiful music.
Once IC was busted, equanimity quickly returned. I got my box of SoulCollage cards, and pulled his out and stared him down. Then I grabbed my Warrior Rebel card, whose fierceness, strength and will, along with her gift of knowing my own mind and what is right for me, makes her more than a match for IC any day.
Finally, I could return to that place in my heart where I know that the joy of the harp is making music and creating beauty, and that the joy of the harp ensemble is making music and creating beauty with others. Finally, I remembered that joy doesn’t depend on what notes I play, or how many notes my fingers sound. Joy only needs an open heart. But having a Warrior on my side doesn’t hurt.