Hacking my 60s: Circling my inner critic

I have always been very judgmental.
I thought it best to ratchet this paralyzing tendency down. At least somewhat.
But this unskillful thought pattern has a long history in my head.
I used to work in a Kentucky Fried Chicken on 42 St. Times Square, NYC.
This was in my last couple of years of high school, between 1975-76, something like that.
I was living as an observer, taking in all the microworlds my parents, with great good sense, had tried to keep me from all my life. I went to school sporadically. Ran away from home with my wondrous, mysterious, first real boyfriend. We ‘lived’ in a broken down tenement apartment in the South Bronx, filled with easels, paints, and rubble (I was a music major, his was art).
I was watching, drifting, judging; destination unnecessary.
I watched my prostitute acquaintances at the Hotel Woodstock do the administrivia of their singular profession, then head out into the night. Days, I would head to school or hang out at the crumbling apartment trying to paint, or wander around my church, otherwise known as the New York Public Library.
Or my playground, otherwise known as all of New York City.
Nights, I would punch the clock at my chicken-fried job, on the graveyard shift.
Everyone near me was actually making something. I was surrounded by music and art students.
I was surrounded by older men shuffling through the streets and their grimy SROs, wanting to touch
me, but put off by my particular air of crazy. Seems like they were trying to recreate their own lives, and
who could blame them?
My stupid teenage brain felt so above everyone, so in control.
I was both the devil and the angel sticking to people’s shoulders. My arrogance was shallow and chilling. I thought I knew it all. I watched friends make ‘obvious’ mistakes. I just knew I would pass through, drop a little joy on folks, then head on to that exalted invisible future that would fall into my lap, because my family told me it would.
I had been the golden girl all my life, up to then. My parents overdid it, perhaps in part to compensate for the  banal American racism that threatened at every turn. They did not want us to be broken.
Then little by little, real-life stuck a toe in my waters. We lost my parents, one by one, ten years apart.
I was reeling by the time Mom died. My internal certainty had been bonked squarely on the head.
I had fallen in love, deeply, twice, and slipped out of love, twice. Great guys both, yet
there are scars, as I was not what they needed. And I had yet to figure out what I needed.
A funny thing revealed itself during a bout of death-related therapy: being judgmental is a defense against feeling others’ pain. If l let my guard down, will my empathetic nature be overwhelmed with others’ sorrow as well as my own?
My knee-jerk judgmental attitudes began to churn, to surface high enough that I could actually see them. I was ashamed. My inner critic turned on me, and it wasn’t good. Still isn’t, sometimes.
Now, one of the blessings of age is that I have begun to settle into my own true heart. Slowly, slowly, my inner critic has learned to take a breath before beginning the rant. I have learned a bit better how to gentle it. Meditation helps. Solitude, balanced with family, balanced with work, helps a great deal.
So, yes, even we judgmental types can change, can soften, can aim our ire at worthy targets, like racists and oligarchs and kakistocracies. And we can use our critical eye to brush away that which doesn’t matter and maintain focus on the bringing of joy.
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Hacking my 60s: Getting Unstuck from Fear

This is the part where I’m supposed to tell you I have it all figured out. I don’t. I think ‘all’ means different things to you than it does to me, anyway.
So this time, I’ll talk about fear.
That sinking feeling when I think about the losses that are surely coming. My loved ones. My friends. Myself. And the sadness thinking of those who’ve already left. Add to that the fear of smaller losses.
My flexibility. My eyesight. My ability to learn. My sense of freedom. My sense of myself. My memory. My time.
Of course, there’s plenty to be afraid of.
But, fear is also an easy habit. The feeling convinces me to drift into limbo and stay there. The stab of fear is sharp, and the hole it opens doesn’t lead to light.
This is a problem for which my habitual distractions aren’t effective.
My distractions to date have included:
  1. Falling in love with someone else’s’ work to distract me from doing my own. I had to take a long Neil Gaiman break, because I wanted to be him, and that ain’t healthy.
  2. Binging politics in the most unhealthy way possible. I have begun to despise even the word conservative, or Republican.
  3. Wanting to write about how irritating I find overt religiosity. I mean, who cares? I do, apparently.
  4. Sweets, glorious sweets! Oh poisoned habit of my youth and current age! Also, bread.
  5. Living in my head. I love it here. I furnished it myself. Apparently this is suboptimal.
  6. Other things I won’t write about here, but they know who they are.
So, now what? If I can unhook from these unhelpful habits, substitute new positive ones, and tell the story, maybe somebody else will resonate. Maybe this will help two people create.
Here goes:
Helpful Habit: Reading for Practical Inspiration
Riding to my rescue, as he so often does, is my better impulses in the form of Steven Pressfield.
His tough love voice helps center me. I’m halfway through The Artist’s Journey, his newest book. As usual, it’s highly recommended.
I am mostly a fan of his writing for creatives. He sets out practical ways of handling Resistance, tells his own story, and helps me to believe I can handle Resistance too.
So, here’s a list of his books that have helped me surface from the frustrated paralysis of not creating. Check them out on his site:
The War of Art
Turning Pro
The Artist’s Journey
I almost always get the audiobook. I find listening to Steven reading his own work is the purest way to get the point.
Bonus: Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t
I started this one, then decided I needed another hit of creative inspiration, so I started on The Artist’s Journey instead.
I think Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t will be good advice for planning before I write. At the moment though, I just want to think, write and publish. And do it again, till it becomes a habit. Only way to get good.
And so, onward.
And I hope this helps!