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.

Also published on Medium.

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