All posts by Maria Stanislav

About Maria Stanislav

Author. Immigrant. Fat chick. Co-conspirator of one Firebird Rain.

Inner Critic Investigation: Day 2

Catching up on Inner Critic Investigation, as I had to take some time for myself yesterday (and I’m trying not to get an earful from said critic for that, now).

Brief project summary: ask a question of your inner critic, write down everything they have to say, but only for six minutes. For question prompts, see Lucy Bellwood’s Patreon and Insta.

Day 1. What’s your story?

Day 2. What are you trying to protect me from?

That’s an easy one, honey: failure. You know you can’t handle failure and rejection.

You still remember that C you undeservedly got on a uni paper, even though you’ve no idea anymore what course that even was. You remember the mean things that guy in your year said about your PowerPoint on baby seals.

Oh, and how about that job interview, where you breezed through stages 1 and 2, only to absolutely crash and burn on the 3rd one? Sure, you got the job in the end and aced it, but if you’re honest with yourself, which memory is more vivid: the two successful years on the job, or the interview fail?

And while we’re on the subject, need I remind you that you’ve never landed a job from a cold application? You’ve always come recommended by someone, you can’t market yourself on your own. You even had an in for your current gig, because your best friend worked on the guy’s project first.

Okay, so some of this is reaching, but I won’t deny that I royally suck at handling rejection. But hey, critic lady, I’m way ahead of you. My main objective for next year is the 100 Rejection Letters project. In addition to having a novel to send out to publishers, I’ll be pestering soooo many people for guest-blogging, I’ll rack up those rejections in no time.

Inner Critic Investigation: Day 1

Inspired by Lucy Bellwood (though let’s face it, I’m frequently inspired by her), I launched headfirst into a week of Inner Critic Investigation. If you want to join in, check out this Patreon post or her instagram.

For those who don’t have time to click the links, the project goes like this: you’re given a question as a prompt, you post it yo your inner critic, then you set a timer to six minutes and write everything they have to say.

There’s no obligation on making this a public exercise, but I decided to try, mainly because of it being Lucy who inspired it. She’s the creator of 100 Demon Dialogues, an exploration of internal critics that is heartfelt, frequently humorous, and radically honest.

So, here is my inner critic’s answer from today. Published unabridged, with mild reshuffling of paragraphs for better sense-making.

Day 1. What’s Your Story?

My story is that of fear of being a disappointment to our family, knowing that mom and grandpa will never be proud of us if we don’t make a lot of money.

I want to be successful because that’s the only way for me to feel valid. I’ve never been taught any other measure of worth. So I beat you up for not being accomplished yet, not doing things fast enough, for not being as good as professional writers, or worse, for being better than writers who got published, because how come they could do it, and you couldn’t?

I’m scared that our writing career will amount to nothing, and therefore, we will have lived a life without “making a career.”

I’m the you who wanted to make a difference in the world, or at least in someone’s world, through your art, and knows that you still haven’t made any.

I’m the dream you who, when faced to choose between music and writing, had pursued music instead, and made a successful career out of it.

My brief impression of this first brush with my inner critic? Holy flying guacamole, THE PRESSURE. I want to give the poor thing a cup of tea with about 50% rum in it, wrap her in a blanket and let her sleep for a week.

(Full disclosure, I also maybe want to drown her in a pond because the bit about music, that was a low blow like whoa.)

Kinda scared of what day 2 will bring. But we’ll see.

#52Beats. Beat Four: Hooked into Machine. Reflections on Work, Life, and Rhythm (part 1)

By Way of Introduction

On the Sunday night, I struggled with the idea of going to sleep and letting the week end without a blog post. “Only four weeks in, and you’re already lagging behind,” booed my inner critic. My response to it was that these posts are supposed to be a time for reflection, not something I hastily hobble together for the sake of regularity. And last week, truthfully, I didn’t manage to take a beat.

I did a lot of editing of my novel, finally getting into the swing of it and not petrified by the fear of ‘ruining’ my allegedly perfect manuscript. (Spoiler alert: it wasn’t perfect before editing, and it sure as hell isn’t going to be that, after. But it is going to be one I like more, now that I bring two more years of writing and storytelling experience to the table.)

I also did an unprecedented thing of taking an entire weekend (!) away from both art and paid work. As a result, I was able to finally organize my clothes for the first time since the house move (now I get to actually choose an outfit instead of wearing the first three things I pick off the floor!); put together an impassioned residency application for the Home Office, complete with a hefty document package; and spend a lot of time with my husband in-between those projects.

When I finally sat down to write this belated beat on Monday night, the post quickly ballooned to a sizeable length. My original intention to talk about rhythms on the scale from hourly to yearly has spawned several necessary stories from my personal history. Thus came the decision to split the post into two logical halves. Address my past practices in the first one, and current ones in the second.

Here goes.

Hooked Into Machine: Reflections on Work, Life, and Rhythm – Part 1

I have a real soft spot for Tony Stark (as pictured in the MCU). In addition to the knee-bucking combination of charm and vulnerability that Robert Downey Jr. brings to the role, Tony’s is a story of continuous conflict between humanity and machinery. We see the “genius billionaire playboy philanthropist” move from being metaphorically stuck in the machine that is the military-industrial complex, to literal dependence on machinery for his survival. We see his definition of the self evolve from “I am Iron Man; the suit and I are one” to “You can take away my tricks and toys, but one thing you can’t take away: I am Iron Man.”

One last thing I’ll do before this becomes an essay devoted entirely to Tony, is leave this video here. I think it’s an amazing exploration of Tony’s character and the transhumanism implications of his story arc.

An important question that my therapist had taught me to ask is: why? So I asked myself why do I have such a soft spot for Tony? The answer is probably manifold, but one aspect of it is: for most of my life, I’ve had a habit of treating my entire being as a machine.

When hearing about someone who “is like a machine,” you probably imagine a high-powered triathloning CEO, not a freelance size 24 who came fourth-last in the one 5k she ran. However, I define one’s machine-ness not by societal standards, but by two things:  fitness for purpose and consistent output. With the benefit of hindsight, I should also point out that most machines have a limited useful life.

Fitness for purpose

While I have never been fit in the conventional sense, I’ve always been extremely fit for each of my purposes at any given time. Continue reading

Photo by Martin Fisch

#52Beats. Beat Three: Anxiety.

My anxiety is an old suit of plate armor, one that has gone unused for years, standing in a dusty museum or a forgotten corner of the armory. Some of the armor’s hinges move reluctantly. Some are rusted shut. It wasn’t made for me, and being inside it locks my body in unnatural shapes. There isn’t much air to breathe inside it. It’s very cold. I’m afraid to move, lest some piece of it comes off and falls to the floor with a deafening crash, giving me away. All I can do is stay there, motionless, peering at the world through the grimy openings in the visor.

How’s that for a mental image?

Over the past week or two, I’ve been working my way back into a certain creative project, one which is fraught with quite a bit of anxiety. Today, I was doing some unrelated reading and came across some shares from a therapy group, where people gave their anxiety visual shapes: some as a bowl of water with a dirty oily film, some in form of an orange bristling with spikes. I paused and asked myself: so what’s my anxiety like? The image of a rusty plate mail sprung to my mind almost instantly.

Think of that armor again. It’s cold and rigid, and the longer you stay in it, the colder you are, the less able to move. Fight, flight, or freeze? Do item three on this list for long enough, and you won’t be capable of either of the first two.

Both temperature extremes can provoke an emotional response from me. Being too hot can make me feel uncomfortable in my body and result in a body-shame spiral (where “hot and sweaty” equals “useless fatty”; as an aside, I spent years avoiding any exercise outside of water, because I didn’t want anyone to see me sweating, convinced that only fat and unfit people do that). Cold, however, immediately translates to fear.

When I’m scared, my hands turn to ice, and my feet are often to follow. This connection is entrenched in my brain deeply enough that it can easily reverse the cause and effect. If fear equals cold, then cold equals fear. My hands may have gone cold for objective temperature reasons, but a part of my head will start wondering what it is we could be nervous about. If unchecked, it will easily find a dozen outlets to channel the fake anxiety into until it becomes real.

Going back to the suit of armor. I find it fascinating that when casting for a mental image of my anxiety, my brain didn’t go for things like a straightjacket (immobility), chains (immobility and cold), or even a plain block of ice (even more immobility and cold). Of all the possible images, it opted for armor: something that can (and is meant to) protect you, but, BUT only if properly taken care of. If neglected, it stops being protection and becomes a trap.

Armor is also something that can cater to the “fight” and “freeze” options of the adrenaline triad. Not so much the “flight” option. That’s pretty in-character for me, because I’m terrible at fleeing from fear-inducing situations. Not holding myself up as a lionheart here: the inability to flee means I’m rubbish at stepping away from emotional situations and am more likely to make decisions in a hurry, discarding potentially more reasonable choices in favor of getting the situation over with.

Still, there’s something to be said for the fact that the image my brain chose to represent anxiety isn’t something inherently bad or damaging: rather, something that has been poorly maintained. I’m sure someone well-versed in psychoanalysis could have a ball exploring all the aspects of this imagery as juxtaposed with my history and personality. Myself, I can name two obvious truths. One, I am much more prone to get anxious when I haven’t been taking proper care of myself. Two, the brain itself is our greatest protector or trap, depending on its state and our circumstances.

So what’s your anxiety like? Tell me while I shuffle around in this rusty thing and try to oil some of those stubborn hinges.

Photo by Martin Fisch

#52Beats. Beat Two: Marie Kondo vs. Charles Bukowski

“Life truly begins after you have put your house in order.” After reading this opening sentence, a younger, punk-er me would’ve put Spark Joy by Marie Kondo (aka KonMari) firmly down and gotten on with her life. The current, slightly older me accepted that the line is a good opener for a book on decluttering. The slightly older me is also better at the “buffet” approach to information. I hate mango, but I’m not going to turn my nose up at red velvet cupcakes just because they happen to sit next to the mango on the buffet table.

Besides, I knew what I was in for when I picked up Spark Joy, having read its predecessor, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up during one of my recurring minimalism phases. Sometimes, in the middle of a life dominated by deadlines, it really is soothing to sit down with a coffee and read about proper sock folding techniques. (This is not a joke. Pages 98-99.)

I like to think that I have a halfway decent handle on house organization: I know what I own, I can locate most things within a minute or two, and I know the critical masses of both chaos and order that tip my stress threshold. Still, KonMari’s book did inspire me to a couple of organization sprees, which were useful in a household still reeling from a cross-country move.

Then, as I was contemplating this blog, my mind went back to a poem by Charles Bukowski  called Air and Light and Time and Space (once excellently illustrated by Zen Pencils). The poem is a dialogue between Bukowski’s narrator and an unnamed party, who recently sold a house, bought a studio and is excited about finally having “a place and the time to create.”

Boy, does Bukowski let them have it. Continue reading