Thursday, January 26, 2012
HOLD THOSE PURSE STRINGS – TIGHTLY!
I have been following you blog for a long time and really enjoyed it when I was 20-something. When I first read "Pajamas with feet" I was child-less. A year after, I truly understood what you meant. Up until then, my life seemed vastly different from anything you wrote. Then, I began to believe that you could a good source of advice for me. All this happened and then I was too busy with a baby and thought myself to be a happy, and lucky person. But then, I don't know what happened or how it happened, my world crashed a year ago.
I spent half of my life with my partner, been with him since high school. We had a child together after being married for roughly 10 years. One would think we know the inside and out of each other. He went ahead and invested all our savings, and maxed out my credit cards, and had massive debts and invested all of this in some scheme at his work place, and lost it. After my maternity leave, I took a year extra off , thinking we had savings. We had discussions about it too. All through this, he lied to me deliberately. Never explained how much deep shit he put us in. I went back to work in a different place with more flexibility (and of course, less pay) and pay based on fellowship which pays once every six months. Then, finally when his job was gone, last December, all of this came out in bits and pieces. He has no answer to what happened to savings, not paying even regular bills for last 3 months before that, my 6-month fellowship pay. We had our home phone cut off and car didn't have insurance, and behind house payments by 6 months.
I was very very hurt and angry. On the one hand, I realize that I should have been more grown-up and taken care of my own affairs much more regularly. On the other hand, I think I deserved to focus more on the baby, especially when we worked years prior to that to make sure we will have that leeway before the baby came. But it is also difficult to explain to anyone why I was so hurt and felt betrayed. People have this easy way of understanding if there was an affair. It was much difficult to explain this loss of trust. My own mom thinks I should support him since he might have become depressed due to the loss of money. How does she not realize that it is not the loss of money and that he fucking lied to me about such massive debt and maxing out MY credit cards? Although his reaction was as if he tried to do the best for the family and that failed due to outside forces. Like it was a perfectly logical thing to borrow from credit card to invest. *head slap*
So, all in all, I did what I had to do with respect to finances. I moved from my prestigious fellowship, prepared a budget, consolidated debts, moved to a new city where there are better jobs to both of us, worked from home and juggled the baby to save money on daycare and opened my first personal checking account with a different bank, that is not a joint account. But underneath it, I wonder if I should leave him after our joint fuck-up is fixed (It is 70% fixed now). I hate the new city, the weather, our new place, and hate not having my friends around, especially the ones with kids around same age as mine. I started a blog to write all those dark things anonymously. My mentor advised me to stick together, because it is family and I have a child who deserves both parents. I can see that my kid is very attached to his dad and of all the moves we subjected him to, he thinks his parents are his only friends in this world. Sometimes, I almost think of things being normal and I have to move on by forgiving him and getting over this anger and hurt. But, what if forgiving him only makes him think that what he did was alright? Most importantly, what if I slide back to this apathetic role on finances and being a nice little homemaker and dreaming of second child? It really scares me, Rabbit. What should I do?
First of all, here's my highly prejudiced opinion, for you and anyone else who's listening: Women should control a family's finances. Why? Because, in my experience, men are more prone to lying about money than women are. I know, I know, tell that to the man whose wife cheated and stole his money, blah blah blah. Almost every single woman I know, myself included, has had a man lie to her about finances. With a few of my friends, the guy was hiding a mountain of debt and singlehandedly screwing both of them without admitting it. Time after time, I've seen it happen. We'll get to the lying part later, because you're right, that is the biggest issue as far as your marriage is concerned, and it makes sense that you feel hurt and betrayed and wary about it.
First though, let's talk about your finances. It sounds like you've taken some control, but let me come out and state the obvious: you should be the one controlling every penny, with an allowance from his salary for him. If he doesn't agree to this without protest, then you're right that he has no idea just how egregious his past errors were. He may have been trying to protect the marriage, but in doing so, he came close to destroying it.
What really bothers me, though, is where you ask "what if I slide back to this apathetic role on finances?" What the fuck are you talking about? I have so much compassion for you in every other dimension of this problem. But the fact that you can project forward into a future where you stop taking responsibility for money and LET HIM DO IT AGAIN makes me a little queasy. How can you even imagine that? Listen to me very closely: You are responsible for your family's finances now. If things go south, you're to blame. Your husband, who's bad with money and has a lying problem, screwed things up. You didn't know. NOW YOU KNOW. If you let him take it over again, or even handle a single thing until your trust is restored, that's on you. Learn all the goddamn passwords and account numbers, write them all down, put them in a safebox on your desk, take on the whole goddamn job and do not look back. You think you can't nurse a second baby and pay bills? Bullshit! Don't be a loser. Does some part of you believe that managing money is naturally a man's job and he's a pussy if he's not dealing with it? Because that couldn't be less true. Managing money is quite naturally a woman's job. Um, have you ever noticed how spaced out men are? They're distracted, forgetful motherfuckers. I've dated one guy out of maybe 20 who was extremely detail-oriented and careful with money.
So your husband fucked up. You take on the responsibility, you let him relax a little, and you're playing to each of your natural talents. But if you keep shoving his failure in his face without doing the job yourself, if you do half of the job and micromanage the other half? You're torturing yourself and him. Why? Do you want to be miserable, or do you want to get on with your life? He's letting you down if he doesn't allow you to handle ALL of it, and you're letting yourself down if you don't commit to it, excel at it, and take pride in it, without this mealy-mouthed horse shit about sliding back into being passive. If you slide back into passivity, then you're choosing misery over happiness.
OK. Onward: Lying. I have a lot of compassion for how hard this part of it is. What you need to explain to your husband is that lying will ruin a marriage faster than anything else. My husband used to tell me small lies, when we were first married. He had been married before, and had some idea that you couldn't be married without just appeasing the other person in a kneejerk way while thinking whatever corrosive thoughts about them you wanted to. Understandable approach, considering what a bossy intolerant human I am, right? And yet, if you each have your rotten attitudes thinly veiled by full-of-shit words, what's that? That's not a relationship, that's a domestic drama scripted by Raymond Carver. You have to find ways to tell each other the truth. It's tough right now because you don't have a lot of good will towards him, so he has trouble saying anything true, because he assumes he'll get clobbered for it.
My hunch is that you're furious, but it's coming out in these blanket tirades about how he's to blame for absolutely everything in your life. I think you have to continue to say, calmly, even when you're not furious "I'm just so angry at you." He needs to see how it hurts you, how the anger plagues you and you don't even want it to, but it's there. But then when it comes to the present, you have to deal with the facts on the ground rationally without making it all his fault. I'm thinking you're suspicious that he'll never admit that what he did was totally fucked, and that he'll never change. He's suspicious that you'll never forgive him if he ADMITS that he's a big asshole who fucked up and that's a fact, period point blank. He needs to admit what he did, and you need to hear him admit it – all calmly, when neither of you is pissed off. And from that point forward, I think you have to be a little bit softer in your approach. You have to say, "I accept that you fucked up and fucked our lives in the process. You made a mistake. The most important thing is that we don't lie to each other anymore." If he can admit that the lies were terrible for you and him, and commit to not lying, then that's a new marriage right there. You start over.
Your part of it: Be someone he doesn't want to lie to. That means not jumping all over him the second he tells you the truth about some small mistake he made. That means not conjuring the fact that it's all his fault every time you're angry. That also means not blaming him for where you live now. You cleaned up the financial picture by pushing both of you to make sacrifices. That was smart. Don't leave him because you're in the wrong city and have no friends. That's really not his fault – it's just where you had to go to fix things. If you blame him for everything that goes wrong with the two of you from here on out, you won't have any relationship at all. He'll believe that lying is the only way to handle you, and eventually he'll start cheating, too – another consequence of living that Raymond Carver double life.
As long as he admits that he screwed up and he can talk calmly about the importance of honesty, you should try to open your heart to him and tolerate your new circumstances. Join a mom's group, take a class. Just force yourself to meet some people. Once you patch up your finances, then you can reconsider moving back to where your friends are. You think bailing on him and moving back there alone is the answer? I don't think so. I don't blame you for wanting a quick escape to the despair that you feel was not your doing. But what I see, with limited information, granted, is a marriage that needs to be rebuilt. You've rebuilt your finances but you haven't rebuilt your marriage yet. If he's accepting his share of blame, if he's admitting he was wrong, if he's talking about honesty, if he's open-hearted, if he's ok with you managing the money, if he works hard, if he's a good dad, if you love him somewhere deep down inside, I would not leave him now. Instead, I would cut him some fucking slack. I would ask him to write down every account number and password, and I would tell him that he doesn't have to stress out about money anymore. You love him, that's your gift to him. All he needs to do is be honest and kind and admit his mistakes, and you will reward him with your own honesty, kindness, and humility.
Now let me tell YOU the truth: Something about that "what if I get passive again" comment makes me think that now that he's been to blame for a giant failure, part of you is prepared to make him a scapegoat for the next big failure. Don't do that. Set aside your anger, go to him with an open heart and start to map out a thriving future together as a family. You two can be so happy together, you can have another baby, you can have everything you want. You have to stop panicking and blaming and just start believing. I think if you come to him with love and kindness and acceptance of his flaws, a new human being will blossom before you.
Please write back with an update (or a rebuttal!).
Best wishes –
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
WELCOME TO MORNINGWOOD FARMS!
People often write to me when they want to dump someone or move somewhere new. I'm a good Move Somewhere New consultant because, unlike many people, I don't believe that you'll just pack up your stupid problems and relocate them to a new place. Many times when you move, you forget to pack about half of your stupid problems. You arrive at your new location and you start unpacking your piles and piles of baggage and voila, half of your problems aren't even there anymore. So easy!
And I'm a good Dump Him consultant, because there was a time when I dumped boyfriends at about the same rate that bored rich women redecorate their guest bathrooms. To be clear, in most cases I dumped men who were obviously poised to dump me, even if it might've taken a few more months in my aimless-stoner-in-residence program until the bastards were actually prepared to move out. But can you blame them? That residency had some serious perks.
The Morningwood Farms Aimless-Stoner-In-Residence Program
Our two-year residency in a ramshackle bungalow at Morningwood Farms affords program participants a rare opportunity to smoke fat bong hits and enjoy late-night televised sporting events while savoring home-cooked meals prepared by the house chef (who is also the on-site housekeeper, therapist and fluffer). Residents are also invited to take advantage of our weekly lecture series. Lectures are given on a wide range of topics, including "Why I'm The Best Thing That Ever Happened To You," "The Countless Ways You Disappoint Me On A Minute-By-Minute Basis," and "Things You Should Never Say To Someone When They're Weeping Inconsolably, Particularly If You Want To Continue Living In Their Ramshackle Bungalow Rent-Free, Motherfucker.")
As much as I enjoyed forming these young, impressionable lumps of clay into old, resentful lumps of clay and then releasing them into the wild, where they might continue to productively leech off society and/or elderly relations, eventually I grew tired of wearing so many hats – lecturer, weeper, dreary noodle slaving over a hot stove – and soon resolved to trick some gainfully employed man into creating a Moody-Dipshit-in-Residence Program just for me, preferably with a lifetime term.
It worked. Praise Jesus!
And without a doubt, the Moody Dipshit Residency is just as rewarding and magical as I hoped it would be. But... I still have to do laundry, which is fucking bullshit. I also have to keep earning money, which I find irritating in the extreme. Another disappointment? I don't get to redecorate my bathrooms as often as I used to dump my boyfriends.
Let me tell you about my bathrooms. Yes, I have more than one -- thank sweet Jesus Lord God almighty on high in heaven for that! One bathroom has bright red walls and a black sink and a black toilet. It's exactly the sort of bathroom you'd expect to find in a bar that fancies itself hip but is maybe a little less hip than it thinks it is. You see this bathroom and you think that maybe junkies owned my house before I did. But that's not the case. The rest of the house is pretty normal -- except for the other bathroom, which features dingy cream-colored wall-to-wall industrial carpeting and faux-wood countertops the likes of which used to be found in your finer Hardee's fast food restaurants.
Luckily, I don't care about bathrooms. I'd rather spend that $8000 on a three-year supply of great cheeses, expensive boots, good music and beer. (Oops, now I'm in debt.) In fact, I'd sooner install a waterslide in my backyard than spend money on making my bathrooms look less stupid.
Those are my priorities, dig? Which brings us to your priorities. Your top priority right now should be to send me a request for advice that has nothing whatsoever to do with your bad boyfriend and/or the fact that you still live in your scrappy hometown among your insane relatives. (Full disclosure: I dearly miss my scrappy hometown and my insane relatives.)
Rabbit will answer your letter immediately if you are:
* wondering what to do with the rest of your life
* wondering what the point of doing anything with the rest of your life is
* wondering why so many people speak primarily in clichés
* wondering why only dying people, true artists, and Stephen Colbert have anything interesting at all to say
* wondering why you're so lonely
* wondering how to start your own happy-go-lucky-slut-in-residence program
* wondering why your children shouldn't watch 3 hours of television in a row right now while you finish this really good book you're reading
* wondering why you never had children
* wondering why you never married that happy-go-lucky-slut-in-residence you once hosted, back when you were young enough and hot enough to reside with happy-go-lucky sluts
* wondering what to do with your evening
* wondering what the point of doing anything with your evening is
* wondering why your mother never loved you enough
* wondering if you should go back into therapy
* wondering if you might not save money on therapy by writing to the Rabbit first
Write it down. Send to rabbit at rabbitblog. True happiness and/or complicated, long-winded answers are almost yours!
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
I don't know you from Adam but I liked your columns in Suck a very long time ago and I need advice, of both the friendship and the job varieties. Here's the situation:
My best friend is studying abroad, professionally (this is not a thing where she is in Spain for a semester because she is 19 and in college, she does this for a living). She sits around and thinks about things she likes to think about and then people are like "you are smart, let's hear some more about these awesome things you like to think about!" I used to be a student too, but I'm not smart enough to do that sort of thing and get people to pay for it, which is the name of the game. So I envy her a lot. My friend is generally smart and has her shit together.
I live where I grew up and I have a scumfuck job. If I told you what I did you wouldn't answer the letter or would tell me to fuck off and die right now, so just imagine the scumfuckiest, lowest thing you can do, like being a professional rapist of baby pandas or tying grandmas to railroad tracks, and we'll agree that that's it. Anyway, part of me is like, yeah, I should quit my job. But my job pays well. It doesn't pay money-raining-down-from-the-sky well but it's the best salary that I'll ever get (I know this because I have been in other professions and gotten half the salary for twice the work--also, all the other professions that I used to work in are now dead). This is the only job I've had where the boss is like "buy yourself a new car!" Part of me is like yeah, I want a new car, even though I don't actually earn enough to get a new car and I wouldn't even buy a new car if I did. But I like the idea that someday I could possibly have a new car, even if I have to be a scumfuck to get it. I have my shit together to a certain extent, but not to the extent where I'd trust myself striking out on my own, doing something that doesn't involve a regular salary and an insurance plan.
So I think about being a scumfuck a lot. Is anyone really any better than anyone else? I mean, you might have a job making zithers or whatever, but you're still letting bad shit go on and not doing anything about it, right? Letting those baby panda rapists roam free while you're making your zithers? Maybe there isn't anything you can do about it. But in that case, why not just do it yourself and be rich, or at least rich-er? Most people aren't zither makers or whatever anyway,* most people work crappy, boring, soul-sucking jobs, so why not work one that makes more money? There's no reward for working a shitty job that makes less money but is slightly less morally culpable or whatever. Besides, now that I've done scumfuck things, I can't just waltz back into the non-scumfuck state of being because being a poor student or working as a yarn weaver or whatever is more emotionally satisfying than being a scumfuck. I'll still be a scumfuck, and karmically deserve cancer or at least having my legs cut off or something along those lines. This isn't just a question of being kind of dissatisfied with what I do, I'll always be disappointed in myself for doing what I do now, and on some level I think I really do deserve to be punished.
Then I think that perhaps I am overthinking this and maybe I'm just making myself out to be the worst person in the world, because I'm bored (my job is also boring, but that's beside the point). Maybe all this stuff about morals is bullshit? On the Hannah Arendt level of things, yes, what I'm doing is wrong. But on the human level, the level of my friends and family, if I quit everyone would just think that I was stupid and start worrying about what they'll say if I ask them for money.
This is where my friend comes in. I try to talk to my friend about this. I'm all like, hey, I have something to talk to you about cause we've known each other forever and I want to know if what I'm doing is super wrong or just kind of wrong, but when I try to talk to her about it, she is like ew, that's gross, I don't know anything about your moral problems, I am a student and don't know about that shit. I don't have any other role models because I'm not religious and my family has fucked-up priorities, so man, this is the worst! I just hate her now and want to kick her in the face. Then she starts talking about all the stuff that she's doing that's interesting and new and similar to the stuff that I used to like to do, and then I want to DOUBLE kick her in the face. Then I want to kick myself in the face, for being stupid and petty and wanting to trot around Abroad while I really should be repenting for being a scumfuck.
OK, so here's the advice I need:
1. How do I keep doing my job, even though I think what I am doing is wrong? I kind of have to, because I have to eat and stuff, and because I'm a bad person and greedy and don't want to take a pay cut and also I'm pretty lazy, so the odds of me getting anything else that I like better or pays better are really low. I can't think of anything else I'd rather do (that's practical for me to do, at least). Most likely I would just end up being broke and asking various people for money and being called an ugly dyke that nobody wants to be around**, which I don't want to go through again. Plus there would still be scumfuckery in the world, it would just be somebody else who was doing it, and I'm too lazy to actively combat scumfuckery, anyway. So I should keep on keeping on, right?
2. How do I not kick my friend in the face (figuratively)? I want to still be friends with her, because we've been friends for ages, although I kind of wish she wouldn't be friends with me because I always thought she knew her shit and therefore would call me out on my scumfuckery. Also, I really want to be doing what she's doing but I can't, due to being lazy and all that nonsense I already stated. But that's not her fault!
P.S. Feel free to suggest anything, I mean, you could suggest I throw myself off a cliff and I'd be like "OK, I deserve that," but skip the therapy suggestion. I've done it already, it obviously didn't work or I wouldn't be writing this letter.
* I'm assuming zither-making is a labor of love, although maybe it's done by slave labor in Chinese zither factories for all I know
** this had nothing to do with actual dykery, but was the end result of living in my parents' house while being broke and jobless and trying to have a girl talk-style chat about a Significant Other, they really are not the kind of people you want to ask for advice on anything because you are just going to get a heaping helping of crazy (they are very willing to offer cash for plastic surgery, though)
Let me get this straight. Your job is morally reprehensible and it's tormenting you. You live where you grew up, among insane people who don't understand you, are wary of giving you money, and call you an ugly dyke when the chips are down. Your smart, sane friend, who senses that you're defensive and resistant about your shitty job, tiptoes around this issue in order to protect your feelings, because she knows that it would be severely obnoxious for her to tell you your job sucks and you should quit it. Still, she's the one you want to kick in the face.
Even though you're obviously someone who's smart enough and charismatic enough to be successful in plenty of different kinds of careers, you are actively choosing the worst possible life for yourself: a hauntingly unethical career with no real future in a town you don't like filled with crazy people and apparently not that many friends and no love.
You didn't mention friends other than the far away one. Do you maintain friendships? Do you respect anyone around you? You didn't mention love. Do you ever date? Are you interested in love at all? You didn't mention what all that money actually gets you. Do you get any lasting joy out of the money you make? What in your life brings you happiness?
You're afraid of change. You don't trust yourself to handle it well. You picture yourself asking people for money.
You have such a defeated view of yourself, of what you're capable of, of what's possible. It's obvious enough why you hate your friend, who approaches her life in the exact opposite way. And look, maybe she's awful. I'm willing to imagine that. But you didn't mention it.
Of course you don't want therapy. Any therapist is going to slowly, gently prod you to change everything. The slow, gentle prodding probably makes you nuts, and yet if that therapist said, "You have to get off your ass and change everything. You hate yourself and your life," you'd walk out and never come back. Your friend knows this, too, so she doesn't challenge you. She values your friendship. You value her friendship. Stop pulling her into this – you'll need her for support once you change a few things.
You hurt yourself every fucking day, when you get up and go to a fucked job among fucked people in a lame town filled with confused blood relatives. You are keeping yourself in constant pain. Is it really worth it, just to dress well? You think you're going to miss eating really good sushi that much? I don't think so. You think you'll have to borrow money from people constantly? Why? What about spending next to nothing? You think living in a small, cheap place is going to make everything else in your life bad? It sounds like everything in your life is already bad, so what's the worry?
This noise about being just as damned a year from now, when you're not working your fucked job, is horse shit. You stop that job today, you're less damned. Period. You're starting over, and building a life that actually has some promise built into it. People sometimes say, of dating someone who's not right for you, "The right plane can't land when the wrong plane is blocking the runway." Well, the right life can't land when the wrong life is blocking the runway. None of the things that your letter implies that you want – love, good friendships, happiness – will be yours until you're living in a way that you feel good about. Right now, you're attracting scumfuckery and insanity and ugliness in your life. When you quit that job, the whole world opens up to you.
You have to be brave. You have to change everything. You have to use the internets to find an apartment, a job, friends and love. It's so much easier than it used to be. I don't give a shit what you do next, but you probably have a few possibilities in mind in spite of yourself. Something about going back to school, apparently. Taking out loans, getting a waiting job for a few years, living somewhere cheap – these things will feel great to you, because they mean that you're pointed somewhere. Right now, you're pointed at hell.
Start by getting in good shape and saving all your money and researching schools and jobs and towns. I don't give a fuck if you don't know a single person where you're moving. You need to learn to trust yourself. You will join some shit. You will look up a few groups to join, whatever fits. Recovery? Support group for major life changes? Running club? Whatever. I don’t' care that you hate that stuff. You will find a place that's cheap, you will learn about your new town, you will decorate your new small crappy apartment with sentences written on pieces of paper and tacked to the wall:
"The future is mine. I am not the same person I was yesterday. Love, friendship, happiness are all waiting for me. I just need to open up and let them in."
I know, just reading that is fucking depressing.
I don’t care. You need to read those sentences and believe them, every morning. Everything you want can be yours, but you have to get the fuck out of dodge and redesign your whole life. Say goodbye to everyone, pack up your stuff, go, do something new. Do you really want to live the way you're living now forever, and then die? What's the point of that? You haven't given me a single good reason to continue on your current course. So change everything. Every. Single. Fucking. Thing.
You can do it. The whole world is waiting to help you down this new path. Magic will start happening, the second you change course. You are at the shining new beginning, you are at the most exciting point in your timeline, right now. Can you feel it? It's breathtaking, it's beautiful. It's all yours.
Friday, January 13, 2012
THEY HATE ME. THEY REALLY, REALLY HATE ME.
My second novel has been getting bad reviews and it's making me crazy. My first novel was widely praised, so I've just been stumped by this. This novel took me 5 years to write. I was so proud of it, but now I'm second-guessing myself.
I can't write. I can't think. I feel like I'll never write another word for the rest of my life. I talk to my therapist about it, but she just says the usual things, buck up, get back on your bicycle, etc. It doesn't help. I just hate everything I try to write. I can already imagine the bad reviews in my head. Do you have any advice here? I feel like I'm losing it.
I understand how you feel. Writing an online column for Salon for years meant chomping down a generous platter of criticism every single day. There was a time when I'd start to write my usual strangeness, and a voice inside my head would say, "Write something that'll please them on the comments pages. Write something dry and self-serious that won't stir up any shit."
And guess what? I didn't want to write something dry and self-serious, so I found myself struggling to write anything at all.
There's a difference between learning from criticism and resolving to please more people. You can carefully evaluate feedback and criticism and improve your writing with it. But you can't use it to mute yourself. You can't use it to downshift your talents. Maybe 70% of the people out there aren't all that fond of what you do. But the other 30% may just be unreasonably fond of it. They may not be able to find anything like it anywhere else. They may truly savor your words in a way that they don't savor anyone else's.
We're taught to believe that someone else will tell us when we're good enough. Personally, I think I had a few teachers pump me up early on, and I ran on those fumes for a few decades. Not that many people, even when they love your writing, will say that. Plenty of people will tell you what you're doing is shit. And while I'm the first to say that there's an awful lot of crappy writing out there, you sort of have to trust your own instincts regardless. What else is there to do?
Watch out when you start to make it, too. Because the more glory you bask in, the more attention you get, the more copies you sell, the more detractors and haters will be out there, waiting to strike. That's part of the deal. Not only that, but if you're really loving the positive attention to an almost unhealthy degree, you can bet that the negative attention will take the legs out from under you. The more freaked out you are by a bad review, the more likely it is that you were propping up your ego with praise and becoming a little more self-obsessed than is reasonable or healthy in the first place. Think of Norma Desmond, Scarlett O'Hara. You live by the sword of vanity and ego, you die by it.
Whenever I find myself obsessing about bad reviews or nasty comments, I have to look closely at myself and ask what else is going wrong in my life. Have I fallen into some unproductive ego hole? Do I trust my own voice anymore? There are things you can do to find your sea legs, writing-wise: Read more. Free write for a half hour every day. Force yourself to start 10 new novels, and then choose which one you like the best.
But most of all, you have to believe in your appeal as a writer. I don't care how good you are. That doesn't fucking matter. All that matters is that you believe. And that belief isn't up to someone posting in the comments section, or reviewers or your spouse or your therapist or anyone else. You're the only person who can do it. No review, not even a terrible one, changes a goddamn thing. If you're talking about your terrible review constantly, you're reminding people that someone says you suck. You must suspect that you suck, or you'd never fucking remind people of it.
But you work hard, don't you? You hold yourself to a pretty high standard. You do believe in your talent, don't you? So what the fuck? Basically, obsessing about a bad review is never about the review itself. It's about something your mom or dad said to you as a kid. It's about some past injury that you have no other way of accessing. It's about some compulsive reaction you have, some voice in your head that says you're worthless. Whenever you mention your bad review, you're really trying to talk about whether or not you're a worthless, talentless sack of shit.
And look, to be fair, every writer spends about 10% of their time convinced that they're useless. In my personal experience, the more talented, smarter writers seem to spend more time in this state than the less talented ones.
The question is: How do you want to live? Because beating yourself up or whining and winging about your legacy isn't going to get you any more love. It's not even cathartic. You're just hurting yourself. You're repeating some old pattern, where you throw a fit and hope that someone will demonstrate that they love you enough to give you love, to clean up after you, to love you in spite of great flaws. It's pretty narcissistic. I feel for you, though. I've been there. And maybe no one ever did step in and take care of you when you really needed them to, as a kid. So you're still in pain over that. I'm not one to say: fuck you, get up, move on. I know how that kind of grief can overtake you. You deserved to have someone take care of you as a kid.
Today, though, you're the one who needs to care. You're the one who needs to say: "Fuck it. I believe in my work. Everything I write will be entertaining and weird and flawed. All I can do is keep writing. I love writing. I sometimes think that I don't, but I do. I love it because I'm fucking good at it. I don't need anyone else to tell me that. I'm going to be a writer for the rest of my life, because I love to write."
It's a luxury to write. We're very, very lucky that someone will let us do this. Maybe you'll never get another good review. Maybe you'll write one shitty novel after another. Who the fuck cares? Who are you, anyway? You were supposed to be the next Hemmingway? You were supposed to be the next Updike, the next F Scott Fitzgerald, the next Jennifer Egan, the next David Foster Wallace?
Just be who you are. Do what you do. You know what makes even great writers miserable? Obsessing about their fucking legacy. You might not be proclaimed one of the Great American Novelists, but at least you won't be reduced to thinking about your place in the so-called canon. What a horrendous waste of time that is. The world is filled with talented unknowns. Thinking that you're special because your shit is popular or praised? Get over yourself. You got lucky.
All that matters is that you believe what you write is special. And that you dare to write great stuff, and accept that half of it will be horse shit, every single day. Write something self-pitying and outrageous and unhinged. Write something melancholy and defeated. Write about a novelist who thought he was special, and then some bad reviews almost killed him. Because ultimately, even if you're anointed the greatest living author, no one else cares nearly as much as you do. You're the only one who really, really gives a fuck. So please yourself. Write what you love.