“Sensitive About My Shhhh…”: Communication & Critique in a Digital Age

One of my favorite quotes from Erykah Badu is from the beginning of her song, Tyrone, where she explains, “Keep in mind that I’m an artist, and I’m sensitive about my sh!t…” It was the first time I’d heard someone acknowledge the connection between our art and our heart, so explicitly. In that way, this simple declaration affirmed me as a sensitive soul, as well.

I was a bright, loud, but sensitive child. At the time, I thought that sensitivity was a detriment. As I grew into womanhood, I learned to be responsible with my emotions and learned that fierceness and sensitivity aren’t always dichotomous. But I knew that I’d still have to work through being “sensitive about my sh*t” in an age where our thoughts, art, and work exists on public spaces… or can easily BECOME public through shares and screenshots.

You should know (especially if you’re a new reader) that I’m no stranger to critique. I started in Theater (*flashbacks to training that included 30 seconds to convey a convincing character and 2 minutes of critique if your character choices were whack or nonexistent). Then, I got a B.A. in Integrative Arts (no one knew what that meant – it involved Writing, Communications, Theater, Theater Makeup, Sociolinguistics, some other random things, conversations with the Dean about how should explore without pressuring myself to do it all, a balance of support and concern from my folks, and a lot of asinine questions about what the degree equipped me to do. To which I answered, “Integrate some art”).

The side-eyes grew ever-increasing when I graduated in the midst of a recession with my newly minted degree, created a fledgling independent project that involved painting art onto shirts & apparel…

Betty Boop Shirt

… did Background Vocals, volunteered in campus ministry (diversity initiatives), worked for a data entry company (because …credit card interest), and started writing for a magazine start-up. I knew my path included getting an M. Ed to work in the field of College Student Affairs (not many people outside of the field knew what that meant either! And when I had to shift from creative writing to academic writing… the word ‘critique’ won’t even begin to tell it all. That first paper feedback sent me to bed at 6 pm).

I became passionate about identity conscious initiatives in Higher Ed, started 5 blogs, got scared or complacent, shut them down, started a 6th one, and began to contribute to more public platforms. I was finally putting my words into the world with some measure of consistency. Along the way to balancing life as an aspiring scholar – practitioner – creative soul, I fell into the wormholes of comments sections. Every artist that’s ‘sensitive about their shhh’ needs a plan for what to do with critique, comment sections, and general communication in a digital age.

So, this post is for those who put art, scholarship, practice, and work out into the world. This post is for anyone who is navigating communication in a digital age. In many senses, this post is for me… and if you are helped along the way, we should grab coffee and encourage each other more often!

A Working Draft for Sensitive Souls Navigating Communication in a Digital Age

    1. Be clear that things shared in a public sphere are up for critique.
      I know you may have intended an outcome with your art or work… but it won’t always be received it that way. Embrace the fact that work is up for critique the moment you push ‘Publish’. It’s a part of the package. Embracing this empowers you because you aren’t side-swept and surprised every time you experience critique and you can learn what feedback is useful and what is trolling.
    2. Understand that a critique and a clap back aren’t the same thing.
      In a status to my Facebook-cousins-and-friends, I noted something that I knew I needed to share here:
      “Every critique is not a clapback. Both can sting. But you will know which is which by its ‘fruit’.You can take critique and grow. You can inquire about the person who gave the critique and when it’s healthy, they can and will offer expertise and wisdom. You can even discard critique when necessary (critiques vary in usefulness, based on many factors).If there’s anything I’ve learned from grad school and writing in public forums, it’s that critique and clapback aren’t always the same thing”.I’ll add here that clapbacks are fiery rebuttals. Critique can be multifaceted. Critique can follow a clap-back (ask me how I know :)), so it’s important to discern when there are differences between the two.
    3. Get feedback from people who know a great deal about the topic you are writing about.
      Since 2015, I’ve been sharing more of my writing in spaces where there are women of color who are a great deal more established than I am. We are from all walks of life, span multiple fields, and hold the knowledge of quite a few generations. Words cannot describe the joy I feel when someone who knows a great deal about what I’ve written, affirms my work. Yet it is also VERY valuable, when they give me the…giphy
      They care enough about me to not have me ‘in these streets’ looking a fool. And for that, I’m grateful.
    4. Get feedback from people who know you personally!
      They are your cheerleaders and advocates. They can help you to ensure that the voice you’ve presented in your work, art, etc. really sounds like you. And if it’s a really good friend, they can also help you to…
    5. Check your intentions for creating.
      Sometimes, I have small moments of clarity after a long night’s drive. On one such occasion, I micro-journaled, “Many times, we have already set a conscious or unconscious intention when we communicate i.e. to share information, to express a question, to inspire, to posture, to manage perceptions, etc. It’s okay to check in with and explore those intentions. Because if, at any point, our great, DEEP need is to be lauded as ‘right’ then we’ve likely shut ourselves off from transformative dialogue and a possible learning experience”. Understanding why you’ve created or proposed a work in the first place helps.
    6. Finally, understand that some people just won’t understand or appreciate your work and that doesn’t mean you should stop working. (Or as my Mother would say, “Toughen up and carry on”).
      Learn how to filter all of the external feedback that you get. Some of it is useful. Some of it is not. Some of it you probably shouldn’t have read in the first place (ask me how I feel about most comment sections). There is great temptation to hide when we feel our work is misunderstood. However, there is also the opportunity to hone our craft a bit more, learn from others, to exhibit resiliency in moving forward, and most of all… to reap the internal benefits that come from creating.

Since this is a working draft, let me know what you would add to this list! How do you navigate communication & critique?

Image credit: commons.wikimedia.org, Post inspired by Ms. Badu

4 comments

Comments are closed.