The quote in question

Months ago I found this quote in a book, and ever since it has hung above my kitchen sink, the place where I find it easiest to brood and stew. It’s been a reminder I need.

Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors.

What do you think? Is it true?

If you were taking a guess at the kind of book it comes from, what would you say?

(No fair Googling!)

The work of a critic

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so…

– Anton Ego, food critic in Ratatouille


Confession: I love critiquing.

One of the wonderful things about the school to which I send my sons (Faith Builders Christian) is that it’s a training school: a place to equip teachers as well as pupils. That means for several weeks each fall, new people from across the country will take turns in my children’s classrooms. They make yards of lesson plans. They teach classes. They get videoed. They receive endless evaluation forms. They learn from their mistakes. They get better.

Their instructors teach them, critique them, hone them… and call in a few community people to offer an outside perspective. I get to sit and watch from my comfy chair in the back row, and write down “anything I think is significant.” Do they teach well? Do they invite student involvement? How do they manage the classroom? Do they use questions and equipment effectively? How do they relate with the children? How do they respond to difficult situations? Can they problem-solve on the fly?

I write it all down.

And I know that they are braver than I.

It takes little courage to critique, and much to create. In fact, sometimes the act of offering critique is so delightful that we get stuck there for most of our lives, sniffing out the best of the best (teachers, coffee, art, music, love)… so occupied in passing judgment on everyone else’s contributions that we can ignore the small memo “I am creating nothing of value myself.”

My husband calls it aspirational paralysis: when unable to meet my own high expectations, I end by producing nothing. I call it cowardice, though I—.


I am the aspirational paralysis case study.

Anyone who breaks free from it is worthy of a hat tip.


Can you create and present with courage a thing you know is flawed? What? How?

On child prodigies

Confession: I have edited and re-edited the draft for this post multiple times with a view to make it gentler, but instead, it comes out bolder and more passionate each time. I will stop now before it gets worse!

I guess I need to admit I care about the issue more than I thought… and risk looking like a fool. Here I stand upon my soapbox.


I’ve been listening to Jackie Evancho a lot lately, enjoying her lovely soaring mature voice, startling from such a little body.

I’ve been listening, and feeling an unexpected sense of rising distress.

Can you tell me what her parents and coaches are thinking, giving a nine and ten-year-old songs like Can You Feel the Love Tonight?, Music of the Night, and My Heart Will Go On at a time of her life when she should still be singing Jesus Loves Me? When did it become okay to teach a child to sing to us of sensuality?

I wince as I watch her, still wholesome and sweet, but changing–her mannerisms more affected, her body dolled up. Who could be unchanged by such a flood of praise and popularity?

I wonder if this is the kind of child trafficking we condone in America? Are we so willing to sacrifice the innocence of young performers as to set them awash and drunken with praise and expect them to keep their heads, to maintain their charming simplicity? Are we so eager to place adolescents in the position of sensuous adults that we cannot see the trajectory? Have we learned nothing from the Elizabeth Taylors, the Lindsay Lohans, the Charlotte Churches? Can we not predict the troubled lives, the wake of broken relationships once our carefully-groomed prodigies are all grown up, once they’re hurting and angry and robbed of everything good?

How is this not child exploitation?

We offer fame and money; we steal purity and unselfconsciousness.

We promise Jackie she can become a celebrity, and fail to tell her she can no longer be a child.

I mean hey, it makes money.