Mr. Obe and Mrs. Oba (featured in the photo above) live with me for free. They have for years. Why would they want to leave? I feed them well; they live in luxurious surroundings; I never question anything they say or do; I always listen to their advice; and they live, as I mentioned, rent-free.
Let me make a formal introduction: Mr. Obe and Mrs. Oba (short for O-bloody and O-blood-ah) are my resident critics. They have an opinion about everything, all the time. When I began writing about seven or so years ago, they showed up right along with the first words I typed. Mrs. Oba is the passionate one and her first words to me were, “Ah, such a talented writer you are but this, this that you are typing, does not show that. Try again.” I took it to be encouragement. She was a Miss then. A few months later, she got married and Mr. Obe showed up. He’s the realist and can even drown her out (which is hard to do). His comments and insights always have razor-sharp focus and hurt as much as a sharp razor would on soft skin. “This, you call this writing? Wait till your editor reads this, it is going to be all over for you.”
I listened to them. I stopped writing. I found other things to do—I played games, I visited with my friends on social media, I cleaned my house. I loved getting assignments and dreaded writing them. I dreamt that Mr. Obe and Mrs. Oba were sending secret notes to my editors, telling them how awful I was. I spent hours envying successful writers who (I believed) never had to deal with Mr. Obe and Mrs. Oba. How lucky they must be?
Mr. Obe and Mrs. Oba were helping me fail. Fast.
Out of sheer desperateness, and to try to at least attempt to make a living at this new craft, I began to read up everything I could find on how to make the internal nonsense stop. It had to. It was destroying what was left of my nonexistent self-esteem.
Nothing seemed to work. They laughed at all my attempts at meditation, despondent prayers and piles of self-help books.
Out of sheer panic, I decided I needed an intervention. A funny thing happens when you are an adult: you have to learn to take care of your demons because no one else can do it for you.
I began to call people I considered successful to ask how they dealt with their demons. Many said it was hard, some said they had no time for demons they were so busy. It occurred to me—and this may sound really stupid to you all—but it occurred to me that I had actually created and welcomed Mr. Obe and Mrs. Oba in my life. They did not show up on their own. It sounds really idiotic to say that but to me it was eye-opening: they were there because I allowed them to be there.
I remember writing down on a piece of paper that having demons was a luxury. It was an excuse I was using to not face the paper every day. I was letting them define my life. They had served their purpose: to remind me that humility was important, to show me that nothing was going to be easy and that good writing took a lot of work. I had learned my lesson.
Then one day I began to write about a topic I was totally fascinated with. It was a topic close to my heart: fear of failing. I wrote the story in a rush. The words flowed, there were no edits, there was no stopping, I wrote fast and wrote strong. And when the story was done, it suddenly occurred to me that Mr. Obe and Mrs. Oba had not made their customary appearance that day. Sick day, perhaps?
These days, when I write (which is daily), I write fast. I do not analyze or edit or even think until whatever I am writing is in a draft form. I force myself to keep my fingers moving, just moving, pouring out words. I don’t stop. I write like I am trying to save my life. Which, in some ways, I am. I have begun to spend time meditating in the mornings and at night. It helps clear the white noise where the critical couple once lived. Mr. Obe and Mrs. Oba, I have to tell you, have moved to a beach-front home somewhere, and show up only occasionally to pay their respects.
Just today, though, I heard a knock on my mental door and it was a new couple, Mr. Ooh and Mrs. Aaah. They are distant cousins of Mr. Obe and Mrs. Oba and were here, they said, to ooh and aah over my writing, since they had heard I had a rent-free space available. I smiled at them. I had learned my lesson. I was no longer renting space. The space is no longer available: an aspiring writer lives there now.
While I don’t have the luxury of renting out to critics, I don’t have the bravado to rent it out to cheerleaders either.