My friend Mike Albo wrote a really funny, sharp book a few years ago called The Underminer. I was just reading it, and laughing, but wincing. It’s one of those books that you read, and you laugh out loud at, but it also hurts, because it hits home so truthfully. It made me think about all the underminers I’ve known in my life. Plenty of them.
Not so much the awful, scary bullies that seem to haunt the halls of every middle and high school in the country, but the ones we keep around for some reason, as if we aren’t doing enough of a job in talking smack about ourselves.
I’m talking about our “friends” who seem to really enjoy telling us that maybe we “should have the sorbet” rather than the sundae. The ones who ask if we’re “still at that studio?” or if we’d like the number of the “great girl who cuts my hair.” Or best of all, the one who asked me once, incredulously, “you own an iron???” For the record, that shirt was supposed to be wrinkled, it came that way, it was the look. I do own an iron and I use it all the time. I’m also the only person I know who uses spray starch when I use my iron.
At any rate, being someone who writes and directs theatre as well as teaches yoga, I put myself out there. In a very public way. I’ve sort of gotten used to the fact that some of my friends, being artists themselves, like to be critics, and think their opinions and feedback will be treasured by everyone they know. They love to share their opinions about everything. They actually believe, I think, that when I’ve just finished teaching a class, or have just opened a play, or finished a screenplay, that I want their real, gritty, no-holds-barred, honest feedback about my work. Guess what? I don’t.
I stand by what I do. I like what I do. If I want to hear some criticism or feedback, I’ll ask you for it. And if I ask you, that’s your cue to say what you think. But please, wait until I’ve asked, and if you’re going to give me feedback, make it useful. Make it constructive. Give me ideas for how to improve. But if I didn’t ask, and you didn’t like it, just lie and say “It was great. Good job.” Sometimes that’s the best way to do it. Oh, and don’t say “congratulations.” That’s such a vague, shitty thing to say to someone who has just created something.
The worst thing anyone ever said to me on an opening night was “Congratulations. Did you have fun?” Yuck. Guess what? I sat through that seven hour “Mahabarata” set in Disneyworld that you were so proud of your work in. I didn’t call it “interesting” or say “congratulations.” I hugged you and said “you were fabulous.” You weren’t, by the way.
Don’t be an underminer. And don’t ever, EVER tell me I look tired. You don’t want to hear my response to that.
Be kind. Sometimes honesty isn’t the best policy.
I’m a fan of the following litmus test:
Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?
The yogic thing to do, in my view, is to think about how you’d want to be treated, and then act accordingly.
For a real laugh, here’s Mike as The Underminer.