by Michael Dumontier and Neil Farber 'The covers of this book are too far apart.' – Ambrose Bierce In terms of how well I weather criticism, I have a very thin skin. I have the skin of an Antarctic krill. An Antarctic krill doesn't have skin exactly; it has a chitinous shell from which it sometimes ejects itself to use as a decoy against predators. The krill leaves this tiny ghost self behind while it makes a getaway. This is a way of saying, um, that when someone (clearly a predator) criticises something I've done, I will usually fire off a decoy reaction – 'Oh yes, good point, you are right, everything is fine' – and then I hastily retreat, naked and small and bereft, into the depths. There, I wait for my dainty shell to re-grow. Criticism can be very good for a person. It can be a gift. We know this. And useful criticism of creative work (and of anything, really) – whether it's in a published review, a workshop, a conversation or email with a friend or family member, whatever – nearly always grows out of respect: respect for what someone's work is trying to do, respect for the person who made it and how hard it might have been. So that's great. But also, criticism can really hurt, can lodge itself like a cursed stone in your shoe in a way that praise never really does. It can feed our worst insecurities and replay horribly in our minds, usually when we are just about to give an important presentation or go to a party. It replays even more furiously once we have made a shambles of the presentation and have fled the party at 9 o'clock, weeping. I think criticism is felt especially keenly by those of us who don't have healthy self-esteem. Self-esteem is a tedious responsibility that we are lumbered with from birth – like owning a pet, we are duty-bound to feed this thing, keep it healthy; we can't go anywhere happily unless it's taken care of. I recently listened to a podcast that more aptly described self-esteem as your armour in the world: the healthier your self-esteem, the more resilient you are. Words have to be particularly sharp to break through the armour into the soft innards beneath. When we say someone has a thick skin, I think we just mean they have good self-esteem. None of us is exempt from occasionally being told that our work is just no good and that, by extension, we are no good. None of us is exempt from being told that we should be grateful for receiving any feedback at all. But maybe we can learn something from one another in how to deal with this. Or, if not that, then find some small comfort in one another's responses. I decided to ask some people whose work I really like – mostly they are writers, and some are performers – whether criticism is easy for them to take. I am especially interested in how they move on from it, or not. This is the first of a two-part post.