Wednesday, August 17, 2011

shut up and practice

I hate people who give me unsolicited advice. I hate it. I'm sure I was a terrible know-it-all as a child, but I sure as hell try not to be now, because 90% of the people who try to give me "advice" actually have no idea what they're talking about, and the other 10% are telling me something I already know as if I was too stupid to think of it on my own.

I used to think it was a purely male trait, because pretty much every guy who has ever come through my kung-fu class has tried to "correct" me on something, regardless of the fact that he's been there one year and I've been there ten, regardless of whether he can do it himself or not, regardless of whether he knows what he's talking about, or not. My stock reply to such importunate assholes is fixed eye contact and a pointed, "Noo-oo!" as if I'm talking to a dog who knows he's not supposed to be on the sofa.

But women do it, too. They're just more passive-aggressive about it. They will parrot a more knowledgeable speaker, repeating phrases, nodding along and saying "Right!" at key points so they appear to be contributing. Or there's the doomsayer who will admire your new creative project and tell you all about the exhausting and emotionally crippling time she had when she attempted a similar project.... and she just hopes you're up to the challenge. Or better still, the been-there/done-that type who, when she hears about the parameters of your venture, suggests you are ignorant/bigoted/lazy because you're not doing it the way she thinks you should.

I was bitching to my husband about this stuff––I've got a lot of new projects going on right now, so I've encountered a lot of it lately––and he reminded me that it was yet another case of people talking the talk instead of getting off their asses and doing some work.

Everybody's good at something, but unfortunately 90% of the world has these romantic ideas about what they ought to be or want to be, which are in no way compatible with their capabilities. So they become "appreciators" or "aficionados" or god forbid, critics, which enables them to wank endlessly with other "appreciators" over their chosen fetish without ever having to do any real work.

Which is kind of a pity, because probably some of the "appreciators" could acquire some skill in their chosen passion, if they actually worked at it. But when it comes to any complex art––say, writing or tai chi––it's far far easier to attend workshops and join online newsgroups and organize foundations to promote the thing than to actually work at it.

Don't get the idea that I'm knocking foundations for the arts, because I'm not. Artists need those guys, but the worthwhile foundations are run by people who know that their strengths lie in organization rather than in art. (Here's a hint: if you find yourself creating "venues" for your work and that of your friends because "we're too weird/shocking/daring/liberal for the mainstream"--take this hard truth to heart: the mainstream has seen it all before. The mainstream finds you boring. Go back into the studio until you've got something fresh.)

For the others, the folks who wish they were good at something but don't want it badly enough to work at it, it's far easier to cultivate that nasty little seed of resentment against people who are actually working to improve, to chop them off at the root before they can flourish, to buffer one's ego with the reasons why I didn't succeed and she can't possibly, either.

Gah. And people wonder why I'm not more of a joiner. Talking is for those who don't do.


AJ Milne said...

I probably shouldn't be reading this piece, as it will only reinforce my already hostile/dismissive attitude toward workshops in general, and my 'Non-Joiners Anonymous Group' probably wouldn't approve.

... granted, it's hard to know, of course, if they would or wouldn't exactly. As, well, I haven't been out to an NJA session in a while...

And, okay, probably, none of the rest of us have, either.

(/Yes, that was necessary.)

Holly said...

I have been fortunate in having a really great workshop for the past decade. Most of them, however, are sinkhole of despair and derision. And the other attendees were lame, too.


Anyway, I'm starting my own next week. I'm hoping I can weed out the chaff.

Jan Gephardt said...

This is quite an interesting meditation for someone who subsequently went out and formed a writers' group.

I hope you've been able to find more practitioners than wanks and amateur critics!

I certainly agree that before one has a right to offer a critique one should have actually DONE the thing one is talking about!

Holly said...

Well, Jan, I came to the conclusion that as with many things, one gets out of it what one puts into it. One can either bitch or take steps to change things. Etc.

But you hit upon my point exactly--people who read, write, and participate are valued. People who hang around for social hour are not.