Thursday, January 24, 2013

On Putting Your Ass Out There

Status update:  about two-thirds done, proceeding with verve. Coffee supplies low.

I have two friends. I'm going to fictionalize a little, in the off-chance that one of them Googles around and stumbles upon my blog. They're both awesome people--this is why I call them friends, after all. And before one of you reads this and decides it must be about you, keep in mind I know multiple people that fit the bill, so pat yourself on the back--it's probably the other guy I'm talking about here. You're awesome, you little red fire engine, you.

But I digress.

I have two friends. Let's call them Kim and Randy. Kim likes to home brew. She's a beginner. Her first few beers were everything that a first-time home brew beer is: weak, watery, lots of sediment. Yeasty. Drinkable, but not exactly Guinness, if you know what I'm saying. But she's trying. She puts out another batch every once in a while and it keeps getting better and better. It's still not great, but she's working on it.

Randy doesn't really do much at all. He mostly sits around and watches TV all day. No hobbies worth speaking of. He's a consumer, not a creator. This is fine. Not everyone's going to go out there and weld statues of clowns or take up knitting. Every time he tries one of Kim's brews, he's extremely negative. Not critical...that would imply useful feedback. He's negative with a side order of "why are you bothering?"

Kim's got a bit of an oddball hobby (at least in my social circles). She's not good at it (yet), but she's at least doing something. I've thought about the situation between the two off and on ever since I first noticed it. It points out something about our culture. There's a sort of unspoken narrative that you should always be the best at what you do and if you aren't or, heaven help you, if you're mediocre (or are flat-out awful) you should not try at all.

I suppose that's the thing I dislike about hipsters, although they aren't the ones who originated this attitude and they aren't the only ones who are guilty of it by any means. If you aren't any good at something, you shouldn't even try. You might risk mockery. You aren't even allowed to honestly like things; you have to put up the mental scare quotes by being "ironic." It's a terrible way to go about life, always looking over your shoulder to see if you have crowd approval.

And one of the worst parts about it is that it promotes armchair expertism (a blog I follow calls it "complainypants" syndrome). These experts have never sacked up and tried to create anything themselves because they don't have the nerve to risk sucking at something--but they still have opinions. So they project it onto those that do. If they've never tried, they don't know how good they are. If they don't know how good they are, they can pretend they could still be the best. Writing is easy, they could be a writer. Painting is just putting paint on paper. Photographers, even the best, don't do anything that they couldn't do with their cellphone if they cared. Playing in a rock band is easy work and doesn't require practice at all; it must be inherent or something you're inspired to do. But they haven't bothered yet, and they kind of expect deep down inside that somebody else who is doing it and not doing great should not have even started.

I had a professor once, ages ago, back when dinosaurs ruled the Earth. He taught literary criticism. He once told us flat out that, even though he studies poetry and fiction for a living, he could never write because "he would be too hard on himself." Even at the tender age of 23 or 24, I wanted to stand up and shake him. He was extremely literate (obviously), well-read, had done and seen many interesting things. I'm 99% positive that after a brief shake-down period, he could've written some extremely compelling things. But he didn't.

I think he lost his job shortly afterwards because he was embezzling from the English department, but that's neither here nor there.

Why do we always have to rock at everything we do? Who cares. Get off the fucking couch and do something interesting. You don't have to be any good at it.

Don't be a complainypants. Just do something. Go forth and completely suck at your hobbies. If you fail, it's not the end of the world. It builds character.

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