Week 5. Guard your ears

When I first began training in the martial arts, I had to learn to trust my teachers–when they said I could do something I didn’t think I could do, I had to try. Then I would discover that I could do the thing.

As I became more accomplished in the martial arts, I realized that often my teachers’ faith wasn’t even in me–it wasn’t that I, personally, had some special knack or skill. Their faith was in the process. If you did it right, it worked.

Over the years, I’ve had a lot of teachers, not all of them positively inclined toward me. And one thing I’ve learned is that some teachers want to keep out everyone except the special people and other teachers want to welcome everyone in.

It’s the second kind you want and should trust, not the first. It’s the second kind you should listen to. Guard your ears against the first.

I got to thinking about this last week because some quotes from famous writers showed up on my Facebook  newsfeed. You know the kind, all related to the idea that only certain special Anointed Ones are writers and everyone else ought to just go home. That you can’t learn to be a writer, it’s innate, a gift and if you don’t have it, you may as well not try.

Which is just so absolute horseshit I can barely talk about it without losing my temper.

I get that some people want to be writers and some people don’t. But that’s about as far as I’ll go with predicting who will succeed and who won’t–even the very word succeed is problematic because what does it mean? Writing popular books doesn’t necessarily mean you know the craft, so is that success? Writing award-winning books that no one reads doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve succeeded, either. Writing good books that win no awards and aren’t particular popular isn’t necessarily failure. Nor is writing something that is outside what is socially agreed-upon to be “good” always failure.

I get tired of people bleating out discouraging adages as if they were certainties. I’m sure the people who bleat them out think they are part of the chosen group and they want the group to be special and if everyone can be in it, then the group’s not special. To which I say, grow the fuck up.

I agree that not everyone is at the same point in the journey. And I agree that gaining an understanding of any art or craft requires a certain aha! moment. What I object to is the idea that only certain preordained people will have that aha! moment.

The aha! moment is different for everyone. It comes at different times and places. I didn’t like or understand math until I got to college and met a teacher who unlocked the door for me. Then I felt competent. But it wasn’t until I was in my forties that I saw how math can be beautiful. But if I had decided ahead of time that only special people can understand math, I would still hate it and suck at it.

Maybe you’re not as good at your craft as you would like to be. Maybe, like me, you’ve spend the last two months trying to figure out how in hell to fix this manuscript. But that doesn’t mean you’re missing the fingerprint of god or something. It means you’re trying. And the only way anyone gets to the aha! moment is to try.

The idea that there are chosen people–in any field!–is offensive, disrespectful, and disempowering. But we idolize the teachers who say these things, as if they somehow know.

But they don’t know.

A good teacher isn’t one who discourages you from trying, from reaching, from pushing your limits. A good teacher trusts the process, not the student.

 

A few of my favorite things

LESSONS IN MAGIC
A CERTAIN KIND OF MAGIC
THE IMPROBABLE ADVENTURES OF A MIDDLE-AGED WOMAN
DOJO WISDOM FOR WRITERS