“What do you do?” is a normal question that is now a pain to answer. When people find out I’m a military historian, crime and horror and fantasy novelist and short story writer, graduate school adjunct, freelance non-fiction writer and writing teacher, and professional (insert laugh here) improv actor and sketch comedy writer/actor who is best known for novels about pro wrestling and videos about an insane British professor who does one minute lectures on things like sirens and flips, the look on their faces is akin to that glassy stare that infects the eyes when a math teacher asks you to solve the problem on the board, the one you’ve been ignoring by doodling Ninja Turtles beating up Glen Danzig in the margins of your notebook.
Granted, it’s also a long way to say “I’m poor and America is broken!” (rimshot!), but I digress.
When they regain their composure, many begin to play a game called “Advice I Never Asked For, From Someone Who Doesn’t Know Anything.” Because if there’s one thing people are experts in, it’s advice on other people’s lives and careers. Here’s the advice I get most often.
Just fuck off. Seriously.
Most advice comes from people who don’t work in any of your fields, or . . . “currencies.” Most advice comes from the POV of the consumer who thinks of themselves as tastemakers who know how the world works, or other variants of the dilettante observer of the cultural marketplace. And I bet some people mean well with this junk, but, as Oscar Wilde noted, “All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling.”
But for most who offer bottomless amounts of advice, I detect an ounce of baiting for future Schadenfreude. When the success they expect of you, with their advice as the secret ingredient, of course, fails to materialize, they get the sweetest and laziest satisfaction, the ultimate cake-and-eat-it-too for those who aren’t anywhere near the fucking kitchen: “See,” they say, “if Jay had only done as I’d told him, he would have been a success. Such a shame. And he works so hard, poor dear!”
So, allow me the salacious opportunity of giving you bad advice! Let me relish in your future failures with “Dr. Ridler’s Top Five Must Do’s and Do-Not-Do’s For Succeeding like a Porn Star in Writing and the Arts! 100% Satisfaction Guaranteed (unless you screw up my perfect suggestions, which you will, so it’s on you, dearhearts!)”
Whatever you do, only listen to people who reinforce your preconceived notions! Telling you different is just selling something!
NEXT MONTH! Dr. Ridler’s Top Five Reality Checks About “Surviving” in the Arts (and the use of irony!)
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