We’ve Only Just Begun

In the 1980s I dated a girl who had five brothers and five sisters, all older than she. The one she admired most, we’ll call him “Tony,” was probably the funniest of the bunch, but he was also the most arrogant. One time this girlfriend told me that her brother thought that Richard Carpenter of The Carpenters was “the worst arranger in the history of music.”

That’s probably true. But who the f*ck is Tony to say that? A successful pop star? A talented musician? A professional music critic?

Tony is like everyone who creates those cutesy internet posters making fun of the band Nickelback. Guess what, internet memesters, you don’t even have a band, so shut your word hole. When you’ve sold more records that The Carpenters or Barry Manilow or The Doobie Brothers or Glen Campbell, then you can talk about what failures they are. Until then, by definition, you are a bigger failure than they are.

Within this same paradigm is an even bigger mystery: people who think their failures make them experts. Examples include drug addicts who become addiction counselors and divorced people who become marriage councilors. These people will tell you they are the only ones who can really understand because they’ve “been there.” But tell me this, if failure is such a great teacher: would you go to a doctor who flunked out of medical school?

Also along those lines: I had a college roommate who asked me one time, “Why do they even make anti-perspirant?” He thought it was stupid to suppress your sweat. The flaw in his reasoning is that he honestly believed that if he didn’t like or want something, it shouldn’t even exist. How utterly egocentric and myopic.

I said on my teaching blog one time that, “I do not refer to myself as ‘master’ anything, since I believe a claim of being a master is fraught with peril, particularly the peril of being a master of not being a master.” I stand by that. I’m not an expert or a scholar or a master. I have something to give, that’s all. Take it and run with it.

By 1967, I knew everything. I've been gradually forgetting it since then.
By 1967, I knew everything. I’ve been gradually forgetting it since then.
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1 Comment

  1. “would you go to a doctor who flunked out of medical school”

    Or would you visit a dentist who doesn’t brush his teeth? Or an orthodontist with crooked teeth?

    I’ve often wondered about the wisdom of “reformed addicts” becoming counselors for other addicts. The “been there” argument only holds value in an emotional bonding way and doesn’t speak volumes about their own abilities.

    On the other hand, as someone who’s battled addictions, I can say I’m much more likely to pay attention to a smoker who’s quit than a person who doesn’t have an addictive personality.

    “he honestly believed that if he didn’t like or want something, it shouldn’t even exist”

    By the same token, I don’t think the following things should exist: “smart phones”, tanning salons, professional baseball, and political advertisements.

    “I do not refer to myself as ‘master’ anything”

    I’m an expert at not mastering anything, and I’ve practiced this diligently most of my life. The downside is that just about everyone is better than me at something. The upside is that I’m not stuck with the one thing I mastered…

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