Tuesday, October 2, 2012

For Good Men to Do Nothing


The communication gap between teacher and student is large and vague. Often times, it’s just hard to understand what the other doesn’t understand.

When looking back on my own personal incomprehension, I’ve come to several conclusions as to why I didn’t get it. One was the way it was told to me. Abrupt, concrete, and often condescending, of course I wasn’t going to listen when I felt like they thought I was an idiot. Secondly, it was never the whole story. People who said not to use adverbs did. And they did, because when they said “never” what they meant was “don’t overuse.” We say don’t because that’s a lot easier to obey than use moderation.

Lastly, and most importantly, when we give children advice, it comes from an idyllic form of reality, not reality itself. And thus, having been told that they shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, they are confused when we demand they wear uniforms.

Whether it be Disney, high school, or even the parents, the world constantly instructs the youth that life is the way it should be and are surprised when they believe it.

We were told we could do anything then they don’t want us to become rock stars. We were told that it’s bad to lie then they are nervous for our college applications essays. We were told to always be ourselves then they are mad when we won’t play the game. We were told to always be grateful for what we have then they can’t believe we’re still living at home at thirty.

Artists’ careers thrive within the idyllic realm. If an accountant says he’s doing his job to make money, that’s understandable. If an author does, he’s put a black mark on his career. The great artists are of pure integrity, and create art for the art, not for the respect, money, security, or fans.

Americans are taught it is wrong to want things. Possessions, money, power, and, for women, love, are objectives for evil, unlikable, or pathetic characters. It is okay to want safety, as long as they’re not being ungrateful for what they have.

Which is why, in modern film and literature, we see a great deal of heroes wanting little to nothing and merely contending with the villains' desires. Whether it be the Hero’s Journey, the self-fulfilling prophecy, or a Disney movie, we are told that good people sit around and wait for fame, where bad people seek it. Doing things is evil.

Here’s the issue: quality is not universal, a second draft won’t necessarily be better than the first, and whether or not someone likes the work is based around what it’s being compared to. So it becomes very hard to make decisions on how to improve. Especially when no one likes to talk about the concept of improving.

In college, I wanted to impress my professor. (This confession, by the way, is exactly the sort of mentality a proper author should never make because it’s not a goal a true artist would have.) But the plays he liked and hated seemed to have no discernible pattern. Some of the worst works shared main traits with the best. And he would constantly say that you can’t judge a work by whether or not you like it as well as it’s not about what the author meant because sometimes he doesn’t know. So I asked him, “How do you know if a script is good or not?”

(And, of course, I meant, “How do you know if a script is good or not?”)

His response? “You learn with experience.”

The conversation went on for hours, and I could get no better answer.

I’ve had this argument with several different people, and for a long time it was hard for me to understand the miscommunication.

Art is subjective, and that makes it damn hard to make decisions. I feel as if I could break through some truth on what good is that my life would be made easier. But often times when I try to talk about it, I get the same sorts of responses. Artists are careful not to reveal any “superficial” desires, as, for that matter, are most people in our culture.

But the truth of that matter is that no matter how bad it looks to want things, it is okay to want what you want. And more importantly, we need to know what we want if we ever hope to achieve happiness. Though we can often be mistaken in what will make us happy, (thinking that if we had the money there would be no more problems, or if we lost the weight everyone would like us better) as long as the desires don’t make other people miserable, then we should keep our goals in mind.

In terms of writing, honesty about goals relieves frustration. When an author doesn’t know what he doesn’t like about his work, when he doesn’t know if he wants to change something or leave it, when he is trying to edit without any available feedback, knowing what he is trying to achieve, therefore not achieving, will tell him if and how to make changes.

If we treat the writing world the way it should be rather than the way it is, if we consider any forms of playing the game selling out, and if we refuse to acknowledge our own desire for success, then the only thing we can depend on is luck or fate, which is a very depressing way to go.