I detest giving advice. No, that’s not a strong enough sentiment. I hate giving advice, so I generally avoid giving it unless someone forces my hand. Advice pretends to be universal, though it really isn’t. Our situations are particular, complex, and fraught, and advice rares brushes the surface of this complexity. Advice pretends to be applicable to everyone while knowing it never is. I’m leery of people who willingly offer up advice, especially unsolicited advice. I didn’t ask I want to say, but never do. I often wonder what those who spout advice envision human experiences to be, and I figure what they envision looks remarkably similar to their lives. Something worked for them, so it must work for us? Their certainty makes me twitchy. I usually look for an exit.
It is hard for us to imagine the lives of others, their circumstances, their situations, and their constraints because often we aren’t aware of our own. How do we get outside of our own heads long enough to grapple with someone else’s reality? (Can we?) This is why I hate giving advice because of the needed particularity. I understand fully that life is hard, but what if I can’t imagine the particularity of that hard for you? I know there are others who can’t quite imagine why a task takes Herculean effort for me and barely any from them. What advice can I offer you without knowing more about your situation? Some of the most common advice that I’ve received proved to not work for me, and I beat myself up about it for awhile. I tend not to now. Advice is cheap; lots of people clamor to offer it up. This is why I hesitate and pause and usually fumble the question when someone asks me for advice. This is also why I tend to be searingly honest about my own situation. I provide the context for what I end up saying, even then, I still hate giving advice.
Three weeks ago, I did a reading in front of audience of mostly undergraduates. This was my first reading, and I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I made it through the last paragraph of my essay and choked up. This essay is one of the personal and vulnerable that I’ve every written. I read and reread it aloud because some of the paragraphs were hard for me to get through without tears. I made it through, but the last few lines hit hard. I took a gulp of bottled water and another, cleared my throat, and waited for questions. The undergrads were hesitant, but they started asking questions, good ones about craft, research, process, and audience. The last question of evening came from my friend, Richard, who asked what kind of advice I would have liked to heard as an undergraduate about being a writer. The question, one I should have seen coming, threw me.
I paused to gather my thoughts and then offered up the first thing that came to mind: “I never imagined I could be a writer.” (more…)