On the importance of stabbing your readers in the brain


There’s nothing like the first week of the new year for self-improvement, which is why Target promptly hustles their Christmas stuff to the Clearance Ghetto and fills in the “seasonal” space with organizational stuff and books on how to lose weight by buying diet books.

I generally don’t read inspirational blogs. And by “generally don’t read” I mean “avoid like a leper’s punchbowl.” But even otherwise sane and sensible blogs that dedicate themselves to building a better birdfeeder will go a little nuts come the new year, and start linking to inspiring things somewhere, which mean that I in the last few days, I have been repeatedly urged to “celebrate Nature’s gifts!”* and “honor the creative spirit that dwells within each of us.”**

I may be a bad artist or a bad gardener–actually, I KNOW I’m a bad gardener–but these sentiments mean nothing to me–actually they aggravate me–because once you start trying to dissect them, there’s not actually anything in there.

It’s not that I am opposed to thinking that Nature is awesome. Nature IS awesome. Nature does more in ten seconds on a Tuesday than I do all year.  But if what you’re trying to say is “Really enjoy that vegetable garden!” then just SAY it. “Take a walk in the woods because it’s just so damn awesome,” works for me. “Squee over those wild turkeys, you lucky bastard” is a personal favorite.  “Build a rain garden so you don’t waste rainwater.” “Don’t dump paint in the river because it makes fish sad.” All quite laudable! But “celebrate nature’s gifts!” is a Hallmark card of vague sentiment attached to an empty cardboard box.  The wrapping is pretty but there’s nothing THERE.

As for honoring the creative spirit that ostensibly dwells within each of us…look, I am not saying you should hold your creative spirit down and beat it with rubber chickens.*** But if what you mean is “don’t knock your own art all the time,” then SAY THAT.  If you mean “Take a class or a workshop and stop telling yourself that you’re too shy or too awful and you’ll fail so you shouldn’t bother,” then say it! Say it specifically! (Actually, that’s one that ought to be said quite a lot, and hardly ever is.)  If you mean “Make your own art and quit worrying that if you branch out from the scrapbooking pages, you’re Doing It Wrong, and I know it’s scary, but if you can get past that first couple of steps, the world is your giant screaming oyster!” then, again, say it! There are people out there who could stand to hear ALL those things, and some of them probably have “honor the creative spirit that dwells within” on a rubber stamp already and use it on the envelope they use to pay the power bill and it hasn’t done them a damn bit of good.

I suppose what I am getting at is that I am very tired of saccharine sentiments that could mean anything and everything and that are supposed to make us all warm and fuzzy and excited to go out and do meaningful stuff, because I think most of us wind up stopping at the warm and fuzzy and never go DO the meaningful stuff, and then another year rolls around and another load of sentiment is dumped on us from people who mean well but who have bought into this notion that you can assemble magnetic poetry out of the words “dream” and “gift” and “nature” and “creative” and “love” and it will mean something profound.

Concrete examples. Concrete. A vague generalization is a pile of Styrofoam peanuts, a specific example is a knife. You are trying to stab your readers in the brain.**** Do not stab with fluff! Fluff does not stab! No matter how much you rub it on a grindstone, it will not take an edge!

(I realize you want to reach the widest audience possible, but trust me, some things will reach a terrifyingly wide audience who all think they’re alone. Case in point–every time I mention the animals-starving-in-cages dream, people fall out of the woodwork going “Holy crap, OTHER PEOPLE HAVE THAT?!” Merely stamping “dream!” on old photos of grumpy girls with paste-on fairy wings doesn’t do that. Knife in the brain, people. Knife. In. The. Brain.)

Be encouraging. It’s a rough world, we should all be nice to each other. But for the love of bunnies, be specific.



Got a bit carried away there, didn’t I?


*I have no idea what this means. Possibly we are supposed to throw small parties for pinecones. Glitter and white glue may be involved, in which case I can’t help but think the pinecone would prefer to keep its dignity.

**I also have no idea what this means, but somehow I bet it doesn’t involve sitting in an unheated studio with a nude model, trying desperately to get that one funky line where the forearm swirls into the elbow down before the model cramps up and has to move.

***Unless you’re into that.

****In the nicest way possible!

7 thoughts on “On the importance of stabbing your readers in the brain

  1. Mitawa says:

    I don’t suppose you could be more specific about this “animals starving in cages dream”…?

    Now I’m just fascinated, confused, and vaguely wondering if I’ve had it too… O_o

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