The trick to destroying soup, one has been advised, is to invite additional cooks into your kitchen. Last night, up with a baby flirting with the notion of sleeping through the night, I found myself confronted with one of many parenting blogs. The author had helpfully compiled the well-reasoned arguments of two pediatricians and had arranged them into two neat columns. Naturally, the conclusions were diametrically opposed. The projected consequences of either action? Irrevocable damage and emotional terrorism suffered by my only daughter. Below these educated points were a hundred or so user comments, a seething ball of white noise and utter nonsense.
It occured to me that the great faceted hive mind of the Internet, rich with the opinions of the others, is much like a oceanic broth with millions of part time chefs, each spending 5 to 10 minutes chucking a hastily crafted nugget into the mix. And let’s not forget the vocal minority that spend less time seasoning and more time vehemently pissing confidently into the concoction, vomiting verbal excrement from every orifice. They may not commit much effort, but their effect on the bouquet of the broth is hardly debatable.
As such, It didn’t take long for me to toss my iPad aside and pick up my daughter, blissfully winging it. Now don’t get me wrong: I’m in no hurry to revoke my citizenship in the digital nation of the future. I’m hardly one to turn my nose up at the obvious benefits of massive, brilliant, free information re-callable at the touch of a finger. But neither am I willing to allow it to bottleneck the purpose of my life with an overabundance of advice that was implicitly unasked.
Yesterday a friend passed on this interview with now deceased novelist and historian Shelby Foote. It certainly paints a picture: he wears only pajamas, hoards ink-well pens, and is grouchy about the effect of electronic tools on society. In many ways he’s a delightful and media friendly image of the eclectic writer, in others simply the embodiment of the “old school”. But one colorful thought in particular jumped out at me.
“I think creative-writing courses are a dismal waste of time. In the first place I don’t think creative writing can be taught. I think it’s very good if it makes you work; that’s the only virtue I see in it. But I think to correct a writer’s mistakes in a schoolmasterly way is to short-circuit the process. Writers have to discover their own mistakes and correct them for it to have real meaning.”
In other words, do work and make mistakes.
There are times that having an infinite well of advice can be paralyzing, as though making a single step that isn’t fully informed is unjustifiably reckless. But better yet to tumble forward in the dark from time to time than spend a lifetime weighing the anecdotal accounts of strangers. I’ll probably find my way back to the digital kitchen from time to time, to gather what raw materials I can and to gawk at the spectacle. But as for sipping the soup made by over a million humans? It’s hard to justify the aftertaste of ambrosia when the broth reeks of bullshit.
I’ll make my own thanks.