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Taking a fall

29 April 2013

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There are three things that most males I’ve met — especially dudes under 25 — just assume they know how to do from the moment they’re born:

  • Fight
  • Perform stand-up comedy
  • Write

Those are three very specific things, yet the list holds true. If you’re a guy, you probably thought you could check off every item on that list when you were a kid. You’d see a stand-up comedian on TV, or a fight scene in a movie, or read a bit of a book at your local Borders and think Well, shit — I can do that.

Thing is, almost no one can do any of those things without training.

We learn we can’t do the first — fighting — if we ever get into a real fight. All it takes is one solid ass-kicking for most of us to realize we’re not the badasses we assumed we were.

We learn we can’t inherently do the second — stand-up comedy — if we ever get up on stage at an open-mic night. The silent crowd and the miniature panic attack as we bomb spectacularly are a quick education.

Only sometimes do we learn from failing that were not born Hemingways or Vonneguts, though. There’s an inborn stubbornness for the first several rejections — it’s always the agent’s bad taste, or the publisher who doesn’t recognize genius.

Reality shows are sparing some of the younger generations from finding out the hard way that they can’t do this stuff, at least for the first two items on the list. Watch Bully Beat-Down if you think you can fight. Watch Last Comic Standing if you think you’re the next Carlin — the contestants on those shows get the shit kicked out of them and bomb miserably so you don’t have to. There’s not a reality show for writers yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

Thing is, with training — real, actual training — most of us could be good at any or all of those things we think we’re born knowing how to do. Or if not good, at least proficient enough not to embarrass ourselves.

That’s my message for today. If there’s something you want to do, work at it. Train for it. It takes a lot of effort and time, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. It means the opposite.

Get that first beatdown out of the way. Bomb that first time. Get that first rejection. But don’t give up — use that as a basis to start building.
You can only go up from there.

So, got any stories of when you thought you were good at one of the items above and found out otherwise in a spectacularly terrible way? Lord knows I do.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 29 April 2013 1102

    I never assumed I could fight. I think because of that, I spent a lot of time avoiding fights. The fights I’ve been in…I don’t know if I’d call them fights, although I’m sure others would. It was more, to me, aggressively defending myself when there were no other options, and I never lost — never even really got hit. But even with an “undefeated” record in that regard, I never assumed I could stand even toe to toe with someone even much smaller than me and win. The only scheduled after school fight went something like this:

    A sorta-friend cut in the lunch line in front of me. I was like, “Come on, man…” and next thing you know, everyone around us had us riled up. Like that, an after school fight was scheduled against, despite neither of us wanting to fight. I’ll spare the details — when we started fighting, everything I threw with my right connected because this guy was blind in his left eye. I felt bad, so…having recently been screened for scoliosis and having a very slight case of it — but enough to be made fun of for having it — I turned and let him hit me in the back. I went down while shouting, “My scoliosis!!!” It was the only punch he threw that landed, and it scared the crap out of everybody and did the trick: thinking I was on the verge of death, everybody took off running, and I didn’t have to fight. My ego never needed to win in that regard.

    I never tried stand up, but I’ve done some live storytelling to various successes. For me, the bombing came when juggling. A partner and I had a routine that sometimes worked and sometimes fell flat. There were times we trolled for laughs and were met with stares and people walking away. The more we did it, the better we got. As you point out: practice. There was a side of us that thought, I think, that since we were good jugglers and people thought we were funny that it would be easy. It wasn’t. We saw what worked and kept it, and dropped the things that made the crowds go quiet or even break up.

    Writing is the one thing I thought I could do with any level of success that did come vaguely fast. The first thing I wrote with the intent of publication was picked up. Other stuff followed. And then…I started seeing rejections mixed in with things being accepted. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to thinking, “I can do this!” and succeeding, but two decades later, I make a living as a tech writer — not writing fiction. So…yep, still takes lots of practice, even though I came out strong at the start.

    Now I wanna hear some of your stories of failure…

    • 29 April 2013 2057

      First time I got my ass kicked — not sure. There were several in a relatively short space of time, so it’s all kind of blurred together into one big beating… which is why I learned to fight.

      Never tried stand-up comedy, though I of course assumed I could do it. Fortunately, an open mic never presented itself during that phase.

      Writing — ooooooh yes. I sent out a novel to agents when I was 20 or so. Got back rejections and sent asshole-ish emails to the effect of “your loss.” If I could travel back in time and deliver an ass-beating to 20-year-old me, I would in a heartbeat.

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