My favorite artists like chores

A virtual workshop

What else is there to say about the feeling of being right? Apparently, so much. There’s an art of picking fights you could never really win and that, to me, is criticism. Everybody who looks good doing it is having fun. That’s the rule of life and writing. You have to put a twist in it, let it roll. Otherwise you’re an academic. There’s nothing wrong with that except you get away with so much—looking bad, being miserable, getting tenure. That’s why the cute ones become critics (and maybe they can’t get tenure). The ones with half a sense of dress, maybe tattoos or friends with tattoos, can almost talk about sex or movies or relationships in our shared language. I remember running to the end of the hall to be just in time to the nonfiction workshop and being just in time but not early, having my pick of two seats, both next to the professor. I don’t remember anything else but something I like to graft onto the memory is my knowledge of the absurdity of a nonfiction workshop. The only way you get to be a critic is if you throw yourself at the scene without grace and so many times until gosh one day you finally move in rhythm. Until your limbs take lines and angles, the beautiful geometry in your head when you think of tall people dancing. I like to remember the workshop this way because it would explain why I didn’t learn anything from the workshop. It would explain why the only path to lucidity was by getting all mixed up. I can predict the sentences of some people, and in them, I see my own worst instincts—I imagine they didn’t tell us in the workshop that you learn as much from bad writing as you do great writing. You learn as much from pedestrian magazine profiles as you do from stunning works of narrative journalism. Hopefully you’ve been worn out enough to notice how easy it is to fall into an obvious thought and a banal expression of it; or a good thought and an overplaying of it. What you do learn, in these workshops though, is that your ability to see this won’t get you anything in public—no awards, friends in the business, big commissions. In fact, it’s better if you sort of pick out some of these flaccid turns of phrase and plop versions of them into your own texts, kind of gesture at some of the worst of what you saw, because that’s what people remember.

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