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Jessie Willcox Smith:
Girl seated in flower garden (1905)
"Beware of good advice and even warier of better."

As I assemble my manuscript, I catch myself unable to imagine its contents. Yes, I wrote every word, but even after creating each story and reading through each several times, I cannot quite bring to mind most of its contents. I carry a general impression of whatever's between the covers, but the details escape me, or they would escape if they'd ever been captive. I sense that I might be especially stupid to find myself unable to crisply recall what I've written. When I reread a story, I quickly realized it was mine. I recognize the voice. I usually even recall the context within which each one emerged, but I'm almost at a loss to describe much of the manuscript's contents absent that prompting. I consider this a serious shortcoming.

Like all advice-givers and consultants, I once encouraged my clients to start with a singular focus.
I preached that MixingMetaphors amounted to a death wish for most endeavors because they produced stories of little use for focus or regulation. This advice was well-intended but probably poisonous, for what human endeavor ever achieves such focus? While undoubtedly true that should an effort somehow achieve this clarity, many of its more troublesome externalities might disappear. Absent ambiguity, interpretation becomes easy, but without ambiguity, something essential might also go missing. The MixedMetaphor might be the one universal constant between almost all human endeavors. Not an enemy of civilization but its inevitable companion.

So mine was great advice but Utopian. It might have been better advice had it been humanly possible to achieve, but us outside experts were paid to gloss over complications rather than amplify them. Our utterances were supposed to simplify and thereby bouy confidence and enthusiasm. MixingMetaphors when giving advice severely complicates the commercial transaction, for they spark questions. The suggestions might well create unwanted confusion, for the primary form of outside advice has, for generations and by international agreement, been served in the form of All Ya Gotta Do. If the implementation doesn't seem straightforward, more will find it convenient to ignore the advice. Notwithstanding that much of this advice would have been much better forgotten than followed, the hapless advice givers and consultants—me included—would have been rendered unemployable had our clients ignored our "great" advice.

I am my own consultant and advice-giver now. I spout the usual gibberish in the form of self-talk as I work my way through assembling my manuscript. I notice when something does not seem "shit simple," an old metric leftover from my tenure in Silicon Valley. The techies there were hungry for good advice. They bought it in whatever flavor seemed most popular that month, and they mostly attended workshops for entertainment and diversion, for many of them were successful regardless of whatever they did. They might waste ninety percent of their resources and still dominate their industry, such was the state of monopoly in that place and time. The most successful consultants worked for clients who didn't need their advice, ones who engaged their consultants out of boredom for diversion. They'd duly accept the advice and continue doing whatever they would have done without it; the fees lost in rounding on their income statement.

I question my own advice but still fall prey to it. I know better than anyone how well-intended it's delivered. I sometimes forget just how poisonous it might prove. Yes, I deal almost exclusively in MixingMetaphors. The subject of my manuscript does, indeed, ultimately seem questionable because not even its author can crisply recall its contents. But then I imagine how it might be instead if I was capable of holding the contents in my head, of crisply recalling every story and phrase, and I wonder what my manuscript's purpose might be then, if not as a medium for storage, the result of my MixingMetaphors. So beware of good advice and even warier of better.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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