On Other People’s Advice

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Being a human being is, like, super difficult. Sometimes there are no seemingly /right/ moves, and lines you learnt from films, which were meant to be winning, lead-drop and conversation stop. Problem pages are retro and all you post-millennial kids won’t even know what that is but, basically, any answer one person gives claiming expertise, is almost certainly wrong, if it’s on something subjective like love or sex or friends or just how to make a decision. (Although I’d really like to learn how to comprehensively make a decision: why don’t they teach that in school?)

And I’ve read self-help books. I’ve clutched that shit like it’s Bible-accurate (erm…) and stuck to it even if my heart wanted the opposite. I felt misguided pride at listening to advice and not being the dumb bitch the book said I’d be if I’d given a second chance that time I kinda, sorta, wanted to give a second chance. Even though on TV they always, always give the second chance (Hello Jordan Catalano).

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And that’s a problem, isn’t it? If advice implies you’re a thick bitch, fucking stupid, to do the opposite of what’s instructed? Even if it’s seriously what you want.

I read a lot of internet articles and forums and threads, to see what’s said, like maybe I could piece together the perfect instructions from various locations. But I usually end up more confused, or with labels I didn’t know existed, and never with the answer I set out to get. Because I’m pretty sure that, even if it’s deeply buried, we know what we want to find when we seek advice. We hope there’s justification for what it is that we’ve done, or that maybe we’re not alone, and that there’s a way forward, and a template to help us navigate it. Y’know, the way we keep giving Ben Affleck chances to be a human again, against our collective better judgement.

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I guess it’s sort of sadly that this year I’ve learnt even people I thought were close, didn’t always have my best interests at heart. They might not want to fuck me over intentionally, but some people’s advice giving is more to do with justifying decisions they’ve made in their own lives than helping you with yours. By convincing you to make the choices they have, it validates their life and decision-making. And I choose to believe that none of the terrible advice I received this year was vindictive, that is was always the best answer the person had at the time, according to the compass they use to navigate the scattered territory of their own life. But the judgement weighed heavy. Especially when all I wanted was a person to listen.

Morality’s also at play, and it’s like some people never saw an episode of an American TV show (read Felicity, Scandal, Nashville, etc.), and still think there’s such thing as a concrete right and concrete wrongs. Like, for reals. But there isn’t, not in the polarising, religious, youth group, patronising commandments sense, anyway. Life is super fucking complicated. And this needs to be taken into account. 

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If someone asks your advice, tells you something that happened, something they did, something they’re thinking, listen to them. And find out the context, because context is bloody important. If someone’s asking at all, they’re probably not after a lecture, but an opinion, someone to take them seriously without judgement, who won’t tell them they’re going to hell or, to a lesser degree, that their actions are bad and they’re not a good person anymore. I mean, maybe they are a shitty person. Especially if they’re friends with you. But stock advice has to stop. We’ve got to be kinder to the people we like and love, and tailor our responses to that.

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At times, other people’s advice bites. I just really want you to rely on your own head and your own heart and your own gut. Which is totally easier said than done. But if you could even 10% not give a shit what other people think, you’d be so much happier. Immeasurably so. You’re probably not a bad person, anyway. Life is just hard. Do what makes you happy. And fuck anyone who makes you feel anything less than Jennifer Aniston: a total fucking goddess, yo!

Conflagration

If this is burning my life to the ground, then okay. Fire extinguish me. Especially if you know what’s best for me. I’m going to assume that you do.

The advice you’ve cheese fries dished out with lashings of BBQ sauce, is it what you’d want to hear in this exact dilemma? Would you hope for a stock drawer answer, or an inspirational meme, or a worn out platitude that didn’t even work on TV?

Because if I’ve learnt one thing, it’s this: advice is lint.

Seriously, shit. And even professionals, who I total value, if they’d said the opposite of what the underside of my heart says, the really crappy layer, like old tyres with no grip, I’d ignore it. Because no-one knows my nerves like me.

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Guest Post by Calum Kerr: Ekphrasis

Originally referring to written pieces describing works of art (specifically sculptures or paintings), the term ‘ekphrasis’ is now used to describe pieces which are in some way connected – through direct inspiration, tangential ideas, use of the title, whatever – to ‘art’ in its broadest form, including music, TV, film and other writing.

As I work mostly from prompts, a huge amount of my work can be considered as falling under that banner. To take the prompts I used in flash365 as an example, I used lines from a song by They Might Be Giants, entitled ‘Fingertips’ for the first 21 days of month 2, and then titles of other songs by them for the rest of the month. In October, I used the titles of books by Barbara Cartland, and in the February, titles of films selected by my mate, Mike; a major film-nut.

In between, although my prompts weren’t necessarily arty or creative – news stories in August, cities and towns in March – the individual stories often came from both the prompt and the intersection with some inspiration borrowed from somewhere else. One example of this is ‘Shock Corridor’ (published on Susi Holliday’s blog). The title is from a film, but the story came to me  from a song a student played to me during a session which was actually on ekphrasis. I can’t remember the song, but I remember the image of the collapsing space-station and the running man coming to me very strongly.

In many cases I don’t even need to know anything about the film or book, the title can work all by itself – as good titles should – to conjure ideas and expectations. In other cases – such as when I used the titles of books in the Old Testament – the titles were often so obscure that I needed to read a synopsis of the book in order to dig up some idea of what to write.

In the main, though, I find that TV, films, music and other written pieces are probably where most of my stories come from. I never borrow or steal directly, but an evocative line of dialogue, the look of a scene, a plot twist not taken, all of these inspire the stories that I go on to write.

The flash accompanying this post (Two-Lane Blacktop) was rejected by Metazen for being ‘too meta’ and was removed from Lost Property at my editor’s suggestion as ‘nothing really seems to happen’. The title is from a movie, and if you Google it, you’ll see it’s described in reviews as a film in which very little happens. So, in that case, I think I got it exactly right. See what you think.

About Calum:

Calum Kerr is a writer, editor, lecturer and director of National Flash-Fiction Day in the UK. He lives in Southampton with his wife –  the writer, Kath Kerr –  their son and a menagerie of animals. His new collection of flash-fictions, Lost Property, is now available from Amazon, or direct from the publisher, Cinder House.