Justin Skolnick lives and works in Portland.

Why you weren’t consulted.

Originally posted to blockquote.org on in Chicago, Illinois

If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me some good, I should run for my life.

Henry David Thoreau

People ask how grad school’s going. I’m at the point of writing my master’s thesis, so I tell them that I’m at the point of writing my thesis.

Then they ask what I’m writing. When I tell them what I’m writing, they get excited and say, “That’s great! You know, it reminds me of this other thing. You should write about this other thing!” I wince, and augment my wince with a smile, and reply that people tend to get excited about the topic and go on to suggest other topics.

I say I’m grateful for the suggestions, but I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me, and I simply need to stick with what I’ve got. I say that they’re good suggestions, but I’ve already given myself a lot to write about. And given the deadline for writing, I simply need to write what I’ve decided to write about.

What’s more, I tell them that I’m writing in a way that allows me some more latitude than would a straightforward academic paper, that I’m writing a small collection of essays, and that I’ve chosen to write in this way because I think my topic can be best explained in this form. Still, that leaves me a lot of writing. And not a whole lot of time to write.

When I say I’m writing essays, people get all sorts of ideas that they suggest to me. Now, essays are not what they’re expecting — they’re expecting a straightforward academic paper — and this unexpected news excites them.

They ask how many essays I plan to write. I reply with the number I’ve sketched out so far. The number never sounds right to them. Some say I should write more essays. Others say that it sounds like I’m really talking about one essay — though they concede that I’ve said I’m talking about many essays — and then they say it would be best if I write the whole thing as a straightforward academic paper instead of as essays.

Then I tell them that when I’ve actually written the essays, I’d be happy to get their feedback. But since they’re still unwritten, there’s nothing really to get feedback on.

This last thing is a mistake to say; I come to regret saying anything. It upsets people when I refuse their help before I’ve even written something for them to help with. Everyone seems really excited to help.