The opposite of an expert


Do you know how to do whatever it is you do?

I don’t. I never have.

Luckily, I’ve never been tasked with performing a vital function. I’ve never had to fix a car, or defuse a bomb, or select safe mushrooms in a forest filled with poisonous fungi. I’ve never stared into a body cavity, asking “is that a glob of fat or a wobbly yellow tumor?”

Lives would have been lost.

I’ve never been one of those indispensable people who are allowed to drive to work on snow-covered highways. People are more likely to survive when I’m kept well out of the way.

Nonetheless, I must have accomplished something in life. I got through high school and college. I was employed for forty years or so, and my employers always apologized when they told me my jobs would no longer exist.

I even managed to raise a family, producing two human beings who are highly admired by everyone who knows them. Of course, someone had to show me how to bathe them and potty train them, even though I was personally acquainted with the toilet and the tub. Other people taught them how to read, and to practice even the most rudimentary mathematics. They did not learn to play music at home, and they had to rely on professional educators to pick up a second language, to learn how to drive a car.

I’ve done all the things, mind you.

Except for the math.

So why couldn’t I train my children?

Because I don’t know how I do the things that I do.

You think I’m kidding?

Uh uh.

Right now, next to my computer, there is a lovely 9 by 16 canvas. On it, there is a black and white sketch of my son and his cat, both of whom I’ve painted in the past. Am I mixing colors and putting them on the canvas? No. I’m afraid I don’t know how… and that’s why I’m sitting here writing.

Now, don’t remind me that I started painting two years ago, when I promised a friend I would write a book before realizing I did not know how. I know I’ve completed more than thirty paintings in the past two years. But that doesn’t help me as I ask myself these simple questions:

Was I supposed to oil my canvas before doing the underpainting, or should I do that now? Will taking this action make my picture look warm and glowing, or as greasy as a badly fried potato latke?

Should I put the dark paints on before the light ones? Are shadows cool and light areas warm, or is it the other way around? What makes color combinations muddy, and what makes them milky? Are mud and milk ever permissible, and why are you never allowed to use black paint?

I don’t know what the hell I’m doing… but I plod ahead and press on, hoping my choices are good, and waiting for someone to confront me and mark me a fraud. I would not be surprised if all my paintings cracked, or peeled off their surfaces, or morphed into abstracts more frightening than Dorian Grey’s portrait.

I’m rambling now, speaking in the words of a master procrastinator.

There you go.


That’s something I’m good at.

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