The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

You Don’t Do Champagne Work On A Kool-Aid Budget

Posted on | October 14, 2011 | 6 Comments

by Smitty

I completely understand Ladd Ehlinger’s point here. When you’re trying to accomplish something artistic, tools do matter. As ancient commenter Solomon noted:

If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength: but wisdom is profitable to direct. Eccl10:10

And why waste wisdom overcoming tool deficiencies, unless that itself is part of the art? All this is to say: Ladd has a point.

So, the bazillion dollar question is: how does one go from dead 0 to auteur? Jerry Pournelle has noted that, as a writer, you throw away your first million words. What is the corresponding duration of film, one wonders? Then again, some say you never ‘arrive’, to note Buddy Rich:

Late in his life, Buddy Rich was asked if he considered himself the world’s greatest drummer, and he gave an inspiring reply: “Let’s put it this way: I have that ambition. You don’t really attain greatness. You attain a certain amount of goodness, and if you’re really serious about your goodness, you’ll keep trying to be great. I have never reached a point in my career where I was totally satisfied with anything I’ve ever done, but I keep trying.”

One of the ironies of education, I’ve found, is that the best learning comes while teaching. That is, the effort required to translate some knowledge from my head to that of another has a massive clarifying effect.

But we often start with that Kool-Aid budget. And I submit that quite a few problems are heuristic in nature: you’ve just got to drink some Kool-Aid prototypes just to understand the problem enough to undertake the champagne work. At the risk of sounding a teeny bit Freudean, I was raised by such a perfectionist mother that she would regularly avoid trying things, knowing that the result would be sub-champagne. A major part of growing up was forgiving her that.

Maybe if you’re Mozart, you can toss off a Symphony #40 as Zeus toss out Athena from his brow:
For the rest of us, the process of elimination will have to do. And if a Kool-Aid budget is what you got, well, you go to art with the budget you have, not the budget you wish you had, to mangle Rumsfeld.

Update: linked by That Mr. G Guy.


6 Responses to “You Don’t Do Champagne Work On A Kool-Aid Budget”

  1. Ya Go With What Ya Got « That Mr. G Guy's Blog
    October 14th, 2011 @ 12:20 pm

    […] friend Smitty has a few astute observations; I completely understand Ladd Ehlinger’s point here. When you’re […]

  2. Mike
    October 14th, 2011 @ 12:22 pm

    Hey, it’s hard to make chicken salad out of chicken shit, but it is possible.

  3. Anonymous
    October 14th, 2011 @ 1:04 pm

    How bout Cham-pipple ala Fred Sanford then lol

  4. Finrod Felagund
    October 14th, 2011 @ 1:13 pm

    Going off on a tangent a bit, it looks like Terry Gilliam has restarted (from the beginning) work on The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.  Here’s hoping it works better than his last attempt.

  5. Anonymous
    October 14th, 2011 @ 2:32 pm

    I once followed various music and musician related magazines.  One of the frequent questions a lot of suddenly-arrived “stars” got asked was something like: “Your recent gold record was amazing, especially since you were relatively unknown before that. When did you start recording songs like that?”

    The answer would invariably be something like: “Hey, I’ve been doing this for years and years, playing every gig I could get, working tough rooms and playing in other bands.  I didn’t just spring up out of nowhere.”

    Why, it’s almost as bad as starting out on the wrong blog platform [emoticon goes here].

  6. Anonymous
    October 14th, 2011 @ 10:01 pm

    I think at this point, it would be wise to recognize that great philosopher, Homerus, for some thoughtful balance to the heresy of “effort”:

    Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.

    If something’s hard to do, then it’s not worth doing.

    Trying is the first step towards failure.

    No matter how good you are at something, there’s always about a million people better than you.