Hidden Wisdom

Sometimes, you get good advice from the most unexpected sources. Such as people you don’t really like, for example. We can sometimes ignore the advice of friends or loved ones, often because we get advice from them all the time, on every little thing.

The people you don’t like, however, don’t have as strong an emotional investment in you. When they dispense advice of any sort, it tends to stick in the back of your mind, even if the initial impulse is to ignore it. There are two random observations about myself that I’ve received from such people that have stuck with me over the years.

The first one was in high school. As is the case during that time, there was a lot of drama floating around in the air. I had seen enough high school shows by the age of 15 to know that every problem was a life-or-death situation. I was as dramatic as any teenager, prone to bouts of moodiness and mooning over crushes. During one of my fouler moods, a guy I knew (but wasn’t really friends with) managed to get on my nerves and I lashed out at him. Understandably upset by my behavior, he spat back that I was the source of my own problems. I was complicating my own life with unnecessary drama, which is why I was so damn grouchy.

It was meant as an insult. But he was right. I was making my own life difficult. For example, by fawning all over a girl who had made it very clear from the outset that we wouldn’t be more than friends. I honestly thought that I’d be able to win her over somehow, and my continued frustration at being unable to do so left me acting like a character from Dawson’s Creek (maybe? I’ve never watched it, but I’ve seen a gif of James Van der Beek bawling his eyes out, so that seems like a reasonable comparison).

I basically needed to grow up, and though I’ve failed to do that in the 17 or so years since then, I’d like to think I’m just a tiny bit closer to being a full-fledged adult.

The next bit came from one of my old college roommates. He was the kind of guy who seemed really cool to hang out with at first, but I soon realized he was nothing more than a collection of stale jokes wrapped up in unpredictable mood swings. He was also the sort of person who’d eat up everything in the fridge literally one day after we’d gone grocery shopping, and would just shrug it off with a blithe apology. Needless to say, we didn’t stay in touch after graduation. But I digress.

From a young age, I’ve been an avid artist, and I especially love drawing cartoons and dreaming up concepts for various characters. In 3rd or 4th grade, I discovered the stellar Batman: The Animated Series, with characters designed by Bruce Timm. I loved the smooth, angular looks of the characters, so different from any other show I’d watched. I started drawing Batman fan art, attempting to copy poses and scenes from the show (and its tie-in comic). Even when designing original characters, I used Bruce Timm’s Batman work as a reference, only changing minor details. I was never quite happy with how my drawings turned out.

One day, I was in my room busy drawing some random character when my roommate happened to stop by. I expressed dissatisfaction at how the drawing was turning out, to which my roommate simply replied: “Maybe that’s because you’re trying to copy someone else’s style instead of doing your own thing.”

I was stunned. That actually made sense. My drawings were just copies. They had the same proportions as some drawing I’d seen and were in the same pose as another drawing I’d seen, but they had no life of their own. I really needed to develop my own style to give them a more personal element. And that’s what I set about doing. I let myself be influenced by Bruce Timm (along with various other artists that I discovered over time) without trying to slavishly copy one of his drawings. Even now, I’m still trying to find my ‘style’ as it were, but the joy is in the experimentation. Trying out different shapes and proportions based on how I perceive my characters instead of sticking to a single template.

If my roommate hadn’t said that, it’s entirely possible I’d still be churning out poor copies today, or at least for a lot longer than I did. It was a remarkable observation, and it came from such a very unexpected source.

I suppose a broken clock does have its moments.

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Want My Advice?

You’ve got a problem of some sort? Oh, I know what to do. Just fix it! See? Problem solved!

There are advisors lurking everywhere, just waiting for you to present them an issue they can deliver their opinion on. Are you trying to lose weight? They have the perfect diet plan or fitness regimen to suggest. Looking to buy a house? Their thoughts on real estate are boundless. Unlucky in love? They’ll not only give you relationship advice, but also happily remind you that you’re getting on in years and should settle down soon!

Usually, they skulk around among the distant relatives, the aunts and uncles you only see on special occasions. But they can also take the guise of co-workers or friends of friends. Everyone of them has the keys to a happy life and they’ll gladly hand them to you if you’ll just listen. Like one of my colleagues, or even some colleagues from my previous job. They’ve got very strong opinions on marriage and when people should get married. I’m apparently getting over the hill and should settle down fast. The countdown’s begun, people! One of my former colleagues looked at me like I had antlers sprouting from my nostrils when I suggested that I might not get married till I’m 40. The idea was incomprehensible to him.

I should point out that both of those colleagues are Indian, and marriage is a pretty big deal in Indian culture. It’s basically the ultimate achievement of any young person’s life. If you’re not working hard and raising a family, then what the hell are you doing? Well, I’m writing, reading, drawing and playing video games. Oops.

Also, women should get married before 30. Yep. So says my advisor. It doesn’t apply to men, though. Only women.

I have also been advised, by many people, to take a cab whenever I need to get around, even a short distance. Why would I want to walk anywhere? That’d just be crazy. Never mind that I like walking, and generally prefer it to vehicular travel. But in the Dubai heat? No, no. Take a cab. Even though I’ve grown up here and learned to work around the heat. Apparently everyone else knows better.

Financial planning, career management, even breathing (probably). Any random person around you will have most informed perspective on the matter. Should you even mention the subject in passing, they’ll be all too eager to shower you with advice.

So there you go. If you’re looking to fix your life, just ask the guy next to you. He knows best. And will also probably tell you something dismissive about women because man, some people are just awful.