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The Conjurer, 1475–1480, by Hieronymus Bosch or his workshop.
"Another spare ounce of budding expertise standing in for a ton of actual skill."

Experts tell others stuff, exercising cheeky presumptions that the advice seeker cannot validate. Some of the stuff they share seems unlikely to the point of unbelievable, but then the more complicated human activities have always seemed counter-intuitive. Charlatan experts abound. There are probably already a hot half dozen YouTube videos posted on whatever subject you need, ready, and perhaps a tad too willing to offer "good advice," each of which kind of contradicts every other, worth every penny any novice might not agree to pay for it. Real expertise seems different from the phony kind, though, and as I began yet another semi-massive Do It Yourself project, I decided to engage in the one way most seriously dedicated DIYers never would, I consulted a genuine expert.

I had reason to believe that my expert was of the genuine variety.
I'd hired him before to complete a project I could not then believe I could tackle myself. He'd needed the work and I'd needed the old house painted so we met somewhere in the middle. I was in no position to question his skill then, though the last time I looked, that old house still happily held onto that paint job after almost forty years, so my expert must have done something right. I was painting, humbled by my earlier attempt which had not weathered well. I might have imagined that I'd learned how to paint by watching this expert paint. I might have been in real danger of concluding that my earlier failed attempt had taught me what I needed change to correct the shortcomings, but I caught myself fretting instead. I had already once entangled myself in my own presumptions, a necessary encumbrance for many DYI efforts, and I sought to avoid a repeat performance on this large and public canvas.

I watched as my expert dispensed advice, which he seemed to do sparingly. I suspect that real experts don't gush advice but sprinkle it out instead, recognizing better than might any relative novice just how overwhelming dumping the whole compendium might prove to their client. A little here and a little there. Charlatans seem hungry for the ego gratification advice-giving might bring them, exhibiting an off-putting neediness no novice ever needs from their expert; needier than their client. Real experts might even seem hesitant to tell, a contradiction from anyone in the business of telling.

I noticed my expert refusing to paint potential complications in rosy colors. He avoided suggesting that everything would probably turn out Great, but instead encouraged my humbled circumspection. I came to understood that despite our clever planning, even this effort could go to shit, and that I might be called upon to eat my share of it as a precondition to successfully finishing. Did I really want to wager what I might lose? Only so much can ever be guaranteed. I found curious reassurance in his stories about his seemingly endless experience eating shit. If he'd survived those suppers, maybe I could survive my impending one, too.

I started more thoughtful than I might have otherwise. I noticed shortly after my expert left and I'd tied into the inescapable prepping stage, which my expert agreed might reasonably comprise about 97% of the effort, that I was working myself too hard. I might be my most nefarious task master, especially if I really care about an outcome. I really, really care about this house, so I caught myself translating my caring into working myself too hard, as if the house might appreciate a little extreme effort from me. I quickly tucked out, leaning back to discover what corners I might cut in favor of a kindler and gentler form of caring. I spent two hours juggling the parameters before slipping into a more smoothly-functioning process. My effort plummeted while my progress soared.

I felt as if I was immersed in a grand tradition, a feeling I'd also experienced when earlier confidently completing the failed attempt. I hardly felt confident in my certainties this time, though, as if my expert consultation had rendered me curiously less certain of the outcome. I caught myself engaging more skeptically, very aware that I could be preparing a shit sandwich for my lunch, proceeding anyway. I will not proclaim that I am now anything like an expert as a result of this well-advised consultation. I am not now nor should I ever rightly declare myself an expert, for I cannot live long enough to eat that much shit and gain that much humbling experience. I do not now feel anything like sublimely confident in my skills, but more skeptical about my own expertise. I'm a rookie playing a professional's game. I might well count myself fortunate to find myself even in the game. I carry about a half of one percent deeper understanding of the game I'm playing, which might well beat confidently believing that I understand any more than that or that, by association with an expert, I'm well-qualified to even play.

The novice might engage well as a novice, but never better by believing they bring expertise. I'm open for the happy accident, and I suspect that with subsequent consultations, I might produce something which at a GlancingKnow might approach the appearance of an expert's results, errors cleverly covered beneath a few painted-over shit sandwiches. I caught myself shortchanging myself after stripping a half dozen siding boards, and forced myself to backtrack to clean up a few ragged bullnoses. I added that mantra to the others I'd discovered that first afternoon: Leave no ragged bullnoses. Another spare ounce of budding expertise standing in for a ton of actual skill.

©2019 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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