Cartoonist Scott Adams said, “one “oh shit” can erase a thousand attaboys”. I tend to agree with Mister Adams on that. Lately I’ve been aware of the phrase “oh shit” being repeated in my internal monologue almost continuously. I’ve been looking around and noticing that other people (finer people than myself) seem to carry an air of “attaboy” and I’ve found that I can’t figure out how they do it … “Why is it so easy for them? How is it that they were born with such excellence? Why aren’t I a better/cooler/smoother/greater person? What did I just step in? … Oh shit!”
I do remember feeling “attaboy” once. I know I’ve felt like I was “in the zone” in the past. Like things were easy and everything felt like it flowed. The thing is, I just can’t remember how I felt it, what I did to feel it, and how to get back to it. The “Oh Shit” has erased the me that felt good.
I am reminded of a time many years ago, when an old friend and I spent days enjoying the many and varied uses of the cross-score. Otherwise known as the “cross-out” or the “strikethrough”, this is where you mark a line through a word or phrase to edit it out. The great thing is, with the cross-score, you haven’t really edited all the way out. You’re not pretending that you didn’t write the “mistake”. You haven’t deleted or erased it, you’ve simply indicated that that’s not what you’re going to write.
My friend and I spent an entire day drafting letters to various bosses, ex-lovers, and enemies that went something like this:
You are an arsehole idiot cretin individual who challenges me greatly. I’m sure you know how I work like a dog am underpaid have seen you sleeping under your desk when you’re supposed to be “in a meeting” feel about you and about the company. Ours is a team of fools of blameshifters of no consequence that is consistently guided by your lead and watchful for your crazy bewildering surprising directives. It is truly amazing to watch the way in which your very personality is shaping the working hell life of everyone around you. The way you shut down disempower ignore educate your staff is quite something to behold.
Thanks for nothing.
And of course, if your Boss were to say “You called me an idiot!” you could cheerfully explain, “No i didn’t. I crossed that out!”
Of course we never sent the letters, but we were truly taken with the novelty of the cross-score. Especially when a letter is typed on a computer. The fact that you’ve gone and found the cross-out function instead of deleting, adds a certain something. There is a certain self-respect to the use of the cross-score: I’m being honest with you about the things I’m thinking, while respectfully understanding that there are simply things that one cannot write. At least, not without crossing them out.
In the last 2 weeks I’ve come to understand the cross-score’s verbal equivalent and I’m loving it. It’s the phrase “that’s not the right word”. So, if I were to be having a conversation with the boss from the letter above, and I wanted to communicate the same sense of things it may sound a little like this:
Me: “You know Boss, you’re such a … what’s the word I’m looking for? … idiot? No, that’s not the word … Cretin? No that’s not the word either … What’s the word I’m after here? Challenge! Yes that’s it! You’re a challenge to me!”
Boss: “Did you just call me an idiot?”
Me: “No I didn’t. That wasn’t the word I chose at all!”
This spoken cross-score is unbelievably useful when it comes to conveying otherwise overlooked subtext. It truly is an invaluable communication device. Take for example, the question “How are you?” and consider these two responses:
Response 1: “I’m good thanks.”
Response 2: “I’m … I’m a little fragile actually … No, no, that’s not the word … I’m actually feeling … jittery … Is that the word I’m looking for? … No, no, no … I’m tired? No. Strung out? That’s closer to how I am … Or? … Ummm … I’m … I’m …. How am I? … I’m good … Yeah, I’m good, thanks.”
You see in both responses the speaker has chosen to say that they are “good”. However, response number 2 in undeniably a less ambiguous explanation of how the speaker actually is. Clearly.
And herein lies the key! The pivotal factor here is the choice. Not the instinct or the first response or the knee-jerk, but the end choice. The answer to the secret of those attaboys all around me when I’m Oh-shitting is their choice. Because the truth is, if you don’t like the first word, you can cross it out and write another. What matters is which one you choose in the end. And even if all signs of the editing process have been erased, you can be sure that the choosing still happened. It had to.
In addition to his wisdom about “oh shit”, Scott Adams also said that creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes while “art is knowing which ones to keep”. I’d like to add to that that mastery is keeping all of them:
Oh Shit! Attaboy!
Lots of Love,