The Pisher Paradox

I always enjoy fiber art related gatherings, yet I also get annoyed.  I came up with a name for that which has long annoyed me:  The Pisher Paradox.

The Yiddish word “pisher” (פּישער) has several meanings.  I am using the “young, inexperienced person” definition from Leo Rosten (The Joys of Yiddish, 1968, p. 293).  Some examples:

  • An experienced physician might call an overconfident first year medical student a “pisher;”
  • a skilled tailor might call the person who learned to sew last month and now calls him/herself a designer a “pisher;”
  • farm-raised folk will think “pisher” when they hear a chef boast about her/his ability to make butter (a child can make butter with only whole cream and a jar); or
  • an accomplished musician with 20 years experience on the stage might call the boastful student who is still learning to read a score a “pisher.”

You probably get the gist.

So what drove me to coin this term?  The same thing that happens at every wool gathering or fiber festival I attend:  The enthusiastic (dare I say, obnoxious), newbie who seems to think her/his recent foray into a fiber-related art (e.g., dyeing, spinning, weaving, knitting, crocheting, etc.), makes her/him a “master” and speaks to potential customers as though we have the IQs of a skein of yarn.

DyeingPictureThe case that comes to mind was when I chatted with a young woman who had recently entered the world of artisan dyeing.  I complimented her work and, as she was not a weaver-spinner-crocheter-knitter, asked what prompted her into the world of fiber dye.

“Oh,” she said loftily, “I have a chemistry background.”

As an ex-college professor with colleagues in chemistry departments who were also dyers, I was instantly interested.  (Maybe I knew her professors or advisors.)

“Where did you get your degree?” I asked curiously.  “Undergrad or grad work?”

“Ummm, well, umm, I never actually finished college,” she admitted rather reluctantly, “but I took a chemistry class.”  (She seemed to have difficulty meeting my eyes.)

Hmmm.  I – as well as most of my friends – have taken at least one chemistry class, so her chemistry “background” wasn’t impressive. But, as she was young and new to the world of fiber art and I had no wish to embarrass her, I switched my line of questioning.  Picking up a skein, I asked why she chose to work with that specific fiber blend.  Her response was complete rubbish (aka BS), so I had no wish to waste my time chatting with a pisher or buy a skein of yarn (delighfully colored though the skeins were).

The mark of a pisher is to take a narrow and generally nascent skill or ability and use that to make oneself appear superior to others.  A pisher shows little respect for the work and/or experience of people with larger and/or deeper skill sets.  Thus, in recreating the wheel, the pisher thinks everything s/he learns to do is unique, novel and/or startlingly innovative.

dyeing picture (2)The young artisan dyer mentioned above had a great (seriously great) eye for color, but her work (i.e., technique), was nothing novel, nor was her commercially-spun yarn.  People have been dyeing for millenia.

I come from the academic world and was in contact with many who believed their doctorate, post-doc work, publications, and research justified their elevated opinion of themselves.  In fact, one of my colleagues once told me, in all seriousness, that he’s academic attirethe smartest person he’s ever known.  (It was good to be told I was in the presence of greatness; I wouldn’t have realized it otherwise.)

Knowledge, experience, skill and art – like good wine, fragrant coffee, a loaf of bread or a wheel of cheese – are best when shared humbly and graciously with others.  Few people want to spend time with a pisher (unless they have no other choice).

As I near the 60 year mark, I am increasingly humbled by that which I do not know.  When I visit fiber-art related events, wool festivals, and the like, I always learn something new – generally by self-effacing people with years of experience in a fiber-related art or animal husbandry who are unfailingly more than happy to share tidbits of their knowledge and experience with me.  I know they’ve probably forgotten more than I can ever learn, and I am grateful for their time.

Tell me, have you witnessed the Pisher Paradox in the world of fiber?

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About sweatyknitter

Fiber art devotee, author, and amateur artisan bread baker.
This entry was posted in Fibers, Miscellany and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

42 Responses to The Pisher Paradox

  1. Pingback: Fiber Lethargy No More | The Sweaty Knitter, Weaver and Devotee of Other Fiber Arts

  2. Pingback: Pisher Award Goes to … | The Sweaty Knitter, Weaver and Devotee of Other Fiber Arts

  3. I wonder if that’s related to the increasing isolation of learning – e.g. Via YouTube videos, on-line learning etc. – along with a marginalization of older people. Hmm.

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  4. cheliamoose says:

    You gotta start somewhere, don’t you?! I can see how easy it is to get swept away with the initial euphoria of learning something new and think you’ve nailed the whole topic. The more I talk to real experts though, the more humble I become (and ever so grateful for how generous said experts are with their knowledge!)

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  5. I – like many people – love beginners who are interested in our arts and crafts. It’s the pishers who make us roll our eyes and gnash our teeth! 😄

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  6. cheliamoose says:

    Thanks for this post, as an absolute beginner it made me laugh! Your choice of images is perfect 🙂

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  7. I forgot about the pisher “teachers.” UGH. It’s probably worthwhile to always read an instructor’s bio before paying for the class. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. It might take a while for it to “click” with your daughter … it took a while with my granddaughter and then suddenly she “got it.” She REALLY took to weaving (on a lap loom). Yes, the pisher-mommies … that’s a hoot from my perspective (with child rearing long in my past). I particularly grin at those new mothers who “discover” cloth diapers. 🙂 And I really like your suggestions re “tack on” comments!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Sandy says:

    Have I ever. I particularly get annoyed by someone who takes one class and goes on to teach it thereby teaching a new group the things she’s probably not doing right. I take lots of classes even though I’m not a beginners, because I have never failed to learn new things or new ways to look at things.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Ashley Wornell says:

    Something that has kept me from teaching others (after 12 years of knitting and crochet) is that I am not an expert. I’m constantly hitting up youtube to learn new techniques or stitches. It’s hard to get away from the children and ask someone at our local sustainable arts store. BUT I did just start teaching my 4 year old. She can only sit for 3-5 stitches, but she is willing, and she also likes to make a couple tries a day. Lol.

    I think the most common area to find pishers is parenting, hence the whole “mommy wars” internet phenomena. They come out of the woodworks when a woman is with child. A hoard of advice-giving zombies. I remember a couple of childless friends giving me advice. Lol. They had read some books or articles, and that made them experts. Honestly, I don’t think it’s possible to become an expert parent. How can a person become an expert after only 1-6 tries? 😉 Granted the tries last around 18 years, but I think you get what I’m saying. I had a pisher moment with my youngest child. I thought that since my middle child had learned how to sleep on her own by 18 months and would nap with ease, that I could get him to. Come to find out, it wasn’t my mom skills at all. Lol.

    It’s not hard to tack on “I’m not an expert, but I heard/use a technique that might be helpful…”, and if a person really wants to gain knowledge, they’ll listen.

    Pisher. What an outstanding word.

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  11. You note something I also saw: the cliquish-ness of the fiber world pishers and their penchant for mutual adoration and memorialize get their “designs” via social media. (Gag.). Of course one of my favorites is being treated as though, because I have white hair, social media is far above my ability to grasp. LOL. (I was beta testing software in the early ’80s, and between the two of us, Thor and I still have and use multiple devices and platforms! 😜)

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  12. I completely support this award and it would be good to award a winner at every event! I do love going to these events (though I do so rarely) I was bit surprised by the phenomena you describe–and that they were so cliquish. I keep hearing how they love the warmth of the community, yet sadly it isn’t always reciprocated. I may be older and my career isn’t fiber (I’m also a researcher), but that doesn’t mean I don’t blog or have a Twitter and Instragram account. After all, I’m someone that can afford to buy yarns, designs, etc., So it was a bit hurtful when they’d act bored when I wanted to talk with them about a design book I was considering purchasing and then get chatty and snap a cheery selfie with another pisher who walked away empty handed. Okay. Whine over. 🙂

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  13. liz-o-matic says:

    This was YEARS ago, I later found out from friends that they had a reputation for being snotty and unhelpful. Unsurprisingly, they have since gone out of business. However, since then I have found another LYS that are SUPER awesome and more than willing to help 🙂

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  14. Yes, very true. Once in a while a young person comes along and wants to mentor along side an elder in the community. I think possibly even the position we take with our elders is a lost art. I can remember many occasions my father would take us visiting to the house of an old farmer or crafts person. Somehow without having to speak of it , we were taught to listen and observe. It wasn’t so much an issue of ” children should not be heard’, we never felt that way and had very loving relationships with these neighbors. We were just taught to respect the life miles they had covered. I am glad for this and do wish more young people understood how important it is to pay tribute to those who have a life time of experiences and living.
    thank you for your insightful writing……and have fun with all things fiber!

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  15. A great point: Being a pisher interferes with your learning! I agree with you; any art or craft we love to do in our life should be a continual journey – as should life itself! 🙂

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  16. Okay … we definitely have to make the PISHER AWARD and bestow it upon the deserving!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Yiddish has SO many expressive, descriptive and colorful words and phrases!

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  18. Her attitude marks her as someone who is NOT a good teacher. The yarn store owner needs to be more selective in her hiring. Or if the woman was the yarn store owner … go to another LYS. You could write her a letter explaining why she lost your business.

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  19. Gotta love it! It’s never too late to learn humility! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Thank you. Too bad the concept of apprenticeship isn’t popular in the U.S. What a great way for us “old timers” to pass on what we know and have learned to someone! It would make us feel as though all our knowledge won’t be buried along with us, and it helps the apprentice avoid the pisher category: They will learn there is so much to learn! 🙂

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  21. LOL … akin to Palin saying she’d make a great VP because of her experience in international relations: You can see the tip of Russia from Alaska.

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  22. No doubt tha’s a common experience … excitement sometimes can move people into pisherdom! (I remember when my daughter was working on her MSW. She had a whole semester class on the DSM … she kept “diagnosing” everything I did or said … drove me nut!)

    Liked by 3 people

  23. I too share your intent to stick with high quality fibers .. and I have shake my head and try not to guffaw when I hear those types of comments. It’s one thing to choose to use acrylics, but it should be based on specific reasons, not because you think it’s “just as good” as merino!

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  24. Hopefully the guy took something positive away from the experience: It’s hazardous to think you know everything and even more hazardous to act it out!

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  25. It is so much easier to learn from accomplished/brilliant/talented folks who are also humble and even self-effacing! 🙂

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  26. Yes indeed! Perhaps I should have stickers made up that read “PISHER” and we can hand them out to the offending vendors and “designers.”

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  27. If the “pishers” stick around and learn from people with more experience, perhaps they will learn that being thought of as a “pisher” isn’t something desireable! 🙂

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  28. I loved your post! I attended a fiber fest with a friend who was taking a spinning class. That weekend I helped her buy a wheel. Within a few months she was behaving like an “expert” and was suddenly condescending towards others (including myself) It was a little shocking: a spinning pisher! I love the word and I have certainly seen the phenomenon. I also find myself leaving the booths of vendors who talk down to me. A true sign of a person who has more confidence than skill/knowledge.

    This month I saw that old friend again at a fiber festival where she was showing off a fleece she had bought. It was coarse and had a break in it. The problem with pishing is it makes it harder to learn. After two decades of spinning I find that it is a continual journey and there is so much to still figure out 🙂

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  29. Thanks for coming up with a term for that behaviour! Quite recently I was really angry about a young man who started “designing” knitwear. He took up knitting a year ago and knit a hat, some ribbing, then a stockinette crown, finished. He wrote a pattern for that and tries to sell it. I wouldn’t be angry about that but he is advertising his “design” work like nothing else and sits on a really high horse and tries to tell other people how to do things. I left academia for exactly that reason that I don’t want to spend my time with people like that!

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  30. slippedstitches says:

    Thank you for expanding my vocabulary. I know all kinds of pishers and now I have a word that defines them. I love the academic moron who said he was the brightest person he knows. I’ve known many of those over the years!

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  31. liz-o-matic says:

    That said it is sometimes hard for newbies. I recall going to a yarn shop to get some help with a pattern when I was first re-learning to knit (my mother taught me when I was 8, but I had forgotten). The older woman who worked there was SO dismissive and made me feel like a moron for not knowing how to do something. It was a good thing I had other sources for help, because had it just been her I probably would have given up. 😦

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  32. liz-o-matic says:

    Not in the fiber world, but I knew someone in college very similar to your colleague. Although admittedly smart, he thought he was God’s gift to…. everyone. When I beat him at Trivial Pursuit he got in a huff and accused me of memorizing the cards!

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  33. Never heard this word but see how it can easily be applied to many areas of ‘young newbies’ feeling like they have reinvented the wheel. At fifty and having spent most of my life now working with fiber and raising sheep , I just realize that I may( possibly) have some things to pass on. Always a bit surprised to come across a young person who has taken one class in spinning, knitting, or what ever traditional craft they’ve discovered and feel completely confident teaching or speaking about it with some assumed wisdom. In our rural part of Maine we have a huge resurgence of new farmers and folks who want to revisit the old ways…….great to have young energy and to be growing food in a sustainable way….but lets not forget those early farmers and pioneers who forged the way……cleared the fields, built stone walls, plowed the earth. Through out their hard earned wisdom and experience they’ve passed along a very valuable landscape to start farming with. Great post.

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  34. KerryCan says:

    Such a great post! I didn’t know the term “pisher” but I will have no trouble finding many ways to use it in a sentence! Have I mentioned I have a background in nutrition (I eat) and in polysomnography (I sleep)?

    Liked by 2 people

  35. I was probably a bit of a pisher when I came off my Social Work training course. Then I started learning

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  36. ps oops pressed send to quickly ;0) Lovely story and I had a good laugh. have a great weekend, Johanna

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  37. Oh well…;0) Haven’t we all. It has made me a very quiet person in yarn stores and wool gatherings…both I love but I simply withdraw myself in a cocoon of high quality merino. But I have decided a while ago after teaching knitting for many, many years not to teach anyone anymore who is not willing to invest in good yarn and says: ” acrylic does the the trick just as well…”

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  38. Lovely post! I’m afraid I suffered a bit from it when I was a new knitter looking at yarn. But a decade in and, like you, I’m finding so much to learn.
    I think a lot of this applies to a recent poster on ravelery who was quite pleased with himself, making up new meanings for old terms and then being quite offended when people weren’t interested in learning from him and instead shut him down.

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  39. lissymail says:

    As a fellow academic (surrounded by many pishers 🙂 I couldn’t agree more: the world of fiber has reminded me time and again how wonderful it is to be around such accomplished and fun people who are also incredibly humble. Well said.

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  40. kiwiyarns says:

    Had to giggle. There are many Pishers out there. The one you mentioned above really was asking for the Pisher title!

    Liked by 1 person

  41. Susan says:

    Priceless!!! Yes, I know from Pisher! Too true what you say, sad but true. Maybe i’m lucky I don’t go to these events. Great post as always!

    Liked by 1 person

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