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.
The 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.
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 the 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?