There's fake it till you make it and then there's whatever this guy is doing
Hobbies and jobs
This since-deleted AITA post caused quite a stir in one of my slack groups today. For the unfamiliar, AITA is a subreddit where you can ask a group of strangers on the internet if you were the asshole in a situation or not. Sometimes the questions are innocuous, sometimes it’s not clear who the asshole is in a particular predicent, and then there’s this person, who wants to know if he was the asshole for getting angry at his wife because she—get this—told her coworkers what he actually does for a living. OP (original poster) manages a restaurant chain and is a “passionate aviation enthusiast” in his spare time, though not to the point of actually having taken flight lessons. At a party where he met his wife’s new coworkers for the first time, the host asked what OP did for a living and his wife did, but then OP interrupted and said no, actually, I’m a pilot. He thinks because he’s spent 500+ hours on aircraft simulation software and spent thousands of dollars on the hobby that he’s entitled to call himself a pilot— “just because I don’t have the title of pilot on an overpriced piece of paper doesn’t mean I’m not a pilot.”
Thanks for reading A Faster No! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Now some of you might be aspiring writers and authors, squirming a little bit right now. “What’s the difference between someone doing aviation simulations and calling themselves a pilot and me writing and calling myself a writer?” I am here to tell you: there is a huge difference.
For one, you don’t need a certificate or license to be a writer, which you very much do to be a pilot. Anyone can be a writer—the only prerequisite is having written something. Get an MFA, fine, take classes, sure, great! None of these things make you a writer—your words on the page do. (You also don’t ever need to get published— hairs can be split about the word ‘author,’ but that way lies pretentious madness.)
For another, what this guy was doing wasn’t practicing being a pilot any more than playing Call Of Duty would have made him a Marine. This guy is proud of the fact that he hasn’t taken any practical classes in his chosen hobby: “Even though my skills aren’t a career, I still consider myself as adept or possibly more knowledgeable than the average pilot.”
It’s easy to be distracted by this guy’s absolutely ditch-water personality (peep the bit later on, where he gets angry at his wife and says ‘she’ll never know what it’s like to study so much,’ despite her being an actual software engineer.) I want to take a closer look at this insistence that being passionately interested in something makes you an expert on par with the actual experts—better than them, even. There’s this idea in (predominantly) American society where you just have to fake it till you make it, that the act of saying something makes it true, even if that is patently not the case. And I’d like to argue that it’s bad for society!
In some cases, a little dose of delusion is all right—helpful, even. Believing something is possible and true makes it easier to do the things necessary to bring that thing into being, after all. But me saying “I believe I can finish this book” is quite a ways away from “my time spent reading r/romanceauthors makes me an expert on self-publishing.” (As a side note, researching the self-publishing process as someone who was only glancingly familiar with it during my time in traditional publication is deeply humbling!)
In his post, OP seems to conflate “being a pilot” with “being paid to fly planes.” That’s another terrible facet of the grisly intersection between the manic positive thinking of American aspirationalist culture and the grind of late-stage capitalism: obviously, the only reason to want to do something is to make money at it. I don’t know much about the aviation industry, but if I’ve learned anything from hours of serialized murder shows, it’s that for every small town there is a small airport filled with hobbyists who aren’t paid (and at least one axe to grind. See, I’m a detective now! Isn’t that how this works?)
Hobbies are activities we do for ourselves, for our own pleasure. If you knit things, you can call yourself a knitter, whether or not you’ve ever sold a scarf. If you write things, you’re a writer, whether or not you’ve sold something for publication. If, when OP’s wife had introduced him as a restaurant manager and he had said “Yes, but I spend a lot of my free time doing airplane simulations,” I guarantee you that the person he was speaking with would have said “Oh! Cool!” and OP’s marriage wouldn’t be on the rocks right now.
The dark mirror of Pilot Cosplay Timmy is the very real, consequence-having situation playing out all across the country with the discovery that a group in Florida was part of a scheme that distributed 7,600+ fake nursing licenses, in which the “licensees” took the nursing exam but never actually attended nursing school. Those faux-nurses are now scattered across the country, “practicing medicine” and having an actual impact on people’s lives. I saw a screenshot of a Facebook post from one such nurse, which I can’t lay my hand on at the moment, who was actually angry that people thought this was a bad thing. After all, she passed the exam—isn’t that the important part? Never mind not knowing how to insert a catheter, she passed the exam. She deserves to call herself a nurse.
Absolutely the fuck not. If you lie and say you’ve written a novel when you haven’t, the only person affected is you. If you lie and say you’re a licensed nurse when you’ve never attended nursing school, or that you’re a pilot when you’ve never flown a plane, people could die. Faking it—in this case, taking a shortcut that could get people killed—is absolutely not the way to make it.
And I don’t want to suggest that “actually, people just don’t want to work,” because that’s a pretty dogshit mentality. Clearly the people signing up for the nursing exam and passing it enough to get their undeserved licenses did work for that part of it, and they were getting licenses to get a job where they would be working pretty grueling hours under difficult conditions.
But if you’re already committed to that line of work—to wiping butts and mopping up bloodstains and changing IVs and helping deliver bad news—wouldn’t you want to know what you were doing? The idea that a shortcut of that magnitude would lead anywhere but trouble is absolutely unfathomable to me. Similarly, the delusion that 500+ hours on Microsoft Flight Simulator or whatever is equivalent to a licensed pilot, with presumably thousands of hours of flight time. Think about all the other delusional scams that have played out in recent years, everything from Fyre Festival to Elizabeth Holmes. Somehow the ideal has become: say the flashy thing, get the right people on your board, and somehow results will magically happen. Step 1: have an idea. Step 3… profit.
Speaking of Fyre festival, there is a moment in the Netflix documentary about it where one of the festival’s early fixers, a German dude named Keith, talks about his plane. He’d initially learned to fly using Microsoft Flight Simulator, and at the time of the festival had been a licensed pilot for about six months. It’s not discussed in the film, but somewhere in between the software and the license he had to do the thing: he had to get behid the wheel of an actual plane.
If you ever feel like you’re cosplaying at being a writer, let me put those fears to rest. If you’re writing, you’re a writer. If you used to write and now spend your time stressing about your WIP, congratulations—you’re really a writer. And if anyone asks you what you do for a living, tell them you’re a pilot.
WHAT I’M READING
Still on my Spinning Silver reread—it’s been a busy week and there are burly men ripping apart my kitchen at the moment, which isn’t the most restive environment for reading. I’m nearly done, however, and the more I read the more that this and the Scholomance books feel like an extension of a conversation about the expense of magic that Novik has been having with herself and us for quite a while. This was brought home by a fortuitous reread of one of her Harry Potter fics—Heal Thyself, in which Draco Malfoy decides to become a mediwizard some years after the end of the book series. To be a healer means to completely renounce anything that could possibly lead you down the path to the Dark, so Draco places himself under an interdiction. He can’t cast so much as a Jelly Legs Jinx on anyone, or he’ll effectively lose his mediwizard license. As the story unfolds, Draco encounters repeated reminders of his own misdeeds, and grapples with story he’s told himself about his childhood and how much he is to blame for the harm he caused while working for the Dark Lord. He comes to realize that all the work he’s put into becoming first a regular Mediwizard (and, eventually, the finest Healer since Sir Francis Bacon) has all been an effort at atonement. By methodically facing the wrongs he has done he can try to mend the harm he did in the past.
It’s clever and moving, and the echoes of the mala/mana dichotomy are there (hilariously enough, the story was published in April of 2022—meaning all the Scholomance books were already written.) I feel as though I’m still working my way through all these thoughts, but I may confine further thoughts on the Novik Theory of Balance to non-newsletter posts.
I noticed a bunch of new signups from this week—welcome, new folks! I’m very curious as to how you found this little newsletter, so feel free to introduce yourself in the comments or as a reply to the email!
In personal news, yesterday I finished the (hopefully) final draft of the romance novel I’ve been working on—let me know if you, uh, want to hear more about that.
THIS WEEK IN HOCKEY
I ran into one of my neighbors earlier in the week who is from Philly originally. We talked a little bit about the excitement in the city about the Eagles making it to the Super Bowl, and despite feeling generally negative on the NFL, I’m kind of looking forward to watching it this year? Or, well—maybe I won’t watch it, but I’ll be following the memes with interest.
READING: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
WATCHING: The Last Of Us (I do not want to discuss Episode 3, I am not emotionally recovered)
LISTENING: “Lonely” by RM of BTS
This has been A Faster No, a dispatch on publishing, writing, books, and beyond. Is there something you’d like me to talk about? Leave it in the comments or reply to the email! You can support the newsletter here. If you purchase a book from any of the links to Bookshop.org I get a small commission at no cost to you. I am available for developmental editing and editorial assessment services via Reedsy.
Thanks for reading A Faster No! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.