Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Don't experiment on guests

A conversation we had in our house many years ago:

"I think I'll try that brand new recipe when so-and-so and such-and-such come over tomorrow." 
"Only if we cook it for ourselves today. Because it's rude to experiments on guests."
Don't experiment on guests. If you have invited someone into your space for an evening, make sure you know what you're doing and can steer them safely through it. This applies tenfold if you've never met them before.

If you are inviting people, you are the host. Being host comes with certain responsibilities. One of those responsibilities is to be alert: to how your guests feel, how your experiment is landing. When you invite guests it's about them, not you. If, for example, we're talking about dinner, and people have toyed with it, pushed it to one side, talked loudly about the wine, then the thing to do is to laugh, say, Well, that didn't work! apologise, and order takeaway. Because if your guests have arrived hungry, you need to feed them. Or they will go away annoyed.

Alternatively, ask their permission. Say, I've never done this before is it okay if I try it on you? There are times when your guests will say, Sure! And there are times when your guests will say, Y'know, our workload is currently hellish, now is not a good time. If you surprise people with something half-baked, you are not respecting their time and energy and you are fucking with their expectations. No one likes to have their time wasted, particularly after a hard day.

When I teach writing, I often use the host metaphor. The reader wants to trust you. As a writer, it's your job to help them. So welcome them, set context, let them know what to expect. Make them comfortable, make sure they feel as though you know what you're doing. Once they know they're in good hands, they relax. When the reader relaxes you can do what you want with them, take them places they've never been in ways they'd never considered—because you have made it clear you know where you're going and they trust you.

So here's a personal, professional, and creative tip: do not experiment on guests. This applies to dinner, workshops, meetings, and artwork or performance that involves an investment of more than half an hour or $5. Just don't.
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