The Critics Amuse Me, Part 1

Aerial View - Garrison Ave. Fort Smith, AR

During almost every open day at the Lost Art Press storefront, someone asks the question: How do you endure the sniping, nitpicking and outright hostility toward your work? In response, I tell them one of six stories from my career in newspapers.

It started when Debbie, the city editor of The Southwest Times-Record, hung up the phone and called me over to her desk in the center of the newsroom.

That call, she said, was from the local Ku Klux Klan. They had called to complain about me.

The Southwest Times-Record is the newspaper in Fort Smith, Ark. I had grown up in Fort Smith, attended the segregated public schools there and left to go to college. That summer I had returned to work as an intern at the Times-Record and was assigned to write a history of segregation in the schools. Some of the local African-Americans who had been involved in lawsuits to desegregate the local schools were considering filing a new suit because the schools were de facto segregated again.

The Klan’s message was simple: Send the Jew ACLU lawyer writing these articles back to New York or we will shoot him. We know he leaves the side door of the newspaper every afternoon and drives a red Honda.

While the first part of the message was false, the second part was true. I left the office every afternoon, got into a red Honda and drove to the home where I grew up.

That day, I thought about leaving via another door. I remember that my hands were shaking as I gathered my stuff to leave work that day. But then I decided that if a group of heavily armed rednecks wanted me dead, there was little to do about it. For the rest of the summer I left the newspaper by the same door at my usual time.

So I have to say that on balance, a bunch of cranky old farts with keyboards and chronic back pain make me laugh.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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32 Responses to The Critics Amuse Me, Part 1

  1. They only have the power you give them. Can’t wait to read part 2.


  2. On of the best pieces of advice I heard about criticism was from Gordon Ramsey. “Don’t take it personally. Just take it seriously.”


  3. Coisas EM'adeira says:

    Being under the upcoming ‘administration’ I can only wish you the best of luck.
    Or… looking from a different angle you may end up with a Lot of new stories like this (hopefully not)


  4. calebjamesplanemaker says:

    Sounds similar to some of my experiences growing up in Northern Arkansas. People often thought I wasn’t from there oddly. I guess I wasn’t red neck enough? Anyhow, very funny comparison. >


  5. laterthanuthink says:

    Can you please give recent real life examples of sniping, hostility and nitpicking? I enjoy your work, I don’t understand why anyone would feel the need for such rude behavior. Thanks Chris. By the way, never mock old farts with chronic back pain. It’s not good karma.


  6. Steve Dixon says:

    I cannot imagine anything that I have ever read that you wrote would irritate anyone. You are a fine professional writer.

    “If your being kicked in the rear, you know your out front.” “A leader knows the way, shows the way, and goes the way.” John Maxwell Leadership Expert

    Keep on leading. I have never met you but I have learned so much from you. Thank you

    Steve Dixon I am old and a little grumpy, but a little wiser.

    Zanesville, Ohio

    On Mon, Dec 12, 2016 at 9:11 AM, Lost Art Press wrote:

    > Lost Art Press posted: ” During almost every open day at the Lost Art > Press storefront, someone asks the question: How do you endure the sniping, > nitpicking and outright hostility toward your work? In response, I tell > them one of six stories from my career in newspapers. It st” >


  7. “Well I know what’s right, I got just one life
    in a world that keeps on pushin’ me around
    but I’ll stand my ground, and I won’t back down.” – Tom Petty

    I’ve lived this way my whole life. The upsides are grand, the downsides significant, but I’ve never been ashamed to look in the mirror.


  8. ejcampbell says:

    What kind of hostility could a woodworking blog generate? I always enjoy your writing even when I disagree with a particular post. You’re never viscous and never attack anyone. I’m baffled

    Sent from my iPhone



  9. rwyoung says:

    Psyllium husks and prunes generally cure the primary contributor chronic condition in the old, interweb grumps.


  10. fedster9 says:

    Please tell me at least one of your colleagues would walk out with you and would walk with you to your car (and maybe that said person/s kept doing it for the summer).


  11. ikustwood says:

    You are right and wise. Need more like you .


  12. jayedcoins says:

    Chris, I’d say you’re a lot like your holdfast — designed to get the job done, even if it bucks conventions or expectations. Anyone that reads you should know that you seem to be an empirical dude, looking for good ways to do things (whether it be a tool review, furniture design, or tool design) that bear fruit in your own real-world experiences.

    Like your holdfast, maybe you get more done because you don’t waste time flowering things up in a way that doesn’t help achieve the end-goal. Instead, you’re onto the next thing, and those of us benefiting from this work should be grateful of that approach, as it allows you (and the entire LAP and Crucible teams) to uncover new ideas, techniques, things of historical importance, etc. that would otherwise be lost to time spent polishing a holdfast or writing a 1000 word blog post where a 250 word post does just fine!

    I think a lot of people mistake brevity and affirmative statements of support for the ideas and techniques that you’ve run down in your work to be “brusque” or to be some implicit refutation of all other approaches. Which is silly. People seem to have a hard time taking something at face value… the old PM-V11 debacle comes to mind… state something based on your empirical work, watch people come out of the woodwork to infer that you had written or said a million things that you clearly hadn’t written or said.

    Apparently, if Chris Schwarz says that in his experience, a holdfast should be heavy, thick, and rough (god that sounds bad), that somehow implies that you also hate puppies, because you didn’t say that you liked puppies! How terribly rude you are! Think of the puppies!


  13. Hey I’m one of those cranky old farts with chronic back pain and I love your work.



  14. Nothing like reminiscing about your first death threat as newbie newspaperman to put things in perspective. I’ve found recalling mine always made answering the job interview questions that start “Can you tell me about a time…” a cinch- especially since as a photojournalist, my first one was face-to-face.


  15. studioffm says:

    On Critics by Theodore Roosevelt
    ” It is not the critic that counts , not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena. Whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood. Who strives valiantly. Who errs and comes short time and again, for there is no effort without errors and short comings. He who knows the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause. Who at best knows in the end high achievement and triumph who at worst fails whilst daring greatly.
    He knows that his place will never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

    Great American Mr R.

    happy Christmas

    david savage

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Lyn Baker says:

    I was born and raised in Northern Arkansas, 5th generation as a matter of fact, and I live here to this day. There’s lots of good people here like anywhere, but then, the other part, the part you confronted, sadly hasn’t changed. Keep writing. And woodworking.


  17. They don’t erect statues to critics. and if you pint the finger – there are always three pointing back at you. Carry on the good work!!


  18. You’re in famous company; Doc Holliday ran into trouble in Fort Smith, too.


  19. I’m young with back pain, but I still stop by every day to enjoy your writing. Must be something that comes with age 🙂


  20. Paul Sidener says:

    All I can say is, do the work that you want to do. You do it because it makes you happy. If someone doesn’t like it or complains about it, that says more about them than it does about you. If your work didn’t make you happy, you wouldn’t do it. So be happy.


  21. John Paver says:

    The interesting point about history is that without the lowly scribe from the beginnings on cave walls to the present, who would ever know we ever lived, loved or died? I recall fighting in a war to preserve a basic right to do this. It is that important….


  22. shopsweeper says:

    Criticism from people who don’t even understand what you are trying to do is hard to muster the will to acknowledge, much less care deeply about. I’m happy that you never let the detractors take take the wind out of your sails.

    Fort Smith may not be perfect just yet, but I did notice a big new statue of Bass Reeves the last time I was in town. I took that as a hopeful sign that things are on an upswing (Mr. Reeves is a great figure to research if you all have a few min at the library; “Black Gun, Silver Star” is a bit of a ramble but it was well worth my time for a feel of the man and his times).


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