Hannah and Papa J

Hannah and Papa J

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Fame, loneliness, and local music

Dear Hannah,

Before I was a Christian, if anyone was interested in finding the fastest and surest way to misery and isolation, I would have recommended to them casual sex.  Now that I'm a Christian, the most viable alternative would be to take writing seriously.

I've spent years of writing now, and every year I've been convinced my writing is better than last year's -- I could even say last year's writing wasn't very good at all.  Some people have always liked it, of course; some of my fans have been with me from the beginning, and I'm grateful for them.  But the truth is that even when my writing was certifiably bad, I still loved it as though it was good.  And the most terrible thing for me, all the way along, wasn't that somebody would disagree, or even that they would say it was bad, but that nobody would read it at all.  And whether now or then, I feel the same way.  Everyone wants to be noticed and be appreciated; I would say that on some level, everyone thinks they ought to be appreciated.  The question is whether they really should be.

I think it's the same with almost any kind of artist, really: look at all the petty musicians talking about supporting local bands, and all the boutique shops constantly talking about supporting local businesses.  Every man loves whatever he makes personally, and he desperately wants other people to buy it -- even if it means others having to disregard the quality or the price.  Look at all the artists, and how they talk about public funding for unpopular art.  Maybe the art becomes popular because it's publicly funded: I find it far more likely that it's publicly funded because it's unpopular.  If people liked it, then they would share it -- especially in an age of information like ours.

It's entirely possible that some kinds of art are too good for the public.  In a society like ours, where people drink Budweiser and watch football instead of drinking real beer and reading Thomas Paine, it's entirely possible that the best writing and the best conversations could entirely pass them by, and they would never know it.  The prophets were stoned by Israel, and Jesus was killed for saying He was God when He actually was; today, I wonder whether anyone would even stop to listen to either of them, or whether they'd be drowned out by Bill O'Reilly and Oprah Winfrey.  I wonder whether our best artists and musicians will ever be discovered: the internet is supposed to allow great artists to thrive without corporate backing, and all we seem to have gotten is Macklemore -- someone who has both corporate funding and every ounce of corporate policy.  It's almost as if his music was written right after leaving his company's diversity seminar: politically correct, and state approved; practically a lecture from a lesbian professor at a community college.

Anyhow, to get back to the subject, not every localization is detrimental to our happiness: eating local food is much different than listening to local music and buying from local boutiques, because the locality of the former has a directly utilitarian purpose: the further food travels, the less healthy and fresh it is, the more transportation costs, the more chemicals they use -- the less good it is for you.  But saying that paintings and clothing and music and writing should be supported because they are local is almost like saying that we shouldn't ever choose things simply because they please us.  And if there's any kind of pleasure we should take seriously, it's art.  Art has no room for politics, even when its message is overtly political: it must either be bad or good, and we should take the best seriously.

If you ever decided to become a writer and follow in your father's footsteps, remember this the whole way along.  If you begin to be angry because nobody is listening, keep writing -- and write whether they listen or not.  I've gotten to the point where I've realized that if my writing was bad yesterday, and I thought it was good, perhaps my writing may not be any good now.  And yet I still write -- and why?  Because a writer must.  A musician must.  Any kind of artist, or inventor, or poet must: we're all tiny gods, trying to build something of our own.  Those who build something truly divine -- even if it is just a Christian family -- have nothing to complain about, so long as they can continue to build upon it.  If the whole world is silent in response, then let them remain silent.  But let us enjoy our own creations, if only amongst a few friends and family members, and know that if we are creating, and we are creating good things, that we are following in the footsteps of our Father -- and that because of this, we must take our art seriously.

Let the greatest writers of all time be your guides: I compare my works with Chesterton and Montaigne and Cicero, because I know that our current literary state is embarrassing, and that if I'm not heard, and I actually am as good as I think I am, I can still aim for something other than mass approval.  In the hope that people can improve, I can aim for posterity -- or maybe I'll compete with the past, to see who can be more thoughtful, or more powerful: me, or Tocqueville.  And remember above all else, that if you believe you should be heard, and you're upset that nobody is listening, how you would feel if some inferior and boring artist came to you with the arm of the state, and demanded that you take his work seriously, or give it time at all.  If you have better things to do, just consider that other people do too.  You will be lonely -- even if after a period of applause.  When the recognition stops, you will want more.  The desire for fame isn't simply turned off and on: it is insatiable.  And I can say this, without ever having been famous.

To be content to influence a few is a Christian attitude.  Nobody should ever expect to influence everyone, though some may be called to it.  We should seek to do what good we can with what little we have, whether through music or writing or anything else, and be happy that we've been able to do good at all.  We should cheer on those who do good, and be kind to beginners and Christians, especially, reminding them that to influence nobody for the better is to completely fail in religion and philosophy -- in everything good, actually.  We must simply find our sphere of influence, and if we can enlarge it, then we should do what we can.  If we can't, we need to improve ourselves.  If we cannot improve ourselves, then we should be angry with ourselves for failing and try again, or thankful that God has given us the ability to succeed thus far.

Your father,


  1. A friend passed this blog along to me a while back, probably because there are similarities in our blogs; those similarities namely being that I begin with "dear children" and sign off with "your father". Wordpress has a counter that tells me how many people come by to read it, which is almost no one.

    I was laughing this particular night as I read your post on gay history month, and commenting to my wife how much I've enjoyed reading your work. Between you and me, I'm actually jealous. I feel like the guy watching Bob Ross make painting look easy then finding out that it isn't easy at all. You make it look easy, and I suspect it is for you. Your writing flows much too well for it not to be. So, there's that.

    But earlier, I had commented to my wife that, if I had no responsibilities at all, I think all I would want to do is read most of the time, and write some of the time... even though no one reads my writing. But I read it, so I told her, and I like it, even if no one else does. She chuckled. This night I wanted to read more of your writing so I looked for older posts. Actually, I looked for the oldest post, which, unless blogger has deceived me, is this one, hence this comment is safely out of site of your normal traffic. This particular post was encouraging to me, a talentless writer want-ta-b, and so hence again, this note. I thought perhaps, especially after reading this, that you might yourself be encouraged to know that you have another fan.

    I've read Chesterton, though not Montaigne and Cicero. (But I have read Gibbon, if that counts for anything.) As I was reading some of your posts I thought you wrote more like Vonnegut, one of my all time favorites when I was younger. I haven't read him in years because his pessimism wore me out; not that I find yours pessimistic, but rather seasoned with a touch of cynicism, IMO, as was Vonnegut's, but with more than just a touch.

    Anyway, this post made me think that perhaps I ought to pass along my admiration.


    PS If you'd written a book, I will assume that it would be advertised here.

    1. Thank you so much for reading -- I don't get that many hits (or, I haven't until recently), and I'm always flattered when I see someone's gone back to my old essays or shared them with friends. That means I'm more than just a curiosity on the internet: someone actually enjoys my thoughts. Makes my day!

      You're probably going to think I'm kidding, but I've actually been holding on to a post specifically about my inability to write -- not that I'm incapable of writing, but that I'm incapable of writing when I want to, and I have hundreds of interesting but unsatisfactory essays that didn't make the cut. It will be published later; but the truth is that I'm so frequently unhappy with most of what I write, that what I post is the minority of the minority. I'm picky, I guess. I'm also capricious, which is why I haven't written a book (also covered in another soon to be published essay), and you should probably know that I was writing (terrible) essays for years before I started feeling like I began to compare with anyone I really admired. Keep at it -- I'll check your site out. Thanks again for reading, and double thanks for the feedback!


      PS Never read Vonnegut -- I'll check and see if he does essays =) And Montaigne is brilliant, by the way; not quite as logical and perfect as Samuel Johnson, but somehow rambles into the most interesting observations in the most unlikely way possible. The Donald Frame translation is pretty good; although I have three translations of the guy, and I usually read the out of print Trechmann version.

  2. Oh, and one more thing, I love the picture at the top of your blog too.

    1. Thank you -- catching a moment like that on camera is a miracle.