Friday, September 6, 2019

On not being famous

Dear M-,

Anyone who's been writing for ten years and isn't famous has got to ask himself why.  There are lots of answers and most of them, excepting the most likely one, are easy.  You can say, for instance, that most people have no taste, or brains, or attention spans, or that they're too rigidly "moral" to appreciate fresh thinking, or too young and inexperienced to understand you, or that you're just not that good a writer.  Tons of easy excuses and one tough possibility.  Truth is there are too many writers and most of them are bad; and even if someone likes you there are too many other things they like, and unless you slap them upside the head three times a day, brilliantly or not, they're going to forget you.  The secret to a strong internet following isn't brilliance, but consistency.  And my writing is anything but consistent.  It has also at times, I admit, been horrible.



I take pride in the fact that I admit this, and consider it one of my finer featuresAm I horrible? is a question everyone ought to ask himself about everything; and it's no small comfort that the people most likely to be horrible are the people least likely to ask it.  They don't see it because they won't see it; but a properly vain man, if he wants to bask in his own sunlight, has got to stop covering himself with an umbrella.  If he wants to feel the bracing, northern breeze of inspiration he's got to stop suffocating himself in an overcoat.  We protect our egos and end up with less to be egotistical about --  a lousy trade in the long run, I think.

These people are also not famous
I like to ask myself if I'm the bad guy.  Not just whether I screw up, but whether I'm a monster*.  I also ask whether I'm weak, or irrational, or cheap, or mean -- and these are the things that keep me strong, and reasonable, and generous, and kind.  I pound my gavel and convict myself and at that moment I become a saint.  I wrote things ten years ago I believed in, and because I questioned them now I write things I'm in love with.  I have become more fully myself by destroying my old self.  Like every creator I'm also a demolition man.  I cut down some trees and I built up a house.  If a man wants to carve Mount Rushmore, the first thing he's got to be comfortable with is dynamite.

However.  There are some things my own ego's too delicate to change, and one of them, as I have mentioned above, is my own inconsistency.  Am I willing, for instance, to flood my Facebook with things I'm not proud of, which I don't think are inspired, and which keep me in someone's mind, but don't quite lodge me in their heart?  Not yet, at the very least; and my love of myself has kept other people from remembering me, and I believe on some level their inability to remember me is the thing that keeps them from loving me.  There are just too many other people clamoring for their mindspace; and I am too self-conscious about my performance to make a constant slew of so-so performances.  I had also believed, wrongly I now think, in word of mouth.  I thought by now I'd be "discovered," but it turns out that discovery, in this day and age, happens to people who attempt first and foremost to be discovered.

I have believed in myself too fully to "put myself out there."  I believed a beacon on a hill would be seen.  The problem was, I wasn't standing on a hill.  I was crammed in a valley with a million other would-be beacons; these third-rate prophets were outperformed by a smaller horde of jugglers, clowns, and side-show freaks; the few that were able to climb out were given hands-up by the people already at top; and my dislike of climbing has led to much more of a trampling.  The lesson here is simple: I'm not saying I'm the best there is.  But I've read lots of famous essayists and they suck; and you can train yourself to be the best there is and somebody who's not taking themselves as seriously will pass you up because they were better at posting memes, shaking hands, and kissing babies**.  Being a marketer, in the end, is just as important to as being a philosopher.  There's a point where taking yourself too seriously will lead others to take you less seriously.  I tell myself I've learned this -- but I haven't.   

Your father,
-J

*One of the more difficult things about losing your religion is that you lose the idea of being the "good guy."  At least in an all-around sense.  When you're in a religion these things are clear-cut: you follow the rules, carry the right symbols, quote the right book and tout the right people and you're in -- but lose that Omniscient Judge and everything is up for debate.  So what if you're a hero to somebody?  You fight for one country and you're fighting another.  You put one man in business and another one goes out.   You defend someone's property and another man starves.   The question isn't whether you're a villain but whose villain you are, and whether or not it's worth it.

**One time I walked into work, clocked in for the job, shook my boss's hand and said let's kick some ass.  He looked me right in the eye, smiled, and said, I find it much more likely we'll be kissing it -- an honest, clear-eyed description of business if I ever heard one.

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