Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Excessive Hype of the Illusion of Celebrity

I often wonder to myself if anyone (in their right mind) would consider becoming an artist if the illusion of celebrity didn't exist? The reason why I bring up this particular idea is because of an interview I read with Sean Penn (In an action sports magazine, of all places!) where he speaks to this idea:

"Part of me feels that one of the biggest fights I have to fight has nothing to do with the excessive hype of the illusion of celebrity. I mean, even if we paid teachers the same wage as actors--i.e., if we lived in a fair world--you'd still have to wrestle with your performance as an actor. I mean, you're trapped in your own nature, your body, your own rhythm and weaknesses."

Now, while very few (if any) writers today achieve that level of success, ALL writers are subjected to their own illusions of success, or more specifically, public success (successes acknowledged by the public). So, I ask again: would anyone in their right mind consider becoming an artist if public successes/acknowledgement were removed?

To a certain degree, the argument is moot because the public cannot be removed. It seems pretty obvious right? It's akin to the old thought experiment: If a tree falls in the woods, and there's no one there to hear it, does it make a sound? If an artist creates a work that no one experiences or cares about, does it even exist? Does it even matter?

A very wonderful and talented writer friend of mine told me recently that genre writers search for an audience, while literary writers search for their ideal reader. A more insensitive way of putting it is: you have writers who only give a shit about the money and the public, and you have writers who only give a shit about the art/experience. Now, I'm not assuming that one approach is more correct or virtuous than the other. In some cases, both approaches can be very right and very wrong. However, here's what I believe to be the most important lesson that a true artist can gain from what Sean Penn said: Even if you remove the illusion of public success, you (the TRUE artist) still has to wrestle with your own performance. It's really a matter of currency types. For some, the currency is money. For others, the currency is simply living an artistic life.

An artistic life is an autonomous life: we take possession of our own sovereign territory, and monopolize it with our imaginations, inspirations, growth, digressions, etc. We're trapped in our own natures, our own bodies, our own rhythms and weaknesses." It's a fool's paradise, I know. But, it's ours nonetheless.

More to the point: they are not yours.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Poised, on the Cusp

I had made a dangerous--but honest--miscalculation: 
I was a semester into my wandering through an MFA program, when I 
decided to do a very shallow thing: start submitting my poetry to 
literary magazines. . .
I know, I know.
My explanation: I had about three (two undergraduate level, one 
graduate) workshops worth of poetry that I'd written. And, at the 
time, I'd felt comfortable with what I had. 
*Disclaimer: I pride myself on having a self-confidence and 
self-awareness that is healthy and fair. Does it wobble from time 
to time? Sure it does.
I'd sent every piece I'd written to every major literary magazine 
imaginable, and in return, received back every type of rejection 
imaginable. Suffice it to say, I found the rejections SHOCKING
Staggered and humiliated, I approached a friend at the university 
whose wisdom I valued very much. They're response proved to be even 
more unsettling to me: "Mike, forget about it. . .for now, anyway. 
Forget about submitting. Forget about publications. It isn't the 
right time for it. Just concentrate on craft."
And I listened to them. Big mistake, and here's why: Outside of the 
University's own literary magazine, I submitted nothing for close to 
a year and a half. This is bad. 
Here are two of what I termed acknowledgement letters(I absolutely 
refuse to label this species as rejection) I've received recently 
within the last three months) from two major publications in response 
to a short story I'd submitted(yes, I do indeed write those too):
"Unfortunately this particular piece was not a right fit for _________, 
but we were very impressed by your writing. We hope that you will feel 
encouraged by this short note and send us something else."
"We gave close consideration to your well-written piece because of your 
narrative style, but. . ." (I'm sure you can fill in what comes after)
What's important to point out about these two is that they're positive 
rejections that reveal a couple of things: 1) My story--while, at least 
in their minds, isn't quite ready yet--is close 2)  I've got something 
good going with my narrative/writing-style/voice (which is HUGE) 3) 
There exists potential, and therefore, possibility (most important).
I've also received a few of these in reference to some of my poetry. The 
problem is,I've only recently received these types of acknowledgement 
letters. If I'd known better. I could have been receiving these types 
much earlier in my creative timeline. Who knows, I could've had more 
published pieces because of it. It's very important for young writers to 
understand that THE GAME needs to be learned through practice. Like my 
hero Omar Little says: "The game’s out there, and it’s play or get played. 
That simple." 
It's only now that I've come to recognize everything that I've done wrong 
thus far. From the big things: actually having something worthy of 
consideration, and how to correctly write a cover letter, to the little: 
actually researching which magazines/journals (print or electronic) may 
be receptive to the type of writing I do. The game has its own source code 
that every writer needs to coach themselves on through practice and failure. 
Now, I'm left scrambling. It's my fault, of course. I should've followed
my gut instinct--literally. I should've paid more attention to the grumbling 
that was bellowing out of my very grouchy, creative stomach. Now, I find 
myself having to play the role of stick-up boy:
"And what is your occupation?
What exactly do you do for a living, Mr. Little?
I rip and run.
At this point in my creative timeline, I have over 80+ pending submissions. 
I anticipate answers very soon. 
The way I see it, how can one expect to run with the wolves at night when 
they spend all their time sparring with puppies? 
I mean, a man got to have a code.