Sunday, December 13, 2009

On Writing Publicly For Reasons Other Than Money

I don't know whether or not offering one's scribblings to the world free of charge is contemptible, as some maintain, though I doubt that anyone, other than perhaps Plato, Montaigne, and the authors of the New Testament ever set out to write a book or any other attempt at literature with no idea of profiting by it in some way. If nothing else, being paid for the work, or even having it acknowledged by someone who is himself paid, legitimizes it in a way that nothing else can. Some people go further and consider that writing is a skill, and as with any other skill, if one does it well it is too valuable to be given away freely, if for no better reason than that it contributes to an environment where it becomes more difficult for committed professionals to make a living commensurate in respectability to their desserts. I almost wholly agree with this from the point of view of the person of talent, and the ability to coerce payment out of people for such talents as one has. The problem is that more and more people either have no talents, or skills, possessing any value, and many who do simply haven't the understanding of how to make people give them money for them. In this scenario having such an attitude really limits the number of acceptable adult pursuits one can share with other people. Still, I largely accede to this; I do and say very little among other people. People do not think that I ever properly tried to make anything of myself but during the apparently utterly wasted years between age 24 and 32 or so I really was trying very seriously to make myself into an author, in which enterprise I not only failed, but did so at the expense of developing any other useful abilities. Compounded by the further mistake of isolating myself more or less wholly apart from other people like me, the result is the perfect disaster one sees today. Thus at the same time, this variety of writing and thinking which I produce being the only thing I know how to produce in this world, I find that to keep going on I must make a gesture at turning out some kind of copy, publishing such things as I can, as if asserting that I have a function in life, though if a function implies something essential one does well and for which he is paid, this is obviously a great lie.

I didn't know about it when I was coming out of college, or maybe it didn't exist. But going to New York and latching onto one of those writers' sweatshops like Gawker or working on Henry Louis Gates's Encyclopedia Africana (most of the writers for which were young postgraduate white people) was the kind of thing I ought to have done, to be around people in the field, to get some credentials, and to be in an exciting place with some kind of concrete purpose. Except for the part about being in the exciting place, my conception of the world and of literature did not operate in this way at the time. Hacking away in a sweatshop would have diverted time away from working on serious masterpieces that already existed within me more than half-formed. Writing for ephemeral forms--magazines, textbooks, web sites--was not real writing, its practitioners not real writers, the world in which I imagined them to inhabit not the world I imagined myself to inhabit. Of course I never talked to anyone about any of this. I didn't trust anyone to help me, to make the possibility of going to New York or some other cultural mecca and making something of myself there seem plausible. No, I should have first to have done something spectacular, burst fully-realized upon the scene and give people no choice but to collapse and grovel before my genius and superiority. I could not imagine being successful in any other terms.

I Like the Feeling I Get in Reading about the Current Brooklyn-Centered Literary & Artistic Scene. I know I shouldn't, because the people involved aren't particularly tough or edgy--whimsical I think is the common word--and I think they are supposed to be spoiled and overly cushioned against real hardship to boot, but I actually think it is a positive development that some incurably soft young people with decent educations and good, heavily results-oriented work ethics, and who even seem to at least be nice to each other are back in New York. I think a lot of good will come out of it. Perhaps not anything brilliant--that will be in the ensuing generation, if we are lucky--but obviously enough people are hungry for this kind of atmosphere of artistic energy and feeling, which New York has the environment, the history, the geography, the institutions and so on to support in people without a Herculean effort on their part, as to have made something happen which from afar looks very appealing, the kind of scene I have always wanted to belong to. In my dream I could have a girlfriend, or even several of them, like one of the erstwhile queens of this scene, the "microcelebrity" Emily Gould, who actually seems like a pretty awful person, but on whom, or rather on the type of woman of which she is representative, I have a ridiculous crush. Everything about her triggers in me an odd sense that her type is the epitome of something vital I missed in my life, as the kind of girlfriend everybody I aspire to be like has more or less continually, and eventually learns to master, which seems to be essential in the development of the genuinely good male writer. Many of the other Brooklyn women one reads about, or reads, or sees in the various videos that circulate on the internet, as belonging to this scene, also look to be of the kind I was forever seeking. I am probably projecting Dorothy Parkeresque qualities, and those of the women who populate her stories, on these people where it is not really merited, but they at least seem to be conscious, to be alert to the existence of those kinds of possibilities, and have the personal desirability to make that alertness interesting, which combination I have not seen happening to such a decent-sized extent in a while.

I have a friend, an old classmate--several, actually, but I am thinking of one in particular--who has managed to avert the constrictions of marriage and children and corporate servitude and lives in Brooklyn among this very scene, apparently surviving as a musician, taking part in lots of nightlife and other cultural activities, maintaining hundreds of friendships with unusual, intelligent people, and enjoying lots of 20-something female company, cut from friendlier and better-looking cloth than that even of the frequently disagreeable Emily Gould cloth I was aspiring to. While various women with a vested interest in keeping my eyes and the eyes of men like me focused firmly straight ahead, and not noticing the freedom and energy and fun others are still able to enjoy insist that I am better than men like my friend, that such ought to grow up, etc, that partying and having relations with 23 year old women actually indicates somehow that he is a loser, he is something of a heroic figure to me. He has escaped all of that, and found a sliver of life, and one far more interesting than that in which the vast majority of men are doomed to inhabit, where he thrives at probably close to 90-95% of his absolute social potential (whereas I operate at approximately 9% of my own). He has transformed and transcended such doom as awaited him in a thousand different places. It is one of the more inspiring stories I know.

I was going to address America's political divisions, the demoralization of the citizenry, the wars, and the Tiger Woods situation, but I am going to have to shelve those for another time, if ever. I am very busy, especially with Christmas coming up, and I almost never get to write at this time.

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