Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Fame Motive

The recent NYT article on fame (I tried to link but it appears you need a subscription, and after vacation, I'm poor) coupled with my instructor’s persistent use of the phrase “professional jealousy” last night got me thinking.

What is it that we want from life? To do something great, or to have it acknowledged? And more, singularly acknowledged?

It’s age-old, tree falling in the woods example. If I ever say/write/draw/create anything wonderful, and there’s no one around to appreciate it, did it really happen and does it really matter? Supposedly the sound of an invisible forest falling was to clear one’s mind, but it sort of napalms mine. This grasping at straws, this “look at me, mom” mentality, this downright weirdness of feeling like maybe it’s my upbringing, my profession or New York, but whatever it is, it’s here and I can’t shake it because I keep pursuing it, is the biggest obstacle I face.

I look at two friends: two famous blogger friends, in varying degrees of notoriety, but both on a roller coaster just the same. Both are beautiful, have book deals and quit their dayjobs to become writers. Both are determined and both, for the most part seem happy. I think to myself “that’s what I want!” and then I read their blogs. Their lovely fans gush and their sharp detractors rip deep wounds.

Some attack not only their writing (okay, I see that this is a topic up for discussion since these are published blogs, so I think to some degree, this is okay). They attack their style, their character, their body-types. Their lipstick, the cut of their dresses, the curve of their ankles, the strength of their diets, the worthiness of their boyfriends, their motives. They’re called money-grubbing bitches in so many words; talent-less, undeserving, whores. And I see these two women strike a strange deal with the nasties by leaving their words up to hurt, or to be lashed by the power of other fans. It’s here I run into a wall. I find myself sometimes champion the freedom of ideas and the open forums on personal pages, and other times positively recoiling from it.

Most may argue that a blog that allows comments must be fair and balanced. That is to say, if you allow the good, you better allow the bad, because you are putting yourself out here with your words missy, and when it sucks, you’re gonna be the first to find out. I get this, I really do. But to those, particularly those who comment in a demeaning way under the cover of anonymity, I say: let me let you in on a little secret.

We bloggers, and I’ll pretend I’m part of this club for the sake of argument, want your comments and leave it open to your comments because we want our egos massaged and that’s it.

I’m sorry, someone had to say it.

I feel like one of those magicians with the tell-alls on NBC. I have to wear a golden mask to hide my face just to tell you that the simplest answer is always the right one.

We say we want all your feedback. We don’t.

We want you to say something good about us, because we aren’t sure we’re good enough (sure a boyfriend or mother or sister will tell us so, because they have to). That’s why we blog; possibly for fame or money or plain recognition, but most likely I believe, always for validation.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this. It just gave me pause. We all want to be adored in some way or another, is all I’m saying, and yes, it’s shallow but also true…

Some argue that getting a reaction out of anyone is a good thing, because you touched them. This for me, rings false. I think the best moving of someone is in a positive way, because hating is easy; true and sincere appreciation is much more difficult.

Take that professional jealousy my instructor was speaking of. Or the negatives you feel about your coworker, your best friend, your girlfriend, whatever, because just once they took it to shine a little brighter than you. Can we ever really crumple it and toss it in the trash/out the window/over a balcony and be rid of it? Or will it always be that as long as there are people in the world clamoring for a piece of what we perceive to be a finite pie, that we will have fame-lust, and competition-hate, and we’ll never really get to the heart because we’re so busy eating instead of building our own?

What are your thoughts?


Jack said...

After a good few years of blogging, I only enabled comments on my site beacuse people kept asking for them. It's a dreadful cliche of course, but I don't do it for the feedback and if every single reader I had disappeared overnight I'd still be blogging.

Still, I am of the opinion that if you are going to actively solicit comments of any kind you should be either prepared to leave the negative ones up or admit that the whole exercise is about ego. However good the writing, I rapidly lose interest in a blog if I discover they're all about this kind of preening insecurity.

I have been left comments that call me every evil name you can think of, have been left threats of violence and rape and never deleted one. My ego doesn't need the praise that I would delete anything less than complimentary, my self esteem isn't that fragile that I can be hurt by random strangers and mostly I don't even bother to respond, their own words damning them more comprehensively that I or anyone else could do.

Another twentysomething said...

I actually began blogging as a means of personal writing development, and truly, it has helped me become a better writer. You too, I can attest. I think at the stage you’re at, it is quite natural to want recognition and validation. It’s like step one for thirsty writers. Step 2 or maybe 3 is after mild success, and then you can say things like “I write to evoke discussion and emotion. My writing is an art making society better.” Because then you have to validate your job. Now, you just need to feel like you can say “writing is my job, my career” and have some clout to back it up. Does that make sense? Well, that’s what I think.

Broady said...

I admit it. I like the instantaneous feedback that the comments provide. If I received negative comments regarding writing, that's fine. I'm probably arrogant enough that it wouldn't bother me too much. The *personal* negative comments...well I think if you put your "real" life out there too much, you have to expect it. Some people are bastards and like to inflict damage on others, either because they are jealous of them, or simply because they do not like them or what they stand for.

I think if you expose your real life up to the world, I think it's foolish to expect only positive feedback and encouragement. Otherwise, what a boring-ass person you must be. (and I don't mean "you", K, talking in generalities! : )

Mimi in NY said...

Yes, you can. My brother just bought a gorgeous house for that price. Imagine, you could buy a studio for the price of paying a broker in NY...

Pink Lemonade Diva said...

i'm in a constant struggle w/ this as well, but think of it as a "virtual" writer's group. You'd get the same feedback if you were to show up at a coffee shop every monday and do a freewrite and then read it aloud to the others, right? Only here you're writing your real life, not fiction. But who cares, you can write the real life while still practicing your "voice" and get your "voice" heard out there. You never know who's reading, right? Write on!

Mimi in NY said...

Oh I read your post, I didn't before I left the last message. Interesting. We've all had hate thrown our way, and I personally have said some horrible things about fellow bloggers in drunken bitch mode. It's weird. I think criticism, if it comes from gentle humor, or a real place and not jealousy is fine. But most of the time it comes from anonymous assholes who want to wound. I regret mean things I've said about some people, but most I actually said as I really thought them, and some comments I didn't intend as vicious I'm surprised people take so seriously as I'm English and therefore love taking the piss and never meant it in a mean way... but I personally do have a habit of provoking upset in other bloggers and attracting trolls to my site in return!

So yeah, you're right. Mean comments are bad. Comments I've left have been mean. Comments I've received have been mean. Some mean comments to me have actually, on reflection, been pretty accurate! At the same time I kind of expect shit from being on the internet. It's like life. Can't always have what you want! Even if that includes an email at 3am when you're feeling pissed off and lonely, telling you your ass is fat and you're going to hell. And yes, I've had that one many a time...!

themarina said...

I didn't strat blogging to practice or develop my writing style but simply to put something down. Sure, I could put it down in a journal and lock it away but for me, it's not as satifying. I'm willing to take the negative comments and feedback because I made the decision to make my journaling public. It was to be expected. On the other hand, I'm very conscious of not leaving feedback that is an attack on someon personally. I just see no point to that. But that's just me.

Howard said...

I think you’re spot-on as far as blogging motivations go… I’ve seen people, who know they have about a 3 to 7 person readership, check their comments 20-30 times a day just to get that quick shot of justification. On the flip side, I’ve seen those same people have attitudes/demeanors/general positivity ruined because of one (ambiguously) critical sentence left on their page. In other words, a blog (aka the Internet) can be a pretty flimsy place to determine one’s creative worth. I think most know that, but some might not.

As far as getting a piece of the pie…
Yeah, we all want a slice. I often wonder why as well. Jealousy, envy, this “fame-lust” you so aptly tagged, is a very personal thing. It swells down deep in people. And I would agree that if you tune into it too much, whatever you’re trying to do (write/draw/sing/work) will fail before it “succeeds.” The goal maybe becomes quenching a personal competition instead of an accomplishment. And we all know that competition is a good thing, but it’s not the only thing.

Out of all the “expressive” people I’ve ever had the opportunity to talk to (I used to edit a magazine and interview musicians, authors, artists etc., now, alas, I’m in publicity), what most of them (especially the veterans) prided themselves on was not their fame, or their recognition, it was making something bigger then themselves. An almost suppression of the personal ego: That song everyone knew and liked for a time; that short story that made it in all of the anthologies and periodicals because it was painfully relatable; or that painting that spurred imitations because people took to his/her lines.

E. L. Doctorow has a quote, “The creative act doesn’t fulfill the ego but rather changes its nature. You are less then the person you usually are.”

I know that that is a much idealized way to see things, or maybe it’s just how I wish people would wield creativity. But in reality, no, people (myself included) aren’t going to lessen themselves so these envious sentiments can’t be crumpled and tossed. Personal achievement (yours or someone else’s), affirmed either through anonymous blog comments or from the New York literati, will continue to matter more. We constantly need outside references, external examinations, praise/critique of that subject that’s everyone’s favorite: themselves. It’s a big determining factor in how we grow personally and creatively. Then again, there has to be something bigger.

But, bottom line: we all still like the taste of pie.

Either way, I say to you: Thank you for sharing your writings. Please keep going with all that you’re doing. Honestly.

Sorry for the long comment.

jm said...

Obsession with comments is a struggle all bloggers must deal with, I'm beginning to understand.

But I am developing great respect for bloggers who are focussed on the practice of expressing, on the development of their own writing, and the real sense of personal accomplishment -joy- that can come from single-mindedly creating something beautiful and worth reading. Even attention paid to grammar, punctuation, whatever--this shows that effort has been put into a blog, and hence displays awareness for readers. Blogging that is self-centred, overly introspective, is recognizable a mile away and totally uninteresting.

Your writing, K, is worthy of a lot of great comments--I especially like the thoughtfulness of this entry. If you don't mind my saying so I always like your writing best when you seem to be writing to communicate things that are really important to you, or to paint word-pictures apparantly for the sheer delight of it.

Madeleine L'Engle writes that only when writers serve their work rather than themselves will they really be creating art.

Keep on keeping on...

K said...

Now these are the comments that make a blogger proud to have one: an insightful discussion from a group of intelligent people (and a compliment thrown in for the author thrown in there once in a while--just kidding, sorta).

I feel like we are all sitting around drinking coffee and waxing on the world--and something is to be said for such a cool virtual forum. Thanks for the imput, everyone, you guys make me smarter on a daily basis.

Lynn said...

K, so strange you chose this article to write about because I, too, read it and have thought about it since and even mentioned it to friends. You are good like that--I should have known.

I will just say here:

I want to be famous. I related to that article and felt sorry for the people who dealt with the realisation that they may never be famous, much like one would deal with heartbreak--they may NEVER get over it. I have always wanted something bigger and better. That is WHY I moved to NYC. There is a certain kind of attention I get when I go home to my suburban midwestern town from people who still live there that I wouldn't get if I lived in....Santa Fe. I moved here for attention and it just so happens that I love this city. Win/Win.

I started a blog to get attention. I have never hazed myself into thinking that I would get a book deal from a blog. That is a matter of luck. The women you speak of who have book deals got lucky--they argue that they worked hard and they did--but timing is key, my friend, and luck is a major power player in every grand scheme, particularly one that leans toward fame. These famous bloggers are commercial writers and they have fit a niche for now and will be forgotten when a new trend arises. Anyone who has worked a day in publishing will tell you this.

I will not be heartbroken if fame never happens for me unlike the people in that article. The older I get the more I am realizing that there are things in my life that are bigger than fame and feel better than what fame must feel like. My blog is a discipline and keeps my wheels turning and it is really the only thing I have that does this.

I welcome all comments--good and bad-- I do want people to love me, who doesn't. More than anything, I want to care less about how I feel and think more about how others feel--and there is nothing "famous" about that. I hope I continue to grow this objective and phase out the desire to be loved by millions.

You are great for bringing this up and keeping a clear head. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

There are only two ways of telling the complete truth--anonymously and posthumously.

--Thomas Sowell

I never did give anybody hell. I just told the truth, and they thought it was hell.

--Harry Truman

"Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned."

--William Congreve