Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Collected Thoughts on Success 'n Whatnot

When I first dared achieve recognition for my creative output, I was far too young, and not just for the subject matter, liquor license, and trauma. Everyone's heard the myths surrounding famous comedians who started out in their teens and went on to stardom. When we tell their stories, we leave out the parts that make success seem grimy and perhaps not altogether worth it, yet being funny doesn't mean being perceptive. I guess that's at any age. Writing as my third career, it still bugs me out how many things I missed the first and second time around. Human nature-things. Instances of conflicts with my own tendencies-things. Seventeen is no age for a boy to attempt grown-folks business.

There's just a blinder that is permanently there. Comedian/audience. Author/reader. The fourth wall. We're supposed to keep separate and make it seem easy. We openly cry a lot about being broke and being sick and falling apart while doing this writing thing. I'm sayin', I've been injured on the job in my life. Now I write, dig? We ain't bustin' rocks. We can make it look easy. We can wear seersucker and monacles 'n shit. Stick our hands in our front breast pocket and 'pip-pip' 'n whatnot. I'm not a protected class, okay. I just write. I don't need people to see my dirty work. I want no struggle points. I don't want to behave like the unpaid oppressed. I want to look like Langston Hughes. I want to sit on a veranda and sip lemonade and compare royalty statements with y'all. I want us to walk to the bar at Bouchercon as if the world grew under our feet. I'm buying a monocle and calling every one of you "...old boy," and "old girl" when I see you. (I'll work out other gender forms later.)

I know it may feel like death, but we're not dying for writing. Writing is paddling. Writing is treading. Writing is the knots in the rope we use to pull ourselves ashore. Writing is so not dying. We don't die until we stop.

Hip Hop-shit is when you have to leave the United States because of racism, run into one of your black literary elders in a cafe, and proceed to read him over the book you were taught by his generation was canon. Chicago-shit is when you willing to throw hands with another black literary great while you live in exile on the bill of generous white folks because you misread the New York directness when Baldwin told you Native Son was garbage and in Chicago we fight over shit like that.

I like you crime fiction MFs but we need more drunken debates over innocuous things in crowded bars so we can give the papers and Publishers Weekly something to write again. This generation sorely lacks a Walter Winchell.

Kids quit college daily citing the abbreviated educational paths of the Gateses and Zuckerbergs. No one stops to wonder what happened to everyone who probably should have remained in school. Check the treads on the tires of success and acclaim. You're sure to find some lives in there, like bits of road-kill pulverized by excellence metrics. Where the eyes go, the energy will flow.

I think the act of dissecting (or drawing and quartering) a celebrity book project is less about inspection or interrogation and more about examination. As it is oft uttered in the entertainment industry, "Nobody knows nuthin'." We all want to discover an edge. We're earnestly engaged in the same game of writing, so even as we do so from our perches, we're still sorting through all that sinew and bone and tissue and organs trying to see how it all works. Doesn't matter if you sit disaffected in Mr. Meyer's science class. When that baby pig is cut open, you're looking inside. You're going to come away with more understanding, even if you may detest wanting it, which is another thing we do.

Success in the arts is forever a feit accompli. Talent doesn't even appear as such until it's presented next to the success it reaps. I know someone who has an original Keith Haring which was created for him on the spot in a New York City bar with a crayon and a cocktail napkin. He kept it in plastic in one of his sketchbooks which were always on him. Occasionally, he'd produce it in the middle of a conversation and blow everyone's mind. How fleeting it all is.

Quickly, who won the National Book Award last? Whoever waited to buy books until the NBA list is announced?? Things are successful because they're sold as a success. Look at a Patterson book, Danny! It LOOKS like it'll be a NYT bestseller for all the weeks. Belief matters.

I'm a better long-form writer than I've ever been a comedian, but I'm not so much a book snob than a comedy snob. In writing, it's tipping your cap to your influences. In stand-up, it gets you banned. The best pay the price, just in different ways. Every circus has its tightrope.

I wonder if my peers and counterparts think we're all out here in separate fields. My feeling is it's one big arena, and there isn't much time for admiring or critiquing how all these other folks' fight. I'm not sayin' it's a scrum, but it's tight up in here.

Used to be, a talent was discovered and money and time went into developing said talent into a star. Now talent arrives developed, polished, poised and so invested and overextended they're willing to, say, train all over again, each week, as an audience watches. Between the singing, and the commercials, what do they show us? Their sad stories.

We sit at our looms and weave words into worlds. All we need is a magic castle.

I'm for real. I really like these crime fiction MFs.

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