Wednesday, January 11, 2006
The Signs Said "STOP!" But We Went On Whole-Hearted; It Ended Bad, But I Loved What We Started
There's more to being a Failed Writer than just trying to get published and maintaining a sparkling, unblemished zero on the "Success!" side of the ledger, important though that may be. Just as important to making a Failed Writer is the prerequisite death of the dream, little by little, as the Failed Writer finally gets it through his/her thick, sick head that professional fulfillment and the realization of one's dreams are things that happen to other people; deserving, hard-working people who get everything they ever wanted with little or no effort like Britney Spears or Nicole Ritchie.

I know neither Britney nor Nicole are writers (that sort of intellectual heavy-lifting is left to those who are up to the heady task, like Paris Hilton) but both have money and celebrity and tabloid interest (oh fickle tabloid interest, how sharply do I feel the sting of your indifference... unless my wife gives birth to a bat-faced boy, no one will ever read about me while waiting to buy groceries), realizing their ambitions even if--as in Nicole's case--they don't actually seem to have any ambitions.

I guess the commonality there is in their parentage. Not genetics per se but rather in the single-minded childhood-stealing spittle-beflecked ravaging drive by Britney's mother to whore her daughter out to talent shows, Justin Timberlake and The Mickey Mouse Club so that one day she could grow up and give half her fortune to Ebonics-speaking white-boy blunt-smoking backup dancer man-slut. Every mother's dream.

Or in Nicole's case, just being passed successfully through the birth canal entitled her to big fat piles of "Dancin' On The Ceiling" money. And a TV show.

Dwelling on the prominence of the vacuous and the talent-free might seem like a cheap ploy to fill space, but that's only because it is. It is also fortuitous that the examples cited underline the point that people aren't successful because they are nice or deserving or happy with their natural hair color, as I am. It isn't about hard work or talent or anything like that. It's about timing. Five years earlier or five years later and Britney doesn't amount to anything. She's back in the Louisiana trailer park, fat, uneducated, on her fourth or fifth kid, living with a shrieking harridan mother who takes every chance she can to remind her about all the singing and speech lessons and how very disappointing it all is.

But then people like that always land on their feet. They probably would have been displaced by Katrina and gotten a big, fat bite of that sweet FEMA rebuilding money. Those people have it made.

And then there are people like me, people whose lives are lived beyond reproach of any kind, blessed with endless patience, an uncompromised and uncompromising sense of moral fortitude, poise and dignity just this side of living sainthood, astonishing good looks, a combination of God-given gifts on the scale of some kind of cross between Hercules and George Clooney all wrapped up in a quiet, self-effacing package of humility.

And still no private jet.

Again, it's a question of timing for me.

The first grown-up book I ever read, with chapters and small print and page numbers in the multiple hundreds was Lord of the Rings. Combine that with my third grade teacher telling me I had some sort of capacity to write (my spare, elegiac "What I Did Over Summer Vacation" was something of a sensation that year) and I decided right then and there that what I would do was write Tolkien-esque fantasy fiction.

Man, that stuff is hard. You have to make up names not just for the people, but for the places and the mountains and the rivers and the horses and the swords--the goddamn swords--while piecing together this wholly invented history of fantastical peoples and events all while taking it seriously enough so it doesn't come off sounding like a Dungeon-Master script for a particularly listless round of D&D. It's hard to realize a dream you hate.

But then: the first time you make one of your friends spit milk out of their nose without having to first punch them in the stomach is a special time in any boy's life. So I figured if I were funny enough to induce the unwilling nasal expression of beverages, I could maybe do what I wanted to do, but make it sort of sardonic and weird. That way I could also fold fantasy in with some modern ideas, which opens everything up to satire. So you work and you slave and you slave and you work until you're getting close to something when someone tells you "Ha, this sounds a lot like Terry Pratchett."

So you investigate, but you're afraid to read it because it might be exactly what you're trying to do, only better than you could possibly do it, but eventually you break down and read it and you think to yourself: motherfucker. Damned if I wasn't right. And the bastard writes a new book every six months, the prick.

You see now that timing was bad as I came after someone well established as a Genre of One. In my Britney example, this would make me Jessica Simpson in that we've already had Britney and Xtina so by the time the last one comes out people are going "Jesus, another one?" Only unlike our Jess, I don't have the option of boning Nick Lachey, although I'm sure if I did I could get a VH1 show out of it. Or at least a one-time special.

So then you sort of fall apart as fragile arty writer-types will. Any excuse to mix Kahlua and cookie-dough. And then this blog thing comes along and you spend 18 months or so to develop a voice and some confidence and--holy shit!--an audience.

And then, just this fortnight, flush with Barnes & Noble giftcards and all burned out on fancy-pants philosophy and history and literature designed to impress the girl at the checkout counter and then endlessly bore me (evidence most recently by a long and laborious relationship with The Divine Comedy), I sort of haphazardly picked up my first-ever David Sedaris book, Naked.

Oh dear.

It is a very disconcerting and troubling metaphysical and existential experience to find out that the point to which you had been building without even knowing it had already been reached (and, wouldn't you know it, exceeded) by someone else who was not you and of whom everyone else had already heard.

Again: motherfucker.

I guess I should enjoy reading and sigh wistfully as my last dream dies, the one I didn't even get a chance to knowingly have yet.

Failed Writerdom is a tricky, tricky state of being, but, it turns out, one to which I am well suited. The only answer seems to be the Britney model, which would mean precocious teen pushed into Writerdom by overly enthusiastic showbiz-mom types (is typing that much harder than jazz dance?) or completely disengaged parents who practice the kind of neglect that allows kids to have big, stupid dreams without being checked by regular, healthy doses of parentally-administered reality.

But the only example of that I can think of is this punk kid Christopher Paolini. But his latest book was named by Entertainment Weekly as Worst Book Of The Year. So I take a little bit of Schadefreude joy from that, but then I think: in order to be named Worst Book Of The Year, you have to first have a book.

Again: motherfucker.

This post on the Narcissus Scale: 10.0



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