Free Yourself

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It's strange blogging. I've said before it's like taking your shirt off in front of the class. It feels sort of wrong to do it. Which is probably why so many people like it.

But other people do it for traffic. I've done that before, but I don't really care about that anymore. I actually like not being anyone special. Can you believe that? What's wrong with me? The whole WORLD wants to be famous and special and they kill themselves for 15 minutes of fame. But I've had a little taste of popularity and while it's fun in a way, it comes with a lot of responsibility. And I'm not necessarily against responsibility–it's just when it's really heavy and for things you'd rather not be responsible for. Like the responsibility not to offend all the other people trying to get famous.

When I was young, it was being the pastor's kid and performing at piano recitals that brought unwanted attention. Now it's the almighty book deal people seek at writers conferences. And I don't enjoy that part. It makes me feel weird and I get worn out by it and afterwards I have to go be with normal people for a while and talk about normal things.

But there's a trick here you can learn whether you're popular or not: how to be yourself. I've written articles and stories about this–being who God made you, how to find it and how to hold on to it–and I believe it's what we all really want. And yet for some people it's so ellusive. It's what most editors are looking for when they sit down to be pitched to, and it's what we look for in our favorite actors and actresses who are basically the same people no matter what role they're in. It's the annoyingly trite answer to the unanswerable question of how to "break out." We love people who are authentically themselves, and those who talk with understanding about this truth–people like Holden Caufield, the poster boy for this sacred principle of youth, against all the phonies and the subscribers to artifice and duplicity.

But the thing is, everything is artificial. And this is what drives Holden crazy in the end of The Catcher in the Rye (Oh, there I just spoiled it for all you 8th graders. Sorry). Culture is artifice. Most relationships involve some form of artifice. A novel is the height of artifice, no matter what kind you're talking about. Which doesn't seem a positive sign for novelists. These are constructs built by human ingenuity. Industry, publishing included, is a culture of artifice. Writers are pressured to adopt certain identities and assimilate them, to be contributors to this "society." "I'm sorry," they say to all you Holdens out there, "you must assimilate." So what is the chief difference between publishing and say, a cult? I'm sure there's a good punchline to that, but actually, there's very little difference. So maybe we should take a lesson from our inner teens and not become phonies just to belong to the club. Don't fit your culture, don't impress people. Tell them to blow their book contract out their butt.

I'm being deliberately antagonistic here and I know it. But for me, not wanting to be famous, it can be difficult to see how many people do. I consider many of these people as hopelessly searching for an identity to latch on to. Why can't they be authentically themselves and just write what they want rather than what they think others want them to? What are they afraid of? Rejection? Why can't more wanna-be authors just write about crazy things happening to crazy people and if that happens to reveal some theological truths, great! But no. Even if there's one in a hundred doing that, the 99 will say he's being duplicitous and artificial trying to deceive everyone that what he does is simple, that he's actually striving very hard to come off the right way and fit just the right niche. 

Well I don't think so. I've seen people break out and it isn't because they're trying to. Sooner or later, the act slips (see Bakker, Swaggart, Haggard, et al). There's no art to real.

And I can't accept the rules to breaking out because I'm this person. And you're that person! So don't try to fit what you think someone's looking for. Just being YOU is what people are looking for. And even if they aren't looking for you currently, being you will make them beat down your door. It sucks, but it's true! Believe it or don't. Think it's too simple or naive or whatever. Maybe it's childish to place such a high premium on being yourself. But remember Jesus with the children and think about what kind of artifice a kid knows about. Nothing. And why must the kingdom have no business with anything other than innocence and genuineness?

Childlikeness is actually a spiritual value. And actually one of the bigger ones.

I'll promptly take back this claim if someone can produce an author who "broke out" who was trying to fit a mold. There could be a special author attitude that works like a magic contract-printing machine. But if it did, it wouldn't be worth the effort to figure it out.

In the end, those who are their true selves without apology continue to make us smile and scury to read their genius. And all you publishing gurus with your nine steps to fame and fortune can put that in your pipes and smoke it.

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8 thoughts on “Free Yourself”

  1. We can’t know what drives people to pursue success, and I dare say we don’t even know our own motives completely. No doubt selfish ambition taints every person’s motives from time to time, including yours and mine.
    When I really think about it, though, I don’t want to be famous, and I don’t wish fame on anyone I care about. Celebrity is bizarre and unnatural. We’re meant to live in community with each other, not to idolize some and disdain others.
    I’m also not interested in fitting a mold to “succeed.” When I signed with Books & Such, I filled out a client questionnaire that ended with a question something to the effect of, “If you knew you could reach it, what would your dream goal be?”
    I assumed they wanted something concrete and measurable, but my answer was along these lines: “I really have only one goal. When I stand before the Lord, I want to hear Him say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.'”
    Thankfully my agent didn’t call and say, “Never mind. We only represent commercially driven authors who churn out books on demand.”
    Another thing I love about her: when we discussed branding (something she very much endorses), I was a little nervous, because I wasn’t fond of the idea of defining myself by a tag line. But she said, “You don’t need a brand. You are your brand.” That was such a huge compliment and confirmation that I’d landed where I belonged. For her sake I almost wish I were a book-churning machine, because I feel so honored to have an agent who understands me and appreciates my particular gifts.
    Obviously some very good books are being written by disciplined folks who approach the page all business-like, but I think some of the most enchanting stories come through artists who soak before beauty until they can’t stand the ache any more, then they chip away the marble and find the story hiding in its heart.
    Or, to use a different metaphor, perennials planted in orderly rows are dependable and lovely, but when the uncultivated vine blossoms, suddenly the whole forest is ablaze with color and dripping with scent.
    Some of us are tidy rose bushes and some are wild wisteria vines. There’s room in the world for both. Being true to yourself means each writer needs to figure out where to sink her roots and then be content with what grows.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, Mr. Mick. Always nice chatting with you.
    Jeanne
    P.S. By the way, whether you like it or not, your fame will live on forever in the digitally captured cuteness of your children.

  2. Taking your shirt off in front of the class…. is that what this blogging is? And so I think I now needs must stop. Voyeurism unsettles.
    As does this whole internet. Is the media mind ultimately a marketing mind, selling bits of our souls in blogs, on Facebook, twittering away who we are, hoping to drum up followers? Clawing away for fame and popularity. Marketing thrives on “hive mentality” — where can we make a buzz…. But is that the mind of Jesus?
    How are Christ-followers called to be culture makers?
    Things I think about — and wonder where I’ve sinned.
    “Don’t fit your culture or try to impress people.” I’ll take that, Mr. Silva, and chew.
    A farm hick who’s never fit…
    Ann

  3. I’m scrolling through your recent posts and this one stuck out. Mick- Your writing is by far different than anyone I know because it’s you. It keeps me coming back.
    I really like Ann’s comment because I have some of the same thoughts. I have such a hard time in thinking that anyone would follow me. That would just be too weird in real life. I don’t really think I’m someone worth following. I’m definitely wrestling with all our social networking capabilities and where the line should be drawn… and yes what exactly is the mind of Jesus when it comes to 24-7 status updates to draw attention/attract comments, endless twittering, and on and on it goes.
    I think it all goes back to motives, moderation, a pure heart, and obedience.

  4. Another applicable linked quote from Jeff Overstreet, originally from Art and Fear, by David Bayles and Ted Orland:
    “The lesson here is simply that courting approval, even that of peers, puts a dangerous amount of power in the hands of the audience. Worse yet, the audience is seldom in a position to grant (or withhold) approval on the one issue that really counts — namely, whether or not you’re making progress in your work. They’re in a good position to comment on how they’re moved (or challenged or entertained) by the finished product, but have little knowledge or interest in your process. Audience comes later. The only pure communication is between you and your work.”
    http://bit.ly/ISlKw

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