Tag Archives: culture

Free Yourself

 

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.