MY CAREER GOAL IS to be a good short story writer; currently I am not a good short story writer. I’ve written one, maybe two, stories that aren’t absolutely horrible—but that’s the most I can say for myself.
I remember reading the story that made me want to write stories (one day maybe I will do a post on that story). It’s hard now to describe that feeling. I was reading in bed one night and, half asleep, I had this strong sense that if I tried hard enough I could learn how to make people feel the way I felt while reading that story. If I could do that, I thought, maybe I could do ‘creative’ work for a living.
These rare moments—the more I think about them—are less like inspiration and more like a complete lack of self-awareness (but who knows, maybe they are less different than I’m claiming?). It reminds me of what John Updike said in an interview one time, and I’m paraphrasing here: that to be a successful writer, commercially speaking, you basically have to be a self-deluded ego-maniac. And that makes sense. To posit, even for a second, that anything you have to say should be written on a piece of paper and then be paid for by someone who could just as well be watching Game of Thrones in HD is ludicrous. And yet, despite people reading less and less, and book sales continually tanking, the number of books being published each year is increasing sharply—which is not surprising since the only barriers to entry now for publishing are having 1) a computer with a word processor, and 2) a connection to the internet.
I mention all this not to discourage anyone from writing but to point out that the writer—and by extension the practitioner of any creative endeavor effected by the democratization of content—is an even crazier person nowadays than they used to be.
REWIND TO THAT NIGHT I’m sitting in bed reading that short story.
I didn’t realize at the time that I was reading a work of genius because, in a way, with genius, that’s the whole point. The good stuff, any real unassuming work of art, says something without having to make reference to itself, which makes it look easy. This is the trick that hooks young artists into chasing that impossible feeling. Experiencing it is one thing. Maybe, you think, you will get off easy and have deeply undiscovered super-talent which will take form immediately. You will wake up one day and be Mozart or George Eliot. That sometimes happens maybe once in a generation. But actually doing it is another thing. You try and you realize that making that feeling in a piece of work is harder than you ever thought it would be. You struggle for days, weeks, months, years. It’s so hard, you ask, is it worth it?
THIS BLOG HAS SOMETHING to do with that problem. I have figured out, by writing stories, that one of the biggest challenges, which would intuitively seem like the easiest part, is identifying what is good and figuring out what your genuine contribution—in style, voice, technique, etc.—really is to your art form. It is easy to express what we don’t like about something. But to clearly articulate what makes something good and worth replicating—that’s much more difficult.
The natural inclination is to mimic who we like. We listen to our favorite music, read our favorite books, or whatever it is, and practice copying that until we get it. This is probably an unavoidable step in getting where we need to go, but copying someone else can never be a substitute for finding what genuine expression we have in ourselves. That is the really hard part because our ‘selves’ are often the most difficult places to look, for anything.
MY GOAL HERE AND NOW, in the pages of this blog, is to try and clearly articulate who my favorite artists are—regardless of their medium—and how they do what they do.
I am hoping this will 1) allow me to be honest with myself in showing what I really like regardless of what I think I should like, and 2) provide a place where you, the reader, can also take part: discovering new artists, or re-discovering works you hadn’t considered, or spurring you to think in the same way about the art that has most deeply touched you.
IN THE SHORT AMOUNT OF time I’ve been doing this I’ve found this type of ‘review,’ for lack of a better word, has been effective in forcing a true consideration of what goodness is in art, and allows for a truer picture of quality. Putting anything into words is a way of testing it. If you think deeply about works of art you love, and force yourself to think of why, many times words will simply start pouring out.
I want to share this process with a community because nowadays, with nonexistent barriers to entry, we need groups organized around good content: to share, explore, and recommend. How else are we to filter our ways through the infinite sea of information? One person can’t do it alone. A good recommendation or quick explanation from a learned peer can save a lot of time. In the words of my favorite online book reviewer, who only does positive reviews, Clifford Lee Sargent, “Originally I was going to review books that I loved and books that I hated, but then I realized something. That is: I’m going to die, and you are too, and there are a lot of fucking books out there.”
PERHAPS ONE DAY I will be sitting at my desk and realize that I have really written something worth reading; something to put next to, and maybe even above, my favorite works. I can’t imagine what that would feel like.
But until then, if that day ever comes, the next best thing I can think to do is search, on this blog and elsewhere, for the next step forward.
As I share the works that have most affected me, please (I want the comment section to be littered with hidden gems) share with the community the works that have affected you.
If we save each other time and expose one another to things we would otherwise have never come across—
Some of us will get lucky.
Is there a piece of art–movie, book, music, etc.–that you would recommend to someone else? Leave a link in the comments section