Now here’s something funny – life can take such unexpected paths. This post had its genesis in an idea more than a month ago, when I grappled with understanding my place in the literary world. I had intended it as an examination of the “outsider artist” accepting lackluster sales. I wanted to understand why I’ll never be a best-selling author and come to some level of acceptance, even if I didn’t care for the idea. Then something funny happened; no, I didn’t suddenly become a blockbuster author, so dispel any notions of that.
My perspective changed, not my situation, and I think that’s a far more meaningful piece of progress. Allow me to explain myself, and I apologize in advance if this post gets a little heavy and depressing. I am going somewhere positive with all of this.
The original notes for this post present something of a moody affair, and while this is still kind of a moody post, the tone is very different. I’ll stop short of saying the original concept was pretentious, but I did plan to discuss things like artist prerogative and posterity. That’s not to say that those things aren’t still valid; if you don’t think an artist has the prerogative to decide what he or she will write, then prepare to FIGHT ME. The events of the past weekend changed my perspective a bit, however.
Saturday morning I felt somewhat despondent. As loathe as I am to toot my own horn, I’m well aware that I’ve been turning out some pretty good work on a consistent basis for well over a year, and while blog readership has grown, my sales have not really followed suit, and I became well aware of the issue that morning. In short, I fell into what my buddy Aniko Carmean calls “the ambition room”, which affected my mood for most of the day.
Things began to change when I stumbled upon an article about the ongoing Syrian conflict (if you need to know more, start on Google News, and prepare to be horrified). I followed the insanity of that particular war down its long, twisted rabbit hole, finding myself in a very dark, depressing place. That place had a common nature with the themes that have been expressing themselves in my writing of late: the true nature of our time on Earth, the nastiness and cruelty on display in everyday life, and looming death.
Finding myself surrounded by evidence of my most negative assumptions, it would have been quite easy to implode, as I have done on numerous occasions on the past. This time, things went down a different path, though it’s quite difficult to explain just why it happened. Perhaps it had to do with finishing Douglas Coupland’s excellent The Gum Thief, which also examines the nature of day-to-day existence in the face of impending disaster, both personal and on a global scale. I suppose combining a work like that with my own brooding and the situation in Syria would make just about anyone have an emotional breakthrough, but the icing on the cake was this image, drawn by children caught in the crossfires of war (no idea if it’s this war, but…):
That will put your life in perspective really, really fast. In moments, I realized just how lucky I am. Having the luxury of even pursuing a writing career puts me in a pretty rare bracket of humanity, and bellyaching about sales suddenly seemed like the whining of a spoiled child. I know, that’s being a bit harsh on myself as relative misery is still misery (and I never lost sight of that fact), but I badly needed perspective, and the drawing delivered that, in spades.
A lot of the velocity in my career is derived from a powerful fear of death and a near-pathological need to continue my existence past my own physical death. I suspect it’s behind a lot of other writers, as well; Shakespeare, for instance, kept a skull on his desk to remind him of his own mortality. This drive is quite useful in a certain context, and it can push you to examine paths that might otherwise go unvisited. The biggest problem is that it also fills you with dormant fear, putting you on the wrong end of the whole thing, staring down the barrel of death. Your days become numbered, every moment just one more tick toward your inevitable demise.
Saturday, my paradigm shifted. I follow the rapper, actor, and director Ice T on Twitter. Yes, THAT Ice T, and he has something to do with all of this. Sometimes the guy just talks to fans about video games, collecting guns, loving cars, and hustling for money – he is a rapper, after all. The thing is, he also has these pure moments where he shares the accumulated wisdom of his 54 years on Earth. The tweets that most capture me talk about how every day is a good day because he fully expected to be dead by the age of 25. Obviously, we didn’t all grow up with that expectation so our perspective is a bit different, but a statement like that sticks with me.
Every day may be a march to the grave, but it’s also one more day where you continue to exist. Not many people know when or where they’ll die, so of course it’s possible that this afternoon could be the last one you see. We all understand that on some level, though we may not have internalized it. Take me, for instance; I’ve been uber-aware of that fact for most of my existence, even allowing the idea to terrorize me, but it existed in the abstract. It would happen one day, and I dreaded its arrival, making it much larger than its reality. That kind of thinking becomes a trap: how can anything feel safe if lives are so ephemeral?
What I saw this weekend, those poor kids who have to live with death as a constant companion, the aging process as a reminder of your mortality…it showed me that not feeling the fingers of death creeping over our lives is the greater part of existence. It’s as simple as acknowledging that I woke up this morning, which means I didn’t die in the night, which gives me another another day to pursue my passions, be with my loved ones, and enjoy the world around me.
That idea, more than anything, is what will keep me going down this path and writing what I need to write, no matter what KDP or my Amazon ranking tells me.