*Pardon me for the late and scattered post. I’m feeling very zombie-like and the Daylight Savings Time and snowy weather isn’t helping. I think I make sense in the post, but if I don’t, feel free to throw things. And meanwhile, you should also read Amanda Green’s post at MGC today.*
A couple of days ago my husband and I happened upon an eighties music program – shut up, wretches. It’s great to go “remember when” – and eye of the tiger came on.
Suddenly the phrase “You trade your passion for glory” up and hit me in the eye. It must have hit Dan at the same time – hey, we’ve been married for almost thirty years! – because he said “doesn’t that assume that everyone has passion and that what everyone wants is glory?”
Frankly, even though I’m in one of those professions where both passion and glory are supposed to be, you know, something special, I was never particularly enamored of “glory” at least insofar as it means fame.
Oh, don’t mistake me. I’m not stupid. I know what the alternative of fame is for a writer: I worked long enough in obscurity. I like obscurity. It’s nice and quiet, and I get to hide away and write all day. On the other hand, the huge drawback is that no one knows I exist, and when they don’t know I exist, they don’t know my writing exists.
So, a certain amount of going out in public and talking, and making myself known to people follows – this blog is part of that.
On the other hand, if I were a young woman – say twenty years younger – and starting out now, I’d probably create a persona who could become famous, while I hid quietly in a corner. Or maybe not. What I’ve found about such personas, when I had a blog-commenting nom de plume who had her own history, birthday, etc, is that for a writer this is sort of like induced schizophrenia. But I might at the very least have created another name, so as to give me – and the kids! – plausible deniability. Perhaps Sarah Haute .
(This morning, as I was struggling with writing this blog, because I’m fighting low-level crud, I considered writing a page from the diary of my alter ego – Natalia Haute (Bosting is just a cover up, of course) – from Kate’s con books. Something about her meeting her husband. I’ve considered doing that, writing an episodic adventure thing, to tie in with the character she created. Have yet to ask Kate, of course.)
Of course if I were a young woman just starting my career, I’d do a lot of things differently – but that’s a whole new blog post and maybe I ought to do it sometime, but not now.
Right now, I want to examine the whole concept of passion and the value of passion.
I was hanging around a blog the other day and people were talking about how selling out is bad, and how you should follow your passion.
I’m seeing a lot of this lately, and I think it is because for the younger generation “follow your dream” has been a shibboleth instilled since… birth? And also because right now, all their dreams of employment are turning to nightmare.
If you’re going to be unemployed and living in your parents’ basement, then why shouldn’t you go ahead and “follow your dream” of writing games or making music?
No reason. In fact, in my building under posts, I’ve advised cultivating more than one skill and getting proficient enough at your hobbies that they could carry you if needed. And it would come very prettily from me to tell you “get a real job. Give up on this art cr*p” considering I’ve been stunningly unsuccessful at any traditional career (well, I tend to leave after a year) unless you consider housewifing and mothering a career.
HOWEVER … However… there are dangers in “following your passion.”
First, let me tell you that the economic “feel” right now resembles my coming of age years. My brother’s generation (about ten years older than I) in Portugal entered the job market in the middle of massive unemployment. (Well, here too, now I think about, as the seventies skidded into the gutter. Just not as bad.)
One of my brother’s friends while waiting to enter medschool (long story and it would take too much space to explain WHY he had to wait and how it related to the economy) for three years, developed a side line of drawing caricatures and cartoons. He sold paperweights with his creations, and drew caricatures for money.
Now, I still have the paperweight he gave me (he was, like all my brother’s friends, one of my ersatz brothers – or as THEY put it, they nationalized me as “The people’s little sister.”) It’s beautiful work, very nicely done. And he was making, you know, not amazing money, but (while living with mom and dad) coffee and cigarette money and maybe gas money from his drawing.
Was that his passion? I don’t know. Young men don’t talk about that stuff with little girls. BUT suppose it had been. A passion and he was good at it. Suppose even that he was here, not in Portugal. In Portugal he could EVENTUALLY have made a grown up living out of it, but it would take decades. Here, he probably could have got famous/wealthy much more quickly. BUT…
But he went for the “safe” option and the traditional job, and entered medschool. He’s now a fetal cardiologist. He performs heart surgery on unborn babies – who would never live without his skill.
Is it his passion? It has to be to some extent, or he wouldn’t be as good as he is at it. On the other hand, he was very good at drawing too. Should he have stuck to the drawing, so as not to “sell out”? He’s not only a grown-up human being supporting himself and a family, but he’s also doing something with his life that very much needs done.
What I’m trying to say is this: too often “follow your passion” is an excuse to remain infantile. An excuse to do things only so long as they’re pleasurable. An excuse, in fact, not to do the hard work it takes to turn that passion into… no, not glory, that’s an adolescent fantasy – into a living or into something that is useful to anyone else. (And I’m not going into “paying back” to society, a concept I find highly flawed, but if what you’re doing is useful, it’s usually something people would/will pay for, once you have enough credentials.)
Look, I’ve been there, I was there, sometimes I’m still there. I was there, in the sense that when I started writing no one, not even my husband who thinks I walk on water and can make the sun come up in the morning, would have paid for my stories. I had passion. I was full of passion. What I didn’t have has understanding of what other people wanted to read.
The field as it was, then, forced me to learn the rules to break in and to write so someone would publish it. It’s not very different now, you know? The field as is now, even if you indie publish, will force you to follow the rules to write what people will pay to read.
Is that trading in your passion? To the extent you have to accept external influence, it is. If you’re convinced the most important thing in the world is passion, you will never change “how I see it” so it sells. I know at least one beginning writer like this. His guide of what is good is “how I feel.” That’s nice, but—
But if you do that, you’re not working. You’re … spewing half formed stuff upon the world. Yes, there have been cases of people “discovered” after their death (or a little before) and their stuff being declared “good all along” but if you read those people’s story, most of them had some discipline and were trying to follow some external rules even if not the rules of their time. The ones who didn’t are more likely to be a fad that vanishes. Also, for each one of those “discovered” hundreds if not thousands are sunk in deserved obscurity.
What I’m trying to say is that while I find arts, crafts, and various other pursuits worthwhile, admirable, and possibly capable of supporting you if you’re good enough:
a) No one will pay for your beginner efforts. You still need the discipline and the drive and to aim at something as you grow in your art/craft. Pick what you consider success and allow its rules to shape your work. “Is selling” is one of the ways of defining success and aiming to make money serves b)
b) You are not entitled to live off anyone/everyone else as you pursue your bliss/glory/mastery. It is a romantic illusion that art can only be pursued while you sponge off other people to do it. This is what pure art is, and therefore better. This is largely bullpocky. While the romantics did this, it is doubtful (as is for people like Phillip K. Dick) whether all their drug taking and absinthe drinking and Bohemian ways made their art better. It made their life and their brains worse, so their art would probably have been better if they’d taken better care of themselves. (We can shelve discussions of artists self-destroying. Yes, there are reasons for the Bohemian ways and the drinking/substance abuse. BUT it’s doubtful it produces better art.) The artists of the Renaissance were at least as good and probably more revolutionary while living as craftsmen, in guilds and all.
To the extent my husband supported my pursuits for years, I violated b, but it’s more complex than that – I was, in those years, furnishing a home and bringing up a young family. What I COULD have done while pursuing those other than writing was to pursue some craft, which might or might not have paid enough to justify it. Our bet was that overtime writing would pay enough more than those crafts to justify the fallow years. (And maybe it will.)
But more importantly, all the time I was pursuing the art with the intent to make a living. This forced me to try to produce something of value to other people, and not just “fun for me.” TRUST me – and if I inflicted early eructation on you, you’d so agree – this was for the best.
There is a tendency in our culture – because we are that wealthy – to devalue honest work, in favor of “art” or artistic pursuit, to the extent every young person thinks he/she has artistic talent of some sort.
The vast majority of them don’t – or don’t have the sort of strange mind it takes to succeed in an art – BUT most people can develop an ability to make or do something that will earn them a living.
So, if you’re unemployed and living in your parents’ basement, you might be the next Van Gogh, but do consider – on the say there – painting dragons or something else you can sell at SF cons, or learning to build/make something else you can sell or get a job doing… even if eventually. Your “true art” can be pursued around that, and the discipline will do you good.
And if you can get a job doing something else during the day, again, the discipline will help. As will (if you’re a writer) the life experience.
And if you’re in school and not sure what to get, make sure you take courses that might lead to employment. No artist ever learned painting or writing in school – not and gone on to make a living. So, if you want to do something artistic for a living, learn to do something “mundane” too – in the same vein or not. It will support you one the way there, and it might give you insight into what people like.
Yes, pursue your passion, if you have one and if it’s so strong that not pursuing it is torture. But pay your way as you go. (And if you can’t get a job of any sort, then do something unpaid, but that other people need. Housewiving is this – but so is volunteering in hospitals and other places like that.)
It will both make you a better artist and be easier on those around you. It will in the end make you more human. Art – or humanity – isn’t found inside yourself. To the extent it’s communication, it works by having others perceive it. To communicate, you must understand other people.
In other words, working for a living isn’t selling out. It’s another step on the way to art.