Sep 25, 2012

S**t-Giving For fun and Profit

Show of hands, how many of you are exhaustingly familiar with that old chestnut about the teacher who asks their troublemaker student the difference between Ignorance and Apathy, to which he responds, "I don't know and I don't care."

I still like that joke, with an affection generally reserved for someone else's mad relatives. I enjoy it like you enjoy a new dish, an unexpected sunset, making comfortable eye contact with a complete stranger. I really shouldn't like that joke so much as I do, but I do and what are you gonna do about it?

I suppose the bit that appeals to me is the simple elegance of it, superimposed with the subtextual warning against confusing those two mental/emotional/sociological states of being. If we are ignorant, let us be made aware; if we are apathetic, let us give a damn. Now that's a prayer I could get behind. But, in all seriousness, how?

Ignorance is one thing - the sum of "all that which we do not know that we do not know" is a broad and pervasive challenge to our intellectual progress, countered often by the simple admission that it exists at all. I've definitely been burned many a time by feeling too comfortable in my own intelligence, only to be hoisted by the petard of knowledge I might have otherwise owned had I simply sought it out. I was told as a youngster that it is better to be thought a fool in silence than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. And when I say I was told that, it is accurate. To have been taught that, however...well, clearly I'm not referring to myself. I'm fairly sure I've "removed all doubt" often enough to make that point fairly clear.

But Apathy is a more ferocious beastie. How do we care? How do we keep caring? How do we manage to continue giving the proverbial damn in light of a lot of people whose every act seems (note: SEEMS) intended to crush will and hope and aspiration? Apathy just as a passive response to things which exist well outside our own experience or social structure - for example, do I deeply care about the planetary classification of Pluto? Well, not really, no. I'm curious about it, but I'm not losing sleep over it.

Okay, so now I've jumped deeply into the middle of a conversation without referencing the inspiration for it. Allow me, please, to correct that.

Being a writer - or musician, or actor, or...well, honestly, being ANYTHING - tends to put you out there into one spotlight or another. Some occupations, clearly, are more obscured than others, but generally taking a step up any ladder that rises ahead of you sets you up to be viewed, reviewed and critiqued by the others standing around the same ladder. This becomes an opportunity to confront the aspect of personal, creative apathy that confounds so many artists. Or to put it another way, ask any "aspiring" artist why they've not yet put their work out for public consumption.

Back in the period of my life where I was focused on music, I wrestled with putting my music out there. Oh, I wanted it out there, yes. I performed live, I recorded demos and final projects, and, in the end, sweated over it every time someone heard my music. I frequently equate it to the idea of showing up naked to your first date. "Well, whattaya think?"

That intense level of stress I felt is partly why it was so easy to drop music as a perceived choice for a career. Basically, no job should be so anxiety-inducing that you're an absolute wreck. If you're taking anti-psychotics as a means of divesting yourself from worrying too intensely about whether or not you're doing a good enough job, take a step back, for your own good.

As an author, I haven't felt the same level of stress. It's remarkably different, in fact. Happy to have people read my books, and I'm generally unapologetic about them investing the time into reading them. Not that I think it's going to solve world peace or world hunger or cure cancer or anything - they're stories, plain and simple. Did I love writing them? Yes. Do I love the characters and places? Yes. Do I assume it's everybody's cup of tea? Well, I don't make that assumption of any book, though I do think mine are pretty generally accessible. This isn't ignorance - - I think the more dangerous assumption would be that everyone would love it.

Important rule about creating your work: if you try to make something that everyone will love, more likely as not NOBODY will love it.

I've done writing that wasn't borne out of an impassioned drive to craft a tale - technical writing, informal proofs, FAQs and the like - but I personally believe that it's important to care about whatever it is you're writing - it's critical that you give a shit. You have to care, you have to want to do it, and you have to allow that Want to impel you forward. Otherwise... well, it's just blah. It's just devoid of humanity, it's lights and tinkling brass, form but devoid of soul. Like, really bad fast food or something.

Essentially, you kind of have to give a shit. And you should probably WANT to give a shit, if you're considering doing something artistic for a living. Because it's not easy. You have to want it. You have to fight for it - fight against your self-doubt, your uncertainty, and so forth. There will be times where the only reason you do it is because of your will to do it. No one is going to hold your hand, you won't get pep rallies, and if you've already got a fan club, well, then you're pretty much ahead of the curve.

See, most artistic endeavors are found on the roads less traveled; some of them aren't even roads at all. There's no really clear and defined path for becoming successful. There's no guarantee you're going to be successful, there's a chance that it may just not be an artistic expression that has enough of a broad appeal to generate the kind of revenue you may have in mind. To this extent, you have to not give a shit.

So, I guess that means you can give one shit, but not two?

Okay, now I'm just being ridiculous.