Sunday, May 28, 2017

Fame

Though it may be somewhat self-indulgent, there's an experience that I have been having lately that I feel compelled to talk about - a writer's experience.  It is this:  I have noted a certain souring of interest or positivity when I have expressed to friends, acquaintences or co-workers, even some members of my extended family, whenever I mention that I have recently made money as a writer.  This isn't exactly distaste, though it is nearer to that than disinterest, which used to be the reaction I received for many years when confirming to people that I wanted to be a writer, long before actually earning money at it.

Moreover, this is not a feeling I got when I was writing for trade magazines or writing journalism articles, when I worked for companies that paid me regular wages for basically uninspired work.  No.  This is a response that is directly linked to work that I am doing for myself, specifically in connection to the money I earn through Patreon or book sales or direct donations.

It is not a pleasant response.  I have received it now from enough people that I can't help noticing it.  There is a clear message being sent: "shut up about it already."


Now, obviously most people don't want to hear about the jobs that other people do.  This, however, does not keep people from going on and on about their jobs - an experience that we, as a group, all accept as normal and deserving of a certain amount of mutual respect because we know that at some point in the future we're going to want to go on and on about our jobs, too.  The thing about that is, however, that most of this going on about our jobs is all bad going on: our boss is a prick, the hours are crap, we don't get any respect, we had to work overtime every day last week, the asshole who works there is an asshole and so on.  People do not tend to go on and on about how great their job was last week or how much they look forward to going in again on Monday while talking to us over beers Saturday night.

Fact is, I don't have anything bad to say about this particular job.  And I do consider it a job, as some days it makes me more money than my actual job does (granted, I have a pretty cruddy day job right now).  I earned ~ and yes, that's how I view Patreon and other donations ~ as much as $400 last month and it was flat out wonderful.  It is this, I think, that tends to produce the sour response.

I would feel more sympathetic if it were not for all the years of being treated as a moron and deluded nut job because I would tell people openly that I wanted to be a writer one day.  Even now, when I explain that I actually earn money from book sales, from books that I have written and published myself, I get fewer questions than spoken assumptions that I am participating in a hobby that isn't actually a) serious; or b) worth respecting.  And having faced this sort of myopic, idiotic criticism in a world full of libraries, bookstores and bookshelves in many, many homes that are full of hundreds of millions of books, I feel a certain spiteful urge to rub my moderate earnings each month into every face that screws up a bit whenever I mention that yes, I don't feel the necessity to pick up an extra shift tomorrow because, in fact, I earned money writing.

As I write this, it is late at night on the 27th of May.  Tomorrow, the 28th, will be the nine-year anniversary for this blog.  That is 2,340 posts, not including this one, with 15,004 comments from readers and 1,779,308 page views.  I have good reason to celebrate.  Since the time I've started this blog, I have written four books, I've added a wiki, I've run an on-line campaign off and on for six years, I have attended Conventions and Expos as a vendor and done extraordinarily well, I have pissed off an enormous number of people and yet I am still here, still writing, still being read and still coming up with ideas that are so startling and different that I turn heads on a monthly basis.

I have done as much of it as I can without hiding myself from anyone ~ and on occasion I've been beat up for it on levels that most of my readers can't imagine.  Out there somewhere there is still a very unpleasant, abusive image of me with breasts (must I link it?) that is never going away.  If ever I actually achieve success and fame, that fucking thing is still going to be there and it is going to get shown.  So I might as well embrace it, because that is a part of my experience now.  I remember it caused some very sad days, particularly for my partner Tamara, who was heartbroken to see something she loves treated that way.  I had more to do helping her deal with it than helping myself deal with it.

This is what happens.  Any sort of success breeds a particular kind of resentment; which I see expressed again and again by those who have achieved success, in the nicest, kindest, most gentle of expressions possible.  No one, not even those with a little bit of success like mine, want to think for a moment that there are others who might be jealous or frustrated about their own efforts or otherwise just unhappy to see someone get money for something they don't view as being actual work.  We would ignore it, except that we keep getting slapped in the face with it.

And of course, we feel guilty and a little dirty because we wanted to be famous.  I certainly did.  I imagined that long before I was 25, I would be a celebrated author like Hemingway or Herman Hesse, or maybe Kurt Vonnegut, standing in front of groups of people and talking about the themes of my book and how I hoped to send a message that it would be great if we would just all treat each other like people who have feelings and not like dirt and inconveniences.  I liked the idea that people would think well of me and speak well of me to other people that I didn't know, who would then come up and want to meet me.

Who doesn't want that?  Even if art and celebrity isn't your thing, everyone would like to be told by some stranger, "I was asking for a good mechanic and a guy name Charlie Schwartz said that I couldn't go wrong with you."  That is an enormous boost to our self-esteem.  If any of us are lucky enough to have that happen more than a few times in our lifetime, however, it is bound to cause others to feel that we're getting a "swelled head" because we want to talk about how great that feels.  Because it does feel great.  It is the kind of thing that will turn an ordinary person suffering in a crummy, unpleasant job into someone who will actively decide they're going to spend the rest of their lives doing that unpleasant job amazingly well.  We ought to celebrate that.  It is simply a very sad thing that there are many people in the world who have never experienced it.

And it is sad that there's an industry that has turned that experience into an industrialized process, so that we feel pressured by the people that we're supposed to like, even when we don't know who they are.  I'm sure that a lot of people, hearing about the late bombing in Manchester, had no idea who Ariana Grande was or why the news felt the need to tell us, amidst reports about people dying, that this rich pop singer was okay.

That was perfectly understandable, however.  When we do find out who these famous people are, and watch them and like what they're doing and give them a little space in our minds, we will recognize their faces and begin to see them as someone they know.  An enormous number of people listening to the news do know who Ariana Grande is and what she is all about to them. They probably don't know a single other person at that concert, but they do know her and it is only natural that they should worry about the one person they DO know.  That's why she gets a special place in the news.  Not because she's better than the other people who were frightened or injured or who died, but because her name is one that's recognizeable.  If your cousin Edyth was at the concert, and you knew it, the first person you'd want to know about regarding her health would be her.  That's how it works.

The issue isn't whether or not Ariana Grande deserves to make money for what she does; obviously, someone thinks so, even if it doesn't happen to be you.  As far as my own, much smaller income goes, those people who have been kind enough to encourage my well-being and welfare monetarily obviously feel that I deserve to have the money also.  It doesn't matter what it is for except those people.

The awful creatures in the world who think that there should be some measure about who "deserves" fame and who doesn't are in the dark where it comes to humanity.  For all the cruelty they try to inflict (and I'm sure Ariana has experienced millions of times more cruelty than I have at the hands of would-be judges), it is they who are the problem, not the rich and famous.

It shouldn't matter to me that I get a pursed face and a dismissal whenever I express my happiness at my circumstance.  It does, however.  I've been doing this for a long time and the long nights of despair, year after year, accumulates.

Yesterday, I put this image together for my comic:


The art is all me.  None of it was copied or traced or otherwise cobbled together from other things. I conceived of the characters looking up and somehow, some way, I managed to make it look real. For someone who, nine years ago, had the artistic talent of a three-year-old drawing for a refridgerator, I fairly exploded with happiness yesterday about this.  I am enormously proud of myself.

But the response I got from others in the real world was strange.  They approved of it; they told me it was good.  But then I got this weird lecture about not "trying so hard" to get attention or to blow my own horn.  As if I did not have a reason to.  At least I did not get that from my partner.

Fundamentally, I wasn't "cool" about it.  I was thrilled, a little too thrilled.  I should have presented the work and acted all, "Hey, no big deal," but I couldn't be bothered.  I wanted to do the Snoopy dance.

I feel like that a lot.  Just now, the writing, the blog, the feel I get from being a part of this, is the best part of me.  So I want to talk about it.

Now, it is the end of the month.  And I will ask the gentle reader, what has this nine years of experience been worth?  Can I encourage you to donate $1, $5, $10 or more to my art and my efforts?  This is the best of times to do so on Patreon, for there are only a few days before the end of the month.  I'd like to turn this "hobby" in a living wage and readers are the only way I can do that.

What do you say?


17 comments:

Tim said...

Dance away, Alexis. Congrats on all your progress, and thank you for not listening to your detractors. I hope you get plenty more recommendations!

Alexis Smolensk said...

Thank you for speaking up, Tim. As usual with my intensely personal blog posts, this one has fallen with something of a thud. I waxed and waned for several days before deciding I'd have to write it out, whatever the consequence; by then, the anniversary had come and I just incorporated the event.

I have become less and less concerned about the detractors; I meet them so rarely now and they're easily dispatched. No, more and more I worry that I can't find a way to make myself popular. Perhaps it's impossible. I view insincerity with such intense distaste that I am restricted to highlighting my positive characteristics, of which there are few.

Yet your comment is greatly appreciated. You may count on my continuing to dance.

Tim said...

If I may describe an anecdotal experience of mine, I had a university professor speak to me the other day about being seen as "tough", and how she had students comment on or complain about lower marks in her class compared to their others. Her retort was that she always felt the classes where the professor was the harshest, or the most demanding, were the ones where she was pushed to excel.

That is what your blog is to me: it doesn't sugar coat or promise a primrose path of dalliance. It's always seemed totally equivalent to me to the professor who starts the term with a big paper or a flurry of assignments and doesn't slow down. It's punishing but very rewarding for those with the follow through.

From what I can tell in my limited experience, you are virtually alone in approaching D&D this way (with the exception of course of some of the blog's readers/fellow bloggers and occasional idea contributors). Even within writing, you're targeting readers in a group where many vocal people refuse to adopt your ideas. It's true that not everyone will succeed in a harsh university course, just as not everyone will be able to implement the lessons of your courses and essays. It would perhaps be easier with a university class – new students each year to get exposed to the ideas – although modern university professors of course still deal with complications of controversy and financial precariousness. But a real, organized community like a school would be a great boon for many creators, and I would hope also an encouragement to explore and invent, over the present situation of war stories and a million anecdotal opinions.

So as long as you keep the lectures up, I'll do my readings and keep coming to class, and try prompting some discussion down here from time to time.

Ozymandias said...

Out of curiosity, do you find your page hits dip when you post something personal? If they don't, I suspect it's because your readership just doesn't know how to respond. Were we meeting in person, able to talk face-to-face, it would be different. But a blog is... well, it's writing, but somehow different from other forms of writing. Sort of like a letter except written to an open audience. Certainly not the same as a book or article, unless the author takes the time to treat it as such.

But I digress. Hang in there. Your work is well appreciated, at least by those who matter.

Alexis Smolensk said...

My page views have much more to do with what day and time it is than with whatever I write. When I start a good series, over a long time the page views will climb and remain high, for as much as two or three weeks; but then they'll fall by half no matter what I write. Unfortunately, blogger's metrics are very poor.

kimbo said...

Resentment is a really odd motivational fuel, but thoroughly reliable and renewable, the building block of whole political movements... perhaps its something like -
the only thing worse than undeserved success is well-deserved success.

As if it is a zero sum game.

Btw Alexis, i like your personal posts, painful honesty is a rarity. usually i have nothing i can say about them, unless i have had a similar experience.
K

Alexis Smolensk said...

I don't feel resentment. I made this bed, in a hundred different ways. Just look at the early days of this blog. What I feel now is puzzlement. How do I unmask this bed?

That is what has me stumped.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Unmake.

Ozymandias said...

Don't. Any attempt to do so would risk the appearance of back-tracking on the positions you took in the past. Unless you have changed your mind on those positions - which would be in keeping with your overall paradigm - you shouldn't acquiesce.

Maybe more podcasts? Or videos. Something that puts a human element back into the conversation. Heck, add it to your Patreon account. I'd pay a little extra for that sort of thing.

kimbo said...

Not sure if i misunderstood your reply, but i meant other people's resentment of you...

JB said...

If I failed to respond, it's just that I've had a tremendously busy last few days, and am only now reading this.

I actually spent Sunday afternoon eating BBQ and talking about D&D, gaming, and book writing with a semi-complete stranger. And he was very interested and impressed in even my (meager) efforts. I only later found out he's a semi-famous restauranteur, owner of 18 businesses and fairly wealthy to boot. He didn't turn up his nose...at me or the conversation; quite the opposite. I wish you'd receive similar response.

I know some of the insane and mean things that have written about you on the internet (I believe I've seen the "illustration" of which you speak). I'm glad you've continued to persevere or...rather...continued to pursue your craft, even in the face of adversity. Yours is a welcome voice to the conversation.

Keep it up, Alexis. Hopefully more dollars (Canadian and otherwise) continue to roll your way!
: )

Alexis Smolensk said...

No worries there, Ozymandias. The "puzzle" is to find a route that doesn't include compromising my belief-system.

Obviously, I could suddenly decide I'm Mr. Happy-Fun-GM, sucking up to 5th edition, WOTC and the constant use of modules and splat-books . . . but uh, no.

On the other hand, I'm looking at the kind of promotion that others are doing and I am wondering what level of muck-raking I'm prepared to explore.

Would a coffee cup be cheesy and compromising?

Alexis Smolensk said...

Funny, kimbo; I never went there. When artists bitch about a lack of achievement, the resentment card - and quite rightly - is logically served.

Every artist, whatever they say, goes through a period of resentment. It is hard to watch others succeed, even when they deserve to succeed, without getting out the measuring rod and finding one coming up short. So I just turned that word on myself automatically.

But I feel I've risen above that. Mostly.

Not really concerned about resentment against me, except how to turn it around.

Alexis Smolensk said...

From your writings to the ears of the Great Balancing Rational Mind, JB.

Ozymandias said...

...if it had a particularly witty comic on it, no, it would not. Indeed, I know a few persons who could easily receive such a gift from for Christmas...

Tim said...

Merchandising doesn't feel like selling out to me: it's a way to produce physical content to go with the media content. Any big concert tour you go to with a youngish demographic will usually have, in addition to vinyls, CDs and cassettes, some stickers, t-shirts, tote bags or doodads for sale; maybe even a $50 sweatshirt. That stuff can make a good bit of cash, and you can also use it to incentivize donations (donate this large amount and you can get a "free" mug). The clutch is branding it so that people like it enough to buy it and it doesn't seem to run totally counter to your audience or your message (e.g. a Tao of D&D DM screen).

Redbubble and Society6 both offer a number of options for printing art on various things (t-shirts, prints, cushions, phone cases) – my sister uses one of the two for her art, can't remember which – if you want something where most of the work is done for you (not sure if that's your style, but it's an option).

But every comic artist inevitably makes a comic which in some way involves a hot beverage, that then makes its way onto a mug. So it's really a rite of passage for you.

Vlad Malkav said...

Hello Alexis,

On the subject of the personnal post : I didn't know what to say. I felt revolted by what you had to deal with - something that, as I'm not in any way an artist, I've never had to. It's a distasteful thing, human of course, but still ... You deserve every bit of praise you get and you worked your ass of for that.
So, kudos for you, and congrats on the comic. It is funny, insightful, and it shows how much progress you made in your mastery of the media.

On the subject of merchandising, I don't think a mug with comic is too cheesy. Same for Mugs / T-Shirts / Stickers / Bags with well-chosed citations from your works.

Would that be considered "selling out" ? Maybe, by some. But at this point such people probably already think you've done it so ... ;)

Anyway, keep dancing !