“You’re the Devil”
My son asked me if I planned to continue participating in live theater after we moved to Ohio. And I said that I wasn’t sure. But that I’d probably “continue writing my serial fiction, because I enjoy making up stuff.”
And he said, “What’s the point of writing stuff, if people don’t read it?”
This gave me pause. “You’re the Devil,” I replied.
What is the role of failure? Success seems all important. People kill themselves for lack of success. It’s the all too common reason for suicide. Why is success so important! Why does it badger us so? Failure seems a particularly human affliction. It is hard to imagine a squirrel hanging itself, because it feels like a ‘loser’ – or a bird, or an ant, or a worm for that matter doing themselves in. Lemmings run off of cliff sides. But does an actual feeling of despair initially sweep across their community beforehand, so that they lose all bearings?
And if success is so important, where does that leave mediocrity?
Very few of us are successful. Fewer still are wildly successful. And even the wildly successful often remain ambitious – or even moreso. And history has shown us (in quite lurid detail) that ambition is insatiable, and probably makes us – even more suicidal!
Yet statistically, the vast majority of us must be mediocre. There is no logical way around this conundrum. So what is the role of failure?
More than anything, we tend to react to failure as if it were the Devil’s pronged fork. We distance ourselves from the pointy end as much as possible! “I’m not a failure. I’m successfully earning a living.” “I’m on my way to success.” “I am learning the ropes.” “I am supporting my family of five, all of whom are way above normal.” “I am helping the less fortunate.” “I’m in an internship! J” “I could be more successful, if that’s what I really wanted.” “No one is a failure who has friends.” “I feel I’m already a success.” Or, perhaps the most desperate, “I’m a good person!”
Sorry. You are nearly all ‘losers’. You are not ‘dying with all the toys’. And you are not ‘the winner’. The good news is that this is only sounds harsh if you think it does. Otherwise, it’s a source of wry humor… which, (to my way of thinking), is God smiling.
But where does this leave the artistically inclined? Most artists will become, like most others, mediocre. Even most successful artists earn a living with difficulty. Artists must push an enormous burden to raise a family. And, their activities are more often than not, self-centered. It is very hard for an artist to distance him/herself from the prongs of failure.
So, to get back to the issue raised by my son, ““What’s the point of writing stuff, if people don’t read it?”
Well, you know, (my son), the cup is always half full. Very few of the solutions, and most of the problems of my artistic life have come from the people who have ‘read it’. An audience can be a burden – even a hex. If you don’t believe this, just attend any artistic ‘talk back’. There is usually a moderator present to protect the creative type – both from the ‘haters’ and the ‘lovers’. Once you have raised an audience, there are packs of hungry egos out there to both want it / and to demean it.
As for money… Once people pay for something, there is this feeling that they own it. And people pay an artist, because they want more of the same thing. But, if you’re not paid a cent, no one owns you. And no one tells you what to do.
But, even acknowledging all of this, if you’re mediocre, people might ask, what is the point of producing more work? That is, if your art accomplishes nothing, what’s the point in making it?
In responding to this, I think back on a Sunday morning brunch my wife and I enjoyed years ago in a Portland Café. It was upscale and sunny. And we were visiting with my wife’s Uncle, a retired architect. And somehow the conversation turned to religion and he suggested that wasn’t going to church a waste of time? He pointed out that couldn’t the time be much better spent in doing some social work that would actually help someone? His eyes showed concern.
‘And that’s what we’re doing now?’ I laughed to myself, as I enjoyed the fresh coffee.
“What do the people who aren’t attending Church do with their Sunday mornings?” I might have asked, sharing his concern. “Do they consume a big breakfast? Do they sleep in? Do they visit friends? Do they go duck hunting and blast a couple birds? Or maybe snag a fish and smack them on the head? Do they watch the pregame festivities on TV? Maybe work in the yard, or catch up on some home repairs? Or maybe they read the New York Times? Or maybe they are still up drinking beers?”
But the larger – more serious – point my wife’s Uncle was dancing around was “what in the world does going to Church on Sunday morning actually accomplish? How does this make us more successful? How does this make other people’s lives more rich and meaningful? Does God listen? Will it change anything even if He does? Isn’t it possible that this whole ‘God’ thing is just one big shame and that they are all just wasting their Sunday mornings over there blowing smoke?
People without faith can’t understand that the foundation of faith is doubt. Attacking the faithful only makes them stronger. People like my wife’s Uncle are actually the shoulders that the religious stand on. (Look at me. Here I am!)
Because doing things to no purpose is actually a spiritual activity. And the Devil just hates this sort of thing.
Photo by Carl Nelson