Posts Tagged ‘failure’

From the Editor’s Perch…

May 12, 2014

Identical  Businessmen11

“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

From the Editor’s Perch…

November 26, 2013
Who Can't Sympathize with Someone Who Slashes Their Wrists at the Office?

Who Can’t Sympathize with Someone Who Slashes Their Wrists at the Office?

“Not Waving but Drowning”

 

The full poem by Stevie Smith goes like this:

            Not Waving but Drowning

               Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

                                                   –  Stevie Smith

For my money, Stevie Smith lived the essential poet’s life: monotonous secretary’s days so compressing in their accumulation that she finally lost her employment of umpteen years from slashing her wrists while at at the office.  You don’t have to be a poet to sympathize!

Not dying, she continued on living with her aunt while scrabbling together a living out of writing book reviews and doing poetry readings.  You might wonder why artists choose this life?  It’s probably mostly because they live between their ears.  Like religious ascetics, worldly things haven’t as great of a grip on them.  And between the ears, “The desire for liberty is the most powerful force for creativity in an artist; that is why even in the most oppressive places some of the most beautiful and powerful art is made.”  (- Lindy Vopnfjord)

Smith reveled in the liberty of the mind more than most poets.  As the novelist/critic Martha Cooley notes, “Over the years, Smith got called everything from whimsical, quirky, childlike, and silly to mordantly sophisticated, stoic, brilliantly comic, and plain old depressed.”  Smith aptly represents this blend of modest successes with great failure which I’ve tried to describe in these previous essays on the strategies of losing:  “She tolerated rather than apologized for her own misreading, believing them usefully deviant; and she took great enjoyment in reading in a desultory manner, grazing without aim.”

But, of course, she was a fine poet.  Great poetry is made of those lines, such as the poet Robert Bly describes of Whitman’s, which can sustain great weight across the span of a sentence.    “Not waving but drowning” is a gold standard of poetic phrasing.  It has all the features: off-rhyme, metrical emphasis, and a meaning which ‘contains multitudes’.   You can’t crush it, and you can’t brush it away.

You couldn’t crush Stevie Smith, and we can’t brush her away.  Her failures are enduring.

Photo plucked from Google Images

From the Editor’s Perch…

November 23, 2013
Looking at it from the Devil's, Devil's Advocate's Position

Looking at it from the Devil’s, Devil’s Advocate’s Position

The Devil’s, Devil’s Advocate

On Failure: the Final Installment

 

            Well, you can get tired of anything – especially writing and thinking about failure.  On the upside – or downside, depending upon your point of view – a person could go on investigating and writing about failure forever, and still not get anywhere… except for acquiring those deepest feelings of abandonment and self-disgust which mark a real gut feeling for the topic.              After all, we’re probably all hardwired to seek success.  Humans are a hierarchical animal.  As soon as we enter a room the question is “Who’s in Charge?”  Then we arrange ourselves in such a way as makes us most comfortable around power.  Some of us try to be in charge.  Some of us evade being in charge.  Some of us don’t want to have anything to do with the whole scenario.  But, for the most part, if you are going to socialize, then when people listen to you, their first priority in granting you their attention is whether or not you sound ‘in charge’ of whatever it is you are saying.    If you don’t, their attention drifts elsewhere.  This is probably why we all seek success – even if it is never to be granted us, and we know so.  We simply can’t stop.  It’s like wanting sex.

 

A little thinking about failure is a good thing, I’d say, because we fail much more often than we succeed.  Most people are a marbled confection of a few successes and many failures.  It’s rare we can be gifted in every way.  So understanding the strategies of the failure and utilizing them at times can be helpful.

The thing to remember though, I think, is that failure and success are really quite different animals.  And it’s a mistake to view one as somehow evolving into the other; that if you were to train your dachshund long enough, it would become a greyhound.  Don’t be a fool.  Recognize what you are.  And then move towards the light.  Even a paramecium understands this.  But humans, with their complex ways and books on social theory, often don’t think to do it.  Don’t get stuck.  “Show me the money!” Can be good advice.

 

These posts about the upside of failure have also been the Devil’s Advocate’s position.  Now, to bring it full circle, I’ll add the Devil’s, Devil’s Advocate position with this observation from a Stanford researcher, Carol Dweck  (who probably didn’t intend this in the way I have it spun):

“Not only weren’t they discouraged by failure, they didn’t even think they were failing.             They thought they were learning.”

–        Carol Dweck,  “Mindset: The Psychology of Success”

 

How many ‘smarter than anyone else’ failures do you know?  Quite a few, I’d reckon.  Don’t be a fool and think the same thing.  In this fast paced world, more often than not, winning is winning and losing is losing.  That’s it.  That’s all.  End of game.

Photo by Carl Nelson of Jeremy January of Theater Comique

From the Editor’s Perch…

November 15, 2013

Editor’s Note:  Another installment about Failure:

How Much Should a Citizen Be Paid for His/Her Work?

How Much Should a Citizen Be Paid for His/Her Work?

Failure, Slavery and the Minimum Wage

 

            According to Scott Sandage’s book, Born Losers: A History of Failure in America, the great boom and bust cycles of America during the nineteenth century spawned the need for debt relief legislation.  For every business success to be had, many more failures were spawned.  If “the business of America is business,” as Calvin Coolidge would later say, then the debt-ridden failure was sidelined.  He had no future. 

            Various bankruptcy legislations were tried, and then discarded throughout the first half of the nineteenth century.  The widely held American ideal of a man being the maker of his destiny, reinforced the belief that the ‘truth lies in the man’, and that the roots of failure could be ascertained by a careful examination of the character of the man in question.  Debt relief flew directly in the face of this.  Debt relief would, it was felt by many, just nurture weakness and poor character in the American citizen.  On the other hand, a vast number of the bankrupts – though noting in retrospect many ways in which they might have acted more wisely – complained that the main reason they went bust was because they could not collect from others that which they were owed.  This all came to a head with the advent of the Civil War, when southerners stopped payments on obligations to northern businesses forcing a great number of northern businessmen into bankruptcy. 

            Along with the push for the abolition of slavery, came a parallel cry for bankruptcy legislation.  Their special interest group, The National Bankrupt Association, pushed for this legislation through their leading advocate in Congress, Thomas Jenckes.  Bankrupts complained that their “unpaid debts made them idle”, and “like true abolitionists , members of the association held that freedom was inalienable”.  The movement “seemed to understand that inalienable rights made sense only as a universal standard, not as a privilege of race”.  “To get back on one’s feet was to be emancipated.”  They argued that “When the Thirteenth Amendment brought legal freedom to the real slaves…  The government empowered itself to interfere with property, to redefine citizenship, and to protect individual rights – but not theirs.”  Their pronouncements were “a manifesto about the right to rise.”

            There were still difficulties to getting bankruptcy legislation passed however.  A key Congressman, Thaddeus Stevens clashed with Jenckes.   Stevens and his supporters could not “suffer rebel debtors to benefit from a bankruptcy bill” – which caused the Jenckes faction to complain that while Stephens was happy to free the slaves, he turned his back on the debt-slavery of his own constituents.   Finally, “on the last day of the Thirty-Ninth Congress, on a 2 March 1867, Congress approved both the Bankruptcy Act and the Reconstruction Act of 1867.”

 

            But the American ideal of “a right to rise” as an inalienable birthright continues to wage war with another American ideal of the right to property.   Currently, these questions complicate the current debate on the minimum wage laws.  Does a wage which is insufficient to live on amount to a defacto ‘slave wage’, which benefits the consumer, at the expense of the worker’s “right to rise”.   If “the business of America is business”, do insufficient wages keep capable citizens idle and ‘out of the game’?  Do insufficient wages constrict the citizens’ inalienable right to participate?  

            This is a discussion that continues, and probably will continue, for a long time.

Photo by Carl Nelson of a model

From the Editor’s Perch…

October 22, 2013

Achieving Mediocrity II

Beverly Hillbillies

Locating Failure, and then Adjusting Slightly Upwards

            Which brings us to the, “How to…”

Let’s start with failure.  So often people shy from failure, or are so preoccupied in shunning it, or ‘distancing’ themselves from failure, that they never really stop to take a good look at it.  If this sounds like you, then there are a lot of surprises in store.

The first surprise is that most of the people you may categorize as failures, really aren’t very good at it.  This shouldn’t come as a surprise as many people are not very good at anything.  That said though, most failures you will see suffer for their failures, but have never really explored or exploited its opportunities.  They latch onto their little thread of failure and ride it in as hidebound manner as any successful type might, except to their dismal ends.  They see problems and enemies everywhere.  They worry about what happened before, or what might happen again.  They are constantly afraid of being ‘found out’.  They are hidebound, close-minded, stuffy, stilted, puffed up, snooty, completely paranoid, worn-out from excessive posturing, and possessed by envy.

A successful failure embraces what they are!  They turn a blind eye to difficulties.  They see opportunities everywhere. (Because there are!)  They admit to no limitations.  (Because there aren’t!)  Everywhere is a bowl of cherries. They act like a complete fool! and are nobody’s victim.  They don’t ask the government’s help.  They are free of envy.  And they are just fine on their own, thank you.  Though they’ll certainly take whatever’s offered, because they are not proud!  The best failures don’t ask anybody for anything, because a good failure lives in the now.  And right now, they’re still breathing, so anything could happen!

A good failure just trundles on, oblivious, explaining every setback as at worst a detour, and at best, a fortunate intervention.  Because life is on the failure’s side, and the failure sees himself in the lead position because he is alive!  Always!  …while a lot of things aren’t.  Because the very successful failure bumbles along, “forgetting, mislaying, losing, unmaking, undoing, unbecoming, not knowing”… all the while engaging, cooperating, chatting, visiting, and doing surprising things!  In short, fully engaged in living a charmed existence.  For it is only sound reasoning to presume that a true failure leads a charmed existence.  Because what other rational could explain their continued existenceIf there is anyone who fully embraces the presence of God, it is the fool and the failure.  And a good failure will bless his charmed existence and not embrace any golden calves.  In this respect, the true failure is faithful and monogamous – a near saint.

 

But it is very hard to fail at everything and yet not to have found a little success at something.  That’s just the way it is!  And it is these small successes which your common, garden variety failure quilts into a livelihood.

The true failure lives a small existence, but often in the midst of thriving success.  Successful people have an incredible need for failures all around themselves, and they have the money to pay for it.  They hire and delegate and presume upon supernumeraries all over the place.  All of which creates a thriving market for affable supernumeraries, a position for which the failure and his persona the ‘fool’ is eminently qualified.

Another aspect of failure many people do not recognize is that it is an enduring position.  A comic, who passed through town, shared that she made up for the breaks in her career by working as a lowly aid to the disabled.  “Because they will ‘always hire you’”.  A good failure just goes on and on like the Eveready Bunny – the world, as it is, displays a continuing need for them.

Failures are like the little beetle who captures a little water from the morning dew as condensate on his wings, a little water from the vegetation he chews, and quite some protection from the thick carapace he labors under as he trudges around under a blistering desert sun where few others can live.  The failure locates a place of little or no competition, and finds a way to make themselves comfortable, living on God’s bounty.  They arrange their modest existence well away from the frenetic world of successes.  Whenever the successful get too close, so as to oppress them, they make quite a show of their failures to drive the predatory successful away.  “No money to be made here!” The successful shriek.  And it works well.  The successful can’t seem to distance themselves from failure quickly enough.  And in this way, failures share many of the same defenses as the skunk or our small, unsung  beetle.

Whenever a successful failure speaks, it’s usually with humor, because humor is idiosyncratic and subversive.  Most humor in one way or another utilizes the banana peel – to pratfall the predatory successful.  Success is reiterative, and vulnerable to the vagaries of life as a machine.  Whereas a failure’s humor and persona is as agile as a cat, and all the more reason for failures to employ it.

A real failure can be quite a funny and engaging character.  Most good stories employ them.  But if you would rather hear a person blow about themselves all day, in a continual, reiterative manner, then you’d be better to pick the successful for a drinking companion, or get hired by some high powered firm.  A failure doesn’t much like to talk about themselves, except in a self-deprecating manner, so as to add a little flourish to their stink.  They’d much rather the spotlight shown elsewhere… perhaps on the scenery chewing success!   All they would really like is your respect.

Which, unfortunately, is hard to come by – unless we’re on the same page here.

 

Which is why I suggest locating failure – find that inner fool! – and then just back yourself off a bit, until you have found just that level of income and respect necessary for your comfort – but not a jot more.  Don’t let those lunatic over-achievers grind you down, or shut you up!  Leave yourself open to life, and parade your failures and your mediocrity – don that fool’s cap and bells – capture a little of that morning dew, sniff that morning air, gaze out upon that great blue horizon!  and motor on.  The world is yours.

Photo by Google Images

From the Editor’s Perch…

October 11, 2013

scan0062

A Brief Review

 

History is written by the winners, as they say, but it’s not because there is not lots of material about losers in the public and private archives, says Scott Sandage.  “The voices of and experiences of men who failed (and of their wives and families) echo from private letters, diaries, business records, bankruptcy cases, suicide notes, political mail, credit agency reports, charity requests, and memoirs.”

As anybody with eyeballs is apt to see, failure is the much more likely result of business enterprise than success.  And if we are to celebrate the fruits of a Darwinian process, such as successful enterprise is – then we ought, as a culture, to explore ways to reap fertility from failed enterprise.  Not just economically, but culturally; making use of losers as a cultural resource, a fertile bed from which our next generation of achievers arise.  Just look around.  We paddle through a Sargasso Sea of failures every day.   History is stuffed with the biographies of high achievers whose upbringings came from families of failed patriarchs.   There is good fertile soil here.  But what is done to respect it?

It’s no surprise that our society produces much more failure than success, and much more quiet desperation than joy.  Competition naturally produces many more losers than winners.  And yet, Sandage would point out, we structure our social interchange as if success were the only virtuous possibility.  And in doing so, create a lot of suffering.  (And also, by the way, limit a lot of social potential.)  An interesting example he points out is contractual law.   The act of signing a contract “is a promise to be successful”.   Otherwise obligations could not be met.  Of course, this is preposterous.  Most enterprises fail.

And then, culturally, when we see failure, we look for a “reason in the man”, a phrase Sandage notes often passed around in the 19th century.  But if you examine the victims of the 19th century financial panics, which Sandage does, the most common plea of the pending bankrupt was that, he could pay his debts if only his customers would pay him!  Business naturally placed even the most shrewd and enterprising businessman within a web of contracts which turning together greatly contribute to either his success or failure.  This is as true today.

There is an awful lot more to be said about Sandage’s book, but I’ll close this short review with these two of his comments:  “Nineteenth-century Americans swapped liberty for ambition, adopting the striver’s ethic as the best of all possible freedoms.”  “Soon a man would be nothing more nor less than his occupation.”

But readers!  Hope springs eternal.

My next post reviews an article from The New Yorker about how a new entrepreneurial culture in San Francisco tends “to regard success in terms of autonomy”.  “This braiding of tech-business growth with life-style values and aesthetics – and from there, the world of art- creeps many people out.”

More to come.

From the Editor’s Perch…

October 2, 2013

Editor’s Introduction:  Why are we all so ambitious, nowadays?  What is ambition, anyway?  It seems rather like the Chicken’s Need to Cross the Road.  Who knows why?   The best advice I’ve ever been offered about failure was what I was told about handling disappointment when trying out my act Amateur Night at a comedy club:  “It’s not you they don’t like.  It’s your performance.”  Somehow or other we’ve gotten it all twisted around and have been led to believe that we are our performance.  Perhaps it’s partly the godless times we live in.  God knows your importance, and demonstrates it every day by your presence.  So take a deep breath.  Everything’s fine.

FAILURE

 

A Clown is a Failure with Style

A Clown is a Failure with Style

 

And How to Be Mediocre Successfully

Thoughts About Failing and Locating the ‘Middle Way’: Part I

 

            Where I work it’s possible to work a forty hour week and make $125,00/year, if you are good at your job.  But you could also become demonically possessed, work an 80 to 100 hour week, and make over $250,000/year.  Unfortunately, there’s not a choice.  The company makes more money and grows when the employee makes $250,000/year.  The person who makes $125,000/year is under-utilizing their human capital and dampens the company’s prospects.  This is not so different from many other work situations.

More frequently these days it is possible to work crazy hours at a crazy job and make far more money than you need.  Or you can be fired, and find a much less remunerative, insecure, part-time job which pays less than you need and without retirement or health benefits.  Or, you can go to work in the services sector and work crazy hours, and still not make quite enough to get by.  Or you can live on the street or go to jail.  Have I left anything out?

We are an achievement oriented culture.  According to social theorist Judith Halberstam in our culture failure is subversive.  In her book, “The Queer Art of Failure”,  she notes though: “Under certain circumstances, failing, losing, forgetting, unmaking, undoing, unbecoming, not knowing may in fact offer more creative, more cooperative, more surprising ways of being in the world”.   These are some of the reasons failure has fascinated me.  Failure is relaxing.  Failure allows us time to think, to speculate, to ruminate, to sleep…  Failure will slow it all down and keep those damnable over-achievers at bay.  Failure allows nearly any sort of activity short of costing money to flourish – like chatting with your neighbor or chatting up a girl.  Unfortunately failure is also an impoverished, disreputable haven, an Elysian field without food nor drink nor shelter nor audience – a place only poets, hermits and religious seers might court.  But as Quentin Crisp, the famous British homosexual once noted, “If at first you don’t succeed, failure may be your style.”

Failure has a style, yet is egalitarian.  You can labor away at being a failure without ever being hired or having to create a resume or write a job application or appear for an interview.  The hours are right.  And failure completely circumnavigates the personnel department.  Failures needn’t attend meetings.  And for those trapped in those long, tedious, tired workdays in the cubicle farms which cover more and more of the corporate world, failure can look pretty tempting.  Why, it’s not much more than just looking out the window, where you can often catch a glimpse of it, walking by freely having a smoke, or chatting up a girl.  Failure even has its achievements to tout.  When I quite medical school I defended my ‘achievement’ by noting that whereas only 20% of applicants at the time were admitted – only 2% of those admitted, got out.   And moreover, I pointed out that by quitting medicine, I had probably saved more lives than a lot of doctors had by continuing!  My life post-medical career had primacy, some style, and a lot of free time.

Unfortunately, it also paid poorly.  A pure failure is about as rare an animal as the dodo bird.  Most of us are forced to claw our way into some sort of mediocrity in order to survive.  Which, as it has in olden times, aptly describes the post-modern ‘middle way’.

So, though I still harbor a fascination for failure, the thread of this essay is about how to achieve mediocrity, which as I define it is, a more practical, palatable blend of achievement, success and failure, all stirred into a chaotic soup of slacker regimentation aptly anticipating the post-modern ‘middle way’.

Photo of model by Carl Nelson

From the Editor’s Perch…

July 21, 2013

Editor:  Certainly there is a lot more that could be said, but sometimes I just get the urge to whine.

HOmeless1

Why Being Creative May Not Serve You Well

 

In a cartoon by playwright/cartoonist Mark Krause ( http://markrause.com/category/10000p/ ) a practical character asks the ‘creative’ playwright character why they don’t bring all the creativity they use in their playwrighting to advance their life, and to make money?

Indeed!  Why isn’t every poor artist using their superior creativity to better their lot?

Well, with age I’ve learned that there are often, if not ‘good’ reasons for things being as they are, there are at least significant reasons for things as they are.

Usually, the urging to be creative comes from the media gurus and not our workplace.  In fact, it seems the media gurus are pitching their advice as a corrective to the workplace, to fight ‘business as usual’.  Just as the Lord, in driving Jonah onto the boat, prevented fishing as usual.

homeless2

Creative people are seen as a Jonah to practical endeavor – that is, making money.

Why?

Well, gaze across an artist’s life and maybe get an inkling.

The word ‘success’ is derived from root words which mean outcome or result.  Most people are practical and want results.  They seek an outcome.  Artists generally want an epiphany.

I remember watching the Olympics one year and listening to the story of a swimmer who missed being on the past Olympic team by four tenths of a second.  So he trained for another four years shaving off those four tenths of a second and made his Olympic team.  His feat was celebrated world-wide.  This is how practical people are.  This is how they think.  This is what they admire.  A great compliment among practical people is to be called a ‘machine’.  In David Mamet’s play, Glengarry Glenn Ross, Shelly, the Machine, Levine is the top salesman.  Nothing stops his production.  Shelly Levine is successful.  Success is the practical person’s epiphany.

 

For all of the contracts, legalisms and paperwork involved, the basis for nearly all living is trust.

We trust that the sun will come up tomorrow.  We trust that the money we have saved will be there tomorrow.  We trust that our husband/wife will be there tomorrow.  We trust that we will be here tomorrow.  We trust that we’ve learned enough to try what we attempt.  We trust our family.  We trust our friends.  And trust is not established immediately.  Trust is a commodity earned over time through repetitive, consistent behavior.  A good worker earns our trust.  A good dog earns our trust.  A good car earns our trust.  A tried and true method gains our trust. Good artists work repetitively and consistently, but their behavior is anything but.  And whereas they might be honest as the day is long, their behavior and speech and actions are often unpredictable.  Even the quality of their output is unpredictable.  Artists generate distrust.

 

Artists often make the mistake of thinking that once they are successful, they will be respected by their practical relations, friends and acquaintances; as they imagine that success must be the coin of the realm for practical people.  But that’s not quite it.  According to Wikipedia, It takes just one-tenth of a second for us to judge someone and make our first impression…”  Then, of course it only takes another one-tenth of a second for us to form our second impression, and so forth…   Hence, the birth of the ‘elevator pitch’.  That is, it has been said that in the business world, in order to attract a person’s attention and backing, you must be able to condense who you are and what it is you do (and include direct benefits to them!) into a pitch that you can give your fellow passenger in the time it takes an elevator to travel from the lobby to whatever floor your acquaintance is headed.  Now imagine an artist delivering such a pitch.  Does building security enter the picture?

Even quite successful creative types have harbored this dream of achieving general acceptance and respect and have been dismayed.  Saul Bellow watched his sister sleep through his Nobel speech.  The great American poet Wallace Stevens hid his poet’s identity throughout his career as an executive for an insurance company in Hartford, Conneticut.  Blind Lemon Jefferson froze to death on the streets of Chicago.  “Douglas Engelbart set the computer world on fire in December 1968.  Standing in a San Francisco conference hall filled with the nation’s top computer experts…  Engelbart demonstrated such innovations as word processing, video conferencing, and desktop windows – 13 years before the debut of the first IBM personal computer.  He also showed how a mouse, which he’d invented four years earlier, could be used to control a computer.  … In one hour, he defined the era of modern computing.” (“The Week” 7.19.13)   “He never became rich or a household name… and in later years struggled to get funding for his research.”

Artists do not reach unknown ends by using trusted routes.  Artists run on faithArtists like trying things.  Practical people like succeeding at things more.  Practical people try things when the method tried has been shown to work.  Artists evade this dictum because where you go determines where you end up, and artists are “epiphany junkies”.  They want to go somewhere new.

The bad news is that success is payment for consistent, bankable results.  So, a livelihood, comraderie and respect are often part of the artist’s elusive dream.  Creativity will probably always have an air of desperation about it.  And people will probably always shun the creative individual.

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Photos taken  from Google Image

From the Editor’s Perch…

August 3, 2012

What if Who You Are is a Loser?

Artists struggle with this fear constantly.  And well, the good news is: it’s not all bad. 

With losing comes an incredible amount of freedom.  Nobody much wants to regulate you, or direct you or to control you – because there isn’t much in it for them.  And hapless as you are, it would require a lot of effort.   So you can pretty much say what you want, do what you want, act as you want, dress as you want, dream as you want, do just about anything as you want – as long as you remain unsuccessful.  If you consider that most things have very humble beginnings, this places the loser out there on the forefront of just about everything, with the opportunity to create just about anything, and to move the world! I mean, most everything new which ever happened in this world began with a mistake.  (Why, just look in the mirror!)  And that’s you.  So keep your spirits up, first off.

The bad news is that when you are a loser, you’re alone.  And it’s the loneliness which is almost crushing.  No one will listen to you.  And it’s very difficult to make money.  People will laugh at you.  And without these levers of money and attention, moving the earth is very difficult.  In fact, doing anything is trebly difficult – and this can include just getting out of bed.  You may sink into your depression as if it were a soft mattress.   And you may think, as you stare at the ceiling fan turning in the sultry afternoon air in your cheap, anonymous rented drab green room and finish the warm beer, which doesn’t taste very good, but it’s something,  ‘Where’s the daylight here?’  ‘Where’s the good news?’ ‘ Why not just put the gun in my mouth?’  Well, my friend, the daylight is streaming in here, right in through that window!

So.  Alright.  And just to keep my readership up, I’m going to suggest something…

What to do if Who You Are is a Loser.

Surely you’ve seen the horses racing at the track.  The tinier the rider, the faster the horse can go.  So if you’re a loser, the first thing you need to do is to face up to it.  The surprising thing of it is, is that what keeps most losers down is their unwillingness to ‘go with it’.  They keep contorting themselves into a winner’s posture.  It’s a ‘failure to launch’, really.  Accept what you are, and let it out.  Let it go.  Let it free!  Let it thrive.  Quit imagining yourself as a winner, and take a little pride in yourself.  Allow yourself the freedom to parade yourself and to exploit the pride you find in your uniqueness.  You are small, but you control the horse.

So if you are a loser, what you need to do is to attach yourself to a winner – in a way, that makes you an asset.  You need to sniff around until you find someone who can take advantage of you.  Oppress you to their needs!  Yes.  Sure.  Place yourself in a position where they can sniff you out.  Go to where the action is.  Find out who the players are.  Go into your juggling act, and see who is hiring. Remember, weakness is provocative!  You are a great catalyst; an initiator!  You are what makes the world go ‘round.  And you needn’t get rid of your pride; but just save it in a different place.  Make it appear as a different object, so it isn’t trifled with.  Because every winner requires an awful lot of losers.  They need more of you than you of them.  So the only trick you need is to make them pay for your services.  And they’ll do that when you control the situation.

You all set?  Okay.  We’re done then.

OR, there is this one more strategy:  Find a natural winner whose nature and outlook you trust. Join their team!  Help them, and be a loyal follower. 

This anecdote from a Reader’s Digest article years ago has always stuck with me.  A teacher was writing a letter of recommendation to an Ivy League College for a student of his.  After enumerating all of the student’s exceptional talents the teacher went on to say, “I can’t say he has the qualities of an exceptional leader; but he does make for dependable and resourceful follower.”   The Dean of Admissions included this note to the teacher with a copy of his Letter of Acceptance.  “With all of the natural leaders we admit around here, we can probably use one good follower.”   

The one thing a leader cannot buy or coerce is loyalty.  And the wise winner cherishes them dearly.  Are you a loser capable of great loyalty?  Well then, you’re a shoo-in. 

Photos of Troupe Comique by Carl Nelson

Seattle Celebrity News!

August 3, 2012

FLASH!  Odd Duck Dodges the Soup!!!

“Good things CAN happen.”

“Eclectic Theater Company is now caught up on the rent of Odd Duck Studio! :)”  Rik Deskin posted yesterday on Facebook.  To the landslide of congratulatory comments that were posted, Rik said: “All I did is receive the check. Kudos go out to the person who made it happen. :)”  The editor could only add to this: “Cudos from The Seattle Celebrity News!  too.”

Photo by Carl Nelson of professional actor.


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