Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Snarling Girl

Ambition. The word itself makes me want to run and hide. It’s got some inexorable pejorative stench to it. Why is that? I’ve been avoiding this essay like the plague. I’d so much rather be writing my novel, my silly secret sacred new novel, which will take a while, during which time I will not garner new followers nor see my name in the paper nor seek an advance from the publisher nor receive the hearts and likes and dings and dongs that are supposed to keep my carnivorous cancerous ego afloat. I will simply do my work. Hole up with family and friends, live in the world as best I can, and do my work.

The work: this is what I would like to talk about. The work, not the hearts and likes and dings and dongs. And maybe I can float the possibility that the work is best when it’s done nowhere near the hearts and likes and dings and dongs. Maybe I can suggest that there is plenty of time for hearts and likes and dings and dongs once the work is done, and done well. Maybe I can ever so gently point out that a lot of people seem rather addicted to the hearts and likes and dings and dongs, and seem to talk about and around writing a hell of a lot more than they actually do it. Maybe we can even talk about how some self-promote so extensively and shamelessly and heedlessly and artlessly that their very names become shorthand for how not to be.

I mean: ambition to what? Toward what? For what? In the service of what? Endless schmoozing and worrying and self-promotion and maniac flattery and status anxiety and name-dropping are available to all of us in any artistic medium. But the competitive edge is depressing. That thinly (or not at all) disguised desire to win. To best her or him or her or him, sell more, publish more, own the Internet, occupy more front tables, get tagged, have the most followers, be loudest, assume some throne. Is it because we want to believe that we are in charge of our destiny, and that if “things” aren’t “happening” for us, we are failing to, like, “manifest”? Or is it because we are misguided enough to think that external validation is what counts? Or is it because of some core narcissistic injury, some failure of love we carry around like a latent virus?

Perhaps it’s because knocking on doors like we’re running for damn office is a lot easier and simpler than sitting alone with our thoughts and knowledge and experience and expertise and perspective, and struggling to shape all that into exactly the right form, during which process we take the terrible chance that we might get it right and still no one will care. Maybe we are misguided enough to believe that what’s most important is that people care, regardless of whether or not we get it exactly right. Maybe getting it right doesn’t even matter if no one cares. Maybe not getting it right doesn’t matter if everyone cares. If I write an excellent book and it’s not a bestseller, did I write the excellent book? If I write a middling book and it is a bestseller, does that make it an excellent book? If I wander around looking for it on bookstore shelves so I can photograph it and post online, have I done good? If I publish a book and don’t heavily promote it, did I really publish a book at all!?

Here is what we know for sure: there is no end to want. Want is a vast universe within other vast universes. There is always more, and more again. There are prizes and grants and fellowships and lists and reviews and recognitions that elude us, mysterious invitations to take up residence at some castle in Italy. One can make a life out of focusing on what one does not have, but that’s no way to live. A seat at the table is plenty. (But is it a good seat? At which end of the table??? Alongside whom!?) A seat at the table means we are free to do our work, the end. Work! What a fantastic privilege. (...)

Some ambition is banal: Rich spouse. Thigh gap. Gold-buckle shoes. Quilted Chanel. Penthouse. Windowed office. Tony address. Notoriety. Ten thousand followers. A hundred thousand followers. Bestseller list. Editor-in-Chief. Face on billboard. A million dollars. A million followers. There are ways of working toward these things, clear examples of how it can be done. Programs, degrees, seminars, diets, schemes, connections, conferences. Hands to shake, ladders to climb. If you are smart, if you are savvy, who’s to stop you? Godspeed and good luck. I hope you get what you want, and when you do, I hope you aren’t disappointed.

Remember the famous curse? May you get absolutely everything you want.

Here’s what impresses me: Sangfroid. Good health. The ability to float softly with an iron core through Ashtanga primary series. Eye contact. Self-possession. Loyalty. Boundaries. Good posture. Moderation. Restraint. Laugh lines. Gardening. Activism. Originality. Kindness. Self-awareness. Simple food, prepared with love. Style. Hope. Lust. Grace. Aging. Humility. Nurturance. Learning from mistakes. Moving on. Letting go. Forms of practice, in other words. Constant, ongoing work. No endpoint in sight. Not goal-oriented, not gendered. Idiosyncratic and pretty much impossible to monetize.

I mean: What kind of person are you? What kind of craft have you honed? What is my experience of looking into your eyes, being around you? Are you at home in your body? Can you sit still? Do you make me laugh? Can you give and receive affection? Do you know yourself? How sophisticated is your sense of humor, how finely tuned your understanding of life’s absurdities? How thoughtfully do you interact with others? How honest are you with yourself? How do you deal with your various addictive tendencies? How do you face your darkness? How broad and deep is your perspective? How willing are you to be quiet? How do you care for yourself? How do you treat people you deem unimportant?

by Elisa Albert, Hazlitt |  Read more:
Image: Meg Hunt