Art or Something Like It

As I sit here alone, among the 50-or-so strangers in a sports bar drinking whiskey and beer while brilliantly crafting this blog entry, I’m struck by the contradiction that oxymoron suggests: alone in a sports bar with 50 other people.

On any given day there are a half dozen people who would typically join me for my evening ritual of unwinding after a day of blood, sweat, and toil in this work-a-day world we inherited from Adam and Eve.  But none of them answered my call for an end-of-day libation.

My best friend Fran who often joins me has custody of his son Rio tonight.  Other intervening factors (read excuses): a trip to Baltimore to visit my old friend; dinner with my daughter; my stomach hurts; getting ready for a baby shower I’m hosting for a friend.  Even inertia reared its ugly head in the form of couple-dating—a Friday night ritual for a friend and her husband.

To be fair, I’m sympathetic to inertia—because when it comes to my rituals, (such as the Friday night trip to Baby Blues, Pluckers, and The Common Interest karaoke bar) I am the poster boy for inertia.  It’s an element of my brand and I’m loath to give it up, but seriously.  How is it possible that, given the number of people I can usually depend on to have a drink with me, I am sitting in a room full of strangers working on the next “stellar” blog entry that I hope (to no avail, of course) will launch my career as a soon to be famous writer (or at least a fabulously wealthy one)?

I know I’ve mentioned this on multiple occasions, but I’m a writer and I started this blog to promote a book I’m trying to sell.  For those of you who don’t know, publishing is a tricky business, not for the faint of heart.  I was told on no uncertain terms that to be published, a presence not only Facebook, but WordPress, Twitter, YouTube and every other social networking platform that exists now and in the future is required.

Nine months ago just before I finished my book I began researching the idea of acquiring an agent.  Most of them want something called a platform.  A platform is an agent’s way of taking a percentage of your royalty without doing any work.

Essentially you have to sell your book whether you have an agent or not.  You’ve got to have a brand that people want to buy and to promote your brand you’ve got to advertise.  This blog, as much as I enjoy writing it, is ultimately just that and nothing more—and most agents expect you to already have that kind of infrastructure in place before they will even talk to you.

The reason?  People don’t buy books anymore because the literature is good.  They used to do that, but now people buy books because a person is a celebrity.  Books today are what movies were in the 40s but with less literary value.  People flocked to Gone with the Wind because of Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh, although it was also a very interesting story, loosely based on an actual historical event that included a brilliant portrayal of Southern culture and interesting characters.  And by the way it happened to be a pretty good book before it was a movie.

The literary value was immense, but the movie really sold because Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh were part of the MGM brand.  Also, everyone—including my dad—wanted to witness Scarlett O’Hara get hers when Rhett Butler retorts “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.

Fast-forward to the 21st Century and we have shunned flying cars for reality TV.  I hate reality TV for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it is rarely real.  I deal with this topic in the book I am trying to sell, but that’s not really important here.  What is important is that the biggest reason I hate reality TV is because to me it represents everything that is wrong with our culture.  Reality TV has supplanted literature and even cinema, something once held in disdain as a poor substitute for literature.

It is at once a reflection of our culture and a viral agent infecting it.  The fact that so many people tune into American Idol and Hoarders and that so many people compete for slots on that sort of programming suggests to me that I will never be published.  That’s because I feel like I have something uplifting and worthwhile to say.  Actually that can be said of most people—but for whatever reason they would rather sit and watch people who don’t.  I make no apology for my sentiment about participants and contestants on reality TV: they are, by-and-large, worthless louts who convert oxygen into carbon dioxide for no apparent reason.

I don’t know that you can call my book literature—but I definitely want to say something meaningful and entertaining through the written word.  I fear, however, it is never to be published.  As I sit here writing these words I can see the bar, where I was sitting about a year ago before I finished it.  I was sitting next to a stranger who I discovered was an unknown musician and vocalist.

We began to talk and I asked him what he did for a living.  He said that he ran network cable as a contractor during the day but wrote music and played random gigs at night.  I listened as he complained bitterly about working very hard over the previous ten years to be discovered.  He was in his late twenties and knew that each passing day increased the probability that his lifelong dream would be inevitably crushed.  I’m hardly in my 20s, but I was right there with him.

I looked at him and said “You know I can really relate to everything you’re saying.  I have a book I’m trying to sell.  I’ve let a lot of people read it and most really like it, but a few, including my wife, have criticized me for not coming explicitly to the point.  I mean, I just want to make some observations, entertain you, and make you think.  I don’t want to spoon feed you conclusions.  I want you to draw your own conclusion.  That’s what art is supposed to do isn’t it?”  “Yes.”  He replied thoughtfully.  “But that book will never sell—at least not until you’re dead.  Then it will probably be heralded as a masterful work of art.”  “Yeah.” Was all I could really muster.

Now here’s the funny part.  I sincerely doubt anything I write will ever really be called a masterful work of art whether I’m dead or alive.  Further, I believe the probability of any of it selling is about the same as the Sun going out tomorrow.  It requires you to think critically.  Nobody cares about that anymore.

The up-side?  I still have whiskey and plenty of time to drink it.  Cheers.



1 Comment

Filed under Writerly Travails

One response to “Art or Something Like It

  1. interesting post, espec re the celebrity piece. good luck – chuck

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