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Archive for February, 2015

THE SUNLESS SEA

A pictureless post just to get this out of the queue.  After the Super Bowl, Charles Mudede of The Stranger  had an item about a brief, stupid controversy regarding one of the ads.  The spot quoted a speech by President Kennedy in which he remarked that we are tied to the sea; significantly, we have the same percentage of salt in our blood as in in the sea.  Creationists objected — if you want to know why, you should ask them.

Mudede, in his normal jumble of semi-profundity, tells us that:

In fact, some years ago, a scientist told me that the ratio of salt to water in our body is not actually that of the sea we have today but of an older, more ancient sea. We are the record, a memory of a kind of sea that no longer exists.

That literally brought a Keanu-esque whoa from my lips when I read it.  It’s a beautiful thought, well-stated, that we carry around in our cells the last remnants of the world in which we arose. It is a sea teeming with life, our cells, upon which no sun ever shines, living and dying with each of us, yet which will continue so long as we survive as a species.  We are living pre-history.

The right thing to do is stop there.  What I shouldn’t have done is Google around to see if this mind-blowing eon-spanning wisdom is actually true — Mudede didn’t cite anything, and so I won’t either — because it PROBABLY ISN’T TRUE.  Not even the original thing that JFK said is true.  Or maybe it is. Or maybe it doesn’t matter.

Does it matter if it is true?

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bird1

In my last post (linking to myself so that something shows up in my site statistics, anyway), I went on and on about the vagaries of fortune and fate; i.e., “the breaks.”  The people who get published are not the best, necessarily, or even very good sometimes, but they are the ones whose circumstances permit them to create and be seen.  I believe that to be true.

But laboring in obscurity, as I am, it’s not particularly helpful to just shrug and say “if God wills it,” with regard to my writing.  (Especially since, with this God we have, yeesh.)  I have tried in the past to get some things out there and in front of people who might actually do something with it, and had at least some positive response.  But each time I’ve tried — sent out queries, entered contests — I’ve subsequently recognized some pretty severe defects in the product that I’m selling.  (Thanks in large part to my few readers, I love you guys.) Rewrites follow, and rewrites upon rewrites, until the resulting document is pretty far from the thing that I set out to create.  But it’s better!  But I’ve spent years on this!  But I might actually be getting good at it, at long last! But who cares?

So, to add one more thing that is true to the two things at the end of the last post that are simultaneously true: 3) You may be a misunderstood genius, ahead of your time, but not having success is not a sign of misunderstood genius.

Choose your own adventure.

[Confession: Both of these posts were just excuses to put up pictures I took of birds in the snow.]

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AN AWFUL LOT OF US

2015-01-24 11.10.08

Two items that have resonated with me in the past couple of weeks: First, this blog post (linking to where I saw it excerpted; the links around here have more layers than Inception) to the effect that people tend to overestimate (!) the role of skill and hard work in achieving success and underestimate the role of luck.  According to the post, it’s not just the successful people themselves who do this: everyone tends to credit the successful person with innate awesomeness greater than his or her peers, even when the success is mostly the result of being at the right place at the right time.

The second item is an essay in Salon noting a number of examples of authors who, when asked how they managed to write books while also earning a living, cited hard work and personal choices (e.g., not to have children) instead of perhaps more relevant factors, such as vast inherited wealth or family literary connections.  The article writer herself notes that she produced very little in the years that she was married to an alcoholic and had to support herself and children, but she has written like gangbusters since she married a well-off man who allows her to turn to it full-time.

At one level this seems obvious: if you want to do something creative, you can do more of it if you either don’t have to work a job or have a way to make money off the creative work without too much trouble (i.e., connections).  You have more time to do a thing if you have fewer demands on your time.

But another aspect of this strikes me: None of this indicates that the published, famous writers are the best writers, the most talented.  They are the ones who had the time and the connections.  For every published artist — let’s say novelist — that you can name, even the very best ones, there are probably hundreds who could have written books that are at least as good as the ones that you have heard of.  Some of these anonymous geniuses have the making-a-living problem, some are simply discouraged from writing by teachers or parents or a spouse.  You can imagine other problems that would keep someone from spending hundreds of hours writing.  We are talking about circumstances, not individuals.

[There are probably even more people out there who could theoretically write pretty good novels but who just don’t care to, are lazy, etc.  Just trying to include them!]

Two things are true at the same time: 1) If you have success, there are many people out there who could have done as good or better.  Them’s the breaks; and 2) If you’ve worked as hard as you could and couldn’t make a go of it, and see equal or lesser talents go places that you couldn’t, them’s also the breaks.

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