Dude the Obscure

This is the height of paradox: writing a blog about my fear of attention. Blogs, after all, were created so that everyone who wants attention can get it.

But the truth is that I have a very ambivalent attitude toward being noticed. I seem to be an introvert trapped in an extrovert’s body. Somewhere inside, it feels arrogant to expect attention—even to want it. That doesn’t stop me, of course, from doing just that.

I’m sure my feelings aren’t unique. The phenomenon seems particularly common among artists, since creativity and introversion seem to go together like paint and canvas. Ironically, the main drive of an artist is self-expression. But what’s the point of expressing yourself without the benefit of an audience? If you sing an aria in the forest and no one’s there to hear you, does it make a sound?

The discomfort hits most powerfully when I’m about to publish a book. I was hoping that by the third time (the proverbial charm), I’d be used to it. I was hoping that, by now, I could concentrate on the excitement, unaccompanied by this all-too-familiar dread.

Alas, that was not to be. I am no less terrified now than I was when my first novel came out, more than 10 years ago. Will readers understand my intention? Will anyone be turned off? Will, god forbid, I receive a bad review?

Of course, the answer is Yes, and Yes, and Yes. Someone won’t get it. Someone will be pissed off. Someone will disparage it. So what? Does that mean you shouldn’t try, that you shouldn’t let your work be seen by the world? Legend has it that Emily Dickinson wrote her poems on grocery bags and stuck them in a drawer. They are now among the finest artifacts of American literature. Apparently, obscurity goes only so far.

Publishing a novel brings up a couple of different worries. First, the personal exposure: there’s something of the author in every book. And even if it’s not autobiographical, you fear that people will read it that way, that they’ll attribute every action of every character to you personally. Second is simply the fact that by putting your stuff out there, you’re inviting criticism of the work itself.

So in other words, there are two options: people can use the novel as an opportunity to judge your talent or your life. No wonder I’m anxious.

There’s little consolation in the fact that Channeling Morgan is the least autobiographical of my novels. I’m not a ghostwriter, like the protagonist (though we do share a certain discomfort with being the heroes of our own lives). My exposure to drag queens and movie stars is minimal (i.e., a few of the former and none of the latter). But, as in all my work, there are pieces of me everywhere. You have to empathize with your characters to some degree. The crucial question, then, is: will people guess right as to which detail is which?

As for the stuff that’s not me, the perennial concern is whether I captured it correctly. Did I describe the drag world well enough? Did I offend poets or actors with my satirical renditions of various archetypes? Is the story universal enough? The plot is intended to be a bit far-fetched, the characters a bit over the top, but that doesn’t excuse me from an obligation to a certain degree of verisimilitude.

Most of all, of course, I want people to like it. Recently, an article in the New York Times grabbed my eye with the title “Popular People Live Longer.” Loneliness, apparently, is second only to smoking in the list of behavioral conditions that cause premature death. Words to live by.

So I guess I’ll take the bet. I’ll put my work out there, lay my heart and soul on display, and hope that the occasional word of praise will add a day or so to my lifespan.

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