“Precisely at the moment when we have overcome the earth and become unearthly in our modes of dwelling, we need to restore our kinship with the animate world. We suffer these days from a new form of collective anxiety: species loneliness. We are disabled creatures dislocated in a wounded landscape. Species loneliness in a wounded landscape moves us to want to restore our relationship with place and others, or to put it another way, modern humanity yearns to re-establish and restore an ecology of shared identity.”
It’s okay to be anxious.
I usually don’t speak to pop culture issues, but there is something I just can’t stay quiet about with this whole Lana Del Rey thing. (And as soon as I type that I’m hearing the voice of “Joe” from Reservoir Dogs saying “Never mind what you normally wouldn’t do. Just cough up your goddam buck like everyone else.”)
When I hear about “nervousness” or “performance anxiety,” my ears prick up. In an interview, Lana says “I really wish I could go back to normal. I’m really a quiet person. I always have been. It’s hard when you see a lot of things written about you. It’s not what I had in mind.”
There is something very vicious, very raw about being in the spotlight. In a way, it’s sort of like high school – that last bastion of open cruelty and segregation. Why do we do this? It’s a historical phenomenon – we place someone on a pedestal and alternately tear at them. Everything becomes heightened and compounded. This is fame.
It’s my belief that thoughtful, creative people are inherently averse to this sort of megawatt attention. I am not surprised that Lana gets anxious before a performance, and that she’s not entirely comfortable in her skin. Perhaps there are certain types of people who have the kind of narcissism and ego-protection for being in the spotlight. Some experts say that politicians are of this ilk, and of course there are those actors and performers who seem not only at home in the spotlight, but relish it and can’t get enough. (In a documentary on Conan O’Brien, the towering redhead talks about how he just doesn’t feel right unless he’s out there on stage, facing an audience. I happen to shudder at the thought.)
For years, I’ve been working on fiction novels. It’s an eye-rolling cliché to be an aspiring writer in today’s world of e-books and self-publishing, but, alas, it’s true. I was a writer before I did anything else creatively. Of course, I got the film bug and went to film school and worked on indie sets and commercials, and there was a particularly dark and drinky period of my life when I painted, but writing was where I returned when my son was born and I needed a major outlet. After six novel-length manuscripts and some dubious success with self-publishing, I’m still chipping away at it.
Thing is, in the back of my mind, something gnaws at me. It’s this idea that the picture of myself as a successful author will never be complete until I embrace the idea that selling books does not happen without the public dimension. It means possibly reading to a crowd, it means doing signings, perhaps touring. An author, especially today, has to work to sell his wares. This is an uncomfortable prospect for me.
I have been sober for three years now. What culminated in a period when I drank in the shower in the morning and carried a flask of liquor around with me during the day and wound up drunk every night finally came to an end one Christmas season when I hit rock bottom. Since then, my life has only gotten better, with blessing after blessing bestowed. Yet, at the same time, the cessation of drinking revealed a hulking presence in its absence – hello monster of Anxiety.
Anxiety, along with its pals Paranoia and Over-stimulation, was a big part of what drove me to drink in the first place. Something called “allostatic load” began happening to me from a young age. I had participated in acting and filmmaking as early as high school, and even won some award for drama, but social situations like parties and sports and even family events seemed too much to bear. Once I discovered drinking, however, my brain said, “Ah, this is the way to deal with all of this.”
And so it goes.
I’ve been working diligently with all of that for these past three years, but I don’t think or expect it to ever really go away, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to medicate it in the socially acceptable way (read as: Xanax). I accept that not feeling entirely comfortable at big gatherings or thrust into some spotlight or another is okay. Not only is it okay, but it’s part of who I am. I am a quiet person. I like one-on-one interaction, or small groups. When I write a book, I don’t have the world in mind. I have a few people, friends and family, and I write to them, and hope they like it.
There is a danger in believing that all of anxiety is somehow wrong or a problem which needs to be fixed. If Lana Del Rey doesn’t feel comfortable up there in front of everyone, if part of her yearns for the quiet life – she’s not alone, and I don’t think she needs to “fix” anything. What’s important is the creative world she wants to create. Having a vision, having that creative urge to realize something that is bubbling up from within, that’s what matters. Trying to unearth that, to get that out as intact as possible, to honor it, this is what creative types are meant to do. All of this farrago and scrutiny is not what it ought to be about; popularity is not the fruit of the artist’s labor – how the artist feels about the work and whether or not the vision has been achieved is the measure of fructification.
Part of this, yes, has to do with the feedback from the public. But, how much public does one need? Deriving income from creative work is highly possible without global success. How much money do you need to get from your work? If you are able to pay your light bill, if you are able to buy groceries from monies earned for intellectual property, then you are a success. And as far as critical feedback, there is a saying – if three people tell you that you have a tail, you ought to turn around and look to see if you have a tail. In other words, if three people tell you that your songs are amazing, then that’s all you should really need.
Lana, your songs are really outstanding. And while the videos you created may not be the ultimate expression of your vision, I really like them, too. I think you’re creating something that’s unique, and powerful, and I hope you continue to go with it. The work you do has value, and stirs my own creative energy, and is inspiring. Hopefully you can pay your light bill with it, and find yourself – introverted, quiet, thoughtful, creative – whole and intact after all is said and done.
The year my son was born was the year Bush was reelected President. “Okay,” I said to my son, “let’s talk about epistemology.” He cooed and dribbled back at me. “To understand how people come to know things,” I said, “is to understand how culture works.”
As he gnawed on a chubby fist, I explained to my infant boy about how, since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, its meaning had been skewed into one of entitlement. People are supposed to have the right to pursue happiness, but nowhere in there does it say “at any cost.” Wealthy white landowners not wanting to pay their taxes notwithstanding, the group of rebel artisans who crafted the fabled document knew what it was to receive the butt-end of overlordsmanship. Ultimate power corrupts, ultimately. So, very likely it was tacit within the Declaration that the pursuit of happiness was to be counterweighted with responsibility and sustainability.
My son nodded at me. Or perhaps he was falling asleep.
I wondered to him, could we ever go back to a time at the dawn of the industrial revolution and explain the need for sustainability to people? Likely it would have come across to them as “socialist” or a concept at least an impediment to progress, and, therefore, un-American. Already, the hook had been likely set. Conflating with our growth was the idea that anything which suggested we take measure of the future ramifications for our actions, or the strain they imposed on the earth, was to countermand the essential birthright of an American, which was unbridled progress. The pursuit of happiness — with no exceptions.
Quite possibly, progress is in our nature. At no time can we seriously imagine inserting ourselves into history and saying to our predecessor, “Hey, stop. Let’s think about this. Can we do this with an eye towards the future? Put that wheel down – don’t discover that fire. Don’t pave to road or try and make a better life for your family.” Of course we couldn’t. Nature is red and tooth and claw and survival is man’s first instinct. The bar for survival is constantly raised, the essence of it always changing. We are still at its mercy, trying to climb atop the heap of the world or carve out a space for ourselves in it. So it’s not a matter of eradicating something so innate within us – this striving for bettering our lives – but to temper it with responsibility.
Is growth at odds with sustainability? Are they mutually exclusive concepts? How do you progress – make something better, or get more of it – and keep it sustainable at the same time?
“This is what you’re tasked with,” I told my son, who was definitely asleep now, “reconciling human nature with the finite resources of the earth and the necessity of maintaining them.”
No small task, indeed. Soon after our discussion, he farted.
I didn’t post anything all week. I guess I didn’t have anything to say. Plus, my kid was home with a fever, his skin color waning like the blood in his body had been swapped for 1% milk. A buddy of mine, though, sums it all up. Life, art, criticism, inspiration. Thanks, old bone.
I have an embarrassing admission to make. Sometimes… no, often, when shopping for books, if it’s between two works from the same author and one was recognized with an award, I’ll take the more recognized work. Simply because other people have recognized it as being of quality make. Those labels, those damned shiny stars, they draw my eye like a lure does a fish. I also read ratings for movies. On Netflix I will let the star rating affect my choices. Not always, but often. When it comes to be a consumer, purchasing “stuff”, I do the same. I researched my wife’s coffee maker and read peoples’ rating and feedback.
So that’s nothing new. I’m one of the crowd. Back before all of this star rating and immediate access to judgments of all kinds and orders I used to pay attention to the recommendations of employees at certain video rental stores. I figured out who watched the good movies and then grab their recommendations off the shelf. Again, probably nothing too extraordinary here.
I guess what I’m getting at in a rather roundabout way is… I think this has a lot to do with the ocean of noise.
Sure there are always those Nietzschian screamers — the squeaky, or rather, exploding wheels. The people who tear their mouths open and scream until their own sound reaches above the din. And maybe they get noticed.
The gimmicky and niche-based works will continue to provide us with just enough novelty to get us through until something profound comes along.
I don’t know. I guess we’ll continue to have critics. We want them. We need them. Because we trust in the labels, the shiny stickers and awards, at least enough to purchase the products. But even more so we’ll continue to judge each other. Because that’s what we want. It’s something that comes natural to us. We want people to know our opinions, because they are so personal to us. And we’ll continue to listen to other peoples’ opinions of us and our works because… well, they’re fucking listening, at least a little bit.
It sounds like you’re reaching for what comes next. I don’t know. I can’t see around that corner. A lot of stuff is changing drastically pretty quickly these days, but I find it hard to think of another paradigm for critical analysis of art, especially when we have just finally gotten people to feel connected to a piece of art through critiquing and being heard. It seems like people will ride this out for as long as possible. There is a certain vanity in having your opinion heard and then taken. We all love it, especially when someone else loves it, and then someone else loves it, and then…
The question remains… how to be heard above the din. There is a lot of fucking noise going on out there. It can feel overwhelming.. all those people… all that art…
The competition is fierce.
I find myself in the camp of the Old School. Persistent pushing.
I may be naive. I may be out of sync, out of date. But I find that a lot of old shit still works. You just have to keep it tuned up.