Starving Artist

I saw this Tweet thread this morning, reacting to the news of the Squid Game creator, who apparently struggled for years, had to sell his laptop, got rejected, et cetera before finally breaking big with his show recently. His show is about the monstrous ills and woes of capitalism, how it eats people alive, which makes a lot of the stuff he went through seem pretty personal. Almost meta.

But then, as the Tweets say, you get this narrative where it’s inspiring. People will say “never give up.” They’ll say “follow your dreams.” It’s a good general way to go about life in that we all need stuff to keep us happy and fulfilled. And maybe once in a while you do get published. I was glad to get the stories I’ve published out in the world. It is possible.

However, there was always the slight voice in the back of my mind telling me this was a bit annoying, the whole follow your dreams narrative.

It’s just in the kind of empty-calorie optimism in that statement. “If you just keep working hard, you’ll be on Netflix or published by Penguin Random House or have your own TV show or your dream job just like that!” I don’t know. There are ways to be fulfilled and there are ways to live a fine life. But the entertainment industry, and breaking big in any way – that’s a tough thing to do. Most of us won’t, in writing or comedy or film or any of it. I’ll see comedians make Facebook pages for themselves a year or so into comedy. That just seems bizarre to me. You don’t even know what you’re selling yet. Some comics do it for 10, 20, 30 years before they really get any success. It seems like deluding yourself.

And the world is full of these stories of artists not making it for decades or something. The entertainment system’s gatekeepers pick what they want at the time and other things inevitably get left behind. Loads of the things I like, movies or bands for example, I can go on their Wikipedia pages and see the same thing like clockwork, like the refrain of a song: “initially the work was panned and critics hated it, but years later it was reassessed as a masterpiece.” It makes you wonder if maybe nothing is ever objective. And it makes you wonder who else we’re sleeping on.

As I write this I’m playing a John Lee Hooker album. This is a guy who made music for literally like 40 or 50 years before finally getting a charting album in his 70s. That’s crazy to me. Inspiring, but wow, I don’t think he was planning on it taking so long.

The industry and art are like yin and yang – we need the industry to amplify the art, but the artistic instinct is very different from a business mindset. The industry, responding to the insatiable need for entertainment, has become a gigantic money-driven machine. This isn’t to make this all some kind of ‘fuck the system’ point – I can do that any old time. I’m just saying that maybe it’s all relative who gets success and we shouldn’t base our worths off that.

Maybe social media has played a role in it, giving us all a platform to feel like we have bullhorns to say whatever. Or maybe it’s just part of human nature to want to be recognized for something, in some way. I dunno. The comedian Sara Schaefer had this podcast where she outlined the details of how TV shows get made, with all the various steps, rewrites, meetings, consultants, people it has to go through – and that sometimes, even after all that, the show still doesn’t make it to the air.

I can go on writing forums and social media threads and there are hundreds of comments all talking about their books and projects. About how far along they are and their ideas. All of them miniature universes living in minds and laptops and cell phones. It’s inspiring. I hope all of them get finished to satisfaction. And beyond that there are the mountains and mountains of published works that are not touted as masterpieces or remembered by the ages, but they’re still there, still definitively in the world. And maybe humanity is a vast and wide thing and a great mountain of experiences and the creation and expression of art is its own virtue, and it’s fine just to be happy with whatever you do have, the sheer electric experience of creating and the validation whenever you actually do accomplish something.

But yeah, it’s just Hollywood and NYC that decide everything for us – if you’re not in those cities you’re not making it, apparently. What a small thing that kind of world seems like to me.

Anachronism

I feel like a man out of time.

This isn’t supposed to be one of these ‘fuck all that newfangled social media’ old-man types of posts – but it will seem like it.

Thing is, it seems like everything I do naturally just happens to be the opposite of what you need to do to be successful on social media. TikTok videos have become popular – they’re short by nature. I am verbose and like longer-winded content, big essays and articles. I enjoy words and giving myself the space to elucidate. On Facebook, the algorithm doesn’t seem to like it when you post links. Or at least the ones I post never seem to get much interactions anymore. But I keep doing it. Like picking a scab. I can’t help it. Then I get very little engagements and I just leave the computer and do other things. It’s a never-ending cycle.

The longer I spend online, and the more I just find myself tired of it all anyway. The same old repackaged unfunny memes. Man, I know everyone finds them funny, but after a while, if I see a meme or a joke repeated too many times, it’s physically painful to me. It’s an irritant like my seasonal allergies. I just want to take those really over-used jokes and shoot them into the sun.

And the political stuff. Man, is that eyeroll-worthy. Do you know how difficult it is to change anybody’s opinion on the internet? I can scroll through Facebook and Twitter and these ‘debates’ are primarily just people shouting over each other. Pure ego masturbation. There’s almost never any real value in it but to rack up Likes from others who share your point of view. I’ll find myself succumbing anyway sometimes, as the urge grows too strong. Then I kick myself because it’s pointless. I wasted time arguing for the Likes when I could’ve been outside looking at a lake or something.

So with all that said, over the past few years I’ve tried to really look at my own ways I used social media.

There was a point when I realized there was very little value in just posting serious political missives like “x should do this,” “they should do that,” all this kind of loud bullhorn stuff, as if I am a political dignitary. Last I checked, I wasn’t. It started to seem fake and like I was preaching to a choir, not really moving any dials. These days I just post what I find interesting. I like learning things and reading about what’s happening. That won’t change anything. I’ve realized that now.

And for a while, when I started comedy, I was always thinking ‘well, alright, what content can I do to try and get more engagement?’ That quickly got snuffed out. Thing is, I just couldn’t think of anything to do that wouldn’t seem artificial, corny or gauche to my standards. This isn’t to bash anybody else. I’m just bad at that kind of thing.

My thoughts on that aspect of comedy ends up being like well, why do we need to brand ourselves so much anyway? Is that all there is to life? Branding every aspect of yourself into some manufactured, processed and marketable facade? That’s some creepy, dystopian shit to me. But some people really make it work. At some point I just have to admit it’s a ‘me’ problem. Other people have that skill and I don’t. My brand is just what I choose to post online, and the stuff I post has alienated people all the time and also made me some good friends over the years. That’s all I can cop to here.

I’m not trying to be some old-man bitching about the modern world. I like the connectivity of social media. I try and embrace new things. As a person with hearing aids, I kind of have to like technology. I’d be fucked without it. I hope it goes further and I can fully get bionic ears someday and not even need the hearing aids.

And at the end of the day, despite everything I said about social media, I guess this blog is a bunch of self-indulgence, too. So maybe everything is relative.