Degas, a great artist, also aspired to be a poet. As he confided in his friend Mallarmé, however, he had somehow never succeeded in writing a good poem despite having had good ideas. 'That,' Mallarmé replied, 'is because poetry is made not with ideas but with words.'Last night I decided to scour the bookshelves for something to read, and I happened across Gilbert Adair's Surfing the Zeitgeist, which is a fine collection of very, very short essays [generally two pages]. One of them, entitled On conceptual art, contains the passage quoted above. It makes sense as a stand-alone snippet, but what it means to me is something a little bit different.
You see, I've always had good ideas about writing, but I've been pretty much a complete failure when it comes to actually writing anything. Like Degas, I too have had aspirations to be a poet, or at least a writer. Like Degas, I've never succeeded at this. Most of the time, I'm conveniently able to forget I ever wanted to be a writer at all, but whenever I'm confronted with my friends' artistic successes1, I tend to start thinking about the poor quality and/or just plain nonexistance of my own work, and I feel drained, useless, failed.
How do I change this? Beats me. When I was younger, I tried to at least sign up for university classes to help me learn how to write, but I was never successful at even gaining entry to one of those classes. [That of course is the drawback to having attended a low cost public university - imagine hundreds of students vying for one of ten spaces in Isabel Allende's workshop. Now try applying as a white male. Fun!] Now that I'm older, and now that I have financial obligations [read: a mortgage] that require continued success in the profession I've more or less accidentally stumbled into, I've completely lost all insight into what I'd have to do to, say, finish that abandoned manuscript from 2001, or at the very least get paid some small sum of money for a moderately interesting, hopefully reasonably witty couple of pages hidden away in the back of some magazine I don't even read.
Coming home this evening, I couldn't help but feel even more of a loser upon finding an Amazon.com package with that Mondo Homo book Dave White contributed to. Yeah, it's hit or miss, and whichever editor chose that picture of "a bear" needs to be taken outside and shot.
Still, Dave's bits are awesome, even if I don't believe for a minute that he's actually read Dead Souls. I mean, has anyone? But I digress. Reading his last piece, which I think was called Why You Need To Have Sex With Me Right Now, I started feeling really good about myself for the first time in a while. Until, of course, he started talking about simonbear's indisputable hotness2, and suddenly I'm overwhelmed again by that feeling of loserdom. I can't write like Dave, I'm not hot like Kevin, and well, what am I good at exactly? What is it about me that makes me specifically me? I have no idea. I don't cook like Jason, I don't have a laugh as wonderful as Dave's, I'm not as comfortable with my sexuality as Dan, definitely not as loving as Kim, as fit as Richard, as smart as Brodie... and so on and so forth.
I suspect, though, that if I ever figure out the answer to that question, I might actually become a good writer. Or at least get laid. Either one would be fine.
I didn't ♥ Huckabees much, but I definitely got a huge, silly grin on my face when I heard the question How am I not myself? asked in the movie.
Thanks Dave. You rip, lover.3
1. For example, watching The Incredibles last Friday night, I of course thought of mindplay.
2. For all I know he could have been referring to booddhabear or e_ticket - Dave did that old "a friend of mine, let's call him x" trick - but I'm guessing that'd be Kevin S.
3. Especially in the whole proofreading game. I couldn't help but think of moroccomole reading that book... your sections are near flawless [there's a missing space and/or a kerning problem on the last page, but that's it], but some of the other sections... ugh, typo city. I'd list 'em but the book's downstairs and the marmot's sleeping.