Tuesday, August 4, 2015
Yesterday author and National Book Award nominee Beth Kephart penned an eloquent commentary about the pitfalls of popularity among artists.
My own egalitarian world-view and desire to respect boundaries of those who create art long ago made me a reluctant fangirl. Only recently have I begun to stand in lines of autograph seekers and will still only do this if procuring an author's autograph. Doing so still makes me uncomfortable.
I think about how the author must honestly feel as lines of teachers await a moment of contact with those we idolize. Am I somehow intruding on the writer's creative space? Does the author silently seethe and long for the solitude of alone time?
Our lives in the bubble of social media, where many writers maintain fan pages and accept friend requests from their loyal follower and fans, must on some level exact a price I can only imagine. The mystery of who a writer is and how a writer lives gets unveiled on social media. We have drawn back the curtain on the Wizard, and in doing so, at least for me, have lost part of the reading experience. That is, I can't help but conflate what I know about a writer based on his/her presence on social media with the books I read. And in doing so, I've lost some of the pleasure inherent in the solitude of reading.
Kephart wrote her comments after seeing Amy, the critically acclaimed documentary about the gifted singer Amy Winehouse, a woman who eschewed the spotlight:
Winehouse never originally wanted to be famous, never thought she would be famous, never imagined herself capable of fame. She is there, in the footage, saying so. But fame became hers, fame became her, and she had to live, and die, with the consequences.
I haven't seen Amy, but I have witnessed the constant posturing by some teachers who position themselves to get as "close" to YA and children's book writers as possible. There are some whose book recommendations hold no credibility for me because the lines have been so blurred that I'm not confident an endorsement for a title necessarily happens based on an honest critique of a book or a desire to seek approval from the writer.
This desire to court favor runs in two directions, as Kephart writes:
There is a dividing line between those who make things in order to be known or seen, and those whose loyalties lie with the things themselves—the songs, the films, the stories. There are those who craft themselves into a brand—who orchestrate aggrandizements, who leverage opportunities, who seek out "friendships" that will advance them, who overstay their welcome, who build cliques that further not their art but their careers, who ricochet with gossip. And there are those who (I think, in the book world, of Alice McDermott, Marilynne Robinson, and Michael Ondaatje) seek out private quiet. Yes, they cede to interviews and talks and touring when their books are released. But they also vanish from public view, and consumption, just as soon as they're able.
I'd add Thomas Pynchon to the list Kephart mentions as I can think of no other more reclusive writer. I don't think he's been photographed in more than 30 years.
In high school I wrote one fan letter--to Barry Manilow. For years that letter needled me because both it and the response, a form letter, reminded me of a false construct. And as I think about that letter and the "friendships" I've forged with writers on social media and through chats at conferences, I'm reminded to remember boundaries. I'm reminded to observe the social construct and weigh it against what I know gives a text merit. I'm reminded to offer honest commentary and to disclose my personal relationship with a writer. I'm reminded to be gracious and respectful of the time writers devote to fans like me and to question my motives in forging relationships with them.
I'm reminded that writers need space to create and that the best fangirl persona I can offer is to keep some mystery alive and to embrace my reluctant, inner fangirl. Writers give so much when they create books, is it fair to ask more?