And we all act a part,
We all need a script
And an audience to play to.
No matter what you do,
Or who you are,
Everybody's a star".--Ray Davies
The forecast said that the snow would accelerate come midnight, but it's 12:30 a.m. and the snow has turned to rain. It may pick up yet, but that's my memory of snow, my whole life through--when the weather says "definitely", it doesn't materialize, and when the weather says "no way", it drifts in profusion.
I'm pondering the desire to be somebody tonight.
I suppose it's an affectation to have a favorite hymn, because it implies I am pious in ways other than I am, if I am pious at all. But I do have a favorite hymn. It's set to Sibelius' "Finlandia", a piece in song form by a composer whose symphonies are arguably more rich and satisfying than this bit of patriotic music. But it's a very nice tune, and the hymn "This is My Song", set to that tune, means a great deal to me.
The hymn has at least five verses, written by two different authors. The first two verses are the ones I like. The last three, grafted on by a well-meaning but (I believe) misguided Methodist named Georgia Harkness, seek to graft on Christ-centric lyrics which don't fit onto the two initial verses, which are about seeking understanding. It's a bit like putting raisin vines on top of fine wine grape vines.
I'll quote just a bit of the two verses I like:
"This is my home, my country where my heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
But other hearts in other lands are beating
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine".
The song goes on to ask for peace for all lands. I believe this is the most patriotic song I know, because it is patriotic to an entire planet. I like the fellow who founded the Baha'i Faith, because he says something I very much admire: "The earth is but one country, and humankind its citizens".
Tonight, though, I sit and think of Lloyd Stone, the obscure poet who wrote the two meaningful verses of "This is My Song". He wrote the song in 1934, when he was but 22 years old. I was surprised to learn that he lived until I was 32, which means that had I realized he was alive, I could have written him to thank him for writing the song. I am always finding that people whom I admire died before I realized that they lived in my times.
I don't know much about him, except that he had roots in Hawaii, and his name tends to get the appellation appended to it "obscure poet". I'm sure he wrote with hopes of being widely read, and instead he left us one church lyric. But somehow he seems to me to be one of life's great winners, because his words mean a lot to me.
It's so easy to think of creating a poem or a painting or a
novel or a song as merely a way to try to become "famous" or to live a life less mundane. I know that my own desire to express myself far outpaces any gift I have for doing so. Like the folks parodied in the Kinks song I quote above, it's so much easier to think of oneself as a poet than, say, a commercial litigation attorney.
I think, sometimes, how fame and fortune seem to seek out the wrong people, or even take the right people and change them into the wrong people. Sometimes, though, fame picks the right people, and sometimes it by-passes the right people. Sadly, there's not even a good formula for assessing artists, because obscurity is certainly no guarantee of being "talented but misunderstood", and fame no guarantee of low quality.
It's a bit like that snow in our current weather. The drifts come when you least expect them, a time or two a year. When they are predicted, they don't happen at all. But then, sometimes, the winter storm does arrive, just as the weatherwoman said.
I think of writers in the past who *knew* they were writers, and who wrote novels other people bought and admired, and yet their mark today is small and fading. Consider Winifred Holtby, for example. Her father was a wealthy farmer and mother was an alderwoman, but she dreamed of being a novelist rather than a more lucrative profession.
She wrote five novels, with mixed results. She worked extensively as a journalist. She campaigned for pacifist causes, for feminism and the Labour Party.
As her career began to reach fruition, at the age of 33, she
learned that her kidneys were failing, and she had but two years to live. She pitched herself into the sixth novel which is considered her best, "South Riding". This novel and "The Ginger Tree" are still read by a few, but in the main she is a forgotten novelist. She died, having been sedated out of consciousness amid her joy, hours after the man she wanted to be in her life for the 16 years preceding told her he loved her, on her death bed.
I read in LiveJournal some truly outstanding writers, and
sometimes in an airport I'll pick up escapist fiction which is truly banal. In this vein, by the way, although some great mysteries are still being written, it amazes me how many formula mysteries lack even the shadow of a ghost of life these days. Only fantasy novels lost in role-playing game detritus seem to be more prefabricated. At the same time, I can think quickly of three folks I love to read on LJ who cannot interest an editor of even an obscure litmag in publishing their work(s).
One could easily get discouraged, at the various cruelties of this world. Surely, if the most talented do not always get the breaks, how is one to live? I suggest that one cannot live banking on fame or recognition. One must create for a different reason.
Winifred Holtby said something I like in this vein, about one's life's mission:
"To learn, to practise, to work, to see all I can, to understand all I can.... And so, perhaps, one day be worthy of being used, And if not - it's an honour that comes to few; why should I expect to be privileged?"
It's been aptly said that the problem with poetry is that there are too many poets and not enough readers. Some mildly haughty folks use taglines like that to try to convince people not to write. But in fact, the lesson one should learn, it seems to me, is not that fewer ought to write, but that more ought to read.
I am not a big devotee of the "they're morons" school of thought used by so many to explain the paucity of numbers of folks interested in "high art". In the custody battle arising from the great divorce of "the cognoscenti" and the "common reader", my hopes are that custody of literature will be given to the common reader. I believe in 'zines more than in grant-driven academic journals trying to wring the last drop of bloods from the turnip of a self-contained novel. I believe in the living-room music composer and the
coffee-shop-open-mike poet, but not in the mantra that "if it's popular, it can't be good". It's not so easy as "if it sells, must sound like hell" or "must be good--nobody's listening".
I think that the focus should not be on how much money one makes, nor on whether one gets to sleep with someone suitably nubile because of one's art. I don't even think that obscurantism for its own sake is necessarily the point. I notice, though, that in this narrow-cast time, I'm much more likely to buy from someone who does something that interests me, even if that person sells in quantities of less than one hundred CDs a release.
All but the most famous ambient musicians, for example, simply do not really sell very much at all. Yet ambient artists with kitchen table record labels have graced my CD player far more often than many more fashionable folks from major labels with 64 track studios playing MIDIs through mainframes and the like.
I suppose, though, that lots of folks wish to "be someone".
I certainly like to share poems with other folks--heck, last year as I've mentioned, I ignored the fact that I'm not musically talented and proceeded with a friend to cut a CD based on electric football, kazoos and the slide whistle. My goal was certainly not money, nor even fame in the real sense, but instead a certain sort of shared whimsy, similar to the experiences which the works of other people not entirely dissimilar to me have inspired in me.
Maybe that's the point, really--that sharing. It's because of the sharing that one wishes to read, to see, to listen, as well as to create. I always find it a bit of a shame that some artists and some writers are so hard on each other and so quick to criticize and belittle. Any fame, the theory goes, is an affront to the neglected. But it's a mug's game if money, fame and a place in "Who's Who" are the real prizes. One might as well be an MBA for a major corporation--the pay's usually better, and the country club presidency easier to achieve.
But to me, it's the sharing of a moment of insight that is what matters, to reader and to writer. Lloyd Stone is all but forgotten, but every time I sing his hymn lyrics, I pray for peace for people I don't know. I feel a little hope that maybe the world does not need to be so bleak.
The snow melts, after all. The markers for the trail disappear as new Springs arise. The obscure do things that matter intensely, then vanish without a trace.
But there's a virtue in this sharing, a kind of sainthood, a kind of martyrdom. Although I am like the fellow in the letter to the Corinthians who says that it means nothing without love, that interconnection seems to me to have something very like love in it.
I suppose I think we should all escape, and then link up, and live somehow as if the things we read and write matter.
It's not a matter of making a mark, but the notion I have is that the experience of sharing in the marketplace of ideas is itself worth the hassle and effort to take the plunge out among folks who may not "get it", and may entirely misunderstand.
I think it is a virtue to show one's real, true self. Sometimes only art or fiction or a bad poem will suffice as the one true mirror. I think that holding that mirror up to what is real is a virtue in itself.