When I was about eight or nine years old, I won a ten-speed bike in a raffle sponsored by our town’s police department. I recall standing near the back of a small crowd of kids and parents, hearing my name called out, and not feeling surprised at all that I was the winner. It seemed natural that I would be the protagonist in any event I got involved in. Like, in the same way that if you were having a birthday party, you’d be the kid that got to blow out the candles on the cake. I didn’t puzzle very much over the conundrum that my winning meant a hundred or so other kids didn’t win. I just assumed I was meant to be the star of the show.
As an adult, I have become much more realistic about my lack of centrality in the events of the world, and I am not very prone to enter lotteries or contests of any sort except for one: the contest of seeking attention for my creative works – music, and more recently writing. It’s been decades now, and when it comes to this particular raffle, I still haven’t gotten used to the idea that I’m not going to win it eventually, or that I don’t deserve to. Of course, I know that this stubbornness is not logical. There are millions of other creatives competing for the same prize, and certainly plenty of them are more talented and dedicated than I am.
So what is it that keeps a self-aware, circumspect fellow like me waiting expectantly, in spite of the odds, to have my number called out and see something I created lit up on the marquee of public reception? Am I, along with every other attention-craving artist, simply delusional and narcissistic? Or is there something justifiable about our demands that the world give us some shrift?
Well, for one, when I create a song, or write an essay, or a short story, I have created a small world that I then live in very vividly for at least a short while. I want other people to join me in that world! I want companionship in that world; I want to not feel insane for being the only one who knows how to get there; I want other people’s perspectives to help me understand it. In other words, I want the same kind of community I would have in experiencing and reacting to the work of well-known artists, but in this case, for work that just happens to have my name on it. I want my work to have an audience, so that I don’t have to be alone in engaging it.
Another way I look at this is to draw a parallel between the learning of a creative form and the learning of a language. When children learn language, they start out as intensive listeners. The adults do all the talking and the children pay a lot of attention and figure out how it all works. At some point, as young language learners, we all realize that we too, can take our own feelings, desires, intentions, observations and questions and put them into words that have an affect on the world and the people in our lives. We learn that not only do people talk to us, but we can talk back to them. And this is a big part of what being human is all about.
To complete the analogy, as a musician, I started out as a listener and a fan, receiving the feelings, desires, intentions, observations and questions of the “stars.” After I got the hang of how this kind of communication works by listening to music, at some point I ventured into the making of music. So, for me at least, in the same way that when I started learning to talk I would want to use my new skill to share my thoughts with the people I learned from, I find myself with a desire for my music to be heard from the people that I learned from – my musical parents, so to speak. Now, of course, I realize that having this expectation is basically insane, because unlike my real parents, who actually raised me and cared about me more than anything else, the established artists who inspired me to make music and to write have no reason to care about me in particular. But my unconscious mind does not know the difference between realistic and unrealistic. So here I am wanting them to complete the circle with me. And the only way that will happen is if I become well known for my work.
Paradoxically, having the ability to express myself through music and writing, as wonderful of a gift as it is, leaves me much of the time yearning for a connectedness that always seems out of reach.
Now, it has been explained to me by some musician and author friends who are one, two or several steps further along than me that this kind of frustrated yearning persists, and maybe even gets worse, no matter how high you climb the fame stairway. They tell me how there’s always somebody or some range of listeners whose opinion is crucial to you who just doesn’t know or care about your work, and the kinds of recognition that were once a thrill become not good enough. I think there must be some level where it is no longer an issue (Paul McCartney?), but I get the basic idea. “You gotta make the music for you, man.” I know, I know. And “The grass is always greener,” and “It’s a jungle out there,” and “You can’t always get what you want but if you try some time you get what you need.”
When I was discussing these thoughts with an old friend, she seemed to have misunderstood my point and thought that I was asserting some kind of childish demand of “The Universe” that it should fulfill my unsatisfied wishes; that this blog post is some kind of a complaint. Not at all. It’s just that I’ve always felt kind of petty and immature for continuing to have dreams of “fame” and now I’ve had these insights that help me understand why it is natural that I would have such dreams. I no longer feel like an idiot about it, in fact, I’m PROUD of my deluded yearnings, and if you have something similar, you should be proud too!