Thursday, 8 May 2014

This Time it's Personal ~ part 4

So, where were we? Anger.
I've just read back over the last three instalments because I don't want to repeat myself too much. 

Anger - that's what it's about. Paul asked me if that last 'rant' got it off my chest. I told him it didn't. It never does. I've known a few people over the years, prone to the odd rant here and there. Like most people I sort of assume it's about expressing your views, getting it off your chest, telling everyone what you think. It's a form of self-expression - like having a certain taste in music or supporting a team. The things that get a person mad say a lot about them. It's a way of saying 'this is me, and this is what I care about. This is what I (won't) stand for.' Or else it's just blowing off steam. For me though I sense it's different. For me it's trying to convince others that there is good reason for how I feel and what I think - that I'm not just some bizarre incomprehensible dreamer. I don't expect people to agree with me, but I want them to take my opinion seriously. Really, it's a plea for understanding.

This, I know, sounds a bit pathetic. Surely a grown man like myself should feel reasonably secure in his convictions by now, after all, what is this whole blog about if it's not about telling all and sundry what's what? And at some level that's right. I do write about things I care deeply about, things I agree with and things I think are wrong. Part of me holds these views very dear, and my ability to see things the way I do, which I think is a little unusual, and which I really value. 
The problem is that at the same time I believe deep down that my way of looking at things is irrelevant. It doesn't matter how good I am at thinking things through, or how worthwhile my insights might be (or how good I am at expressing them) because most people don't see things that way. They judge a persons utterances by how well they fit with their own preconceived notions. They skim read or half-listen, picking out bits that tell them which box to put you and your views in. They judge you by your appearance, by your social aptitude, your friends, in fact by pretty much anything except what you actually say because the point is all about fitting in, not about being right. And I have never fitted in.
At some point I went from simply being a sad and bewildered misfit to being an angry outsider. At some point in my teens I think I started to feel rather than think 'why should I try to fit in?' Because that's how you get on, that's why' you might have replied, but somehow I wouldn't, or couldn't. Trying to fit in felt, and still feels, like being beaten, like being colonised. At some level, I have a deep faith in my way of seeing the world - not as infallible (far from it. Scepticism and uncertainty are crucial parts of my way of seeing things) but as worthwhile and above all, positive, but I am equally sure that my refusal to jump hoops means that what I have to say will be ignored.

It's like me trying to get my novel published. A friend asked me if I really believed my book was great. He was reacting to the fact that my attempts at approaching publishers had been somewhat faltering and brief. His point was that if you really believe in what you are doing it follows that you will have the drive to do whatever it takes to achieve it. I said yes, I really love my novel, and I do. And i believe in it. I wrote it partly because I wanted to write the sort of thing that I would want to read, if I for instance came across it in a book shop or library. And I succeeded. I know it has all sorts of flaws and as they say, no art is ever 'finished', only abandoned. But it also has some really good bits, and for what it is, my first novel, I'm very chuffed with it, and I still enjoy reading it. But the point is, I told him, that that says nothing about how anybody else will see it. My own opinions are irrelevant because deep down I really believe that people will dismiss it because it doesn't fit in. The actual quality of the book is irrelevant.

There is some truth in this. Publishers like books that fit into set genres, and they like them to be written by people they know, or at least, people they can relate to (Eng. lit. degree, journalism, Oxbridge...) or who are already famous for something (or are related to someone famous) I just don't have the connections. Even if my manuscript somehow got read, I tend to feel that it will be dismissed on some pretext. A 'friend' who I gave it to to look at just sort of gave it back to me after looking at the first page. His only comment was that he'd have liked me to use semi-colons. It sounds ludicrous but that's the sort of arbitrary, petty pretext I expect things to be judged on. Did he use the right paper? Did he refer to me in his covering letter as 'Sir'? Has he used the right font in his CV? Nothing to do with the writing. One editor I went to see simply told me it was too long and I'd have to cut it by three quarters. She hadn't read any of it. It was just the wrong size. And this of course brings us back to what I said about capitalism. The market wants a recognisable, predictable product - something resembling the latest best-seller. I'm not pretending to be a great author (hardly) but I do wonder how Proust or Joyce would have felt about these criteria being applied to their writing. Another friend told me what my dad would have told me - that you have to go through a sort of apprenticeship - doing what is expected to gain some sort of reputation before you can claim the freedom to do something original. I don't agree. That's just about status - about putting you in your place, nothing to do with creativity. Or at least, I don't want to do that (I can't) If I have to spend years writing stuff that means less to me, just following the rules, in the hope that one day I'll have enough of a reputation to write in a way that really means something to me, well, they'll have to go without. It's their loss.
But of course they won't even notice. There are all sorts of reasons why my work, assuming anyone ever looks at it, will be dismissed, but frankly it makes no odds to them whatsoever, and the reasons are irrelevant. I just don't fit in. I am on my own. They can safely ignore me without consequences.

Sometimes it feels like this dismissal (which is the best word I can think of to describe it, although it's not quite right) is deliberate, but more often it is merely thoughtless. They just don't care, or they don't notice. They're too busy. Sometimes they seem impatient, exasperated or embarrassed with me. Sometimes they seem contemptuous. Occasionally it feels malicious - like they are laughing at me - enjoying my humiliation. In any case it is the reaction I expect. 

So it doesn't matter how good my ideas are, how good my writing is. There are no mitigating circumstances - no excuses. They don't want to know. They simply want not to have to bother with me. They want to dismiss what I have done, what I think, who I am and get back to what they do, together, as adults. I still feel, often, as if I am somehow smaller than everyone else (I am a little on the short side) a child among adults. What I think doesn't matter. What I say is irrelevant. Nobody's listening. 
I used to go off somewhere quietly and do things on my own. At some point (in my early twenties I think) I began to try to explain to people why I thought the things I did and to try to get them to understand. They really didn't want to know. I tried too hard and made a fool of myself. I became resentful. They really didn't want me around then, so I went off on my own.

Emma says my reaction seems too much under the circumstances but I'd have thought that almost anybody would be angry - furious even - if people really did react that way to them on a regular basis. But of course, they don't, do they? My rational mind throws doubts on this feeling. It can't really be true can it? I sort of know, at some level that it can't really be true. 
And yet it feels so true. And somehow, as yet, the rational fact that the world cannot possibly be like that, has had no effect on the power of that feeling. They have no effect on each other. I simply feel, when I get stressed, tired or hungry that that is how the world reacts to me - with contempt, exasperation, dismissal, derision.

That's why I get angry. 

to be continued...


Vincent said...

Some aspects of the dilemma you describe are familiar to me and so excite immediate sympathy, I mean the business of trying to publish your work. Publishing in all aspects is run as a market and everyone wants to be paid. Furthermore the supply of novels vastly exceeds the demand, leading to a reluctance of the gatekeepers to spend more than a few seconds to evaluate someone’s life work. That’s the cruel part, for there is no commercial obligation on the part of agents or publishers to exert themselves even to the extend of acknowledging your communication.

However, you conflate a number of things which I can’t help feeling ought to be kept distinct. Rejecting “my novel” is not “rejecting me”. Even “rejecting my view of the world” is not the same as “rejecting me”. I’m pretty sure that the world does not want to waste energy reacting to me, particularly not “with contempt, exasperation, dismissal, derision”, which use up quite a bit of energy. My novel is mine, and so is my view of the world, and so is my sense of my own self. What I think of me is more important than what anyone else thinks of me. Unless I am more thick-skinned than a rhinoceros, I won’t be insensible as to what others think, but then I cannot really know, either. I don’t have to fit in, but I do have the navigate the ship of myself, with its finite range of sails, rigging and crew, on the oceans of this world, with whatever current, wind and weather they present.

In this sense it is a level playing-field. We each have to face the world with what we’ve got, a dilemma presented lyrically by Kenny Rogers in “The Gambler”.

It seems to me that if one can write, which you manifestly can, one has the means to increase understanding of “what I am” through enhanced self-awareness.One can also apply this feedback loop to every interaction one has with the world., using it for self-transformation as an end in itself, bringing the benefit of seeing that life is an endless succession of precious gifts, if one has the eyes to see them.

Steve Law said...

What you say here is completely obvious and beside the point. These last five blog entries are not about getting published. That's just an example. The whole point of these five entries is to work out precisely why I conflate rejection/dismissal/contempt of what I do with rejection of myself in a more general way. I know rationally it doesn't make sense but it happens and as you can imagine, it makes life pretty miserable at times. I haven't found a way yet to change it. This just happens to be my latest attempt.
It may be that I'm not making myself clear or it may be that you just skimmed it. Either way I'm sorry you missed the point. It's a lot to wade through I know but I mainly wrote it for my benefit not general consumption, so I'm not surprised.

Vincent said...

Thanks for the reminder that we have been here before, on precisely the same point, that to you there is a definite point, as defined by you, and if anyone else has a point it is summarily dismissed as out of order, off the agenda, waste of time and so forth.

No need to be sorry, as to whether I missed your point or you missed mine. I wrote my comment from freewill & took the risk of your peremptory rejection.

A jury might agree that this particular entry, the one which I responded to, is partly about getting published. I've taken the trouble to read a considerable part of your novel & appreciate as much of its virtues as I felt able.

At the risk of being even more obvious and beside the point I shall merely add that a jury might think your response ungracious in the circumstances, but never mind. The world is what it is and you are part of it. I shall make appropriate adjustments to my understanding of your web-published writings, to the effect that my heartfelt and honestly-expressed feedback is likely to be abruptly rebuffed & considered by you not worth the while.

Which seems to mirror the experience you have recorded in various realms of experience including interactions with publishers.

No need to apologize for anything, dear Steve.

Steve Law said...

No, this time I'm just pissed off that you had either not read what I wrote properly or had chosen to ignore it and talked about something else. I think it's bad manners actually to read what someone has taken the trouble to write and just out of 'free will' talk about what you want to talk about. What's the point? I know you like your blog to be rambling and unfocussed but I don't.

So yes - I 'define' (or rather, I decide) the point - it's my blog. I write what I write because I want to talk about that point - not take it off at a tangent. That's what I want. That's why I write the blog. You have your own blog to write the stuff that matters to you, in the way you like.
So no, I wasn't being 'ungracious'. I was being pissed off.

That said, considering our differences we normally rub along pretty well, so please allow me this foible and this pissed-offness and I hope we can meet again under happier circumstances in the future. Yes?

Vincent said...

If I recall correctly, you were pissed off in exactly the same way last time. I do allow you this foible. I did in fact read all you wrote, though i might have chosen to skim through some of it. You admitted to a rant, that is, saying exactly what you wanted to say. I gave you my intuitive response, without disguising it into anything else.

I don't think we are rubbing along badly, though happier circumstances are certainly conceivable.

Ungracious vs pissed off. Good point: when I am pissed off, I am likely to appear ungracious to others.

As for your main point, in the terms that you defined, I didn't choose to ignore it, but couldn't say anything about it. Merely wanted to express some friendly words about an aspect that I could more easily relate to, and which, in my view considering the inter-relatedness of all things (said self-mockingly) was not irrelevant to your main point at all. However I won't attempt to spell that out and will merely reply "Yes" to your last para, in totality.

Steve Law said...

I was thinking earlier about how to respond to this and was rather dreading your response but I needn't have worried. I was going to liken the situation to someone coming into the middle of a conversation and getting the wrong end of the stick, in which case my response was 'ungracious'.

A couple of thoughts occur - one is that this exchange does indeed mirror the problem in that I had written something that I felt was important - and and I felt that (I cannot emphasise that phrase enough. It is my feeling, not an objective fact)someone else had come along and read what they wanted into it, in this case telling me something that is obvious (that publishing is a business yada-yada-yada - assuming I'm so naive that that had not occurred to me). Those are the feelings that came up here. Effectively my ideas are dismissed or taken over.
I say again - this is how it felt. What you've said since tells me you didn't mean that and past experience inclines me to trust you (as much as I can trust anyone) but it still feels that way. That is the problem.

The other thought concerned what I said about the child/parent interaction in my mind. It's my child that is upset at having it's ideas dismissed. It's the parent that does the dismissing. Both reactions occur simultaneously so you got the sticky end of the parental reaction. I've had to work very hard not to do the same to Emma's kids.

I have a lot more to add to this series of essays - or should I call them therapy sessions?

Vincent said...

To speak fearlessly is a mark of friendship. As is shaking hands. This is surely a fraternal relationship and not parent-child.

If you have read the letters of Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo, you will know that he often ends them like this:

"A handshake and write soon to
your loving brother,

Steve Law said...

Exactly, and thank you.
Vincent is a sort of hero of mine. For such a terribly troubled man he tried so hard to be hopeful. I understand he used that golden yellow colour in his paintings because it is the Japanese symbol of hope.