Fame and the Myth of the Artist
Feb 26, 2013The year I came to the University of Houston to pursue this thing called poetry, I was supposed to have a famous classmate. Gulf Coast managing editor Karyna McGlynn at AWP with...James Franco? Of course, that never happened. He deferred his acceptance for two years and then decided not to come, which is only problematic in that he occupied a position that could have been offered to another PhD student (a two-year deferment being a luxury not afforded to the rest of us). But it's neither here nor there. It would have been nice to meet him, learn who he was as a person and artist, and his attendance at UH probably would have boded well for the program's reputation. Or maybe not. It's hard to say. I've never really been interested in him as an actor, nor do I understand his seemingly universal sex appeal (I'm more of a Nick Offerman kind of girl), but I have found something about his forays into the creative writing world, both as a fiction writer and apparently a poet, intensely intriguing. Not necessarily because he is, as some people have said, a "renaissance man," but because, in a strange way, I think he might be envious of the rest of us. I knew after my first workshop that I couldn't write fiction. Sustaining an entire story? For more than a page?! Reading my early fiction (hell, even my present attempts at fiction) is something I find physically painful. I have the utmost respect for the fiction writers I've been fortunate enough to meet; they have a talent I do not possess. I am not under the illusion I can write both. But perhaps if I knew a press (and a respected press, at that) would pick up my book no matter what--or that, regardless of the quality of my writing, I'd be able to read a poem to the President of the United States at his inauguration--well, sure, I might take a swing at it. Why not? I wouldn't have to worry about rejection, or time wasted on applications that will likely yield nothing. I could live off my bank account, eat great food, drink great wine, and meet great writers. In this season of changes, with AWP over the weekend, graduations around the corner, deadlines for fellowships either impending or already passed, and the endless tide of rejection letters rolling in from literary magazines and presses, my peers and I commiserate over our rotten luck and our inept talents. This commiseration creates community and, though it's no fun being denied the Stegner or a spot at Yaddo, it's nice to know I'm not alone. I wonder if my famous almost-classmate is a lonely artist. He has had a different experience of the art world than I have had--different from that of the majority of MFAs and PhDs, I would wager. It is a myth that the writer's world is overwhelmingly solitary, that we hole up in our studio apartments, chain-smoking cigarettes, drinking whiskey, furiously punching the keys on our typewriters by candlelight. I mean, sometimes it's like that, but only when things are going well--and, if you're not a movie star, usually things are not going well. We are all far too busy and frustrated and disappointed for that kind of romanticism. When we found out about his acceptance at UH, one of my friends, a fiction writer, said, "It's too bad. I think he wants to be just like us, but he can't." I can't say I pity him. I think it's clear I find his experience in the writing world enviable--I may even sound bitter at times. And I'm alright with that. I do know, however, that he can't and won't know what it's like for the rest of us who have not been accepted into this world so effortlessly as he. We who learn patience and resilience, camaraderie and true talent all because things have not been easy for us, because we are constantly working on proving our legitimacy as artists.