Are you still unknown? You’re probably past it.
Recently, while talking about creative endeavours, someone commented that ‘Paul won’t be famous now, it’s too late’. Though it was an off the cuff comment it stung a little and stayed with me. Did it bother me that fame might now forever elude my vocational efforts as a writer?
I have not harboured the desire to be a famous person (though I have fantasised about collecting some kind of award in front of a crowd of well regarded industry peers –an Academy Award would be fine). The creative industries are among those for which fame is a widely understood measure of its practitioners’ success. Just as Stella Duffy wrote about the fallacy of financial reward being the key measure of success for artists, neither should we think of fame as being any better a marker for achievement. As Duffy says, would we apply these yardsticks to our nurses or teachers? Fame in most other industries often only comes about when something has gone wrong, not right.
Of course people being aware of your work and willing to pay to experience your art/book/show makes it more likely that you can get that next project off the ground. And most of us would like to have our efforts be well regarded by those who know enough to appreciate what we are doing. Does that mean I should aim to be photographed up the trouser leg while getting out of a cab to demonstrate I have arrived as a writer?
Beyond the assumption about fame being the aim of the game I realised I was also perturbed by the implication that I was somehow past it and had missed my chance. Beyond speaking to my perpetual fear of mortality and lack of utility it was also indicative of a certain expectation that rewards are reaped in short order. A career in the arts, a career as a creative, isn’t an X-Factor boot camp-to-final culmination of arrival and recognition. Who would want such dumb luck? Anyone serious about honing their craft recognises the value of the journey it takes to do so, one that never really ends. As Bright Eyes sang, ‘I’d rather be working for a paycheck than waiting to win the lottery’.
I have watched some key milestones roll by: 19 (last chance to be a teenage genius), 23 (last chance to match Orson Welles by writing, directing and starring in an Oscar-winning debut film), 27 (last chance to join the Kurt/Janis/Amy club –didn’t have the songs or the death wish), 30 (whatever all those things to do before I’m thirty were). In that time of wanting to write I have mostly let go of ideas of being heralded by some industry platform or being sought out by a cute autograph hunter in a branch of Sainsbury’s Local. I am not famous, but by virtue of continuing to write I am a writer, and a better one than I started out as.
And everyone who matters knows who I am anyway.