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    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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What You Like Is In the Limo

Great quote in Harvey Pekar’s obit, “I always wanted praise and I always wanted attention; I won’t lie to you…I wanted people to write about me, not me about them.”

I think we are extremely ambivalent about praise and attention in this country. Everyone wants it, but it’s seen as craven to seek it too openly. There’s Pynchon on one of the spectrum and Paris Hilton on the other.

Are writers private people, uncomfortable with fame and spotlight? God knows, many are awkward as hell. Watch any writer on the Today Show and cringe. Writers are not actors. But at the same time, doesn’t some burning desire for attention, to be heard, go hand in hand with the act of writing. Or are they two separate endeavors?

I’ve tried to tease this out over a lifetime in publishing. I used to think the best writers were the worse self-promoters, and the best self-promoters were the worst writers. But it doesn’t hold up. Look at Dave Eggers, a terrific writer and a virtual marketing machine. Or Walt Whitman for that matter.

Are there brilliant works out there that will never see the light of day because the writer didn’t have it in him? Is wanting attention an intrinsic component in the act of writing?

20 Responses

  1. First of all, happy Bastille day. Secondly, I have struggled with this issue for nearly 20 years. Talking about myself or my writing makes me CRINGE. I’d rather wear a thong bikini & high heels in the middle of Times Square, but I’ve sucked it up, accepted that this is part of the writing life, and now I’ve adopted the multiple personality approach. There is writer me and there is promoter me. I’d rather hang out with the former, of course, because writer me is quiet and a good listener. Promoter me has a purple fur cape, a gold tooth, and says things like, “I know how to put the asses in the seats, ya know what I’m sayin’?”

    • This is very funny! I wish I had your purple cape and gold tooth attitude. I’m hopeless. I have trouble asking people to donate to the March of Dimes to save helpless babies. Asking people to buy my books would be torture, so I don’t.

  2. for me, it was the wanting attention that led to years of honing my rap, trying to earn the mike (in my house, children were considered dull, especially girls) that led to a fascination with words and the discovery that putting them in a certain order can draw attention…though not always positive attention because eventually one veers towards provocation, ups the ante, going for broke, saying the thing that will freeze listeners in their tracks, willing to offend for the sake of attention, which leads to the speaker feeling misunderstood and unloved and often resulting in the paradoxical effect of repelling rather than attracting the listeners…writing is a way to harness the pathology, assert some control over it…

  3. I’m wrestling with this very question right now. Sure, I want people to read what I have to say, but if I spend too much time on marketing, I’m cheating myself of valuable writing time. The self-promotion part? It’s a necessary evil, but I’ve become more comfortable with it since it’s the norm in the blogosphere.

  4. The fifteen year old pimply kid still wants the Playboy pinup even if he wouldn’t know what to do with her once he got her. He wants her to want him. So yes, I think wanting attention is intrinsic in writing. Putting thoughts to paper means the risk of discovery. The kind of attention desired is what differs. Being heard. Being seen and heard. We’re all trying to connect on some level.

  5. I resent that we’ve got to self promote. I really do, but nearly every agent blog says it’s a skillset we need to develop. I’m at that stage in the query process where I’m learning, slowly, to not pick at my belly button in public and hide my little awkward tics. So much of getting published feels, at least to this unpublished writer, like a presentation game: networking, building a web presence, getting blurbs, and going to conferences so you can promote. But at the same time, all of this isn’t actually writing. It’s time and energy that could be spent on craft. I suspect there are many good books that will never come to light because for a lot of us playing the game to publish is too taxing. While some of us, who may not be all that gifted, are simply willing to keep at the game until we win. But it boils down to why we write, doesn’t it? I write to entertain and to share. If no one but my mom ever reads my stuff, what good is it doing?

    • Yeah, but all those agent blogs also say things like ‘skill set.’

      They’re shitwits. I don’t just mean that I hate them, although of course I do, I mean they’re stupid human beings. They think the same things that every other agent-with-a-blog thinks. How many times have you seen one of them express an original thought? An agent with a blog is worse than a writer on the Today Show. Have you seen them try to be funny? Witty? Sarcastic? These are people who think To Kill a Mockingbird is the highest expression of the human spirit. They’re trying to recapture the glory of being the teacher’s pet in 11th grade English class. There’s Betsy, who’s a writer with a day job–one pharmacological misstep from setting herself on fire at a BEA ‘big ideas’ event–and there’s the rest of them. You know the entry requirements for becoming an agent who blogs? Parents who pay the rent while you intern at a literary agency for some jerkoff who got fired from his editorial gig and says he was ‘downsized.’ And a blog.

      Keep resenting anyone who tells you we need to self-promote. Self-promotion is a lottery ticket. You hear about the handful of winners, but nobody talks about the ten thousand losers–not even the losers. Especially not them. Us. We’re too ashamed. Some writers spend a buck and turn into Dave Eggers, others spend thousands and turn into a midlist shithead who hates Dave Eggers.

      I dunno about attention, but I’m pretty sure we want control. That’s why we fall for ‘you can’t win if you don’t play’ so completely. We don’t like to hear that nothing we do matters. We create -worlds-, motherfucker. We decide who lives and who dies. And you’re telling me we can’t even move that sixteen thousand and first copy? Bullshit. We just need to self-promote smarter: we’ll tweet three times a day instead of twice, we’ll post YouTube videos of our cat. We’ll buy hundreds of tickets every Wednesday, we’ll pick the same numbers as the toothless guy who won seventy million last year.

      All we can do is write. That’s not enough–it’s woefully, painfully, pathetically insufficient–but there’s nothing else.

      You know what I do for fun? I find a website that some shmuck of a novelist wasted $10,000 of his $7,500 advance on, with all the bells and whistles–the flash animation and the community forum and the contest and the news and blog and appearances and games, and the book came out in 2008 and nobody commented, not once, not the guy’s wife, not his buddies, nobody. There are no appearances, there is no community, and there’s sure as hell no news. There’s nothing but this monument to his stillborn grandiosity. And it will stand forever.

      No, a burning desire for attention doesn’t go hand in hand with the act of writing. In my dream world, I cash the check and burn the manuscript. I can’t even imagine writing something I’m not ashamed of. No, I don’t want attention, I want to be left alone. That’s not true. I want people to -want- to shower with me attention, I want them to long for the idea of me, I want them to love me with a hopeless desperation and not have the slightest clue who I am or what I’ve written.

      Yes, there are brilliant works that will never see the light of day. Some of those the writer flogs like a broke straight boy, and nobody notices. Others, the writer locks in the attic, and nobody notices.

      • As a member of the shitwit nation, I must make the observation that you have achieved your goal: we have all fallen in love with you and do not the have slightest clue as to you are or what you have written. So true that writers spend their hard earned money on websites and sell seven copies. Apparently this is true for the guy who won the Moby this year. Sales hovering at 5,000. But I also heard he got a contract with Apple to be their next spokesperson. It’s all a big fuck-me any way you slice it. So why not write something for me to sell.

    • August, I always read your comments just because I know you wrote them. Always worth reading. And David, I really liked your video. Good luck with the book.

  6. I don’t mind a limelight (I sang opera in my youth), but I write fiction under a pseudonym in order to deflect attention from the factual me, the me that exists, shits, showers, shaves, doesn’t write home. Isolated, incubating in my ivory tower, I want my work to be a lighthouse to some sailored soul at sea in search of this, my, particular landscape, not me. Think of THE ROAD without Oprah, or THE BONE PEOPLE without a follow-up. It’s the work that makes the mark; sailor, pass by.

  7. I want to take the picture, not be in the picture. My attitude since a kid.

    In a family film I am the brown-eyed girl running forward, screaming, “Give it to me. Give it to me.”

    I knew even then which was the more powerful position.
    Has ever been so and will continue to be.

  8. I find the marketing aspect to be kind of fun.

    I have a couple of friends who are writers, talented ones, without the interest, gumption, or motivation to market themselves. It’s frustrating to me, but it’s them, it’s their work.

  9. About The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger said, “My boyhood was very much the same as that of the boy in the book … It was a great relief telling people about it.” And I think that’s what writing is about for me. I don’t want attention so much as I want my chance to share my vision/version of the world — whether or not people accept it. It would be “a great relief,” like some sort of weird public therapy.

    Maybe we all secretly wish for attention of one sort or another, but too much attention, and Salinger found out about this, quickly becomes crazing.

  10. Yes no. Yes no. I want attention, but it makes me uncomfortable. And I want it the easy way. I know that’s a loser of an attitude. All I read these days is how much work it’s going to be to get it, grow it, keep it.

    I should have just had 47 kids like those weirdos on television if I want fame and money. But no. I want to write. Scratch that. I write. The rest of it, that’s the work. It’s better than what I used to do. That’s what I have to keep telling myself. Market some industry I don’t really care about or market my own stuff if it ever gets published. Seems pretty simple when put like that.

  11. “Is wanting attention an intrinsic component in the act of writing?”

    Maybe in the act of continued writing. I’m thinking of Harper Lee in particular.

    I think it depends on what kind of attention we’re talking about – do I like it when someone reads a blog post and emails me to say it made them smile? Yes. Would I like to be papped everytime I left the house? No Then again, writers aren’t the typical fodder for the “sleb” mags.

  12. I feel like my ego is only big enough to handle one thing at a time.

    When I was a devoted blogger, I ignored the whole practice of writing and submitting fiction.

    Then I quit blogging to go back to fiction. And I started going to conferences, where everyone told me I needed to have a blog! I just can’t bring myself to start another ego-tastic website to promote this other ego-driven thing I do. That’s a lot of time spent on ME ME ME.

    But I also feel left out. I watch the people in the writing-blog world forge connections and friendships, and I wish I could virtually put out my hand and introduce myself and say, “Hey, I’m here too!” Maybe I can rationalize starting a blog again in the name of good companionship versus the cause of self-promotion.

    • Yeah, it’s a real dichotomy, this difference between the private world, the solitude that is so necessary, and this self-promotion thing. Having been a week on Facebook, it’s all I do, no reading, no writing, but it’s good to be social for a change. I’m having a blast. Happy Bastille Day everyone! (just heard a terrific version of Berlioz’s La Marseillaise on the radio. Put me in the mood.)

  13. attention only matters if it’s coming from the right place/person. The rest is tainted. I just wanna be pure. (Never would have read Carroll without your blog–a gift if there ever was one.)

  14. To change the subject slightly: remember that not all attention is positive. What we want is respect and admiration. What we don’t want–but always risk when we put ourselves out there–is personal attack and snarkiness. Get a nasty review or mean interview and you want to run and hide in your writing room.

    • Not sure I would want to run and hide. I think I’d very much enjoy watching it go down. Now praise, that makes me want to run and hide. But then I always suspect anyone who raves is full of shit.

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