My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Friday, November 8, 2019

11 Reasons Fame Probably Doesn't Look Like You Think (The Renown Margin) Part 2

Continuing straight on FROM PART ONE

2a- People apologize to me a lot for their grammar.

This one is mostly just weird to me because have you SEEN my grammar on a post I get up at the last minute and haven't had the time to edit?

But it seriously happens ALL. THE. TIME. The world has a big ol' complex about the potential imperfection of its grammar, and I find that both culturally interesting and a little sad. (I'm told it's not exclusive to English.)

I'm guessing people don't apologize to musicians for their grammar, but maybe apologize if they catch themselves absentmindedly humming a tune. ("I'm sorry. That's probably NOT the secret chord that David played, is it? I have profaned your ears with my amateur vocalizations.") It's pretty normal to feel self-conscious when doing something casually around someone who does that thing professionally. When I massage Cap (who is a massage therapist), I always imagine a very Alan Rickman judgement of my ministrations. ("Direct pressure along the third intercostal? Sloppy, Potter. Very sloppy.")

I'm pretty sure it's basically the same phenomenon, but amplified. I have had people straight up tell me, "I was going to write you an email, but my grammar is terrible." Or they say, "I'm afraid to talk to him. I'm going to use infer when I obviously mean imply."

You're famous?
Well then, let's crank this self-consciousness ALL THE WAY UP!

The weird thing is, if they knew my work instead of just the fact of my dim levels of notoriety, they would be well aware that I care less about grammar than most people who aren't writers. I'm close enough in the linguistic trenches to be pretty descriptivist and totally forgiving. We all didn't know what a dangling modifier was...until we did. It's not really a matter of intelligence.

It's the peeps needing everything to be RIGHT or WRONG who get all incensed if someone uses decimate to mean totally destroy (instead of reduce by 10%) or talk about someone who drops an apostrophe where it doesn't belong like they're evil human beings or belong in zoos or some shit. As long as I know what someone meant, my knickers remain refreshingly twist-free. As soon as you get all linguistical up in that shit, you start to realize that grammar is like clothes––you wear your Sunday best for the people who are going to judge you (if and when you care what they think), but with your loved ones and with folks who realize that they're dealing with a fairly arbitrary set of signals that mostly serve to tip someone off to your class, you avoid pants as much as possible.

Metaphorical grammar pants, in this case.

Now, if you write me a thirty-page email which happens to have a character arc that turns out to be unsatisfying and anticlimactic, then I'll judge.

2b- But no one ever gives me credit for knowing what I'm talking about.

Most people just worry that their email's commas are in the wrong places (don't we all?), that they're casually using the wrong word (maybe, but I don't care), or that if they hand me something that isn't the fucking Magna Carta, I'm sneering at it (have you SEEN what I publish most days?)

But oddly, when people want the specific answer to a grammar question, they don't trust me. I make mistakes on the fly, but I really do know the difference between an adverbial and a subordinating conjunction, and I can tell you why sometimes you might want to put the question mark on the outside of the quotation marks, even in American English. I answer technically, maybe even with a style guide, but then tell them that language is a skittish little shithead, and in fact it is only us making random sounds with our air holes (or random marks) that we've essentially agreed as a society have meaning, so the important thing is that a native speaker will know what you're on about.

But no. They need a definitive answer. They don't want, "Well SOME style guides say...." Their eyes get big like an anime that's about to cry and they say, "NO! No, that can't BE!!! WHAT DO THE SACRED SCROLLS SAY?????"

"Okay. Frand. There actually aren't any sacred scrolls. We don't even have a language academy on this side of the pond, but if you just do it THIS way and stick with it, you'll have MLA and Hacker on your side and everyone will know what you me––"

"I demand pedantry! I demand prescriptivism. Language must be codified and never-changing. There must be a RIGHT way. I need you to tell me a goddamned rule and that I'm a troglodyte if I do it any other way. Somebody get rid of this hack and get me a real answer."

"Okay...bye. It's not like I fucking get PAID for this or anything.... Have a nice day!"

These streets meet at one intersection,
but they actually go in two different directions.
3- Fame doesn't equal money. At all.

There's a relationship between fame and money but it is not linear. (May I make a joke about how it's a ball of wibbly wobbly famey wamey? It was overused there for a while, but I'm hoping we're now in the pathetically anachronistic and retro phase. That's where I do my best work!)

I'm guessing that a LOT of fame could be leveraged against a Kickstarter or a Patreon in the same way A-list celebrities get money for endorsing toothpaste and underwear (if Jason Momoa wrote poetry about love for a $1 a poem buy in––and I mean literally no matter HOW shitty these poems were––, his Patreon would kick My Patreon's ass), but there's a very distorted perception of how these two things affect each other at the lower end of "the fame scale," and a reason that a lot of B-list actors wind up working night security or selling used cars in Woodland Hills. It's not that no one knows who they are. They probably get asked for autographs even. But it is the relevant WORK that generates attention and regard that can be monetized.

Obviously star power is a thing or Kirk Cameron wouldn't be worth $22 million for a career largely predicated on publicly demonstrating that he fundamentally doesn't understand how science works, but star power (and certainly not Q-list celebrity power) is not a "Press Button for Cash" machine. Ol' Kirk still has to get up and go to work and make those cinematic masterpieces like Left Behind III: World at War.

People have been BLOWN AWAY to learn how little I make on Patreon. "But you're so famous!", they say. They think I make an appeal post and instantly grab another $100-$200 a month in patrons. Or that with a word, I can get several hundred dollars in Paypal donations.

Are you That '70s Show before Topher Grace left? For you are making me laugh.

It's just not like that. Turns out there's kind of a gulf between "Oh, I know you!" and "Oh, I know you! Have ten dollars."

4- People have a lot of different reasons for being in your orbit. And some of them are shitty.

When an artist's or entertainer's work starts to be well known, some people show up because they like the work. Some people show up because they find they like the artist/entertainer and want to subscribe to their newsletter. Some people show up because that artist/entertainer is kind of cute. Some people show up because they want to see what the fuss is about. Some people get stars in their eyes and maybe fire up a little bit of projection. Some people show up because they want to connect with a "hub" through which they can promote themselves or their own work. Some people want to collect well-known "friends" like trading cards. ("Do you have Brecheen?" "No, he thought I was a bot." "Well, I've got Brecheen, Jim Wright, AND James Fell!") Some people get close because they kinda want to be there when you fall. (I don't know this, of course, but it's a working theory when I notice someone only really interacts with me when it involves discouraging commentary after I've suffered a setback.)

And, I hate to say it because I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, but there are a few people who really seem to be in my orbit because they kind of hate-watch me. Again, I don't know this. I haven't slipped truth serum to any of them during an interrogation. But the only time they ever communicate with me at all is to disagree vehemently with the places they perceive our views as divergent. I'm not talking about toes I've stepped on (because I try really hard to be careful about that), but just folks who constantly go out of their way as antagonistically as possible to make sure I know they think I'm wrong about something. They don't ever chime in that they agree with something or work to have a relationship rapport infrastructure that can withstand occasional full-force negativity. It's like they only make withdrawals at the bank of our relationship. Maybe it's not their intention, but it seems like they're just there to complain.

When you're relatively unknown, there is a certain benefit of anonymity. Once your profile starts to get higher, you become a target for all kinds of less-than-good-faith bullshittery.

5- It's my old friends who are the least impressed.

When I think of who is unimpressed with my work, doesn't care that I'm #scarequotesfamous, and sort of wishes I would shut up and make their Facebook feed an easier place, I don't imagine some rando who has never heard of me or a dudebro who hates my thoughts on social issues. Almost universally, those folks seem to react to me and/or my work with some level of engagement. Like, it takes SOME level of effort and energy to hate me with a passion. And even the folks who project blasé still kind of size up the work first so they know how much indifference to whip up. (It requires MUCH more blasé to be unimpressed with Shakespeare or even Stephen King than it does me.) It's tricky to explain this, but in their own way, even negative reactions and performative nonchalance require a certain level of "impressed."

It's my old friends who don't give a flip. "Oh it's just Chris." "Oh he's going off again." "Oh he's been gnawing on that bone since 2005." "A million followers, huh? Yeah, I was in a threesome with him once." "He did a great Han Solo in my LARP." "I haven't read that blog since he did that post about gender, but I only read that because he's my friend." "Chris? Chris?  Is that the guy that full-on carries a purse?"

Some of my friends are my biggest fans (sans the eye stars). But when we meet, a lot of my peeps sheepishly apologize to me for not keeping up with the blog (it's really okay––neither writing, nor I, am everyone's cup of tea), or ask,"How's that writing thing going?" and I just smile and say, "Not bad. I'm paying the bills with it now." "Oh how lovely! *quick subject change*"

6- It DOES become weird when someone doesn't know your work at all.

Confession time.

Let me admit something. We're going deep now. To places I don't talk about at parties (but only blog about publicly to literally everyone). OKCupid is one of those "rooms" where no one knows me. I've gotten a couple dozen messages at this point and only one person recognized me. But here's the thing, and I was as surprised to discover it as anyone: it's weird when people aren't at least passingly familiar with my work.

I don't know if I like it.

Okay....stop. Hang on. That sounds a lot worse than it really is. Shades of "Do you know who I am?!?!?!?" I'm not talking about everyone ever. I mean I can buy groceries or order a sandwich without name-dropping. ("Yeah, I'll have a Veggie Delight with extra mustard. And no, your eyes are not deceiving you. I'm the Writing About Writing guy.") I don't need my dentist to have liked one of the memes I shared. My doctor knows I'm a writer because she asked for a questionnaire, but I don't think she has read anything I've written. I don't even care if I go to my vampire LARP and someone I've never met says, "Writing About Writing? Never heard of it."

This also isn't me, hand stapled to forehead, wishing for the "refreshing change" of just getting to know someone who likes me for me. "Oh if only I weren't so DAMNED famous. Curse all this horrible fame. No one knows the REAL me. Woe."


What I mean is this: My personal and professional life have intersection points anywhere I haven't excoriated them. Anyone who finds me on social media will see my work prominently. Many of my social connections began through my work. ALL of my friends know what I do (even if they have little interest). I am constantly writing on something or another, and much of it that is about social issues goes out into the world with as much online "volume" and verve as I can muster. My writing is very important to who I am, and people don't have to like it or even read that much of it, but it is virtually impossible to get close to me and not be aware of it. And when someone is in my world who has NO sense of who I am and what I'm about, it feels a little bit like having the most important parts of myself conspicuously ignored.

It gets even weirder with online dating, which creates this "tunnel" through those usual approaches. It burrows a shaft past most of the normal ways people get to know me (certainly well enough to go on a date). It's not that they don't care or are nonchalant or haven't bothered to figure out what I care about. It's that they literally don't KNOW. And suddenly I'm sitting across from someone who has no idea about this huge and important part of me––and wondering if I should have ordered onions because maybe they might want to see how my tongue ring works.

And that's......weird.

7- I get introduced as the Writing About Writing guy.

On the other end of the scale....sometimes I get introduced as the Writing About Writing guy, that blogger you like, the Creepy Dude writer, or The Writing Memelord.

Okay I made that last one up.

There was this period in like 2003 where everyone I knew in the Bay Area mostly just introduced themselves and their friends by their Livejournal handles.  ("Oh, I'm Dicedork, and this is my friend Mouseontheplane. It's so good to meet you, Fishstixandbile.") Because that's how you were likely to have been seen interacting in the world and where someone was mostly likely to recognize you from.

These days I'm the Writing About Writing guy. If it's a formal introduction, I might get something more like, "This is Chris. He IS the Writing About Writing guy," but just as often as not, they skip that pesky first name and go right for the pièce de résistance.

I can't quite decide how I feel about this. Of course, it feels a little impersonal and like I'm nothing more than a blogging machine, but at the same time it is like a metonymy for saying, "you are more likely to be familiar with Chris's work than Chris himself." And that's not so bad. I'm definitely not out there selling the Chris!™ brand. I promote my writing and rarely myself. So I vacillate between "Hey, I have a name, you know?" and "That's MISTER The Writing About Writing Guy to you!"

I suppose the next step is to come back around to name recognition. (I doubt Stephen King often gets introduced as "that Evil Clown author guy.") Some day perhaps no one will need to be told I'm the Writing About Writing guy.  It'll just be "This is Chris Brecheen. You've heard of him, of course."

**fantasizes a little harder**

The third, and final, part

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