Friday, November 15, 2019
11 Reasons Fame Probably Doesn't Look Like You Think (The Renown Margin) Part 3
Link Back to Part 2
All the way back to part 1
8- It can actually be a little lonely sometimes.
If you have this idea that fame means people are swimming in friends and always have a jet-setting plan, it's probably wrong. If anything, I've found I have fewer people who are close. Some of that is on me. I'm not healthy about my work/life balance, and I go up to eleven in being introverted, but these things have been true for most of my adult life. What I've noticed is that I kind of grow apart from people at a pretty normal pace, but it has gotten even harder to make new connections. Many of the folks I meet through my work or my online persona are flightier and flakier. (More prone to bail on the entire friendship over a single issue of disagreement or simply tethered so much to social media that something like a "break from Facebook" means we never really see each other again.) Which, of course, makes me more cynical and guarded for my own protection and well-being, which can lead to MORE flighty and flaky people. And the end result is that I actually trusted people more (and trusted MORE people) before I started to make a public name for myself.
The longer I'm "famous" (god, I hate using that word for whatever the heck quasi, proto, not-really famous it is that I am *scratches teeth some more*).
There's this weird phenomenon that happens when people enter my orbit. MOST people don't want to bother me. They are acutely aware of my space and time, are worried that they're being an imposition into it, and leave me alone out of respect. They are kind, polite, and considerate, and assume I'm constantly too busy. Which of course, I generally am if I'm writing, but definitely not all the time, and more so because most people don't want to bother me....
Then there's this other group. People who have far less regard for my time, are impolite, inconsiderate, maybe a little entitled but always disrespectful. They kind of demand time and energy from me ("Hey, I know you just told me that you're doing your writing from 8-12, but just one quick question...."). They show up like Columbo. ("If I could just have one more moment of your time....") They fill my chat with mammothian paragraphs about childhood traumas or ongoing life events. They ask me REALLY personal questions. They jump past "Hey, can we flirt a bit online" and jump right to an explicit fantasy or skip the part where they get my consent before sending me an unsolicited sexual photo. More than a few (probably thinking they are being complimentary and cute) tell me that I am adorable and they are going to marry me. (Can we start with dinner, please?) Unless I'm rude as fuck, they don't get the hint. Sometimes when I finally am rude, they get pissed off and call me names, threatening to use their considerable social clout to destroy me. It's all very unpleasant.
And therein lies one of the shittiest parts of the whole thing. "Fame" (such as it is) creates a paradox in the world of folks who are willing to approach me. I get a lot of attention from exactly the wrong kind of people, and I am left at a respectful distance by exactly the sort of people I would love to be closer to. It becomes harder and requires more effort to nurture the seeds of good relationships and see that they aren't crowded out by folks I'm less interested in.
There are, of course, some remarkable exceptions. They approach timidly, check in early and often, and are respectful, but are also clear that they want into my world. My cynicism shields are worn down. We find a rapport. I have made some wonderful friendships this way, and in one case an editor who spins my straw into gold.
I mean, as with any of these examples, I can't really speak for anyone with the kind of fame that makes a glamorous six-figure evening a feasible expense, but I have my suspicions. I very much doubt that the upper crust of famous folks wants to go out with the sorts of people who are willing to crowd them, treat them like they are consumables, and ask invasive questions. Probably they'd rather have their real peeps there, and those get harder and harder to find.
Sure, their lives look a little glitzy if you check out their Instagram feeds. But that can be a lot of smoke and mirrors. You know, I get invited to things too. I have talks and trips and end up at a rave once in a blue moon or on a boat dressed up and surrounded by people who are looking mighty dapper. I have clients that have me driving for sixteen hours and changing diapers all over Disneyland so that they can enjoy a little mini-vacation with their kids, but if I just post the pictures of me on Hyperspace Mountain, it looks like I'm frolicking off for yet another weekend of merriment. Multiply my income by a factor of ten (and toss in some extroversion) and I'd probably have a pretty jumping Instagram feed too. But it's just the highlight reel. Plucking out the parts where I'm changing a diaper while a five-year-old cries that the Fast Pass on Splash Mountain has another hour or when I'm feeling sick in the hotel from dehydration makes me look like I have a pretty exciting life. But don't be fooled! My day-to-day existence is quiet and I watch a lot of Netflix in bed alone at 8pm on weekend nights. So I'm not sure a rockabilly Instagram really proves that fame means friends or partners or anything.
9- The people that become truly fascinated by me are usually not what you might imagine.
This one's going to be long because it's actually like FIVE bullet points in one.
Do you know this scene? The statuesque brunette approaches confidently. Eye contact never wavers. "I like your work. This may seem forward, Mr. Famousdude, but this is my room key. If you want no questions, no strings, no attachments, come in twenty minutes and I'll show you JUST how much I really....(a dramatic pause)...appreciate your work."
Ha. Yeah, I saw that movie too. That bullshit is right up there with "Nice shoes...."
I mean, I'm not Neil Gaiman, so maybe he and Stephen King have to sift through all the goddamned room keys that have been shoved into their pockets to find the one for their OWN room every time they want to take a fucking nap, but somehow I kind of doubt it.
There definitely are people who get fixated on me, but that's really not what they act like. It does happen that suddenly I'm getting lots of attention. But it's probably not what you think. Usually it's a little dehumanizing and a lot of projection.
They tend to fall into a few different categories:
Category 1- My nemeses.
So there was this guy I knew, about twenty years ago. And I guess he felt like we were in competition about a lot of stuff because we both wanted to be writers. He got really upset that I was going to be the prince in a vampire game instead of him. Anyway he sort of said, "We shall never be friends again!" all official like, after I implied that I thought the US intelligence community knew more about 9-11 than it had let on (which turned out to be exactly the case). And I didn't think much about him after that, until he approached me––well beelined towards me as soon as he saw me is really more like it––at a mutual friend's wake to ask how my writing was going. I told him that after an unsatisfying attempt to clean up a novel, I was doing an undergrad writing program and was about 2/3 through it. He quickly made sure I knew HE was much more successful than me and that HE had been making money writing for quite some time. He even scoffed. Like, the honest-to-god throat noise people make on TV when closed captioning reads, "(scoffs)". And then he was off again. Having fulfilled whatever fantasy he replayed over and over in the shower, he immediately left and spent the rest of the wake ignoring me. His "neener neener" moment was done, so he had no more use for protracted contact. I realized then that he had been thinking about me a LOT more than I ever did about him (and honestly, I hope he found some kind of catharsis in trying to rub my face in his writing career because it's not good to bottle that shit in). Since then, what few times our paths have crossed, he's done that power move "I-do-not-see-you" thing, so I guess I'm still his nemesis.
That was before I was quasi-famous, but I think a lot about that wake and how I realized he was obsessing about me way more than I even remembered he existed. I sort of discover this happens from time to time. ("Do you remember me Mister The Writing About Writing Guy???" "Um....no.")
Some people who fixate on me do so because they have this idea that I represent something, or that have slighted them, or that I am a paragon of the left (or that I am a paragon of watered-down white-dude liberalism if they're to MY left), or that I need to be more neoliberal or more socialist or that I need to be more sensitive to the nuance of boomer white Christians who are not oppressive jerkwads. Or maybe they think that if they take me down a peg or three, they will elevate themselves, so they're constantly trying. Or maybe they think I am in desperate need of their contrary opinion. Or perhaps they took umbrage once (with whatever), and now everything I do now sucks. ("Look at this asshole! Putting milk on TOP of cereal like a fucking shitstain. Instead of pouring the cereal into the milk. Jesus fucking Christ, what a choadmonkey.") In a couple of cases, these were people trying to build their own social media reach and they just got so unbelievably pissed that I was gaining an audience with greater speed and success than they were (ironically, despite ignoring my advice when I gave it). In some way, I become kind of a symbol to them. And it's not a good symbol.
As you can imagine, this is not a great kind of attention to get. It may be obsessive and fixating like the statuesque brunette in the movies, but it is seldom pleasant. I remove such folks from my life whenever I find them, but it always rattles me to know that someone takes the time and energy to think I'm worth considering their archenemy. And I don't exactly get to debrief these folks, so I seldom know what their problem is. I just notice that suddenly they seem to have a lot of energy to give to hating me.
Category 2- The temporary balm.
Here's one that has happened a SHOCKING number of times, and gone down each time in almost exactly the same way: Someone pops into my life to say, "HEY THERE!" They've found me through my work and reach out at first for any number of reasons. They aren't rude or pushy. They treat consent as a vital ingredient instead of an afterthought. Something clicks somewhere along the line and there is some flirting or sometimes some much more direct intention declaration. They are exciting, engaging, attractive, and I'm a pretty normal person who likes being appreciated. I let them get to know me over a little bit of time (for reasons I'll talk about in Category 4). I learn a bit about them, they about me. There are some deeper conversations (often heavy on the emotional labor for me as they talk through some big stuff). Flirting becomes steamy. Feelings are admitted to. Intentions are exchanged. Perhaps a rendezvous is even planned.
Then they suddenly disappear from my life. Poof! Often, it's not a true ghosting*. They're still there. They will still say hi and tell me how their day went if I ask. But all talk of what was building is conspicuously avoided.
*Though sometimes it is.
It is usually a little while later that I connect the dots. Sometimes they just reached out because they were a little lonely or feeling a little insecure. Sometimes they're going through a breakup. Then a couple of weeks after the silent treatment started, I see a post where they've checked in with the person they were breaking up with. ("Third anniversary!") The little conflict with their husband they frequently talked about when we first met is suddenly going "Oh So Much Better" right before all the discussions of a meet-up go silent and all talk of being in a non-monogamous arrangement stops. Or I discover that they weren't quite as open and polyamorous as they first assured me they were, and their "actually-quite-jealous" boyfriend has discovered our correspondence. Or maybe they stop chatting with me all of a sudden, and then a month later let it slip that they've been in a relationship with someone local for about a month now....so, right around the time they stopped chatting with me.
The clues show up.
I realize what happened––that I was the source of a lot of self-esteem repair and emotional labor and that once things were better (perhaps even because of that self-esteem repair and emotional labor), I was kind of expendable. There wasn't a lot of honesty about what was really going on––and to be fair, in some cases it's entirely possible that the lacking honesty was SELF-honesty or that the buzzkill development really could not have been foreseen. Though certainly in some situations, there was conscious, willful deception. Of course, nobody "owes" me anything, and there's no single person I would ever point to and screech, "Hey, what about MEEEEEEEEEEE!" When this happens once in a while it isn't anyone's fault. It's just life. However, as a pattern that happens over and over, it hurts my feelings to just be the self-esteem spackle paste and emotional labor engine until someone is feeling better, and then be cast aside. I developed feelings for these people, got my heart a little broken, and it makes me that much more jaded and cynical about the next person who says, "HEY THERE!!"
Category 3- People who are frightening.
I'm not here to decide who is unwell and especially not why, but sometimes people step outside of the social contract so far that they frighten me. As someone with a higher profile than normal, I think that sometimes I'm the person who someone fixates on when they were going to fixate on something. But whatever happens, it can be alarming. Maybe I get an email from someone, with whom I've been quite casual until that moment, that has a shockingly explicit description of how much they want to have sex with me and what they would do, complete with unsolicited pictures. Or a friend on my Facebook suddenly starts chatting with me one day and talks about a marriage proposal that is "ha ha not real," but then the next message salvo talks about the dresses and the guest list and where we're going to live, and then I get thirty paragraphs of chat while I'm asleep and one of them is about how a post I wrote about semicolons (or something) was clearly a secret message in code that I was ambivalent about the marriage, and that they are calling off the wedding and washing their hands of our relationship completely. There have been death threats.
One Muslim guy issued a fatwa on me.
These things frighten me. Whether it's high-key ignoring consent (which does not bode well for a "marriage" if one is keeping score, just FYI) or the thought that maybe I have an actual not-funny stalker, these things make me double-check the locks on the door and wonder if that green Civic is following me.
Category 4- Stars in the eyes
A lot of the people who think they like me actually like the fantasy image of me. They have a sense of some brush strokes because of my writing and sort of....fill in the blanks with stuff they want to see. It's not really me. And I have to be very careful when it seems like I'm dealing with someone who thinks I'm really great and have no flaws or is just gushing.
I'm just a person. I'm riddled with flaws just like everyone else. And I sometimes have to make sure these folks stay at arm's length for a bit while they learn that I can be a testy, delicate little shitweasel at the end of a long day, I suck at getting to sleep at a consistent time, I have worked hard to overcome poor boundaries but sometimes I slide back into bad habits and have a hard time saying no (but get resentful if I'm steamrolled instead of checked-in with), and I probably land on the wrong side of at least one thing they would mark as "Very Important" on a dating profile. Plus I'd be late to my own funeral, and when I'm tired and not paying attention, I leave my dirty socks wherever I was when I decided I was done wearing them.
Get me off of this pedestal, please.
A couple of years back I shelved my "groupie threesome jokes" here at Writing About Writing. Not because I lost interest in threesomes (oh PERISH the thought), but because the "groupie" thing that had been a complete absurd joke was becoming not-entirely-absurd, and there's a big ethical question in taking advantage of a power differential like that. I know some famous people do. (One of my friends has a story about being approached by Mike Myers's assistant––she refused but....damn.) And I'm not here to infantilize any free-agent's genuine, enthusiastic consent, but a lot of the time there's a little bit of squicky pressure being applied to someone who is so excited to be there that they might not feel comfortable saying no.
It can be a weird paradox to be on a pedestal. Such positive attention has a compelling side, but it also feels strange and uncomfortable and it gets old faster than you might think. It's not just for these folks' sake that I wait until they kind of KNOW me to let them in. It's for me as well. One of the worst things you can do to someone is fail to live up to their expectations, and if someone is projecting everything they like onto you, the real, unvarnished you is very likely to let them down eventually. And there can be all kinds of bad fallout when that rebounds onto the person being pedestaled just for being who they always were.
Category 5- Think of what he could do for me!
I've only seen this a couple of times, but I imagine it starts to get more and more common as numbers grow. People start to fixate on me because they think I am a gateway to something they want. I can get them followers or promote their work or they will raise their station by having a *COUGH* famous boyfriend or something. In some cases, it has been so explicit that people have sent me multiple requests a day to share something from their wall or provided me the exact wording they wanted for me to promote something. Sometimes this is coupled with intense personal interaction as well, as they try to sidle into my "ingratiated zone" as fast as they can. In one case someone all but explicitly asked me how far they would have to go to quid-pro-quo get some sort of regular promotion slot on my page. ("Whatever has a girl got to do to be your pet promotion project on your page?" was, I believe, the exact wording. Not exactly subtle.)
When people find me through my work and instigate some kind of friendship (even if it eventually goes further), most of the time it blooms like any other relationship. We "meet" (even if online). Though my work is the catalyst, there's no presumption of intimacy. At first we're mostly strangers, maybe we realize we like the cut of each other's respective jibs, there is some kind of connection. Eventually there are side conversations away from the public interactions (this works online or in person). Friendship ensues. It is all very organic and takes time as a rapport is built.
If someone suddenly jumps ahead five or six steps in that process because they're fixating on me, it's usually not good. It's usually because they're not really seeing a PERSON there, or at least not an entire person. I am a stand in for something. And if it isn't explicitly bad, it can be at least dangerous for me not to insulate myself from the harm they might do, however unintentional.
I can't imagine any of these not being exponentially worse in both quantity and scope for anyone with any real level of fame, and I'm absolutely sure that's the reason that people either make themselves incredibly hard to contact directly and/or are extremely circumspect about how they handle strangers.
10- The reason that I am "famous" is its own social barrier.
Most people who are famous are so because of something they do. A few are just so stinking rich that they are also famous, but even then, those people are not usually quietly rich. They're like CEO of a major company or get really involved in funding political super PACs that undermine democracy....or, you know.....something.
Most famous people DO something that puts them into the spotlight. Maybe they play a sport really well. Or they are a musician who rocks a currently en vogue sound and has millions of fans. Perhaps they act in mainstream movies or television. They are an artist of some renown.
And the chances are pretty good that they got there through no small amount of work. [And yes, there may be other factors that matter more like nepotism or being a cis white dude, but the work is also essential.] I don't mean a couple of hours on weekends or even a few hours a day. Like, have you ever seen the training regimens for professional athletes? There is a certain level of maybe-not-so-healthy obsession with which people, who are famous for what they do, work at that thing to get better. Usually it is their life's obsession. They spend more time on That One Thing™ than most people do on a full time job and a reasonably passionate hobby.....combined.
That sort of idée fixe can get in the way of normal, healthy relationships, be they friendships or romantic.
I spend 40-50 hours a week writing (and that's after I pull a 30-hour week being a nanny for side gig money). My writing puts the kibosh on a lot of social activities. If I'm not skipping parties because I'm actually writing, I'm skipping them because I am completely wiped out from the schedule I maintain in order to keep writing. When people say, "Hey we should get together," no matter how much I like them and WANT to hang out, I'm probably going to never feel like I have time unless they invite me to something specific, I block it off on my calendar, and then do my writing work around knowing that it's there and planning for it.
And that's just the getting out and being social. Sometimes my loved ones who are already in my life and close to me have to deal with the gobs of time I shovel at writing. What little vestige of looks-like-fame-under-a-microscope that I've achieved is the result of a lot of evenings and weekends spent writing the next post, and saying no to being social. My peeps would like more time from me for this plan or that week away or just this evening, but I'm rationing my non-writing time and I have to say no. And when I did cohabit with a partner, that sometimes included saying that I couldn't come downstairs and watch Netflix or just hang out until I wrapped up another hour of work.
I have said, "I can't right now. I'm writing," to more plans that I would like to have partaken in than I can really count. Thousands for sure over the years. Some days it feels like millions.
As writing starts to pay bills, there is a little more discretionary time since you don't necessarily have to come home FROM work to get your writing work done, but most people still don't have a very good sense of how much work (reading and writing in my case––plus posting all those memes) goes into being renowned enough at something to achieve a level of notoriety.
It's not weekend-warrior effort.
It's not something a typical friendship (or courtship) fits into easily.
11-There's no line out the door
Okay, this one is pretty much just about dating and romance.
Add all these things up, and you get no line out the door. Once you factor in that the "room" where I'm "famous" (nominally?) is a niche, online place with only a smattering of folks who exist in any physical, geographic local, and once you deal with the paradox that the kinds of folks who would jump into a relationship sight unseen are probably not filling out the healthiest of dating pools, and that that most of my friends from before I started blogging are pretty blasé about my writing career, and that my writing itself creates a barrier to having lots of time to pursue relationships and date....you start to see how these factors can actually limit the field.
And even after all of that, there are still a lot of other factors that end up coming into play.
I might be personally ambiamorous, but I'm deeply involved with two people who are polyamorous, so everyone who is monogamous is out. Even here in the wild and free Bay Area, that is MOST people––monogamy is still the default relationship model for almost everyone. And within the non-monogamous community, there are still a lot of different needs and wants. I've got nothing against someone who wants a weekly playdate with a friend (actually that sounds pretty fucking awesome, Tee Bee Haitch), but what I'm actually willing to seek out and expend time and energy looking for is different.
Star Trek transporters have not been invented. The people who I've definitely got a "Fuck yes" rapport with exist, but they are not all living in my apartment complex. They are scattered to the winds of fate. Yes, there are fifteen or so cities in the world where if I were to visit, I'm not saying I'm definitely getting laid, but I really like my chances. Those folks might be "at my door" if one of us lived in the other's home town, but we don't. [It is a sad and lamentable story; do not even attempt to contain your tears.] Unless someone is willing to move* (I can't because of The Contrarian), we are tragically torn apart by destiny. Honestly, things start to get pretty dicey around 20 miles unless someone is really comfortable only getting together once a week or so, and now we're back to what each person is really even looking for.
(*Chasing a "maybe" with an Internet romantic interest would be its own sort of "Danger, Will Robinson" move.)
And there is the matter of the chemistry test. (Oh mine gets much easier when I know someone and like them, easier still if I trust them, and if they bring some unbridled enthusiasm to the table, there's not even any stoichiometry equations, but there is STILL a Chemistry test.)
So when it comes to people close enough to date, who want the same thing OUT of dating, aren't displaying stars-in-their-eyes in a way that I need to be worried about a power differential, and I would want to date them (and they me).....my "fame" doesn't really mean much.
It turns out it's more likely to make me insulate myself a bit from the world, be a little over-cautious, jaded, and cynical until I really know people's motives and intentions are on the level, and between that and the work make a more typical-looking social life much more difficult to engineer.
While I can't speak for every outrageously famous actor or musician (certainly not the ones more willing to exploit their fame to cozy up to a smokin hot fan), I can tell you that I suspect the law of large numbers mean that it's definitely not all it's cracked up to be.
As a parting thought, it is worth noting that unsolicited nudes and cyber harassment and stalkers are the everyday experiences of non-men with little or no "fame" to speak of. As a dude-shaped human with a million followers, readers in every continent, and actual honest-to-goodness "fans," after seven years of building up an audience and gaining more and more notoriety, my experience has begun to look like that of many women and gender-variant folks for having the audacity to simply exist.