A landmark and lonely moment is when you realize you’re invisible. The cliche, “hidden in plain sight,” implies a conscious decision to remain hidden (or at least that’s how it’s mostly used), so it’s not that. By contrast, the invisibility of which I speak is the necessary symptom of an introspective and artistic life. Here’s what I’ve come to believe: the more a person moves about in the interior shadowland of his own mind–a space resembling, but not replicating, the physical world–the more that person feels a disconnect between what resonates as reality for him and what those around him seem to accept as the same. The invisible man’s reality is mostly within and is, therefore, closer to the heart. A general understanding of the world, like what close-knit communities often share, becomes nearly impossible for the primarily inward-living person. In the gap between inner and outer, values misalign. In fact, values originate altogether differently.
Probably the disconnect happens for everyone to varying degrees, maybe more for the introvert than for the extrovert. Yet it happens even more for the artist, and here’s a theory why: the artist is obligated to believe in his inner world. There’s no dismissing his most secret thoughts, writing them off as daydreaming or zoning out. Dreams, desires, memories, fantasies, imagination–all are raw materials; all are source material for origins.
I fear I’m viewing this conviction of invisibility solipsistically, though. Because I’m a writer, maybe I’ve accepted things about myself I’ve merely made up–a functioning self-delusion, in which I’m guilty of believing a problem unique to a few that is really the existential dilemma of many.
Regardless what’s true or imagined, the feeling of being invisible occurs at distinct moments–moments which I could list, if time permitted. That’s why this post is a “Part 1,” because I might return to this idea and try to work through it. That is, unless I decide to just keep it all inside–to keep it invisible.
If no one ever died, Vincent van Gogh would be one-hundred sixty-five years-old today. That I just wrote about him yesterday is purely coincidental. I wasn’t aware it was his birthday eve. The fact is he looms large, year-round. His name arises nearly as frequently as Picasso’s. One thing I mentioned in my post yesterday is the obscurity van Gogh suffered–a strange reality given his enduring post-mortem fame and adulation. Will there be an opposite phenomenon in-place for certain artists who are famous in life right now, like Yayoi Kusama or Damien Hirst, where their names are lost at death while people we’ve never heard of make it into the Art History books? If I live to be a hundred-and-sixty-five, I guess I’ll know.
The art gods are fickle, conferring success on some and denying it to others, sometimes regardless of merit, and then often reversing those fates when artists die. It would seem cruel, if it weren’t that there was no one to blame. Those so-called art gods are really only projections of public taste, which is guided by markets and art criticism, among other factors. The whole business is quite subjective, i.e., subject to human whim, which can be negligent.
All of this makes for a slightly uninteresting blog post–kind of an “everybody knows this” type situation. But today being Vincent van Gogh’s birthday got me thinking about the unpredictability of fortune, how she shines on a few and ignores the vast millions. When I moved to Nashville in 2001, of course I knew that people came here with big dreams about the music business (I was one of them), but I was naive as to the extent of it. It wasn’t long, though, before I realized the city positively crawls with deserving musicians, and by deserving, I don’t simply mean there are lots of talented people here. What I mean is they’ve committed their lives to the pursuit of music–to the dream of making “it”–to the degree they deny themselves, sometimes their whole lives, the traditional avenues to fulfillment, like marriage or career or education or parenting. Their work ethics are unmatched, endlessly perfecting their craft, working crappy jobs in order to survive, developing every detail of performance and persona, for hours and hours, which soon become days, months, and years. Throw a rock into any joint in Nashville, and you’ll hit ten people who could feasibly pull off a full-time, professional music gig. Yes, they’re that densely concentrated here. But you’ll never know their names.
So goes the internal conversation for a writer who’s deep in his first novel. Though I’d like to write more often, I’m largely happy with my progress. About three-fourths of my original length goal has been committed to Word, and I have a routine in place that should get me to the end of my first typed draft before the year’s up, maybe. Hopefully.
An artist’s influences are never far from his work, perhaps, and there’s always the danger of derivation, or the temptation to outright mimic. A little thrill moves through me whenever I write something I think Virginia Woolf could’ve written, so I understand the temptation. But no one can out-Virginia Virginia. Therefore, then, the task becomes figuring out how to simply do Alan. This is the part demanding artistic grit–the part that only the artist can discover, and usually only after years of working. A writer’s voice can’t be gifted him from a well-meaning source, and it can’t be borrowed. Few are the Mozarts, who seem to have been born with their gift; many more are the van Goghs, who labor in obscurity. (Van Gogh would’ve been quite amused by the modern conception of him as a tortured genius; tortured he was, but only two or three thought him even talented, much less a genius.) The question I have for the universe is this: will I know when I find my voice?
I got down about six-or-seven-hundred words today. Through the large plate-glass window of my early-morning Starbucks, I could see the steady rain. The gray dawn looked wintry, but the actual outside air was more like room-temperature. Some of what I wrote, I liked, but just as much will improve with the second writing. In the meantime, I will work, and if I work enough, then maybe my writerly voice will come.