Monday, June 9, 2008

A little bit of fame

I have been having a running conversation with myself and a few others for many years now about validation, both from ones' self and from others. I have held that the most important task in a persons' life is to be able to self validate. Without doing so, we are susceptible to the whims and opinions of others, much to our detriment.

Other people can not give us what we do not have. They also do not see us clearly. We are the only ones who can truly know ourselves. Of course, I'm not sure that anyone can see themselves all that clearly, either, for we all suffer from some self delusion. But no matter, we must try.

When I was young and on tour with a band, I saw behaviors that scared me. I'm not talking about all the drugs, the trashing of hotel rooms, or the mistreatment of groupies. What I am talking about is the lifeless quality of many people who are obsessed with being famous. Some of these people seemed not to be alive unless they had an audience. They were bored to death if there was no one applauding them or kissing their asses. They found no joy in the small things of life or they found these things to be valueless. People treated each other like objects with price tags. Worth was based on who you knew, or what you had to offer. Being nice, for example, was not valued all that highly, if it was valued at all. Only suckers are nice.

The reason these things scared me is I knew I was susceptible to them. I also found the whole fame thing totally maddening, as I saw people with no talent get no where and those with lots of ambition (and little talent) make it big. We all know this is true. In this society, we have to "sell" ourselves like products. The other maddening thing was having people who would otherwise not care a whit about you suddenly become your best friend or perceive what you did or who you were in a suddenly favorable light where once you were just another nobody. Add to this the currying and fawning behaviors of "fans", and you've got a stew of a mental health disaster. No wonder so many celebrities turn to drugs.

One particular incident when I was on tour sticks in my mind. I think I was in Lawrence, Kansas, but don't hold me to it. The important part of the story is not the location in particular, but that the location was one where there was no stores open at two in the morning. I was sitting around after a gig and happened to ask if someone had a stick of gum. The answer was no. "I'll get you some gum", said a total stranger. "How far do you have to go to get it?" I asked him. The reply - oh, about a half hour's drive away. I told him no, and he persisted, but I finally convinced him. I know I asked him if he'd drive an hour for a pack of gum for anyone he knew. "Um, well, no. I wouldn't", he replied. So why would he do this for a stranger? It was absurd. I didn't mean to shame the kid, but I wanted him to understand that doing something for me wasn't going to mean anything.

It's all well and good to be nice to people, but that's not what this was about. It's a remnant of fawning over royalty, or something to that effect. Famous people and monarchs are just regular people who wipe their bums like anyone else (though I'm sure that there are some who get others to that for them, as they once did in France).

Other things that troubled me a great deal when I was on tour were the following: having gorgeous women throw themselves at me, having the tormentors of my childhood suddenly trying to be my best friend, having to stay "in character" in public, and having people tell me that they used to think I was shit, but now they thought I was fantastic. Couldn't they see that I was the exact same human being? This boiled my blood (and misusing that expression makes me sound like English is my second language - I kind of like it).

What I took away from all this is the following: most people who want to be stars are either very insecure or are egomaniacs (or both, of course). I figured one thing: I better get out. I didn't have enough inherent self esteem to get through this world without some very real damage and until I understood fully who I was and honored it, I should lead a very private life.

What I really craved was to prove to myself that I could be "normal", though what that was was rather vague. Getting married and having kids? Enjoying a regular job? Not needing so much excitement in my life? It was all of these things, plus a lot more. I wanted to be loved for who I was, not the projection that others laid upon me. But that's an interesting quandary for someone who didn't actually know who she was. I knew I had to grow, and I had to find some real meaning in my life, not the meaning provided by outside affirmation with some adulation thrown in.

Lordy, I have no idea how really famous people handle it. Again, it's totally reasonable that so many of them turn to some pretty self-destructive behaviors.

But here's the rub. Even though it's totally possible to live a creative life without any recognition at all, what is it for without sharing it with others? I think one has to start from a place where the most important thing is to find ones' authentic voice, and for that, we need to toil in anonymity and learn to appreciate ourselves without a word from any one else. It shouldn't matter at all what others think. If we feel it absolutely imperative to create, no matter what the outcome, we have succeeded.

I think, it is only then that one should venture out into the world. When you feel certain of yourself, your voice, your statement or what have you, then you should put yourself out there. Not for accolades and not to make up for any insecurity, but because it's time.

I know this seems like a very high standard and perhaps it is. But honestly, I think without having examined our own minds as thoroughly as we can, folks who put themselves in the spotlight are generally setting themselves up for a lot of unhappiness. We see it every day, blown into huge headlines in the tabloids. Addiction. Divorce. Anorexia. Suicide. I wish I had some statistics to throw at you. I don't.

To be continued.

Painting note: I never thought in a million years I would post anything of Norman Rockwell's, but here it is: "Girl in the Mirror". See how we start wondering "Am I pretty enough?" at such a young age. Pretty enough for what? To be a brain surgeon or to be a movie actress?

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