|On Doing It Your Way
||[May. 31st, 2012|09:44 am]
Lately the mom has taken to watching Food Network. Not something I would ever have looked at on my own, as I don’t really get into the notion of food as visual entertainment. Basically it just makes you want to eat, which is something I spend most of my life trying to avoid.
But I do find myself strangely fascinated now and then, particularly by this show called “Restaurant Impossible,” where there’s this chef who talks a lot like one of the recent Doctor Whos, who goes around to failing restaurants and tries to tell people what they’re doing wrong.
Yesterday he was dealing with this bar-b-cue joint owner who was losing money hand over fist because his bar-b-cue sauce was no good. And no matter how many people told him his bar-b-cue sauce sucked, he wasn’t going to change it – probably because he went into business specifically to sell something that suited his taste, and thus to validate his taste by showing that other people would like it. But his taste wasn’t selling, and he would be facing bankruptcy if he kept insisting on doing it his way.
At this point in any endeavor you’re involved in, you have a choice – sell out and change the direction of what you’re doing to making money, rather than seeking self-validation, or continuing on trying to prove something that has already been proven false until you ultimately destroy yourself.
In food, as well as music, comics, writing and most fields of the arts, there’s often something to be said for doing it your way. Otherwise you’d never have a Mike Oldfield or a Richard Adams. But still, not everyone thinks Mike Oldfield or Richard Adams are so hot. But enough people do for them to make a living.
On the other hand, there are scads of newer Prog bands, and a number of up and coming writers who are not having the same success.
Actually, the thought just occurred to me that the common modern Prog band is a lot like the guy with his bar-b-cue sauce. His main ingredient was store bought bar-b-cue sauce that he just added a couple of touches to. That’s pretty much what the modern Prog band does. It pours in a whole bottle of Pink Floyd, adds a few touches of Genesis and Yes and says, “This is my fantastically tasty formula that we’re going to take on the world with.” But nobody buys it, because it pretty much only sounds really good to them, and maybe a few others who are inclined to fast food music rather than chef quality music. But they’ll never get into the history books that way.
But what really caused an association in my mind with this show was that on the same day that I watched it, the father was having an accounting nightmare, because he insists on doing accounting his way.
You probably think, as I do, that math is just math. There are no 2 ways to do it. But apparently there are 2 ways – a right and a wrong way. And the father apparently does accounting as a hobby, particularly in the sense of doing it his way, which is obviously the wrong way, because at 84 years of age one really doesn’t want to be wasting 2 or 3 days on a simple math problem.
Recently he had been noting that he and I use logic in a very different way. His way tends to get him into ruts that keep him going around in circles for days. My way tends to produce solutions in a comparative rush.
To illustrate this difference in logic, I told him to think of a video game character in a platform game. Say you’ve got Mega Man in a frozen cave running over this ice bridge. There’s a break in the bridge, and no matter how you jump, he can’t jump over it to the other side. By the father’s logic, you just keep trying to jump over until you ware the game console out. By my logic, after failing enough times to realize he’s not meant to jump over the break, you look around to see if you missed something. You back track a bit until you discover a pair of skis you neglected to pick up, and the character skis right over the break.
That’s what the father was doing with his figures. He kept adding up the same series of pre-added sums, being insistent that the numbers had previously been proven right. And he did this for 2 or 3 days. I came along, recalculated the sums and had the thing balancing within 15 minutes. But to him this was no good, because I didn’t do it his way.
To him, skiing Mega Man over the break in the ice bridge would be cheating. Everything must be done the hard way, or it’s not worth doing, even if it was never meant to be done the hard way.
Now, you might have noticed that, as a writer, I do things the hard way, and I don’t really pay a whole heck of a lot of mind as to whether I’m ever going to see any financial return on my work.
People say to me, “Why do you have to write Furry? You could make a fortune writing standard Sci-Fi or Fantasy.” But I really hate words like “Standard” when it comes to art.
Even in Furry circles I’m told, “Why do you have to write this impossibly long soap opera? Why can’t you write short stories and get in the anthologies like all the sensible Furry writers do? You’d be so much more famous in the fandom if you conformed to the ways your contemporaries work.” But being famous isn’t particularly important to me.
Truth be told, I don’t ever put myself in a position where I make my living from writing, because I don’t want to be in the situation that the bar-b-cue joint owner was in. I don’t care how good I am at it, writing has to be my hobby, not my livelihood, because writing is a very difficult thing to do that would never have been my chosen vocation. I write specifically because I have this one series of stories to tell, and writing for any other purpose would be a drudgery that I wouldn’t enjoy.
“But you could make money at it,” someone protests. But I could make money stocking shelves at Walmart, or any other meaningless, thankless job, for that matter, were I not disabled, and it would be a lot easier than writing. So, if I had to write only for money, I’d be doing something else.
Same thing with being famous or popular. I’m a really shy person. The thought of getting famous and popular for what I do is not really attractive.
I have an attitude similar to Mike Oldfield when he put out Tubular Bells. Put “Tubular Bells” in big print. Put “Mike Oldfield” in little teeny tiny print. The idea being to sell the work, not its creator.
Think of “Dark Shadows.” Lots of people know that title. I’d say an overwhelming percentage of those people don’t know or care anything about Dan Curtis.
That’s how I feel about my own work. My story is interesting. I’m not. So I don’t want to be put in the position of having to sell myself as if I were interesting.
I really don’t think of myself as a great writer. I think of myself as having been blessed with an idea for a great series, and just enough skill to be able to demonstrate it.
That’s my way. Not the best way to run a railroad, and certainly not one I’d recommend to anyone else. But it’s just one of those things that isn’t worth doing if I have to do it according to industry standards or whatever.
Like the bar-b-cue joint owner, what I do tastes good to me. And I’m in the writing business for that reason. I might make a lot of money selling something that somebody tells me tastes better, but I’d lose out on the validation that I initially went into the business for.
Perhaps this is the difference between survival and actually living. You can go through the motions all your life to earn a living. But you’re not really living if you’re not proving there’s something about yourself that’s good enough for at least some people to have said they found it tasty – tasty enough to have wanted to come back for more.