I arrived home from work one afternoon last week, after two days of modest, midday shifts (8am -2pm), destroyed. Physically spent, that is, and psychologically wrecked. I don’t know what happens except that some days on the job the running around and up-and-down-ladders (literally and figuratively) and customer service challenges combine into a toxic, energy sapping, confidence lashing, consumptive brume that yanks the oxygen from the lungs of my zeal. Life seems a pitiless, heartless exhaustion. It didn’t help that I was working in a different department and struggling to be competent. Add to that a string of five days without selling a book and the monthly advertising invoices pouring in and I was overwhelmed with a sense of utter inauthenticity and foolhardiness. Who am I to think I can write a novel that’s good enough to be worth buying? And what kind of idiot spends $25K on such a project, sees sales of a mere 90 copies in eleven months and thinks, gee, I’m looking forward to doing this again next year? Or the year after that, what have you. Talk about a silly hobby business. Better to refer to it, indeed, as nothing more than vanity publishing. Which is to say, here I am keeping the novel’s head above the waters of oblivion only by way of having the financial resources, modest as they are, to do so. Meanwhile, I’ve learned how publishing houses go broke: if it costs this much to publish a book and most of them won’t ever earn themselves out, let alone immediately: trouble.
Anyway, having crashed – I literally laid down on the floor and slept when I got home from work, something I never do (as a rule I never take naps) – in a kind of defeated heap, resigned to the alternative oblivion of dreamless sleep and indifferent to the idea of ever waking up again because it all seemed so fucking pointless (it was that bad, I’m telling you), I managed awaken at dinner time, shoved down my food and forced myself to read. I never snapped out of the dreary and debilitating grip of depression, however, and after slogging through Richardson’s Emerson and the introduction to Romanticism and Speculative Realism (a collection of academic essays that I’m not yet certain were worth the purchase) I told myself not to check my book sales for once and shuffled off to bed, still hopelessly indifferent to the idea of tomorrow.
The following morning at 6:30am I rose to face the day, come what may. The first thing I did, as always, was check sales and, lo, I’d sold an eBook in Canada, thank Thor! – the first official sale of 2021! Hey, I think many other authorpreneurs will have to admit that it’s the nature of the beast to be obsessed with any scrap of cosmic flesh we can come across to keep going. That’s not an elegant metaphor at all, sorry, but it does capture the desperate keenness of the whole affair: every sale, every rating (heaven help me regarding reviews), any tidbit of connection or intimation of progress means everything to us “emerging” writers. Hey, it’s not pretty. Ask any indie author whose first book didn’t immediately “take off” (which statistically means virtually every indie first timer out there) and odds are they’ll reflect a version of this unsightly neurosis.
Some days, then, are better than others. The “I’ll never sell another book” misery passed. However temporarily. And of course the tricky part is letting go of it all – being anxious for outcomes that is – and resisting the compulsion to call out the cosmos, as it were, to tempt fate and require things to happen within a certain time frame and in a certain manner according to my perceived needs, my desires. As opposed to my more healthy and otherwise proper aspirations. Because, time and again, the cosmos teaches that it isn’t about you: what you are offering to the world is of the world already, in the sense of the block universe, for instance, and is an expression of the humanity you are a part of and the biology and physics that comprise the nature of things both tangible and intangible, both natural and super natural (sic).
Emerson’s urging the young men to hold on to their early visions and romantic expectations had an edge to it. He told them that abandoning those expectations meant death: “Then once more perish the buds of art, and poetry, and science, as they have died already in a thousand thousand men.”Robert D. Richarson, Jr., Emerson: The Mind on Fire, (Berkley: University of California Press, 1995), 295-296
What is it about the life of the artist-craftsman that seems so perilous and ultimately unsustainable? Why do so many of us quit? The money, or lack of it, to be sure: there is, too often, no economic sense to made of it; one’s efforts can never point to any entrepreneurial legitimacy; rather, they are seen by oneself and others as mostly indulgent and ultimately pathetic: you don’t sell your work, nobody is reading, listening, looking at any of it. So why bother? It all seems worse than silly; at best it appears a kind of selfish lunacy and at worst it demands an unreasonable, unacceptable toll upon others. My wife’s career financially supports the both of us, for example, whereas my wannabe career as an authorpreneur merely costs in all manner of ways. It will never be any different, of course. If it were easy, as they say, everyone would be doing it. Well, it sometimes seems as if everyone is doing it, given the DIY legitimacy of everything these days. The traditional threshold guardians (traditional within the context of publishing novels, at least) have been for the most part dismantled
But to return to the idea of holding on to one’s visions and romantic expectations: what is it that Emerson and any of us sympathetic to him (and Thoreau for that matter and in my opinion also Joseph Campbell) are really referring to? Myth? The mythic? Yes. Namely, consciously or unconsciously, the accompanying or otherwise defining four functions (originally Campbell’s) of myth, which I’m keen to keep reiterating: (1) A sense of awe; (2) a cosmology that supports that awe; (3) a sociology that establishes morality & ethics; (4) a pedagogical, supporting psychology. So that, again, I interpret myth and mythology in both cultural and personal terms as the essential thing or first mover which encompasses – as a sheltering sky – all other contemplative iterations or specializations, including all so-called religions. Religion in this context is not diminished; rather, it is in my opinion properly located or right-sized within the broadest contemplative, ontological, empirical and phenomenological contexts. If I’m a phenomenalist, so be it, but I’m not here to split philosophical hairs. As Emerson, Thoreau and Campbell would all agree, the kingdom of God (insert your particular divinity here) is within us. This is blasphemy to the righteously biblical (or choose another so-called divine text or dogma) and Emerson, for instance, endured criticism of the sort, essentially Occidental, that categorically excludes man from Heaven (the angel wielding a flaming sword who guards the gates of Eden) until a final, reorienting judgement day corrects our sinfulness and establishes an eternal paradise. Jesus, after all, was crucified, arguably, only when he was perceived to have identified himself with God.
Romantic vision and expectation, then. It has to do with our fleeting sense of being properly alive – of a sense of everyday connectedness, an idea found within existential Shinto (namely, as it differs from Shrine Shinto – see this remarkable little book by Kasulis for a brilliant extrapolation: https://www.amazon.com/Shinto-Home-Dimensions-Asian-Spirituality/dp/082482850X/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=kasulis+shinto%3A+the+way+home&qid=1610216475&sr=8-1) enhanced by the full expression or engagement of who we are – our experience of so-called individuation. We seek and, as Rumi famously suggests, what we seek is seeking us. Until such an experience of unity or realization is achieved, until the potential energy is transformed into kinetic, as it were, we endure the profound and tantalizing sense of impossible possibility, suspended destiny, profound expectancy, wholehearted yearning and the persistent, push-pull gravity of a parallel world shadowing our own and knock, knock, knocking at the door between; a locked portal for which we have yet to discover the key. Such is the soul crying out. Such is the experience of what is grinding against the knowledge or the vision of what could be. Such is the experience of living within the Mystery.
It’s inevitable, post holiday and retail boom times, that I come to terms with my return to onesie-twosie sales per month of the book, beginning of course with this month, if I can even perpetuate that small goal. So be it. The alternative is to pull all my Amazon advertising, quit posting blog posts, forsake the idea of discovering any new marketing niches to nurture and otherwise fold up my authorpreneurial camp until I can manage to complete the edits of TC2. Which isn’t a realistic alternative. I’m in this thing, full on, all the way to the end, come what may.
There I was, then, practically all day yesterday immersed in doing additional due diligence regarding the idea of me and my HWG brother collaborating on bringing Five out as a vinyl or resin so-called toy (or figure). I thought, is it really required to enlist toy factories, be they overseas or here in the States, at significant financial investment, all the while removing most of the actual art-craft from our own hands? For some folks, after all, coming up with an illustration is all they can manage, that’s fine. But HWG is a professional art-crafter with an interest and some experience in sculpture. So, what else is out there, I asked myself, to make this happen on a more granular, organic, more jazzy scale? There must be a way.
These days, you just “google it.” Which is to say, you avail yourself of the internet. Not everybody tends to do even this little thing, I’ve noticed. So, I typed in, “How to make your own vinyl figure.” And within a few minutes or less of noodling around I plunge directly into the happy realm of the so-called Crafsman and his Steady Craftin’ youtube channel. Specifically, I stumbled upon this video and the two following it which describe the creation and rendering in resin style (as opposed to vinyl) of his Free Range Chicken: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycr9bpO-czI
The Crafsman’s youtube channel also has a store – who knew you could have a youtube channel with a store and all the accoutrements of a damn website? And it likely costs him nothing, versus the monthly fees involved in running my own site. Anyway, I’m hardly youtube material but the Crafsman is a natural and apparently making it all happen sustainably, by way of the DIY, no-cost, Patreon, youtube.com subscriber, Etsy, Teespring, whatever it takes little home-spun, low-volume, nitchie, artisinal services that allow the emerging, solo, self-financed entrepreneur an opportunity to test the waters of their own vision. Without going broke.
Hey, it’s probably another example of the 85/15 rule whereby eighty-five percent of the folks who try to get their little vision of greatness started on the web in whatever form simply don’t make it. Because it takes so many things to go right, doesn’t it? You offer your hard won boon to the world-of-action and you receive one of the three results, as we’ve discussed in a previous post: welcome; rejection; or a sort of open-ended middle ground; a neither here nor there, uncommitted either way thing; the wait-and-see-if-you-can-convince-me situation. Which can take years to transform into anything like a welcome and acceptance and, well, that’s a different discussion, more akin to where I’m at. Crafsman? He succeeds in his element, expressing his incomparably positive, palpably wholehearted personal mythology and, as it always seems to be when you’re having the experience of being properly alive, you not only get out of your own way and everybody else’s, but you find yourself helping and inspiring others to find and express theirs. You lead by example and it’s best when it isn’t even intentional. Which is to say the best leaders don’t regard themselves as such (leadership being a study unto itself).
When it works – personal mythology, that is – it looks so easy. Become a novelist. A painter. Youtube your “steady craftin’.” It appears not only a balm to the world’s miseries but absolutely effortless. And then everybody tries to copy it. And gets it all wrong. Or has zero youtube charisma. I can recall ten or so years ago when I was back in Texas, out of work, again, rebooting the system, again, trying on hats, trying anything to make it better, I tried recording Angie, me and our dog on a typical urban trek using my crappy little flip-phone cell phone. I recorded a little scene of us walking – we’ve been urban trekking, as I refer to it, for a couple of decades – and me doing a voice over of sorts; narrating the thing like so many folks do (Angie works out on the treadmill to a runner, for example, who blabs and blabs continually while the camera over his shoulder records his amazing travel jogging locales and the guy is good at it, it works, which is to say it’s compelling). Anyway, I played back my little documentary riff and almost puked at the sound of my own voice. Yow! And my pathetic, half-baked, uninventive, uninspired video clips. I couldn’t endure a second of it. Everything about the idea was like a stillborn, two-headed calf. Horrible. Intolerably, impossibly wrong.
So, yes, I could’ve gotten better at it – you can learn a skill and become functional. But functional is not what you, me or anybody else is seeking. It’s not what we want, what we need and in the end, it’s not what any of us, when we’re in tune with our personal mythology, has to offer. You see these folks on youtube or wherever with their little 100 subcribers or what have you but the folks who kill it in this medium – from kids to oldsters, it doesn’t even matter if you speak English at all well – it’s akin, I’d say, to movie star dynamics: you either have it or you don’t. Cinematic charisma, let’s call it, is something you’re born with. It’s a talent. What do you do with talent? As we’ve discussed in other posts, you nurture it, deliberately practice it into mastery. Meanwhile, if you aren’t that youtube type of talent, no harm, no foul, there’s some other way to go about it, some other legitimate, authentic way to be who you are.
Hell, the Crafsman: if he someday became convinced to reveal his identity or put his face in front of the camera, to lose the puppet and the gloves and the happy mystery of it all, well would it work? Likely it would be a disaster. Or at best a ho-hum, get-your-ass-back-behind-the-camera thing. When it works, there’s no stopping it. When it doesn’t, there’s nothing that can save it. Meanwhile, folks love the Crafsman like they love Bob Ross and Mister Rogers and the Crafsman mentions these two icons (and somebody else I can’t recall) – folks have told him that he indeed sounds like one or the other and, to his credit, the Crafsman doesn’t appeal to this comparison and mentions that he in fact doesn’t think Bob Ross or Mister Rogers, as voices or, by extension personalities, happen to sound at all alike to begin with (I’m paraphrasing) so, well, how could he sound like all of them or any of them? I think it’s a perception thing, he says, or something to that effect.
There is nothing new under the sun, as our man Ecclesiastes said. Hence, the Crafsman can be said to be riffing on something that is already a part of our pop culture requirement, so to say: he provides something we need that isn’t entirely original because nothing ever is. This is not a criticism. It’s rather a compliment. The Crafsman is bestowing wisdom in his impossibly appealing, groovily humble manner. Without perceptible pedagogy. The vibe of his show is steady craftin’ almost as a lifestyle, except he doesn’t go to pains to at all present it that way. He is not Martha Stewart, let’s put it that way. He never implies (not the Martha did, either – hey, I always liked Martha Stewart) that any of us ought to change anything about ourselves or be more like him. The sages and the shamans of this world, the divinely inspired and the otherwise cosmically connected don’t do this. Crafsman will occasionally suggest that we do something today to build somebody up or help them out, what have you. And if I said (or wrote) such a thing it would fall flat and be boring as hell. Because that isn’t my job, exactly. When the Crafsman says it, however, it’s as real and as right as rain, as they say.
And I’d suggest that his youtube channel is yet another example of the Little Big Thing: the Crafsman communicates nothing more complicated or intentionally weighty than what his interests are, what his zeal is, all by way of the things and gizmos he loves. He narrates his world, communicates his personal mythology, is interesting because he’s interested. And when you’re true to yourself, you are groovy in your own way and we can’t take our eyes off you. Or your nitrile-gloved hands.
The practical lesson? The takeaway? Now I know, courtesy of the groovy knowledge and DIY fearlessness bestowed by the Crafsman, that Five as an art-craft toy, in resin, is an entirely doable little project. Art-craft. Handmade. Homemade. Uber low production. No need to drop ten or twenty grand and enlist a battalion of Chinese factory workers to manufacture and paint them. At my level, still treading so close to the precipice of oblivion as an authorpreneur, I feel heartened and emboldened, as HWG does, by the Crafsman’s so-called Free Range Chicken story, or toy-making method, for example. Do ten or twenty copies or however many feels right. Sculpt and paint them all by hand. So that HWG does the “sculpt” (art-toy industry lingo) to his liking, I offer a handful of copies to interested readers of Time Crime on this website and we see if the idea has legs. Maybe, maybe not, you only know by way of trying.
Meanwhile, HWG includes a version (or two or three) of Five or the Moleman (however he wants to present it because it’s his image) as part of his gallery show this coming summer and he sells them there. Or takes orders. Perhaps that’s where the “sculpt” of Five belongs? Perhaps not, either. But the experiment is all good. Imbibe the vibe and test the flame of your personal zeal. Surrender to your personal mythology. It won’t be easy. But it will be, in its way, groovy. That’s all there is.