I've been toying with the idea lately of being a writer. I throw that word out there and let it hang, suspended, waiting perhaps to see if it will come back at me and smack me in the face, attaching itself to me like a faithful labrador puppy. I wait to see if the word will claim me. It doesn't really seem like a title that I can rightly claim myself. Aren't artists made by their work, not by their words? Of course, you could say that a writer is precisely made by their words. But a writer should be made by their visions, their stories, their great and beautiful essays, satires, comedies or poems, not by any words they claim of themselves. So to wait and watch this word, this title--writer--seems unfitting of the post. If I am to be made, I will be made by writing. When I think about it, I would hope rather than to be a writer, to simply be known as someone who writes.
I once lent a book I thought to be completely incredible (It claimed its place as best book I have ever read several years ago and never lost that position) to a very close friend. I told her the book was amazing and she would love it. She got about a chapter through it before noticing the photo of the author on the back of the book, found herself annoyed by his apparently smug expression and refused to go any further. After reading so many more of this author's books and at moments literally laughing out loud or in turn, crying, from his stories, I wish I could convince this friend to get over that damn picture. But she won't. For her, his stories are too closely tied to him as a person, as a writer, and she can't enjoy the stories for their own sake.
This seems to be a bit of the fallout of our capitalist conundrum. In any time or place throughout history, a familiar face, name or title has helped to sell any product. A large part of any decision, including purchasing, is emotional, and trust sells. So the best way to sell books in our current age of distant communities is to create a name--create a writer that people will follow--build trust in a brand. In some ways this is natural and appropriate, as all kinds of transactions are more meaningful when they belong within a relationship (even if that relationship is only imagined, as in the case of many authors and audiences). However, as in the case of my friend and the smug author, sometimes this attempt to create a fictional relationship between the author and reader misfires. Sometimes the author's likeability becomes more important than what it is they are writing.
This, if true, is a shame. It turns art and creativity into another marketing objective and a big, mad, frenzied popularity contest. In the hopes of securing book deals, bloggers write to readers' tastes, sometimes writing with strategically chosen words so as to land more 'hits' in internet searches. To be a free-lance writer now means to find out what people want to read about and what advertisers want you to write about and then trying to mold yourself around these market demands in the most poppy, quirky, flashy or intimate way possible. Writers have become politicians, catering to their constituents, rather than the artists I want to believe they should be.
It is for this reason that whatever writing means in my life, now or in the future, I will always wrestle with the title vs. the reality. Perhaps it is better to remain anonymous so that one's writing might be judged on its own merits. In this way, I would hope, something more beautiful, more original and most, most importantly, more true will emerge from the process. For, I believe, this is what art is meant to be--the search, unceasing, for truth and beauty, even if one does not always equal the other. Writing should say something that matters, as the long-winded Russian novelists always have done. Of course writing might also entertain, be light and frothy and easy to read in an afternoon. But in this, the truth is in the offering of a joyful experience, and the focus is always on the writing, not the writer.
It seems I must be content, then, to let this title float, unclaimed, and find my peace as Buddhists urge, without ownership. As I write, I realize the many ways this should ring true in my life. Let rest the title and joyfully claim the work. Let the working make me, much as this writing has done. And in this moment, I realize exactly why I do it.