"Let us not be ashamed to speak what we shame not to think."
-Michel de Montaigne
-Michel de Montaigne
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Dear Self: How About for Christmas You Stop Being an Egotistical Schmuck? Okay? Ok.
I think I've been going about this the wrong way. And by "this," I mean of course, writing, and life in general.
I just turned 27 a few days ago, and it's admittedly freaked me out (just a little). Naturally, the addition of each year forces us in some way to do a retrospective, a self-survey of our lives to some degree. Am I where I want to be? Am I WHO I want to be? The answer to that is 'yes' and 'no.' It's both.
I don't know that I can agree that 'art for art's sake' is enough, is a sufficient raison d'etre for writing any more. There is absolutely no lack of egotists stroking their neuroses with a pen. For the sake of hearing themselves talk out loud. For the sake of someone else's praise. For the sake of deluding themselves into believing they are enlightening the reader with something original or revolutionary or avant garde when there is nothing new under the sun. Their writing, their accomplishments serve absolutely no greater purpose than to congratulate (or exonerate) the person behind the pen.
I have been one of those people I condemn.
I don't think writers start out this way. I think true writers write because they must. Why else would you force yourself upon something that seems so unnecessary and generally snickered at in this world of quantitative urgency? Somewhere along the way, certainly as a writer's profile increases, we forget that our words have actual power to help people, to transform culture. Our skills can be used for more than self-glory, as more than a blanket to warm our past hurts and wrongs.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that I want to do something more than glorify myself with that I do.
There is a quote by Swami Vivekananda that I admire:
"Do not stand on a high pedestal and take 5 cents in your hand and say, 'here, my poor man,' but be grateful that the poor man is there, so by making a gift to him you are able to help yourself.It is not the receiver that is blessed, but it is the giver."
I've spent too much time trying to bless myself through accomplishment and recognition, and felt altogether emptier as a result. I don't have a ton of money. I have enough, and for that I'm grateful. But what I do have are a few chapbooks and a certain skill set. So what I propose is this:
1) From now until the end of January, 100% of all sales from my chapbook, Desir, will benefit "Celebrating Angels, One Cupcake at a Time." Celebrating Angels is a not-for-profit organization that hosts cupcake parties for children in Atlanta-area homeless shelters. In addition to cupcakes, Celebrating Angels also donates much-needed seasonal items such as school supplies and winter coats. For every book purchased at $5.00, I will match by $2.00. Whatever I collect by February 1st will be donated, in full, to the organization. See below for purchasing info.
2) I will offer my skills as a former English teacher for FREE tutorial services. I am willing to assist 2-3 middle or high school students on Saturday mornings for help in English, History, and test-prep/study skills. Email me for details: firstname.lastname@example.org
3) I will also extend an offer to help with reviewing or editing resumes or CV's. Please email me with the document attached to the address above. I am happy to do basic copy-editing and/or give suggestions for revision, GRATIS.
This is by no means a permanent solution to the dilemma of ego and art, but it is at least, a small light. A small move to remember that any talent I have, however large or small, is undeserved. It does not originate in me, or for me.
To purchase a copy of Desir, send $5.00 cash or money order to:
Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library
540 Asbury Circle
Atlanta, GA 30322