Art Is Sacrifice and Other Bullshit

[Edited on Sunday, June 11, 2017 for clarity and to fix errors.]

In my mid-twenties and the World Wide Web still new, I found writing and critiquing communities like forums and Critters.org. These communities provide to writers the opportunity to give and receive useful feedback and learn we are not alone.

The problem with some men (Many? Just me?) in their twenties is that they won’t shut up and listen. Instead they pronounce. Loudly. I pronounced on a writing forum that the only writers who are successful and published are those who sacrifice themselves entirely and painfully to their art. I called out people I believed would probably never be published to defend my pronouncement. I called out housewives and retirees specifically.

I’m ashamed of what I said back then. As you can imagine, the members of the forum, writers from different backgrounds, identities, and writing experiences, reacted with outrage. The more people responded negatively, though, the more I dug in. I kept insisting that art was sacrifice and many people couldn’t or wouldn’t make the necessary sacrifice. I felt very libertarian. Very Ayn Rand. Very suffering artist. Very martyr. Very young. Convinced and convincing.

Yeah, I was a complete idiot.

The writers reacted with shock and anger. They’re just reacting to being called out, I thought at the time, these women with a few minutes to write in the morning before their children wake up. I thought of the retirees who I told waited too long they can’t take the blunt truth. Truth is truth. A is A. Getting emotional about it isn’t going to change anything.

Yeah, I was a mean fucking lunatic.

All that bluster and proclamation was me trying to convince ME to write. I wasn’t a disciplined writer. I’d get excited about an idea, write for a few hours over a few days, and then not write again for months or years. I was afraid I had neither the talent or discipline to write. Published work was the only measure of success in my mind. I used the forum in a selfish way that hurt others. I used my posts to declare myself someone better than the rest because I thought I knew the real secret to success. I found in alienation and controversy a fantasy of my own future success: I don’t have any kids and I’m still young, so I’ve got plenty of time! Next stop: bestselling author!

I’d like to say that as I got older, I learned to keep my mouth shut and show more restraint and empathy. Maybe. A few years ago, I joined a Tucson, Arizona meetup for writers. Most of the attending writers were retirees. They all told a similar story: how they had always wanted to write, but work, family, and life got in the way. They felt in retirement they finally had the time and space. I didn’t speak out loud, thank goodness, but there in my head I had the same old tired, irresponsible, dishonest, and uncaring thoughts: None of you are going to be published because you waited too long. That’s not going to be me, though, because I’m only in my thirties.

What utter bullshit. This is typical obnoxious white male bluster and prejudice to hide my own deep-seated fears. In the United States where this type of idiocy is on display 24-7 and threatens the very foundations of democracy, it’s a blast of frigid air in the face and gut to find in me all the ways I haven’t behaved any better. Pronouncements, dogma, and arbitrary rules without any basis in reality or consideration for others is what comes from unexamined privilege and prejudice. They give me tunnel vision, lead me to set the wrong goals, use the wrong measures, hurt others, and fail again and again. No one else is to blame for this but me.

I eventually sought help from a counsellor who pointed out just how many strange, useless, and impossible rules I created out of pure fantasy and have tried to live by. I learned that these rules were born out of my fear and prejudices. My counsellor helped open my eyes to how I have been just another awful person making up bullshit and trying to force it on others to make myself feel better.

Twenty years ago I posted bullshit on a writing forum. I ended up feeling alienated and I drifted away. How many years of good advice, inspiration, and companionship did I give up because I acted like a dick? Some sacrifice. I hope my ignorant posts have been deleted or buried by time. I hope I was mostly ignored back then. I hope those who pointed out my bullshit forgot about me entirely. They didn’t deserve to be treated like that by me and I don’t deserve to be remembered.

I’m sorry.

Writers write, but the details are up to the individual writer. Ignore the stupid blowhards. I’m only now beginning to figure out what works best for me. I might have learned a lot sooner but I didn’t listen to the very people who could have inspired me the most: housewives and retirees and many others writers in all sorts of situations with all sorts of writing experiences with all kinds of definitions of success.

Published by

Richard Leis

Richard Leis is a fiction writer and poet, with his first published poem forthcoming later in 2017 from Impossible Archetype. His essays about fairy tales and technology have been published on Tiny Donkey. Richard is also the Downlink Lead for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) team at the University of Arizona. He monitors images of the Martian surface taken by the HiRISE camera located on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in orbit around Mars and helps ensure they process successfully and are validated for quick release to the science community and public. Once upon a time, Richard wrote and edited the science and technology news and commentary website Frontier Channel, hosted the RADIO Frontier Channel podcast, and organized transhumanist clubs. Follow Richard on his website (richardleis.com), on Goodreads (richardleis), his Micro.blog (@richardleis), Twitter (@richardleisjr), and Facebook (richardleisjr).