There’s a part of us that wants fame. Despite the meticulous meltdown that’s the life of most famous people, our need to trade damage for feeling good remains intact. In that, fame is like a drug. For the longest time, few people had access to it and you could never openly admit you were addicted to it.
Then social media moved in like the friendly neighbor who promised to bring everyone together more often and put an end to all human loneliness. For a while, everything was great. Until we found out our friendly neighbor was a drug overlord. By now, we couldn’t not stop by at his house every day, especially when he stood out there, feining harmlessness, asking you to come in for some warm gooey-centered brownies. And, of course, there was the patent bullshit: there are people who can’t wait for you because of how cool you are. Just like that, fame became ubiquitous. It made post-modernity throw-up on itself.
Most famous people are obligated to dismiss fame like it is no big deal. Being obscure means I can’t afford that kind of pretension.
Fame is like sex. It’s taboo. You want it, but you can’t tell anyone about it. There’s a point until which you can revel everyone by running around naked. That point is, maybe, age three. Max, five. After that, it just becomes weird. Telling people you want to be famous is somewhat like that. It has to stop at your teens. After that, you and your undercover desperateness are on your own. Even in our dismissal of fame, what we are doing is imitating the famous.
In our shameful pretense, we have never tried to understand what else fame could mean. Fame is a terrible end goal to be after, but it’s a useful concept to understand yourself. To understand art.
At its core, fame is hard-work, resourcefulness. If luck is a factor, you may be after the wrong kind of fame. True fame is a bi-product of how useful what you’re doing is. It’s a feedback mechanism. It is not people clamoring to take selfies with you. It’s you identifying what truly feels important to you and doing it long enough that no amount of attention can make that feel less or more important to you.
Think of fame as a filter. Instead of saying I want to become a famous writer, you say if there’s something I would become famous in, it would much rather be writing (the fact that you may be hallucinating beside the point). There’s a huge difference between the two. While fame is the motivating force in the first, it’s a useful measure in the second. What you are really saying is, if what I am doing helps people, I want to be open to improvement because that’s the justice I can do to those people. This kind of fame serves the audience rather than the other way around.
It’s why fame is not quantitative. It’s not the number of fans. What’s the point of having a thousand true fans if what you are doing is not true to yourself. What a shitty sort of maintenance approach to art. Fame helps you realize what you are capable of. The central measure is and will always be the depths you haven’t reached, the obvious stuff of life you have overlooked — something fame as an end goal doesn’t realize until it’s late, by which point you have overdosed on your neighbor’s couch.
I have never wanted to stop writing because enough people don’t visit the blog. The idea of the blog is to be useful. Whether the audience size is one or one million, the effort is for the art, for lighting up the collective human spirit, one at a time. That is timeless.
Fame is the air you let in to light the fire in you. What makes it so complex is the same air can also blow off the fire.
Fame is a test to find out what you and your art are really made of. Fame is a beautiful line in the middle of a book in a chapter most people skip. It’s music in the street.
Fame isn’t glory. It’s creating something that glows where it gets dark, even as no one passes by for years.