In Search of Literary Paparazzi : Or Why I'm Not Posting About TV on Facebook

So this article, If Other Professions Were Paid Like Artists came out a few weeks ago and it was highly shared on Facebook & other places.

I thought the article addressed many important things-- 

  • it reminded me that we each need to understand our own emotional relationship with money and deal with it
  • how to live generously, but also support yourself
  • a reminder to talk about money without shame
  • to move past what you can't control and focus on what you can
  • a list of questions to help you consider your thoughts on money

But there was something nagging at me in this article and something more I think should be addressed.

It said:
Because the larger culture has discovered our secret: that most of us will make art even if it doesn’t make money.

And this:
As artists, it’s time to shift our mindset from one of scarcity to one of abundance. Pricing our work appropriately, saying “no” when necessary, and setting concrete financial goals for our creative practice are signs of self-respect. The larger culture exploits artists, in part, because we allow it. We may not be able to change the world, but we can certainly change our response to it.

The problem with pricing our work "accordingly" is that as writers, we are partially responsible for how our work is valued and who is interested in it. 

We can't change the world, but we can make changes in our own lives to create a world that is more focused on the literary arts, and create the world we want to see (I'm obviously stealing from Gandhi here: Be the change that you wish to see in the world.  And I'm pretty sure Gandhi was thinking about literary promotion when he said this also.)

Here's what I mean changing who we are as writers in the world-- right after the article came out and was shared, I saw posts around Facebook saying:  "Writers should get paid more! Our work is important! We shouldn't work for free!" Yes, all lovely thoughts and true.

But where do we place our values in life?

A few minutes later, after all the "we are hardworking writers & deserve more" talk settle down, we returned to much of the regular-- a writerly person posted a quiz about which Downton Abbey character they were. I took a quiz on which Big Bang Character (I was Sheldon, fyi).

A few minutes later, there's a post on how much the world needs to ignore Miley Cyrus (do you see the irony in that?) and something about Ellen, The Walking Dead, and/or True Detective. 

If we are all saying, "Writing is valuable and others should see the value in it," then why are we posting about television shows, celebrities, and pop culture?  

More than one person has pinned me in a corner and proceeded to tell me (in detail) the entire plot from start to finish of Breaking Bad.  This happened to me at a book group too. (Please don't ever do this to someone, by the way.)

As much as writers love to talk about writing and writers, they love their televisions and their films. They love bashing Sarah Palin and Justin Bieber. They have celebrity crushes (hey, I've posted quite a bit on Ira Glass, Elvis Costello, & Conan O'Brien.  And don't even get me started on Jimmy Fallon). 

Sometimes they say Benedict Cumberbatch in their sleep.

But here's the thing-- 

Every time we write, post, or share something about television or film, we miss an opportunity to share about our art, writing, and the literary community around us.  (And I'm definitely including myself in this "we.")

I think about this a lot.

Standing in line at the grocery store, there are numerous people who appear on television and in movies staring back at me on the cover of magazine as I hand the cashier my bubble water and mueslix. There is now even a screen so I see clips from talk shows while I wait.  There is never anything about books or writers.  Just films. Just televisions. Just videos.

Last night, I couldn't sleep and I realized if you stay up past midnight and flip on the television, you are literally Keeping up with the Kardashians.

This morning, I wanted to post, "What the heck happened to Bruce Jenner?" But I didn't. I didn't post that, or much I love Tim Gunn & Project Runway, or that I have seen every episode of the Big Bang Theory. These are conversations I will have with the 8th grade kids that wander into my home. These are conversations I may never have. 

What am I looking for more of? 
Literary paparazzi.  

Virtual literary paparazzi.  I want to know what's important in your literary world.  Who you are reading? Who did you just go hear at a reading and did you take a photo? Whose words are rocking your world?

I want to see your literary rockstars, your literary celebrities.

Like seeing Martha Silano last week at Open Books in Seattle:

I want to know what new poet you've discovered (who has been writing for eight years) and what you are working on.  I want to hear about your acceptances, or who's accepting submissions, or tell me how rejections suck. They do.  They suck and suck, but they are proof you are doing your job.

I want to see how in love you are with your literary world.  I want to see the value in books, and authors, and writing.

I know it's there.

If you had told people in the early 90's that kids would wait in long line at midnight wearing a stripped scarf and round glasses to buy a book the size of War & Peace, we would have laughed and said, Whatever.

If you would have said there would be birthday parties where literary characters would appear on cakes and cups, and that kids would get in fights with their parents at bedtime not because they were up playing their videos games, but because they couldn't put down their book, we would have said, Not in this lifetime. But it happened. 

People love what you feed them.  If it's cake and Kardashians, or crumpets and Harry Potter. They just need to know about it or they can't fall in love or lust or become obsessed with it. 

We need to share what we love so others can love it to. (Or not love it, but let's at least let them know about our favorite things.)

So where are we here? 

Maybe if we want others to see our work as valuable, we need consider what we're giving value to in our own lives throughout our day.

Maybe the next time we're about ready to post about a celebrity, or a television show, ask if it really needs the extra attention, OR post about it, then post two useful items about a writer or poet, a favorite book or quote, or something about a reading, bookstore, or a literary organization.

I'm writing this to remind myself as well. 

I'm writing this because if we want to know why "the larger community" doesn't value our art, it's because we don't always either and we are part of that larger community.

If we're always talking about celebrity culture then complain that no one reads our books, we may be part of the problem. Or the problem. Or a sliver of it.

Some ideas to make the literary arts more valuable:

  • Put the spotlight on your favorite poet
  • Write a blog post about your favorite book
  • Quote a dead writer or better, a living one.
  • Mention what you're reading, not what you've watched.
  • Give a shoutout to your favorite indie bookstore
  • Share a new book or an old book you just found and love
  • Be open and generous with sharing other's successes

No, we don't have to give up our televisions (though only if you want to and you may find you have a lot more time for writing if you're not binge watching Breaking Bad), but we do have an opportunity to choose what we share.

And if you want to mix pop-culture with art, check out this amazing artist, Fab Ciraolo, who has it down!

Oh and don't think pop-culture doesn't have its benefits, here's an interview with Robert Lee Brewer where he writes:

The idea for the Remixing the World’s Problems challenge came to me as I was doing one of my long monthly drives up to Ohio. It’s me and my music in my car while I drive, and it was while listening to Britney Spears that the whole remix idea started to form. Solving the World’s Problems is a collection of lyric poetry, so it made some sense to ask folks to remix my poems–as music artists re-mix the music of other musicians. In fact, I often spend time brainstorming ways to try and get poets to engage with each other.

(You can read the whole article where he was interviewed by Jessy Carty here.)

Most of us live in America, so celebrity culture is kind of everywhere. But I'm reminding myself in my best world, there are literary celebrities, famous because their words connect, and I want others to read the writers I love.  So I can help with that by sharing more writing of others.


Art can be come from anywhere, but we need to be in the poetic mindset to find it.

And get your books signed whenever possible.  Every author dreams of being a bit like Elvis, even if they don't admit it.

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  1. Love this post! Thanks for the reminders to value and talk about what we love most.

    And thanks for signing my book - hope it made you feel like Elvis...

  2. Amen to all of the above.

    I make an effort on facebook to include noise about the readings I host and the poets who read for us, but I always hope I'm not going too overboard.
    (For the record, last night we had John Spaulding reading from his new in-progress manuscript of Viking poems and Jia Oak Baker sharing work from her thesis that recently helped her get through Bennington's program.)

    There's also an important question I ask anyone who seems surprised about the lack of money circulating in poetry circles: "When is the last time you SPENT any money on poetry?"
    You can already guess the answer from the average person on the street, but there are people in the middle of mfa programs who aren't even consumer's of poetry.


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