Saturday, June 24, 2006

Personality for Sale

There are a lot of things in life that you can’t change. You can’t make everyone like you. You can’t make everyone understand you.

You can’t even make some people give you the benefit of the doubt.

You can dye your hair but it will grow back grey. Put on make-up to hide the blemishes, but eventually, it comes off. And if you’re like me, you can’t be bothered 90% of the time anyway.

Like so many others, I spent a lot of my younger years trying to find my place in the world. My friends know how hard that was for me because of some of the things I was dealing with, particularly as a teenager.

Hindsight tells me that I didn’t let a lot of those wounds heal, and I’m still vulnerable when people hit my weak spots. No matter how much I repeat the mantra - “Be yourself. Others can like it or leave it, but at least you haven’t sold out” - it still cuts to the core when someone says they don’t like you, even if it isn’t someone you’ve ever met. I guess most of us naturally want to be liked, and the people out there who want to be misunderstood or hated are still in the minority.

I wasn’t going to post today, originally. I have commented more than usual this week, even places I don’t usually comment, because of the ITW thing. Not only that, but with the launch of Killer Year this week has been insane.

(And thanks to all of you, we had over 2000 blog hits there this week, by the way. In just five days, that’s staggering.)

Today, on the Killer Year blog there is a group post. It’s an “If You Were A…” Question, posed to Killer Year members, to be answered on behalf of themselves and their characters. And believe me, if you're looking for lighthearted fun, stop reading and head over there!

I had a tough time with the question. As much as I’m inspired by music, the specific question we were asked was hard for me to answer (and you’ll have to go there to see it).

Once I put in my answers, though, I realized that other than the one person I know “in the flesh” – someone I obviously see in a more balanced perspective because I actually know him – the two other guys I picked are known to be outspoken, either in person or in song, even a bit stubborn, opinionated.

Sound like anyone you know?

If I could sit down with either of them and ask only one question, this would be it:

Did you ever fear that by speaking your mind and taking a stand for what you believed in that you’d kill your career?

And I’ll ask you, friends. Do you think someone should try to fundamentally change who they are to succeed? I’m not talking about slapping on a bit of make-up when you go out in public, I’m talking about maybe not speaking out on things like the ITW thing because you don’t want people who disagree to dislike you. That kind of thing.

Of the music

From Morning Bound Train by Jimmy Rankin

Could it be I'm only restless

The wild inside will not be tamed

Could it be I'm only love sick

What's ailing me cannot be named

Still I wait without a sound

On this train that's morning bound

I can't sleep at night

Climbing the walls to the beat of the rain

I go through dark to see daylight

On this morning bound train

From Call It Democracy by Bruce Cockburn
Padded with power here they come

International loan sharks backed by the guns

Of market hungry military profiteers

Whose word is a swamp and whose brow is smeared

With the blood of the poor
Who rob life of its quality

Who render rage a necessity

By turning countries into labour camps

Modern slavers in drag as champions of freedom

And, because it is a day for thinking, about who I am, today is a day I’ll be listening to Pacing the Cage

Sunset is an angel weeping

Holding out a bloody sword

No matter how I squint I cannot

Make out what it's pointing toward

Sometimes you feel like you live too long 

Days drip slowly on the page

You catch yourself

Pacing the cage
I've proven who I am so many times

The magnetic strip's worn thin

And each time I was someone else

And every one was taken in

Powers chatter in high places

Stir up eddies in the dust of rage

Set me to pacing the cage

Sometimes the best map will not guide you 

You can't see what's round the bend

Sometimes the road leads through dark places 

Sometimes the darkness is your friend

Today these eyes scan bleached-out land 

For the coming of the outbound stage

Pacing the cage


Lisa Hunter said...

H.D. Thoreau said to beware of all endeavors that required new clothes. It was good advice, and goes double for endeavors that require new personalities.

Bill Cameron said...

Lot to think about on a Saturday morning. I've got some decorative grass I'm gonna plant in the front, and some weeding to do in the back, and I suspect your question will be running through my head as I dig and trowel.

The one thing that comes to mind immediately, though, is the fact that artists of all stripes seem much more accessible, in a superficial way, than they used to be. Nowadays, it's de riguer that you have a web site, a blog, a presence in the public sphere that just wasn't there before. Before the internet, one's public presence would have been more managed and filtered.

Now anyone can sound off, and very easily. You read a post on a blog and you can just say something about it, right now, and if you happen to let your passion get the better of you in the heat of the moment, well, it's there. You said it. And someone's gonna notice.

Certainly that was possible in the past. You might have an interview and say something you later regretted. You might write a letter to an editor, or speak out at a reading or performance. But something about the immediacy and remoteness of the internet strikes me as making "being yourself" easier and perhaps riskier.

Anyway, I gotta get out into the yard before the heat sneaks up on me and causes me to plant myself on the hammock rather than the grass in the ground. Great question, Sandra!

S. W. Vaughn said...

Sandra, you're reading my mind, aren't you?

I'm more or less doing that now. I've just served my publisher notice that I am cancelling my contract, because, even though I want more than anything in this world to have my books in print (oooh, how I want it. So, so badly. I'm totally screwing myself.) there are a lot of things going on with this publisher that I just can't deal with -- they aren't right. I can't stay there and pretend it's not happening.

Sigh. Better polish up my query letter so it's ready after I emerge from the long and drawn-out legal battle this publisher is likely to force me into.

Despite this, I'd still stand up for what I believe in. I gotta be me, damn it, though sometimes it brings me nothing but trouble. I could have had this published three years ago if I'd agreed to "tone down" one of my main characters. I didn't agree. So I'm still not published.

Yep. I'm a moron. :-)

Sandra Ruttan said...

Lisa, I love that quote. Fantastic.

SW, hugs to you. What a situation to be struggling with. I'm so sorry, and hope that this is the dark day before the new dawn, when your dreams come true.

Bill, you know what's funny? Some of my favourite authors said what makes authors different is that they're real people, not just image like a lot of actors.

And how can we be more real than being able to offer instant opinion?

It doesn't mean we all should all of the time. But the idea that people should change their habits because they're an "author" and need to present a certain "image" to the world is like tottering on the edge of the slide down to where authors aren't real people any more, they're just a public facade.

Indeed, things to think about.

Flood said...

Congratulations on Killer Year's success!
Today is my second-month anniversary of blogging and I will (hopefully) hit 2000 today.

(I'm not trolling, I'm just excited and I realise what a coup this is for the Killer blog)

Hooray all around!

The Rentable Writer said...

Sandra. I think one of the reasons I love your blog so much is because I feel I can always relate. Today's blog really hit home for me; I was thinking these same thoughts two nights ago. Thanks for posting about this.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Flood, thank you so much, and I'm pleased to see your blog really taking off! You've got style and substance and are really encouraging aspiring authors. You rock!

TRW, I'm glad you feel you can relate. This blog has always been about whatever's on my mind, not what's popular, convenient, or will draw the biggest audience - first and foremost, what's in my heart. Maybe it's naive of me, but I'd rather be accused of being too real than being a phony, and my hope is that's why people like stopping by, because I'm a real person to them.

And I love catching up on your blog too. There are a lot of great bloggers out there - how lucky am I to have so many drop by my little pitstop on the cyberhighway?!

Andrea at Lochthyme said...

No, I definitely don't think you should change who you are to succeed. Never ever ever. You have to be true to yourself otherwise you will never be happy.

Bill Cameron said...

I agree that you shouldn't change who you are. In fact, at my age, apparently I am no longer able to change. At least, that's what they told me in Psych 101 back in college about, um, er, 25 years ago.

But seriously, my feeling is that in the end, the best thing I can do for my own career, incipient though it still is, is just be myself. Risky? Perhaps. As you suggest, Sandra, there is danger in being yourself if something about you puts off a meaningful chunk of your audience. Look at the Dixie Chicks. For them, the risk seems to have been worth it, and the consequences acceptable. But they definitely kicked up a fuss, and the consequences were not insignificant.

As I reflected today on the question (yes, the decorative grass is planted, and I put a tomato plant in one of my boxes too!), I kept coming around to thinking about the notion of risk. Yes, it may be risky being myself, especially in a big, public way. But wouldn't it be at east as risky to try to create some kind of persona as well? I'd have to always be on the alert in any setting where the persona was exposed. Trip up and suddenly I look like a fraud (which, I guess would be an accurate view). Ultimately, I think that's riskier than just being myself. If it turns out I have an opinion that someone takes issue with, well, at least I do so from a position of personal integrity.

At the same time, there's "being myself" and "being an out of control wild man trampling on anyone and everyone's posies." I don't talk politics with my mother, for example, because we're on opposite ends of the spectrum, and when I do it always go bad. There's an internal filter that goes to work when I talk to her. Sometimes it even functions properly. Other filters come into play in other settings. Does that mean I'm not being myself? I don't think so. It just means I understand that there's a time and place for everything. I'd rather have a nice chat with my mom than a blistering political tirade. It's nicer.

Ultimately, as a writer who is pushing himself into the public eye (lookit me lookit me lookit me!!! bounce bounce bounce), I suspect a filter of some kind will develop, but I don't plan on necessarily censoring myself and certainly don't plan on being anything other than ol' Bill, bumbling along, jabbering away. I don't know if I'll lose any book sales that way, but I do know I won't lose myself.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Andrea, thanks for that comment. I do tend to agree.

Bill, you've drawn a nice balance. I think there is a time to no when to be quiet about something. I bite my tongue routinely around my one set of in-laws. It's about keeping peace, and they're sufficiently scared of me already. But it serves no purpose to say anything, some of the time, because the person in question just doesn't get it.

That said, when that person said in my house that, "If those people aren't going to think like us they shouldn't be allowed to come here" I ripped her a new one. I have no tolerance whatsoever for racist or sexist comments in this house, and I damn well don't give a shit if people don't like that.

But when a former neighbour (in dicussing the fact that the house between ours and his had sold) said, "Just hope it ain't to no damn Paki's" I said I didn't care who bought the house as long as they were decent people.

Of course, guy in question is one of those, "You're a woman and you think you're telling me what to do?" types, so just by speaking an opinion at all I'm already pissing him off. I went home seething. Some might see that as a sell-out, but there's no point shouting at a deaf man.

Amra Pajalic said...

I agree with all the posters. You should always try to be yourself, but I also realise how hard it is. For example, when I'm working at my day job I tone myself down and give a vanilla version of my personality (at least for the first three months until my probation passes). Why? Cause I'd be fired and I need to eat. So in the same way you have to think long term in terms of your publishing career and not alienate people. But you also want to be real, and yourself and not scared to express an opinion. So it is a hard line to walk.

I was talking to a mate about my blog (which I've had for a year) and only now do I feel comfortable in my voice and in what I post on other blogs. I was so scared about consequences and web brawls that I wasn't myself. Well what I feared happened. Someone I made a comment about on Kristin Nelson's blog (an anonymous blogger off course) took umbrage at what I had to say. Had a go at me and came to my blog and posted a spam post full of crap hyperlinks. I know realise that there's nothing to fear. There's idiots out there. You just move on and don't let them get to you.

At the end of the day there are always a handful of people who know who you really are. Anyone who judges you without knowing you, is an idiot and not worth your time.

So keep it real, be yourself, and keep up those zinger posts. And I'll try to take my own advice.

DesLily said...

Oh boy.. did i ever learn the hard way NOT to be myself.. or rather, I needed much stronger "filters" like Bill mentioned!

I had a job as a "receptionist" in CA. after one year I got a GLOWING review. The next year (after another great review) they changed everyones duties and informed me I would now have to learn how to input insurance information to come up with a cost for small companies. When the review was over the boss asked how i liked the new "responsibilities".. cautiously, I asked if the review was over and this was "off the record" to which he smiled broadly and said yes.
I told him that, of course I would try to learn what they asked of me, but if I were applying for this position knowing I had to learn what they now wanted, that I would most likely not apply for the job. I had applied and gotten the job of receptionist (and of course small other duties).
From that day on I could do NOTHING RIGHT, according to the office supervisior. They did everything they could to make me feel like I could do nothing right and after 2 yrs of crying before i went to work.. they managed to instill that fact into me. (i didn't leave because I had no experience in the work field having been a housewife for 26 yrs)
So... you do need filters.. and more of them the older you get because AGE plays a huge factor in finding jobs later in life.

FILTER..FILTER..FILTER... and in too many ways that winds up meaning you are not yourself after all.

ps I did learn all they wanted me to learn (and more!) but that didn't matter to them. One year they changed all the titles to jobs again and made everyone "reapply" for the same job they had... they told me I wasn't qualified and let me go. Then hired a temp who had come to answer phones and never worked in an insurance company before as being "more qualified".

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

"Did you ever fear that by speaking your mind and taking a stand for what you believed in that you’d kill your career?"

Sort of. I know you'll find this hard to believe, but I have on occasion kept opinions to myself...if I thought expressing them would have repercussions in the workplace. I'm not talking about a fear of being fired, but merely trying to avoid unneccesary tension in a small office. In the interests of keeping the peace I sometimes keep my mouth shut.

Then, to alleviate my frustration, I go home and post dumbass comments on other folks' blogs.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Amra, you can rant with the best of them! I appreciate your insights - this is what I love about the blog. A lot of fantastic people who aren't afraid to speak out, but not many fights on this blog, even if we disagree.

DesLily, wow. Yeah, work is a tough one. Although I tend to think more in the public sphere, but I've definitely gotten in trouble a time or two at work. And so has evilkev, btw. If you think I'm outspoken, some days he makes me look downright reasonable!

Patrick, LOL! Would you mind if I quoted your comment in an upcoming blog post? I'm not saying more right now...

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

Depends on how stupid it'll make me look...

ivan said...

Yeah, Deslily.
A little like the slightly crumpled egg in old Paul Krassner's Realist logo.
We are forced after a while to be realists in a slightly subversive way, if only to tell the truth.

One thing you don't learn till you get to our age: Ignore all neurotic backbiting remarks. Try to ignore really weird neurotics themselves.
They have a way of getting you into their cage and themselves out, drooling at you.
Stamp out idiocy, like almost right away. Otherwise you'll just encourage them.
Ignore them and watch them fly around like defated balloons.
All right. All right. Maybe I have issues.
But I try not to spend my life trying to be a patholocgical control freak or bothering whatever ususpecting stranger I can find.
...Too much lead in my coffemaker, I fear :)

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

...just so long as I don't end up sounding any dumber than usual.

anne frasier said...

i love lisa's comment and tend to live by that. although i didn't always. after keeping my mouth shut for almost 50 years,(how damn old IS she?) i decided that just wasn't working for me. i think this kind of thing is a personal choice and really depends on how much stress and how much shit you can take. because the more you speak your mind, the more shit you have to deal with. and it could negatively impact your career. but i could never pretend to be someone else in order to have success. that's such a disturbing concept. i think it would make a fascinating character study.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Ivan, insightful - is this the up side of aging? You mean I'll get smarter? Is that because I'll forget how to be stupid?

(Not just ducking, but lying face down on the floor.)

Anne, it would make a fascinating character study. I'm going to have more to say on this at some point, once I can pull my thoughts together in some cohesive manner. At the moment, my nerves are a bit shot.

Well, Patrick, I wasn't thinking it would make you look stupid... I wanted to make somebody else look stupid, but then, you might be thought of as stupid as well. Hmmm. I'm going to have to think about this.

Right kids, I got a BIG gift certificate for the bookstore, plus 20% off. And today, I'm going to go buy some books written by people I respect, who are outspoken and I don't always have to agree with them or even like them. Their writing kicks, and that's all that matters when I'm spending my money.

I know, I know, I'm pretty fucking naive and should work on the petty side.

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

Hell, I'm used to people thinking that. Go ahead and run with it.

M. G. Tarquini said...

hey! I just noticed you're a member of one of those group blogs that make the rest of us feel unhip and not in the know.

Elizabeth said...

Just like in Ecclesiastes, there is a time for everything. There is a time to be authentic and a time to keep your mouth just plain shut.

Like Deslily, I've spoken up at jobs I've held in the past, only to be ostracized. It doesn't matter whether I was right or wrong, it was tough, really tough, on me at the time and it didn't help my career growth one wit.

Which doesn't mean I wouldn't do it again, but I would most certainly choose my time more carefully.

And until the right time, it's sunshine and lollipops, hon.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

You've got to be who you are...the rest be damned...yikes, did I say that!

Forty_Two said...

You had a difficult time as a teenager?

How strange.

You can probably guess what my problems were related to.

mai wen said...

Thanks to you mentioning that you knew how many hits your blog got, I found out about site meter (I was wondering if there was a way for us to know that!) You veteran bloggers have been of a Great help to a newbie like me! Very much in the same way you veteran writers are helping a trying-to-get-published newbie writer. I've definitely felt a very warm and embracing community from Killer Year, and I know I can thank you for being kind enough to leave me that first comment!

So thank you for that!