Most folks who self-identify as actors work quietly, whether they want to or not. All but the a fraction of the top 1% will toil away in obscurity, only a handful of those will end up recognizable to anyone for any length of time, and fewer yet of these will have a fame that lasts beyond the 15 minutes of critical media mass they get.
Who the hell cares?
Well, for starters, the thousands of actors living in L.A.
Wait, what am I saying? There are probably tens of thousands living in L.A., and that's just counting the openly declared. Secretly, they probably number in the hundreds of thousands, and if you widen your net to stretch past the state line, mostly likely millions. Scratch a Mitty, find a McConaughey, or at least, that would seem to be the deepest hope of the denizens of reality television.
I know a bit about fame because I've seen it up close & personal. I have worked with famous people, and for famous people. I have known many regular people who became famous. (It doesn't work the other way, you know, once famous, always once-famous.)
Even more pertinently (and potently), I come from a long line of people who wanted to, but never quite became, famous. A grandfather who wanted fame so desperately, he kept his young son (who also wanted it, at least for a while) from becoming famous. A mother who once traveled 2,000 miles across the country to sit in a Beverly Hills hotel lobby on Oscar night, so convinced was she that an upcoming lead role in a major motion picture was meant for her.
And the apple (that would be yours truly) did not fall far from the tree either way you slice it: I wanted fame; fame, as it turned out, did not have much use for me.
There are many embarrassing admissions one might make on the road to the Truth, but one of the most excruciating has got to be this taste for fame. It is profoundly uncool: a state seething with need, and we all know how wildly attractive a feature is need*. For most of us, the desire to gaze diminishes in direct proportion to the subject's need to be gazed at: the faster you chase me, the harder I run. The exceptions, those few who wanted fame so badly they could taste it, and were actually rewarded with it? Most are wildly, profoundly gifted, which is compelling. At a distance, anyway, and in the kind of dosage that celebrity requires of its celebrants.
I thought I was done with this need for fame once I set acting aside. As if. Those of you familiar with the treating of symptoms vs. the addressing of root causes are having a hearty chuckle now, no doubt.
It followed me, this back-clinging monkey, into the blogosphere, helpfully hitting the "refresh" button when we'd visit Sitemeter. How many people clicked on my site today? How about now? How about now?
Today, despite my best efforts to CHILL, ALREADY, I feel it seeping into the groundwater of my new playground, Twitter**. What started out as a fantastic way to stay or even get connected (not to mention an Exercise in Writing Short) and morphed into a dangerous, if entertaining, diversion now seems to be devolving into a three-ring circus of smartmouthing, spambots and webcockery. I hold out hope, but it grows fainter as the weeks pass.
Did I say "pass"? I meant "fly by." Because that's what's been happening to my weeks, along with the months and years they turn into. And the weeks are made up of days, which are made of minutes and even seconds, precious, precious seconds, that are chewed up by the hundred-thousand in pursuit of stuff which in and of itself, is ultimately meaningless. Don't believe me? Ask yourself the question I just heard Jack Kornfield ask in my earbuds during my morning walk today: "Which parts of your life make you the happiest? I'll bet they're pretty simple."
I gave it some very quick thought and confirmed: dog hugs. Falling asleep when you're tired. Ice cream. The first hit of coffee in the morning. Sex, especially with someone you love. Hell, most anything with someone you love. Does it need to be a beach on Hawaii, or can it just be some of the time you'd have carved out getting there?
That's the thing of it: most of fame is about getting there, and upon arrival, turns out to be like Gertrude Stein's characterization of Oakland (there's no "there" there). And its intangibility is matched only by its evanescence. Ask anyone who's tried to sell it, or reclaim it, or even hang onto it.
On the other hand, if fame is a by-product of something you'd be doing anyway, much of its fraught-ness disappears. It might even be seen as kind of a pesky nuisance, albeit with a few bitchin' perks.
I'm thinking a lot about this because I'm moving away from something I knew would never get me any acclaim (graphic design) to something that not only might, but must in some measure if it's going to support me in my old age (writing). Fortunately, it doesn't have to support me; there's a long and fine tradition of writers toiling away in relative obscurity, supporting themselves with day jobs. Wallace Stevens, for one. Bukowski, for another. When I start to think it would be easier if I could just be famous NOW, dammit, I think of them, and think again.
Maybe it wouldn't be easier.
Maybe it would just be different.
That said, I'd be lying if I told you I'd lost my taste for fame. I still see myself sitting on Oprah's couch, my latest book between us. (From this blog to her ears...please.) I see myself answering calls to have my essays in publications, instead of having to make them. And I know that with the right level of fame, that dream I have of me, a laptop and an ocean view materializes on a much more spectacular part of coastline, and that when the sun sets or a chill comes on, I can continue to enjoy it from the comfort and privacy of a much more spectacular abode.
I will write, though, no matter what. Should I never have any more readers than I have right now. Should I somehow piss off the lot of you and have only imaginary readers.
The bitch goddess exists in my line of sight, but I lay garlands at her feet no more. Well, maybe just a token daisy every now and then, to keep a hand in.
For the most part, I'd rather spend the time writing, in there here and now. For you, I hope. For me, I must...
*And it only gets worse with age. What can be amusing or even charming in the young (those crazy young people with their hubris!) is cringeworthy in the old (back away from the Speedo, Eurotrash grandpappy.)
**For you non-nerds, Twitter is a 140-character-per-post, social media messaging service that is as addictive as it is wonderful. More onTwitter later, I think. I've been promising various people an article on it for weeks now.
UPDATE: Dreamhost is, once again, experiencing wonkiness. Sorry for the lost comments earlier; I've reconstituted what I could, and did me PLENTY OF SWEARING while I did it. (Not at you; I love you guys!)
UPDATE (07/16/08): Bonus extra fantastic link on the inanity of chasing fame, which is probably not anything you want to get caught with, anyway. By Brad Warner, aka the Zen Punk Monk (oh, he'd kill me for reducing him to a catchy handle, but come on, it's so great!)