art / novel / writing

Have you seen any success in these parts?

Pictured over there is my favorite singer–Neil Finn. Most people in the United States don’t know he sang anything after Don’t Dream It’s Over as part of Crowded House, but in the UK and Australia he can fill a stadium. Is he a success? Some people think you have to make it big here in America to say you’ve truly made it. Does success have borders?

Success has been on my mind since I read a post over at DarcKnyt. What is success?

Do you define your own success? I don’t know…did Stalin think he was a success? But do you let others define success for you? That worked for Vincent van Gogh–after he was dead.

How much luck is involved in success? I’ve had the good luck to be born in central Florida instead of in slums in Bangladesh. I’ve had the luck not to be killed in infancy by SIDS, virus, or random accident. I’ve had the luck of being born in this time with after women’s lib and the Internet. These things required no work at all.

I’ve also spent years writing stories, rewriting, and making art from these stories. I like to think I put a lot of work into these things. But am I success?

Are you a success if you win the lottery or are born with money? I know this guy who will never have to work. The last I heard (he’s not someone I keep up with), he spent his money on golfing trips, wine buying trips, and trips to Mexico for the prostitutes.

How do you feel if success comes to easily? Some people believe they deserve the world at their feet even if they do nothing but look pretty. But some folks, perhaps more thoughtful people, worry they will be found out for frauds and they don’t deserve the accolades they receive. I’ve read interviews with writers who don’t understand why their book is successful when they know there are better writers out there. They worry that the next book will prove what frauds they are.

I’ve always thought there was more failure in not trying than in trying and falling on your face.

So you get this thing called success… then what happens? You have to keep it, of course. No one stays at the top forever. At the very least, you’ve got to die and whatever you’ve done will be outdone by someone else.

Cheery thought that!

You’ll get old. You’re books will stop selling. Is Harper Lee a success? If Hemingway was so successful, why’d he shoot himself?

I mentioned to Darc that I thought most people (I might’ve said all, but all is rarely ever correct) don’t believe they deserve their success. Not in their hearts. Oh, sure. I’ve met entitled people. They question nothing. They doubt nothing. But, all the same, I’ve heard plenty of Behind-the-Music-type interviews where people prove they think they are not worth all the praise, attention, money. Why self-destruct and throw everything away if success was happiness?

If you are not a success, then you must be a failure. Right? Really? But then maybe we aren’t all born sinners as much as we are born failures. Sounds a bit harsh though. Just try telling that to your kids. What would your kids have to do to be successful in your eyes? How different is that than what you expect of yourself?

So, if I never publish my novels, am I a failure?

11 thoughts on “Have you seen any success in these parts?

  1. In all fairness, my post wasn’t about success but about getting lucky. šŸ˜‰

    I see you had a lot of things still going through your head about this; I’ve pondered these questions too, or similar ones, about success specifically. I think we have to define our own success. When we achieve success it’s going to be what WE consider success, not necessarily what someone imposes on us.

    At least, that’s how I’m going to do it. If I let someone else define it for me, I might either be a failure — as I am to my parents — or OVERLY successful, as I am to my children. I’m really the only one who can set the bar for me.

    In my mind, at least, with writing. In corporate life things are measured and standardized differently. Achievement levels are imposed on people and expectations set by others than oneself. Different matter altogether. At least, for now.

    The agent, editor and publishing committee will, as their time comes along, decide those things for authors. Their arbitrary decisions which are completely subjective become the standards to which all writers are then held, even if they’re MOVING standards.

    So I have to set the bar for myself while I can. Y’know? šŸ™‚

  2. In the past, I would have said I’m a failure. But now that I’ve learnt not to blame myself for things that happened, I don’t know any more. I’ve succeeded in some things, failed in others. Someone recently asked me if I love myself. I don’t know the answer to that either. Maybe these two questions go hand in hand.

    • Maybe if you love yourself, you’re kinder about you sense of failure. At least, no one is a success every day. We all fall down. And I think the only real failure is failure of character. I can live with being failure at business or a failure in writing or a failure in housecleaning. One story that has haunted me since I read The Diary of Anne Frank is the person who turned the Frank family in. A person like that is a failure. All those other failures are just learning experiences.

      That’s how I feel today anyway.

  3. I’m quite fond of the segment in the Bhagavad-Gita where Krishna tells Arjuna, “To the work you are entitled, but not the fruits thereof.” The concept of the work for its own sake is strong with me. Accordingly, my measurement of self begins with the notion of work done. It is icing on the cake if I’m able to feel satisfied with the work done, perhaps an extra cube of chocolate mixed into the icing if someone else likes it. I keep coming back here because you do the work. The way the light shines through one particular piece of your work never fails to catch my eye and gladden my heart. It has become possible to have a conversation with you because of the work you do.

    You wonder about success, failure, empathy, love, confidence, age constraints; questions men and women who work have asked themselves since they began painting things on the sides of caves and reciting stories in the marketplace. Your work is the sum of your questions, the sum of Marta joining the conversation.

    • You’ve told me the Krishna quote before and I do seem to need a lot of reminding. It is perfect. I’m pinning it to my board over my desk.

  4. To my thinking, success is nothing more than accomplishing a goal that you have set for yourself. I am successful at some things and a failure at others.

    Why do some “successful” people seem to self destruct? IMO, it’s because they weren’t successful at the things they wanted to be successful at. A great writer sure, but never found true love, so FAIL. The grass is always greener and no matter how successful some people are, they are never happy because it’s never enough, so it always feels like FAIL to them. Success is not happiness, success is simply accomplishment. Children are successful at learning to use the potty too, but that doesn’t make them happy for the rest of their lives. Their moms yes, but them, not that big a deal. šŸ˜‰

    But lucky, well that’s a different ball game all together. šŸ˜€

    • Yes, I’ve thought about those successes. Set a goal. Reach goal. Success! But then there is that vague thing people say, “He’s a success!” as if it a general characteristic, like saying, “He’s tall!”

      I hadn’t thought of your other point. Yes, some people self-destruct because they aren’t successful at what they really wanted. Part of the problem may be not knowing what you want.

  5. Echoing here: the goal is happiness, not success. What is it about being published that might bring happiness? Worldly validation? Financial reward? A large audience? Certainly all those things would be very cool- I’d like them too. And believe, me, I plan to pursue them. They might even make me happy, at least for a time. But what truly fills my heart and feeds my soul? Love. Acceptance. Friendship. Creating. Having people I respect, enjoy my work. Connecting with other writers, like you.

  6. I’m a fan of a show on Comedy Central, Important Things, starring a comedian named Demetri Martin. In each show he tackles a specific “important thing” like nature, space, control, and just sort of riffs on it. (The show’s home page is here.)

    One show considered lines of all kinds. One very brief bit consisted of two slides:

    (a) A graph of success as it is commonly understood. It was a diagonal line which started at the bottom left and went up and to the right, with an arrowhead at the end.

    (b) A graph of success as it actually is. A horizontal line moved left to right, suddenly veered down and then backwards, up and over, across its own tail and spiraling in — a tightly tangled knot of a line — which eventually emerged, again horizontal, at a level just slightly higher than it had begun.

    Hmm.

    And then there’s that Dr. Who episode with Vincent van Gogh, which obviously continues to perplex me. Was vG more successful (in the world of that episode) when he didn’t know anything at all about how his art would be regarded in a century-plus? or more successful afterwards… even though his output was 100% the same? (Well, with that one teensy little adjustment on the sunflowers painting.) (I noticed you mentioned vG above after starting this comment; was the episode what made you start thinking about this stuff?) (At least, this time, ha.)

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