There is Only the Trying: Some Thoughts on Fame & Failure

25 thoughts on “There is Only the Trying: Some Thoughts on Fame & Failure”

  1. Hi Tim,
    Interesting article. While I was reading your article I couldn’t help but think about an indie musician (or rather ex-musician) that I love, Levi Weaver. He has a song called “Spirit First (sincerely k.)” that talks more or less about the same as your article, he said in one presentation that he found himself frustrated by his lack of “success” in the music business and so he decided to just throw in the towel and then when felt liberated he thought to himself that he had to write a song about it, and that’s how “Spirit First” came to be.
    Personally I consider the entire album an extremely underrated masterpiece, the entire album is just amazing and filled with this dark, nostalgic, vibe that just speaks to me and I consider it one of the few albums that is just perfect from start to finish. But from the first time I listen to the album I found myself particularly attracted to this song, but I really didn’t think much of it until I just now when I was reading your article.
    I guess for me it has never been as clear as for you and for Levi. You said you had always wanted to an author and Levi had always wanted to be a musician, while I, on the other hand, had never had a clear idea, or even a misguided idea for that matter, about what it is that I want to do with myself and with my life. But when reading your note and the part where you talk about all the people who fell unfulfilled in their jobs that we should have never have had I understood the meaning of this.
    I still don’t know what it is that I want to do, or who I want to become, but I have understood that whatever it is, is not what I am right now, or what I am doing. I guess where I am getting at is that it is possible to fail even when you don’t even know what it is that you are doing, and I think that is in a way even sadder than feeling like you’ve failed at your dreams. There’s nothing I would like more than having a dream right now, if I could just have a dream that would give some sort of sense of direction I guess I wouldn’t mind if I failed at it. But that’s just me, I guess.

    Damaris Neyra

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  2. this is rich & profound Confessional writing. i see so much of what could have been my fate had i not chose a different approach to writing: after reading what Wallace Stevens said about the world not becoming a poem every day (maybe you can tell me the exact origin of this) in university it dawned on me that the simple act of processing experience into form had a sustaining influence all of its own & through it you learn. for a decade i just learned about writing using what i learned & experienced, then enhancing or building upon it. i never expected it to materialize into anything other than a hobby (it still hasn’t), it was just another something to do. i think all along you were doing this, but you hadn’t latched onto the sensation of the process of multiple experiences that you were using to write. i hope i don’t come across as psychoanalytical but from your brilliant article it seems you were so close to both writing & directly perceiving life & just letting it happen.
    i think the ideal situation for anyone is to come from a background where you are encouraged to do something by parents who didn’t do as much as they hoped to do, or who didn’t get enough opportunity, but that don’t burden you with the stress to over achieve; what then happens is that, when you do something that is inconceivable to their expectation, it has a much greater impact on your own sense of worth & their appreciation of your efforts: i am in this ball park. i come from a nothing town in central England. no one wants to live there, so just getting out is a big deal.
    i hope this ramble doesn’t bore you but your article really made me want to engage with at least a few of the numerous ideas that are contained in the article.
    thanks for a good read & helping me to realise something important about myself.

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  3. Damaris, thanks for your message. What helped get me out of the mindset of the essay was a lot of Taoism and Zen that stress the importance of everyday life. It’s one of the reasons I gathered a handful of Zen quotations, such as, “The treasure house within you contains everything, and you are free to use it. You don’t need to seek outside.”

    https://wordandsilence.com/2014/02/13/zen-favorite-passages/#3

    Another thing that helped: “We are standing on a whale, fishing for minnows.” You might want to change, or feel that you don’t know what you’re doing, but what you’re seeking might be right beneath your feet.

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  4. Just started following your blog, Tim Miller. I love your plain, clear prose, from the heart and soul. I love it even more that you have come down out of the ivory tower and walk in the streets among the multitude, not ashamed now to consider yourself not above them, but of them, with an appreciation for other modes of being and ways of life different from that of a poet or writer or artist. I’ve come around to feeling similarly. (I’d be lying, however, if I told you I no longer have serious internal struggles and difficulties, trying to integrate artistic practice with the kind of culture we have going on around us. I still feel quite the outsider.) Of your whole blog, the first thing I clicked on are those excerpts you posted about Edward Hopper. After seeing the very title of your blog and reading how you write, it makes perfect sense to me that you have featured Hopper. Perusing other blogs, I often grow weary at all the words poured out, not enough attention to curbing and restraint, pulling in and tightening, to get sound from plucked strings, but I find it here. It’s refreshing to make your acquaintance.

    John Dockus

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  5. John, thanks for your good words. You really hit on what I was trying to do: it quite literally took years to figure out how to write about art, or about writing and culture, since the internet & everywhere really is just overflowing with general messy outpourings, or writing so carefully & coldly composed it’s clearly meant for an audience of five or six colleagues only. While I live off the work of academic scholars (in translations, collections of letters, biographies, etc.), I could never enter the ivory tower myself, in part because I’ve never seen myself above anyone. When Joyce has Stephen Dedalus refer to Horace as “human pages,” that’s my cue.

    We may be feel like outsiders in the wider culture (since all of that just hyper-critical, whether positive or negative, we are constantly called on to draw the sharpest distinctions between peoples and groups), but we can still integrate the artistic temperament with the experience of actual everyday life. The greatest lessons in this for came from Zen & Ramakrishna, which prompted me to post all of them:

    https://wordandsilence.com/2014/02/13/zen-favorite-passages/#3

    https://wordandsilence.com/2013/05/15/the-gospel-of-sri-ramakrishna-favorite-passages/#4

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  6. I’ve also struggled with the crashing, soul-mutilating sensation of emerging from the act of creation into my own need to have that creation recognized and validated (or even celebrated). I believed the horrible, demoralizing saw that “if you haven’t made it by twenty-five, you’ll never do anything of value.” The latter half of my twenties? Self-destructive and full of dangerous loathing. I produced nothing. The renaissance of my thirties brought me back to writing, publishing… and chasing validation through fame. That went as well as one can expect; in short, I shamed myself by writing garbage simply because I knew it was the sort of thing that would attract attention. It took another two years of struggle to realize what you put so clearly: “the experience of writing, and of our private life, simply has to be vastly more important than that writing’s reception or even appearance in public” and how “the plummet for Van Gogh and Toole (and for me) only comes when trying to interest anybody else in it, when the end point is assumed in being well-known, and compensated.” My most recent attempt to separate my ego from my art is to write under a pseudonym. There is such freedom in not worrying about how and if I am known!

    Thank you for this post, Tim.

    Josephine

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  7. Josephine, thank you for this. Your experience I’m sure is shared by many. I’m not sure where or why it was in our late teens & early twenties that fame became such a grab, although it’s not hard to find “fame in itself” as an ambition everywhere; & this can’t but poison the ambition towards art. I posted this with little hope of anyone responding, so remarks like yours are a great boon. I love what you’re doing at your site–pseudonym, no author photos, Twitter, etc.

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  8. It’s awful to be an artist whose ego-health is dependent upon the fancy of an arbitrary, and often cruel, public. The faulty idea that a work of art, philosophy, or even science is only as valid as what other people judge of it is damaging to the creator of those works. I’ve seen very good writers torn apart by rejection and the lack of immediate validation by someone, anyone. Your essay-post did a beautiful job of examining these painful truths. Thank you for this post, Tim.

    And, I am very, selfishly glad you chanced upon my site because it helped me find your site, which I enjoy!

    Josephine

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  9. Hi Poet Obscura. I tried to leave a comment at your site on your “about” page and here yesterday, but when I clicked to post them, they disappeared. I’m not sure what’s going on. Giving it a go again here. I took a look at some of your verses. You’re down in the guts of the heart, close to the skeleton bones. To the marrow like you state. I like it. I have some of this sensibility in myself. I feel sympathetically moved. Your verses are not overtly gothic, but one might say post-gothic, with digested traces, oriented and moving on to something more uniquely personal even though kept anonymous. A tree may bear fruit and plants shoot forth blossoms, strange and exotic, even if planted in a graveyard.

    Tim: Still reading your Hymns and Lamentations. Spending some time with them and letting it all settle in. Also working on a couple drawings, so I go back and forth. I also have a devil whispering in my ear, so under that annoyance and bad influence it’s often quite difficult to get down to what I think and feel in my heart and to come out with something positive and constructive.

    I read your “God of Philosophers” post yesterday night. It’s pretty much where the devil whispering in my ear is trying to lure me: into contentious debate and casuistic hairsplitting. Sometimes the devil succeeds, utilizing subtle manipulation and suggestion to appeal to my ego and sense of pride, the clever bastard.

    John

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  10. It seems we both had trouble posting comments, John. I tried to comment on Cerebus, and kept being prompted to sign into my email (despite being logged into WordPress). Thank you for your thoughtfelt and heartful comments on my poems. I appreciate knowing they aren’t in a complete void. And…. I will see if I can figure out what is wrong with my comments section!

    Tim, my apologies for replying to John here! I hope you are having a good day.

    Josephine

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  11. Tim, your writing is astoundingly beautiful!
    I felt each artist’s pain as it escaped through your fingers – including my own. This is a blog I will read many times over as I reconcile and balance my own need for creation and recognition.
    As I have recently lost my mother / soulmate, it touched my heart when you wrote of the moment you realized that what was important to you was very different from what your own mother valued. As Mr. Carson states in an episode of Downton Abbey, “The business of life is the acquisition of memories, In the end, that’s all there is.”
    My experience has been viewed through the act of writing as a means of observing and nothing has taken its place in all my 66 years. It may have started when I learned to read, or saw in Genesis: “In the beginning was the Word…” I felt there was no higher calling. Perhaps the desire to ‘make a difference’ is but the impetus that compels the artist to write, or paint or compose and in the end, it is the contemplation of life that makes a difference in us.

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  12. This was a really great read. For what it’s worth I really admire your writing, it’s very clear and elegant, I only wish I was as good. What you have described here is indeed what I am struggling with these days, coming to terms with not being special, not being great, and trying to find some way in which to appreciate my own, modest everyday kind of life, in all its unremarkable glory 🙂 I am trying to find joy and fulfilment in what is truly great in my life, the relationships I have with my friends and family, all my material comforts, my healthy heart and lungs, limbs and (almost healthy) mind.

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  13. I appreciate it, Hannah. As for dealing with depression myself, or helping loved one’s with it, that cliche of “one day at a time” really is true. And that can’t help but put the focus on “modest everyday” things that are actually the most important. It’s amazing we call them modest & everyday, or that we think they aren’t great. Unless we really are in the public eye with an ability to make huge decisions, it’s really the accumulation of small moments that matters most. I know this can end up sounding wishywashy & maudlin but at its hard core I think it’s real & true. & anyhow it’s struck me that even the greatest ideas, the greatest works of art, all started out as entirely private illuminations for somebody. You could do a lot worse than family, friends, material comforts.

    & not sure if you’ve read TSE’s Four Quartets, but these lines have seen me through a million moments of crisis:

    I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
    Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
    The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
    With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
    And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
    And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away–
    Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations
    And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence
    And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen
    Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about;
    Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing–
    I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
    For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
    For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
    But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
    Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
    So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

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  14. Can’t tell you how much this resonates with me, in the context of music and the travails of being a violinist. I had written something similar last December, about letting go of music as a full-time career. But you put it far more eloquently here than my rambling, naïve prose! Thank you.

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