On a popular “talent” program, often the judges will tell the “contestants” that they must kick it up a notch, take it further or farther than before, give more, be more more more MORE! No matter how much the act sings her heart out, juggles his arms and legs in amazingly weird pretzel shapes, climbs towering structures and falls–almost–to his death, dances their feet bloody, the judges tell them it’s not enough. You must engage the audience in ways you never thought you could! In ways that show what you have done before is Just Not Good Enough! Two such acts on a recent program showed me how we do not have to set ourselves on fire.
The first act rose to death-defying heights on their motorcycles, proclaiming, and rightly so, that what they do is extremely dangerous. These guys have lost (and by lost, I mean they died–gone from this earth–no more) friends doing what they do. They pushed themselves to the limit, yet at the end of the death-defying heart-stopping act, the judges said, “You have to do more if you want the audience to love you.” So what did they do the very next week? They set themselves on fire, and did the same death-defying act as before. Later came the Houdini act: a man hung upside down while struggling quickly out of a straight jacket. How did he pump it up? By lighting himself on fire.
What next? How to top something so out of control? How to prove what doesn’t need proving: you are who you are; you do what you do, and you are good at it even without the flames. And the flames aren’t really fooling anyone–they see your core.
While I agree that we must always strive to do more and to be more, there does come a point in our lives where we must acknowledge that among all our striving, at the core of us, we simply are who we are. We give our best, and when we type The End, we feel pride and a sense of good work done. When it is just us and our work, we dream of our readers loving the words and language and characters because we created with love and hard disciplined work. No, we should not sit on our hands, rest on our laurels, give up and become lazy and sloppy. But to ask us to be more than who is the very core of ourselves, to give beyond the capabilities of our talents, well, what can happen is we set ourselves on fire and try to fool people into thinking we are doing something Great and Wonderful. It’s like the Wizard behind the curtain while fire roars! We’re still the little old man.
Do we really need to set ourselves alight with fire to grab our reader’s attention? Won’t our readers see what I saw with these two acts: they were doing what they know; what they do best, except for the addition of bright hot distraction. Why hide the behind the fire? What they’d done before was the top of their game, the pride of their life; a culmination of many many hours of hard work and sacrifice. We do live in a “viral video” society. Reality is that not many of us will ever go viral. I refuse to set myself on fire and risk a painful death of my Self. My readers deserve my best, and if I give my best, I do not need to add a distraction.
We are often those judges. The voices in our head judge us, tell us to set ourselves on fire–surely we’ll be noticed then. Surely we’ll grab everyone’s attention, so engulfed by flames we are! Are we only teaching others that we are willing to do anything to grab their attention? Anything at all? Why not let the work underneath the flashy flamed fire be enough?
So let it be written; so let it be done.