I realize how much I want to reach people, to share some important part of myself with others. I understand now that my early career as a teacher must have been motivated at some deep level by this impulse, but I was never a teacher in the conventional sense. I did it for years, but I never felt at ease in the classroom. Since the age of twelve I had known I was meant to be a writer, and as I came to acknowledge after years of uncomfortable self-delusion, classroom teaching was no more than a way to make a living. Academia was never my true home.
I have been talking a lot recently about this book of essays that I want to put together, written over a period of thirty years and all of them touching on this issue in one way or another. There are so many creative people out there, doing things they were never meant to do in order to make a living, or to support their "real" work in a cultural environment whose gauge of success is unremittingly commercial. As I see it, all creative activity arises from that desire to share oneself with others--a desire that is too often repressed, with dire consequences for the individual psyche.
In this context, I had a useful conversation yesterday with a literary agent. I had sent out a few query letters describing the book and its intentions, and received from this one agent the invitation to give him a call. His point was clear and simple: to make a success of a book about surviving in the commercial world--and to reach the readers I wanted to reach--I'd need to get commercial! His website included a long, detailed questionnaire about marketing plans, as a primary tool in attracting the interest of publishers. And I realized as we talked that it's not about the quality of the idea, nor indeed about the quality of the writing; it's really about being able to demonstrate to publishers that the book has a ready-made audience out there waiting for it, and a system in place to ensure a successful publicity campaign.
As a result of listening to the wisdom of this agent's experience, I'm thinking a whole lot differently about how to go about "reaching people." One thing he stressed was the importance of having venues to promote the ideas to a variety of audiences, which is something I have given much thought to in the past. It's a different kind of teaching, a kind that I have much enjoyed on those occasions when the opportunity has presented itself--a one-shot chance to tell a group of people, as I say in one of the essays, "who I am."
The trick, of course, is to find the venues. One of the ideas that appeals to me is offering a workshop to students in fine art and writing programs that would introduce them to their most powerful weapon in the creative arsenal, the mind. It's a weapon that can famously work either for you or against you, and it's most frequently omitted from the curriculum--with the result that it's too often left to its own devices and works negatively. There's a simple technique to discipline and train it to do those things I want it to do--to focus, concentrate, and generate new ideas. It's a technique whose rudiments are easily and quickly taught and easily demonstrated. It's called meditation. Given just an hour, I can show you how to do it. After that, of course, it's up to you to put it into practice. I'd have loved it if someone would have shown me how to do it fifty years ago. Or forty. Or thirty...
So I'm working on a letter to send out. It feels good to me. It feels like an opportunity to share some important part of what I myself have learned. And it's the simplest of ideas, sometimes, that turn out to be the best.
Any takers, out there?