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  • As a writer, I have mostly fixated on describing the ways of the world, as opposed to tale-telling or introspective revelations. And it took me close to 50 years to find my voice. All that time, I felt I didn't have a strong enough handle to scoop words out of my simmering mental broth of anxieties about how things were going.

    An aching awareness of ways in which the world needs to change inching through me spurred me to make new associations, engage in sporadic activism, clarify what I thought about more and more things, and spawned new urges to write about them. But it was a very slow process that I would not recommend to anyone.

    Although I did find a voice and slowly groomed it to be better spoken, I've never had a successful publication aside from some of my scientific papers (which don't count). It seems that I fear success and notoriety. As soon as I started thinking about what my career would look like, in my 20's, I felt a dread of becoming famous for any reason. I still don't know where that came from, but that fear continues to lurk within me.

    Then I read an essay that David Sullivan kindly showed us, Tennessee Williams confessing how his first big success as a playwright nearly finished him off. He was quickly depressed and incapacitated by it, he tells us, until he understood "that not privation but luxury is the wolf at the door & that the fangs of this wolf are all the little vanities & conceits & laxities that Success is heir to---why, then with this knowledge you are at least in a position of knowing where danger lies."

    Williams goes on to say, "You know, then, that the public Somebody you are when you 'have a name' is a fiction created with mirrors & that the only somebody worth being is the solitary & unseen you that existed from your first breath & which is the sum of your actions & so is constantly in a state of becoming under your own volition---& knowing these things, you can survive the catastrophe of Success!"

    Williams' essay appeared at high point in his life. He went on to write many more plays, most of which critics panned. Good plays, mostly, exploring human relationships at deep, intimate levels. In response to rejection, he drank heavily and dosed up on barbiturates and amphetamines. Even though he had several fulfilling relationships, being a gay man in mid-century America must have added to his unease at being a public citizen. Hospitalized and committed a number of times, Williams died in his hotel suite in 1983 not a happy man, possibly of a prescription drug overdose.

    So, even though Williams knew the wages of success were slow spiritual death, and so kept struggling to create his art in the face of rejection, that understanding and those efforts were not enough. Trying to live up to his earlier acclaim took its toll despite that self-awareness.

    So maybe it's all for the best that I am not celebrated. But it would be nice if the occasional stranger stopped me on the sidewalk or approached me in a café to say "You're somebody, aren't you?"


    @image: One of those paparazzi pictures that seems to be everywhere. Say, isn't he Marcello Mastroianni?
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