You will surely love the (possibly entirely apocryphal – or he himself might have told it) brilliant story about Professor Paul Muldoon returning to Norn Iron to judge a poetry competition. Paul decides, among reliable reams of epic and lyric, streams of Spenserian sonnets, vast vats of villanelles, buckets of blank verse and at least one hillock with a pastoral, that a single young bright kid actually won the competition outright with his poem called: ‘The Tortoise’, a short poem with the central image of a struggling Tortoise, with the magical line:
“the tortoise goes.. movey movey”
Cue, near riotous uproar among the adult educated intellect of assembled applicants if true. And I really want that story to be true. The story of a renowned poet who refused to crush a child’s sense of wonder and possibility, and not appease convention. I won second prize as an 11 year old with my poem, ‘Peace’ with the opening line: ‘Peace is but a flower among the weeds’ back in the dark 1970s, yes… but it was all downhill after that first line although in truth it was all my own work, almost winning up against other kids and their ambitious mammies work.
The poetry society in the UK, of which Chris Meade (RIP) was once director have opened their national poetry competition to everyone. If that’s your thing the application is here.
At 12, an entire school copybook full of my very first story ‘Frosty the Snowman’ prompted my primary school teacher to tell me I could possibly be a writer ‘WHEN I GREW UP’ This was actually the first of many times I heard that said, sometimes as an If rather than When statement…
At 17, the local newspaper editors typed reply to my rejected poem submission simply said: “These are unsuitable sentiments for a 17 year old.” Among the 40 plus poems within the creative sections of my Doctoral thesis lies one called ‘unsuitable sentiments’ It appears under the pseudonym of the imaginary Achill based poet John Pat McNamara. Yes let the sun shine upon us for I remain alive, and inspired by the muses.
I utterly abandoned poetry competitions, although I previously wrote funny verse (as opposed to what I consider actual or authentic poetry) about poetry competitions in the past, it got about 20,000 page views on my previous, spammed to death, old Drupel version of this website. (Which you may now notice has new SSL technology protecting you, with new back-up infrastructure behind it protecting me). The first post on that old banjaxed version was around 2006 and was a piece about a lack of a muse for technology… doah… and since I was working on my cameltext.net ludic poems then, why can’t technology be spiritual in that traditional sort of (non)sense ?
Anyway just like my friend Professor Leo Flores now former president of the ELO, I love epoetry, while still loving much traditional poetry. I enjoy creating and making poetry, enjoy reading it, learning about it, experimenting with all aspects of it, primarily as a philosophical, spiritual and textual exercise, an exploration of otherness, subconsciousness, technical mastery, as process that provides beginnings, foundations, filaments, fodder that frequently feeds other forms of writing.
And in the very same vein in which I understand and accept I will never win an All Ireland medal of any description, a seat in Dail Eireann nor any popularity contest on social media, I am certain I will never judge nor win a poetry competition, despite writing literally thousands of poems in the intervening forty years from that terse rejection, I haven’t entered any competitions since I was that rejected 17 year old would be Poet.
The very idea that there is a winning poem among thousands of potential personal already winning poems, for surely as a poet you win if you really believe you have successfully made or completed a true poem, faithfully expressed and finished it, rather than simply abandoning it as done. And if you are prepared to risk actually putting it into public view then it surely is a winner, of some sort, at least to you.
Poets may be the charlie sheen of writers, making it makes it so, the work is done, the juvenilia, silly sentimental satires, structured poetic effluent, true luminescence, and utter versified rubbish, short shape shrapnel, is it all or any of those things ? remains a creative and artistic if not human personal judgement, you have made a thing of which you are rightly proud and therefore you win. Who is the loser in that situation other than people who have no actual industrial or electrical machinery in sight or even in storage and yet specialize in charging you and others for the wisdom of their workshops in which you do the actual work ?
The concept of a winning poem reinforces hierarchical elitist thinking of twenty centuries ago . Unless it’s been written by Vogons, I’m up for reading it and making each one of them the winner, tradition, individual talents, or just a mates mate from her wife’s golf club, the cruel truth is a poet only really wins when… death decides.
So specifically for those amateur critics and poets whose magnum opus will be an overpriced lump of Ice cream on a stick, below is yet another one of my own personal winning poems. I awarded it the ultimate 0 Prize, since that logically comes before one in a descending numerical value sequence.. as yet A.I. can’t really handle ‘nothing’.
I have wanted to write this poem for a long time, inspired to do a bit more research, finally did today during a rare completely quite three hour period, to paraphrase a Kenny Everett Character… but am telling ya the plot…
(ab)normal screenwriting and digital service will resume in due course.
“Basic Income for the Arts…. it’s a gift.” “Are you having a laugh, and on Sept 11th ? Don’t be obnoxious.”
While areas of the UK and Ireland began mourning a monarch or ‘brushing up’ on their singalonga country cowboy star skills, Thursday September 8th 2022 saw 2000 artists and arts workers across the republic of Ireland awarded an individual grant from our government to enable us to sustain and hopefully nurture our practice and artistic activity for the next three years. In my own view this is a measure that begins to recognize the genuine human value of the arts to our Irish society. What might it mean to an individual concerned ?
Well I’d be concerned that from over 9,000 applications made under the scheme, 8,200 were assessed as eligible and included in the randomised anonymous selection process. Yes you read that correctly ‘randomized selection process’. I previously wrote a submission when the department were first canvasing opinion and artists’ views on their proposed process and the only aspect of it I considered in any way flawed was that very idea that final selection would be basically down to chance.
The 2,000 grant awardees include all art forms, age groups, ethnicities from all counties in the republic. This includes 707 visual artists, 584 musicians, 204 artists working in film, 184 writers, 173 actors and artists working in theatre, 32 dancers and choreographers, 13 circus artists and 10 architects.
I got the above breakdown from Visual Artists Ireland press release here.
As one of the 184 writers one of my own early heroes the legendary Liverpudlian comedian and family entertainer Ken Dodd was not merely an amazing comic, singer, gag writer, ventriloquist but also a lifelong student of comedy itself, he maintained that the greatest gift we humans have is the gift of laughter, the gift of humour. He spent his long lifetime studying comedy yet few thought to take him seriously enough as to really drill down into his expert knowledge and opinion.
“When you start out as a comic, you must learn to let people laugh at you.”
Encouraging audiences to laugh with us, or at us, was something I preached to every live comedy cast I’ve worked with, from amateur pub dramas in the 80s to various shows to TV pilots in the noughties, it’s not a matter of choice or taste, if you want to play a funny part in my funny script or be funny in our funny performance then please don’t bring some obtuse ego preservation idea about personal exclusive theatrical artistry as an artificial barrier to you being laughed at. If you harbour thoughts of being a writer yourself someday get used to being laughed at.
For some that is an understandably incredibly difficult place to be, specifically considering some of the insecurity journeys actors, writers, and artists must take to ‘make it’. I just remembered that very old cartoon with two cannibals eating a clown and one asks the other: ‘Does this taste funny to you ?” Being laughed at because you are being funny is a reward, being laughed at because others don’t or can’t understand you can feel like attempts by those others to steal your self worth, and feels so far from funny as is humanly possible to be. So when someone decides to satirize or laugh at some person, place, thing, or event there is always serious potential for damaging or hurting that someone, there is a line, and comedy writers in my view who funny walk it are usually the funniest.
Lines, walks, and cannibals aside, to paraphrase Doddy as purveyors of comedy we do steal people’s chuckle muscle and tickle it. Here Ken’s well-known joke: ‘I suffer from acute kleptomania. But when it gets bad, I take something for it’. In Ireland if an individual isn’t very good at their job wits observe: “He’s stealing a living” or in the specific case of highly over remunerated premiere league footballers, the oft heard recently: “That Maguire’s stealing a wage.”
But such observations are not reserved for far off, off form, sports stars or incompetent employees, and we can all assume that certain laughter itself is sometimes used not only as a weapon but also as a shield for perhaps more acerbic intentions, ‘insecurity’ for some is not a passive one way street nor that poorly texted limbo before an Aer Lingus Dublin departure.
Trying to ‘make it’ in whatever field of the arts in Ireland is rooted in insecurity and precarity, unless of course you are part of those beloved golden circles of awfully nice friends, know the good guys in Oar Tea Eeeeee, have a few bob, or attend exclusive tent, marquee, or similar hotel gatherings in Galway, trying to ‘make it’ independently without incurring financial ruin or accruing debts to others generosity means the business of show can indeed be a very funny old game to navigate successfully without causing (self)harm.
I saw yesterday the south Dublin Gazette piece about John Boyne ringing up his IT interviewer post the interview and post haste to say something like, I didn’t mean Sally Rooney when I said all the young Irish writers were writing the same stupid campus novel about nothing. He could ask Rosemary Jenkins what happens in Ireland if you observe the truth that there exist large swaths of published or lauded writers on the island of Ireland that are enthusiastically promoted by their own symbiotic circles without genuine literary analysis, impartial review, or honest critique. All great art may be parochial but the parish supporting their own brings with it reciprocated responsibility if not loyalty, to the central parochial value of solidarity under all circumstances and conditions to that parish and it’s members. The introduction of the concept of ‘conflict of Interest’ to Ireland’s small literary circles would cause more commotion than shamrock rovers fans at an English regal event.
“ All comedy, is tragedy, if you only look deep enough into it.”
English Novelist and Poet Thomas Hardy
There was something wholly tragic and not at all funny for the 6028 Artists and arts workers who applied and then waited months for the department’s decision on a scheme that opened for applications from 12th April – 12th May 2022. Some waiting almost four months only to be told: apologies you were not selected in the randomized final stages and will not receive the grant. To a younger more insecure me that could also suggest, I will not be seen, not be acknowledged, I will never be helped nor realize any of my ambitions. So understandably my own heart sinks and genuinely goes out to those individuals so close and yet so far, David Walliams ‘computer says no’ as genuine human tragedy. The linguistic ‘luck of the draw’ for so many talented artists a line even this irreverent writer struggles with.
Yet open minded writers, if they have been around for as long as I have, are already intimately acquainted with rejection, actors and artists similarly so. I was genuinely shocked and surprised to be awarded a place on the scheme, I obviously fulfill the professional criteria and passed the eligibility tests, it’s just (as you may know if you’ve read any of my other posts here) As a working class writer from a border town I have long-standing ideological issues with the arts council, and similar organizations like Create Ireland, etc, specifically in a similar vein to that of the monarchy in England with their endowed soft power of their role in shaping society in their own image. So with this scheme coming directly from the Government Department itself directly responsible for the arts, it efficiently cuts out that entire administrative layer of time wasting middle management data obsessed quangos that often make offers of friendly guidance while usually demanding their logo must be seen on everything you do. uncertain and unnamed entities that associate with the wins yet are rarely seen in the vicinity of personal losses, those that want the associated comedy without any of the underlining independent sorrow of the tragedy.
From the age of 18 I was completely self-funded as a writer, theatre maker and game developer until our then local arts officer Mary Cloake gifted me a year as a paid writer in residence with the UDC (Urban District Council). It was the equivalent of a dole payment but it was briefly being paid to write full time for the first time in my life, so I got to write and produce my first semi-professional two act play called Issac’s Legacy. Alas the UDC is no more and Mary Cloake joined the Arts Council as Regions Officer in 1993, was appointed Development Director in 1997 and ascended to Director in 2004, eventually leaving in 2011.
In the years between writing and performing my first comedy scripts in 1982 and before Mary’s various elevations I applied to the arts council for numerous grants for playwrighting and theatre without success. During the early 1990s there was little analogue artwork being done let alone any digital or interactive artifacts being created. Windows 95 really started the PC revolution but I made my first game in 1983 on a C64, I already had qualifications and practical experience working in electronics when I married in 1988 aged 23 with a 1000 pound bill for my first electronic word processor, it took me a couple of years to pay that off but I was rewarded when my comedy writing work saw me invited to the BBC young scriptwriter of the year competition finals in Belfast.
I joined various Irish based writer societies and groups, I spent a half a year designing a theatre based training course with the generous help of Abbey Theatre and École Internationale de Mimodrame de Paris Marcel Marceau personnel but ultimately found myself usurped by parochial apparatchiks from FAS. Despite attempted oppression by various closed minded philistines, I eventually got some professional work going, raised the money to establish a travelling theatre company, wrote and toured my multimedia one man play ‘Ham Let Loose’, applied again to the arts council for various grants, received nothing other than rejection after rejection. So I went to study theatre part-time in Maynooth, thumbing lifts from Dundalk to Maynooth and back at all hours of the day and night for a couple of years.
When Mary Cloake was appointed development director of the arts council I had already stopped applying, the fact that we had a very basic prior funding history I felt would create more spurious questions than answers if I ever did actually manage to get any type of grant, and up to that point, among all the wasted hours and crumbled paper, I had zero evidence to support the idea that the Arts Council would ever encourage me to apply for any grants, despite putting all my eggs into the national arts basket. Consequently since I was already highly PC and Mac literate I channeled my energies and expertise into founding Ireland’s only SCEE Licensed game development studio Taintech Creative Studios, I was using primitive 3D modelling software and state of the then art desktop printing QuarkXPress to visual ideas and designs I had already begun making digital work under the moniker clevercelt and made my first version of that ‘digital text art’ website in 1996.
Meeting internationally renowned developers across the world at various game developer events and being invited to Japan in 1999 by the Head of Development of Sony Computer Entertainment based purely on my various game designs, design documents and game bibles for SONY Playstation, that specific trip to Japan changed my own perception of my actual potential talent, of my imaginative story making gifts, the length of the road already traveled at that point seemed long, it changed my understanding of a then emerging and morphing craft.
During those previous years basically 1982 to 1996 I also wrote assorted television and theatre scripts, RTE accepted my ‘Friends’ script for the Access Community Drama Series and cameras were all set to roll in Dundalk until the equity union objected to amateur involvement in professional television, when so many actors were unemployed (or resting) thus the entire series was unceremoniously shelved. After that RTE television rejected outright every single script I sent them, telling me I needed an agent if I wanted them to read my work, yet jokes I’d written popped in here and there unacknowledged, that’s what really put a stop to my unsolicited submissions. So obviously while working professionally in other places, interacting with various professional bodies my career was progressing on certain artistic fronts but failing miserably on the financial or traditional creative industries inroads front and I received zero support from anyone other than my immediate family. That journey becomes an even harder road when there is no sustenance to be found.
The story of Taintech is something I am writing in detail about elsewhere thus I won’t rehash it here, but suffice to say that in March 2001 post Taintech and a 50K research project I conceived and managed, I joined Microsoft’s Xbox and PC games Division. Within Microsoft I had Dublin program management responsibility for the Xbox Launch Title Rallisport Challenge and also the EMEA editions of Microsoft’s then flagship PC entertainment product Flight Simulator. We were nearing RTM and preparing for the October launch of tens of millions of dollars of Flight Simulator product and promotion when the Twin Towers tragedy began to unfold. In the initial speculation about flying into the towers our product was all over American media, it was said the hijackers had trained to fly the planes using the MS FS product, there was a series of calls and meeting hurriedly arranged, again that specific time, Microsoft, media lab, IGDA, Havok, etc are some things I am writing about in more detail but I offer it just as a snapshot of the fact that from the first moment that the news that a plane may have hit the world trade centre went out on the wires our entire team became transfixed to the unfolding human tragedy, then our full floor of staff, soon the entire office, the whole site, then the country, then the world, a horrendous tragedy on a scale never before witnessed by so many, it was, and remains, a societal traumatic event, much like the thirty years of terrorism by the IRA, the UVF, various paramilitaries and the state sponsored terrorism of the British state itself during my own lifetime. And as Yeats observed in his Easter 1916: “Too long a sacrifice, Can make a stone of the heart.”
Living through the 1981 hunger strikes and another economic recession that saw further waves of emigration, twenty years earlier amid weeping thronged streets of black flag protest marches, mourning and anger, injustice, powerlessness and general malaise, it was a world away from warm International Television conferences, brightly lit Networking events, foreign food, exotic sights, the various and numerous invitations to parties which I readily accepted twenty years later when I decided to leave Microsoft and later again after leaving the Midas Media Cluster, a time when I also went back to school to do an MA in Creative Writing and New Media in DMU in the UK in 2006, it was thee only one of it’s kind in the British isles at that time. Again like my return to theatre education in Maynooth, it was part-time and required a couple of trips to the UK but entirely worth the considerable effort and expense as it was truly and highly innovative, it was mostly online, so I could do what most working class artists, writers, and students must do, which is to work while you study. I may therefore consider myself to be more than simply lucky to have received this grant, I may be fortunate, blessed, steeped in luck..
Nothing is as obnoxious as other people’s luck
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Sadly Chris Meade (RIP) a unique talent, also the other male from our initial DMU course cohort, passed away recently, and Chris a few years after finishing his MA, like me, decided to pursue a PhD in Creative Writing. I went to UCD and that is a book in itself, for another day, I finished writing up its 120K words of poetry, code, prose, video, commentary, analysis in 2013. I thereafter got sucked back into doing some consulting and teaching. Which I did up until my dear mother became really ill in September 2019 at a time when I was working 60+ hours a week as a head of department, course and programme leader, lecturer, until the very weekend my dear departed mother went into a care home on Thursday I wrote this article on linkedin late on the following Saturday evening, an article which ultimately resulted in my parting company with my then employer. I wrote it as a funny article but institutions do not have a sense of humor and many insecure people mistakenly interpreted the well worn memes as something I specifically created to be about them, have I mentioned insecurity yet?
Since that time the covid pandemic curtailed a world of plans and ambitions for so may creative people, not just me, as I became unemployed just as the pandemic hit, I got only basic dole payments as opposed to my 70K+ per year. So nearly two years later when the opportunity to apply for this grant arose, I applied throwing my hat in the ring with zero expectation, the financial worth of the grant to me is less than 25% of my pre pandemic income, but as outlined I have been writing on and off for almost forty years, now at this vital juncture it’s again a choice between commercial magnetism and three years of the creative life; lived. I have an Ikigai diagram somewhere about this stuff..
As my previous entry states I lost a second uniquely creative friend when Jeremy Height shuffled off his mortal coil and evaporated into a cloud of interstellar mimetic intelligence merely a month ago now. If not now ? when ? is my question with regard to full time writing… What this grant does for me personally is exactly as promised on the tin, it gives me basic income security to follow my creative vision without constantly worrying about where I will get the money to pay my mortgage.. it enables me to write full time.
For me, and perhaps only me, it also places a responsibility on me to produce work that justifies my selection for this grant, this luck, this gift that I have been given, approximately 40 years after first hoping I might get one, is more than welcome, and I am grateful for it.
In pre-covid pandemic 2019 I tried to do something that’s ingrained in all my creative endeavors, I tried to do something unique, something new, ‘something outside the norm’. I was given the opportunity to deliver an ELO keynote in UCC in 2019, for me that became about bringing the unique voices of other members of the electronic literature organization, those physically outside the conference itself, unable to attend for whatever reason, into very center stage, to put their (remote) views on offer.
I first spoke a bit about why I was on the stage and how the auditorium audience would get to chose from sixteen authors/ topics to create the second half of that keynote.
The first elit creator chosen by the audience was Jeremy Height. When I had previously asked Jeremy to send me something he’d like to say in my keynote if chosen, he wrote the following, (Which is unedited from his original reply) the audience responded first by a very short silence, followed by applause:
“Electronic literature honestly saved my life. I as a kid studied philosophy, meteorology , etymology, writing and anything on odd science and nature I could get my little hands on. I was tested in third grade and moved to a school that had Nasa visit us and give us space ice cream (a treasure of treasures even if freeze dried basically) and voyager photos. We were little calculators given mass amounts of data and mostly memorization tasks. My parents got a call when I got a B in fifth grade. It led to boredom and tuning out and eventually burn out in 9th grade to the highest degree. A teacher in honors English even snuck me out to Burger King at lunch to give me a pep talk as she felt bad watching this tall shy kid evaporate and fail.“
“High school saw math hit me head on at 100 mph and the PHD in experimental meteorology software development become impossible. I still loved words and writing and a teacher jumped out like a bat after graduation from a shadowy bush to tell me to keep writing (thank you) and won some teen awards but still felt it was all incomplete. In college I had ideas for poems made of soil types in deserts and by rivers, to be projected on fog, to be novels composed of seeming junk in drawers in old furniture. My first published poem outside of school was a poem made mostly of numbers published in Prakalpana in India. It was comparing the sun to zero on a number line. It was closer but still it was painful how the science and philosophy lied dormant and experimental writing was depositing into familiar tropes and fields.”
“After my MFA in writing at Calarts it seemed for a time that all was to be echoes, to be encased and calcified in forms and functions. It was massively depressing and deflating to be honest. Then a friend called and we made a gps driven narrative. It hit me first that text could skin the world with signal. It then came clear that much more importantly technology and creativity could give place a voice.”
“Since then I have worked in anti-blogs, ar poetics laid out with semantics based on location and elevation, netprovs, poetry edited by earthquakes and now artificial intelligence infused prose and poetry that reacts to how it is read and grows or shrinks and has a bit of sentience.”
“E-lit to me is almost quantum (made a quantum mechanics narrative years back but it was obnoxious to read..lol ) in its range and possible attempts at core defining characteristics or parameters. The field is ever growing and the future is about to open doors never before possible to explore. It also to me is a family even as we are spread out across the globe. I am thankful daily for this.”
“If I had to attempt a specific definition it would be a fog of words but basically writing made possible and permutations of textuality made possible by technology.”
“For me it is home.”
Jeremy and I knew each other for perhaps ten years, we never got to meet in person but we exchanged many many emails, calls, drafts, and works, we both shared a common attitude about writing and art, that it should be different, new, something challenging, something maybe not so serious at times. A contributor to his Nibus Face-sine, shut down by Facebook, eventually the effect of the pandemic took its toll on the mental health of many people, my own included, added to that were parental bereavements on both sides, my own mother and Jeremy’s father. The pay and conditions for writing teachers are not ideal on either side of the Atlantic but as Jeremy and I discussed more than once, it can be particularly challenging when you don’t easily fit into the standard definitions or modes of creation used by universities to employ their friends’ friends. I will miss Jeremy, for more reasons than can be written here. My heart goes out to his partner Lisa and all who had the privilege of knowing Jeremy.
Many applaud ‘go easy on yourself’ writing advice. More embrace the ‘keep it simple’ or ‘read Hemingway and try to do what he has done’ suggestions. Whatever else you decide to do as a writer do not try to be a perfectionist, has ironically proved popular elsewhere.
Don’t try to make a cold mountain out of your creative molehill as that creates more questions than answers for a writer.
What prompted me to write this blog post was a medium story about the topic of avoiding the perceived pitfalls of perfection, a very popular post that popped up on my screen over the weekend, it had received sixteen thousand claps of endorsement and over 150 glowing comments of approval on Medium since being published there in October 2020. I just paid to become a full member of Medium last weekend so I was exploring the platform further than I had previously, despite initially joining it around the time I finished writing up my PhD (2013/14) I only now forked out the annual 50 yoyos fee to get greater access as a medium member.
The particular medium story advocated against perfectionism but also stressed that smart people should beware of their fear of success. It claimed sometimes smart writers write and write and write because they simply can’t bring themselves to stop.
They just love writing.
There also seemed to be a kind of undercurrent running through that story that smart people (or at least the ‘too smart’ friends of the author) aren’t really that smart because they hone, perfect, fundamentally overwork, over complicate, maybe even actually overwrite, and thus the implication is that if that is smart reading you on medium then you as a writer are ultimately doomed to fail to live up to your own obviously ridiculous high standards.
From the positive responses to that post the writer herself rightly should be applauded, she had obviously and successfully persuaded readers that her ‘cold mountain’ theory is not only acceptable, but it is also completely true, and thus utterly valid as a method or approach for any would be smart writer seeking or reading writing advice on Medium.
Medium has ‘Disqualifying story types’ that it regards as in breach of their internal distribution standards. The first of which is, no stories about medium. Thus while I would have liked to write this piece over on Medium their other rules also clearly state I am prohibited from writing a medium story as a response or rebuttal to another medium story.
Despite in my view it being completely obvious that the very popular post I had just read demanded a response, just as obviously justified by their own rules, just not a response on medium. Fair enough, here we go.
The post began with the Author’s story of ‘a too smart friend’ who couldn’t finish her PhD, however the writer came to her aid by explaining her own ‘cold mountain principle’ which proved with certainty that sometimes smart people need ordinary friends to tell them to stop being that perfectionist, and/or to take their work and give it to literary agents, since that is what had happened with cold mountain author Charles Frazier apparently, when he wouldn’t stop writing his book, a friend just gave it to an agent. And then the book went on to become the blockbuster I was just about to order. Which is all again even more fair enough one must suppose, I hadn’t previously read cold mountain, so me being me, I tabbed over, ordered it there and then, had a faint memory of reading that the Oxford educated author Rachel Cusk had said or written something similar about a friend suggesting and then insisting she publish a book, and then I went back to reading the cold mountain post on Medium.
I was really thrown by that statement, but continued to try to get through the article, the rest was reasonably well written in a grammatical sense, but that quote stuck, supposedly from Dunning-kruger, it began itching at me, the rest of the article seemed to try to speak to any readers who wished to be told: it is alright to be smart you, but it is better to be smart you as a non perfectionist, your work only has to be okay because as the bottom line (of the article itself) even said, ‘your version of okay is already mind-blowing.’
The just okay medium post is very successful, psychologically subtle in respect of supporting the aspirations and ambitions of would be smart writers who can’t or now won’t do perfection. However in my own personal view the article is so obviously flawed and really unhelpful specifically to any smart writers who are currently stuck in their own version of perfectionist nirvana, specifically those writers without a not so smart friend to take their perfectionist book to an agent.
As I’m sure you know the studies conducted by Dunning and Kruger were only completed and popularized in the early 21st century, specifically when they became available online in the academic journal ‘Advances in Experimental Social Psychology’ in June of 2011. Chapter five – The Dunning–Kruger Effect: On Being Ignorant of One’s Own Ignorance.
My picture of the writer above is one of my early writing heroes Alexander Pope, born in 1688 who died 278 years ago in 1744, he was a master of the heroic couplet, the son of a draper who produced mock epics, satires, and perfectionist pastorals, all in the early eighteenth century.
His great work ‘The Dunicad’ was a satirical assault on the shallowness of his contemporary literary foes, however it is from his poem ‘essay on criticism’ we receive these lines:
“A little learning is a dang’rous thing; Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, And drinking largely sobers us again.“
It is obvious these 18th century lines are a direct appeal for thinking writers or poets or writers on medium to drink deep of their subject, meaning at very least know what it is you are writing about and what might have nothing to do with two twenty first century social scientists.
As someone who successfully completed my own PhD I was blessed by first doing an MA. The MA as a post graduate research degree had an entire semester of research methods, that is generally how writers within academia are trained, you are exposed to methods that allow you to trace the sources of specific elements of knowledge, to ensure truth, veracity, it prevents you from proffering an opinion that is not factually nor academically valid and getting likes that are an insult to anyone who has actually done a research degree.
So if you are a smart PhD student (like that story author’s friend at the beginning) yes you will be thrown into a deep web of facts and references, within a matrix of knowledge and information that could theoretically see you spend the rest of your reading life lovingly researching, unbinding, weaving and pulling at those threads and connections to create a valid, informed opinion, like an eighteenth century, Scottish tartan weaver, near blind from the light of privilege blinding your every thread.
So yes theoretically you might never get around to finishing the writing up of your thesis. That fairly remote possibility is just one reason of many reasons why at least one intramural supervisor is appointed to each PhD or MA candidate, to offer professional supervision.
Institutionally there is a limit of ten years placed on PhD students. Academia is all too aware that you can fall down a rabbit hole of PhD (or even MA/MSc/MBA) perfection very easily.
Now I can read an author like Malcom Gladwell or similar who successfully combines popular psychology and contemporary storytelling in their non-fiction. I can also sit here overweight watching the utterly mesmerizing consummate ease with which many elite athletes balletically exert themselves physically within a field or on a pitch.
What is clearly visible to me in their exquisite movement is the result of many invisible years of training, dedication, practice, knowledge, perfectionism, failure, strain, injury, recovery, and focus. It is that very hidden from view perfectionism that gives rise to truly exceptional human performances, on track, field, or on the page.
In a similar vain to Pope, the American Vince Lomardi is often famously quoted as saying “show me a good loser and I will show you a loser.” but the second half of his quote is also rarely offered: “But show me a gracious loser and I’ll show you someone who will always be a winner.”
Perfectionists from my limited knowledge of them, and I have the utter privilege of knowing a few, are simply not adverse to that proverbial losing, they arein fact gracious losers, many of whom become those unseen always winners of Vince Lomardi.
To my knowledge perfectionists seek to create something that reflects their true level of practiced ability, they know and understand that they can create something ‘exceptional’ and that is why, the very idea of someone else’s just good enough, is never ever going to be good enough for them or me, even though I haven’t had a clap anywhere thank God.
Because the author brought up their ‘effect’ theory I will include another actual quote from the author David Dunning describing it:
Here I pause simply to wonder what might have happened if both Charles Frazier and the author’s PhD friend had each been left alone, to their own individual perfectionist devices and not subjected to interventions ?
It is an absolute truism that talent alone will not see you through. We live in an era of a multitude of incredibly erudite and clever writers brimming with talent, sadly many of whom are still flipping burgers, teaching, or writing marketing copy while yes lesser talents manage to prosper in the market and online. The writing market is still supersaturated, ‘okay’ will simply never cut it, unless you are already independently wealthy, very well connected in some manner or already supremely content in your own okay Dunning-kruger medium sized skin.
It is a fact that most professionals prefer to work with actual talent, they also want to work with actual talent that will work as hard or even harder than they will.
Most professionals I know presume that if you are a fellow professional with talent, then you will also put in the additional required hard work too. Here again despite the high quality bar of required humility and work ethic there is an oversupply in the commercial market, there are thousands of already talented writers who are fully prepared to work harder than anyone else, a truth that is simply a given within certain parts of the writing industries.
Certainly with respect to screenwriting what differentiates those who get the gig and those who don’t is: the smart hard worker is also real, and by real I mean that the hardworking actual talent also lives in the real world, knows those quotes and their ramifications in their entirety, and then some.
Lots of would-be writers make that mistake, they see writers working, working, while they merely work on the assumption that it is their talent that is driving that other writer.
Being in the right place at the right time can be all the opportunity an ambitious person requires, luck, brass neck, or simply the powers of persuasion that arise from unbridled ambition may do the rest. But can such success on someone else’s terms really constitute success for an ambitious person?
“Incredibly talented people are secretly terrified of this, too. They think if they sink an enormous amount of time and energy into something and it doesn’t pay off with early retirement or a Nobel Prize, then their life is over, and they’ll never make anything again.”
Above is my second and final quote from the medium article.
We have all encountered smart individuals whose ambition is much larger than their actual ability. Again the above assertion from the story is simply not supported by my own experience of highly talented people, first attempt in learning (fail) is often how rejections or revisions are framed, all writing is rewriting, failure is a paradigm of progress in all software development, you must break things apart to really understand them, that allows you to move forward, incredibly talented people whom I know accept that drafts, rejections, failures, set-backs, are all part of the overall process of learning about and perfecting their chosen craft.
If you are serious about acquiring the skills needed to succeed in your chosen profession then failure must become your friend too, in that second half sense of the Lombardi quote I used above. You need to become an occasional gracious loser to ensure that you are always a winner, specifically with regard to your own writing life, never straying close to the sun ensures you will never be burned.
I would tentatively suggest that, if at all feasible, writers should take a short professional pottery course if they want to understand the difference between overwork and perfection. Perfection like pottery making itself, has several stages, with most of the initial ones involving complete immersion in the art itself.
Ambitious people will often see skills or mastering the craft as merely a vehicle to get them to a destination called success.
It is a truism in my life that I personally learn more from failure than I do from success, (you must have learned a hullava lot by now then I hear any remaining reading cynics among you say) if we succeed we sit back and feel good about that success, perhaps begin to see or dream of further or future success.
When I fail, as I inevitably do, I must conduct reviews, autopsies, if it’s a project we pull apart what happened, what exactly I did, to discover what didn’t work or why it didn’t work.
Screenwriters and Video game writers know this process more than most I feel. Seeing what you consider to be perfection fail, be shot down unceremoniously, has a whole different quality of learning to it, when compared to the advocated ‘just good enough’. The scale of learning is disproportionate since we must learn at level of psyche (or soul). That Dunning-Kruger Pope conflation feels like a supreme learning moment that simply passed the non perfectionist just okay medium author by.
From my perspective the story of Charles Frazier can also be summarized as: Charles wrote four published books one of which became an astounding commercial success. If he had been left alone by his agent knowing friend, how many successful books might he have written without the consequent external commercial pressures brought upon him by the early phenomenal success of that first one. I also wonder just how different that final PhD thesis destination would have been, and how the consequent Doctor might have felt, if all that Dunning-kruger mountain stuff had been left out entirely of her academic journey.
For me it is that creative writers journey not the destination nor output that brings joy for a writer in love with writing. Those who don’t have that writing gra are simply not yet equipped to understand that.
The more sophisticated and complex, the deeper and richer the internal creative landscape for this writer. I welcome readers, they are rare and I completely cherish each one that gives of their time to read what I write, but obviously the writing must come first, otherwise what’s to read ?
It was one of the smartest people this planet has ever seen, Albert Einstein who coined one of my favorites: “Things should be made simple, but never simpler.”
We would never presume to tell a nuclear scientist nor a neurosurgeon that their work, if they think it is okay, is obviously good enough.
Why would anyone consider offering that kind of advice to a writer ?
And why would sixteen thousand readers applaud it ?
Leave that cold mountain for the valleys of perfection, be the best you can be, and then be better, strive for perfection if you can.
Thank you for your unsolicited confidential message xxxxxx,
Rather than simply delete your message, I thought it might also be ‘nice’ to respond to you personally here on linkedin first, before deciding whether to post my reply below publicly on my own timeline or elsewhere, as a kinda critique.
I’m sure at one point this whole thing sounded like a really good idea in that room, I can tease using scarcity and exclusivity appeals via simple (& cheap) personalized direct linkedin message, invite a broad cross section of connections and filter later using three (reinforcing) questions to build community via our promise of exclusive value, intimating that my actual bog standard value proposition is so really good it needs to be ‘secret’.
That’s an old 1960’s advertising trick but hey that was 60+ years ago..
I can call the initial linkedin message ‘a confidential message’, to set tone and general expectation to message recipients.
I then basically create a standard linkedin group to help form a community which we can later migrate to our own branded platform and then monetize.. we will have plenty of time to come up with better branding, simply: Secret… XXXXX XXXXX group… is initially cleaner.. until we get some additional creative talent on board..
We could later do a hot takes handbook on our success building the group. Group content can also be repurposed with our new branding.. it’s a digital playbook waiting to be complied..
We could use the hottakes handbook as clickbait reward for newsletter sign up, it can be one pillar of our broader content planning.. inbound strategy dev is underway.. what about an infographic ?
One central omission from your initial collateral and your thinking xxxxxx is that to many human beingsSecretscan be a damaging psychological phenomena.
Since before whispers were invented, secrets have caused suspicion, misunderstanding, disinformation, guilt, lack of trust, betrayal, in our current post truth age, where disinformation is causing unnecessary and major political, medical, and personal, difficulties for a whole range of people and societies globally, why would any genuine thinking person want to be involved with some cheap social media ‘secret’..
Why would anyone in their own proper mind be enticed to carry additional and unnecessary psychological weight ?
FOMO ? – STFU !
Does any ‘normal’ individual really want to receive a completely unsolicited ‘confidential message’ ?
In normal circumstances I would just delete both buckshot marketing message and the connection but with all the crap currently in our world, seeing this kinda stuff from a Harvard educated CMO, a consultant, is honestly disturbing.. I need to point this cheap trickery out.
I was blessed to bring three sons to adulthood, one of the main tenets of my parenting was to have no secrets, to advise my children that yes each person could and should have personal stuff that is their’s alone, and they correctly have the choice about what they share with others.. or what they don’t.. but never be forced to carry a secret for someone else.. anyone who would ask you to do that, really needs to look at their own motivations and expectations.. and the worth of that secret, before asking you for a reply..
That final bottom line (doorknob) NLP attempt in the message:
“And remember, it is our big secret 😏”
is simply infinitive wrong..
Having written the reply above to the message below, I decided to post it here for my regular readers instead rather than dignify the unsolicited message with any form of response, I chose to leave it unanswered… and deleted the connection who sent it.
BELOW the Text of the original Message with clear redaction so as to avoid unnecessary embarrassment. and below that again an image of my desktop with the message with lots of colorful redaction to protect other identities..
You have received a highly confidential message 🔒
I see, you have experience and expertise in the XXXXXX area, so I thought it would be nice to give you an invite to our Secret XXXXXX group.
As a member of our group, you will have full access to: •
•Fascinating interviews with XXXXXX experts
•Most recent XXXXXX news
•Quizzes, questionnaires and polls
•Discussions of pressing problems with XXXXXX leaders
•Funny XXXXXX jokes and memes
This offer will be valid for only some days, as we have a limited number of invitations.
If you want to be one of the lucky ones and get into our group, let me know about it, and I will send a short 3 question brief to make sure you can join.
And remember, it is our big secret 😏
I am starting to write a regular newsletter which is (hard to believe I know) more opinionated, considers more topics than presented here, in hopefully more detail with additional links of interest and references, that is if enough people sign up to it.. its about all sorts of stuff…. so I’ve called it:
The raised concentration of trees in the distance above the river at the centre of the twilight image is Castletown motte, or Cúchulainn‘s castle. In simpler times it was part of our teenage playground, and where my friends and I first encountered the material reality of Irish mythology taught at school. My photo also shows the reflection of the planet Venus in my local river from a point on ‘the big bridge’.
Modern industries have created their own myths to serve their purpose of profit and shareholder value. We as a society daily participate, spread, and reinforce such market driven myths; the myth of efficiency, the myth of merit, the myth of equality. Societies solely driven by economics and market forces visibly stratify various groupings, Shakespearean Plebeians below their Patricians or an Aristocracy above born into a right to rule. As above, not so below. Today’s billionaire class are both figuratively and literally out of sight.
There is evident entitlement that accompanies being in a more economically advantageous ‘position’. Whether the offspring of a surgeon or clock-maker or child of an unmarried mother, one of the greatest myths to persist in Ireland today is the possibility and desirability of social mobility, the idea that we are born into one economic level in our society but can and should ascend (further compete) in(to) higher social positions, enjoying consequent improved personal prosperity. Were it true, might it be worth wanting ?
The American Dream was built on such a concept, European fairy stories are crammed with it, believing in the proximity of attainable prosperity rungs keeps a globalized lid on the archetypal parochial Irish begrudger while also encouraging various arms of the Irish civil service to intermarry one another. We love the idea that such myths are really truths. There is justice and fairness and people in power will do the right thing, despite so much evidence to the contrary.
The benefits of Success are no longer about a shared myth but just another hard commercial commodity to be bought and sold, listed and exploited, aligned and structured, a fact that makes me quite sad.
A recent press release from my local football club aligns them with a british gambling company through shirt sponsorship, I had already reached 100 meaningless spam comments on this website a number of weeks ago, those two unconnected facts prompted me to write this post.
In Ireland, we have culture night similar to how fortunate children have Christmas. One day per year when we are allowed what our imaginations may (or may not) have desired.
Government appointed quangos decide what constitutes our national culture, and therefore which precise presents are officially available. The commodification of Culture in Ireland has become a successful thriving industry in itself. Brand Ireland sells. Brand managers and various administrative layers have become self proliferating, perpetuating.
Artists, Writers, Musicians, Performers are invited to participate in this very special night and consequentially further endorse this destructive commodification that entirely reinforces the market society Ireland has become in recent decades.
As others have observed once we begin to put a price on various community and social activities, we convert public good to public goods. Our greedy rooms of economic experts can then begin their projections of worth, value, and profits in these ‘markets’.
As we put a price on any commodity we also ensure that access to it is then governed by wealth levels. Markets are also fundamentally about competition. Participants become consumers. Money becomes central.
But it’s Free…. ??
In Ireland wealth can be directly linked to political access, in a country who’s cronyism and nepotism have always at very least bubbled about in the background, to be connected is really everything for some. Surely there is no deliberate irony in Culture Night’s tagline: Connect through culture.
As someone who has been independently creative and creatively engaged with the arts and technologies, within and outside commerce/business for about forty years, I really do understand the dilemmas and dichotomies facing any artist offered either a crust or the promise of wider exposure, having paid the price of being both broke and hungry as a result of my own (foolish ?) artistic ( & Life) choices, is it then ironically rich of me to suggest to any struggling artist they consider not uncritically taking part in this constituted culture market (the culture night ritual itself is now 15 years old).
‘Free’ today has become more marketing terminology than any kind of liberation, loss leaders and free downloads are hooks and flytraps for the less aware consumer, terms and conditions apply, as always.
Culture and Banks
The books on the right in the image above are (some of) the great writer Iain M. Banks science fiction ‘Culture series’ novels, ones I’ve already read, the pile on the left are the ones I have yet to read. I am not going to offer any spoilers here, except to say that ‘The Culture’ are an advanced amalgam of races which contain advanced technologies, higher intelligence and a lot of mind. A sophisticated Utopian civilization one in so many respects often counterpointing the vast swath of dystopian visions offered elsewhere in science fiction and other future focused fiction, it can be highly dense imaginative optimistic writing.
Culture (without reference to Iain M Banks or the likes of Joseph Campbell or Edward Burnett Tylor) is also fundamentally concerned with shared Values, Beliefs, and Rituals.
The great societal pause created by Covid 19 remains a (tragic) opportunity to find ways to assess and reassess these shared values, beliefs, and rituals. Surely our leaders would agree, now is a time to open our minds as much as our hearts ?
Imagine a vital debate making decisions about what all this arts stuff actually is, and to whom is it important? How and why any of this is called Culture, what that might really mean beyond the superficial, what effects arise out of these decisions long term ?
Imagine specifically questioning promoted and funded varieties easily found ‘free’ on culture night, yes the endorsed and officially rubber stamped varieties, the specific brand of ‘culture’ which on September 18th will seep out through our screens and devices, that agreed upon type of arts, endorsed and asymmetrically shared by what is ultimately a hegemonic few, Again what is it really ? and what is it’s actual purpose, is there any alternative view ? Well it is a debate that simply won’t happen in Ireland.
Such a debate isn’t happening because our entire arts and culture industries, the culture markets in Ireland, are currently decimated by Covid 19, the response for the most part has been vested and established interests clambering with begging bowls to government.
Plenty of people who get up in the morning and many many others state their cases for support and special treatment to survive in today’s highly competitive marketplace they actually helped create, continue to endorse, and help preserve, albeit perhaps unwittingly.
The temporary reduction in our national VAT rate is interesting because it should serve to remind all of us that anyone who pays for commodities, also pays tax, and thus participates in our various markets (or market segments) whether they happen to get up early or not.
Even when the Irish exchequer is borrowing money, it is all the people’s money if not our children’s money they are borrowing, the continued use of that money to impose a market ideology through the arts should also reside at the heart of any potential debate about how that money is spent. I’d like to write here about the GAA and my admiration for it and what it does at community level, however that would make this piece far too long, so another day perhaps..
What exactly constitutes our contemporary ‘culture’ and what effect does it have on the future direction of our arts ? No one I have seen or read in the media has ever questioned this aspect of policy in this specific manner ? We get lots of commentary in the organ of record but little actual informed analysis as to the longer term detrimental effect on various parts of our broader society.
It seems shouting about diversity or inclusion, droning on about access, counts as sufficient critical analysis of strategy. In business culture eats strategy for breakfast yet these efficient government agencies produce only focused ‘strategic’ plans, to which everyone and their mother are often invited to contribute, diluting the very concept of focused strategy. We love commissioned reports in Ireland, almost as much as we love the cans we kick down the road.
I am obviously aware that writing on this topic like this at this time may myopically characterize me as some kind of begrudging curmudgeon, ‘oh come on allow people to enjoy themselves and their arts in whatever manner they wish’. But to argue that is to miss the point of seeing culture commodified and economically mined to the detriment of those who probably most need the greatest access to it, the poorer in our society.
To consider this uninvited open contribution to culture night worthy of critical appraisal or rebuttal is to accord me more influence or attention than I want, merit or deserve, while my website in its previous form had hundreds of thousands of visits, I never promoted it outside my relatively small circle of friends, friends from across a broad spectrum.
Are there already enough middle class minds, or refusenic working class nogins like mine, wallowing in these cultural wastelands we create as we emulate our own personal hero or heroin ? I would like to imagine that if prompted the current gatekeepers and purse-holders could recognize the longer term value of reform to all parts of our society, or perhaps I am confused and really being Utopian ? Or should I just accept that as with all markets, there will be winners and their most certainly will be losers and it’s not my job to point that out to anyone.
Yet part of the joy of Arts and Culture is learning, education, exchange, participation is a broadening or deepening experience, it is absolutely vital that the poorer in our society have access to the arts. Will culture night offer them that access ? I very much doubt it, will culture night offer anything other than a back slapping celebration of the status quo, of the status of those arts sectors as a primarily promoted activity that strategically supports the continuance of a market society more interested in profits than participants, I again very much doubt that also.
I was lucky that the community arts I experienced were to me nothing to do with culture or organizations nor endorsements nor conformance, they were created by the community that enjoyed them, very very little if any funding was ever received and they were created with a view to allowing my then working class community to experience themselves as others may see them/us/me. I have made many friends through the arts… I have learned a lot from and through the arts, I have an enormous respect for artists and practitioners, and recognize that communities of practice tend to share certain values, perspectives, beliefs, they are a form of sub-culture in and of themselves..
But as Terence McKenna wisely said: Culture is not your friend….
So led by the least among us, until we ask for this debate, inform ourselves, share information, there will be no change and market forces will continue to erode the public good in favor of public goods, competition will continue to create Darwinian conditions and arts and culture will become fully and only elitist pursuits.
However I see a brighter future, perhaps not one so entirely different to what Banks himself wrote so extensively about, a future that imagines enlightenment, de-commodification, fairness, understanding, appreciation, where the most reported pandemic in history became a catalyst for positive, genuine, authentic societal change on Culture Night..
Again, Imagine that…
If you got this far, sincere thanks for reading, please feel free to share or leave a comment..
that old version of my website (12+ years of Drupal) was completely corrupted by a spammer, my then hosting provider explained to me, after I requested they please restore that deleted content, that they did not, in fact, provide any back-ups of the server which hosted my website(s)..
The truly ephemeral nature of life reflected in the bleak professional ineptitude of a bunch of ‘chancers’ calling themselves service providers.
and thus moving on to our new beginnings…. Thanks for visiting I really appreciate it..
this new version of my website will be updated with various types of creative content as days and weeks trundle on.. I also hope to excavate some of the more visited/popular legacy content if.. (BIG IF) I can find it.